Thursday, 26 February 2015
Breckland Council Budget Setting Meeting, Thurs 26th February 2015
Views of Breckland Labour Group
"There is much detail in these reports and I thank those members and officers that have been involved in their production. I found very informative the Director of Place (Julie Kennealy) presentation at the Overview and Scrutiny Commission meeting and I thank her for that.
There was a very positive and upbeat tone at that meeting and lots of “aren’t we doing well?” – forgive me if I do not join in completely.
This is not a package of measures that should be applauded and trumpeted in totality. Whilst there are a number of aspects that I applaud, keeping car parking free for example, and recently committed to regeneration projects as well as the proposals agreed to this week in relation to support for neighbourhood plans. Many will see this is a budget that continues to provide very limited services for people in the District and offers little sign of action to address many concerns that exist. I could highlight bold measures taken by neighbouring councils and I could talk at length Mr Chairman about what aspects I have concerns with and what I would feel the other priorities of residents are – but I am restricted to my 3 minutes long response and I recognize that ultimately, the Conservative majority of this Council will pass this budget.
I do however want to offer one improvement to this budget as I would see it -
Housing continues to be the issue that is raised with me above any else Mr Chairman, and that is why I would therefore like to propose an amendment to this budget. Appendix E highlights the money due to be received in New Homes bonus income up to 2019. It’s purpose....? for ‘community projects’.
If we are to address our housing issues, we need to make the funds available and I would therefore propose that this money is ring-fenced for community housing projects, with a specific focus on creating one and two bedroom properties. Some of this money is needed to fill a gap in the revenue budget, but for the amount simply being transferred to reserves, which currently has not planned usage – we could be making better use of. This would serve a number of purposes; increasing the number of affordable homes that are available clearly, but also alleviating the impact of the spare room subsidy, commonly known as the bedroom tax, by providing alternative accommodation for those that have been hit by this.
Recently published figures show that there has been a 55% increase in the number of people in Breckland that are in receipt of housing benefit, even though they are working.
Such is the demand for housing, landlords can charge rents that are unaffordable and this gets topped up by tax payers – what a waste of public funds in a time of austerity. Public funds should be spent on providing good quality, affordable homes, rather than paying off the mortgages of private landlords on an industrial scale. We need to turn that current situation on its head. We know too that there have been over 1,000 families affected by the bedroom tax in our District alone and whilst I am not sure to what extend other members here are aware of personal cases, I can could recount many to members which are very distressing. Utilising this money in this way would help to generate further income, partly from additional new homes bonus money, but also through the rents from the properties.
If there were one aspect of this budget where I would urge a re-focus, this would be it.
AMENDMENT – Proposed by Councillor Jermy
a) For the ‘New Homes bonus’ income, as outlined in Appendix B, not required to support the revenue budget and currently being proposed to be transferred to reserves for an unspecified purpose - to be ring-fenced for ‘community housing projects’. B) Officers to be asked to investigate options for utilizing this money, with a specific focus on creating 1 and 2 bedroom properties, with options to be tabled to a future Cabinet meeting.
Wednesday, 25 February 2015
another enjoyable morning out talking to local residents with Brenda Canham,Mike Brindle and Gerald Bass - this time covering Gloucester Way and Hereford Close on the Abbey Estate. Some people don't like 'canvassing' and some people don't like being 'canvassed' but it's so important for local Councillors and candidates to talk with residents about issues which they are concerned about. Today I had some interesting conversations regarding street lights and lot of people raised concerns about the ones that go off near mid-night (Norfolk County Council owned lights) and also those that and permanently off through lack of maintenance (Breckland Council owned lights). I also wrote down the column numbers of several that were on during the day, presumably all day long. Some interesting discussions about fly-tipping too. The bedroom tax was raised again several times. What continues to surprise me is the amount of people who are still so angry at the bus station move decision. Several people I've spoken to over a number of weeks are completely put off the democratic process as they were "ignored" regarding the bus station but as I have explained to a number of people, that only plays into the hands of those that ignore you. It should motivate you to ensure you always vote, and get others to vote, rather than putting you off voting. The bus station move was pushed through by the Moving Thetford Forward board which was full of Breckland Council Conservatives - not voting only helps them. Nice to see today that the car park at the front of the shops on Abbey was getting a thorough clean - this is something we reported whilst out last time. Attached picture shows the garage block at the top of Gloucester Way which, like most garage blocks, is in an appalling state - they are simply not maintained properly by Flagship, this is something I will email through today along with the other issues picked up.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
good morning today out canvassing in advance of the May 7th elections with Brenda Canham, Mike Brindle and Peter Smith - (all seats on Thetford Town Council and Breckland Council are up for election on the same day as the General Election) - today we did Chester, Coventry and Durham on the Abbey Estate. People wanted to discuss a range of things including; wanting improved play areas, pot-holes needing to be addressed, immigration concerns and general estate cleanliness. As usual many people are not interested in voting at all, which is very sad, but at least those people now cannot say that they never see their Councillors, or no-body cares etc etc. One lady explained how she is being hit by the bedroom tax on top of losing her husband and that she is now living off the money that he received from his redundancy that was thankfully received just before he died. As she said to us, "why should I be punished for living in a house which I've lived in for years and years and paid for the rent and looked after it?" The bedroom tax remains one of the most nasty policies that the Conservative-led Government has introduced in the past five years, and I am so pleased that the Labour Party has pledged to scrap it if elected in May. We also spoke with a man who was caring for his sister who had recently had a stroke and he was not registered to vote, so we were able to help with that and advise on the fact that she could vote by post if she wanted. Total of 81 people spoken to. Also whilst out between now and May I will be taking lots of photos of matters that need to be reported - including for example this mess in a garage block on Durham Way.