News and views from Paul Bull, the Labour and Co-operative Councillor for the St THOMAS Ward of Exeter City Council. Promoted by Dom Collins on behalf of Paul Bull, both of 26b, Clifton Hill, Exeter, EX1 2DJ.
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.
Earlier tonight, Exeter City Council met in the Guildhall to set the Council’s budget for 2016-17.
There has been a series of meeting that contributed towards the setting of the Budget since the Government announced the provisional Local Government Settlement on 17 December 2015. The Council is to receive £5.802 million in 2016/17, which is £110,000 lower than predicted within the Medium Term Financial Plan. However, it was decided NOT to revisit the budgets as the shortfall could be managed within the budget.
The Local Government Finance Settlement also set the referendum level for District Councils in the lowest quartile of Council Tax rates at no more than £5 rather than 1.99%. Exeter falls into this category and therefore has the opportunity to increase its Council Tax by £5 (3.7%). Along with the increase in the taxbase this will raise an additional £269,000.
It should be noted that in the Government spending calculations, they have assumed that all authorities in the lower quartile will raise their Council Tax by £5 and have set the spending reductions accordingly.
The Council’s revenue estimates for next year were considered during thecycle of Scrutiny Committee meetings and the final budget report was discussed at the Executive meeting on 9 February 2016.
Regulations dictates the Council holds an Extraordinary Meeting of the Council when setting its budget
In the absence of Leader Cllr Pete Edwards [LAB, Whipton Barton], the Budget speech was delivered by his Deputy, Cllr Rachel Sutton [LAB, Exwick].
Thank you Lord Mayor.
I would like to start off by paying thanks to the Officers, especially Mark Parkinson, Dave Hodgson and his team, for their help in preparing these figures, and indeed for their work throughout the year.
I would like to set the context for this year’s budget by reminding everyone – members, officers and the wider public – that the reductions in funding received by local authorities like Exeter over the last few years from central government are amongst the most severe cuts we have faced in living memory.
This Council has had a 12.6% reduction in Government Formula Grant for the year 2016/17 on top of equally drastic cuts in previous years. Last year it was a cut of 15.6%.
Between 2010 & 2015 Exeter’s government grant has dropped from £12m to £7.7m but Exeter, unlike some local authorities has not been sleep walking towards oblivion, we have been working hard to make the necessary changes and plans for a future when the money we get from central government will have been cut to a fraction of what it was if indeed it doesn’t disappear completely.
In the financial year 2014/15 we made £1.5m in savings, and we continue to streamline and modernise the services we offer to residents and businesses by finding smarter and more efficient ways of working like setting up Strata with our neighbouring councils to deliver IT services across three local authorities and gain financial savings of 7m over the next 10 years.
We are working with our partners in the NHS, the voluntary sector and at Devon County Council to offer the Integrated Care for Exeter [ICE] project that will deliver better services that meet the needs of our citizens and which will save money and resources across all the partner organisations.
But in setting the budget for 2016-17, I am proposing a balanced budget with much of the lost formula grant replaced by additional income streams guaranteed long into the future. These include the guaranteed income from the Feed In Tariff payments on solar panels fitted on the rooves of two of our Car Parks, the Museum, the Quay Climbing Centre, The Phoenix and the largest solar array in Exeter at over 7,000 panels at the Livestock Centre, which on its own will generate over £160,000 a year in income for the Council. And in addition to the financial savings we are reducing our carbon footprint .
In addition to these solar panels we have also replaced our inefficient boilers at the Civic Centre and installed LED lighting in our offices and car parks.
These projects have also delivered tangible savings without affecting front line service delivery.
Cllr Edwards joined the leaders of more than 50 Labour-run councils in pledging to make all our towns and cities across the UK 100% clean before 2050, in line with the commitments made nationally and internationally at the Paris Summit on Climate Change in December 2015.
Our new and emerging partnership with Exeter City Futures and our own ambitious plans to be an energy neutral council by 2020 will go a long way to deliver the Leader’s Green Pledge.
We continue to deliver much needed housing:
In the last year we have built 26 brand new council houses for local families and we are about to begin work on providing an additional 26 new flats for older people next door to Rennes House
Since 01 April 2014, 64 affordable homes have been delivered with 235 further affordable homes consented and in the pipeline for national house builders.
In Exeter we have seen 3,468 new homes built since 2011-12 – more than any other district in Devon, Plymouth and Torbay – earning the Council £10.2m in New Homes Bonus with a significant proportion of these new homes suitable for wheelchair users.
However it must be pointed out that the Housing & Planning Bill currently going through parliament might put much of these plans in jeopardy threatening our ability to make decisions about how we run our Housing Revenue Account and plan for future building of council houses
We have provided new floodlights for the new and improved Flowerpots Skatepark so that the young people who use it can get the maximum benefit from the facilities
New businesses are now moving on the Exeter Science Park
Work is now progressing on a landmark building to house the Met Office’s £97m High Performance Computer.
Job creation continues to increase with new businesses relocating to the city – our own team have helped create 476 jobs in the city.
We continue to be an ambitious Council and are determined to ensure that the City achieves its potential and our residents receive quality services. We continue to support the City ensuring it stays at the forefront of economic recovery and will support the delivery of:
• A new Leisure Complex built to Passivhaus standards that the City will be proud of
• A modernised Bus Station fit to meet the needs of travellers to and from the City for many years to come;
• Two major events in and around the City in 2016 have already been announced – the Radio 1 Big Weekend at Powderham Castle and the European Rugby sevens event at Sandy Park. The Rugby sevens event will be held at Sandy Park for the next three years and building on the success of the Rugby World Cup, last year will further enhance the reputation of the City.
And all this is without the need to increase our overall borrowing requirement.
As a Council we have also supported greater investment in the infrastructure of the City.
We have this year agreed to provide:
• £1.3 million towards the delivery of the new railway station at Marsh Barton;
• £1.025m towards the delivery of a fully operational junction at Sandy Park to enable further development in the area;
• Over £200,000 towards the improvement of our car parks and to provide a permanent electricity supply to Exeter Farmers market.
Finally, for next year’s budget we have made further efficiency savings in the region of £1.1m.
We have again managed to achieve this without a reduction in front line services.
Lord Mayor, Councillors – the budget that I am proposing to you this evening aims to deliver a balanced budget that will protect and maintain the services which the citizens of Exeter need the most.
I therefore propose to you the recommendation set out in the papers before you in terms of the approval of both the revenue estimates and capital programme for the year 2016/17 and which will result in the setting of a District Council tax of £140.05 for a Band D property.
This is an increase of £5 a year for a Band D property less than 10p a week and still means that Exeter sets the 4th lowest Council Tax of any district.
I so move.
There was then a debate on the Budget.
The Leader of the Tory Group, Cllr Andrew Leadbetter [CON, St Loye ] agreed that central Government were cutting funding – but at the same time were enabling local authorities to find other ways to raise money to fund revenue budgets
However, he felt that his group would have to abstain because, although there were some good things in the Budget, there were other things in it that he and group couldn’t support.
Cllr Phil Bialyk [LAB, Exwick]said that imaginative leadership is taking this Council forward. He was pleased that the Budget proposed by the Labour Group had no additional cuts to frontline Council services. He pointed out that there was all that extra investment – all for an extra fiver a year.
Cllr Rob Hannaford [LAB, St Thomas] pointed out that the Council were working to best practice. He thought that we are still leading the way in delivering an ambitious programme despite the risks in the future – reduced revenue support grant, challenges to the self-financing of Housing Revenue Account, welfare reform cuts, unexplained programme of business rate retention following a futrure NNDR revaluation, devolution, and more. He concluded that he would be supporting a good, balanced and robust Budget.
Cllr Rosie Denham [ LAB, Whipton Barton] looked at one element of the Budget – the role Exeter City Futures will make in the work of the Council and the impact that will have on all of us, and our residents. She was grateful for the cross-party support for the initiative and hopes that the project, by taking a strategic approach, would tackle concerns over traffic congestion, health and the environment. Rosie was adamant that we should always think carefully over proposed schemes, programmes and policies, and noted that we are in the incredibly lucky position to be able to come up with imaginative and creative ways to balance our Budget but we shouldn’t take any of this for granted. She concluded that other local authorities were so fortunate and was frightened for the state of the roads, the schools, heath and social care elsewhere.
Cllr Stella Brock [LD, St David’s] questioned the no cuts message of the Budget and questioned the spending on the Bus Station development site [having voted against it at the outline planning stage].
In reply, Cllr Sutton said that the changes to services highlighted by Cllr Brock were not cuts per se but changes to work in smarter and more efficient ways. Rachel also pointed out that without the planned interventions from ECC, the Bus Station development site wouldn’t have levered in an investment of over £75m from the Crown Estate and TH Real Estate and would remain a blot on the landscape of the city centre.
In concluding the debate, Cllr Sutton said she was disappointed that NO alternative proposals were coming forward from the Conservative Group, describing it as lazy opposition. Indeed, she pointed out that we know what they are against, but they never state what they are for.
The meeting voted and RESOLVED:-
(1) That the following, as submitted in the Estimates Book, be approved:-
(a) the Revenue estimates for 2016-2017
(b) the Capital programme for 2016-2017;
(2) that it be noted that, at the meeting of the Executive on the 26 January 2016, the Council calculated the figure of 35,429, as its council tax base for the year 2016-2017 in accordance with the Local Authorities (Calculation of Council Tax Base) (England) Regulations 2012 made under Section 33(5) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992;
(3) that the following amounts be now calculated by the Council for the year 2016-2017 in accordance with Sections 31A of the Local Government and Finance Act 1992:-
(a) £103,925,695 being the aggregate of the amounts which the Council estimates for the items set out in Section 31A(2)(a) to (f) of the Act;
(b) £98,963,864 being the aggregate of the amounts which the Council estimates for the items set out in Section 31A(3)(a) to (d) of the Act;
(c) £4,961,831 being the amount by which the aggregate at (3)(a) above exceeds the aggregate at (3)(b) above, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 31A(4) of the Act, as its council tax requirement for the year;
(d) £140.05 being the amount at (3)(c) above divided by the amount at 2 above, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 31B(1) of the Act, as the basic amount of its council tax for the year;
(e) Valuation Bands
(4) That it will be noted that, for the year 2016-2017, Devon County Council, the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall and the Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority have stated the following amounts on precepts issued to the Council, in accordance with Section 83 of the Local Government Act 2003, for each of the categories of the dwellings shown below:-Being the amount given by multiplying the amount at (3)(d) above by the number which, in the proportion set out in Section 5(1) of the Act, is applicable to dwellings listed in a particular valuation band divided by the number which in that proportion is applicable to dwellings listed in valuation band D, calculated by the Council, in accordance with Section 36(1) of the Act, as the amounts to be taken into account for the year in respect of categories of dwellings listed in different valuation bands.
Devon County Council
Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority
(5) That, having calculated the aggregate in each case of the amounts at (3)(e) and (4) above, the Council, in accordance with Section 30(2) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992, hereby set the following amounts as the amounts of council tax for the year 2016-2017 for each of the categories of dwellings shown below:-
Although the amended legislation came into force on 25 February 2014. there was anexpectation of the Government that authoritiesholding their annual budget meeting before this date will adopt the new ruling when setting their annual budget and council tax. ECC used a named vote at their budget setting meeting in 2015.
Cllr Bialyk, Cllr Branston, Cllr Brimble, Cllr Bull, Cllr Buswell, Cllr Choules, Cllr Denham, Cllr George, Cllr Hannaford, Cllr Hannan, Cllr Laws, Cllr Lyons, Cllr Morse, Cllr Owen, Cllr Packham, Cllr Pearson, Cllr Raybould, the Deputy Lord Mayor [Cllr Robson], Cllr Sheldon, Cllr Spackman, Cllr Sutton, Cllr Wardle, Cllr Vizard and Cllr Williams
Cllr Baldwin, the Lord Mayor [Cllr Foggin], Cllr Harvey, Cllr Holland, Cllr Leadbetter, Cllr Mottram, Cllr Newby, Cllr Prowse, Cllr Shiel and Cllr Thompson
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.