“Councils sit on £375m earmarked for affordable housing”

“Local councils in England are sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of money designated for affordable housing.

A total of £375m is available, £100m of which has not even been earmarked for a specific project. This is despite a survey last year for the Town and Country Planning Association showing that 98% of councils described their need for affordable homes as either “severe” or “moderate”.

The cash has been accumulated under so-called section 106 agreements by which builders and developers give a council a ringfenced amount of money instead of building affordable homes within a development themselves.

James Prestwich, the head of policy at the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said it confirmed the federation’s view that section 106 was flawed. “Affordable housing should be delivered within new developments, rather than developers simply funding its delivery elsewhere,” he said. “This would guarantee that affordable housing will be built alongside other homes.”

Some of the worst offenders shown up by research carried out by the Huffington Post are in London and the south-east. The housing minister Dominic Raab’s own local council, Elmbridge in Surrey, has £8m waiting to be invested.

Raab was criticised this month after he blamed high levels of immigration for increasing house prices. A review by the statistics watchdog found that his department had used an outdated statistical method to calculate the causes of housing pressure and their relationship with house prices.

The London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which has yet to find new homes for two-thirds of the Grenfell survivors and other families affected by the disaster, has £21m of dedicated reserves. It says £19m has been set aside for Grenfell families.

Two Labour-held councils also in London, Southwark and Camden, between them have more than £90m that could be spent on affordable homes. Altogether, just 14 councils account for two-thirds of the unspent cash.

Rough sleeping in London has risen by at least 18% over the past year; in England as a whole, it is up 15%. Although a shortage of affordable homes is only one of many causes that explains the continuous rise over the past seven years, its consequences have a series of knock-on effects.

A spokesman for Southwark said the money it had was already allocated and the projects for which it was intended would be completed within the next five years.

Camden has set up a new scheme for affordable home building, the community investment programme, which is intended to create 1,400 affordable homes over 15 years.

Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, said nearly a decade of cuts had left council capacity to manage big projects “hollowed out”.

“Average cuts of between 25% and 30% over eight years and the way they have protected children’s and adult social care services have led to bigger cuts in departments like housing and planning. There is no question that their capacity to handle major projects has been eroded.”


“Elderly and disabled at risk in inadequate housing, human rights watchdog finds”

Owl says: Not to worry – those at the luxurious PegasusLife development at Knowle will be just fine!

“Britain’s planning rules are fueling a housing “crisis” for the elderly and disabled which is forcing the frail to live in dangerous conditions, a leaked report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission seen by the Telegraph has found.

The Commission’s report, due to be released next month, found a “severe shortage of accessible and adaptable housing” with only seven per cent of homes in England offering minimal accessibility features.

It warns that local councils are failing to build enough accessible homes to meet demand and were not taking action against developers who failed to comply with regulations.

The Commission, a human rights watchdog, said that at least ten per cent of all future housing should be built with a growing elderly and disabled population in mind and that local authorities must reduce the bureaucratic hurdles for adapting homes.

The report comes at a time of a growing social care crisis in Britain with many elderly and frail people stuck in hospitals, unable to be discharged due to inadequate housing.

At the same time, younger Britons are struggling to get on to the housing ladder with older people unable to downsize due to a lack of suitable properties.

Following an inquiry into the state of housing for disabled people in Britain, the Commission reported that the “acute housing crisis“ was leaving elderly and disabled people in unsafe homes and leading to accidents and hospital admissions.

The report’s executive summary, seen by the Telegraph, said that some people were forced into “eating, sleeping and bathing in one room” and to rely on family members to carry them between rooms and up stairs.

Local authorities told the Commission that developers are “reluctant to build accessible houses, as they see them as less profitable”, and often failed to comply with accessibility standards.

Disabled older people are being let down and this is a stark reminder that urgent action is needed, which is the least they deserve in a compassionate society.

Despite this, just three per cent of councils took enforcement action against developers who failed to meet these standards, the Commission found.

The report also said that people were forced to wait an average of 22 weeks between application and the installation of home adaptations necessary to live safely and independently, with some waiting for more than a year.

The Commission’s report said that better housing would help ease the health and social care crisis as it found that poor housing led to an “increased need for social care” and “avoidable hospital admissions”.

Responding to the report, charities warned that the lack of suitable housing was exacerbating the NHS crisis as elderly and disabled people were forced to stay in hospital for longer due to a lack of safe accommodation.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “Providing accessible homes must be seen as core to reducing pressure on social care and the NHS.

“If these recommendations are implemented they will help many more older and disabled people to receive care and support at home.”

She added: “It’s vital that we build safe, accessible, high quality homes that work for all generations and that don’t undermine our ability to stay independent as we get older.”

George McNamara, director of policy and public affairs at Independent Age, the older people’s charity, said: “These are some of the most vulnerable people but they’re forgotten when it comes to housing policy. They are being discriminated against by a system that doesn’t work for them.

“This issue is only going to become more important as our population ages and people have a greater need for specialist housing that addresses all their health and care needs.

“Disabled older people are being let down and this is a stark reminder that urgent action is needed, which is the least they deserve in a compassionate society.”

Rob Wilson, former Government minister for civil society, said: “This isn’t a new problem, but this is a timely report and reminder that disabled people face enormous challenges with getting appropriate housing.

“Almost every local authority area faces the same difficulty in getting enough wheelchair accessible houses built.

“The Government’s drive to increase house building is very welcome, but clearly there is much more to do for those with these special requirements.”

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said councils needed “greater planning powers and resources to hold developers to account”.

“Housing is too often unavailable, unaffordable, and not appropriate for everyone that needs it. This includes the availability of homes suitable for older people and people in vulnerable circumstances,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Our new planning rules make clear that councils must take the needs of elderly and disabled people into account when planning new homes in their area.

“We’re also providing councils with almost £1 billion over the next two years to adapt properties for disabled and older people so they can live independently and safely.”


Potholes: a sign for the middle-classes that austerity is biting them too, and it hurts – literally!

Matthew Parris in today’s Times – it’s a sign of the times when a deep blue Tory says “enough is enough”! But it will NEVER be enough for your political masters , Matthew … as long as the people at the bottom of this stinking heap bear the brunt and you – and those high above you – live in your golden bubbles and prosper.

“I blame myself. My bicycle boy-racer days should have been over. I’d had two whiskies at the Duke of York, the night was dark, the lane was narrow and I knew well enough there were potholes. This one was a stonker. Crash, bang, wallop. Anyway I survived. I broke a few ribs but the crash helmet did its job, the ribs healed, the bruises faded and I live to tell the tale more than a year later.

I tell it now more as parable than anecdote. In a couple of weeks come important local government elections in many places. We don’t think enough about local government, whose job it was to mend that pothole.

But by starting with a me-and-my-pothole story I risk sounding like a parody of one of those ghastly charity appeals on the radio, showcasing the plight of some victim, typically a child. “So poor little Matthew fell off his bike. For just £5 your local council could fix that pothole. Please send your donation, however small, to HM Treasury, Great George Street . . .”

My story is trivial compared with cuts which for others may have meant the loss of social care in dementia, no Sure Start centre for a child, the closure of a small local hospital or the end of a vital local bus service. So is there a connection?

Yes. Throughout history rings the cry “It’s when it happens to you . . .”. Austerity often doesn’t “happen” to people like me (and many of you) as fast, as often or as painfully as it does to millions of others. But potholes we Times readers see. When in our own lives our nearside front tyre is shredded, the ruddy pothole represents a momentary twitching-back of one tiny corner of a great curtain, behind which lie, no, not potholes, but a million anxious human stories, caused in part by cuts in public spending.

And, no, I’m not going to decry cutting public spending. Much of it had to happen. But I’m making two points. First, the exercise cannot be without limit. Second, the time-lag between the cut and the pain can be so long that by the time you feel the pain the cut may have gone much deeper than you noticed. We need to wake up to that.

So back, without apology, to potholes. Thanks to another of these, a friend in Lincolnshire has just broken his neck, though not fatally, thank heaven. Potholes matter in themselves. But they are a parable for others that matter even more.

Over roughly the last decade (my figures don’t cover 2017) spending on roads by councils has fallen by about a fifth. Serious injuries to cyclists have trebled, while cyclists’ numbers have increased by a fraction of that. According to the RAC, the number of cars needing roadside assistance after hitting potholes has almost doubled since January.

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance there are 24,000 miles of roads urgently awaiting repair in England and Wales. On present trends a road is resurfaced every 78 years and it would now take 14 years, and more than £9 billion, to return the network to a “steady state”. Our roads have been crumbling.

Roads spending has just started to rise, albeit gently. Late in the day, local and central government politicians have woken up to what’s happening.

The trouble is, it’s already happened. Voters in their millions, including Times readers in huge numbers, are telling them so. Just as my little argument with Mawstone Lane was a parable for a wider problem with potholes nationwide, so potholes nationwide are a parable for a problem far wider than that. We may be deceived by the fact that you can get away for years, but not for ever, with pushing a problem to one side.

All the pressures on those who run government, local and central, are to worry about the short-term. George Osborne had the aftermath of a world economic crash to get Britain through. Philip Hammond has Brexit. And when the Devil drives (as in politics he always does) and if you can block your ears to the caterwauling of those who always cry wolf anyway, it is usually possible to leave issues like road maintenance, decaying school buildings, rotting prisons, social care for the elderly, Britain’s military preparedness or a cash-strapped health service, to tread water for years or even decades. “They’ll get by,” say fiscal hawks, and in the short-term they’re often right.

Nobody’s likely to invade us; the NHS is used to squeezing slightly more out of not enough; cutting pre-school provision is hardly the Slaughter of the Innocents; the elderly won’t all get dementia at once; there’s little public sympathy for prisoners; teachers can place a bucket under the hole in the roof; and road users can dodge potholes.

In the case of local government Mr Osborne found you could slash, not snip. It has lost, unbelievably, almost 50 per cent of what it gets from the general taxpayer in less than a decade. But, hey, the rubbish is still collected.

All this has encouraged those, like me, of a Conservative disposition who see state wastefulness everywhere, to think that maybe you can just keep on cutting and never reach bone. For so it has often seemed, however urgent the shrieks of doom-mongers.

But beneath the surface problems build up. The old get older, and more numerous. Potholes start breaking cyclists’ necks. Care homes start going under. The Crown Prosecution Service begins to flounder. We run out of social housing. Prisoners riot. And is there really no link between things like pre-schooling, sports and leisure centres and local outreach work, and the discouragement of knife crime? It all takes time, though.

In that most unfashionable thing, public administration, the life cycle of a problem may be counted in decades, even generations. The cycle of an elected politician’s term is four or five years. Democratic politics and good public administration march to different drumbeats.

When New Labour was elected in 1997 we Tories groaned as it tipper-trucked money into the NHS, school building and other public services. But after 18 years of saying no, we had let an undersupply arise: of bricks, mortar, equipment, wages, staff and morale — invisible on any Treasury balance sheet. Thirteen years later when Labour left office the undersupply was monetary, the red ink all too visible.

Must we forever oscillate like this? Probably. Unless politics understands this paradox: the right time to fill a pothole is before it’s a pothole.”

Care at home? Not if there are no carers for the homes

Care for 13,000 Britons at risk as provider seeks rescue plan

“The care of more than 13,000 elderly and vulnerable Britons could be thrown into turmoil after one of the biggest providers of home care visits in the UK warned it would go bust unless creditors backed a rescue plan.

Allied Healthcare, which has contracts with 150 local authorities and also provides out-of-hours services for the NHS, is asking for breathing space on its finances after cashflow problems that have been triggered in part by an £11m bill for back pay owed to sleep-in care workers.

The loss-making company has 12,000 employees and cares for 13,500 people in their homes via a network of 83 branches around the country. According to the Allied website it is the country’s largest domiciliary care business, twice the size of its nearest competitor.

Its Primecare division provides primary and urgent healthcare services, including NHS 111 telephony services, GP-led medical centres and end-of-life care. It also provides healthcare services in a number of secure settings including prisons, immigration centres and secure training centres.

Allied was bought by the German private equity firm Aurelius in a £19m deal in December 2015 but it has struggled against a backdrop of local authority funding cuts.

In a letter to creditors seen by the Guardian, its chief executive, Luca Warnke, said it had “significant funding pressures on our customers that have impacted on their ability to deliver financially viable health and social care services”. It added that it had taken the decision to pursue a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), an insolvency procedure that will enable it to agree a payment plan with creditors that include landlords and members of its pension schemes. It expects to file for the procedure on Monday.

Warnke blamed rising agency labour costs for its woes, pointing to the shortage of doctors and nurses since the Brexit vote as well as a potential £11m bill for backdated “sleep in” payments depending on HMRC’s calculation of the pay period.

Last year the government changed its guidance on how sleep-in carers should be paid, advising that they were entitled to earn the national minimum wage for the entirety of the time they were present in a house rather than just a flat rate. At that time some charities warned it could cost the sector £400m and potentially bankrupt many social care charities and providers.

The company said in a statement: “As with many independent providers in the UK health and social care sector, Allied Healthcare has been operating in a highly challenging environment for a sustained period of time, which has placed pressure on the company.

“As a result of these challenges, Allied Healthcare has has taken the decision to pursue a company voluntary arrangement as part of a prospective business plan that will ensure safe continuity of care across our UK-wide operations, place the company on a sustainable long-term footing and maximise repayments to creditors.

“The proposed CVA will not impact on the safe continuity of care that Allied Healthcare provides across the UK,” it said. “Allied Healthcare will continue to trade safely and it remains business as usual for Allied Healthcare employees and customers.”

The company insisted there were currently no plans for redundancies or branch closures.

A spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents local authorities, insisted that councils have “robust” contingency plans in place to manage the care of individuals if necessary if the company were to fail.

“The absolute priority for councils affected is to protect the vital care and support that older and disabled people rely on and ensure it is able to continue without interruption,” a spokesman said. “The LGA is working alongside the Care Quality Commission and the government to support Allied, where possible, as it plans to financially restructure the business and continue to provide high-quality home care.”


“Poorest families ‘going without food or power’ “

Owl says: Are we back in the Middle Ages with rich feudal barons and poor serfs?

“Hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in Britain are going without basic necessities, according to two separate surveys.

Citizens Advice said as many as 140,000 households are going without power, as they cannot afford to top up their prepayment meters.

And the Living Wage Foundation – which campaigns for fair pay – said many of the poorest parents are skipping meals.

However the government said workers are now earning more, and paying less tax.

The survey conducted by Citizens Advice suggests that most households that cannot afford to put money in the meter contain either children or someone with a long-term health condition.

Some people are left in cold houses, or without hot water.

“It is unacceptable that so many vulnerable households are being left without heat and light,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.

“For some people self-disconnection is easily managed, but for many others it is an extremely stressful experience that can have harmful physical and emotional effects.”


“Devon councillors allowances set to rise by an inflation-busting 15 per cent”

“An inflation-busting 15 per cent hike in allowances for Devon County councillors has been proposed.

The independent remuneration panel has recommended that a rise from the current figure of £10,970 to £12,607 to be implemented by the council. It comes as no rise in allowances for members have taken place in the last nine years.

… Devon County Council’s procedures committee on Wednesday morning voted to recommend to full council that the 15 per cent rise should be implemented, but councillors from all parties will be given a free vote when it goes before them. … “

[There then follows a long justification from a Tory councillor about why this is acceptable and a table of the new allowances]


“Funding for poorest children used to plug school budgets, say teachers”

“Schools are cutting back on staff, IT, equipment and day trips while funding for the UK’s poorest children is being used to plug budgets, teachers have claimed.

More than a fifth of teachers and school leaders believe pupil premium cash – the money aimed at the most deprived youngsters – is instead being used to make ends meet, a poll by the National Foundation for Educational Research found.

Almost half told the study that academisation – removing schools from local authority control – had a negative impact on the classroom, or no no impact at all.

The findings come amid widespread concerns from teachers, unions and parents about a squeeze on school budgets in England, though ministers have insisted more money is going to schools.

The survey of 1,246 primary and secondary teachers and senior leaders, working in English state schools, found that 22% said money from the pupil premium – extra funding to support the most disadvantaged youngsters – is being used to plug gaps elsewhere in their school’s budget.

Just over a third (36%) said this was not happening and the rest did not know.

Among the senior leaders polled, 34% said pupil premium funding was being used elsewhere, with 57% saying no.

Those surveyed by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) were asked whether their school was cutting back on certain areas for financial reasons.

Some 63% said their school was cutting back on teaching assistants, making it the most popular answer, with 50% saying there had been cuts to support staff, and 39% saying teaching staff.

In addition, 44% said trips and outings had been cut back and 41% said there had been cuts to IT equipment.

The survey was commissioned by the Sutton Trust ahead of its education summit in New York. …”