Councillor Ashley Walsh, who represents Petersfield and is Labour’s Spokesperson on Resources at Cambridgeshire County Council, has led major reform to the Council’s controversial use of zero-hours contracts after launching a probe in January. The Council’s Conservative Cabinet accepted almost all of Cllr Walsh’s recommendations at a meeting on Tuesday. For the first time, the Council will now have a policy for the use and management of zero-hours contracts and will introduce brand new management guidelines to protect workers. The Council will also review whether zero-hours contracts are the best way to deliver services like social care in response to concerns that these services need more permanent staff.
Cllr Walsh said: ‘The Council employs 1138 people on zero-hours contracts, the overwhelming majority of them women, but its management structures seem woefully inadequate. Some people prefer a zero-hours contract because it gives them flexible hours but these contracts must not be a way for the Council to save money or deny people proper employment rights.
‘Many people do not want to stay on these contracts because they cannot predict from one week to the next what their working hours and wages will be and cannot plan how to support themselves or their families. The cost of living and house prices in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire is already far too high and these contracts should not be worsening inequality in our prosperous region. As one of the largest employers in Cambridgeshire, the County Council should be a model employer enabling everyone to share the prosperity of our city and region.’
Councillor Kevin Price, a Councillor for Kings Hedges and Labour’s Lead on Housing at Cambridge City Council, has urged City-based social housing tenants affected by the government’s bedroom tax to check if they might be exempt after details emerged of a major blunder by the Department of Work and Pensions . The blunder means that thousands of tenants across the UK, and possibly dozens in Cambridge, have been wrongly identified as liable for the tax since April 2013.
Councillor Price said: “We have opposed this policy from the start as hitting tenants unfairly but now it is clear that some should never have been told they either had to pay up or move. The simple fact is that anyone of working age who has been in the same property since 1996 and receiving Housing BenefitRead more
Councillor Kevin Price, Labour’s Lead on Housing at Cambridge City Council, has said that the new letting agency established by 5 local authorities, Town Hall Lettings, to find private rented accommodation for homeless single people and families is a good initiative but that the City needs to take a broader view about working with private landlords. The new agency is based in the City Council and opens on 13 January 2014.
Councillor Price said: “The government has allowed councils to discharge their duty to house the homeless into the private sector, which generally offers less security and higher rents than socially rented homes.
Setting up this agency will help ensure that vulnerable homeless single people have help getting back on their feet whilst also providing private landlords with a management service and the security of a rent guarantee.”
“However the primary driver behind this is the large gap between private rents in this area and the Local Housing Allowance, which can be up to £120 a month even for shared housing. It could also mean that some are relocated out of the City into other cheaper areas. That could well suit a single person making a fresh start but we would not want to see families having to move a long distance from schools or work. Given the importance of the private rental sector in Cambridge we also want to see a whole new approach to working with landlords for all those looking for somewhere to rent, not just with the homeless to prevent them from becoming rough sleepers.”
Councillor Owers said: “This Budget reflects the financial consequences for Cambridge of the coalition government's assault on local government. The policies supported by the Liberal Democrats in government, particularly the swingeing cuts Eric Pickles is making to our grant, mean that the City will have to find over £6 million in savings by 2017/18. The result is proposals for a number of savings and cuts in important and sensitive areas such as youth services, community centres and pest control, which will we examine line by line to see what we can support and where we might look for different or additional savings. Many of our proposals from last year for greater savings or generating more income, for instance through active investment in commercial property in Cambridge, have been quietly included in this Budget.
Councillor Owers added: “It is strange though that at a time of acute financial pressure and proposals to cut key services £1.5 million can be found for a vaguely defined Keep Cambridge Moving Fund. We want to examine this very carefully and make sure that the City is not picking up the tab for things the County Council should be doing or which might be funded alternatively, for instance by the City Deal’s £500 million transport element. We know that every pound is important to residents and don’t want to see money wasted as it was on the failed District Heating Scheme, which this report reveals has now been abandoned.”
Cambridge Labour City Councillors are proposing a new deal for City Home tenants, which they say can be funded through a tough and detailed efficiency review. At next week’s City Council committee meetings where the City Homes Budget (the Housing Revenue Account) will be debated, they will propose a lower rent increase in 2014 and a major Environmental Improvement Programme for city housing from 2015, including a significant investment in new fencing.
Councillor Kevin Price, Labour's Lead on Housing at Cambridge City Council, said: "We don't agree that our tenants should face a rise of nearly 6% on their rent in 2014 after seeing it go up by 24.5% in the four years since 2010 and when household incomes are being stretched by so many other higher bills like council tax, heating, electric and food costs. We are proposing that any rent increase is kept down to last year's level and accompanied by a fundamental review of the Housing Services to identify where we can make greater savings. We know it's tough for councils in this economic climate, but it's also tough for tenants and we need to support them as well. "
He added: "Secondly, looking round our council streets and estates, there’s a clear need for a major Environmental Improvement Programme after years of neglect and budgets carried forward after being unspent. Fences are falling down and rarely replaced and many pavements are in a terrible condition. We are proposing the fencing budget is doubled for a start and then will look at how else we can invest in making our streets and communities safe and attractive places to live."
“We are determined to build new council homes, and at higher numbers than the Liberal Democrats plan but equally determined to manage the housing management budget better, recognising that every pound is our tenants’ money and every pound matters. This is just the start of a ‘New Deal’ for tenants. The review we have undertaken in just the fortnight available to us since the Liberal Democrat Budget was made public is a small indication of the root and branch analysis we will undertake if we take control of the Council in 2014
Councillor Lewis Herbert, Leader of the Labour Group on Cambridge City Council, has spoken out ahead of the expected publication of a report to January’s Planning Committee on the appeal and costs decision on Wilton Terrace, calling for a full review of how Council finances were put at risk, saying that lessons must be learned but also that the debate over the City’s growth must not be stifled.
Councillor Herbert said: “The Council must undertake a detailed review given the major financial loss expected following the Wilton Terrace appeal ruling. Whilst recognising that Planning Committee members have, and should retain, the freedom to decide planning applications on the merits of each case as they see them, it is clear that the Council must look at every aspect of this appeal and costs decision and learn lessons. We want to see an objective and fully transparent report to the Committee and to the Full Council covering the long history of this site, which included three committee decisions in 2012 and 2013 following the decision on the masterplan for CB1 in 2008.”
Councillor Herbert added: “The first steps in understanding what went wrong will be up to Planning Committee members when they meet on 8th January, recognizing that members of this regulatory committee act as individuals free of party directions. We specifically support the Committee considering adding an additional review process so that future decisions to overturn an officer recommendation on a major application are reported back to the following Planning Committee, including on the detailed planning grounds, before any final decision is taken.”
“There will continue to be times when councillors overturn officer recommendations but such decisions need serious thought, and both developers and residents must continue to have confidence that they can make their own case to committee and be balanced against all other facts in each case. We would support an in depth review by the committee of other improvements including training and support for committee members. There have been many changes to the national planning framework since 2010 which have affected appeals and the way that the Planning Inspectorate works. We also want the committee to review what can be learned from other councils including regular detailed reporting back to them on recent appeals and the City Council’s performance at appeals, as well as more detailed records of committee decisions. “
“The speed and scale of development in Cambridge has often led to passionate debates about the future of the City and about individual sites and we want to ensure, at the same time as implementing a package of new measures, that planning debate is not stifled.”
Councillor Zoe Moghadas, Labour’s Lead for Community Wellbeing and a City Councillor for Romsey, has waded into the row on booking fees for the Cambridge Folk Festival, querying if the Council are breaching regulations on how it charges customers.
Speaking after the Council had defended its £6 booking fee for the 2014 Folk Festival against complaints from festival goers, Councillor Moghadas said: “I have also received complaints about what is being seen as a Ryan Air style hidden charge and have now challenged the Council to explain exactly how the charges are arrived at. Only last April the government gave very clear guidance to prevent rip off levels of surcharges on tickets and I think the Council is breaching regulations put in to protect consumers.”
Councillor Moghadas added: “This is a serious issue as it will apply not only to the 2014 Folk Festival but also to the 2013 one and to all tickets sold with a booking fee through the Council run Box Office and if the Council is breaching the law it will have to return all excessive fees to those who paid them. There are serious questions to be answered about financial management in the Council again if this is the case.”
Councillor Ashley Walsh, Labour Councillor for Petersfield and their Spokes on Cambridgeshire County Council for Resources, has questioned if the government pledge for a hot free school lunch for all 5 – 7 year olds from September 2014 can be delivered across the County. Speaking at the County’s Full Council meeting on Wednesday 11 December, Cllr Walsh raised concerns to the Tory Cabinet Member for School, Cllr David Harty.
Cllr Walsh said: “After the dismal Ofsted report on primary school performance in Cambridgeshire, delivering on the pledge of a free hot school dinner to all 5 – 7 year olds has become even more important. An increasing number of children are turning up at school hungry and unable to concentrate on learning. But it seems the government has failed to do its own sums properly and has raided the Schools Maintenance Budget for the £150 million black hole in making sure schools have suitable kitchens. In Cambridgeshire 80 schools will need urgent work on their kitchens to ensure they can deliver a hot school dinner by the start of the next school year.”
Cllr Walsh added: “As yet there is no information on what this will mean for the Pupil Premium which is an important source of funding for each primary school but is based on the number of pupils on the Free School meals register. We must make sure that any change to how it is calculated doesn’t mean schools end up paying for the government’s pledge with less money for teaching and less money for crumbling buildings.”
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