DCC vote more cuts to keep reserves

Claire Wright and other independent councillors tried to persuade DCC to fund services rather than add to reserves – Tories voted to keep reserves.

From Claire Wright’s blig:

“… Over £155m worth of cuts have now been made to Devon County Council by central government, since austerity began in 2010. That’s around 80 per cent of the council’s core funding… gone…. …

It emerged in the past week that an extra £5m will be squirrelled away in Devon’s reserves, in case of financial difficulty.
But vital services are being relentlessly cut – for the EIGHTH year running – council tax is rocketing and the county’s people are suffering.

With council tax rising by 20 per cent in just seven years. That’s £250 for an average band D property, while wages stagnate – Devon’s residents (and people all over the country) are being ripped off by a Conservative government that claims to be a government of low taxation.

– 30 health visitor posts are to be cut which will hit families that most need support, especially those with babies and young children. The Independent Group is proposing that part of the £5m is used to prevent those losses

– Foster carers who look after the most damaged and challenging children could lose around £100 a week to foster carers who look after less damaged less challenging children.

This income cut is in addition to earlier cuts in allowances over recent years. The result of these cuts could see experienced dedicated foster carers struggle to make ends meet and be forced to leave. It is causing much anxiety … and ultimately it will be the children who suffer. The Independent Group is proposing that part of the £5m is used to shore up the income of foster carers

– The schools counselling service is set to be lost at a time when anxiety and depression among young people is soaring and when many are now being forced to PAY for their own counselling sessions. The Independent Group is proposing that part of the £5m is used to ensure this essential service continues

– People in Devon’s towns and villages are falling over dangerous paving stones every day. The Independent Group is proposing that part of the £5m is spent on making far more pavements safer, especially for elderly people who are most likely to hurt themselves and end up in hospital

And what of Devon’s MPs, especially the Conservative MPs, who ALWAYS toe the party line on cuts to our council budgets, despite requests each year from the leader of this council to stand up for the people of Devon?

Well this year, guess what? It’s no different. All Conservative MPs who were present in the chamber last week voted in favour of yet more suffering. …”

http://www.claire-wright.org/index.php/post/20m_of_devon_service_cuts_voted_through_as_council_tax_rises_by_around_five

“Poverty is now so visible that even the richest can see it”

Owl wonders how many will cough up for a guilt tax – most of these people didn’t get rich by helping the poor!

“Officially, it’s not a guilt tax. Westminster council prefers the term “community contribution” to describe the idea that its millionaire residents might like to make a voluntary donation on top of council tax. It is, they say, merely a chance for the wealthiest to “invest in their neighbourhood”. Perish the thought that they may have anything to feel guilty about.

But whatever you call it, attempting to appeal to the social consciences of the super-rich is surely a sign of changing times. That a flagship Tory council should be dabbling in new forms of redistribution is interesting in itself. That it began considering the idea a few months after the Grenfell Tower fire, which had some of Kensington’s more liberal-minded millionaires asking why their council hadn’t charged them more and housed their neighbours decently, is more interesting still, given that Westminster’s guilt money is earmarked partly for tackling homelessness….

The significance of the guilt tax is that, according to the council leader, Nickie Aiken, the idea came from wealthy residents themselves, who began asking last year if they could pay more. Most tellingly of all, she says it is most popular among those living in “the most expensive homes”, reversing the normal finding that tax rises are wildly popular only with people who won’t actually be paying them. This is starting to feel less like a conventional tax, and more like the biblical concept of guilt offerings: pay up, cleanse yourself of the perceived sin of unwittingly perpetuating gross wealth inequality, and perhaps you might avoid a plague of locusts.

… Relying on charitable donations, which could dry up overnight, to fund essential public services feels precarious and wrong. But the pragmatic attraction of a guilt tax is that, like the decision by the Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, to donate part of his salary to a homelessness fund, it is quick and achievable, and it beats wringing hands.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/17/poverty-visible-richest-grenfell-homelessness

Buzzfeed says Tory Housing Minister in private Facebook group that wants to sell off all council housing, privatise all health care and bring back workhouses for debtors

“The Conservatives’ new housing minister, Dominic Raab, belonged to a private Facebook group that argues for council housing to be sold off at market value, healthcare to be privatised, and the return of workhouses for the poor.

Raab was, until Thursday morning, one of 14 members of a closed group called the “British Ultra Liberal Youth — The Ultras”, which was set up about seven years ago. He withdrew from the group after being approached for comment.

Raab told BuzzFeed News: “I wasn’t aware of this group, let alone that I had inadvertently and mistakenly been linked on Facebook. I have corrected it, and needless to say I do not support its aims.”

Because the group is closed, BuzzFeed News is unable to see activity within the group — just the description and membership. There had been no new posts or new members in the last 30 days.

According to the group’s “About” page, it believes that “Britain is a nation that has been shooting at it’s [sic] own feet for too long” and that “too much tolerance of socialism has cost us a trillion pounds”.

“If this were a football field,” the description continues, “we would be racing down the right wing so close to the touchline, we would be doing so very carefully making sure we don’t put our feet outside the field of play.”

It is the duty of members, it adds, to pressure mainstream Conservatives into realising that selling off council housing, ending free healthcare, and bringing back workhouses for debtors are policies that “have found their time to enter Britain”.

At the time of publishing, the 13 other members appeared to include another current Tory MP, Henry Smith; a former Tory MP; and others who have stood unsuccessfully for parliament for the Conservatives or UKIP.

Smith was unavailable to comment because he is travelling, but an aide said he wouldn’t have voluntarily joined the group, and that he hasn’t used that Facebook account for more than a year. “Certainly someone may have added him to the group and he clearly didn’t notice but he definitely does not join any such groups himself,” the staffer said.

According to Facebook, you can be added to a closed group if you’re friends with someone in that group, and you’ll receive a notification that you’ve been added.

Raab joined Facebook in 2010 and uses his account to publicise his work as an MP and minister. In one recent post, he promoted an opinion piece he wrote for the Daily Telegraph about the government’s £866 million investment in local housing projects. Housing is “one of the great social challenges of our generation”, Raab wrote.

Raab, 43, was appointed housing minister in Theresa May’s new year reshuffle, putting him in charge of one of the Conservatives’ top policy priorities. Addressing the housing crisis has been one of the party’s main concerns after it polled significantly worse than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour among voters under 40 at the last election, and the prime minister has said she will make it her personal mission to get more people into homeownership.

Raab was a City lawyer and Foreign Office official before becoming a parliamentary aide to David Davis. He was elected MP for Esher and Walton in 2010 and was a minister in the Justice Department before moving to housing last month.

Having been tipped as one of the rising stars on the Tory right, Raab was seen as unlucky not to be given a cabinet position during the reshuffle last month.

He was criticised during last year’s general election campaign for saying on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that food bank users typically aren’t poor but have a “cashflow problem episodically”.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexspence/the-tory-housing-minister-was-in-a-private-facebook-group

Police numbers plummet as crime rises

“The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by 1,213 in six months and is now 16% below its 2009 peak, official figures have shown. The latest Home Office statistics put the number of officers in the 43 police forces in England and Wales on 30 September last year at 121,929, down from 123,142 on 31 March last year and from 144,353 in 2009.

In evidence submitted to the police remuneration review body last week, the Home Office made clear that no more central funding would be available for the pay settlement, describing the recruitment and retention of officers as “stable”. But Labour said that was out of touch with reality, given the figures.

The shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, said: “Once again we see how out of touch the Conservatives are with the lives of people across this country. Over 1,200 officers lost in just six months, more than 21,000 in total under this Tory government, against a backdrop of the highest rises in recorded crime in a decade.

“And yet ministers apparently think everything’s fine. Labour in government will add 10,000 police officers and provide the resources they need.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/feb/13/police-numbers-drop-by-1200-in-six-months-as-wage-bill-frozen

“Government spent £108m in failed attempts to stop people’s disability benefits” (to which they were entitled)

And how are they going to fix this? By employing 190 more officers!!!

“The Government has spent £108million in two years trying to prevent disabled people claiming benefits they are entitled to, it has emerged.

Freedom of Information requests have revealed how much taxpayers’ cash has been spent on unsuccessful legal battles to prevent vulnerable people receiving help.

The Department for Work and Pensions spent £108.1million on appeals against disability benefits in just two years, new figures reveal, reports The Mirror.

Neil Heslop, chief executive of disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said: “To spend this amount on admin fighting to uphold flawed decisions that shouldn’t have been made in the first place is staggering. “Thousands of disabled individuals have had to fight to receive support to which they are legally entitled.” …

The monthly cost has been steadily rising and in December the DWP spent £5.3million on mandatory reconsiderations and appeals for PIP and ESA.

The equivalent figure for October 2015 was £2million.

Since October 2015, 87,500 PIP claimants had their decision changed at mandatory reconsideration, while 91,587 claimants won their appeals at tribunal.

In the first six months of 2017/18 some 66% of 42,741 PIP appeals went in the claimant’s favour. …

A DWP spokeswoman said it was working to improve the process, including recruiting around 190 officers who will attend PIP and ESA appeals to provide feedback on decisions.

“Financial Peer Review Northamptonshire County Council”

Northamptonshire County Council is effectively bankrupt. This is a peer review report if their financial situation last year. Some worrying similarities!

Some lessons for officers and councillors.

For example:

“4.3.8 There is a lack of sufficient challenge among officers and from members. There is a considerable amount of trust in plans that are presented without evidence that those plans have been challenged. Some Portfolio holders readily accept the information they are given without systematic and robust challenge. There is a tendency for cabinet members to trust that the relevant individual portfolio holder has challenged proposals.

4.3.9 Decisions taken by the Cabinet need greater transparency. Council members and scrutiny chairs need access to more information. There was a desire expressed from some cabinet members for greater discussion and challenge across portfolios. However, where challenge has been provided, for example from the Audit Committee, that has not been welcomed.”

Northamptonshire CC – FINAL Feedback Report

How does a council become effectively bankrupt?

“… Earlier this month, Northamptonshire went effectively bankrupt, becoming the first local authority in two decades to issue a section 114 notice. This signalled that its finances were so precarious it would be unlikely to balance the books this year and was at risk of being unable to set a legal budget for 2018-19.

As a result, One Angel Square [its new HQ] is likely to be put up for sale, three months after it was formally opened by the communities secretary, Sajid Javid. A fire sale of assets is the only way to keep the council afloat, say officials, though even this temporary fix may not be enough to save it.

… The council’s predicament has triggered bitter recrimination among local Tories. Northamptonshire’s seven MPs, all Conservatives, accused the council of mismanagement. Heather Smith, the council leader, said the government had starved it of funds. Eighteen backbench Conservative councillors called on Smith to resign.

The irony is not lost on some observers that the first local authority to go bust under austerity is not the profligate Labour municipality of media caricature, but a Tory-run council in the heart of middle England.

Penny Smith, the council’s Unison branch secretary, said: “Can you just imagine if this was a Labour authority? They’d be saying ‘Typical Labour, can’t run anything’.”

Furthermore, it has crashed after rigid adherence to the Tory ideological rulebook for local government. Northamptonshire embarked on a “next generation” reform plan in 2014. Services would be outsourced or turned into profit-making companies. The council would drastically shrink in size and be run like a business. “The old model of local government no longer works,” it declared.

The grand plan failed at a cost, say critics, of more than £50m on consultants and rebranding. Expected efficiency savings did not materialise, some privatised services have since been hauled back in-house, and the scheme’s political architects, including the then council leader Jim Harker and the then chief executive Paul Blantern, have departed. After years of freezing council tax bills on principle, the authority has raised them by 6% from April.

… Northamptonshire’s future remains precarious. A government inspection into alleged financial and governance failures will report back in March. Staff morale is at rock bottom, said Smith. There is speculation that the county could be abolished and merged along with its five constituent district councils into two new unitary authorities.

There are fears that a handful of councils could follow Northamptonshire into bankruptcy. Conservative-run Surrey county council has a deficit of more than £100m. A survey by the Local Government Information Unit thinktank found eight out of 10 councils were concerned about their finances.

McLaughlin has warned Northamptonshire’s councillors that they should not assume the government will ride to the rescue. Ministers have promised a review of council funding, but this “is more likely to be concerned with the distribution of an ever-shrinking quantum of support than a major injection of spending power”.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/feb/11/northamptonshire-county-council-effective-bankruptcy-tories-cuts