Parliamentary visit – Homelessness

This week (Monday 27th November 2017) I represented the LGA (Local Government Association) giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in Westminster.  The session was on the Code of Guidance for councils on the Homelessness Reduction Act.

I sat alongside a representative from London Councils and gave evidence after the homeless charities Crisis and Shelter.  The Minister responsible was questioned after us.

This Act comes into force in April 2018 but some of the legislation relating to it hasn’t been passed yet; Councils have been given some money towards it but not enough (given it is being taken away in other areas) and various aspects still have not been confirmed.

The idea of the legislation is good – Councils have a duty to prevent homelessness rather than just deal with it when it becomes a crisis.  I expect the implementation will go ahead but it would be better if it was more coordinated and complete so that local government could make a success of it.

Select Committee 271117

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Why doesn’t the Council spend it’s budget?

Every year since I have been a district councillor, Mid Suffolk District Council has underspent it’s annual budget.  You may think this is a good thing – we all want to save money.  But councils raise taxes and receive funds from Government in order to provide services to their residents and communities – and they should agree what needs to be spent and spend it.

For the year 2016/17 Mid Suffolk District Council announced in July 2017 that the underspend was £528,000 – on a net budget of approximately £10 million.  The year before the underspend was £1,857,000!  And before that £526,000 – and so it goes on.

These underspends are added to a type of reserve called the “Transformation Fund” which the Coucil is supposed to use to “transform” the way it works – thus improving the quality of life for residents in the district.  Yet this fund stood at just over £10 million at the beginning of the last financial year.

My group on the Council puts forward amendments to the budget each year with suggestions (such as employing specialists to help with the 5 Year Housing Land Supply) and each year they are voted down on the basis that we cannot afford them.  I think we need to look long and hard on what we are doing with our citizens’ money.

National Sheepdog Trials – Haughley Park

SheepdogGreat day out at the National Sheepdog Trials this weekend (29th/30th July 2017).  Good to see them locally, for the first time in Suffolk, in the lovely setting of Haughley Park..  Well done to Suffolk on Show for a well-organised event – lots of people seemed to be enjoying themselves and sampling all the great Suffolk food and drink on offer.  Thanks also to all the sponsors and support from Mid Suffolk District Council.

£10 million to spend on our communities

Our Council has the funds to spend in communities – so why isn’t it spent?

Central government gives district councils a New Homes Bonus* as an incentive to grant housing planning permissions, payable when the homes are built.  Since the start of the scheme in 2011 Mid Suffolk District Council has received just over £9 million.  It has spent very little of this and, when combined with recent budget underspends, means the Council has a cash reserve that is expected to rise to £10.47 million by the end of 2017/18.

The Green Group of councillors at Mid Suffolk are urging the Council to create a New Homes Bonus fund, initially £400,000, to which communities that have had housing growth can apply.  Housing growth is happening now and communities must be given the funds to improve their infrastructure to deal with this.

Leader of the Green Group, Councillor Andrew Stringer said “each year we put forward proposals on how to improve quality of life for our residents and this is one such proposal.  Our communities need our support as they get more and more housing growth.”

Many communities are seeing new housing developments and often need improved infrastructure (foot/cycle paths, roads, schools, health provision) alongside this – yet little or no funding is forthcoming.

Villages are being asked to improve their communities themselves yet are not given the budgets to deal with this.

Across England, different councils have different approaches.  In South Lakeland in Cumbria 40% of the New Homes Bonus is used in communities where development occurs and the rest of the fund is used by the council to build their own housing.  In Wychavon in Worcestershire, 40% of the fund from years 4 and 5 of funding is provided to local communities.  South Northamptonshire allocates 30% for parishes and towns that have seen growth and 10% for parish and voluntary group projects.

District Councillor Rachel Eburne said “it is vital that these funds are used.  This is not our money – it belongs to the residents of Mid Suffolk and we should be looking at best practice across the country on how this money can be spent in our communities for best effect.”

 

Notes:

*New Homes Bonus

New Homes Bonus is payable by Government on an annual basis with an amount paid for every new home built or empty home brought back into use.  It was set up to encourage house building by incentivising councils for each planning permission granted.  However it was also delivered in conjunction with Government reducing Revenue Support Grants to local government.

For each home, “payments are made on matching the average national council tax band of the unit built or brought back into use”(1) with an extra £350 if the home is affordable are paid each year.  Of the sum payable, 80% is paid to Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) and 20% to Suffolk County Council.  This scheme started in 2011/12 and currently the bonus is paid every year for five years.  Since 2011/12, MSDC has received just over £9 million and is due to receive a further £2.027 million in 2017/18.

If a new house is built today, based on the national average of Band D council tax of £1,530 for 2016/17,  Mid Suffolk will receive approximately £6,120 over the next five years – so for 100 homes built, £612,000.  For every affordable house built they will receive an additional £1,750 over the next five years.

MSDC has been building up a so-called “Transformation Fund” which currently stands at £9.2 million and this is primarily funded from the New Homes Bonus.

In many other councils, New Homes Bonus is used as a fund to help communities to mitigate the impact of development in their area – that is, if a community has had development in their area (from which the district council has benefitted by receiving New Homes Bonus) they can apply for funds for projects that deal with impact of more housing.

Examples are:

Chichester District Council – £250,000 per annum provided to communities

http://www.chichester.gov.uk/newhomesbonus

Wychavon District Council – 40% of the New Homes Bonus from years 4 and 5 is provided to communities

http://www.wychavon.gov.uk/documents/10586/157693/New%20Homes%20Bonus%20Protocol%20April%202014.pdf

Bromsgrove District Council – communities that have had new housing built can apply for grants

http://www.bromsgrove.gov.uk/business/tax,-funding-finance/grants-funding/new-homes-bonus-(nhb)-community-grants-scheme.aspx

South Lakeland District Council – uses 40% of funds for local use and the rest for housing in general

http://www.southlakeland.gov.uk/your-neighbourhood/grants/new-homes-bonus/

South Northamptonshire allocates 30% for parishes and towns that have seen growth and 10% for parish and voluntary group projects.

http://www.southnorthants.gov.uk/1037.htm#

(1) See Government guidelines, rates and research briefing:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/486102/New_Homes_Bonus_-_instructions_for_using_the_calculator.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/council-tax-levels-set-by-local-authorities-in-england-2016-to-2017

http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN05724

 

Council has the cash to help the housing crisis

My letter published in the East Anglian Daily Times – Wednesday 15th February 2017

Here in Mid Suffolk there are over 2,300 planning permissions granted and waiting to be built.  I agree with Fiona Cairns (This won’t fix the housing crisis – Letters 11 February 2017) that this issue is in the hands of the developers however as the opposition group at the Council we have continually put forward ideas to help solve this.

Currently Mid Suffolk District Council has a fund of over £9 million which comes from New Homes Bonus.  This is the money that Government gives councils for each house built and works out at approximately £6,000 per new dwelling (over a five-year period).  A further £2 million will be received in 2017/18.

We are submitting an amendment to the budget for 2017/18 to request that some of this unallocated cash reserve is set aside as a fund to kick-start these developments – and that someone is hired in a “negotiator” type role to help get this done.  We suggested this last year – and the year before – but the money keeps adding up year after year and the problem remains the same.

After years of promises, Haughley Green finally gets broadband

As of today (17th October 2016) residents of Haughley Green can order superfast fibre broadband.  A new cabinet has been installed in the village and after six long years of promises we will finally be able to get a decent broadband service.

Many properties in the village cannot get landline based broadband at all and for others the speed is around 0.5mgb – barely enough to use email.

Local residents and councillors (myself and County Councillor, Andrew Stringer) have been campaigning for over six years fot this to happen.  We have attended conferences, held public meetings, lobbied councils, door-stopped BT, asked questions of MPs, conducted surveys and finally worked with Suffolk County Council’s Better Broadband team to get a service for our area.

Thank you to everyone who has persevered.

Rail Crossing Closures Threat

Haughley Green level crossingOnce again, rail crossings in our area are threatened with closure.  Three immediately around Haughley and Wetherden are at risk – two on the Ipswich to Bury line  (on the Haughley Green to Haughley footpath and at Mutton Hall) and one on the Norwich line (at the Leggetts footpath just north of Haughley Green).  A public consultation will soon be open so please register your views.  From 14th June until 5th July you can go online at www.networkrail.co.uk/anglialevelcrossing or email anglialevelcrossings@networkrail.co.uk or phone 03457 11 41 41.  A consultation event is being held in Stowmarket at the Community Centre IP14 2BD on Tuesday 14th June from 3pm to 8pm.  The local press have been covering this (read here) and also a local pressure group (www.suffolkcrossings.co.uk ) but it is important that as many of you as possible have your say.

 


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