Tagged: Department for Communities and Local Government

Letter reveals Nick Clegg’s secret plan for road charging, parking taxes and local beer taxes

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg privately wanted to give councils powers to impose new taxes including road-pricing, workplace parking taxes and local beer and cigarette taxes, it has emerged.

In his role as Deputy Prime Minister he also said councils should be free to impose a tourism tax, such as taxes on visitors staying in hotels, and to scrap existing council tax discounts including the 20% discount for people who live alone.

The proposals were set out in a letter from Mr Clegg to Eric Pickles, the Conservative Local Government Secretary, in 2011 – but were rejected by Mr Pickles.

The latest revelation about the behind-the-scenes debates within the Coalition government comes as Tories and Lib Dems fight a series of pitched battles in marginal seats such as Berwick-upon-Tweed.

While Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband are the only politicians with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after the general election, many of the seats the Conservatives have a realistic chance of gaining on May 7 are held by their Lib Dem Coalition partners.

Mr Clegg wanted councils to have “a much wider range of taxation and charging powers” which they would be free to use.

 

The aim would have been to ensure councils were “self-funding” rather than depending on funding from central government for most of their income, as they do now.

Specific proposals in the letter to Mr Pickles included giving councils “complete freedom over discounts rather than mandating them to offer specific discounts to single people, empty homes, second homes etc”.

The letter continued:

“There is a set of further tax powers that could warrant further consideration, including, but not limited to: fuel taxes; sales taxes; landfill taxes; workplace parking levies; utility taxes; ‘tourism taxes’; local airport levies; duties on alcohol, tobacco and other substances; and stamp duty”.

> He left out a Fresh Air tax. Pay-to-breathe…

And the Government should consider give councils charging powers covering “parking charges; speeding fines; waste collection; road pricing” and more, the letter said.

Mr Clegg told his Cabinet colleague:

“We should drive to ensure that local authorities have the greatest range of revenue raising powers at their disposal and are as unencumbered from central government restraints as possible.”

The letter was written as the Department for Communities and Local Government considered plans to allow councils to retain some of the business rates they collect.

But it has emerged now as the battle between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in marginal seats becomes increasingly bitter, with the two Coalition parties lifting the lid on internal Government discussions from the past five years in an attempt to embarrass each other.

Lib Dems are defending a majority of 2,690 in Berwick.

Both parties have accused the other of secretly backing plans to impose regional pay – which would mean public sector workers such as nurses or teachers were paid less in the north east than those in the south east.

And Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has said that in 2012 the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, distributed ideas for cutting the welfare bill which included limiting child benefit and child tax credit payments to two children – cutting up to £3,500 from a family with three children – and means testing child benefit, which would cut payments by £1,750 for a middle-income family with two children.

Mr Duncan Smith also wanted to remove child benefit from 16 to 19 year olds, a cut of over £1,000 for parents of a single child, according to the Lib Dems.

George Osborne, the Conservative Chancellor, retaliated by claiming the proposals were contained in a policy document “that was commissioned by the Chief Secretary himself”.

In a statement responding to the letter’s publication now, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:

“This Tory spin shows their true colours.

“They simply don’t trust local people and want to govern every aspect of people’s lives from Westminster.

“The proposals in this letter could give local authorities the power to LOWER these taxes in response to the wishes of local people.

“Liberal Democrats believe the best decisions are taken by those closest to the people those decisions effect.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Apr 2015

Newcastle’s most vulnerable families hit when council leaders slash loan support scheme

Thousands of Tyneside’s most vulnerable families will go hungry when a voucher support scheme is scrapped because of austerity cuts, leaders have warned.

A scheme which sees supermarket vouchers given to 2000 families in Newcastle to help feed their children over the school holidays has been axed as the Government slash £40m from the city council’s annual budget.

Under Newcastle City Council’s Crisis Support Scheme, families with children aged five and six, who have had their housing benefit reduced by the bedroom tax and are paying council tax for the first time, received Asda vouchers to help feed their youngsters during the Easter, Christmas and Summer school holidays.

But the council say they are forced to slash the service as the Government roll out their next round of cuts.

Leaders warned that cutting the benefit would lead to an increase in the number of people turning to foodbanks for emergency food parcels.

The announcement comes shortly after a teacher made claims some of his pupils returned to school after holidays “visibly thinner”.

Simon Kennedy, from teacher’s union NASUWT, said:

“It’s easy to point the finger at Newcastle City Council and say it’s their fault but this is the coalition government’s fault.

“This Government are hitting the most vulnerable and least well off families. I don’t think we can blame the council. The reality is when you get millions cut from your budget you have to cut it from somewhere.

“On May 7 people will be given the chance to vote and these are the sort of things people will take into consideration.

“We know people are going hungry and it’s not just over the holidays, it’s week in week out. We know that parents are missing meals to feed their kids.”

 

In April 2013 the Government abolished the Social Fund and asked local authorities to set up replacement schemes for Crisis Loans and Community Care Grants and the council set up the Crisis Support Scheme.

The funding falls under three areas and supports people in crisis, disaster or emergency, provides council tax assistance and did provide meals vouchers to schoolchildren in the holidays before it was cut.

In 2013/14 the council spent £214,000 to spend on the crisis support fund, and a further £173,000 in 2014/15. It will spend £116,000 in 2015/16, which includes a £50,000 overspend from the previous year.

In order to manage the reductions the council said they had no choice but to slash the voucher scheme.

This week letters went out to the affected families as they received their final set of vouchers over the Easter holidays.

Deputy leader of the council Joyce McCarty said:

“We are really disappointed this has been left to the local authority to fund.

“The Government have dumped the austerity cuts with local authorities who can’t afford to pick up the pieces and it’s the least well off in the community that are suffering.”

In Easter 2014 families with one child were awarded a £10 voucher, while families with more than one child were given £20.

A further £40 was handed to families with one child in the summer and an extra £60 to families with more than one child.

And at Christmas 2014 the vouchers were increased to £40 with families with one child and £60 for families with more than one child.

Ms McCarty added:

“It will add to the growing problem. It’s the same families who are struggling, it’s those families having to pay the bedroom tax and it’s things like this that tips people over the edge.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government said they would be unable to offer comment in the run up to the general election.

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Apr 2015

Hundreds join FBU Newcastle rally in protest against changes to pensions and retirement age

Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.

The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.

Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.

The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.

It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.

The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.

However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:

“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.

“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”

Fire Brigades Union Rally at Monument in Newcastle
Fire Brigades Union Rally at Monument in Newcastle

In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:

“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.

“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”

He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.

 

Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”

As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.

The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.

Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.

Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.

The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:

“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015

Government blames North East councils for cuts of £240 million

Ministers have accused North East councils of sitting on unused land and property which they could sell to protect services.

But local authorities facing massive spending cuts of more than £240 million ridiculed the claims – and pointed out that there are strict rules preventing them from selling the land to fund services.

And the comments provoked an angry reaction from Labour, who accused the Government of imposing higher cuts on urban councils in the North East than wealthy parts of the country.

Ministers launched the attack on councils which are reducing services and raising council tax, claiming that they had nobody to blame but themselves.

The Association of North East Councils has warned that crucial services such as care for vulnerable children are in danger of collapse as massive cuts in council funding wipe almost quarter of a billion pounds off budgets across the North East this year.

It says the true impact of Government spending cuts has been hidden because authorities have succeeded in “raiding” other services and diverting funds where they are needed most – but they have reached a point where this just won’t be possible any more.

But Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles issued a statement claiming councils have large sources of untapped revenue including money held in reserve, assets such as property or land, and council tax arrears which have gone uncollected.

And his department published a league table highlighting the worst offenders, with County Durham named as one of the authorities with high levels of surplus assets. The authority is sitting on assets worth £62 million, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The department also named Gateshead as an authority with high levels of surplus assets, worth £49 million.

Government figures also showed that Northumberland council had reserves of £96.4 million while Newcastle-upon-Tyne had reserves of £78.9 million.

Mr Pickles said:

“Reserves have rocketed up in the past few years and councils could be making better use of assets to keep taxes down and protect frontline services, while at the same time doing more to stop the billions they are losing to fraud and collecting more Council Tax arrears.”

But the claims were dismissed by Councillor Alan Napier, Deputy Leader of Durham County Council, who said:

“We do have surplus assets of £62 million which includes both land and buildings, including former school sites.

“Most of these sites are either being sold, up for sale or in the process of being put up for sale. When sold, our hands are tied as to what we can spend the money on as the receipts are ring-fenced and can only be spent on new capital items such as buildings, vehicles or infrastructure.

“I would have expected Mr Pickles to know that receipts from surplus assets cannot be used to reduce council tax or protect front line services ”

Gateshead Council’s strategic director of corporate services and governance, Mike Barker, said

“£41m illion of assets which have been classed as ‘surplus to requirements’ actually relate to land which has already been contractually committed towards building much needed, good quality, affordable housing across the borough.

“The development of this land is already underway on sites at Deckham, Bensham and Saltwell, and Birtley. Over the next 15 years, the joint venture partnership between ourselves, Galliford Try and Home Group will build thousands of new homes on 19 different sites across Gateshead; bringing jobs, investment, and regeneration to many areas.”

The devastating impact of Government cuts on council services was confirmed in a report by the National Audit Office late last year, which warned that authorities were reaching a point where they couldn’t cope.

It said:

“While local authorities have maintained financial resilience overall, some – particularly among metropolitan districts – are now showing persistent signs of financial stress, such as unplanned in-year reductions in service spend.

“Looking to the future, there is increased uncertainty about how local authorities can manage further possible falls in income.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  11 Feb 2015

Sunderland City Council to lose £12million from Government

Sunderland City Council is to lose more than £12million in spending power for next year, it has been announced.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement that the authority’s funding grants settlement for 2015/16 will fall by 4.2 per cent, from £289.179million to £276.936million.

Councils across the country are facing an average cut of 1.8 per cent.

It means that spending per Sunderland household will be down from £2,297 to just £2,200.

Source – Sunderland Echo,  18 Dec 2014

Shelter claims one in every 121 North East households at risk of homelessness

Families are “teetering on a financial knife-edge” with one in every 121 households in the North East at risk of homelessness, a charity claims.

Shelter says 140 children in the region will wake up homeless this Christmas, while 58 people are being put at risk of eviction or repossession every day.

Imagine the panic of receiving a notice through the door saying that you could lose your home – that’s the devastating reality for thousands of people every week,” said Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter.

“The sky high cost of housing is making it harder and harder for families to keep a roof over their heads. And with the stakes so high, all it can take is one piece of bad luck to send a family spiralling towards homelessness.”

Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that in the 12 months to the end of September there were more than 7,250 possession claims – the first stage in a court process which can end with the loss of a home – issued in county courts for homes in the North East.

Of those the highest number – 1,853 – were for properties in County Durham, followed by Newcastle (1,230) and Northumberland (1,016).

However, the highest proportion of homes on which possession orders were sought was in South Tyneside, where 938 orders were applied for – one for every 72 homes in the borough.

Councillor Allan West, South Tyneside Council’s lead member for housing, defended his authority’s approach to dealing with homelessness.

Following a review in 2013, South Tyneside Council developed a new homelessness strategy which made homeless prevention one of our key priorities,” he said.

“Our proactive approach means that we step in to prevent households becoming homeless before their case becomes critical.

“This is reflected in figures released recently by the Department for Communities and Local Government which highlighted that the number of times we intervened during 2013/14 was almost five times the national average.

“As a social landlord, we have an early intervention approach to rent arrears and nowhere has this been better demonstrated than in the award-winning work of our Welfare Reform Team which has enabled over 92% of tenants who wanted to keep their homes after the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ maintain those tenancies.

“Eviction is used as a last resort when all other methods of engagement and arrears collection have failed.

“Since quarter four of 2013 the number of mortgage possession claims in South Tyneside has reduced from 254 to 147 and evictions resulting from possession claims from Council tenancies have reduced from the same period last year.”

At the opposite end of the scale Sunderland had the lowest proportion of applications for possession orders, with 696 – one in every 172 homes – and Gateshead saw the fewest applications overall, with 652.

According to the MOJ, of the around 223,000 possession orders applied for nationally in county courts each year, just under 53,500 result in repossessions.

If the same was true on the regional level that could mean that around 1,740 North East families have had their homes taken off them in the 2013/14 period.

And as Christmas approaches Shelter is warning that continuing “sky-high” housing costs coupled to families having little or no savings to fall back on, mean that “just one thing, like a sudden illness, can be all it takes to tip a family into a downward spiral towards losing their home.”

Our advisers will be working non-stop this Christmas to support families who find themselves battling to keep their home – but our services are already over-stretched and we’re struggling to meet the demand, ” said Mr Robb.

“We desperately need more support from the public to help us make sure no-one is left to fight homelessness on their own this Christmas.”

To support Shelter’s emergency Christmas appeal please visit shelter.org.uk or text SHELTER to 70060 to donate £3

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  02 Dec 2014

Tory Minister Joins Calls For U-Turn On Local Welfare Cuts

This article was written by Patrick Butler, social policy editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 26th November 2014

A Conservative minister has joined growing Tory opposition to the government’s proposals to slash funding for local welfare assistance, which provides emergency help to Britain’s poorest citizens.

Amber Rudd, the minister for climate change, said she had been “fighting” to persuade the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reinstate the £180m a year funding for local authority welfare schemes.

Local welfare assistance, which replaced the old nationally run social fund 18 months ago, provides “safety net” support for low-income families tipped into sudden crisis as a result of homelessness, domestic violence, flooding, illness or sudden financial setback.

Rudd, the MP for Hastings, and a former Treasury whip, is the most senior Tory politician to demand the government reverse plans to scrap central funding for local welfare schemes from this April.

She told BBC Radio Sussex: “We all locally who care about the most vulnerable in society are fighting very strongly to make sure the government reconsiders.”

Separately, Tory-run Essex county council has written to ministers to warn the proposed cut would leave vulnerable people without help and at the mercy of loan sharks.

The council’s leader, David Finch, said:

I want ministers in London to think again and keep funding in place because the consequences of families going through crisis for longer will be far more expensive.”

Other senior Tories who oppose the scrapping of local welfare funding include: Keith Glazier, the leader of East Sussex county council; David Hodge, the leader of Surrey county council; Sir Merrick Cockell, a former leader of the Local Government Association (LGA); and Louise Goldsmith, the leader of West Sussex county council, who has call the plans as “a cut too far”.

A decision on the future of local welfare funding is expected in December alongside the local government funding settlement.

Rudd accused the DWP and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of trying to offload accountability for local welfare on to each other, and promised to “hold ministers’ feet to the fire so that somebody takes responsibility for it”.

Although Rudd said she believed that local government needed to make cuts, it was “too hard” on councils to be expected to run local welfare assistance schemes without separate DWP funding. Councils have experienced an average 37% cut in budgets over the course of this parliament, with more financial pain to come.

The government insists councils can continue to fund local welfare from within their central grant. But the LGA has warned that withdrawal of funding will mean one in six councils will be forced to decommission their schemes, leaving tens of thousands of families without state help.

In a joint letter to ministers with the charities Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Children’s Society and Crisis, the LGA says that scrapping local welfare “will have an acute impact on vulnerable residents and their children and will mean they have nowhere to turn in their time of greatest need”.

Naomi Ridley of Hastings Furniture Service, a charity which has worked closely with other Sussex charities to win cross-party support to save local welfare funding, praised Rudd’s intervention:

We enthusiastically welcome the support of a government minister for the campaign, and hope she can convince her colleagues that abolishing the fund is a terrible, short-sighted mistake with vicious consequences.”

Charities which work with families in poverty have also stepped up pressure on ministers to protect local welfare funding. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, was told during an official visit to a charity “furniture bank” in Ipswich last week that his proposals would penalise the most vulnerable members of society.

> Like his decisions so far haven’t ?

The Furniture Re-Use Network whose 250 members have seen requests for help for secondhand goods, such as beds and fridges, rocket during the past 18 months, said councils were failing to keep pace with an explosion in poverty. It accused ministers of ”having no idea of the scale of unrecorded need of in-crisis households.”

The DWP announced in January that it would stop funding local welfare assistance after 2015, despite promising during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012 that it would conduct a review of the policy before making a decision.

After being threatened with court action over this decision by Islington council and CPAG, however, the government promised in September to reconsider its position and issued a consultation.

The consultation, which closed on Friday, has been criticised because none of the three choices offered to consultees involve continued funding. The housing charity Shelter called it “a cheap pavement shuffle cup trick”.

The Guardian’s investigation of the scheme in April found widespread chaos: in many councils local welfare was underspent, under-advertised and underused. Record numbers of families needing help were turned away and “pushed into the arms of payday lenders and loan sharks”.

A government spokesperson said:

The changes made to funding of local welfare provision were never about abolishing support and it’s a total misrepresentation to suggest they were.

“This government has given councils more control because they understand
best their local area’s needs – this is in contrast to the previous
centralised grant system which was inflexible and poorly targeted.

“We have completed a consultation on how funding should be provided for 2015/16 and will publish the results shortly.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  26 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/tory-minister-joins-calls-u-turn-local-welfare-cuts/

How the North East’s former coalfields are coping more than 25 years on

During the heyday of coal-mining, Ashington in Northumberland was considered the “world’s largest coal-mining village.”

The town had a working pit and was part of a corner of the county where the industry thrived with sites also at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Blyth and Ellington.

However, by the end of the 1980s, things had changed.

By 1967 Newbiggin Colliery had closed and – with Margaret Thatcher in power – in 1986 Bates Colliery at Blyth was shut down with Ashington following suit two years later.

Men were left out of work with 64,000 jobs lost across Britain as Thatcher’s government went to war wth the miners.

Today, the former Ashington mine is the home of a business park with a large pond at its centre.

It looks pleasant enough.

But has the restoration of the site seen the revitalisation of the town, and Northumberland’s former coalfields as a whole?

The local MP – who is a former president of the National Union of Mineworkers,  a charity set up to regenerate Britain’s former coalfields in which 5.5 million people live, and academics commissioned by that charity, certainly don’t think so.

30 years on from the 1984/85 miners’ strike which followed the announcement that pits were to close, The Coalfields Regeneration Trust commissioned Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research to takes stock of social and economic conditions in former coalfields.

The report for the charity, set up to “champion coalfield communities, generate resources to respond to their needs and deliver programmes that make a positive and lasting difference,” revealed deprivation, ill health and poor employment, with just 50 jobs for every 100 people of working age, 11.7% of people reporting long-term health problems and 14% of adults claiming out-of-work benefits.

Labour MP for Wansbeck,  Ian Lavery, whose constituency covers Ashington and Newbiggin, says it is a familiar picture locally.

He said:

“The stark thing from the report is that it shows that despite the attention in these former coalfields towns and villages up and down the country, there is still huge problems in terms of the high unemployment, the high youth employment, the low wage economy.

“Sadly the North has got the highest level of unemployment. We have got associated problems.

“Lack of business opportunities, and there is wide scale child poverty in the towns and villages which is something we should not be looking at in this day and age.

“Some of my wards in my constituency child poverty is 40 per cent.”

Mr Lavery, who has lived and worked in a mining community all his life, has called on the powers-that-be to address what he has deemed a lack of investment in the former coalfields over the years.

There is a whole number of problems arising from that report, that local authorities and the government need to take a look into that report and make sure more investment is made.

“I believe the North East has been left behind. We have not had the resources aimed at other industries.

“I would call on the government to scrutinise what has happened in the North East. Where it has went wrong and make a pledge to put it right.

“We are a cash rich nation, to have children in poverty is a political choice. Money is being spent on different projects.

“My simple project would be to eradicate child poverty.

“We can not have kids can not go to school because they have not got enough food in their bellies.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for that level of poverty in areas in any region.

“What needs to be done is there needs to be more investment in the coalfield communities, there needs to be more job opportunities, more business investments, better skills and knowledge and more job creation.

“If we get that with decent terms and conditions, the rest will follow in line.

“The government need to look at how best to assist the North East region, to eradicate the problems which are clearly identified in this report.”

He felt Northumberland County Council is doing its best to help, given its limited financial clout.

“I think the county council the last couple of years, they are doing their damnedest.

“They have tried to put a lot of things in place.

“They are absolutely cash strapped because of the cuts to local government. They have not got the finance they once had.

“A lot of the service Wansbeck (District Council) provided are not being provided any more.”

Since 2011, the trust has created and safeguarded 911 jobs and secured full or part-time employment for a further 2,921 people living within the coalfields communities throughout England.

Since it was established 15 years ago, programmes delivered by the trust have benefited hundreds of thousands of people in the British coalfields, including helping more than 21,000 people into work and over 187,000 to gain qualifications and new skills.

Chairman of the charity Peter McNestry said:

“We welcome Ian’s support and absolutely agree that additional finances are required if we are to make a difference in these areas.

“We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields meaning they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.”

He added:

“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. An entire industry ceased to exist, which employed directly and indirectly most of the people living within these areas. We cannot just turn our backs and walk away. “These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”

The government said its investment in the trust is proof of its support for former coalfields, with over £200m given to the body over the last 15 years, and money ploughed into the areas from other sources.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Long term economic planning has helped to secure a better future and deliver much needed growth.

“We have given over £220 million to support to the Coalfields Regeneration Trust since 1999.

“They have been moving to a self-financing model and the trust now has a strong portfolio of investment and an opportunity to concentrate on the areas where they really add value.

“Regeneration is essential to building a strong and balanced economy, which is why we have given extensive support to many of these areas with the £1.4billion Regional Growth Fund, Local Enterprise Partnerships and City Deals.”

The county council said it is working to improve the former coalfield areas, drawing in investment from elsewhere in addition to spending money of its own.

The authority said its top priority, along with the hoped for dualling of the A1 North of Morpeth, is to secure around £65m to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line to passenger services.

Furthermore, the council is leading the project for a new £30m South East Northumberland Link Road.

In addition, Arch, the authority’s county development company, is leading creation of a ten year investment plan for Ashington.

This could see a potential £74m ploughed into the town and bring 1,000 high-quality jobs.

Arch is also leading the delivery of a new £20m leisure and community facility at Ashington while the council is proposing to move its headquarters from Morpeth to the town.

The authority furthermore cited its support for the opening of a new £120m Akzo Nobel factory at Ashington.

It also highlighted the new £8m Blyth Workspace building being led by Arch, the first part of the town’s Enterprise Zone.

The council has furthermore secured £600,000 for preparatory work on the former power station site at East Sleekburn which could host 500 new jobs.

The authority also highlighted the £1m being invested at Lynemouth by the Big Lottery Fund and its setting up of a poverty issues task and finish group.

Coun Dave Ledger, deputy leader of the county council, said: “The council is putting former coalfield communities at the heart of our future plans for growth as part of creating a balanced economy across the county.

“I believe there is real cause for optimism in the former coalfields and increasingly we can look to a future that is not defined by but always remembers and celebrates the legacy of our industrial heritage.”

Source –  Newcastle Journal,  17 Nov 2014

Homeless Families Forced To Live In ‘Unsafe’ Temporary Accommodation Soars To Five Year High

The number of homeless families housed in temporary accommodation across England has risen to a five-year-high, the latest figures show.

Figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 59,710 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation in England, including B&B’s, at the end of June 2014 – 6% higher than June 2013 and the highest level for five years.

The startling figures have been blamed partly upon a significant rise in the number of private sector tenants losing their homes, as landlords cash in on a resurgent housing market.

Charities raised concerns earlier this year about an apparent rise in the number of ‘revenge evictions‘ (This is Money).

30% of all homeless applications between 1 April and 30 June 2014 came from private sector tenants. The figure represents a 27% increase on the same quarter in 2013 and is the most common reason given by households for becoming homeless.

Gill Payne, director of policy and external affairs at the National Housing Federation, said:

This shocking rise in the number of families stuck in emergency housing is down to our desperate shortage of affordable homes.

“It’s completely unacceptable that we have thousands of people living in so-called temporary housing, including B&Bs, that are expensive, often in poor condition and offer no stability from which to rebuild their lives.”

Figures also show that the number of homeless families with children housed in bed and breakfasts (B&B’s) has risen by 2% to 2,130 by the end of June 2013. The number of households without children living in B&B’s increased by 6% to 4,600.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

Behind every one of these shocking statistics stands a person or a family who’s gone through the tragedy of losing their home. And what’s more worrying is that we know these figures are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy and communications for Homeless Link, said:

The fact that so many people are being placed in temporary accommodation should send another clear signal that there is a desperate shortage of homes that are genuinely affordable to those in greatest need. The alternative of housing people in accommodation like B&Bs is not only unsafe, but is also expensive to taxpayers.”

13,140 households were accepted as being homeless in the second quarter of this year (1 April – 30 June 2014), 2% lower than the same time in 2013.

Source – Welfare News Service, 25 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/homeless-families-forced-live-unsafe-temporary-accommodation-soars-five-year-high/

Universal Credit ‘Undeliverable’ Says Former Head Of The Civil Service

This article  was written by Jane Dudman, for theguardian.com on Friday 26th September 2014

Sir Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, has said that the timetable for the government’s controversial universal credit benefits scheme was “too tight” and that a “culture of good news” in the Department for Work and Pensions prevented this being recognised.

Making his valedictory speech on 25 September to an audience of senior civil servants and politicians at the Institute for Government, Kerslake, who stepped down in July as head of the civil service but stays on until the end of February 2015 as permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government, said universal credit was “undeliverable” in the timetable originally set out by the DWP, but that this was not recognised in time by the department, because of a prevailing culture of deference within the civil service.

In 2013, the plan to introduce universal credit, which has been described as involving “fiendishly complicated calculations” had to be “reset to zero”, after more than £600m had been spent.

Kerslake, the former chief executive of Sheffield city council, said leaders needed to be prepared to hear bad news and that those in local government, closer to people directly using services, were more likely to do so.

Reflecting on an often-turbulent two years as head of the civil service, Kerslake reiterated that his greatest regret was the delay in producing a plan on improving civil service diversity. “The story on diversity is still too variable across departments,” he said. “We need in particular to tackle the macho culture that too many women experience and increase the number of BME staff at senior level, which has flat lined in recent years.

Kerslake said he was proud of the civil service reform plan, published in June 2012, but he regretted trying to push through changes to civil servants’ terms and conditions at the same time as the plan. He also said that there would be at least five more years of austerity in public spending, whoever wins the next general election, and that the next five years of spending cuts would be tougher because the “easier savings” have already been made.

He also said there should be greater devolution of power from Whitehall to local government, even if that meant accepting that, as in the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal, sometimes “things go wrong”. Kerslake said devolution could not be evenly spread around the country. Some places such as Birmingham, he said, are less far forward in working as combined authorities, but they would be spurred towards action if they saw other regions getting greater powers.

Kerslake refused to comment on the new arrangements following his resignation, including the appointment of a new chief executive. Whoever takes that job will report in to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has taken on Kerslake’s former role as head of the civil service. He said he and Heywood had a “positive working relationship”, but added that “noises off” – briefings against civil servants – had been the most damaging thing to civil service morale.

Source – Welfare News Service, 26 Sept 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/universal-credit-undeliverable-says-former-head-civil-service/