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. …”


“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.”


“Surrey, UK’s richest county, hit by £100m cash crisis”

“Britain’s richest county is facing a £100 million cash crisis as scores of councils struggle to close budget deficits, an investigation has found.

Surrey county council has one of the worst financial shortfalls in the country, according to research seen by The Times. The disclosure came as nearly every part of England warned of tax rises to make ends meet and half of local authorities prepared to cut services for children. Nine out of ten councils will be millions of pounds over budget by the end of the financial year.

Surrey’s woes will alarm Downing Street as it is a solidly Conservative council and the county is represented at Westminster by seven senior government ministers. … “”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Green spaces – use them or possibly see them flogged off

Owl says: health benefits of public open spaces? Pah! Flog ‘em, flog ‘em!

“ Corporate Green Space policy 1 –

Survey, plot and categorise all council managed green/open space across the district (including housing land, and allotment sites)
assess sites based on a range of criteria including;

strategic importance,
alternative or additional use,
levels of use, amenity value,
ability to protect our outstanding environment and cost.

Identify which sites are suitable for retention, community transfer or disposal taking into account our corporate policies, our Local Plan and open space study.


“Second-home owners face 500% tax rise in the Yorkshire Dales”

“Second-home owners in the Yorkshire Dales could see council tax on their properties rise five-fold after a landmark vote.

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have backed an initiative designed to “halt and then reverse” the decline in numbers of young people in the region.

The move follows concern from residents that the number of second homes has contributed to younger people leaving the area, schools closing and a loss of services, thus creating “hollowed out communities”.

There are about 1,500 second homes in the Dales, representing more than 10 per cent of the total housing stock. Last night members of the park authority voted by 12 votes to nine in favour of working with local councils to develop a specific proposal on second homes.

A figure of at least five times the present rate of council tax has been mooted for second-home owners, equating to an annual tax bill of £8,500 for a band D property. The proposals would not apply to holiday lets.

The national park’s constituent local authorities will consider the proposals in the new year. If they all back the scheme a fully developed proposition to attract more young people and families will be put to central government.

Carl Lis, chairman of the park authority, said that the verdict “demonstrates that we are not prepared to sit idly by and watch Dales communities slow decline”.

He said that while unemployment in the national park “barely exists”, employers “cannot afford to pay the sort of wages you need to buy a home in the Dales” because their prices have been so inflated by the second-homes market.

“A lot of effort is going in to getting new affordable homes built, but it is being cancelled out by the number of homes going into second-home ownership. Any initiative to attract and retain families in the park which did not at least try to address the negative impacts of second homes would be like ignoring the elephant in the room.”

He added that he recognised that the proposals were controversial and that second-home owners did help to contribute to the local economy, but said that permanent residents would contribute much more.

Richard Foster, a member of the park authority and leader of Craven district council, went public with the second-homes proposal last month. He said: “I hope we might have pricked the social consciences of those who leave their properties in the Dales empty for most of the year, but our central concern is not about them, it is about the viability of local communities.”

Yvonne Peacock, another member of the park authority, said: “A few years ago there were 70 children on the roll of the school in Bainbridge where I live — now the number is 25. There are simply too many second homes.”

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Council tax: up to £100 year increase (for fewer services) and Devon to retain 100% business rates

“Local authorities are to be allowed to raise council tax by up to 5.99% next year, after a further relaxation of the government-imposed cap to address shortfalls in funding for social care.

Families across the UK could see their bills rise by up to £100 a year as a result of the announcement, which will also see councils increasing the charge without holding local referendums.

The move, which has been widely criticised and called “woefully inadequate” by leaders in the social care sector, could see the average band D council tax bill rising to £1,653.30. …. “


In a separate announcement, the DGLC announced that a pilot project will see 10 areas retain their full business rate contributions:

“Communities secretary Sajid Javid has today announced a shake-up of the formula for distributing funding to local authorities.

He has also set out plans to allow councils to retain 75% of their business rates and a 1% increase in council tax raising powers, revealing the local government settlement in the House of Commons.

Javid confirmed plans to end the revenue support grant and allow councils to retain 100% of local business rates by 2020 would be put on hold, over concerns that some councils could be left out of pocket.

Instead, he said there needed to be an “updated and more responsive distribution methodology”, and that councils would be allowed to retain 75% of business rates by 2020/21.

He said: “I am today publishing a formal consultation on a review of relative needs and resources. “I aim to implement a new system based on its findings in 2020/21.”

In addition, he announced 10 further councils would be taking part in a pilot to retain 100% of their business rates. …”

Want cleaner air? Your council tax must pay for it

Government criticised over plans to cut air pollution

The Government has been accused of passing responsibility to cut air pollution to councils. A Parliamentary inquiry into air quality heard that five cities and 23 local authorities have been selected in a plan to devise measures to reduce illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide by December 2018, but that the Government has refused to legislate for more clean air zones. Environment Minister Therese Coffey said the Government was working with councils to help draw up plans.

Source: LGA – Guardian p19