Friday, 19 December 2014

City Council faces even more cuts as Tories savage public spending again



Lancaster City Council is facing further cuts to its funding next year, after the government announced further funding reductions to the money it gives our area by 6.4% - which could push it to breaking point.

Yesterday, the communities and local government minister Kris Hopkins announced what he called a fair financial settlement for councils in 2015-16. English councils will face an average cut of 1.8% in spending power and Hopkins said no council would see more than a 6.4% cut.

"Every council should be able to deliver sensible savings while protecting frontline services for local taxpayers,” he claimed.

While other Northern councils, including Preston, Pendle and Barrow-in-Furness face similar swingeing cuts, a small number of councils, predominantly in well off places such as Windsor and Wokingham will get a slight increase.

While the news is grim for our local council, Lancashire County Council is facing even bigger cuts. With about 60% of its spending unable to be cut because they have a statutory duty to maintain funding, we can expect some pretty tough decisions over the future of the Storey Institute, libraries, the Maritime Museum, the City Museum and others.

Other non-statutory services funded by the two councils such as amongst others Salt Ayre, Barton Road Community Centre, arts funding, funding for activities and clubs for young people, services for the elderly and more will now face further scrutiny to deliver on the cuts the reduction in government has brought about.

Across the country, town hall chiefs have already warned Government they are pushing them to breaking point, accusing them of playing down the size and the seriousness of real term cuts to council spending.

The Guardian reports that the group that represents local government heads, who currently oversee spending of £114 billion a year in England, said the reduction in central government grants amounted to an average 8.8% cut next year, around £2.6 billion in cash terms.

The government’s spending power figures represent the totality of funds available to councils, including business rates and NHS cash notionally available to local government social care services. The 8.8% figure refers to the amount of grant given directly to councils by the government.

“We cannot pretend that this will not have an impact on local government’s ability to improve people’s quality of life and support local businesses," said David Sparks, the chairman of the Local Government Association. “It is individuals who have paid the price of funding reductions, whether it is through seeing their local library close, roads deteriorate or support for young people and families scaled back.”

The LGA estimates that central funding for councils has shrunk by 40% overall since 2010, and this decrease has come at a time when demand for core services such as child protection and social care of older people is rapidly increasing.

The cuts have even alarmed Tory council leaders some also highly critical of the latest round of cuts. David Hodge, Conservative leader of Surrey county council, told BBC Radio 4: “There is a limit. You can only cut local government so far.”

“This settlement reminds us that the financial challenge facing local government is immense," commented Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. "Cuts of up to 6.4% will push some authorities to breaking point.”

It seems strange to think that when David Cameron came to power he promised to give local councils much more power. "Over the last century Britain has become one of the most centralised countries in the developed world," he said. "I am convinced that if we have more local discretion - more decisions made and money spent at the local level - we'll get better outcomes."

"But in the spring of 2011, something counter-intuitive happened," notes BBC correspondent Mark Easton. "For the first time probably in living memory, central government was bigger than local government. The number of people in the UK employed by Whitehall overtook the number employed by the town hall."

Instead of employing staff direct, many councils - with Tory councils leading the charge - have outsourced services to private companies, a move that leaves them unaccountable. Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty noted that claimed savings made by such practices were dubious - and reports on how changes at Brent Council have left local taxpayers bemused about where and how they sould complain when a previously-run Council service fails to deliver (if it still exists).

In more bad news for the country's most vulnerable, Ministers did not reverse plans to end £180m central funding for local welfare assistance schemes aimed at providing crisis help for a range of vulnerable people who fall into unexpected crisis, including women fleeing domestic violence, homeless people, pregnant mothers, care leavers, pensioners and people suffering from chronic physical and mental health problems.

However, they did acknowledge concerns, including those raised by a last minute 38 Degrees petition signed by 100,000 people, and set aside £130m for the emergency fund for people in crisis (PDF link). But they have left it up to councils whether they use it for that or not. So there’s still no certainty.

In the face of more cuts to services, councillors and taxpayers alike are scrabbling for solutions to the funding shortfall. Some people have suggested cutting still further councillors' allowances etc., but compared with the expenses MPs have claimed (Iain Duncan claimed for his underpants) what councillors get seems pretty small based on reported expenses (Word Doc link on City Council web site).

"Local councillors get paid a tiny amount for the work they're expected to do," argues local business man Michael Gibson. "The Leader of Lancaster City Council, Eileen Blamire, effectively controls a £20 million company with another £15 million of devolved spending. She should work at least 40 hours a week. She gets paid £11,400 a year. Local city councillors, there are too many, get paid £3,300 a year. No one claims expenses of more than a few hundred pounds a year. If anything we need less councillors, paid more money so we can attract talented people to the job who can make a real difference."

Councillors get a basic £3000 allowance (compared with £60,000+ for an MP) and then an allowance for special responsibility, travelling and subsistence. Overall councillors claimed £80,182.97 in total claimed for special allowances for the year 2013/14 and 3,962.21 for travel. Overall, our councillors cost local tax payers £281,595.18.

For comparison, Morecambe MP David Morris's expenses during the year 2012 / 2013 were £75,624.43  and that figure is less than what the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which examines MPs expenses, spent on office furniture!

Who would want to be a local councillor right now facing such dreadful choices? What would you cut?

 • The BBC has full details of where the cuts will fall on its web site here

Daily Telegraph: Hospitals and fire services to be run 'outside the public sector'

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Can a huge e-protest stop a cut to far to Council funding by the Coalition Government?

In a new round of spending cuts by the Coalition Government, it's been revealed that Chancellor George Osborne is trying to cut crucial funding designed to help people in crisis as part of his anticipated cuts of around £3 billion to the work of local councils.

The national Guardian has reported that ministers announced in January that £180m central funding for council-run local welfare assistance schemes in England would stop from April 2015 - funds vital to help people hit by flooding, fire, or domestic violence. But the decision to cut funding has come under fire in recent months from a number of Conservative council leaders and MPs, as well as local Labour politicians and poverty charities, who argued that removing the local welfare safety net would drive people to food banks and loan sharks.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles, is among the senior ministers understood to want to save the fund with £70m of extra money, which could be ringfenced and is reported to have the support of, among others, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. But the demand is said to have been met with resistance the chancellor.

Without this vital safety net, stricken families would be left penniless and without food and the cuts could announce the cut later today – so let’s help try to stop him. With other ministers are feeling the pressure over “the unpopularity of welfare cuts and the rising use of food banks”. A huge public outcry, just as MPs are getting ready to go home for Christmas, could split the government further - and force Osborne to back down.

Whether it’s a violent partner, flood, or fire, anyone can suddenly find themselves up against it. Until now, the government has given councils funds to offer emergency help. If George Osborne manages to scrap this fund, people could be left with nowhere to turn.

As a proportion of government spending, the sums of money involved are pretty small. But this is about the kind of Britain we want to live in.

Can it really be right to scrap emergency support for people hit by crisis? Do we really want to leave people in hardship to suffer? To rely on food banks? Or even worse, loan sharks?

•  Please sign the emergency petition now: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/osborne-christmas-cuts

Police appeal after 14-year-old boy attacked on Millennium Bridge

Lancaster detectives are appealing for information after a 14-year-old boy was struck in an unprovoked attack at around 9.30pm on Saturday (13th December) on Lancaster's Millennium Bridge.

The victim was walking home over the bridge when he was engaged in conversation by two youths of a similar age. One of them is believed to have then struck him from behind, causing him to fall forwards and sustain injuries to his face - as well as breaking and chipping his front teeth.

“This was a completely unprovoked, nasty attack on a young man who has understandably been left shaken by this incident," commented DC Sue Palmer from Lancaster CID. “I am asking anyone who may have witnessed this or has any information about it to get in touch with us.”

The first offender is described as a white male, approximately 5ft 7in, slim build, aged around 14 to 15 years old, with black, shiny hair to one side. He was wearing a darkish-grey fleecy hoody and dark tracksuit bottoms.

The second offender was a white male, approximately 5ft 7in, medium build with a rounded face, aged around 14 to 15 years with light brown/blonde hair. He possibly had his hood up and was wearing a darkish top.

Anyone with information can call Lancaster CID on 101 quoting incident number 463 of 14th December 2014.

Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Witness appeal after man dies following Caton Road collision

Police are appealing for witnesses after a man died following a collision in Caton yesterday.

The collision happened shortly before 5.00pm on Tuesday 16th December on an unlit stretch of the A683 Caton Road, Crook O’Lune when two cars, a Honda Jazz and a Hyundai Tucson, collided with an 80 year-old-man, Joseph McNamara from Heysham, who sustained serious injuries and was sadly pronounced dead at the scene.

PS Tracey Ward of the Road Policing Unit said: “This is a tragic incident and my thoughts are with Joseph’s family and friends at this time. An investigation into how this collision occurred is underway and I would urge anyone who witnessed the incident to contact us.”

• Anyone with information should contact police on 101 quoting log number LC-20141216-0884. Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Over 100 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition surrendered across Lancashire

A Colt .45 and three magazines, Cap and ball revolver and a British Second World War service revolver handed into Lancashire Police during 'Op Holster'

103 prohibited guns and 3,419 rounds of ammunition were handed into Lancashire Police during a two week ‘Op Holster’ amnesty last month.

Officers collected a haul of 46 shotguns, 41 various air guns, pistols and five rifles. Also taken to police stations were eight revolvers and three self-loading pistols, in addition to various calibres of live ammunition.

A week long opportunity for people to surrender unwanted firearms and ammunition began on 10 November 2014 and owing to its success it was extended for a further week.

Some items will be submitted to NABIS (National Ballistics Intelligence Service) and after any evidential issues have been explored the majority of the items will be destroyed.

However there are some historical pieces, including World War One weapons and several rare American produced guns that the force will donate to organisations including the Royal Armouries and accredited government “proof houses”. 

"The gun surrender has been a great success for Lancashire Police," notes Superintendent Jon Puttock. "Clearly it’s concerning to see so many dangerous weapons on the street but taking these firearms and ammunition out of circulation can only be a good thing.

“We have also had lots of interesting and historic items handed in, including a stun gun disguised as torch and some of the firearms date back to the first and second World Wars.

“A replica revolver was brought in after been found whilst clearing a deceased relatives house, and two 12 bore shotguns and ammunition that was also found whilst clearing out another deceased relatives house some time ago.

“Many of the weapons are old but many remain live and if fired are capable of killing. All it would take is one burglary for a gun to be stolen and end up in criminal hands.

“Communities hold the key to helping reduce firearms related crime and if you know of people involved in illegal firearms activity call the Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

“Every call to Crimestoppers is anonymous and potentially vital to preventing or solving serious crimes; removing an illegally held firearm may just save someone’s life.”

Throughout the week, those surrendering firearms did not face prosecution for illegal possession and were able to remain anonymous.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw:
"I am delighted the gun surrender proved such a success."
Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: "I am delighted the gun surrender proved such a success.

"Every single weapon which has been handed in is one which will now not fall into wrong hands. That's an important step toward protecting Lancashire's residents.

"The consequences of possessing a weapon illegal are severe, and while the volume of guns and ammunition that was out there illegally in Lancashire is concerning, it is pleasing the message is getting through to people."

New firearms legislation came into effect on 14 July increasing the maximum jail term for illegal gun possession with aggravating features from 10 years to life.

Force Gun Crime and Statistics

• Between April 2013 and March 2014, a total of 77 firearms discharges were recorded across Lancashire.

• There have currently been 38 discharges recorded this year, up to end Sept.

• Between January and September 2013 there were 46 firearm discharges across the county, compared to 27 in the same period this year, a 41% reduction.

• There have been 53 injuries as a result of firearms discharges for the last 12 months and 19 crimes recorded as possession of firearm.