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
The Prime Minister has been accused of ‘living in a parallel universe’ after announcing that councils in the North East could make more cuts.
In an interview with us, Conservative leader David Cameron has said that more budget reductions would be imposed – whichever party won the next election.
He insists that councils could make further savings without damaging services, however leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes has said cuts in the North East had already been “savage and brutal”.
Coun Forbes said:
“The Prime Minister is living in a parallel universe The disproportionate cuts his Government have made to northern councils like Newcastle have gone far beyond anything that could reasonably be met through efficiencies – they have been savage and brutal.
“I’d like the Prime Minister to visit Newcastle so he can see for himself the devastating impact of his policies on the most vulnerable in our society – but we’re not his kind of people up here so I doubt he’ll come anywhere near.”
However Mr Cameron said that local councils can continue ‘to find efficiencies’.
“I think local government has done brilliantly at being more efficient.
“And I think when you look at councils’ finances they can continue to find efficiencies by continuing to work together and sharing chief executives, sharing finance teams, sharing back office costs.
“Most councils have seen a large increase in their reserves over the last four or five years, so they do have financial capacity.
“And just like any business you don’t make efficiencies and then say, right, that’s it, I’ve finished.
“Businesses are always asking, how do I get more efficient next year than last year?
“So I think there is still more efficiency to be delivered.”
The comments came despite claims by local authorities in the North East that they have already been cut to the bone.
For example, Newcastle City Council has set out plans for £40million of cuts in 2015 to 2016, on top of £100m saved from budgets since 2012. The measures will lead to the loss of a further 260 jobs.
Coun Forbes said:
“Newcastle City Council has had to cope with budget losses of more than 40% over six years and has lost 2,200 staff since 2010 – the equivalent of the closure of Virgin Money HQ, or Fenwicks department store, or the shutdown of the entire offshore sector on the North bank of the Tyne.
“If this was the private sector there would be a national task force in place to deal with this scale of job losses but we’ve had to deal with this challenge without any assistance from Government.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Mar 2015
A report published today reveals the “human cost” of Government cuts in the North East.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the most deprived areas of England have seen the largest cuts in funding since 2010.
‘The Cost Of The Cuts’ report finds that local authorities have been able to protect front line services by finding new, innovative ways of working, but that capacity for further efficiency savings is fast running out.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, who last week oversaw £40million budget cutbacks and a council tax increase which will see the city’s Band B residents paying £20 more a year, said:
“This research highlights the human cost of the cuts to service users and staff and reinforces the case Newcastle has made for a fairer and more equitable settlement.
“We have long argued that disproportionate Government cuts have had a bigger impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people in our community. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have now added their independent voice to the many who now confirm that, sadly this has indeed been the case.
“Whilst we recognise the need for reductions in public spending, the cuts have been implemented far too quickly and at a pace and scale which has led to service reductions which could otherwise have been avoided. This approach is causing real harm to our communities.
“In Newcastle we have responded by doing all we can to safeguard services to the most vulnerable, and to continue to invest in our city to create the jobs and economic growth which are fundamentally important to tackling the inequalities in health, wealth and quality of life which blight our communities.
“More innovative approaches are possible based on greater devolution of public service budgets to places, and multi-year financial settlements which give local councils and their partners greater certainty about their finances. This would allow us to plan ahead together for a more transformative approach to sustaining public services in the face of continuing austerity.”
Analysis of local government expenditure data reveals that the poorest English authorities have seen reductions of £182 more per head than the most affluent, breaking the historic link between the amount a local authority spends per head and local deprivation levels.
In 2010/11, the most deprived councils had an extra 45% of expenditure per head to cope with additional needs. By 2014/15, this had been reduced to 17%.
Services such as housing and planning have been worst affected across the country, seeing cuts of around 40%.
The report highlights an important difference between the situation in England and in Scotland. It claims the slower pace of cuts in Scotland may have given local authorities more room to invest in preventative measures, which could drive down costs in the medium term by reducing the need for services in future years.
Professor Annette Hastings from the University of Glasgow said:
“Local councils find themselves in an incredibly difficult position. At a time when the agenda is about how to make public services work better, particularly for those that need them the most, councils are being subjected to year on year funding cuts.
“Their capacity to deliver positive change is being reduced just when it is needed the most.”
Josh Stott, policy and research manager at the Foundation said:
“The cuts have forced the pace of local service reform and there have been some positives, in terms of service redesign and new ways of working.
“However, we are now beginning to see the impacts of the cuts filter through on to the quality of local services. There is a general consensus that we are only half way through the cuts and, if we continue on this course, it seems inevitable that the poorest people and places will be even harder hit.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 11 Mar 2015
Cuts have hit the region’s town halls nine times harder than wealthy parts of the South, a new analysis shows – despite the North facing much higher care bills.
The study highlights the areas where people suffer most from poor physical and mental health, disability and early death, imposing huge extra costs on local councils.
The worst-hit fifth of 325 authorities includes no fewer than ten North-East areas, a list headed by Middlesbrough which is ranked fourth for “health deprivation and disability”.
Not far behind are Newcastle (13th), Hartlepool (14th), Gateshead (17th), Darlington (20th), Redcar and Cleveland (21st), Sunderland (25th) and County Durham (28th), followed by Stockton-on-Tees (51st) and South Tyneside (65th).
On average, those ten councils have lost £213.04 of their overall ‘spending power’ for every resident since 2010, according to finance chiefs at Newcastle City Council.
Yet, the average loss in the ten areas with the fewest sick and disabled people, and much lower care costs, is calculated at just £23.19 per head – more than nine times less.
Incredibly, spending power has actually risen at one authority, Elmbridge, in Surrey (up £8.14 per head) – while it has plummeted in Middlesbrough (down £289.02).
The gulf is seen as crucial because social care is the biggest financial burden for cash-strapped councils, which are now also responsible for public health.
Recently, the charity Age UK warned that older people have been left “high and dry” by council cutbacks to help with washing and dressing, to day care places and meals on wheels services.
Hilary Benn, Labour’s local government spokesman, condemned the much-bigger cuts in areas with the biggest ill-health and disability burdens as “deeply irresponsible and unfair”.
Councils hit by the biggest cuts are already known to have slashed spending on adult social care by 12.7 per cent on average – against just 1.2 per cent in more protected authorities.
Labour has promised a new “fairer formula” for distributing local authority grants, but has yet to give details, or say when this would be introduced.
The ‘spending power’ measure bundles together grants, council tax, business rates and the New Homes Bonus, but is widely criticised for disguising the true scale of the pain.
Newcastle’s finance department calculated the changes since the 2010 general election, after the Government refused to produce official figures.
Source – Northern Echo, 14 Feb 2015
Here’s another instance of the Tories attempting to silence Left-wing bloggers and online critics. Today’s I newspaper for the 18th December 2014 has a story on page 4 about Grant Shapps being accused of trying to shut down The Political Scrapbook. Shapps used his lawyers to try to bully the blog, sending it three letters threatening to sue because of two stories it published about the Tory chairman. The same firm of lawyers acting for Shapps also sent a letter threatening legal action on behalf of another, unnamed Tory MP, who was also the subject of a blog post. Despite the threats, neither Shapps nor his unnamed colleague have followed up with legal action.
This isn’t the first or only time politicians, of both the Left, Right and Centre, have tried to close down their critics through threats of legal action. There have been any number of cases of…
View original post 357 more words
Families in crisis will have nowhere to turn when a £10m emergency fund for the region is axed within months, campaigners warn today.
The Children’s Society raises the alarm over Government plans to scrap ‘local welfare assistance schemes’ – seen as a last lifeline to stop vulnerable people falling into debt and destitution.
The cash – administered by local authorities – is helping an estimated 80,000 people across the North-East and North Yorkshire in this financial year, the organisation said.
Some are women fleeing domestic violence, who desperately need money quickly to buy an oven for their new home.
Other grants are given to parents so they can visit their sick child in hospital, or to struggling families when they face an emergency cost such as a broken boiler.
But the funding will be withdrawn from next April, under proposals put forward by the department for work and pensions (DWP) expected to be confirmed in the New Year.
Ministers say local councils can fund the schemes themselves – but those councils must themselves find billions of pounds of savings, amid huge cuts to their Whitehall grants.
Matthew Reed, The Children’s Society chief executive, said:
“This is a cut too far.
“Without these schemes, families will have to choose between going without basic essentials to keep their family safe and healthy – such as food or heating – and turning to high cost credit or payday loans, plunging them into a debt trap.”
Durham County Council – which will lose £407,270, if the plans go ahead – said it had not yet drawn up proposals to plug the gap.
Roger Goodes, head of policy, said:
“We are looking at how we might be able to continue to support people, should funding be withdrawn.
“Once the funding situation is confirmed, we would expect to develop detailed proposals which would be put to members of the council’s Cabinet for consideration.”
> Why didn’t he just say “no idea” ?
But a DWP spokeswoman insisted it was not planning to end support, but giving councils greater freedom how to spend funds from Whitehall.
“This Government is giving councils more control because they understand best their local area’s needs. This is in contrast to the old centralised grant system that was poorly targeted.”
The estimate that almost 80,000 people in the region are currently receiving help is based on the average grant of £124.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
A Labour Government would appoint a Minister for the North East to ensure the region has a strong voice at Westminster, it was revealed today.
Ed Miliband would appoint a Minister for each English region in a bid to ensure the entire country received a fair deal from Government, and to help businesses in their regions attract investment from across the world.
The manifesto commitment came as Miliband also announced plans to divert £20bn in funding from Whitehall to local councils, to spend on improving transport links, building houses, providing training and creating jobs.
To qualify for the cash, councils would need to work together to create a “combined authority” – giving the North East an advantage, as it is one of the first regions to create such an authority.
They would also need to work closely with the local business community and draw up showing how they would use the money to create jobs in the private sector.
The North East had a regional minister under the last Labour government, with the post being held by Newcastle MP Nick Brown.
A Labour government would appoint nine regional ministers, who would sit on a new Regional Committee chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Their duties would include helping local councils, central government and Local Enterprise Partnerships, the economic development bodies led by the business community, to work closely together.
They would also champion their area in Whitehall and ensure that the impact of policy proposals on every part of the country is considered.
Regional ministers will work with other Ministers such as the Business Secretary to implement an industrial strategy to create jobs in every part of the country.
And they will encourage tourism and act as a visible representative of their region at major events.
Speaking in Birmingham, Mr Miliband set out plans to strip national government of billions of pounds and send the cash directly to the regions of England for local politicians to spend.
But warned that funding will go to “city regions” and “county regions” where authorities have come together to create a combined authority.
So far, councils in the Greater Manchester area, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Greater Liverpool regions have created combined authorities – and the North East is about to create its own combined authority bringing together Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Mr Miliband is announcing that plans to devolve £20bn over the course of the next Parliament to combined authorities will be included in Labour’s General Election manifesto.
He said: “Labour’s message at the next election will be clear:
“Devolving power from Whitehall to our towns and cities is essential to generate the new jobs we need.
“We propose a new bargain: Cities and towns that come together with local businesses will be given historic new powers over transport, housing, skills and economic development.
“We are determined to make our great cities and towns the powerhouses for the creation of good jobs.”
> But he still seems set to continue on the same lines as the Tories regarding unemployment and benefits, so for most of us it’ll probably just be a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
Source – Newcastle Journal 08 April 2014
A new super council will be formed on April 1, allowing the North East to compete for millions of pounds in Government funding.
After months of internal rows and territorial battles, the North East’s seven council leaders have secured Government backing to form a Combined Authority.
The move means, for example, that decisions over major transport and jobs investment in Northumberland or Newcastle must be made only after the views of the other council leaders have been taken into account.
There will be no changes to local councils, with voters still electing their local councillor and the same group collecting bins and looking after those in care.
> But we won’t get to vote in matters directly involving this super council ?
But behind the scenes the North East Combined Authority will be seen as the lead voice for the region in Whitehall.
The seven leaders, and their chief executives, will share decision making over skills, transport and investment, have the chance to secure control over any devolved Government budgets and a say in how the region bids for the £2bn Government Growth Fund.
> And no doubt they’ll also share an extra wad in their pay packets.
Cities minister Mr Clark has told MPs he thinks it is “a huge advance in the North East” and called for council leaders, MPs and other jobs groups to come together to formally discuss with him the next steps for the region.
> And will we – those most affected by any decisions – have any input ?
Former regional minister Nick Brown recently secured a series of regular meetings with the cities minister amid concerns the region’s case was not being heard in parliament.
Last night he told The Journal: “If we want access to the money we have to comply with the Government’s preferred structures, and it is very important that members of parliament are involved and can represent their constituents.”
The combined authority sees Durham County Council, Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council, Northumberland County Council and Sunderland City Council form a legally binding structure with the power to borrow cash and the responsibility to share risk.
Simon Henig, the Durham council leader set to chair the combined authority, said: “Working together is the best way to promote jobs and growth and to secure devolution of funding, powers and responsibilities from Government.
“We share ambitious plans for the future of our area and we are determined to work together to deliver them.
“We are therefore delighted to receive today’s news from Cabinet Office and look forward to the necessary formalities being progressed so that we can launch on April 1 this year. This is an important and exciting moment in our history and we are ready now to deliver on our ambitious plans.”
Hopes of forming a combined authority had appeared slim earlier this year when Sunderland Council had halted the process amid concerns that Newcastle would hold too much influence.
Ministers, civil servants and council officials put pressure on Sunderland to drop its objections, but it was only once leader Paul Watson secured a stronger negotiating hand on the leaders’ board that it could go ahead.
There were then further delays when Sunderland decided to hold out for a multi-million pound investment package from the Government for Wearside before going ahead.
This Sunderland City Deal, set to see some £50m spent on a new business park based around Nissan, is now in the final stage of negotiations.
> So it’s all decided, signed, sealed and delivered. You had no input, it doesn’t appear you’ll ever get the chance for meaningful input… but then, this is all about the really important people, like councillors and businessmen. Business as usual, in fact.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 06 March 2014
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter anymore. The end result of his policies will be the same whichever is the case. A result as tragic as it was predictable, as poverty not seen in generations returns to the UK.
The recent case of Tim Salter, who committed suicide after benefits were stopped due to the brutal Atos assessment regime, is far from the first death directly linked to welfare reforms. At the end of last month two suicides linked to Atos assessments were reported in just one week. Also reported just before Christmas was the death of Denis Jones, a disabled former soldier who died alone five weeks after his benefits were stopped. Whilst his death was recorded as natural causes…
View original post 865 more words