Pembrokeshire: empty home council tax to rise from 50% to 125% in year 3, 150% in year 4 and 200% in year 5

“Owners of hundreds of empty homes in Pembrokeshire are to be hit by a 125% council tax bill.

Empty homes in the county are allowed a 50% discount to the levy under current arrangements. But from April 2019 this discount will be scrapped, with owners of homes which have stood empty for more than three years being charged 125% of normal council tax.

Pembrokeshire council voted the plans through at a meeting on Thursday.
The council introduced a 50% premium for owners of second homes back in April and voted to extend it into the 2018-19 financial year. It will now look at giving the cash to local communities for projects.

Currently, there are 1,206 empty homes in Pembrokeshire, which are subject to a council tax discount. However, this will be scrapped under the changes and all properties which have been empty for three years from 1 April 2016 will be subject to a 25% council tax premium.

Homes which have been empty for four years will be taxed an extra 50%, or 150% tax, and five years or more will pay double or 200% council tax.
The council also voted in an amendment for an appeals process for homeowners trying to sell or refurbish their properties.”

Working parents in south-west can’t keep up with childcare costs

“The cost of childcare has risen four times faster than wages in Devon, according to new findings.

The TUC (Trades Union Congress) has highlighted the ‘childcare gap’ for parents with one-year-olds, according to new analysis published by the TUC.

The average wages of South West parents with a one-year-old child rose by 11 per cent in cash terms – although pay is still falling in real terms – between 2008 and 2016.

Over the same period childcare costs shot up by 44 per cent. …

In the South West, the TUC says:

A single parent working full-time with a one-year-old in nursery for 21 hours a week (21 hours is the median amount of childcare used per week for pre-school age children) spent 22% of their wages on childcare in 2016, up from 18% in 2008.

One parent working full-time and one parent working part-time with a one-year-old in nursery for 21 hours a week spent 14% of their salary on childcare in 2016, up from 12% in 2008.

Two parents working full-time with a one-year-old in nursery for 21 hours a week spent 11% of their wages on childcare in 2016, up from 9% in 2008.

The analysis also shows pressure is even greater on parents working full-time, especially single parents. A single mum or dad in the South West with a young child in nursery for 40 hours a week would need to spend more than two-fifths (41%)of their pay on childcare.

To address this increasing pressure on working families, the TUC is calling for universal free childcare from the end of maternity leave. They also want more government funding for local authorities to provide nurseries and child care and a greater role for employers in funding childcare.”

“Gambling machines with £100 stake are only allowed in UK”

It is thought the Chancellor is loath to change odds because the gambling industry contributes large sums to the Exchequer (and, coincidentally, of course, to Tory funds by their directors):

Britain is the only developed country to have high street betting shops that allow people to bet up to £100 every 20 seconds, according to a report.

The government should cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2 because such high stakes destroy jobs, devastate communities and are “highly destructive” to family life, the Conservative think tank Respublica argues.

Phillip Blond, co-author of the report, said: “Conservatives should not support a piece of New Labour legislation that has wrought destruction throughout some of our most disadvantaged communities.”

Rural broadband: a lesson from Canada

“Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has criticised the government for failing rural people on broadband.

Mr Farron, who is the MP for the South Lakes in Cumbria, said the average household speed in the area was just 10.9Mbps, compared to the national average of 17Mbps.

New figures from the consumer rights group Which? reveal that 1 in 4 people in Westmorland and Lonsdale have less than 4.0Mbps broadband connection.
Under the Government’s Universal Service Obligation, 10Mbps is the minimum speed that anyone in the UK would be entitled to request by 2020.

The Cumbrian MP has tabled two parliamentary questions to the government.
The questions seek to establish what progress is being made towards the Universal Service Obligation, and whether BT will face financial penalties if the targets are not met.

Mr Farron said: “The fact that one in four people in the South Lakes have a broadband connection of less than 4Mbps is frankly not good enough.
“Many small businesses in rural areas like ours are finding it impossible to function without adequate broadband. “The government’s Universal Service Obligation target of 10Mbps is nowhere near ambitious enough.”
Canada, which was a much larger and sparsely populated country than the UK, had a target of 50Mbps, said Mr Farron. “The government must put in place measures which penalise BT if they fail to meet the targets.”

A government representative is expected to respond to Mr Farron’s questions over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, the National Infrastructure Commission has warned that urgent investment is needed in the UK’s broadband and mobile networks.
Increased broadband speeds could add £17bn to UK output by 2024, according to an NIC report.

The report says the UK’s digital economy is the largest of any G20 nation as a percentage of GDP.

But it warns that almost one in four rural premises lack a decent broadband service.

The UK lags behind other developed countries – such as the USA, Netherlands and Japan – for 4G and broadband speeds, it adds.”

What is the view of independent councillors at the Local Government Association?

“Dear colleagues,

It has been good to see so many of you this month at our Group Party conferences and at the National Conference of Children and Adult Services. We also ran the first module of the Next Generation leadership course. All this adds skills and knowledge to the many talents of our [Independent] members and enables us to discuss issues and craft better solutions. The regional meetings also start shortly in every area, so we shall soon be at a place nearer you to hear your views first hand. Thank you to those who made it to the recent information and development seminar on campaigning, either in person or online in the webinar.

English councils have taken a reduction of £16m in Government Grant funding from income tax, only partly offset by the 50 per cent retention of local business rates. 166 councils will be expected to pay the Government instead, further centralising money and power, exactly contrary to the agreed direction. The LGA is working hard on this in their Budget submission. 97 per cent of councils signed up to the four year agreement, but on the promise that 100 per cent of the business rates would be retained in local government, now a broken promise. If you are one of the 166 councils, have you passed a motion to seek a better deal? Please let us know.

It leaves us short of funds to run services and makes it hard to support more people with increased housing. We have called long and hard for powers and funds to build the houses people can afford. It is bizarre that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for much needed housing, regardless of a sound business case.

Instead of lifting this cap, Theresa May has announced a £2bn fund for social and/or “affordable” housing. If you rely on the media it is unclear whether this is intended for affordable or social housing. For example, the Sky News headline refers to affordable housing while the Guardian headline refers to social housing. Whichever it is for, it is only available to some councils and then only through a bidding process, ratheru than just giving us the funds. Her calculation of 5,000 homes a year, is based on an £80,000 subsidy per dwelling, but in areas of greatest demand, where she says she wants to direct the funding, that will fall woefully short. In its budget submission, the Chartered Institute of Housing recommended an extra £1.5bn every year to build 28,000 homes.

Sadly, although genuine funds are always welcome, the fund announced by the PM will not tackle the problem. We cannot plug the housing gap while the “right to buy” continues to drain our resources. In many councils, these have almost doubled this year, each sale taking two thirds of the value out of the public purse and into central government and private hands. We have to start to limit these expensive donations to what we can afford.

We cannot flood the market to bring house prices down while demand is unrestricted. Anyone in the world can buy here, and they do. Like a foreign holiday home, the first sale brings money into the community, but after that sales are often passed from one absent owner to another and sometimes left empty – more a place to house funds, rather than people.

We cannot make housing affordable while rents spiral without restraint and “affordable” is not linked to income, but to 80 per cent of commercial value. Many people will obviously continue to struggle. A housing rent statement is expected to confirm the move back to a maximum of 1 per cent above the consumer price index.

Meanwhile, homelessness is rising. I visited EMMAUS which provides an en suite room, regular meals, a community and a job for 720 homeless people. But it uses Housing Benefit that is about to be swallowed up in Universal Credit, an issue colleagues and I have raised at all levels. Our Vice President, Lord Victor Adebowale, CE of Turning Point was on Twitter this week supporting the work of community enterprise.

Greg Clarke, one the most thoughtful of our Ministers, responded brilliantly to my question recently, pointing out that growth could be an empty target if it did not provide balanced communities with work and housing to match.

However, DCLG has a consultation out now about increasing the pressure on councils to give permissions for housing, regardless of local ability to provide jobs, services, infrastructure such as roads and schools, and regardless of land availability without damage to the environment. Our Group’s Deputy Chairman, Rachel Eburne, is on the LGA board for the Environment, Economy, Housing and Transport. She pointed out that the cross party board was unanimous in its objection to the centralised steamroller approach.

The LGA has sought powers to prevent land-banking that prevents houses being built, while councils are required to compensate by giving ever more permissions, making a mockery of a planning system which is prevented from planning ahead. DCLG has not chosen to put any pressure on the developers to get on with it, despite our calls to give councils the ability to step in. Also the viability studies remain obscure and enable developers to reject the much-needed contributions to affordable housing or infrastructure. We cannot just look at housing on its own. It must be linked to economics, environment, and sustainability.

Leader of the Independent Group
Vice Chair of the Local Government Association
Lincolnshire County Councillor and North Kesteven District Councillor”

How much do PFI contracts cost DCC?

“A Labour pledge to bring “wasteful” PFI contracts back in the public sector would cost a massive £671m in Devon, it has been revealed.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the annual party conference last month the contracts were set to cost the taxpayer £200bn over coming decades and private companies were making “huge profits”.

The cost to the county for all the buildings, such as schools, hospitals armed forces’ accommodation, funded by private finance initiatives was estimated to be around £2.4bn just four years ago.

Newly released figures by the county council show that Exeter Schools would cost £210m to buy out with £322m for an energy for waste (EFW) plant and £139m for a Devonport EFW scheme. …

… Private companies carry out the construction work and maintenance, in exchange for regular payments from the taxpayer.

It has proved controversial with criticisms that it is overly generous to the private contractors.

Some schools, including in Exeter, have said the quality of parts of their new buildings have been poor.

Other public bodies, such as hospitals, have complained that large debt repayments, over long periods of time, make it difficult for them to balance their books.

However, defenders of PFI said it provided new infrastructure which would otherwise be unaffordable.

The biggest margin on a project in Devon came with a deal for new accommodation for services’ personnel at Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth.

Its estimated cost of £554m, which will also include service and maintenance charges, is more than 12 times the initial building price. …

… Devon County Council said it could not “accurately” estimate the cost of terminating contracts without going into negotiations.

Cabinet member for finance John Clatworthy said the schools PFI contract in 2005/6 was £348m.

He wrote: “Set against this was a grant of £248m that would be received from central government – of the balance, £75m would be met from the delegated schools budget and the remainder (£75m) would be met by the council.”

Unemployed in Glasgow? Tory MP says “Go work on a farm and meet gorgeous EU women”

“A Conservative MP has said young people should “get on their bikes” and take farming jobs where they can work with “loads of gorgeous EU women”.

Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, told a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference in Manchester that British youngsters needed to show the same motivation as low-skilled workers from elsewhere in Europe.

“I was struggling to think why wouldn’t a youngster from Glasgow without a job come down to the south to work for a farm for the summer with loads of gorgeous EU women working there?” he said.

“What’s not to like? Get on your bike and find a job.”