Tagged: Hartlepool Council

Two Hartlepool councillors turn down pay rise – and urge others to do the same

Two councillors have told civic chiefs they do not want an increase in their allowances – and have called on other members to snub the offer.

Hartlepool Borough Council’s chief finance officer Chris Little wrote to all 33 councillors this week to tell them that their basic allowance of £5,825 was going up to £5,953.

The proposed hike in allowances was recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel, and was discussed by the full council in July.

Councillors did not approve the increases at the time and a Labour-backed amendment was put forward saying if they were to be given a rise then it should be in line with any increases given to council staff.

Since then, a 2.2 per cent rise for council staff has been agreed at Government level, therefore triggering the cash boost for councillors.

But councillors Pamela Hargreaves and Jonathan Brash, who refer to themselves as Independent Labour but are classed as Independent on the council’s website, said members did not “deserve” a rise.

Coun Brash said:

“Most public sector workers have seen just a 1 per cent rise, making them poorer year on year.

“The idea of local politicians accepting any rise in these circumstances, let alone 2.2 per cent, makes me sick to my stomach. This was a Labour stitch-up from the beginning. Many councillors said it was wrong then and it remains wrong today.

“It’s time Hartlepool had some real Labour principles back in the council chamber.”

Coun Hargreaves said:

“Let us be absolutely clear. Council staff deserve this pay award However, to suggest that local councillors are comparable and deserve the same pay increase is abhorrent and we will not accept it.”

The authority’s deputy leader Coun Carl Richardson accused them of “cheap political point-scoring”.

Coun Richardson, deputy leader of Hartlepool Council, said:

“This is cheap political point-scoring.

“Hartlepool Councillors received no increase in their Basic Allowance for four years from 2009/10 to 2012/13 and the Full Council last year rejected the Independent Remuneration Panel’s recommendation that the Basic Allowance should be increased each year, which would have meant a figure of £6,517 for 2015/16.

“Instead, it agreed an amendment put forward by the Labour Group that councillors should stick to a previous 2013 resolution that they should only receive an increase in their basic allowance in line with any pay increase received by council employees from the Government, as and when that occurred.

“The current increase – which will be payable from 1st January 2015 and will be fixed for 2015/16 – will take the councillors’ basic allowance from £5,825 to £5,953.

“It means Hartlepool will still have the lowest councillors’ basic allowance in the North-East – significantly less than the North-East average of £8,965 and way below the highest allowance in the region of £13,300.”

Source –  Hartlepool Mail, 16 Jan 2015

Council Tax benefit will not be cut in Hartlepool despite financial pressures

Councillors  have recommended not to increase the cut in levels of Council Tax Benefit from next year to help hard-pressed families in Hartlepool.

At the end of March 2013, the Government abolished its national Council Tax Benefits scheme and ordered councils to set up their own known as Local Council Tax Support (LCTS) scheme.

At the same time, the Government cut the funding to administer the scheme, which equated to 13.4 per cent for Hartlepool, and further funding cuts are being made in 2015/16.

Councils were also required to fully protect low-income pensioners, which potentially pushed up the funding cut for working age households to around 20 per cent.

Although many councils immediately introduced the 20 per cent cut in April 2013, Hartlepool Council limited the cut to 8.5 per cent in 2013/14 and 12 per cent in 2014/15 to help families facing financial pressures.

Councillors are expected to maintain the cut at 12 per cent following a recent meeting of the council’s Finance & Policy Committee.

Committee chairman Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, said:

“Ever since the LCTS scheme was introduced, we have tried very hard to cushion the blow on local people by using money set aside for this purpose, including our Family Poverty Fund.

“Councillors talk to people every day and fully understand how families are being severely hit by the Government’s various welfare reform changes and as councillors we have a responsibility to ease that burden if we can.”

Neighbouring councils increased the cut by 20 per cent from April 2013.

This means that based on the LCTS scheme cuts since April 2013 and proposed schemes for 2015/16, the 5,425 Hartlepool families living in Band A properties will receive £310 more support than families in neighbouring towns.

The final decision on Hartlepool’s LCTS scheme will be agreed by the Full Council in December.

Councillors have also recently recommended that Council Tax is frozen for a fifth successive year in Hartlepool, despite the Government cutting the Council’s grant support by £8.2m in 2015/16.

 Source –  Hartlepool Mail, 28 Nov 2014

North councils left with funding shortfall after those left reeling from bedroom tax cry for help

Cash-strapped North councils have diverted more than £300,000 of funds to top up Government help for those left reeling by the bedroom tax.

Welfare reforms have seen changes made to benefits which have forced many to seek smaller housing while scores of others struggle to pay their rent.

Thousands applied for Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) cash payments to get by, but now many councils have spent over the amount allocated by Government and have had to find extra funds from elsewhere.

Fears are also spreading the situation could get worse as authorities may be even more out-of-pocket next year when the Government will cease to offer DHP funding.

Hartlepool Council had one of the highest deficits – £115,239 – with the total spent on DHP hitting almost half-a-million pounds.

In Gateshead, the overspend was £90,000, after the authority spent £583,000. Chiefs will now bid for extra DHP cash as the council foresees a further shortfall.

Sunderland City Council spent £690,000 and had a shortfall of £32,000. North Tyneside Council reported an underspend while Durham County Council was granted additional DHP funds to cope with demand.

In Middlesbrough the figure was £37,420, Redcar and Cleveland spent £5,000, while Stockton was the lowest over their allocated funds at £932.

Both Hartlepool and Middlesbrough councils said they met the shortfall by using money from the Local Welfare Provision (LWP), which can also be used to help people struggling with welfare reforms.

But the LWP will also be removed by the Government from April 1, 2015.

South Tyneside Council was left with a shortfall of £8,000 after granting £314,000 worth of DHP applications.

Meanwhile Newcastle City Council – which by far paid out the most DHP grants at £1.5m – was granted an additional £861,000 in DHP cash from the Government to cope with almost 3,000 applications.

Coun Dave Budd, Middlesbrough’s Deputy Mayor and executive member for resources, said: “The Coalition Government’s welfare reforms have placed a great many people in real hardship.

“From a very early stage we have been working with many partners – including local housing providers and the Citizens Advice Bureau – to address issues which can have a devastating effect on people’s lives.

“With the removal of the funding for the Local Welfare Provision from April next year, it will become even tougher to help those most in need. However, we will continue to do everything in our power as a local authority to mitigate those impacts.”

Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Redcar Anna Turley highlighted the situation, saying: “David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s bedroom tax has been a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of people hit by the cruel levy and it has come at a huge cost for local taxpayers.”

However, the DWP says more than £20m specifically earmarked to help people adapt to welfare reforms was not spent by UK local authorities last year.

Figures show almost two-thirds (63%) of councils paid out less than their total DHP allocation to tenants.

A spokesman for Hartlepool Council said: “The council recognises the significant detrimental impact that the bedroom tax is having on households and as a council we are doing everything possible to ease the pain for residents.

“In 2013/14, the Government’s introduction of the bedroom tax resulted in reduced housing benefit entitlements in Hartlepool of over £1m and affected over 1,400 households.”

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, said: “We tripled support for vulnerable people to £180m last year to ensure the right help was in place during our far-reaching welfare reforms.

“The figures also show that recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated.

“Our vital reforms are fixing the broken welfare system by restoring fairness for hardworking people and making sure work always pays, as part of our long-term plan.”

> The long-term plan evidently being to return Britain to being a feudal society…

Source – middlesbrough Evening Chronicle, 31 Aug 2014

North-East councils allow meetings to be filmed

Councils  in the region have agreed to allow the public to film their meetings after the Government ordered local authorities to improve access to voters.

A survey by The Northern Echo revealed that councils across the North-East and North Yorkshire have approved the filming of committee meetings.

Members of the public are also usually allowed to post updates on meetings on social networking sites from council chambers.

Earlier this year, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles published a guide for people explaining how they could attend and report on their local council meetings.

The guidance explicitly stated that councils should permit the public to film council meetings.

Despite councils elsewhere in the country still refusing to allow filming, local authorities in this region appear to be complying with the guide.

Several councils have allowed filming for several months while others are currently in the process of changing their procedures to comply with the Government guidance.

Durham County Council agreed in July on a protocol for members of the public wishing to record meetings.

These regulations came into force on August 6.

Although it did not have a specific policy on the issue, Darlington Borough Council said it also allowed its meetings to be filmed.

 Hartlepool Council has allowed filming since January.

Its guidance on the issue states: “The council is committed to being open and transparent in the way it conducts its decision making.

“Filming, recording and photography at council meetings will therefore be allowed subject to certain restrictions and conditions.”

A draft protocol regarding this issue will be considered by Stockton Council’s cabinet on September 4 and by full council on September 17.

Sunderland City Council also allows its meetings to be videoed.

Dozens of meetings open to the public are held every year and the city council has always welcomed people to them,” said leader councillor Paul Watson.

Several councils noted that filming was allowed, but the chair of the meeting must be notified in advance.

Authorities also asked for filming to be done overtly, rather than done in secret, and not in a way that was disruptive.

Source – Northern Echo,  20 Aug 2014

Hartlepool – Warning over service cuts

Senior officers have warned ongoing budget cuts mean Hartlepool Council will soon reach the point were it has to stop some services.

Officials issued the stark warning as the initial budget talks for the next financial year, 2015-16 got underway – with the council needing to cut £5.626m in 2015-16 and £8.663m in 2016-17.

Councillors on the finance and policy committee met to discuss two reports, outlining early plans to cut £515,000 from the chief executive’s department and £2.4m from regeneration and neighbourhoods.

Regeneration and neighbourhoods director Denise Ogden said they hadn’t set individual targets for each division, instead looking at the “best options available that would cause residents the least pain”.

At the meeting savings of £650,000 were put forward from that department including:

* Reducing the Community Pool funding, which supports voluntary and community groups, by £220,000, as previously reported.

* Savings of £265,000 in property management. That includes property costs associated with the ongoing review of community centres and youth centres, and the closure of Adult Services Warren Road and the Community Safety premises in York Road.

* Savings of £115,000 from support services and £50,000 from the community safety budget.

Mrs Ogden added: “We are now in a position were the only alternative option is to stop some of the services.

In the chief executive’s department, the majority of the £515,000 savings will come from removing posts left vacant, voluntary redundancies and early retirement.

The legal services division has to make savings of £65,000. Peter Devlin, chief solicitor, said they had no vacant posts and were trying to bring in more income.

More than 90 per cent of the savings in the chief executive’s department will be made by reducing staffing levels with some changes to day to day running costs.

Officers say they will be in a better position in October to say how jobs are affected by the 2015-16 cuts. Labour councillor Marjorie James wanted to know what the impact would be in terms of job losses when the reports came back.

Labour councillor Chris Simmons added: “The amount of stress put on the staff will increase with the cuts to come. While I appreciate we have to make the cuts we need to be careful with the health and wellbeing of remaining staff.”

Andrew Atkin, assistant chief executive, said: “There is a move away from were we have been spreading resources to were we stop doing a particular service.”

Source – Hartlepool Mail, 23 July 2014