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
Library users, keen swimmers and pensioners will unite to take part in a rally through Gateshead town centre on Saturday.
The demonstration against Gateshead Council’s budget cuts will bring dozens of protestors together, as well as three MPs, who will speak out on Central Government’s current financial deal for local authorities.
Those affected by proposed library and swimming pool closures, and cut backs of hours at Gateshead facilities, will meet with people who use the borough’s older people’s and mental health services.
Gateshead Council’s leader Mick Henry must make up to £46m worth of savings over the next two years and proposals include reviewing how they run the Gateshead Indoor Bowling Centre, Dunston Activity Centre and Whickham Thorns Outdoor Activity Centre.
Other cut backs – including the older people’s service which helps people with their shopping and paying bills on time – could lead to job losses.
Together service users will march from the Gateshead Interchange towards the Civic Centre at 2.15pm on Saturday (07 Feb), in a protest organised by the Gateshead Public Services Alliance which is part of the union Unison.
Speeches will be heard from Labour politicians, Dave Anderson MP for Blaydon, Stephen Hepburn MP for Jarrow and Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead.
Alison Chapel, area organiser for the Public Services Alliance, said: “We have people coming on behalf of the libraries, and older people’s services in Gateshead which are all under threat with closure of the scaling back of hours.
“We know that the council have to make cuts because the Government is reducing their budget.
“The council has to decide how these cuts are going to be implemented and we are trying to show that they are not just dealing with statistics.
“These cuts affect real people because they use the service and they need the service and in some cases, particularly the older people’s service, it’s a false economy anyway because it’s quite a low level service but it means people can stay in their homes and it prevents them taking up beds in hospitals.
“It is Central Government who are cutting the council finances and we do understand the difficulty the council is facing but they need to make the decision in the face of people’s actual experiences and needs.”
Councillor Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council said:
“Setting our Budget is a fine balancing act as we have so many competing priorities. It’s getting harder and harder to continue to protect those services that people want and need, but we will do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable adults and children in our communities.
“We know that in future there will be some significant changes to services that people hold dear, but we need to start making those decisions now as the money simply won’t be there to continue to provide them in the same way.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Feb 2015
The future of services for crime victims in the North East is in doubt.
Staff at the four local Victim Support offices in the area have been given notice of redundancy as funding, for the next financial year has not been confirmed.
The national organisation, which provides vital practical and emotional support for those affected by crime, was until this year funded by central Government.
However, when elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) were introduced two years ago it was decided funding decisions should be devolved to a local level, with individual PCCs taking decisions on how victim services are provided in their own force area.
And Northumbria’s Vera Baird has yet to put plans in place for when the central funding ceases at the end of March.
The PCC’s office says it is currently locked in a ‘tender and grant allocation process’ to determine the future of services..
But Victim Support staff on Tyneside have been left fearing for the future of their jobs, and the vital services they provide, until the decision is made.
An employee, who did not want to be identified, said:
“No one has made a decision about our future and we don’t know if we will still be here in two months.
“The organisation could lose a lot of very good experienced staff. This will be like victimising the victims.”
A spokeswoman at the office of the PCC said:
“Following a public consultation in 2012 on the future of victims and witnesses Services, the Government decided to devolve the design and delivery of victims services to locally elected PCCs.
“It is the first time the specific support needs of local communities have been assessed by PCCs.
“The tender and grant allocation process is continuing and at this stage it would not be appropriate to comment without prejudicing these ongoing processes and the range of charitable and voluntary organisations participating in these processes.”
Vera Baird made listening to victims and meeting their needs in her police and crime plan, after being elected.
Established in the 1970s, Victim Support is the world’s most established victim and witness support network.
It has four offices in the Northumbria Police area at Newcastle, North Tyneside, Sunderland and Gateshead.
Staff help victims of all types of crime, including assault and burglary, with things like counselling and claims for compensation.
“Victim Support is something people don’t think about until they need it,” said the worker.
“If we weren’t here there would be nowhere for victims of things like assault and burglary to go.
“We provide emotional support and help with claims for compensation. But sometimes people just come to us to get things off their chest.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
Further funding cuts could cripple policing on Tyneside and take bobbies off the beat.
That is the claim of Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who says the force has been squeezed to the limit.
Vera Baird has today revealed the highs and lows of her first two years in office after being voted in as our area’s first elected police boss.
And in the first of a two part interview the Labour commissioner tells how the cuts in central Government funding have left the force with nothing left to save.
Now as she moves into the second half of her first term in the post Mrs Baird says she’s proud of what she and the force have achieved so far, and she is determined to continues to do all she can to meet the public’s policing priorities.
But the PCC warned that any further budget cuts could threaten the commitment to maintaining the number of cops working on the frontline.
“The concern about money is huge. We have rung out every last penny from everything we can without taking cops off the frontline. In the neighbourhood has got to be where they stay. If there are any further cuts we will do out best not to touch the frontline. But where we go next is a mystery.”
At the start of this year Northumbria Police announced that it was being forced into a major re-structure after learning that a new wave of central government funding cuts mean the force will be required to save an additional £46m by March 2017.
This came on top of a previous rationalisation of the force following the coalition Government’s austerity measures.
In order to balance the books in January Chief Constable Sue Sim announced to closure and sale of 25 police buildings, including 12 police stations. Neighbourhood officers in the areas affected will instead work from cheaper buildings, such as leisure centres, which can be shared with other organisations.
Northumbria will also reduce its number of ‘area commands’ from six to three, and plans to slash 200 senior officer and 230 civilian staff posts from the payroll.
Mrs Baird says she is confident the plans put in place will enable the force to continue policing effectively. But she admits money is tight.
“The Chief Constable is a very good business woman as well as being a very good police officer,” she said. “It’s absolutely essential that cops stay out in the neighbourhood, It’s good for the community and they are a massive source of intelligence
“What they need is a place to clock in, a place to keep their weaponry secure and they need a base where they are available to the public.
“Crime has changed over the years. We now have cyber crime and there is an increase in reporting of things like rape. At the moment we are managing. We are coping but it is obviously a challenge. But we can’t allow crime to go on. Cutting costs has to be about doing stuff smarter.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 Nov 2014
Parents have staged a protest over a council’s ‘history of horror’ cuts to services.
Children dressed as witches, ghosts and ghouls marched into a councillors’ surgery in Newcastle’s West End as part of a demonstrate over cuts to 20 Sure Start children’s centres.
Vanessa Cutter, from group Parents Against Cuts, said:
“Nick Forbes needs to attack Central Government and say to them, if you’ve got money to spend on redeveloping the city train station, then there should be money for Sure Start.
“The cuts that are being implemented are going to impact on so many families. The Sure Start centres are such an important resource for people. Parents Against Cuts is not prepared for them to close.”
Newcastle City Council’s Labour leader Nick Forbes needs to make a £5m reduction in funding for the service after its Central Government grant was reduced.
He is also contending once again with a significantly reduced revenue support grant from the Government which has previously led the council to cut libraries and arts funding.
Angry parents were hoping to confront Coun Forbes about the cuts but were greeted by his Westgate ward colleague Coun Geoff O’Brien.
Following the disruption at the surgery meeting at St Matthew’s Church, off Westgate Road, on Saturday Coun O’Brien blamed funding cuts from Central Government and said:
“I fully support the parents.
“The last thing we want to do is close down really good public services like Sure Start.
“I’m pleased they are protesting and there should be more people doing it across the country.”
Throughout September, the council consulted with families to try and come up with a new way of trying to maintain Sure Start Services with a reduced budget.
They have decided to pursue a model that would help 1000 vulnerable children, and spend £635,000 on targeted support services for children and families.
This means more children can be helped than was previously planned, however the future of all 20 current Sure Start centres is still under review.
Council projects like Newcastle Central Station come from a different source of funding, and it would not have been possible to transfer money to Sure Start.
Vanessa Cutter, who organised the protest, said many of the items used in the demonstration and fancy dress were used to represent services the city council has cut since 2010.
“We took along a paddling pool to represent money for the swimming pools being cut, we’ve took books to represent the cuts to libraries and bin bags to represent the bins that will be cut.
“We are looking at Nick Forbes’ history of horrors and set up a Halloween party in his surgery.”
Newcastle City Council has announced it must save £90m over the next three years on top of £151 already cut since 2010. It’s reduction in funding from Central Government has been significant with less money coming in to the revenue support grant, while cost pressures, particularly of an ageing population, continue to rise.
Vanessa said she has used the Sure Start centre in North Fenham for her children Freya, seven, Isabelle, five, and Niamh, two.
“Surely Nick Forbes’ job is to fight the Government. He talks of this £38m that has been chopped from the budget but we want to see him fight,” she said.
A city council spokesperson said:
“We know that people would prefer there to be no cuts whatsoever and we feel exactly the same way. However, the removal of government grants and the overall financial position of the city council, has left us with no alternative but to make savings in every area of our work.
“Our consultation presented people with three options but, once we collected and analysed the views of 5,000 people, a fourth option emerged. Earlier this week, our Cabinet approved the creation of new and innovative Community Family Hubs, incorporating Sure Start Children’s Centres, and with intensive support to families. The hubs would focus on those 30% of communities with the highest level of deprivation – the widest level of coverage the council can afford. At the same time the council will also continue to invest in other services targeting families with other particular needs.
“Detailed planning of how these hubs and other services will be configured, and where they will be located, will be discussed in a further phase of consultation before the council agrees its final budget position in March 2015.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Oct 2014
Council tax could rise after a four year freeze for ratepayers as Newcastle City Council announces a further £90m cut to its budget over the next three years.
Leader of the council Nick Forbes said he couldn’t ‘rule out’ an increase as he looks to save £40m from the next financial year alone as less money comes to Newcastle from Central Government.
Councillor Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ as the council struggles to maintain anything but basic services.
The end of certain Sure Start child care services will be announced on Thursday, while the public have been told to expect a dirtier city as the council cuts back on street cleaning.
The Labour leader said: “The Government hasn’t as yet made it clear whether there will be an offer about a council tax freeze but given the dire cuts that we are facing and the need to maintain a decent environment means we can’t rule it out.
“We have frozen the tax for the last four years because we wanted to help people with the cost of living crisis.”
The council’s latest budget cut announcement will go before Cabinet to be discussed by councillors on October 22. Specific services under threat from being axed will be finalised for formal consultation with the public in December, however £5m is already known to be going from the budget for Sure Start centres.
The £90m cut by 2018 is on top of the £151m that has been cut since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool shut down.
Coun. Forbes, said:
“I have warned in the past that government cuts mean that public services in our city are facing a fiscal cliff. Today we are at the very edge of the precipice.
“We have begun a debate with our partners about how we can start to make this happen in many areas – but particularly in health and social care where we need to move resources away from crisis response to those services which help prevent people from coming to harm in the first place.”
He said greater devolution to the North East of England would help combat some of the ‘unpalatable options’ the council is facing, however until that happens there will be cuts to services he knows people cherish.
Further conversations with Sir Len Fenwick, the Chief Executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and other key health agencies will now need to be had as the council aims to devise stronger partnerships on delivering adult social care than ever before.
The Labour representative said: “There’s a willingness from health partners to do things differently.”
The £40m cut in the first year is to cope with the expected expenditure required of the council and a £25m decrease in Central Government’s revenue support grant.
However he said not all councils across the UK have been hit with the same funding reduction and the cut to Newcastle’s budget had been ten times greater than other councils. He said the city being given an ‘unfair’ financial deal is backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Audit Commission.
Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Lower, leader of the opposition, said:
“You can blame Central Government but no one is saying ‘you must not fund Sure Start’. Central Government is saying here is the money, now you decide what to do with it.
“It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that. We are at the point now where we know what’s coming from Central Government. Yes it’s tough but that’s what being in charge is about but these are Nick Forbes’ decisions.
“In the last two years we should have been talking more with parents, community groups and the private sector. There’s scope to get money from health, and schools could be doing more. Schools could use the Government’s pupil premium money to work with families or put it into Sure Start type services.”
> “It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that” = workfare, no doubt. Why pay when you can conscript someone to do it for nothing.
Residents from across the city are invited to have their say on the council’s preparatory budget planning at www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk
Detailed proposals will be published for formal consultation in December 2014. The council will make final decisions on its budget in March 2015.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Oct 2014
A damning report today reveals the “totally unacceptable” inequalities driving a widening health divide between the North East and the South.
Experts are warning the current approach to tackling the gap is failing, and the situation is only likely to get worse.
According to the report, a baby girl born in Coxhoe, County Durham, can expect to live for 15 fewer years in good health than a baby girl born in Richmond, London.
Public health experts have now highlighted how devolved powers from central government to the North East could play a vital role in helping close this gulf.
Due North: the report of the Inquiry on Health Equity for the North, is the outcome of an independent inquiry, commissioned by Public Health England.
Professor Clare Bambra from Durham University’s Department of Geography and an Inquiry panel member, said:
“The differences in people’s health in the north compared to other parts of the UK are totally unacceptable. Without a radical change to the current approach to health inequality, we are likely to see things getting worse.”
In the North East, 18% of residents are classed as living in poverty, compared to 12% in the South East. During the past 20 years the region has consistently had lower employment rates than the South for both men and women. These factors, among others, have had a subsequent knock-on effect on general health.
In more recent years, massive efforts and tens of millions of pounds have been spent across the North East on schemes aimed at improving wellbeing. Newcastle and Sunderland are just some of areas that have implemented ways of reducing inequality by campaigning for the payment of a Living Wage.
But the report sets out a number of recommendations including the use of devolved powers to ensure decisions about health issues in the North East are made in the North East. It states:
“Devolution is central for addressing health inequalities with the rest of England. Devolution means regions in the North retaining more power and resources to collectively develop solutions that build on the assets and resilience of the North.”
Ms Bambra said:
“Central government takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to health spending. Devolution would allow us to address the problems we have here. In recent years we have lost our regional agencies in the North East so there is less focus on us.”
The report also recommended “collecting better data on children in the early years” so they can be tracked over time, monitoring inequalities in development.
In Sunderland over the last two years, figures showed 10% of reception-age children are obese, with local variations of 13 to 17% in some areas. By Year 6, the figure is 21% average, with some areas spiking at 26 to 34%.
Just days ago, plans to build a McDonald’s near a Newcastle school were rejected by councillors. Hundreds of people objected over fears the restaurant would promote unhealthy eating to children from nearby Kenton School.
Ms Bambra said:
“Lots of children’s life chances are determined before they are even born. We need to improve peoples’ access to affordable, healthy food.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said:
“This report highlights the need for Government to take action on poverty and the underlying causes of health inequalities.
“Many people in our region also still suffer ill health as a result of our industrial past. Ministers should prioritise those parts of our country with greatest need, not shift resources into more affluent areas.”
However, Coun Lee Martin, leader of Wearside’s Conservatives, said:
“If Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had done exactly what the coalition are doing on jobs, welfare reform, and education then the gap would have closed in the last 20 years. If anything we need to go further in tackling poverty and poverty of aspiration. Some of the North East’s councils adopting the Living Wage would be a start. I’m all for more powers being devolved but let’s have them devolved to people the public can elect directly rather than faceless council leaders.”
Prof Eugene Milne, director of Public Health at Newcastle City Council, said efforts were underway on Tyneside to address some of the most prolific health concerns. He added:
“We know that we have an extensive public health programme which aims to improve the general health of the local population – as a result we have made progress in key areas over recent years.
“However, this report correctly points to a continuing divide across the country, and between the rich and the poor in our society. We welcome that debate.
“Even with the rate of progress that we have, we know that it would take many decades to close the gap between the north and the south. Larger scale action is needed if the problem is to be addressed.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 15 Sept 2014
Following the recent/continuous denials from Central Government about there never having been targets imposed in Jobcentre Plus offices for Advisers and sanctions, I wish to strongly disagree with the official line.
What I can confirm is that every Wednesday morning, the office would not open until 10am as we would have an open office meeting and during this various topics were covered: changes to policy/procedures etc, and also raised was the District League Table.
This was a table that listed all of the offices in the District (Wallsend/Blyth/Whitley Bay/North Shields amongst others) and has usually headed up by S Smith the most senior manager in the office.
We were originally informed that we had to reach a target of 1 sanction a week and once it was realised that this could be reached by lunchtime on the Monday, this was increased to four a week.
This was submitted sanctions – not those sanctions that actually took effect after a decision maker had made their judgement. So the stupidity was that you could suspend a customers benefit at your desk (with them in front of you), submit the paperwork to the Decision Maker, who could then either decide to implement the sanction to decide that there was no case to answer.
The end result was that Advisers were suspending benefit on the flimsiest of reasons – simply to hit targets. Never mind the fact that this annoyed the customer – thus raising the risk level to staff and security staff and also wasting the advisers time, the decision makers time, the customers time.
So to summarise – whichever MP is stating that targets were never implemented, is either:
A) Lying – to keep on message and protect their career.
B) Has been misled by those who are there to support him/her – to protect their careers they say whatever the MP wants to hear.
Mr P Black
Source – Welfare News Service, 06 Aug 2014
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck is hoping to spark a debate in Parliament on the state of UK high streets – after admitting the decline of the town’s main shopping thoroughfare “breaks my heart”.
The MP has become alarmed at the number of retail outlets closing in King Street over recent months.
The decision by Marks and Spencer to exit the town after 80 years was a particular body blow.
However, other retailers have left or are about to leave, including Mothercare, Thorntons, Internacionale and Greggs restaurant.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “I’m looking in the very near future either to get a debate in Parliament, or if not, write to communities secretary Eric Pickles, about what the Government intends to do to support our high streets.
“It’s really sad that we have got shops leaving King Street. People automatically say ‘oh, it’s the council’s fault’, but the council does not set business rates and they don’t own those buildings.
“It’s the Government that sets business rates and Labour’s got plans to cut and freeze business rates, and for an energy price freeze to help small business.
“I don’t understand why the Government won’t implement those things because it would actually see a revival of our high streets. I was in King Street recently and it was really sad to see. I used to go there when I was a kid. Each time I see that another shop is closing, it breaks my heart. I think the Government needs to do something about this. They can’t just sit on their laurels.
“Of course, it’s not something which is particular to South Shields, it is happening across the country. I’m going to try and get a debate in Parliament.
“If I can’t get that I will at least write to Eric Pickles and I will give the Gazette a copy of his response, so people can see that I’m at least trying to do something.”
Town Hall bosses have no control on either the setting of rents in the street or on rate levels, which are set by central Government and merely collected locally by the council.
A council spokesman told the Gazette recently that business rates are a “major bone of contention” – but explained that they are set by Government, not the council.
South Tyneside gets to keep 50 per cent of the business rates it collects in the borough, with the other 50 per cent going into a central Government pot.
Out of that, a proportion is redistributed to the council to recognise the local authority’s financial needs.
The last revaluation of properties for rating purposes was carried out in 2008, the next being proposed for 2017.
The council itself pays business rates for its offices, schools, day centres and all other buildings it occupies, in exactly the same way as other private sector occupiers.
Source – Shields Gazette 30 April 2014