Wednesday, 29 June 2011

New government proposals on business rates to hit Haslingden & Hyndburn hard

Tory-led Government’s business rates plan could cost Hyndburn Council £9.4 million per year following plans announced by Nick Clegg.

In response to Nick Clegg's speech to the LGA Conference this morning, The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy's Finance and General Estimates Statistics 2010-11have released damning statistics that show the fat cats will get fatter whilst Hyndburn and the regions will lose £millions.

Meanwhile Westminster – home to the some of the World’s biggest businesses, shopping streets and tourist attractions – would get to keep the £1 billion it currently contributes to the national Business Rates pool, which is redistributed to other councils around the country.

If Hyndburn Council Council loses out on the funding it gets from the national business rates pool, it would mean Hyndburn Council keeping it's own business rates of £10.2million instead of paying into the national pool and receiving  £19.6million.

What Nick Clegg needs to recognise is that we all pay for 'London' services. Nearly every organisation has a head office in London paying large salaries and large business rates to London and the South. This fuels the economy of the south east but it is people in Hyndburn who are directly paying those London busines rates.

The Liberals once again are the human shield for the Tories dirty work. David Cameron and Co must be laughing all the way to the next general election ballot boxes.

We’ve already seen deep cuts to our Council’s funding from the Tory led Government. Unless they spell out clearly how they will ensure we don’t lose out, we could be in line for yet another devastating blow to local services.

This announcement demonstrates that Haslingden and Hyndburn are of no interest to this Tory-led government.

Caroline Flint, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said

"Nick Clegg must explain how he intends to localise business rates without pulling the rug from beneath the finances of councils in Britain's most deprived areas. If business rates were completely localised Westminster Council would gain over a billion, the City of London would gain half a billion Pounds, but many other areas would lose hundreds of millions in vital funding.

Already those councils that serve Britain's most disadvantaged communities have suffered the worst of the Tory-led Government's cuts. We have seen already how little promises mean to Nick Clegg. Until he sets out in detail exactly how he will ensure that councils won't lose out under the localisation of business rates, we can't take his word seriously."

Notes

According to The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy's Finance and General Estimates Statistics 2010-11, Westminster contributed over £1 billion to the National Non-Domestic Rate account.

Local authorities where Business Rates collected are far lower benefit from this subsidy.

Net Non-Domestic Rates contributions from Westminster Council in 2010/11 are £1.097 billion

Net Non-Domestic Rates contributions from City of London Corporation in 2010/11 are £0.555 billion

Net Non-Domestic Rates receipts for xxx Council in 2010/11 are £xxx million

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Taking action on legal loan sharking

Legal loan sharks are here and they are ripping off ordinary people. Wonga.com charges 4500% interest on some its loans.

With this in mind the Co-operative Party have led the campaign for a New Clause in the Finance Bill (below) to help contain the problem. The article that follows highluights the horiffic nature and proliferation of this lending.

I would urge any constituent in Hyndburn or Rossendale in financial difficulty to stay away form theswe organisations and use Credit Unions. The credit union covering Hyndburn can be found on the upper balcony of the Market Hall.

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Todmorden Curve is well on track, pardon the pun, for a scheduled opening around October 2013. All the local MP's have taken their turns to ensure the issue is kept alive with ministers on the floor of the commons. Last week it was the turn of Andrew Stephenson MP (Pendle).
Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress has been made on the reopening of the Todmorden curve, which will provide a faster rail route between East Lancashire and Manchester?

Mrs Villiers: I am very much aware of the potential benefits of that project in helping to regenerate an area that is heavily dependent on public sector jobs. For precisely those reasons, it would be an impressive candidate for funding from the regional growth fund. I understand that the local authorities are working on that at the moment. I pay tribute to the work done by those in Burnley and on Lancashire county council on getting the project moving. My officials stand ready, and are indeed working with the local authorities, to see how we might be able to help to take things forward. This is primarily a local matter, but there is the real prospect of a successful RGF bid.
As your MP this is possibly the top priority. It has the potential to transform this area, Accrington town centre and the conservation area around the train station providing cheap handy quality accommodation for Manchester commuters. The Council must plan to take advantage and market this new opportunity. The journey time will be 42mins to Manchester Victoria which is to receive a major make over.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Travellers: Why a Labour Council has improved the situation in just 5 weeks

Last week after just 10 days, travellers were removed from Arden Hall. For too long, too little has been done to ease this near often blight on the public.

There has been cheap criticism that the swift action was due to my home being nearby, which unfortunately is a tacit admission that the previous council did not act swiftly enough in traveller cases. It has to be said that this was the first traveller encampment of a Labour Council barely 7 weeks old.

It is not just in swift action though. There had been neglect and the cheap criticism is unfounded. On the contrary congratulations are in order to Labour cabinet member Clare Pritchard for gaining a 24 hour removal notice of travellers from Huncoat - within a day of them pitching up.

The travellers had moved from Arden Hall to the Huncoat Playing field. Whilst the Labour Council started serving them with the usual court notice, they also swiftly engaged in consultation with Julian Platt at the Police.

Those discussions have resulted in better joined up working and a improved approach to removing travellers, the police having different powers than the Council and where they can move on illegal encampments within 24 hours (or less).

As a result of a Labour Council's swift action, the travellers were served with a notice last night requiring them to move by 5pm today.

The police have Section 61 powers which were unknown to the Council and highlight the ineffectiveness of the previous administration. These allow them to serve removal notices where there is:

a) Public concern and community tension arising from the encampment

b) Criminal damage (e.g. driving over a playing field)

c) an encampment that prevents the public use of a public facility (such as a playing field)

This would not apply to, say, a derelict piece of land (since there is no public facility) - but id does apply to many of our recreational fields.

What we have all learned from this episode, is that it is always helpful if the public complain directly, and in numbers, to the police as well as the Council. The police will generally choose not to get involved unless pressed to do so.

Sent from mobile

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Time to get tough on anti-social behaviour and dereliction

I spoke with the Council this week about greater use of HHSRS legislation against excessively cold houses.

I needn't have bothered. Councillor Clare Pritchard was demonstrating why a Labour Council is on ordinary people's side. She has instructed officers to use HHSRS powers more frequently.

Sent from mobile.One of the priorities for the Labour Party nationally is responsibility. Ed Milibands recent speech talked of a Britain people were yearning for. One based not just on fairness, but on responsibility.

Locally, the Hyndburn Labour Group has pushed a responsibility agenda. Under my tenure as opposition leader Hyndburn went from a failing Council to a moderate Council.

Frank Field in this weeks Inside Housing highlights legislation sitting on the statute books that would be helpful: in this case anti social behaviour.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Rewarding contribution, not worklessness.

As the MP for Haslingden & Hyndburn I meet, and deal with the cases of many constituents on a wide range of issues. It’s a privilege and one of the things I love most about my job. However, there are a few people I meet who are not taking responsibility for themselves, leaving the rest of the community to pick up the pieces. It just isn’t right.

Ed Miliband acknowledged in his speech on responsibility in the 21st Century earlier this week that the Labour Party, during the last election, was seen by some as one that primarily represented people who were ripping off the rest of us. Some of those at the very top of society, and some of those on benefits were not acting responsibly and were shirking their duties. From bankers who caused the financial crisis taking massive bonuses while taxpayers paid for their failure, to some people who abusing the welfare system because they were able to work but didn’t.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Grandparents Plus launch an advice service for grandparents, family or friends

Grandparents Plus is the national charity which champions the vital role of grandparents and the wider family in children’s lives – especially when they take on the caring role in difficult family circumstances.

They have launched an advice service for grandparents and other family members or friends who have stepped in to care for a child who is not their own.

Southern Cross homes: Haslingden and Clayton

Southern Cross, one of the UK’s largest care home providers which currently employs 44,000 staff across 750 homes, this week announced that it have to cut 3000 jobs across its care homes as it announced it was facing financial difficulties. The company has said that it plans to cut its workforce from 44,000 to 41,000 by October in order to try and avert closure.

There are two Southern  Cross residential homes for the elderly in the constituency at Clayton-le Moors and also in Haslingden.

Southern Cross claimed that the cuts would not result in a lower quality of service. However, they are likely to add to the uncertainty currently being suffered by its 31,000 residents and their families.

Last week the Government announced that it would ensure that "effective protection" was in place to protect residents. The Government said that it was closely monitoring efforts to resolve the company's financial problems and also said that the Department of Health had been in contact with Southern Cross for some time. If this is the case then I have to ask myself how we have reached the situation that the care home provider has found itself in this week?

Despite Government assurances that there would be effective protection in place we have now learned that 3000 jobs are set to go across all of their care homes. This is obviously a massive blow for those who will now be finding themselves without employment. But also, there is now concern over the future of the care home and the future of those who reside there.

Labour’s shadow health minister Emily Thornberry said the situation was very serious. She said: "We are talking about the most vulnerable, and the government has a responsibility to ensure that there is a plan B if Southern Cross can't look after itself.”

This week the Labour Leader Ed Miliband made a ‘genuine and open’ offer to the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg to engage in cross party talks after the Dilnot Commission into the funding of social care publishes its findings in July.

EM also called for private care providers to be more carefully regulated, with a duty on the regulator to look at their financial security as well as the quality of care they provide.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said "Thousands of very vulnerable people and their families will be worried sick by what's being reported about Southern Cross.

"Ministers must get a plan B in place if the company can't sort out its problems. People need to know they won't be left high and dry by the decisions of city hedge fund managers."

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

£6m worth of cuts the Tories have left and rising

I can understand the Tories wanting to talk about the positives after 10 years in power and defend themselves against any criticism. However that should not prevent the facts being put forward. They have left £6m worth of cuts, some of which were run up cynically to win the recent local election

Transitional Relief promised twice over

Knowing they had received an extra £2.6m in January (gov't transitional relief) they promised £2.6m to Woodnook at the beginning of February and promised £2million plus at the beginning of March.

They argue that quietly they had decided to axe the £2.6m Woodnook so there was no overspending. Unfortunately the people of Woodnook are claiming quite rightly they had been promised this funding by the Council leader, quoting him and his councillors and the published newspaper article.

Furthermore the Council has potential legal obligations. The chair of the 12 Pathfinders told me that Hull Council are facing two blight compensation notices.

It's been left to Labour to pick up the pieces. However it's even more problematic than that now with the Government offering Woodnook around £1.5m which the Council much match fund 50% out of the £2.6m or face losing the £1.5m.

Either way it amounts to £2.6m worth of disappointment to someone and at last nights’ Woodnook Residents Association there was a feeling of how can someone do this and get away with it.

Failed to balance this years income and expenditure

On the revenue side I am informed that expenditure over income this year is £300,000 which has been taken from reserves.

No plan for a further £2.5m of government cuts before Christmas

The Tories were unable to balance this years books and this in the full knowledge of the cuts the Council has to find up in the next 6 months for next years budget which amount to an additional £2.5m. A total of £2.8m of cuts and that still leaves reserves £300k down. The Tories had no medium term plan to cut expenditure and so Labour Councillors have to find the £2.8m.

The Leader of the Council has long maintained the Gordon Brown was spending way beyond the nations means so why was he not only spending every penny he received but £2m more every year.

Living beyond their means for a decade

The Tories have been living beyond their means for decade. Between 1998 and 2005 The Council had been financing £2m of Capital expenditure through borrowing culminating in debts (non Council Housing) increasing from the previous Labour administration of £11m (1998) to a £27m (2006).

Since 2006 The Council have been funding around £2m of capital works from grants given by the last Labour Government, grants which were given to deprived areas and which now have been axed. This year the Tories put forward  another £2m of capital works - such as £550,000 further to Pendle Street - using what will be the last payment made by the Government.

Re-roofing public buildings for example has to be done from time to time. Capital expenditure is necessary. I have argued for many years that the Council is on a crash course, it is spending (by £2m) beyond it's means. The fact Gordon Brown was so generous is not an argument for sound financial management.

That £2m of capital expenditure will now have to found every year from a £2m further reduction in revenue spending.

Mismanagement adds further costs

The Council's sloppiness in losing the high court case to landlords is expected to cost £100,000k plus any liabilities around the parking fines fiasco.

Add in old refuse vehicles in need of replacement at around £1m with nothing put aside over the last 8 years and you are looking at £6m of reductions due primarily to two reasons;  false promises over the £2.6m and poor political management.

Making sure nothing is left for Labour?

The state of the Council's management is best explained by the Cabinet Action Fund. Weeks before the election the Tories increased it from £68,000 to £100,000 and then spent it all in two weeks (including payments to every Conservative Club) to make sure nothing was left.

Who would run a council so badly?

Through to next April there is no money left in the emergency Cabinet Action Fund. What kind of politician does that? What kind of politician increase the opposition leaders budget before losing an election? The same person who began a debate with the Labour Leader arguing that he wanted to be paid a sizeable parachute payment if he he lost his leaders allowance.