Friday, 30 September 2011

Zero tolerance for rogue private landlords to tackle illegal behaviour

Shelter supporters demonstrate against bad landlords, London, 2002. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA- written by Kay Boycott

It is unlikely to come as a surprise to readers of the housing network that the private rented sector is growing exponentially, by more than 40% in the past five years. Less understood is the corresponding rise in rogue landlords taking advantage of this boom, landlords who blight the lives of tenants living in their properties.

Last week Shelter launched the latest phase of its evict rogue landlords campaign. We contacted every local authority in England to build a picture of both the scale of the problem with rogue landlords, and what is being done to tackle it.

The results showed that across the country complaints about landlords had reached a staggering 86,628 in the last year. Yet despite the sharp increase, only 270 landlords were successfully prosecuted during that period.

Of particular concern is that complaints about serious and potentially life-threatening hazards, including dangerous gas and electricity connections, have risen by 25% over the past two years.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Surestart - Willows family and child centre is to close

It is with sadness that that Willows family and child centre is to close. Sure Start have replied and I attach the reply at the bottom.

The Government have stated that "we are all in this together", "the deficit will not be cut on the backs of the poor" and the Prime Minister guaranteed any minister coming forward with cuts to front line services "would be sent straight back".

All seem a distance away now and somewhat hollow.

Sure Start in Hyndburn was set up by the ideological Tories as a Limited Company and I have always had my doubts about its operational capability and questioned the role of it's lead advisor and their decisions. It has flirted with financial instability previously and LCC were asked to intervene.

Gypsy and Traveller problems in Hyndburn - Dear Eric...

Dear Eric [Pickles]

22 Sept, 2011.... We all want to see people treated fairly. Sadly travellers passing through Hyndburn have treated the Borough with great disrespect and the sympathy that did exist has long evaporated away.

It’s about time travellers who cause damage and leave Council’s to clear up after them are forced to pay like the rest of society has to. Hyndburn has a very high number of traveller pitches and there is no excuse for illegal encampments.

Travellers hide behind a ‘cash poor –asset rich argument’ leaving Councils and businesses to face all the costs with no chance of recovery, and unable to do anything but a long delayed and costly eviction on behalf of beleaguered battle weary residents.

The law means it is the Council tax payer and businesses who has to forgo everything. Time, energy, resources.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Gypsy and Travellers: Is Moss Lane the next battleground?

The Labour Council have taken a tough line on Gypsy and Traveller encampments despite only being in power since May. Swift evictions have occurred on Arden Hall and Huncoat playing fields already.

It may seem harsh but years of being fair have resulted in unreasonable and unruly behaviour, an increase in petty criminal acts and illegal sites left looking like rubbish tips.

A new Gypsy and Traveller policy is being drawn up I understand with regards to the problems in the Moss Lane area. Swift legal enforcement has begun already alongside a review of planning rules to block green belt abuse.

We all want to see people treated fairly. Sadly travellers passing through Hyndburn have treated the Borough with great disrespect any sympathy has been completely lost.

Save Great Harwood Receycling Centre petition goes to Parliament

Great Harwood Household Waste Recycling campaign goes on. Last Wednesday I took the petition to Parliament calling on self proclaimed 'greenest government ever' to write to LCC to oppose the closure of Great Harwood Household Waste Recycling.
Graham Jones, House of Commons, 14 September 2011;
"I should like to present this petition, on behalf of the residents of Great Harwood in Lancashire and of surrounding areas, to save the recycling centre in said town. A petition in similar terms, asking for the same action, has been signed by a number of my constituents. Great Harwood Community Action Group has gathered a petition of some 1,500 signatures; 3,000 signatures against the closure were gathered at the recycling centre prior to that; about 600 protest letters have been sent to the county council; and I personally received 84 letters of objection to the closure at the beginning of the process.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Great Harwood, Lancashire and others,

Planning reform - it needs to happen - its just a question of how

Planning reform needs to happen. It's complex and it is slow to react. It distorts local views and often angers communities and citizens.

Controversial elements of the Governments planning reform (National Planning Policy Framework) include presumption in favour of sustainable development on green field sites and removing the town centre first planning rule.

The Government have a point on the former. There seems to be a lobby congealing around the National Trust that all development should be at the expense of the poorest and to the benefit of the wealthiest members of society.

In terms of spatial planning that people in well to do urban fringe communities should have their Jerusalem protected whilst the urban poor can choke in their Sodom and Gomorrah hell of post industrial over crowding and a lack of meaningful green space that the National Trust seem unwilling to pursue.

Boundary Commisison protests to close to home for the Government - Conservative protests begin

There has been an up swell of constituents bemoaning Government imposed boundary changes. "Why has the government abolished our constituency?", or "Why have they divided up our town or broken up our community?"

The reality is some 400 seats have changed radically out of 533 current English seats. Scotland and Wales find boundary proposals come later this year. The BBC suggested just 57 remained unaffected. The majority of these in England are actually Conservative seats.

One boundary change which would 'move' historic Gloucester Cathedral into the rural Forest of Dean Parliamentary constituency was condemned as 'madness'. The 900-year-old cathedral and also Gloucester docks - the UK's most inland port -becoming part of the Forest of Dean constituency.

It's not surprising that Conservatives are leading the campaigns against their own legislative proposals by the Boundary Commission. Wedded to community out of the large urban areas, they are the ones who are hurting the most.

In Hyndburn local Conservatives have begun a petition to change to boundaries whilst the local newspaper is beginning a campaign to protect the historic parliamentary seat.

Playing with people's identity cuts deep into the psyche of ardent non-voter, never mind the feelings of all voters of whatever persuasion. It's a dangerous game and just maybe the Government will get the message to refrain from changing the ties of community.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Support for bereaved Armed Forces families

I attended an event at the House of Commons organised by The Royal British Legion to highlight the importance of supporting bereaved Armed Forces families.

It was very informative about the Legion’s work to improve the welfare of the Armed Forces family in the local area and more pressingly, the Legion’s concern that the Government should support bereaved Armed Forces families by appointing a Chief Coroner to improve investigations into deaths of Service personnel.

I was pleased to meet John Hardiman, our local Region Manager and offer my full support for Armed Forces families in the area. The Legion does very important welfare work for some of my most vulnerable constituents in both the serving and ex-Service communities. It is vital that we, as a nation, are there for those serving in current conflicts, and especially for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about how, in its 90th anniversary year, the Legion stands shoulder to shoulder with all who Serve, including bereaved Armed Forces families. They deserve as much support as we can give them.

John Hardiman, the Legion’s County Manager for Cumbria, Isle of Man and Lancashire, said, “It was great to see MP’s concerned about the work the Legion does. We really appreciated Graham making the time to drop in. Many people don’t realise that we spend nearly £1.4 million a week on helping both the serving and the ex-Service communities, including their families, so we were delighted to tell MP's about the range of services we provide. The Legion is currently celebrating its 90th Anniversary Year, and campaigning for the Armed Forces family is as important to us now as it was in 1921. Our main campaign at the moment is calling on the Government to do all they possibly can for bereaved Armed Forces families, specifically by appointing a Chief Coroner to spearhead reform of the inquest system.”

Friday, 9 September 2011

Yobs need to get a life

Well done Adrienne Seed for campaigning on an issue that leaves a life sentence hanging over those affected.

The yobs who think that violence and abuse is a way forward are mindless. Had one of their relatives been infected through for example contaminated blood they would realise.

What joy and satisfaction is there in wishing misery on others?

Priority School Building Programme

I have again written to the County Council regarding funding for improved school buildings in Hyndburn from central government. I attach for interest their response.

Sent from mobile.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Ministers have been asked to reconsider regulating the private rented sector.

On Monday I asked Minister, Andrew Stunell if he would give local authorities the powers to impose the decenty homes standard as part of licensing a private rented property

“The main problem with selective licensing, of course, is that it does not deal with stock condition, and we see many properties in selective licensing areas that are squalid. Can the Minister assure local communities that the Government will allow councils to include the most recent decent homes standard as a licence condition?”

Stunell replied: “Licensing conditions are matters for local authorities when they draw up their proposals” which was not teh question. The 2004 Housing Act which allows local councils to licence private landlords does not allow Council's to apply a put in the licence as a condition any stock conditions such as double glazing, heating.

I had asked earlier if the Government has carried out any assessment of the effectiveness of selective licensing scheme's.
Stunell said theGovernment hadn't and said that local authorities would be encouraged instead to carry out their own reviews.

Labour MP Chris Williamson accused the housing minister in Parliament of failing in his responsibilities and allowing slum landlords to flourish.

But CLG minister Andrew Stunell made it clear that instead of regulating landlords, local councils could choose to introduce their own selective licensing schemes.

Williamson, who represents Derby North, said: “With more than one million people living in sub-standard privately rented accommodation, and with massive front-loaded cuts to council budgets making it harder to tackle slum landlords, the Housing and Local Government Minister is clearly failing in his responsibilities.

“However, as Henry Ford once said: ‘Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.’

“Will the Minister therefore adopt a more intelligent approach and abandon his laissez-faire attitude to regulation, which is creating a charter for slum landlords, by implementing the light-touch licensing system recommended by the Rugg Review, adopted by Labour and welcomed by the National Landlords Association and the Association of Residential Lettings Agents?”

The Rugg Review recommended compulsory licensing of all letting agents plus a mandatory register of all private landlords.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Assocition of registered Letting Agents attacks government for lack of regulation on private rented sector

ARLA has reacted angrily in response to the latest announcement by housing minister Grant Shapps that he will not seek to regulate the private rental sector.

Graham Jones, MP for Hyndburn who has campaigned in Parliament for greater regulation and higher standards said

"The housing minister is gaining a reputation for not listening. For sitting on his hands. Choosing to follow a right wing ideological line, in the pockets of the laissez faire landlords, rather than deal with the evidence. Those with an interest in housing are beginning to doubt the minsiters abilities to deal with the problems."

Announcing his backing for the voluntary SAFEagent scheme, Shapps said he preferred to work with the industry on initiatives to improve it, rather than tie it up in red tape. He has failed to provide evidence that his anti-regulation stance will have any positive impact.

In a confrontational reply, Ian Potter, operations manager at ARLA, said his organisation was being undermined by Shapps.

He said: “We are disappointed that the housing minister has once again refused to implement any kind of regulation on the private rental sector.

“There is no requirement for lettings agents or landlords themselves to take any kind of professional qualification. This means their professionalism cannot be guaranteed.

“In today’s market, when people are becoming increasingly desperate to find a home, there will be increasing opportunity for unethical operators to take advantage of consumers.

“We have worked hard to introduce a licensing scheme for letting agents to boost consumer protection among our members and we would recommend any consumer uses an ARLA licensed agent. All licensed ARLA members offer consumer redress for service failure and client money protection should the agent default with its clients’ funds.

“However, we have no power to force agents to become licensed and, as long as there is no centrally-led regulation, our work is being undermined.”

Mr Jones added, "The people of Hyndburn are becoming aware that Mr Shapps does no understand the scale of their problems, is out of touch with peope in these areas and his policies are having a damaging effect".

Making work pay – the childcare trap

Dear Graham,

Save the Children and Daycare Trust have surveyed more than 4,000 parents on access to childcare and the impact of childcare costs on family incomes and work prospects. The government’s promise to make work pay is crucial if we are to tackle child poverty. However, the results of our survey have led us to be greatly concerned that, unless more resources are found for support for childcare costs, the government will not be able to deliver on this vital pledge to Britain’s poorest families. Please see the attached briefing for the detail of the survey’s findings.