REPORT TO PARISHES, Mid-Samford Ward: July 2013
Sue Carpendale and Kathy Pollard, Babergh District Councillors
Localism Act: Strategic tenancy policy – flexible tenancies and succession rights.
The Localism Act 2011 introduced a new statutory duty for Councils to develop a Strategic Tenancy Policy. We have to explain the different types of tenancies the Council and housing association partners will grant and define the process for renewal where fixed term “flexible tenancies” are being introduced. A flexible tenancy is a fixed term tenancy rather than a secure tenancy which offers security for the lifetime of the tenant. There are limits to the entitlement of people to take over a tenancy following the death of the secure tenant. Government believes changes are necessary because some people are allocated a home at a moment of crisis in their lives, and continue to live there long after their particular need has passed. There may be significant under-occupation of homes. Meanwhile, there are people waiting for a home who face much more difficult circumstances. This is perceived as being unfair and an inappropriate use of valuable public resources. Fixed term tenancies are likely to be for five year periods, but subject to review and renewal subject to certain exclusions which include sheltered housing tenants and people with disabilities or on state pensions.
Localism Act: Community rights
The intention behind this part of the Act is to encourage communities to become more actively involved in developing and delivering local services.This will include Neighbourhood Planning and two “rights”: to bid for “assets of community value”; and the right “to Challenge”. Neighbourhood planning came into force last year and is designed to give local communities a formal say in how their area is developed. It is intended to support the growth agenda – and cannot be used to block development of new homes and businesses. What it can do, is influence the type, design, location and mix of new development. The community determines the area they intend to be covered by the plan as well as the aims and objectives. Following independent inspection, if a public referendum is successful, the plan is formally adopted by the Council. A government grant of up to £30K is available to assist with the costs of inspection and referendum. Support will be available from Babergh’s Communities team.
Since Autumn 2012 community groups have been able to nominate local land or buildings as “assets of community value” (ACV). This can be applied to many (non-residential) buildings, or land, in public or private ownership, if current or past use “furthers the social wellbeing or social interest of the local community”. This could be cultural, recreational or sporting. If agreed by Council, the asset can then not be sold without the community being given the opportunity to put a purchase bid together. There is currently a request concerning “The Case is Altered” in Bentley.
The Community Right to Challenge aims to give communities the chance to shape and run local public services where they think they can do so better, cheaper or differently, and more responsively to local need. They can be on any scale within the authority’s area. As with any of these three community rights, there are processes and checks.
The final stage of the officer integration plan is nearing completion, with many people in the new Operational Delivery Teams now appointed to the evolving dual Council structure. There are still uncertainties for some staff and some unfilled posts.
Babergh and Mid Suffolk Councils are proposing to submit two categories of bid to DCLG for funding to support the transformation process. One of these is a multi-authority bid with other Suffolk Councils – this could be worth up to £2m. The other is an authority award, ranging from £50K to £500K to add capacity and capability as we progress the transformation agenda. At the LGA Conference last week, DCLG Minister Brandon Lewis complimented Suffolk on our work to date and promised that we would not be disadvantaged in our bid, just because we are already ahead of the game. This week also sees the beginnings of the transformation enquiry groups in the two Councils. Kathy is a Lead Member on the group addressing public access, and Sue is a member of the economy and growth group.
Committee seats and the “ungrouped” member
There was some clarification at the last Council on the rights to committee membership of councillors who cannot or will not “group”. An amendment to the Local Government Act has in fact recognised this potential situation. Legal advice from Counsel has confirmed that where seating allocations permit, an ungrouped member can take up an available seat if there is one once all calculations have been made. Therefore, the prior informal arrangement, whereby the Independent group gave up one of their seats to Mr Clive Arthey, has now been ratified as an entitlement.
Awards and recognition
At the recent prestigious Municipal Journal national awards event, Babergh and Mid Suffolk were presented with the top award in the “shared services” category. This is a high profile acknowledgement of the leading work done in our two authorities. The Leaders of the two Councils also made a presentation on our experience of sharing a chief executive to a well attended breakfast seminar at the LGA Conference last week, speaking on the same platform as the DCLG government minister. The MJ award is more about prestige and profile, but bids are about to be made which could also have significant monetary value. These are referred to above.
Timing of council meetings
With a view to encouraging younger/working people to consider standing for election, and also bearing in mind that the public may take more interest in proceedings, both the Strategy committee and full Council have now agreed to experiment with meeting times alternating between morning and late afternoon starts. Other committees appear to have retained their 09.30 time slots.
Health Scrutiny looks at Ambulance Trust performance and the future of Mental Health services
The meeting on the 10th July will discuss two important issues:
East Anglian Ambulance Trust
The poor performance figures for the Ambulance Trust have been much in the news. The Trust has produced an improvement plan which includes management restructuring and the recruitment of 82 specialist paramedics, 149 paramedics, 24 emergency medical technicians and 96 emergency care assistants. They hope that these plans, in addition to reducing staff sickness and reducing spend on private ambulances, will enable the Trust to provide the equivalent of an extra 25 of its own 24/7 double staffed ambulances.
Pressures on the service have included delayed handovers at hospitals, as well as significant increases in the number of 999 calls and additional pressures from the new 111 service. Distances which must be travelled in a very rural county add to the difficulties. As the population ages this also increases pressure on the Health Service in general. Ambulance attendance times did improve between April and May this year and the Trust has set itself some challenging targets.
Mental Health Services
Norfolk and Suffolk Health Scrutiny committees set up a joint working party to look at a radical redesign of the Mental Health Trust. The Trust is planning to make 20% savings between 2012 and 2016. In order to do this it was proposing to substantially reduce the number of consultant psychiatrists it employs as well as the number of inpatient beds.
The Trust is putting its emphasis on prevention, wellbeing, recovery and keeping people out of mental health hospitals. The joint scrutiny report supports this approach but makes a number of recommendations including improved consultation with service users and organisations such as Healthwatch. It also suggests that the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (formerly the Primary Care Trusts) should make available adequate funding to support the Trust in making a safe transition in order to achieve longer term cost savings.