Tuesday, 31 December 2013
I tend to use New Years resolutions as a bit of a 'to-do' list for the year. Here's my results list for things achieved in 2013, and my plan ahead for 2014!
Number 1 priority:
1. Get elected to Norfolk County Council on 2nd May 2013 (and try to get Brenda elected)
This didn't go so well at first! I failed to win a seat on Norfolk County Council by a single vote! I got 813 votes whereas the UKIP candidate got 814 votes. Brenda Canham also failed to win Thetford-East division by a fairly significant margin. However, the UKIP Councillor that beat me, went on to resign 6 weeks after being elected, prompting a by-election which I went on to win with 1,171 votes - which I was incredibly proud of. The campaign was immense - hot, exhausting, but ultimately a fantastic experience. Thanks so so much to all the incredible people that helped make this a reality.
2. Obtain funding to support Community Football Coaching sessions for the TCA for a further year - Our Breckland Youth Advisory Board application earlier in the year was not submitted, but the football coaching project was fortunate to be granted £3,000 from Thetford Town Council to continue delivery in the Spring of 2013. We were successful with a YAB application to provide Summer Holiday activities, but our further YAB application for Football Coaching in October 2013 failed, and we are currently not delivering any football coaching activities but I am working on a fairly comprehensive application to Sport England.
3. Deliver Horticulture project - we got off the ground our gardening club sessions at the London Road allotment and these went really well throughout the Summer.
4. Complete house maintenance plan - when I bought my house 3 years ago it was a bit of a mess! It was a repossession and needed a lot of work doing to it. I was really pleased that within the last year I managed to get a new shower and enclosure installed (thanks to Dad) and decking in the back garden (thanks to James) and the small room decorated (thanks to Angus). For the first time since I moved in, I've actually been really pleased with the house and it feels 'homely'.
5. Enrol on a further education course – E..g Charity Management? I've not been able to complete this as intended, purely due to time constraints. But I am enrolled on an LGA Leadership course for the New Year which I am looking forward to.
6. Get a part-time job - I was pleased to get the opportunity to work for Richard Howitt MEP for 6 months this year from June through to the end of November. This gave me a great insight into the workings of the European Union and helped me to understand further how the Labour Party and senior politicians operated.
7. Identify a minimum of 1,000 supporters across West Thetford and 500 across Thetford-East and get half of each registered as postal voters - half achieved! Certainly have much greater knowledge of Labour voters for the Thetford West division, thanks primarily to the by-election, but Thetford - East info is still somewhat lacking.
NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS 2014!
Number 1 priority: Make Charles Burrell into a successful community project by Christmas 2014
We have the opportunity to turn this into the most amazing community project in Thetford (and further afield), and my number one priority for this year will be to make this happen.
Clear outstanding debts and purchase 3 or 4 bedroom property by end of 2014
Obtain money for Football Coaching project
Obtain money for Gardening Club
Get backdoors replaced - its bloomin freezing in the front room all the time! Decorate bedroom and erect fence in front garden.
Undertake some additional learning
Get to a minimum of 16 stone by Christmas 2013
Co-ordinate Euro election campaign in Breckland / SW Norfolk and raise money for Breckland elections, form Breckland LCF, launch 100 Club, start regular canvassing sessions, begin selecting candidates
Monday, 23 December 2013
Thursday, 19 December 2013
Comments from Cllr Brenda Canham in relation to Bedroom Tax discussion at Breckland Council on 18.12.13
Mr Chairman, as somebody that has lived in social housing my whole life, and as somebody that has worked to improve the lives of tenants in social housing for over 20 years – this is an important subject for me and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to talk about this.
Forgive me if I refer to ‘bedroom tax’ – I’m aware that technically it’s ‘spare room subsidy’ but most people know it more commonly as the bedroom tax so I’ll stick to that.
Now, some of you may remember the old Breckland housing stock that was transferred? This was mainly made up of 3 bedroom houses. That was the need back then, but times have changed and the needs of people locally have changed. We have known this has been an issue for some time and there have been some efforts to address that this, but clearly not enough as the variety of properties available clearly does not match the need that exists. This was a fairly significant issue, but then came along the bedroom tax – this has made the situation desperate for so many people.
I can think of numerous people living on my ward that want to move to smaller properties but cannot. It is so unfair that the Government, or maybe the media, I’m not sure, has been painting those affected by this as people greedily hanging onto properties too large for them when actually, most people are incredibly grateful for the help they’ve been given and don’t even want a house of the size they have. The disabled person on Edinburgh Way stuck in a 3 bedroom house is a good example, a bungalow or ground floor flat would be most appropriate. The young girl with mental health conditions and her two young children on Ripon Way, in a 3 bedroom house, but applied for a 2 bedroom house, but told to accept the 3 bedroom or be taken off the housing list.
In Britain today, there are 310 new claimants for housing benefit every day. Housing prices are set to rise by 34% by 2020 and rents by 49%. Unemployment has risen by 24% from 2008 to 2013 – these factors, and many more have resulted in an increased demand for social housing.
I hope that members today can support my motion. As a Council, we need to be working in partnership with the housing suppliers. But we also need to prove to residents that we recognise that this is an issue. Most people I know affected by the bedroom tax think that the Council does not care and is not interested in their situation. We have the opportunity to send a message today that we do get it, and we are working to address it.
Comments in relation to the ‘bedroom tax’ discussion at Breckland Council by Councillor Terry Jermy, Thursday 18th December 2013
Mr Chairman, I’ve got a small confession to make. I was somebody that wasn’t particularly bothered about the ‘spare room subsidy’ at first. I didn’t quite see what the fuss was about. It wasn’t until I started to get a number of phone calls from people affected that I realised that something was seriously wrong with this policy.
One in particular I shall mention. There is a lady who lives near to me in a very modest two bedroom house. She is technically of ‘working age’ although I think she is close to retirement and I know that she struggles with her health and works as many hours as she can but finance is an issue. She’s the sort of person you would describe as in a 'poverty trap'. She earns £782 a month after tax and national insurance, £396 of this goes straight out in rent for the house. The bedroom tax being introduced took away a further chunk of what was already a limited amount of disposable income. Given her age and her vulnerability she didn’t particularly want to get a lodger for her ‘spare room’ which wasn’t really a spare room at all, it used to be her sons room who’s now grown up and moved away and it provided a space when he came to visit as he worked away a lot. But anyway, she got a lodger… praying on her vulnerability, he stole from her.
This woman’s story is not uncommon unfortunately, I could give numerous personal examples of people being hit by this bedroom tax, it is grossly unfair and really affecting some of the most vulnerable in the communities that we all represent.
I was genuinely surprised to see Breckland so high up on the list of places affected in the recent figures that were published. We have over 1,000 people losing on average around £800 a year. How can Breckland be more severely affected that Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft and nearly as many as Kings Lynn? This is a significant number of families being penalised. Given that probably 90% of the people that have come to me and have been affected by this have stated that they actually want to move or downsize, this leaves me to believe that it is because of our shortage as a district of one and two bedroom properties and bungalows that there is such an issue. This places a significant responsibility on us as a Council to do something about this as we cannot allow the suffering to continue that has been caused by this policy. So I would urge you to support this motion as one small step towards addressing the situation that exists.
Tuesday, 17 December 2013
Some months ago I drafted a letter to those people locally that I believe supported me in the 1st August Thetford-West by-election. I wanted to thank them for their support and encourage them to get more involved. The letter was very well received and we have seen several people sign-up to become Labour Party members and a number of the recipients attended our annual Christmas social. One response however was not so encouraging. The person that received the letter responded with the below:
"Our family vote, and that means vote U-KIP from now on! We didn't vote for you, Terry. Voted BMP once, and UKIP twice. Also, we didnt like the fact that you went around telling non-Brits not to vote UKIP. The Conservative Party got us into this god for sacken mess, Labour in and have made the country worse, and its not getting better. People arnt stupid, will never ever give Labour my vote again, until they stop sending our money overseas. I'm living on £59.75 per week carers allowace and £41 per per income support - that's not bloody living Terry. The flameing Polish and god know what else in this country get more and they wern't flameing born here or paid into our system!"
I wasn't going to respond at all, but then increasingly I believe that this sort of warped and ignorant view needs to be challenged at every opportunity - we cannot allow the propaganda or UKIP or the right win press to hold sway. I doubt my response will change this persons mind at all, but for me, I feel it's important that I just didn't accept what had been written. My response is as follow;
Councillor Terry Jermy
190 Elm Road
Tuesday 17th December 2013
Thank-you for taking the time to write to me recently outlining your concerns and explaining why you feel the need to vote UKIP. I wanted to respond to your letter as fully as I could so that I am able to address the points that you raised…
I was very disappointed to read about the change of views for both yourself and your mother. I was disappointed for two main reasons.
Firstly, I can recall spending a considerable amount of time helping both yourself and your mother with different issues that you have brought to me to address in my capacity as a Councillor for our community. I hope you would both agree that I helped you with those issues to the best of my ability and achieved as much as I could within my very limited powers as a local Councillor.
You mentioned in your letter that you voted UKIP for the past two elections. Presumably therefore you voted this way for the May 2013 County Council elections and again for the 1st August by-election – on both occasions I was the Labour candidate and on both occasions, UKIP put forward candidates that had done absolutely nothing to earn the votes of yourself, or anybody else for that matter. They had no track record of supporting their community. During the May election, UKIP barely even bothered to deliver a leaflet promoting their candidate at all, and the one that did go to some houses was frankly scaremongering rubbish about immigration and didn’t even mention their candidate.
It always disappoints me greatly when people vote for candidates that do not earn the votes of the electorate, or when people vote for candidates for reasons not associated with the poll. For example, judging by your letter – you would be primarily concerned about national matters which is why you voted for UKIP. Immigration and benefits generally are very valid issues but they were not related to this poll, i.e. a County Council election. That said, I respect your right to vote for whomever you want and for whatever reasons – that’s democracy, but I wanted to outline my own frustrations in this regard.
The second reason that I was disappointed with your decision is that I really don’t believe that UKIP have the answers to the problems that you mentioned
UKIP do not believe in strong public services and support for ordinary people – they are even worse than the Tories in this regard.
UKIP pray on people’s fears about migrant workers and get people to believe that they are the reason that people are struggling. For example, UKIP would have people believe that the reason we have a shortage of Council housing is because they are full of undeserving migrants and the reason we cannot afford to support British citizens with appropriate levels of benefits is because too much money is being given away to undeserving migrants who “have not paid into the system”. I do not believe either of these things to be true. We have a shortage of Council housing locally because Conservative controlled Breckland Council has not invested sufficiently in Council housing for decades, and we have a national Conservative Government that has reduced funding for Council housing by a massive extent (over 50% since the 2010 general election) and they have been reducing benefits for people or cutting them entirely, e.g. they implemented the incredibly unfair ‘bedroom tax’.
There has been study after study that has shown that migrants coming to our country are far less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens. Study after study shows that migrants contribute more to our economy then they take out. I agree that our entire benefits system needs sorting out, but it is wrong to blame migrant workers in the way you described.
The Government’s own figures show that European migrants are 60% less likely to claim benefits compared to British citizens and migrants are 58% less likely to live in social housing. Inactive European nationals – i.e. those out of work and not seeking employment – cannot access income-related benefits in the UK. Contributory benefits can only be accessed if the necessary contributions and other conditions are met. Only European nationals with ‘worker status’ – in work or demonstrably seeking employment – can access in-work benefits such as housing benefit, council tax benefit and tax credits. In short, they’ve got to have paid into the ‘system’ or be paying into it, before they can take out of it.
Child benefit, child tax credit, state pension credit and employment support allowance for European nationals all depend on national insurance contributions and passing a ‘right to reside’ test, introduced by Labour in 2004.
As for the unemployed, EU law only grants access to unemployment benefits on the same basis as nationals of the country in question. So migrants coming here from European countries have the same rights and have to go through the same processes as a UK citizen wanting to apply for jobseeker’s allowance – i.e. UK citizens have to demonstrate that they have contributed to the system before they are allowed to be in receipt of benefits, and the same applies for people from other European citizens. EU citizens seeking work can claim JSA for up to six months and must undergo the same requirements as a UK jobseeker – signing a Jobcentre contract, attending interviews and so on. Unemployed EU citizens cannot claim income support, employment support allowance or the state pension credit.
Rules on who is eligible for free comprehensive NHS care are decided by the UK government, not the EU. In addition to UK citizens, others with access include overseas workers and students and citizens from countries with whom we have a reciprocal healthcare agreement. With the exception of emergency treatment by a GP or at A&E, overseas visitors are charged for all inpatient and outpatient hospital care. Immigration rules say that if someone owes more than £1,000 in NHS charges they will be refused a visa to enter the UK.
Some people have said to me about European residents coming here to claim child benefit for children in their home country, e.g. Poland. This is illegal, as the Governments own website states:
Who qualifies for Child Benefit?
To get Child Benefit you'll normally need to:
· be physically present in the UK - together with your child
· be 'ordinarily resident' in the UK - so your main home is here
· have a 'right to reside' in the UK
· be responsible for the child who's living with you
I am proud to be a member of the Labour Party because I believe that they are the party that stands for fairness and equality. For myself, I believe that there is nothing fair about people abusing a system and taking out of it before they have paid into it – that is my belief, and they would seem to be similar to what you have said. However, I also believe that there are those with genuine need that should be supported and helped, but this should be done in a fair and managed way and if migrants work and pay into a system, they should be eligible for support when they need it – they have after all earned it. There is also nothing fair about migrants getting preferential treatment for things such as housing, again – I don’t believe this to be true. In fact, one of the criteria in Breckland for council housing is that you have to demonstrate a ‘local connection’ of a minimum of three years. I.e. when you apply for housing locally, you have to explain your connection to the area over a period of time, so migrants normally score less points in this regard. I voted for this to be accepted, and argued for the level to be set at five years.
Rather than blaming migrants, shouldn’t we be looking at creating a fairer society? for example, is it fair that £22million pounds is sent abroad to British citizens in the form of ‘winter fuel payments’ which they are currently still eligible for even though they have chosen to live in France or Spain for example.
Is it fair that tax avoidance by millionaires and big businesses in the UK costs the economy £70billion pounds! Perhaps our Country should be focusing on these things?
I hope yourself and others realise it is the Labour Party that is championing improvements for ordinary people. For example, the living wage, i.e. calling for the minimum that people should be paid per hour to be £7.50 as this is the amount needed to have a reasonable quality of life. It is the Labour Party that has pledged to scrap bedroom tax and is currently campaigning to freeze energy prices, rather than allowing energy companies to get away with huge profits (£3billion in profits in 2012!).
Finally, just to answer your other specific point. During the by-election, myself and other campaigners were absolutely asking migrants not to vote for UKIP, we were asking British people the same thing. After I won the election, I was accused by UKIP of only winning because we got migrants to turn out and vote Labour, this was absolute rubbish. After the election I obtained a copy of the electoral roll that shows who voted and who did not. Those people registered to vote who are not British are recorded differently on the electoral roll so it is possible to work out how many non-British people voted.
In total, 121 non-British citizens voted on August 1st, and even if they all voted for me – which is highly unlikely, then I would still have won because I won with 171 more votes than UKIP. That 121 figure includes for example people who have lived here for many years, people who would not normally be regarded as ‘foreigners’.
I hope my response sufficiently answers the points that you raised.
I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Councillor Terry Jermy
LABOUR GROUP CALLS FOR ACTION AS EDP FIGURES REVEAL FULL EXTENT OF ‘BEDROOM TAX’ AFFECT IN BRECKLAND DISTRICT
MOTION TO BE DEBATED ON THURSDAY 19TH DECEMBER AT BRECKLAND COUNCIL MEETING
The Labour Group on Breckland Council is calling for action on the lack of one and two bedroom properties in the District as the full implications of the so called ‘bedroom tax’ were revealed thanks to EDP research.
Figures published by the EDP show that the Breckland District has over 1,000 people affected by the Governments ‘spare room subsidy’ commonly known as the bedroom tax. On average, families have lost around £800 each as a result. Breckland has the third highest number of claimants in the EDPs circulation area, which reviewed 15 different Councils.
Now, Labour Councillor Brenda Canham (Thetford-Abbey Ward) has submitted a motion to the next Breckland full Council meeting, which occurs on Thursday 19th December 2013. The motion calls on the authority to recognise the “significant impact that the spare room subsidy changes” are having in the Breckland area and “calls upon registered social landlords to do all that they can to ensure that there are suitable, smaller properties for people to move into, so that the impact of these changes is reduced”.
The Labour Group claims that the number of claimants in the District is so high because there has been insufficient investment in social and affordable housing and there has not been enough focus on smaller properties, e.g. those with one or two bedrooms. This has resulted in people being forced into properties that are not suitable and they are now being unfairly penalised by the bedroom tax.
Councillor Canham said; “We’re supposed to be an affluent area, but we have the third highest, nearly the second highest number of people affected by bedroom tax in this area. This is a cruel policy that is affecting some of the most disadvantaged people in society. The affect here in Breckland has been compounded by under-investment in social and affordable housing by Conservative controlled Breckland Council over many years. People have been forced into properties that are not suitable for them and they are now being penalised by this change and it is pushing many over the edge”.
Councillor Canham points to a young girl aged 25 that lives on her ward and suffers from anxiety and depression. She applied for a two bedroom property, for herself and her two young children but there were none available. She was told to accept a three bedroom house or be removed from the Councils housing waiting list altogether. She’s now being hit by the bedroom tax and struggling to pay her bills, despite working as many hours as she can.
The national Labour Party has pledged to scrap the bedroom tax should they return to power in 2015.
Figures published in the EDP:
FULL MOTION SUBMITTED BY COUNCILLOR BRENDA CANHAM
“This Council recognises the significant impact that the spare room subsidy changes (commonly known as the 'bedroom tax') is having in the Breckland District. Council notes that figures obtained by the Eastern Daily Press show that 1,026 residents are being affected in this District with an average of £773.03 worth of support taken away from residents. This figure is the third highest out of fifteen neighbouring authorities in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Council calls upon registered social landlords operating in the District to do all that they can to ensure that there are suitable, smaller properties for people to move in to, so that the impact of these changes is reduced. Furthmore, Council pledges to do all that it can, within a very difficult financial situation, to support this aim being achieved”.
Monday, 9 December 2013
PRESS RELEASE: MONDAY 9TH DECEMBER 2013
FOODBANK COLLECTION HELD AT THETFORD LABOUR CHRISTMAS SOCIAL
Pictured: Left – Alex Mayer, Centre – Councillor Terry Jermy, Right – Sandy Martin
Over sixty members of the Thetford Labour Party and invited guests packed into the Sports and Social Club on Bury Road last week (Friday 6th December 2013) to attend the Party’s annual Christmas social.
As well as the traditional aspects that you might expect, including of course a raffle and a game of bingo, there was a serious side to the night as members were invited to bring along items that could be donated to the Thetford Foodbank.
Alex Mayer, number 2 candidate for the Labour Party for the Eastern Region in next Mays European elections (pictured with Sandy Martin, the number 3 candidate) addressed those attending, she said: “Labour in the European Parliament has fought to get over £20million of European funds to support Foodbanks in the UK, but our Conservative led Government refuses to accept that cash. People are struggling here in Thetford thanks to the cost of living crisis which exists, that is why it is vital that we support the food-bank whenever possible”.
Councillor Terry Jermy, who organised the event said: “I am very grateful for the generosity showed by members in their donations. I am pleased to know that this food will be put to good use supporting people that need it here in Thetford”
A car boot full of food was collected during the evening, which was donated to the Foodbank on Saturday.
For more information about Thetford Labour Party contact 07742157967.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
I was invited to speak to members of the Mid Norfolk Labour Party at their annual Christmas social today, which was held in Dereham.
Here's what I said:
Friends, thank-you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
I've been thinking about what I would say to you throughout this week and it was during this week that I was sorting through some Labour Party documents and I came across this poster that the Party produced during the 1980's. The ‘Country’s crying out for change’ is the headline, and it shows people standing in front of the unemployment office – unemployment was around the 3 million mark at this time.
Seeing this poster made me think about Britain today; unemployment is still a major issue. As of November this year, there are 2.5 million people unemployed. But unlike before, where unemployment was really one of the main ways of measuring the success of a Government, and it was a fairly clear-cut situation, today the picture can be a lot more blurred and there’s a lot more factors that can be considered.
So we have 2.5 million people unemployed, but in addition to this, the number of part-time staff, wanting full-time work has increased 36% since 2010, that’s approximately 1.5 million people. There’s much greater availability of part-time work and so many people have been taking whatever work they can. Temporary staff wanting a permanent position have increased by 10% in the last 3 years. There’s currently around 8.5 million people in the UK working less than 30 hours a week. This is a particular issue for us here in the East – where there are significant numbers of people employed part-time, but wanting full-time work.
What we have also seen is the current Conservative led Government quite happy it would seem to have a situation where people are forced into low paid jobs and a ultimately a poorer quality of life. There’s 4.8 million people in the UK that are paid below the living wage – the nationally recognised rate of pay that helps to ensure that people have at least a reasonable standard of life. And low paid positions generally have increased by 30% since the last general election.
One of the figures that really struck me was the figure for long-term unemployed. Those who have been out of work for a long time particularly struggle to find work, even if just part-time. Since the Tories came to power, those that are long-term unemployed have increased by 52%.
Locally, we have been pushing for the Living Wage, and I am grateful to Breckland colleagues – Robin, Brenda and Sylvia for working on our plans to see Breckland Council become a Living Wage employer. It was a small victory in the sense that six people employed by the Council were affected, but they will now not be paid below £7.50 an hour. But, it was actually a massive victory in the sense that there are only 4 Labour Councillors on Breckland and we managed to get through a policy change that was our own and resulted in a fairer situation for those affected. The next step is to continue this across our parish and Town Councils and contractors working for them, and contractors working for Breckland as well.
Whilst I was thinking about this ‘crying out for change’ slogan, it reminded me of the phrase that Ed Milliband has adopted - “we can do better than this” – those that watched his speech to conference will recall that this was a big part of what he said and it is certainly a theme that’s running through the Labour Party’s campaigning.
This crying out for change approach made me think as well about the bedroom tax, because people are most definitely crying out for change in this regard as well.
I'm not sure if you have seen the district by district figures for bedroom tax claimants? Breckland was the third highest out of 15 districts in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Breckland is supposed to be an affluent, wealthy area but we had more people affected by the bedroom tax than areas such as Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. We have over 1,000 people in our district affected, losing on average £800 a year as a result of these changes. We have nearly as many people affected as Kings Lynn for example. Why is this? I believe it’s because for years as a District there has been insufficient investment in social housing (council housing to you and I). And where new homes have been built, they have tended to be 3 bedroom properties. The vast majority of people that have come to me wanted or needed a 1 or 2 bedroom property but were forced into properties that were too large.
One girl I spoke to, asked repeatedly for a two bedroom property, but was told that there were none available and that if she didn’t accept the 3 bedroom property, then she would be taken off the housing wait list altogether. Six months later she was hit with the bedroom tax and is now struggling to cover her costs.
There was a woman in her 40’s that contacted me, after years of abuse she left her husband who would often hit her, she took her daughter with her and applied for a 2 bedroom property - but there were none available, it was either a 3 bedroom house, or be housed in a hostel away from the town and lose her job. She actually said to me that she wondered if she would have been better off is she had stayed with her husband?
Then there was the guy that contacted me, trying to get his life back on track after suffering depression from his marriage break-up which led to him turning to alcohol. He came out of supported accommodation determined to get his life sorted but got put into a 3 bedroom house - he would have been happy with a 1 bedroom flat, but there were none available. He’s now in rent arrears because of the bedroom tax, and cannot transfer to a smaller property now even if one became available because he’s in arrears – absolute madness. The cost to the state from the deterioration in his health and the additional care costs that go with it, will far outweigh any ‘saving’ through the bedroom tax.
What struck me with these people that spoke to me was that you won’t see them on a poster, they would be either too embarrassed, or too afraid to do so. Many are worried about being labelled as 'scroungers'. They came to their Labour Councillor for help and it is up to us, all of us to highlight their stories for them and to fight for them.
I think a further indication that our country is ‘crying out for change’ is through food-banks. Isn’t it outrageous that foodbanks are now a familiar sight in nearly every town up and down the country? There’s even been a food-bank set-up in Hunstanton, obviously not ‘sunny-hunny’ for everyone living there.
Again, many aspects of the media, and many people would believe that it’s really the lazy and usual suspects that need food-banks, so I wanted to share with you a personal example...
In the Summer, my dad had a stroke, my dad’s just 55 – so it was rather unexpected, dad was in hospital for 3 weeks and lost the use of the left hand side of his body. My dad worked as an engineer, for a company for 25 years, he would often work 50-60 hour weeks. Mum got made redundant some years ago and now works in a local supermarket. Both have been off work since the stroke. Dad is eligible for disability allowance as a result of the stroke, but 18 weeks after the stroke, he still hasn’t received a penny. The Government department dealing with his case is struggling to get the information they need from the hospital to process his claim and the doctors surgery needs constant chasing. Physio visits to my parent’s house have been missed and they’ve been left to feel like they have to fight for support to carry-on. My parents who worked hard all their life, they’ve paid taxes and they’ve contributed to society – they have considered using the food-bank.
Is this the sort of Great Britain that we live in? Of course not, we can do better than this, the country is crying out for change.
Comrades, it would be remiss of me to not mention the passing of Nelson Mandella this week. I’ve seen a number of quotes, but this one particularly was really relevant for us today;
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
It’s up to us in the Labour Party, here in Breckland and elsewhere, to remain optimistic, we’ve got to highlight situations and stories like the ones I have referred to. We need to do this through whatever means we can, whether it be motions at Council, letters to the paper, through leaflets and door knocking – we’ve got to let people know that they are not alone, we understand the issues that they are facing and that we are prepared to fight. We recognise that people are ‘crying out for change’, and that the Labour Party can bring them the change that they need.
Thursday, 21 November 2013
Today saw the monthly gathering of the Breckland Overview & Scrutiny Commission. We normally have several agenda items of relative interest, but today there was only one - a decision by the Cabinet not to allocate funding to parish & town councils that had seen reductions in their income thanks to Government benefit changes. A complicated situation, but in short, last year it resulted in Thetford Town Council receiving £85,000 less in funding through no fault of its own. Last year, the Government gave District Councils a pot of money which they could pass on to parish and town councils to mitigate the loss. At a recent Breckland Cabinet meeting, members chose not to undertake the same approach this year meaning parishes would be hit with that financial blow.
I 'called that decision in' with the support of other Labour Group members, I stated:
"I wish to write and request that the decision taken by Cabinet on Tuesday (29th October) i.e. ‘Town/Parish Council localised Council Tax Grant’ - is ‘called-in’ to be discussed by the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Commission. I do this on the basis that I do not feel that the Cabinet adequately assessed the impact that this decision would have, particularly given the additional costs that parish and town councils are facing given Breckland’s continued transfer of services and responsibilities to them. It is particularly disappointing that parish and town councils were not consulted about this decision in advance to ascertain the implications to them and I feel that the Council has a responsibility to do this.
Imagine my surprise when several Tory District Councillors also 'called in' this decision, albeit for different reasons. I'd imagine that parishes in their divisions had been on to them quite a bit about the decision and therefore they needed to do something. I did find it amusing that the Chairman had to point out to them however that their reasons for 'calling in' the decision were not valid reasons for a 'call-in' and that mine was - awkward!
At the meeting today I said something along the lines of;
Mr Chairman, I am pleased that this item has been called in. As a Town Councillor myself I am aware of the concern that this issue has caused across the district. This one matter is fairly significant on its own, a loss of £85,000 for my town of Thetford, or put a different way, the need to increase the Thetford share of the Council Tax by 10% for this one issue alone. An unwelcome position given other budgetary pressures. But for many areas, the real significance of this matter is the cumulative effect and the continued trend for services and responsibilities to be passed to parishes and towns. It feels very much like the straw that broke the camels back.
In Thetford, like in many areas, we have seen the responsibility for both play areas and toilets passed onto the Town Council in recent years. These added responsibilities have inevitably led to previous increases in the towns’ share of the Council Tax, now it looks as if street lights will be next. With other changes instigated by Breckland added into the mix, we are now having to charge residents more than £100 per band D property, a much greater amount than what is being charged by the district. Our town councils do not get the direct funding from the Government that Breckland does, towns are not able to benefit from the economies of scale that the district can and there is not an income from fixed assets, assets that were purchased in the main, from using funding obtained from the sale of council houses, a significant number of which were situated in towns.
Mr Chairman, this transfer of responsibilities has a fancy new title – localism. For most people, they will see it for what it is, passing the buck. If it were localism in a true sense, it wouldn't just be all these liabilities that were being transferred by Breckland, other aspects would be shifted over as well.
My Chairman, I want our district to be in a position where we charge the lowest possible Council Tax, but get the highest possible quality of service. Not just for the Breckland share, but for the total amount that residents pay per month for their Council Tax. Residents frankly do not care if their Breckland share of what they pay is lower than perhaps other areas, particularly if it means that they are having to pay a disproportionately higher amount to their town or parish council.
The most frustrating aspect of this specific reduction in funding, is the scant regard given to the impact. There was very little, if any consultation with parish’s and towns to ascertain the effect of this being removed and whilst some may say that this might only be for one year, there was no certainty of this. Cabinet members did indeed have a choice, they could have passed on the money, in full or part. It would have been far more sensible, and fairer, to gradually reduce the funding, rather than remove it completely.
We have got to get this decision looked at again and I would urge members to do just that".
How incredibly peculiar that several Tory Breckland Councillors, including some of those that called in the decision (!!) then voted to refer the matter back to Cabinet, supporting their decision to remove the grant completely - utterly ridiculous.
Myself and an Independent Councillor were the only two Councillors that voted not to support this, and voted instead to refer the matter to Full Council for wider consideration.
The scrutiny process in Breckland is rotten, but that's what you get when you have one political party having such a massive majority, the lesson is quite clear - if you want democracy in Breckland, and a Council more able to represent it's people - do not vote Conservative at the next elections in May 2015.
Monday, 18 November 2013
Councillor Terry Jermy; Log of activities undertaken
A round-up of activities undertaken as the Norfolk County Councillor
for the Thetford-West Division and Thetford Town and District Councillor for the Thetford Saxon Ward
Telephone: 01842 750722 (Home) / 07742157967 (Mobile)
Thursday 3rd October: Breckland Council, Full Council meeting in Dereham at 10am. It was the last Full Council meeting for Mark Stokes, the current Deputy Chief Executive. Tributes were paid to Mark by Councillors. On behalf of the Breckland Labour Group I said that we were very sad to see Mark leave the authority. I said that Mark had actually worked for Breckland for longer than I had been alive! He first started working for the authority for a YTS training scheme in 1985. I said that his hard work and dedication should serve as an example for other young people. Later in the meeting, myself and other Labour group members supported proposals to make better use of some of Breckland’s assets by supporting a local asset backed vehicle (LABV).
Saturday 5th October: I travelled to Wiggenhall St Mary with Thelma and Albert Paines and Brenda Canham for a meeting of the Norfolk Labour Local Campaign Forum. We discussed, amongst other things, the Norfolk County Council budget consultation and the importance of encouraging people to participate with this process.
Monday 7th November: I attended the Norfolk County Council Cabinet meeting. I noticed that NCC is due to receive some funding to assist with the creation of social enterprises. I am keen to access some of this money to support local initiatives so I will be talking further with the Cabinet member for Finance. In the evening, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Croxton Road Community Association. It was encouraging to see several members of the public present and they had a number of interesting speakers.
Tuesday 8th November: I attended the Norfolk County Council Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel. The Agenda included the need to elect a Vice Chairman. I supported Labour Cllr Emma Corlett for this role as she has over 20 years of experience working in the social care sector. The Conservative members voted for a UKIP Councillor with no apparent knowledge in this field. Another example of how Norfolk Conservatives are trying to appease UKIP and get them on their side. Also on the Agenda was a discussion about Adult Education. Conservative members were very, very critical of the service and I would imagine that they are keen to progress their previous intention which was to reduce adult education completely and make it a service not provided by Norfolk County Council. This was immediately halted when Labour took over the Leadership of the Council. I spoke in support of Adult Education. I think it is a very worthwhile service and the report before the committee clearly demonstrated this with the service being ranked as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. I’m sure this will be an issue that comes up again soon.
Later on Tuesday I met with representatives from Thetford Tennis Club and the Thetford Town Clerk. The Club are working on improving the tennis courts within the Kings House gardens and I have volunteered to assist them with applying for funding. Following this I attended a very quick Town Council Planning Committee – lasted for approx. 30 minutes, but I was pleased to see that Lidl had submitted a request to slightly alter their proposals for the London Road site which clearly confirms that they are intending to progress with their new store – good news!
Following this, there was a Special Full Council meeting to discuss the heating system in the Carnegie Rooms & Guildhall. The boiler had recently been condemned and Councillors were asked to vote to spend approx £11,000 on fixing it. I voted against this proposal and spoke out strongly against it. I did not think it was appropriate that only one quotation for the work had been obtained, despite knowledge of the fault for several weeks and furthermore, there was no guarantee that the work would be effective, i.e. the boiler may still not work after the repairs. This did not seem to be a prudent use of tax-payers money in my opinion.
Thursday 10th October: I attended the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting from 10am – 1pm. This is one of the committees that I serve on as a Norfolk County Councillor. Wheelchair provision in Norfolk plus the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn was dscussed. I am keen to discuss health provision in Thetford as well as sexual health related services for young people – drawing on my past experiences as a youth worker. These are pertinent issues given the withdrawal of both the Youth Service and the Connexions service. Following this I attended a specially arranged meeting with the Chief Executive of Norfolk County Council to discuss future management proposals for the Council. That evening, I attended the public meeting of the Safer Thetford Action Group. I made the point on Twitter that of the 17 elected representatives for Thetford, only three were present at the meeting – myself included. Following this, I attended a meeting of the South West Norfolk Constituency Labour Party that heard a European report from Sandy Martin, number 3 candidate for the Eastern region Labour team.
Friday 11th October: I attended a meeting of the Moving Thetford Forward Board. I spoke against the plans for the temporary bus station and was pleased that representatives from Breckland Council were prepared to consider allowing the bus station to remain where it was and then move straight to the new site, thus minimising inconvenience to the public and saving approx. £50,000! I also queried how the £600,000 spent on the King Street square could be justified – there wasn’t even an attempt made to try and justify the expenditure, which seems incredibly wasteful to me!
Monday 14th October: I completed a funding application to the Breckland YAB on behalf of the TCA, working with other staff and volunteers. In the evening, I attended the Town Council Amenities Committee. Much discussed as ever.
Tuesday 15th October: I gave Robert Ashton a tour of the Charles Burrell site and then Robert came along to the Town Council’s Charles Burrell Committee meeting. Robert is a social entrepreneur who has volunteered his services to help get Charles Burrell re-opened – check out his website, www.robertashton.co.uk He agreed to work on an initial business plan for the project that can be presented to a Special Town Council meeting sometime in November. Following this, I went along to the Brecklad YAB board meeting to review funding bids for projects across the Breckland area.
Thursday 17th October: I met with representatives from Flagship housing association today. It was a very encouraging meeting. They outlined things from an organisational point of view and I highlighted frustrations on behalf of Councillors and residents. Various matters were discussed and actions agreed.
Monday 21st October: Special Town Council Planning Committee to discuss minor amendments to the proposals for the Thetford North application. It was very encouraging that the hour before the meeting was set aside for members of the public to attend and give their views about the changes.
Tuesday 22nd October: Town Council Finance Committee this evening. We are beginning to look at budget options for the next financial year. Much depends on whether Breckland Council keep in place a grant to make up the loss of income that we normally receive through Council Tax.
Thursday 24th October: I was in Norwich this morning to attend a training course on community asset management. This highlighted some fantastic funding sources that we could potentially access to support Charles Burrell. I then went along to North Walsham to help Labour colleagues contesting a Norfolk County Council by-election for the seat of North Walsham East, this was won by a Lib Dem.
Friday 25th October: I went to Great Yarmouth in the evening for a reunion of Norfolk Labour Councillors from the 1993-2011 period. The reunion was held at the Great Yarmouth town hall which is a very impressive building.
Monday 28th October: Special Council meeting to discuss the incinerator at Norfolk County Council. I was pleased to be able to speak during the debate, my speech can be found here, which explains my reasons for voting against the incinerator:
However, a majority of Councillor’s supported the incinerator progressing, the vote was 40-38.
In the evening, I attend the monthly meeting of the Redcastle Action Group.
Tuesday 29th October: Full Council, at Thetford Town Council. A very packed agenda with some very good things agreed to. I was very pleased that Thetford TC has agreed to take on the 11 play areas in Thetford that Breckland Council does not want and has neglected for so many years.