“Squalid homes: Corbyn says government ‘in pockets of landlords’ “

“Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of being “in the pockets of rogue landlords” and unable to fix what he called a “crisis level” of squalor at the bottom of the rented housing market.

More than half a million people aged under 35 are estimated to be living in rented properties so hazardous they are likely to lead to residents needing medical attention, the Guardian reported on Sunday.

Responding to the story, the Labour leader said: “The squalid and unsafe conditions that hundreds of thousands of people face are at crisis level. The broken housing market is in urgent need of a complete overhaul. The Conservatives can’t fix the housing crisis because they’re in the pockets of property speculators and rogue landlords, not on the side of tenants.” …”


30 Devon health visitorsto be sacked in latest round of austerity cuts

From the blog of Claire Wright:


“The latest round of government budget cuts to public health is set to result in a loss of around 30 health visitor posts across Devon, it emerged at last Thursday’s (25 January) Health and Adult Care Scrutiny meeting.

During a presentation by Steve Brown, assistant director of public health for Devon County Council, I asked for clarification on the budget cuts as a result of reduction in funding of over £700,000 from central government ….

The narrative in the agenda papers stated that several of the budget lines are set to save mobey due to contract renegotiation. I asked for assurances that this meant only a renegotiated contract and not a reduction in service. Mr Brown confirmed that there would be no service reductions in those areas.

However, due to budgetary pressures in 0-5 children’s services, the contract currently managed by Virgin Care, it is anticipated that there will be a loss of 30 health visitor staff, due to ‘natural wastage’ (staff leaving and not being replaced), in the next financial year 18/19.

NHS funded mental health support in schools set to be lost

A cut of £223,000 to the public mental health in schools budget could mean that NHS funded emotional health and wellbeing service in schools will be scrapped, it was also revealed at last

Thursday’s meeting.

When I enquired, Mr Brown confirmed that the contract for the service was coming to an end and his department was searching for a new provider. He said it was a really valued service and if further efficiency savings could be made elsewhere, this service would be top of the list for funding.

I was completely dismayed at what I was hearing, given that anxiety and depression among young people is rocketing.

I proposed that the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee relay its grave concerns to Devon County Council’s cabinet about the impact of the cuts on the public health budget.  In particular, the loss of 30 public health visitors and the potential significant impact on young people the cut of £223,000 to public mental health budget, especially at a time when anxiety and depression among young people is rising.

I also proposed that the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee writes to all Devon MPs, asking them to take up the issue with the Secretary of State for Health.

Another proposal from the chair on continuing the push for fairer funding for public health in Devon was also put forward.

All recommendations were supported unanimously.

You can view the speaker-itemised webcast here”:



PFI company? Don’t bother with pensions for workers – put directors first

“Carillion “wriggled out” of payments into its company pension schemes as its troubles grew, while it carried on paying shareholder dividends and bosses’ bonuses, say MPs.

The Work and Pensions Committee is questioning the way pension investments were managed at the collapsed outsourcing giant.

The schemes overall are in deficit.

But last year contributions to the pension funds were deferred until 2019, to help shore up the firm’s finances.

The committee has published a letter from Robin Ellison, chairman of trustees of Carillion’s pension scheme, giving an account of the last few years and suggesting they have been left with a funding shortfall of around £990m.

The letter shows that pension trustees were “kept in the dark” about the state of Carillion’s finances until late last year, the committee argues, and that dividends and bonuses were paid out at the expense of pension fund contributions.

On Monday, the Financial Reporting Council, the UK’s accountancy watchdog, said it would launch an investigation into KPMG’s audit of Carillion’s financial results between 2014 and 2016 as well as the work it carried out during 2017.

The FRC said the probe would “consider whether the auditor has breached any relevant requirements, in particular the ethical and technical standards for auditors”.

It will examine KPMG’s audit work on areas including estimates and recognition of revenue on significant contracts and accounting for pensions.

KPMG said it believed that “we conducted our role as Carillion’s auditor appropriately and responsibly”, adding that it would co-operate fully with the FRC’s investigation.” …


“Business rates hardship fund proves ‘false hope’ after more than £70m delayed”

A relief fund worth £300m set up by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, to support small firms struggling under the weight of business rates rises has proved a “false hope” after failing to pass on tens of millions of pounds 300 days after its launch.

Research by Gerald Eve, the property consultancy, has found that more than £70m of the £175m allocated to councils for the year to March 2018 has yet to be passed on to local firms.

The Federation of Small Businesses said some of its members were still waiting for the essential funding.

“Our research showed that one in five firms facing business rates hikes were planning to sell, hand-on or close their business,” said Mike Cherry, the chairman. “The Chancellor’s £300m hardship fund offered a small glimmer of hope. For many, it’s proved to be false hope.” …


Greenfield to concrete

England is losing an area the size of Glasgow every year because of a record number of developments on greenfield land.

Forests, fields and parks are disappearing under concrete at the fastest rate for a quarter of a century, an investigation by The Times has found.

“On average, 170 sq km of greenfield land were built on every year from 2013 to 2016 after the government relaxed planning rules to ease the housing shortage.

The rate of development is more than two-and-a-half times the 25-year average and five times higher than the rate between 2006 and 2011.

If the construction of new homes, shops and infrastructure continues at the present pace, an area the size of Greater London will have been built on by 2028.

Greenfield land — not to be confused with green belt — refers to “previously undeveloped land” that includes farmland, gardens, forests and “grassed areas” in towns and cities.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England said that the government figures were “startling”. Graeme Willis, head of rural campaigns, said: “To use land more sustainably, we must start using it more efficiently. This rate of loss cannot be endured without losing huge swathes of our countryside. It is a non-renewable resource. Once built on, [it] is lost forever.”

The government changed the planning laws in 2012 to increase the rate of building with “a presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which required local authorities to allocate land for development.

“What you saw after 2012 was local authorities getting their houses in order in terms of land supply,” Duncan Hartley, director of planning at Rural Solutions, a property consultancy, said. “They have been allocating sites for development and those sites have had to be substantial to meet housing needs.” The single biggest use for greenfield sites once developed was housing at 17 per cent. The other significant uses were for industrial sites, transport infrastructure, offices and shops.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing said: “We will be working to put the environment at the heart of planning, making sure any new development improves the environment locally and nationally, while contributing to the wider commitment to build 300,000 homes a year.”

From 1989 to 2011, most developments were on brownfield sites.

From 2013-16, the pendulum swung the other way, with greenfield sites supplying 54 per cent of the land.”

Source The Times, paywall