Portfolio priorities for 2016/17

At the Annual Council meeting held on 17 May 2016 , I was appointed Lead Councillor for Communities and Neighbourhoods.

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Since then, I have been working on the priorities for the portfolio which I presented tonight at People Scrutiny Committee.

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At the meeting, I highlighted the following areas:-

  • further development of the Exeter Community Forum, with the Grants Panel to be operational by Autumn. The City Council Executive maintained ultimate authority on awarding grants;
  • work in conjunction with ICE and Exeter City Futures to utilise the talents that can be found in Exeter’s communities;
  • exploration of how Asset Based Community Development could be introduced across the Council following on from seminars for Senior Councillors and Officers and partners facilitated by Cormac Russell;
  • implementation of the Council’s Equality and Diversity policy
  • renewal of Exeter’s Fairtrade City Status
  • increasing the profile for dementia awareness

I also advised that the first meeting on developing Youth Strategy for Exeter had been held in response to an Exeter Board’s recommendation , and that I would meet with the Portfolio Holder for Customer Access to agree on further progressing the ICE project.

These priorities would be published in the Council’s Corporate Plan 2016/17.

ICE | Improving the Health Inequalities of Homeless People

At the Good housing leads to good health conference organised jointly by the Devon Strategic Housing Group and Chartered Institute of Housing [CIH], Bindu Arjoon [Exeter City Council] and Catherine Aitkin [RD&E NHS Foundation Trust] gave a presentation of work of Integrated Care for Exeter [ICE] , including details their Programme A1 – Improving the Health Inequalities of Homeless People.

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Exeter Labour Party | Homelessness in Exeter

The Conservative general election candidate for Exeter new interest in rising homelessness in our city is a surprising campaign issue for him to focus upon.

Figures released in February this year by Homeless Link , show more people are sleeping rough on Britain’s streets than when the coalition came to power, with one in fifty experiencing it in the last five years. This shocking rise in homelessness means there are 55 per cent more rough sleepers in the UK now than when David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010. The figures showed  2,744 people were found to be sleeping rough on any one night in the country in autumn last year – up from 1,768 people in 2010.

In Exeter because it is a regional transport hub , has community support for services , and a range of specialised care built up over time , we have the ninth highest homeless count in the country , so the issue for us is an acute one.  Indeed looking at the figures per head of the population in relation to the number of  rough sleepers we are second only to London.

Because of these acute service pressures , Exeter City Council , working in partnership with others such as the police , health care professionals , and hugely valued partners in the Charity & Voluntary sectors, do their utmost to tackle these challenges.

The Conservative candidate has apparently not bothered to find out what is already being done.

As the Express and Echo reported (Cash boost to help ease growing homeless problem in Exeter, Online, 23 January 2015) , the Labour-run City Council recently led a successful bid for a quarter of a million pounds to help tackle homelessness in the city and surrounding areas. This is a partnership with Teignbridge, East Devon, Mid Devon and Torbay councils , and will include new work with the Prison and Probation Service, specialist case workers to manage complex clients, and enhanced accommodation in the social and private sectors.

Also The Integrated Care Exeter project – a joint initiative led by Devon County Council in partnership with the NHS, Exeter City Council, Devon and Cornwall Police, Exeter CVS, AgeUK Exeter and others – has also committed to creating a Community Health & Wellbeing Hub for homeless people.

Homelessness does not just show itself through people sleeping on the streets. It should be defined as people sleeping rough, single people living in temporary accommodation, statutorily homeless households who are currently or imminently without accommodation , and “hidden homeless” households, such as those living in severely overcrowded conditions, squatters or “sofa-surfers”.

Its also very important to remember that homelessness can happen to anyone , the middle class stay at home mum forced to leave because of domestic violence, the young person out of care without proper support, the ex-service person traumatised by a tour of duty , the newly unemployed mortgage holder , or the private sector tenant displaced because they asked for repairs to be done. Indeed a large number of rough sleepers have suffered institutional abuse and therefore are reluctant to engage with “ authority”.

The Con Dem coalition has a terrible record on housing. One of its very first actions was to slash funding for house building . We still have a chronic shortage of housing across all sectors in Exeter , including  new private housing in general , and most importantly of all much more affordable and social housing. This lack of infrastructure investment in the housing sector has been a significant reason why the economic recession caused by the international banking system , lasted longer in the UK , and was deeper.

In the context of rising homelessness , high housing costs , low pay , zero hours contracts , low skills base , welfare cuts all have made it more and more difficult for people to keep a roof over their head. Another big factor that we are trying to deal with in tandem with other key players in Exeter is the new scourge of legal highs , that have had a terrible effect on already vulnerable  people with complex needs. On this issue we have been left high and dry , with no adequate legislation to allow quick and assertive action.

Adding to all this is the fall out from the Con Dems harsh austerity policies , that have devastated the public sector and made the job of tackling homelessness often an ordeal. In Exeter we have seen the NHS under strain , huge cuts to the police who have a big role in helping reach out to rough sleepers , waiting lists for drug and substance abuse help , less supported beds, and the list goes on.

Homelessness is a complex issue, there is much more work to do in Exeter , and there are no quick solutions, but our job has been made infinitely more difficult  by the policies of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government

Despite what the minor parties say this General Election in Exeter , is a straight fight between Labour and the austerity wielding Conservatives. If you care about homelessness , and housing generally , the choice is clear , vote Labour.

Rob Hannaford
Labour Party Housing Spokesperson