“Boom in council ‘stealth’ taxes for waste removal and funeral services”

“Families have been hit by a huge rise in local “stealth” taxes over the past decade as councils introduce garden and bulky waste removal charges and raise the cost of funeral services, pest control and even public lavatories.

Analysis by The Times of council accounts shows that revenue from environmental, regulatory and planning charges has increased by almost 50 per cent to £2.3 billion since 2009.

Last year, revenue from these charges increased by more than two and a half times the rate of inflation as councils scrambled to raise cash after ten years of austerity. This means every home in England is now paying an average of more than £100 a year in council charges on top of their average council tax bill of £1,671.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

A quarter of Devon’s children live in poverty says Devon County Council

It’s what people voted for when they voted Conservative for continued austerity.

“A quarter of Devon’s children are living in poverty once housing costs taken into account.

More than 35,000 children in Devon are living in poverty once housing costs are taken into account, councillors have heard.

A Children’s Services Self-Assessment went before Devon County Council’s Children’s Scrutiny Committee last Monday which provided an up-to-date evaluation of the needs of children and families in Devon.

The report outlined how 14 per cent of the local authority’s children are living in poverty (before housing costs), but that rises to 25 per cent (after housing costs) are taking into account.

More than 10 per cent of children are entitled to free school meals, the report added, and also says that 41,000 households in the county are affected by fuel poverty.

Cllr Rob Hannaford, chairman of the Children’s Scrutiny Committee, said that the figures were shocking and in many areas, including Devon, growing up in poverty is not the exception but the rule.

Commenting on the report after the meeting, he said: “These local figures for child poverty in Devon are truly shocking, and it’s completely unacceptable and wrong in 2019, in one of the richest countries in the world, that we are still dealing with this most basic of issues affecting so many children.

“Large numbers of people seem to just wrongly assume that because we live a beautiful part of the country, that we don’t experience the same serious social problems that other areas do. These new figures again show in stark reality that this is just not the case, and much of our poverty and hardship is hidden by the affluence that some others have.”

Cllr Hannaford added: “Thousands more families across Devon, are living on the cusp of the poverty line. One unexpected setback – like redundancy or illness – could push them into the poverty trap.

“Overall there are more than four million children in the UK growing up in poverty. The situation is getting worse, with the number set to rise to five million by 2020. And those poverty rates have risen for every type of working family – lone-parent or couple families, families with full and part-time employment and families with different numbers of adults in work. This is the first time in two decades this has happened, and incredibly it is happening at a time of rising employment, and these figures in Devon are in line with these trends.

“But the evidence is clear – poverty can make existing vulnerabilities worse. Growing up in poverty puts at risk the building blocks of a good childhood – secure relationships, a decent home, having friends and fun, and an inspiring education.

“A child is said to be living in poverty when they are living in a family with an income below 60 per cent of the UK’s average after adjusting for family size. So it’s just not acceptable that some people still seem to trot out the same old tired response that no one is really in poverty these days, and it’s like Victorian times or the 1930s, such as when children didn’t have shoes on their feet.

“My grandparents were brought up in near slum conditions, and at times they also did not have proper shoes, and went hungry, are we really seriously saying that we want to inflict all this misery and hardship on children today?”

He continued: “Clearly the biggest driver for children’s poverty nationally and locally is the profound lack of social, affordable, decent housing. The figures are stark. 120,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation. There are also 90,000 children living in families who are ‘sofa-surfing’. And of course this accommodation is usually terrible.

What is poverty in the UK?

“B&Bs where sometimes the bathroom is shared and there is nowhere to cook. Places where vulnerable adults can be living on the same corridor. Office block conversions – individual flats the size of a parking space, where families live and sleep in the same single room. And even converted shipping containers – cramped and airless – hot in the summer, freezing in the winter. This is a reality that shames the whole nation.

“Rising living costs, low wages and cuts to benefits are creating a perfect storm in which more children are falling into the poverty trap. Shockingly, two thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent in work. Many families are struggling to cope with the rising cost of living. The prices of essentials like food and fuel are going up and this hits Britain’s poorest families hardest. We know that parents are skipping meals so they can afford to feed their children, and in winter many families are forced to make the impossible choice of feeding their children or heating their homes.

“So we know what actually causes child poverty and we know how to end it. We know that the income of less well-off families has been hit by severe real-terms cuts in benefits and by higher housing costs. And we know that work does not always guarantee a route out of poverty, with two thirds of child poverty occurring in working families.

“Yet in many areas, including Devon, growing up in poverty is not the exception, it’s the rule, with more children expected to get swept up in poverty in the coming years, with serious consequences for their life chances. Policy makers can no longer deny the depth and breadth of the problem, and the Government must respond with a credible long term child poverty reduction strategy.”

The report revealed that in primary schools, 10.9 per cent of pupils are entitled to free schools meals, and 10 per cent in secondary schools, but Cllr Hannaford feared that the numbers were in reality much higher.

He added: “The percentage is shocking, but there is a feeling in rural areas that it may be more as there is a stigma about people and they don’t claim it so they don’t have the finger pointed at in the local community.”

Cllr Margaret Squires, who represents the Creedy, Taw & Mid Exe ward, added her concerns to those of Cllr Hannaford.

She said: “A headteacher who had moved down here from London said to me the deprivation they see is different. Down here, people don’t want others to know they have free school meals, so they are working every hour they can. But it means that the children are missing out as the parents are so tired, they haven’t got the time to sit and listen to them read.

“I my area, we are virtually fully employed, but some of them work two jobs so they can live in the area, and to survive, they are working all these hours, but it not recorded as deprivation as they don’t have time to sit and read with their children.”

The figures in the report showed at as of September 1, 2019, 771 children were being looked after by the council – a rate of 54.8 per 10,000 children – an increase from 750 – 52.2 per 10,000 children – at March 31.

At September 1, 2019, 3,219 children had been identified through assessment as being formally in need of a specialist children’s service, an increase from 3,318 in March 2019, but the number of children subject of a child protection plan had decreased from 518 to 505 between March and September.

The report also said that there were 25 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the area, and that eight children and young people who turned 18 years old and who were in the care of the local authority were living in unsuitable accommodation during 2018-19.

Cllr Linda Hellyer questioned what the council was doing about it, why they were unsuitable, and what have we done to get them somewhere better.

In response, Darryl Freeman, Head of Children’s Social Care, explained that the definition of unsuitable included prison, where two of the eight were in custody. He added that the council will continue to work with them, assuming they allow them to remain in touch, and to ensure that they have choices once they leave custody.

The report also added that the top three risks for the future were increase in demand, across all services, recruitment and retention, particularly of experienced social workers, and sufficiency of provision for special needs children and placements for Children in Care.

The council also earlier this year adopted a new Children and Young People’s Plan, which is the single plan to co-ordinate developments for the next three years

Each priority in the plan has a detailed strategy/ action plan below it with a multi-agency group led by a senior manager from the partnership.

The self-assessment report was noted by the committee.

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/child-poverty-devon-truly-shocking-3579939

“Poor urban councils bear majority of Tory funding cuts, study shows”

“Drastic cuts to local government funding have seen the UK’s most deprived metropolitan areas “shoulder the burden of austerity” while some more prosperous counties have flourished, according to new research.

Analysis by the TUC and public service union Unison of central government funding for local councils in England since 2010 highlights a yawning chasm between urban and rural areas. It shows that , overall, councils in England are spending £7.8bn a year less on key services than they did in 2010, which equates to a cut of £150m a week.

The analysis reveals that the 20 councils with the biggest funding gaps are overwhelmingly metropolitan boroughs in London and the north of England. Of these 18 are controlled by Labour; only one is Conservative-run.

In contrast, the 20 councils with the smallest funding cuts are overwhelmingly all Conservative-controlled county councils. Of these, 16 are controlled by the Conservatives and just two are Labour-run.

The analysis – using methodology employed by both the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Centre for Cities – found that Labour-run Salford Council is spending 38% – or £99m a year – less on key local services than a decade ago. That works out to £479 a year less per resident. …”

The Local Government Association estimates that in the past eight years, councils in general have lost 60p out of every £1 the government used to provide prior to the funding cuts. This has left councils increasingly reliant on raising income through council tax, business rates and other charges and fees. Urban councils in more deprived areas have found this task more difficult than their rural counterparts.

“Poorer parts of England have suffered most from the Conservatives’ local government cuts,” said TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady. “By slashing central government funding, they have made deprived areas shoulder the burden of austerity. We need fair and sustainable funding for all of our communities. Key services have been cut to the bone.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis agreed: “Local services hold communities together, but nine years of austerity has put paid to that. We’ve seen libraries shut, care visits reduced, allotments and parks sold off, youth centres closed, subsidised bus services scrapped and public conveniences axed. The government’s funding squeeze has forced councils to charge residents more, reduce key services or cut them altogether. Now the cupboard is virtually bare and some local authorities can no longer provide the legal minimum.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government said it could not comment as it is currently in election purdah.”

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/nov/24/deprived-urban-areas-shoulder-burden-of-funding-cuts?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

“Guidance recommends sale of risky [council] investment properties”

“Councils should consider disposing of investment properties if they are unable to set aside enough reserves to cover potential losses, according to new guidance.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) this week released long-awaited guidance on investment in property, prompted by concerns over the levels of risk being taken by local authorities in recent years. …”

Guidance recommends sale of risky investment properties

Casino councils (EDDC would like to be one)

EDDC story:

https://eastdevonwatch.org/2019/11/04/eddc-a-casino-council/

“Gloucester city council has bought a local retail park for £54 million, almost four times its net annual budget.

It acquired St Oswalds from Hammerson, the FTSE 250 shopping centre owner that is seeking to sell all its out-of-town properties. Tenants at the site include B&Q, Homesense and Mothercare, which went into administration this month.

A spokeswoman for the council said that it could not yet comment on the acquisition because of a non-disclosure agreement.

Councils have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on commercial property in recent years as they try to create a rental income stream to plug funding cuts from central government. Some have sought to buy neglected shopping centres in their areas as part of regeneration plans.

However, critics have raised concerns about the extent to which councils have tied their futures to an uncertain property market. Retail park valuations have fallen sharply as a series of well-known store chains have fallen into administration or have used insolvency procedures to close shops or lower rents. Hammerson reported a 10.9 per cent fall in the value of its retail parks in the six months to the end of June.

The Conservative-led local authority in Gloucester created an £80 million property investment fund in 2017 to help to make up for a £2.6 million deficit anticipated for the subsequent five years. It said that it would borrow 100 per cent of the cash for the fund, indicating that it would seek to find money from the Public Works Loan Board, the government body that issues loans to councils for capital projects.

The Treasury has started to crack down on risky property acquisitions by local authorities by increasing interest rates on new loans from the board. Before last month, the government charged an interest rate margin of 0.8 percentage points over the gilt rate; this has more than doubled to 1.8 percentage points over the gilt rate.

Last month Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, criticised local authorities that had used borrowing from the board to buy “quite risky assets” outside their areas. He cited shopping centres, which he said “may well not turn out to be good investments at all and [are] only possible because the taxpayer is providing such attractive loans through the board”.

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Has Ingham broken purdah rules on Exmouth Queens Drive?

“Plans for a new Premier Inn for Kingsbridge and an Aldi for Ivybridge have been put on hold.

South Hams District Council were set to hold consultations with the public over the two schemes at the end of 2019, but they have now been delayed until the new year.

The delay has been blamed on the General Election being called and the pre-election Purdah period that means councils have to be careful not to do anything in public that could sway a member of the public to vote for one person or political party. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/general-election-puts-premier-inn-3554630