Wednesday, 12 January 2011

SHADOW UPDATE 12/01/2011

Labour Shadow Team comments & questions for Wednesday evening's TDC Cabinet meeting.
INTRODUCTION - Labour Group Leader - Cllr. Clive Hart.

This was an extraordinary meeting of the cabinet and held on a Wednesday instead of the usual Thursday.

Tucked away amongst proposals for a new staff structure, asset disposals, the coach house and other matters was a report on Welfare Reform (simply for 'noting') that will have a devastating effect for many residents across our island.

Cllr. Clive Hart - Phone: 01843 298770


Cllr Clive Hart - Labour Leader of the Opposition.

I have serious concerns about this report on the proposed staff structure. It all appears incredibly rushed, even to the point that proposed changes to the consultation document have simply been attached and not included in a 'final' document.

I'd like to call for a full briefing for Labour members on the implications before this matter comes to the extraordinary council meeting on the 20th January.

Cllr. Clive Hart - Phone: 01843 298770

Cllr Iris Johnston - Shadow Member for Community Services.

I welcome the report and congratulate Lauren Hemsley The Housing Strategy Officer on the amount of work and detail.
The Report has been considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday evening and I would advise Cabinet that the Recommendations under 5.0 should have an addition.
The Scrutiny Committee had agreed with my proposal that under 5.2:
'Delegated authority is given to the Interim Community Services Director and Housing Strategy officer to negotiate and agree the delivery plans for the HCA's Investment Programme 2011-2014 in consultation with relevant portfolio holder'
This addition had the unanimous support at Scrutiny.
From Annex one of the report:
Under Summary list of Priorities page 5 (4)
I ask Cabinet to reject The Minister, Mr Pickles recommendation for Councils to only START dealing with empty properties after a two year vacancy. She suggested neighbours often only report to Councils their concerns when a property is vandalised or obviously neglected. Sometimes it may be when squatters are noticed.The long legal processes are well known in Thanet and we need to stick to the previous Government's rules on dealing with Empty Properties. Over the last ten years this has proved invaluable in bringing properties back in to use.
Item 21: Westbrook House which could be off the Canterbury Road Margate is not clarified until page 36 as being at Cheriton Road Sports Ground. It should be made clear when first mentioned.
Under item 26 Newington and The Flowering Bowl The Centre Ramsgate. (5.8 million required).
Does this mean the Centre was ONLY number 26 in order of pririority?
This was not good enough when there around 6,000 people on TDC's housing waiting list.
Why has the Coalition Government rejected the first funding application which has led to considerable delays.
Officers have advised me that they expect a re submitted application to be successful but in the meantime the site is causing a great deal of extra work for the ward councillors and others who have worked so hard to bring the new development to fruition.
Social Housing tenants seem to be quite a target for the coalition.
The planned changes to repayment for those who fall in to arrears are likely not to be given the same support as before. Conversely those new tenants who lift themselves out of benefits are expected after two and half years to look in the private sector and move on. This will have serious repercussions in Thanet where many jobs are short term'
Page 48 of the report refers to the Local Strategic Partnership.
I have been promised the up to date minutes of the LSP as Shadow member. Mrs Homer was going to ensure they were made available.
It is a long held concern that the LSP is not fully representative of ordinary members of the public and still did not meet its original remit.

Cllr. Iris Johnston: 01843 299207



Cllr Iris Johnston - Shadow Member for Community Services.

I welcome the recommendation to remove the land at Montefiore Avenue but question why Councilor Bayford announced at Full Council before Christmas that it had already been removed at a previous cabinet meeting.

The attempts to prevent the ward Councillors Poole and Fenner as well as members of the public from addressing the meeting was quite disgraceful. Those of us who had attended cabinet in August 2009 and subsequent Asset management meetings know the site had not been removed but held in abeyance subject to the Village Green Application'
The fact that it now has to be on the agenda on 12th January 2011 for ACTUAL removal was proof that Councillor Bayford and the Chairman of Council had got there facts very wrong.
All of those Conservative members who supported this misinformation should now publicly apologise for the appalling comments made at Full Council.

Cllr. Iris Johnston: 01843 299207



Cllr Iris Johnston - Shadow Member for Community Services.

I welcome this next stage which hopefully will ensure we have an improved private rental sector in some parts of Margate and Cliftonville. I had heard from landlords both for and against the proposals. From a ward point of view tenants who constantly come to her and no doubt other Councillors about very poor accomodation are pleased that something can be done.
I thank officers who took on board my complaint that people with mental health problems were offended by the wording which linked them with anti social behaviour and arson. Mrs Wenham had spoken to a resident who was especially upset.
The meeting planned with SLA on the 25th January has not been widely publicised amongst members. Has Leader and Councillor Wells now responded to Mr Littlewood and will they be in attendance'?

Cllr. Iris Johnston: 01843 299207



Cllr Iris Johnston - Shadow Member for Community Services.

This item had been discussed both on the 10th and 11th January Overview & Scrutiny meetings. It was clear from officers that little work had been done when they visited on the 5th January. The Scrutiny Committee suggested that Cabinet decide this evening NOT to extend the time scale for repairs beyond the first of April. This had the support of all Scrutiny members and should please be part of Cabinet's recommendations this evening.
The original petition to TDC was against the sale of 'Northdown House and its Environs'.
This had been accepted by Cabinet and ALL had been removed from the Asset Disposal register. This ensures the Coach House is not to be sold.
The approach from the member of the public was a separate matter. A Mrs Carole Russell has contacted myself and I understand many other Councillors as she was very frustrated with the delays in getting replies and information from TDC. She had also gone through the Freedom of Information process as she wanted to read the lease details.
I advised her to contact Mr Patterson and also the then Leader Councillor Ezekiel. It was only after I suggested she contact Councillor Harrison as Chairman of Scrutiny that the item came to be properly tackled.
This chronological background is important as the Coach house has been subject to previous examination on my own request when I was cabinet Member for Tourism and Leisure.

Cllr. Iris Johnston: 01843 299207



Cllr John Watkins - Shadow Member for Customer Services.

This very comprehensive Welfare reform white paper report, is on the agenda this evening for noting by the cabinet.

I understand that these proposals are central government policy and all that can be done now, is to hope that some notice will be taken of the major concerns that have been expressed in the response letter sent in by TDC’s Interim Revenues and Benefits manager. And I hope that the letter will add weight to the many similar letters that I am sure will have been sent in by other local councils around the country.

However this report reads like the preview for a disaster story which is about to unfold in our District over the next four years.

And which will see millions of pounds taken out of our local economy.

We may have the highest claimant count in the south east at the moment, but when the proposals contained in this white paper are implemented our current levels of economic deprivation will turn into complete penury for many of our residents.

It has been reported that the National Housing Federation state that there could be around six hundred people made homeless in Thanet alone.

The existing government proposals to reform housing benefit are already bad enough. If we look at the implications of the reductions in housing benefit as listed under paragraphs 2.6 and 3.1, of the report ,where some claimants could lose around £30 or more from their weekly income. It It is easy to see, how many evictions could take place locally and all residents receiving Council tax benefit could also be hit by a cut of 10%.

As for other issues raised within the white paper, Paragraph 5.4 of the report informs us that Discretionary Housing Payments will be available to alleviate hardship introduced by the new reforms.

But Thanet will not receive major increases in the funding provided for this hardship. It also states that our fund could be topped up by some of the money from our unspent Housing Benefit Administration Grant fund of two hundred thousand pounds.

Can I ask why all of the £200 thousand can not be allocated to Thanet’s emergency fund to alleviate the hardship that will undoubtedly be felt in our most deprived wards.

A major irony is that some of our own TDC Revenues and Benefits staff are among the estimated 60 people who could be made redundant under these new proposals and consequently, they could also find themselves claiming the new Universal Benefit.

Heaven help them if they find themselves out of work for more than 12 months, because they will then face the 10% cut in their benefits coupled with the 4 to 5 % rise in inflation, helped by the latest increase in VAT.

The prime minister has said that “WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER”

Here, in one of the most financially deprived districts in the south of England, we are due to be right up to our necks in it.

And we are due to be much deeper in the mire than many others. Particularly those people in the City of London, who are proposing to award themselves 7 and a half billion pounds in pay and bonuses this year. Apparently luxury yachts are among the best sellers at this year’s London Boat show.

Meanwhile the coalition agreement to “Take robust action to tackle the unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector” Has now been dropped by the government. This Coalition government, which contains 22 millionaire ministers. The same ministers who are bringing forward these proposals in the Welfare Reform white paper.

But then - As we have been reminded recently - “LIFE IS NOT FAIR”.

Cllr. John Watkins: 01843 228165


Cllr Clive Hart - Labour Leader of the Opposition.

I'd just like to add - that this is by far THE MOST DISTURBING AND FRIGHTENING TDC report I've seen or read in my eight years at TDC.

The TDC Interim Revenue & Benefits Officer has outlined many of the shortcomings in the coalition proposals at Annex 1.

Even more worryingly, evictions could well escalate to unprecedented levels and the knock-on effects of the proposed benefit cuts would affect not just those claiming, but many local businesses and services across the island.

Wealthy government leaders say 'we're all in this together' - I wonder? This is certainly no time to be poor, to fall on hard times, to come out of work, or to have an accident or get sick. The elderly, the weak and the vulnerable are all targeted by these proposals.

The implications for a District like Thanet are simply appalling.

Cllr. Clive Hart - Phone: 01843 298770

Published by Thanet Labour Group Press Office - 44 Northdown Road, Margate, CT9 2RW.

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