Archives for category: City Council

After the leader of Birmingham City Council welcomed the 2018 Local Government Association Conference to Birmingham (ICC, 3-5 July) Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, spoke.

An extract from his keynote speech, published on the Local Government website

 I know that the state of Council finances keeps many of us up at night. Making the bottom line work for you will continue to be a priority for the LGA’s lobbying.

The money local government has for vital day-to-day services is running out fast. There is also huge uncertainty about how local services are going to be funded beyond 2020.

Councils can no longer be expected to run our local services on a shoestring. We must shout from the roof tops for local government to be put back on a sustainable financial footing.

We’ve protected government for a long time by making sure all the cuts thrown our way were implemented in a way that shielded our residents as much as possible.

But if austerity is coming to an end, then, as we were in the front of the queue when it started, we must also be at the front of the queue for more money when it ends. Only with adequate funding and the right powers can Councils help the Government tackle the challenges facing our nation.

Lord Porter (left) added that the cap on council tax also needs to be lifted: “Let us be clear, every penny in local taxation collected locally must be kept by local government and spent on our public services”.

Stroud District Council is the first council in Gloucestershire to lose its revenue support grant from the Government – a grant that has been paid in some form or another to all local councils for more than 50 years. In 2019/20 it must pay back £549,000, due to a ‘tariff adjustment’. This will be the largest sum paid by any Gloucestershire council and marks a new relationship between central and local government.

In July the FT pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, the Revenue Support Grant will have shrunk 77p in the pound, the Local Government Association the UK government plans to slash their core funding 77%. Almost half of all councils — 168 — will no longer receive any core central government funding in the 2019/20 budgetary year, according to the LGA, adding:

“The LGA says it is impossible to cut any further. It estimates a £5.8bn funding gap in 2020 — even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes”. 

 

 

 

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In a report published this week, the  Centre for Cities, noting that many high streets are full of boarded-up shops, advises local authorities to ‘reimagine’ the space for offices, homes and leisure:

“These places should focus on making their city centres better places to live, work and play in. For example, taking steps to repurpose surplus shops for amenities, housing, public space or parkland, will create a more attractive space for people to spend time or live in — which in turn will create more footfall for retail, restaurants and cafes”.

Centre for Cities describes Birmingham as having a strong city centre but low-skilled suburbs

When true socialist Theresa Stewart became leader of Birmingham council in 1993, acting on her belief that the council should spend its money on education, housing and social services, she backed The Living over the Shop (LOTS) project.

It was set up in 1989 to demonstrate the feasibility of using vacant space above shops and offices and ways in which wasted space can be brought back into use, usually for affordable rented housing and creating a range of employment opportunities. It was estimated that at least 250,000 homes could be created from these vacant areas. This would repopulate urban areas that were often empty and desolate during evenings and at weekends.

Though young occupiers were keen to buy into the new wave of urban living and these flats above shops were, on average, 20% cheaper than equivalent sized homes in buildings without ground floor retail premises, families wanted facilities like schools, play areas, doctors’ surgeries and green spaces. Parking was often a problem.

Home reports that overall, 1 in 7 shops in Britain are now vacant. The internet has acquired a massive slice of our regular spending, supermarkets offer a widening range of products, out of town centres have sprung up and shops are now open for more days each week and more hours every day.


In some cities, such as Sheffield and Bradford, over a quarter of shops are empty in areas where the demand for shop premises will never rebound. Home says that, “With the constant cry of a major housing shortage in this country, it seems obvious that …… these shops should be converted into homes. They generally have good ground floor access that is ideal for any wheelchair users and for babies still in prams and offer a challenge to architects to use the infrastructure of the buildings in a more imaginative way”.

More proactive planning procedures are needed in order to convert these spaces to much-needed housing. Local Development Orders can change the designated uses of buildings. Home continues:

“Shop properties could then provide up to 420,000 new homes in Britain. A double success story by any standards and successes in the housing market are rare finds these days!”

 

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Thursday 28th June, 5pm-7pm

Political round up: local elections results.

Exchange and discussion following round-the-table news from all present.

 

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

 

 

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Will Cllr Ward, lauded for recent political manoeuvring, continue John Clancy’s good housing initiatives?

A Bournville reader has drawn attention to a Guardian article which says falling house prices are not disastrous, ever-rising house prices are a curse, because they are:

  • bad for social mobility,
  • bad for young people
  • and bad for the economy.

The author, Larry Elliott, adds that the billions spent pushing up property prices –  for example the latest move, Help to Buy – could be more productively invested elsewhere. He recommends making the tax system less biased and starting a mass public-sector housebuilding programme.

The extensive work on promoting affordable social and privately rented housing done by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) may be seen here.

JRF’s written evidence, submitted to the Treasury in 2011, focussed on reform of housing taxation in the UK. Its recommendations included a tax and subsidy system, with new instruments targeted on housing supply intended for lower income households.

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Many readers will remember Pat Conaty, noted for his co-founding of the Aston Reinvestment Trust with Adrian Cadbury and the Debt Advice Centre at the Birmingham Settlement. He moved to Wales where he is promoting community housing and community land trusts (CLTs).

His work with others includes the building of a partnership between the Welsh government, co-op housing activists and non-profit housing developers to run a national demonstration project on CLTs and other forms of democratic housing including co-op rental, co-op shared equity, community self-build and co-housing.  He comments that such partnerships have long been established in Scandinavia where co-op housing is commonplace, continuing:

“As affordable housing both to own and to rent has vanished since 2010, community led-housing solutions have been emerging against the odds. Community Land Trusts in rural and urban areas, co-housing and student housing co-ops have been bootstrapped by activists . . .

“In Wales and South West England partnerships with government and local authorities and housing associations are showing how to develop effective public-social partnerships with local activists to increase the diversity of democratic housing provision and solutions”.

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The New Economics Foundation (NEF) advocates community-led housing on public land, as selling off public land to the highest bidder is making the housing crisis worse.  

Though the UK is facing a major housing affordability problem, the Government is continuing to pursue its policy of selling off land owned by Government departments, to stimulate the development of 160,000 new private homes by 2020. The NEF guide (above), by Alice Martin and Adrian Bua, aims to help groups to build community-led, affordable homes. It explains existing regulations, how to compete with private developers and provides an accessible guide to existing studies providing evidence of the benefits of community-led housing.

Surplus public land provides a resource which could kickstart community-led, affordable development, but all too often it is sold to the highest bidder, not community groups.

Legislation such as the ‘best consideration’ requirement (contract law) can be seen as a barrier to community-led housing, but the study shows how it can be challenged.

Community-led housing developments have individual and collective benefits. A few of these are listed below:

  • Wellbeing value for tenants: increased security and safety; reduced isolation; increased sense of self-worth and confidence (mainly through collective activities that build social capital);
  • Financial value for tenants: reduced expense of residential care provision;
  • Value to local authorities: reduced expense of residential care provision; reduced expense in social services and social care,
  • Benefits for the public purse;
  • Community building and social capital generation.

As Pat Conaty emphasises: “To expedite the potential they need more support and, most importantly, help to access sites”.

 

 

 

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A Kings Norton reader draws attention to the events of 2015, when a coalition of self-styled independents, united by the belief that democracy needs to be revived, were elected to Frome’s town council and continue to serve the town.

Frome councillors

Arlesey’s town council is now run by Independents for Arlesey, who won 14 of its 15 seats. Its founders were alerted to the flatpack democracy idea via Facebook and decided to shake up the politics of a Bedfordshire town that had got used to uncontested elections and a council run by old-school independents.

In Buckfastleigh in Devon, the Buckfastleigh Independents group have followed a similar path. “This isn’t an affluent community,” says the town’s new deputy mayor, Pam Barrett. “It’s a working-class town that’s been suffering from a real loss of services.” Fired up by the possibilities of localism and their experience of fighting – successfully – to keep open a library and swimming pool, she and other residents resolved to stand for town council seats that had not been contested for “20 or more years”.

Conservatives lost all nine of the parish council’s seats in Alderley Edge in Cheshire to a new group called Alderley Edge First, which also took the village’s one seat on Cheshire East council. Its town council has been solidly Tory, but dissent was brewing – a result of such controversies as the council’s plan to replace long-established allotments with a car park. One newly elected councillor, Mike Dudley-Jones, said “our basic mantra is that there is no place for mainstream party politics at this level”.

Our Kings Norton reader sent a link to the Birmingham Post, which reported in February that a People Power Brum campaign aims to put local power in the hands of citizens by entering independent citizen candidates in this year’s city council elections, in an attempt to work outside the political party system.

Organiser Sunny Sangha said:

“Many people are disaffected with politics, at all levels. It’s telling that the usual turnout at Birmingham City Council elections is around 30%. We believe Birmingham is ready for this idea, and the challenge of scaling it to our own city of 1.1m people is really exciting.

If successful, Birmingham would really take its place as a global pioneer in a new form of people-powered politics.” 

 

 

 

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WEST MIDLANDS NEW ECONOMICS GROUP

Date: Thursday 26th April, 5pm-7pm

Carol Martin who will be opening this session, will do a brief introduction. She has circulated notes to members of the group. An extract: 

I believe that Council Tax is no longer fit for purpose. I propose a Land Value Tax based on the 1948 Town & Country Planning Act. It would not be linked to the old rates system which was based on a “notional” rental value of that property. People rent/buy where they can afford to.  They consider factors such as proximity to work, schools, shops, places of worship, transportation links.

In large cities such as London, but especially in South Birmingham, it throws up some bizarre rents. The rental on a 3 bedroom property in the inner City can be as high as in the suburbs . . .  

Venue: The Community Hub room, Level 4, John Lewis, Birmingham Grand Central Railway Station aka New Street Station.

The John Lewis Community Hub is located on the 4th floor of the John Lewis store over the station (lift and escalator), immediately off the area where television sets are being sold.

 

Anyone not on the mailing list who wishes to receive Carol’s notes beforehand should contact comments on the WMNEG website.

 

 

 

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Moseley Road Baths CIO (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) will be re-opening the pool on Saturday 7th April 2018 from 8:45am with public swimming sessions starting at 9am and running until 2pm. Visit the CIO website:  http://moseleyroadbaths.org.uk/

Birmingham City Council staff will be continuing to support the CIO during a transitionary period so there will still be many familiar faces at the baths for a while yet.

There is a new timetable which prioritises school and club swimming and the current cost per swim will remain the same but there will not be a concessionary rate as MRB can no longer be part of Birmingham City Council’s Passport to Leisure scheme.  The CIO are hoping to find funding to support a reduced rate but this may take a little time. View the new timetable.

There are various volunteering opportunities to train and gain experience as a receptionist, lifeguard, social media volunteer or help with basic maintenance workFollow the link to find out more! http://moseleyroadbaths.org.uk/volunteering

The Trustees of Moseley Road Baths CIO are all volunteers who are proud of this historic pool which has been serving the people of Balsall Heath and beyond for over 110 years.

The next meeting of the Friends of Moseley Road Baths will be on Thursday 12th April, 7pm, Moseley Road Baths Tea Room. All are welcome!

 

 

 

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Five months after announcing a £2bn fund to build a new generation of council homes, the government has not released the money.

A country that works for everyone

Theresa May promised the state would get “back in the business” of building social housing to address the shortage in a speech at the Conservative party conference in October.

Actions belie words

Andy Bounds in the FT notes that despite this commitment to funding social housing, government regulations have merely required private developers to build or fund so-called affordable housing, with rents at 20% per cent below the market average.

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are delivering the homes our country needs and since 2010 we have built over 357,000 new affordable properties.

Paul Dennett, mayor of Salford, wrote. “We are concerned and frustrated that . . . we still being advised by Homes England and partner registered providers [housing associations] that the guidelines for the allocation of grants to build homes for social rent have not been published, and that no date has been set for when this funding will be made available”. The letter was addressed to Sajid Javid, secretary of state for housing, who has not yet replied.

Councils want to build social housing which would pay for itself over time through rental income and increased property value, but the government currently prevents them from using the proceeds of social housing sales to build replacement homes. It has also restricted councils from borrowing to build houses themselves, although some have used reserves for modest building programmes.

Mr Dennett said that across the 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester, there are 84,000 people in temporary accommodation, with their rent paid for by local authorities: “Our housing bills are going through the roof. The government is making the right noises but we need action now.”

The Ministry of Housing said: “We are determined to do more and we are investing a further £9bn, including £2bn to help councils and housing associations build homes for social rent.”

 

When? And, if built, will they be alienated under the right to buy?

 

 

 

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 “The West Midlands is beginning to get its act together under its new metro mayor”: Will Hutton Observer 18th February

George Morran, Director of the West Midlands Constitutional Convention and former Assistant Chief Executive of Dudley Metropolitan. Borough Council, comments: “Will Hutton’s praise for the West Midlands elected mayor and the Midlands Engine is misplaced”. He continues: “The mayor is constantly seeking publicity for policy developments for which he has no or limited responsibility. His budget proposals have not been supported and his capacity to make any real difference is compromised by the WM Combined Authority and District Councils”.

Deborah Cadman, the new Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority, appears to have similar misgivings “I can’t deliver the half a million new jobs we are trying to do and that massive investment. I can’t do that directly, I have to do that through local government.” (WMCA)

Morran points out that, despite so called devolution deals, the real power remains with Government Ministers and Whitehall:

“The Mayor’s democratic accountability is very questionable given that his election was based on a very low turnout, combined with the media and business support. The geographical focus of the West Midlands Mayor and Combined Authority is an area which divides the West Midlands Metro from the adjoining shires, urban and rural, town and country which together make up the West Midlands Economic Region.

“The “Midlands Engine” is as important a symbolic rallying cry as the “northern powerhouse” but it is a totally anonymous entity. It lacks any local or regional democratic accountability. It is totally dependent on Government, Whitehall and big business. It does not reflect the very different traditions, economic and political focus of the West and the East. Its focus does make life simpler for Whitehall than having to deal with two regions. What we need is a focus on the local and the region rather than what suits Whitehall. We need radical reform as part of a new constitutional settlement for the West Midlands and the other English regions. This settlement must focus on improving economic prosperity, the wellbeing of residents, business, civic society and democratic representative government in the West Midlands and the other Regions.

“This new settlement must include the transfer of real power and democratically accountable government from London to the local and the region; the downsizing and refocusing of Westminster and Whitehall. The new local has to be really local and not based on the existing large local authorities imposed on us in the past by Westminster and Whitehall.” 

Andrew Carter, Chief Executive, Centre for Cities, focuses on the limited powers and resources at the metro mayors’ disposal:

“As highlighted in the recent international mayoral summit organised by Centre for Cities (in partnership with Citi and Boston University’s Initiative on Cities), England’s mayors are highly constrained in their control over local tax revenue and how it is spent compared to their counterparts in other countries. They have also faced delays in gaining the powers already promised to them by the government in their initial devolution deals. For example, Street has criticised the Department for Education for postponing the devolution of the adult education budget to the mayors, a key policy area they need control of to improve the economic performance of their city regions”.

Richard Hatcher (BATC) is campaigning for the reform of the WMCA based on the following three principles:

  • A critical challenge to the claims for the economic strategy of the WMCA, and for an alternative primed by government investment and based on meeting social priorities and the promotion of the green economy.
  • Defence and improvement of public services, the protection and improvement of jobs and conditions and the involvement of workers and service users in policy decisions.
  • A radical democratisation of the WMCA with the full participation of citizens, communities and employees at every level of policy making and implementation so that it is genuinely democratically accountable.

As George Morran wrote last year: The needs of the West Midlands and the other English Regions will only be realised if there is a real transfer of power and elected representation from Westminster to the regions and a far more localised local government underpinned by a more proportional voting system to ensure cross party and geographical support.

 

 

 

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There is an important update about swimming timetables, lessons and prices from Karen Leach from the Moseley Road Baths Charitable Incorporated Organisation, which will be taking on the running of swimming facilities at the Baths from the start of April. 

Watch this space for further updates: http://www.friendsofmrb.co.uk/2018/02/important-update-for-swimmers-changes-in-april/

And Birmingham City Council has agreed (6 March) to grant the Moseley Road Baths Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), formed by Moseley Road Baths Action Group, a three-year licence to operate.

The council will retain responsibility for the maintenance of the building and the pool for three years and invest £100,000 in repair and maintenance over the next 12 months, in addition to the council grant of £100,000 to help with roof repairs agreed in June 2017.

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Recruiting of volunteers for reception, cleaning and lifeguarding will start soon and everyone who has already shown interest is thanked and will be contacted shortly.

Karen ends: “Look forward to seeing you at the pool soon!”

 

For feedback or queries go to keepswimming@moseleyroadbaths.org.uk.

 

 

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