Councils could lose powers to clampdown on rogue landlords under new government reforms.
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has slammed government plans to revoke local authorities’ ability to introduce selective licensing of privately rented homes.
Since 2004, councils have had powers to regulate private landlords in areas of low housing demand or significant anti-social behaviour.
In March 2010, rules were relaxed granting councils greater powers.
Now, to avoid a ‘blanket licensing approach’, the government is wrestling back control and Coun Forbes argues this hinders the council’s ability to help residents.
“It is taking away our abilities as a local democracy. It makes it harder to tackle the problems in some areas of the city.
“Government has created an extra hurdle to jump before we can tackle the issue.
“Despite all of the talk around devolution, central government stripped away important powers from local councils. We have lost the ability to respond to residents.”
The government argue reforms will help councils focus their enforcement where it is needed most and stop good landlords being punished.
But the Labour leader of the council accused Whitehall of being influenced by the powerful private landlord lobby.
“Up to now local authorities have had the ability to introduce selective licensing successfully, wherever there has been a problem.
“Now the government has taken away that power and forced us to beg for the ability to do it. I can only assume government has been lobbied by the vested interests of private sector landlords.
“There are some really good private landlords but there are some terrible ones. Some privately rented properties end up becoming eyesores, and a blight on otherwise clean streets.
“It’s one of the things people consistently complain about and it is important we are able to licence these properties to ensure the safety of tenants.”
Bruce Haagensen, local representative for National Landlords Association, believes selective licensing has failed in the city.
“The NLA is fully behind efforts to improve the standard of housing in Newcastle and believe that selective licensing when carried out properly and fully resourced is a useful tool for councils to use.
“However this does not seem to be the case in Newcastle.
“The existing scheme has not achieved sustainable tenancies, improved prices or the reduced the number of empty houses and after consulting with interested parties (landlords, tenants, businesses and others in the community) it was found that over 60 per cent suggested there had been no change during the scheme; essentially the scheme has failed.”
The city currently has two selective licensing schemes in Benwell and Byker which have been running since September 2010 and March 2011 respectively.
Landlords have been hit with massive fines for failing to apply for the correct licences.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Apr 2015
Funding for a service that helps crime victims through their most difficult days is to be axed on Tyneside.
Three of the four Victim Support offices in the area look set to close, following a major shake-up in victims’ services, at the end of next month.
The move comes after the Government, which had provided 80% of the charity’s funding decided to devolve, decisions on victim care spending to a local level, with individual Police and Crime Commissioners determining how help is provided in their own force area.
Northumbria’s Vera Baird is so far one of just two PCCs in the country to decide not to provide funding to the existing Victim Support services, instead choosing to replace them with her own ‘in house’ victim care structure.
Some staff at the offices in Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead have been told they could lose their jobs, although it is understood they are being encouraged to apply for the new roles.
Ms Baird said:
“The Ministry of Justice has decided to fund victims’ services in a different way with the funding now being provided through Police and Crime Commissioners across the country.
“In the Northumbria Police region this new service will be independent from the force working with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and will link in with existing services and voluntary groups already working in the force area.
“It will put victims at the heart of everything that is done throughout the whole criminal justice process ensuring that they have access to support and advice when they need it.
“This new service will be available in April and discussions are continuing with victims’ service providers in the region as we work to get the best possible service for victims of crime.”
But, both staff and families who have been helped by the charity in the past fear future victims of crime will suffer.
Margaret Smith, whose 16-year-old son Mark was killed almost eight years ago, said:
“I think it’s absolutely horrendous. Who else would people turn to if Victim Support isn’t there? Closing it would be the worst thing they could do, they help a hell of a lot of people.”
Mark was stabbed to death near his Benwell home in Newcastle, in May 2007.
And in the dark days, weeks and months that followed, Victim Support became a lifeline for grieving Margaret.
“They helped me with everything,” the 54-year-old said. “It was the worst time of my life, but they were fantastic. I poured my heart out to them and they listened to me.”
Formed in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
But they also provide a shoulder to cry on, and someone to talk to away from a victim’s family, and independent of the police.
Susanne Hilton, whose son Glen Corner was stabbed to death in South Shields on his 16th birthday in 2006, said Victim Support provided an essential link between her family and the police :
“I think it’s very important that there should be a service such as Victim Support.
“They were a great help to us. They were constantly there for us, and they continued to support us for a long time.
“They were like a go-between for us and the police. So if we wanted to ask anything about things like Glen’s clothes they were there to do it for us.
“The police are there doing their jobs, but Victim Support provided a personal service for us.”
And a Victim Support employee, who asked not to be named, said the closure would mean many staff members with years of experience would no longer be working with victims.
And she fears the unique skills they have built up over a number of years could be lost forever.
“This will mean dozens and dozens of very well trained people will lose their jobs,” she said. “Victim Support staff have very specific skills. We have people who work with domestic violence victims and those that work with people affected by anti-social behaviour and this requires a variety of skills that have been built up over a long time. It’s not a job you can just walk into. We deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, who are not always easy to deal with.”
The staff member also said allowing the PCC’s office to deliver victims’ services could threaten impartiality.
“If the police are doing it, where’s the independence ?” she asked.
“And more to the point, how many victims will want to engage with the police? A lot of victims of crime are criminals themselves.”
Victim Support as a charity will continue and provide other services funded from elsewhere, said Carolyn Hodrien, regional director, who added:
“Our priority, as always, is ensuring victims across Northumbria continue to receive the help they need to cope and recover from crime. We know that crime victims really value our independence from the police. Our staff and volunteers will continue to offer information and support to victims of crime and anti-social behaviour in Northumbria as well as our specialist service for families bereaved by murder or manslaughter.”
Picking up litter in the street is now the task of residents as the council says it can no longer afford to sweep up all of the city’s rubbish.
The call for people to pitch in and do their bit for the community came from Labour city councillor Hazel Stephenson as she claimed today’s generation were more likely to drop crisp packets, wrappers and cans.
The council said the people of Newcastle needed to prepare themselves for a much dirtier city as the authority attempts to shave £90m from its budget over the next three years.
Coun Stephenson, city council cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, said:
“The council does not drop litter. The council does not fly tip. People drop litter. People fly tip.
“People need to take responsibility for their area. The council cannot continue to do it all.”
A reduction in council services, including fewer small street bins, is a fact that people will have to accept, according to Coun Stephenson.
“The reality is front line services are being cut and we are losing a lot of services that people take for granted.
“I am not saying that people need to replace core council services. What I am saying is that we all need to work together,”
said Coun Stephenson, who was addressing the council’s cabinet as they discussed draft proposals for the 2015-2016 budget.
She used the area of Benwell as an example of families cooperating to improve their community.
“Residents put up little notes in the streets, reminding people of the simple things that they can do to make a difference.
“Warnings against dropping litter in the road and letting your dog foul in public had a big impact.
“It seems common sense but people sometimes need reminding. Those little letters made a big difference.”
She went on to suggest littering was a generational issue.
“People are changing. Years ago this problem was not there. It is cultural and differs across generation.
“When I was younger dropping litter was unthinkable. For some people today, sadly, it is not.”
The councillor did however praise the work of some schools :
“Some schools do a great job of encouraging their students to take a greater responsibility with regards to litter.
“Making the younger generation aware of the problems that are caused by rubbish in our streets is a great way of changing attitudes.”
Newcastle City Council director of communities Mick Murphy said:
“People need to show more commitment and community spirit. It is a common sense thing.
“Think about what happens to your waste once you have thrown it away. Someone has to pick it up after you.”
So far £151m has been cut from the council budget since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool closing.
Coun Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ and plans are in motion to transfer city parks to civic trusts, reduce the number of small litter bins and redevelop Sure Start services.
Unison is also warning that up to 400 council jobs could go over the next three years.
Source – Sunday Sun, 02 Nov 2014
Pupils dug deep to show support for a local foodbank with a harvest festival collection.
West Newcastle Academy held its harvest festival on October 22.
The school’s 40 pupils donated fruit and vegetables along with tinned food, pasta and rice to help those in need.
Rae Lowe, school business manager, said:
“We’re based in Benwell and we’re possibly more aware of some of the challenges people face partly from our children and partly from being part of that community.
“Obviously we wanted to collect food and pass it one of the food banks, we’re aware it’s something that the community needs.”
The school, which has 40 pupils across Reception and Year One, will eventually grow to being a fully-fledged primary school with classes up to Year Six.
Pupils spend time following the National Curriculum but two days a week spend time outdoors either at museums, forests or the coast.
Ms Lowe added:
“For us this was very much part of our ethos.
“We want to look after and be part of the community and it is important that we give back.
“We have a holistic approach to education.
“It’s very important that the children learn to read, write and do maths but to learn the holistic approach and learn about the community is vital.”
> If only we had a few holistic politicians…
The food was collected for the Newcastle West End Food Bank, operated by the Trussell Trust.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Oct 2014
More than one in five young people in the North East have experienced symptoms of mental illness as a direct result of unemployment, a new report warns today.
The Prince’s Trust Macquarie Youth Index paints a bleak picture of young people’s mental health and wellbeing in the region, with the report finding that young people who are long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely as their peers to believe they have nothing to live for.
The report comes at a time when Newcastle has seen a 279% increase in the number of young people claiming benefits for more than six months since the beginning of the recession.
Jonathan Townsend, Northern regional director of The Prince’s Trust, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating, long-lasting mental health problems among young people. Thousands wake up every day believing that life isn’t worth living, after struggling for years in the dole queue.
“Here in Newcastle, 795 young people are facing long-term unemployment and there is a real danger that these young people will become hopeless, as well as jobless.
“Our research highlights that unemployed young people are significantly less likely to ask for help if they are struggling to cope. Our message to them is this: organisations like The Prince’s Trust are supporting young people like you every day, helping them back into work, education or training. You are not alone and you need not struggle alone.”
The Prince’s Trust, which works to help young people looking for work, last year worked with 426 disadvantaged young people across Newcastle. It also has a centre in Benwell, in the city’s West End. The charity’s survey found that nearly a third of young people from the city said they “always” or “often” feel down or depressed with the report showing that long-term unemployed people are significantly more likely to feel this way.
One in four young people locally admitted they feel like a “waste of space” – higher than the national average – with the report finding that the long-term unemployed are more than twice as likely to feel this way.
> I wonder why that is ? Just a wild guess, but you dont think it might have something to do with the relentless “skivers not strivers” propaganda channelled through the media direct from the government ?
Not to mention the treatment handed out by the DWP through its Jobcentres, Work Programme, etc ?
All the stupid hoops you have to jump through, with the possibility of a sanction if you slip up, however trivially ?
It’s enough to unhinge the sanest at the best of times.
The Prince’s Trust is now calling for urgent support from the Government, health agencies and employers to fund its work with long-term unemployed young people battling mental health issues.
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, said: “This research proves that unemployment is a public health issue. It is one that must be tackled urgently and it is essential that youth unemployment is added to the public health agenda.
“Unemployed young people are struggling in many aspects of their lives, from their mental health and wellbeing to their relationships and their qualifications and we must act quickly to end this.”
> Well, maybe they could take a lot of the pressure off by just acting in a humane way, and stop treating the unemployed (of any age) as an enemy that must be crushed at all costs.
Stop sanctions, start admitting that we are an area of high unemployment and probably always will be…and most of all stop the vile media propaganda.
All easy to do and would cost very little. But, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, I’m starting to think that the government actually want things the way they are. They have absolutely no interest in improving life for the poorer sections of society.
And they keep getting away with it, so why does anyone think they’ll stop ?
Source – Newcastle Journal, 02 Jan 2014