Friday, February 24, 2017

Hardship funds & Social care crisis: Proposed amendments to Newham Council Budget 2017/18

This is my proposed amendment to the budget which the Newham Council meeting on Monday 27 February 2017 should consider.  See my previous post on this issue.

What I am hoping to do is persuade (there is a free vote) my fellow Labour Councillors on Monday to:-

(1) vote to increase Council tax by 1.99% for this year (which has not been increased for 9 years and is still less than expected inflation for this year) which will set up two hardship funds for Newham families affected by Tory cuts to Council tax benefits and housing benefit curbs.

(2) Also levy a 2% Council Tax precept for extra money specifically to help tackle the Adult Social Care Crisis and bed blocking in our local NHS hospitals.

If a simple majority of Councillors support this amendment then it "pauses" the budget for the Mayor to "reflect upon" the proposed change and consider bringing back his own amendment at a second meeting. You need a two thirds majority of Councillors to overturn his proposal at that meeting,  I really hope that we can come to an agreement over this with the Mayor.

While we cannot reverse Central Government Tory cuts on the vulnerable and low paid families in Newham, we can try and mitigate it as best we can.

"The increase in council tax will enable the Council :-
  • to establish a Hardship Fund of £750,000 for Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham; 
  • to establish a Discretionary Housing Payment “top-up” fund of £750,000 to better help those affected by the Government’s lower Benefit Cap. 
This is because:-
  • That 8,949 Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham were in arrears in 2015/16, and that 5,386 of those with served with a court summons for late-payment, and 1,560 had bailiffs instructed against them; 
  • Several London boroughs have either chosen not to introduce a Minimum Payment (charge) for CTR claimants or exempt disabled claimants or establish “Hardship Funds” for those in financial difficulty; 
  • According to the Department for Work & Pensions, the lower Benefit Cap will adversely affect around 800 families in Newham, leaving some of those with such serious rent shortfalls that they may fall into arrears and face eviction and homelessness; 
  • In 2016/17, DWP allocated Newham £1.552 million in Discretionary Housing Payment funding to help those facing the Bedroom Tax and Benefit Cap, and a similar sum is expected in 2017/18; 
  • In nearby Tower Hamlets, a fund of up to £1 million is being established in 2017/18 to “top-up” the Government’s DHP pot. 
  • The number of Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants falling into arrears and facing enforcement action makes it clear these charges are an unbearable strain on Newham’s poorest households, and that a Hardship Fund is needed; 
  • The Government’s Discretionary Housing Payment funding is not sufficient to cover the rent shortfalls of tenants hit by the Bedroom Tax and the lower Benefit Cap, and that Newham should top this pot up from the General Fund. 
  • The agreement to accept the governments offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept will increase the boroughs ability to support residents with their social care needs and prevent strain on our much needed local NHS resources

Agenda item 12: The Council’s Budget Framework 2017/18 – The Mayor’s Final Revenue Budget Proposals, Medium Term Budget Strategy to 2019/20 and Council Tax Setting Proposals


That Council;  
 
  1. Delete recommendation  1. And replace with:-Agree the Council’s General Fund Budget Requirement for 2017/18 be set at £233 million

  1. Delete recommendation 4 and replace with :- Agree to accept the Government’s offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept of 2% on Council Tax in 2017/18

  1. Delete recommendation  6 And replace with:-Agree the Newham Council element of Council Tax for 2017/18 be increased by 1.99% This results in a local element Band D level of £964.44

  1. Agrees to establish:
                     i.            a Hardship Fund of £750,000 for Council Tax Reduction scheme claimants in Newham; and
                   ii.            to establish a Discretionary Housing Payment “top-up” fund of £750,000 to better help those affected by the Government’s lower Benefit Cap.

Agenda Item 13: Council Tax 2017/18


That Council

  1. Delete 1. And replace with: Agree that the Newham Council element of Council Tax for 2017/18 be increase by 1.99% This results in a local element Band D level of £964.44


  1. Delete 3. And replace with: Agree to accept the Government’s offer to set an Adults Social Care Precept of 2% on Council Tax in 2017/18      

Thursday, February 23, 2017

An Evening of Palestine Solidarity - Wanstead Tap E7 Tuesday 21st March

This looks interesting and just around the corner from where I live but clashes with my UNISON branch AGM.

"Join us for an evening of solidarity with Palestine.

Guest speakers: Hamed Qawasmeh, of the Hebron International Resources Network and Leanne Mohamed, winner of the Jack Petchey "Speak Out" Challenge.

Followed by Q&A and discussion

Donations at the door to Independent Youth Forum (Palestine) are welcome

Register here"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Angie Greenhalgh North West Female Seat UNISON Nec Elections

"I am signing the Stronger UNISON pledge because I believe in doing what's right for our membership, ensuring that we stand up for their right to be treated fairly. UNISON needs a strong united NEC to lead our union and speak on behalf of our members, ensuring it is their views that we represent"

Angie Greenhalgh North West Female seat

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

7 days to come out with new ideas about Newham Council budget 2017?

At the Newham Council meeting next Monday 27 February 2017 there will be a free vote of all Labour Councillors on the proposed Mayor;s budget. All Councillors in Newham are Labour so this an important development and I congratulate my Labour Group colleagues for agreeing to this.

As a Labour movement activist, I am a firm believer in collective responsibility (when democratically arrived at). When we have a Council with a powerful Executive Mayor and where there is no political opposition, this means that we have a responsibility to debate important issues, such as the budget, in public rather than it being decided behind closed doors in Labour Group and subject to a "whipped" vote.

That doesn't mean it should be a "free for all" nor an exercise in futile grandstanding.

The reality is that Council finances are dependent on Central Government funding which each year is being cut and cut and cut. It is also too late in the budget process for us to have a meaningful debate about the 2017/18 budget (but I live in hope) so the discussion at Council on Monday is in my view a more general debate about the future direction of Council finance.

If anyone has any ideas and practical proposals about the budget then please let me know. Details of the agenda is here

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Remembering Eric

Last week there was a packed memorial and celebration service for UNISON President and London Ambulance branch secretary, Eric Roberts, who died unexpectedly aged 67 on November 24 2016. Eric had been elected the President of UNISON in June 2016 for a one year term. This is highest office for a lay activist in the union.

It was held in the TUC headquarters in Congress House, London. Our UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis gave a speech celebrating Eric's life as did his son, brother and friends including the Cuban Ambassador no less.

Eric and I had worked together for many years as UNISON activists in London and we had enjoyed the occasional social drink or three. He was kind and supportive to me as a London regional lay activist and when I became an NEC member. He was a really special person and will be missed. Nuf said.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Labour Local Government Conference 2017


I arrived in Coventry yesterday evening for my second Labour LGA conference. This year it is the biggest conference they have ever had with 370 Councillors attending. There was a conference buffet dinner with deputy Labour leader,Tom Watson MP, as guest speaker. 

It was a good opportunity to talk with Councillors from different parts of the Country and share experiences.  Dispite the huge financial problems facing  all Councils and the state of the Labour Party the mood was relatively upbeat. 

I was also able to ask Shadow Housing  minister, John Healey MP, to speak again at my UNISON branch Labour Link AGM.  Former UNISON activist Angela Rayner MP was there as was Tower Hamlets Mayor, John Biggs and Hackney Mayor, Philip Granville and my favourite Birmingham Councillor (and fellow UNISON NEC member) Mary Locke.  It was a shame that there was no one else from Newham.

The conference started properly in the morning with an address by LGA Labour Leader Cllr Nick Forbes followed by keynote speech by Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn MP to a packed audience. Jeremy attacked the Tories for asset stripping, failing social care and the NHS. He promised to get Council's to build homes.

Ever the gentleman, on his way out of the hall, Jeremy saw me, stopped to shake my hand and ask me how I was.

I will post more on conference later.

Friday, February 17, 2017

LOBOs "Newham to save up to £94 million on its debt portfolio"

Well I never. Hot off the press. I will ask for further details (it is inaccurate in some respects) but I am really happy that it appears that some of the problems with LOBOs can be sorted.

"Newham Council could save up to £94 million in future after the council’s Cabinet today (Thursday 16 February) agreed to restructure its market debt with a major high street bank.

The decision enables the council’s director of financial sustainability to strike a new deal with the bank that will switch their structured loans (otherwise known as Lender Option Borrower Option or LOBO loans) into normal fixed rate loans.

The deal also takes the ability away from the bank to change the interest rate levels at regular intervals over the remaining lifetime of the loans. The new financial agreement will save the council up to £1.6 million per year on interest payments on these long term loans.

This new deal will improve the council’s credit position thereby reducing the cost of future borrowing. Moreover, it will further stabilise the council’s future debt costs helping to safeguard council tax from future increases and protecting council services.

The agreement was made following lengthy negotiations with the bank. The market conditions are now right to strike this this deal which will deliver a clear financial benefit to the council.

The new deal is in line with the council’s Treasury Management Strategy, which reviews how much the council can afford to borrow and constantly monitors opportunities for restructuring or refinancing existing council debt where there is a clear benefit in doing so.

The council borrows money to carry out works such as improving the borough’s roads and to fund long term assets like buildings, such as schools, or bringing homes up to a decent standard. Government regulations meant that we cannot use long term loans to run services.

In 2007, Newham Council refinanced some of its debts to take advantage of lower interest rates available, at that time, through a series of long term loans from banks.

Previously the council was paying in excess of 10 per cent on its loans with the Public Works Loans Board, which lends government money to councils. These loans helped to refinance this expensive debt saving the council nearly £11 million to date in interest payments.

For further information, please contact Deborah Hindson, director of financial sustainability...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"racist, spineless, uneducated scum" (Yep they are. I agree)

I haven't always agreed with everything our local weekly paper "Newham Recorder" has published over the years (or not published) but I totally agree with the comments below by its editor Michael Adkins on the foul and disgusting abuse my inspirational ward Councillor, Seyi Akiwowo, (photo right) received recently.

"While the birth of Facebook and Twitter has helped connect people like never before, launched careers, created millionaires, allowed us to follow our heroes and get in the mind of President Trump, social media has a sinister side.

It allows odious keyboard warriors to post wretched personal insults and threats from the privacy of their home, workplace or library.

It’s fast becoming a breeding ground for trolls who feel it’s given them free reign to insult, harass and threaten hardworking, decent honest people with their bigoted and racist bile.

Impressionable children are at risk of online grooming or 24/7 abuse from a playgrund bully.

At 25 years old, Cllr Seyi Akiwowo is Newham Council’s youngest representative.

Her work at the European Youth Hearings would have been a proud moment for all who know Cllr Akiwowo and the London Borough of Newham.

But the Twitter trolls simply saw it as an opportunity to show their true colours - as racist, spineless, uneducated scum.

Policing and managing social media is one of the biggest challenges we face and I’m not sure we have the answers.

Media organisations are subject to strict laws, rules and regulations when publishing stories. However, individuals are rarely prosecuted for breaches on social media.

Worryingly terrorist organisations like ISIS have used social media to spread their hatred globally.

Check out nspcc.org.uk for guidance on how to safeguard your children from the dangers".

Support EU citizens’ right to remain day of action

Join UNISON, in co-ordination with the New Europeans and the3million’s in the EU Right to Remain day of action.

Register to join the lobby

On Monday 20 February, UNISON members can meet their MP and ask them to support the following pledge:
“I call on Theresa May to guarantee unilaterally the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.”
To register:
  • Step 1 – Register to attend the mass lobby on Eventbrite
  • Step 2 – Once you have registered you will be sent a link to write to your MP (please do this as soon as possible)
  • Step 3 – Please let us know if you get a meeting time with your MP by email to k.widlak@unison.co.uk
UNISON will ask the government to recognise the value of UNISON members who are EU citizens who live and work in the UK and in particularly provide a significant contribution in the running of UK public services, such as health and social care.
UNISON calls for a clear commitment from the government that EU citizens currently living in the UK are welcome to stay here.
Workers from across Europe play a vital role in our public services, especially the NHS and local government. They and their families deserve better than years of uncertainty and being reduced to bargaining chips in the upcoming negotiations.
Make sure you get a chance to share your UNISON story and concerns with your MP by formally requesting their presence on the day.
UNISON stewards will be there to help you and committee rooms in parliament have been reserved from 2.00 – 6.00pm to allow MPs to drop-in, meet you and hear from you. For more information on the day of action contact K.Widlak@unison.co.uk

Join the lobby

If you would like to meet your MP on 20 February, you need to contact them first. Please use this link to send to send an email request to your MP

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day #lastminute.com

Had to smile at the slightly panicky queue of men (including one women) inside my local florist in Forest Gate last night at round 7.30pm.

Have to admit that I have "been there, done that and got the tee-shirt" - so I'm not that smug:)