Tories attack Labour’s failure to deliver affordable housing

Councillor Judy Terry, Conservative Housing Spokesperson

Councillor Judy Terry, Conservative Housing Spokesperson

A retiring councillor has launched a broadside at the Labour Party, blaming planning policy for a failure to provide housing for people in need.

Councillor Judy Terry, who will be stepping down from the council next month, criticised the policies of the ruling Labour Party, telling a local newspaper that “There is too much political interference. The planning department has lost a lot of good staff over recent years which would slow things down anyway.”

However Labour Council Leader David Ellesmere retorted that he was “not going to apologise for trying to get as many affordable homes as possible as part of new developments in the town.” He added that when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were running the Borough they “gave the go ahead for luxury flats on the Waterfront that nobody could afford and look what happened. Look at the Wine Rack.”

Mrs Terry argued that the council’s insistence on enforcing the target of 35% affordable housing on all large proposals was actively putting developers off from investing in the town. She said “Last year less than 100 new homes were built in the borough. The economy is recovering, but we’re not seeing developments in Ipswich because the council makes so many demands.”

Her argument that 35% of nothing equals nothing is compelling. Of the 96 properties completed in 2012/13, the last financial year, just 7 were affordable homes. Yet in the final year of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat administration, 2010/11, 337 properties were completed, of which 134 were affordable homes.

Mr Ellesmere might argue that the financial downturn brought a halt to properties being developed. Indeed he did argue that, according to a local newspaper, which reported that “Mr Ellesmere said the hiatus of the recession had led to a national slowdown in house building, but it was picking up. It was right that planning policies should be observed.”

He is right. There was a clear drop in the number of completions since 2008/9 – 899 homes were completed in Ipswich that year, of which some 265 were affordable properties. The following year just 389 homes were completed, and just 68 of these were affordable. But it is also clear that the number of affordable homes delivered by Labour in the last three years, since they took control of the council, is fewer in total than in the previous three years. The last three years of the Conservatives & Liberal Democrat led council delivered 467 affordable homes, while Mr Ellesmere’s administration has only delivered 180 since taking over – and only 8 of these are the much vaunted council houses.

All figures accurate as at March 2014, provided by Ipswich Borough Council in response to a Freedom of Information Request.

Is rise in food-bank use linked to withdrawal of crisis loans?

Food-bank-300x225“Children without beds to sleep in, parents desperate for help when there is no food in the cupboard and the pocket is empty; the mother who spent most of the day in bed with her four year old on a freezing cold day in a very cold house because the gas and electricity meters had eaten up the emergency supplies and the anti-depressants had ceased to have any effect on a desperate parent; freezing nights when the hardiest of rough sleepers called us and pleaded for help to find them somewhere warm to sleep for a few nights; the homeless chap who had promised himself that if we could not find anyone to help him by the end of the day that he would sort out his life once and for all – by ending it.”

That was Maureen Reynel, Chair of FIND, back in 2009. FIND run the food-bank here in Ipswich, and they’ve been busier than ever in recent months.

There has been a row going on over the last few days about the news, released by the Trussell Trust, that there were over 900,000 users of food-banks in the UK last year.

In this country there has always been poverty. There will always be poverty. When Lenin & Stalin and Mao tried to engineer an end to poverty in equal societies, their brand of communism led to the deaths, through starvation, of tens of millions of people. Equality doesn’t end poverty, although it can make everyone equally poor.

The challenge for politicians should not be to fight over the existence of charity groups like the Trussell Trust, or FIND, but in the policy solutions to the problems which these charities seek to fix. That outrage from the left is not accompanied by coherent policy proposals that would reduce the need for food-banks, and it is now akin to bullying anyone who dares criticise food-banks into submission, in much the same way as the left used to eulogise nurses before the Stafford Hospital scandal, and others, allowed the scales to fall from the public’s eyes.

The Mail on Sunday investigation, whilst a blunt instrument, is being spun by many on the left as “stealing food from poor people.” Indeed Ipswich Labour Councillor, Alasdair Ross, tweeted that “The Mail took food from desperate and Hungry people to try and smear food banks”. It was, instead, an important piece of journalism that many involved in food-banks will, I hope, take note of. It revealed that there is very little checking that the claims of poverty are real. This leaves the food-banks open to fraud and misuse – surely revealing this is a good thing if it prevents it in the future? Oh, and for those who didn’t bother reading the actual article before frothing at the mouth in their fury, the MoS reporter did return all the food.

The real shock for many about the food-banks has been the exponential rise in their use over the last few years. It is clear that this began before 2008, when the economy collapsed around the ears of the last Labour Government. It is also clear that, whatever the coalition would like to say, many more people are now using food-banks to feed their family than were in 2010. The excuses the Government use – increased awareness, advertising in JobCentres (which Labour banned for fear people might actually use them) and poor recording – simply do not explain away the sharp rise in the need for food-banks.

Why do we need food-banks and why are there more people than ever using them? Well the report by the Trussell Trust reveals that delays in paying benefits are responsible for many of the referrals. As someone who has lived for a period of time on means tested benefits, I can say with some certainty that the systems of the Department for Work & Pensions are amongst the worst in the civil service. Their computer system is so antiquated that one Job Centre advisor told me they couldn’t run email and a browser window at the same time – and certainly not if their system was up and running as well. Frequently payments will be late or delayed by human error within the DWP. It can take weeks to open a new claim or to process a rapid reclaim.

Part of the reason for the sudden increase in the number of people using food-banks may be the withdrawal by Government of Crisis Loans. Crisis Loans used to be paid by the Social Fund to anyone in receipt of income based benefits who could demonstrate a need for one. They were scrapped a year ago, and in the previous financial year, 2011/12, there were 2.1 million crisis loans awarded of around £50 each. They were repaid from benefit and the Social Fund pursues the debts once a jobseeker has returned to work. It is hardly surprising that the withdrawal of this important safety valve has coincided with a huge increase in the number of people using food-banks.

Whatever the reasons behind the increase in the numbers, and there is some evidence that the data may not be entirely accurate, it is clear that there has been a huge rise in the number of people who have had to use food-banks. But rather than squabbling over these statistics, why don’t our political leaders spend their time proposing policy solutions to help people into work – starting with scrapping any thought Labour might be having about increasing National Insurance, the job killing tax.

Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

Thank you for posting Ben; I have just added a “Thought for the Day” from the talk I gave this morning. (See separate blog if anyone would like the full transcript.)

The disciple Peter wrote “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1. v. 16)

Happy Easter

Ipswich Spy wishes all our readers a Happy Easter.


Saturday Diary

The fall-out from the leadership challenge to Suffolk County Council Leader Mark Bee continued this week, as a North Korean style purge saw two Cabinet members sacked. Challenger Colin Noble was promptly fired on Monday, and Richard Smith, who seconded Mr Noble’s nomination, followed on Tuesday. Strangely neither has been replaced, with Mr Bee indicating he would reshuffle his Cabinet after Easter. It rather begs the question of who is actually running their departments now – presumably the officers. Which is precisely the accusation levelled at Mr Bee in the first place! Given Mr Bee scraped home with just 21 of the 39 members of the group, I would have thought he would have wanted to bind the Tory rebels to him, if for no other reason than to prevent Noble or Smith becoming a locus of dissent on the backbenches. But in “Kim il” Bee’s Democratic People’s Republic of Suffolk there is no room for any alternative thought in the Cabinet. Mr Noble should be grateful he wasn’t fed to the dogs.

If Ben Gummer MP has been using a Southend Call Centre, no doubt he will have wanted them to trumpet the excellent unemployment news this week - Total JSA claimants peaked in February 2012 at 4545.  It has now fallen to 3045. Youth unemployment has fallen from 1010 at the last election to 740 today.  Long term unemployment, which peaked in November 2012 at 1345 has fallen to 965 today.  Total unemployment in May 2010 was 3650.

If Ben Gummer MP has been using a Southend Call Centre, no doubt he will have wanted them to trumpet the excellent unemployment news this week – Total JSA claimants peaked in February 2012 at 4545. It has now fallen to 3045. Youth unemployment has fallen from 1010 at the last election to 740 today. Long term unemployment, which peaked in November 2012 at 1345 has fallen to 965 today. Total unemployment in May 2010 was 3650.

The Tories appear to be using a professional call centre in Southend to telephone canvass voters in Ipswich, which is a top Tory target. Labour alleged that this call centre might well be paid for, although I’m not quite so sure that the Ipswich Tories have the cash for this sort of thing. Labour claim to have had 24 people out knocking on doors one night this week, which any politician will tell you is a pretty impressive turnout for campaigning. A call centre might be a bit of a shortcut, but it can never be as good as knocking on doors. For a start, local campaigners are unlikely to knock on the door of a sitting Labour councillor, whereas the Southend call centre rang one. People like to know that they are speaking to locals. A call centre in Southend might as well be one in India.

Labour activists, and one Labour councillor in particular, spent many years trying to make something out of the fact that Tory MP Ben Gummer followed his father’s footsteps into politics. Disparagingly suggesting that his famous father had smoothed the way for him, they sought to entwine him in any way they could with the idea that he was a privileged son of the Tory establishment. It is therefore pretty rich for Alasdair Ross, one of the prime movers of that rather childish campaign, to claim now there is nothing wrong with councillors following their parents into the council chamber. Committed Tory blogger Kevin Algar pointed out that the Labour Party has its own fair share of privilege, stretching from the leader, Ed Miliband, all the way down to two of the new candidates here in Ipswich. Labour’s candidate for Priory Heath, Dan Maguire, is Labour aristocracy, with both his parents having been councillors. Labour’s candidate for Holywells, Colin Smart, is also Labour aristocracy, with his father, Phil Smart, still on the Borough executive. Mr Ross is also Labour aristocracy, whose mother Annie was a Labour councillor. The thing is, none of this matters in the slightest: in the same way as Mr Gummer followed his father into his chosen career, so many of these other politicians followed their parents into politics.

What I do struggle to understand is why so many councillors don’t represent the parts of the town they live in. I took a look through the current council and I was shocked – just 18 of the 48 members of the Borough Council live in the ward they represent. Many live in completely different parts of the town – David Ellesmere represents Gipping but lives in Alexandra, while Chris Stewart represents Whitton and lives in Holywells. Five entire wards are represented on the council by people who don’t live there – Castle Hill, Gainsborough, Gipping, Priory Heath and Whitton. Only Alexandra, Holywells & St John’s wards have no councillors from outside their ward. Why does any of this make a difference? Surely Ipswich is Ipswich, no? Well no, I don’t think it is. I think it does make a difference. The impact of some issues is much greater on those representing local communities if they live among those local communities. That is why the Wind Turbine issue was much more potent for Nadia Cenci, who lives in Stoke Park, than it was for the other two councillors in that ward – living in Whitehouse & St John’s wards respectively. Her passion stemmed from the fact that, like her constituents, she would have to live under the dominance of these things. It is also why an issue like the proposal to site a travellers’ site on Bramford Road would not have gotten as far as it did had Colin Wright not been the only ward councillor to actually live in North West Ipswich. If you live on Chantry, or up near Foxhall Road in East Ipswich, you might not care as much except in terms of votes. Now this could be taken to extremes – I wouldn’t rule Jeanette Macartney out of running for Gipping just because she lives in the nice leafy bit of Sprites ward; no more than I would suggest that Richard Pope should have resigned from the council when he moved out of Bixley ward. But is it really right that entire parts of the town are represented by nobody who lives there?

Regular readers will recall that Councillor Tracy Grant, who represents Rushmere ward, failed to declare an interest at an Overview & Scrutiny Meeting, questioning the Police & Crime Commissioner rather than leaving the room as the rules said she should. Following a complaint about this breach of the rules, an Independent Person was appointed to investigate. That investigation has now concluded that she did commit a technical breach of the rules: she did fail to disclose an employment interest at the meeting. The independent person observed that she is a relatively inexperienced councillor and there was no question of personal gain or advantage or any vote involved in the item of business under discussion. Councillor Grant has agreed to abide by the recommendation of the independent person that she review her registered interests with the monitoring officer to ensure they are properly recorded, that she undergo refresher training to ensure she knows when to declare an interest, and that she apologises at the next meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny committee. The council and complainants now consider the matter closed.

James Spencer (on the far left of the picture) used to think he could win Bridge for the Tories. Now he says voters should support UKIP in a tactical vote to get Labour out.

James Spencer (on the far left of the picture) used to think he could win Bridge for the Tories. Now he says voters should support UKIP in a tactical vote to get Labour out.

In an interesting twist to the years the Tories have had to suffer the “tactical voting” attack, mainly used by Lib Dems in places where their only hope is squeezing the Labour vote “to keep the Tory out”, it seems that some local Tories are now openly advocating tactical voting for UKIP to “get Labour out”. In places where a Tory wouldn’t stand a chance – like Gainsborough or Whitehouse – I can see that working. I can even understand why the former Tory candidate for Bridge advocates it in that ward, although the Tories have won Bridge inside the last ten years so the argument they can’t win there is a little thin. Certainly Labour will be taking UKIP seriously, since they are openly targeting working class voters, many of whom are disillusioned with a party that has become much more middle class public sector voter than its traditional working class roots. And the news that UKIP are putting forward a more diverse set of candidates than the Labour Party are will not go down well in Silent Street. Indeed with two Filipino candidates, one from Portugal and one from Poland, you rather wonder whether their local election candidates have read or understood the basics of the UKIP immigration policy. One little titbit though – if UKIP do manage to find the extra candidate they need for a full slate, Ipswich will get a visit from Nigel Farage MEP. Won’t that give the UAF a protest to organise?

“If you said to me, would I like to see over the next 10 years a further five million people come into Britain and if that happened we’d all be slightly richer, I’d say, I’d rather we weren’t slightly richer, and I’d rather we had communities that were united and where young unemployed British people had a realistic chance of getting a job.”

Nigel Farage MEP

PCC supports research into domestic abuse

Stuart Agnew, Tim Passmore and Emma Bond, Senior Lecturer at University Campus Suffolk.

Stuart Agnew, Tim Passmore and Emma Bond, Senior Lecturer at University Campus Suffolk.

Domestic abuse is a very complex crime and one that can manifest itself in many ways.

Tackling domestic abuse is a key part of Tim Passmore’s Police and Crime Plan and a priority for Suffolk Constabulary; but understanding the extent of the problem in the county is a challenge, as it is largely under-reported by victims.

Tim Passmore said, “Domestic abuse is a terrible crime and the Constabulary is committed to dealing with it but it is difficult to deal with an issue unless you don’t really understand the extent of the problem.

“Working with University Campus Suffolk I have commissioned a research project so that we can better understand domestic abuse and how services can better support vulnerable victims.

“We need to really get to grips with the magnitude of this problem if we are going to deliver services that meet the needs of victims. I know this research by UCS will help us to really understand what we are dealing with here in Suffolk.”

Stuart Agnew, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at UCS said, “The focus of the project is to examine the perceptions and experiences of a particularly vulnerable and marginalised group who have been a victim of crime, during their journey through the criminal justice process.

“It is well established that victims of domestic violence have a wide variety of personal experiences and support needs. Our research team will work with victims of domestic violence, agencies who support victims of domestic abuse and professionals from the criminal justice system to highlight areas of good practice and further areas for development.

He added, “We expect the findings of this research to provide the Police & Crime Commissioner with robust evidence to inform of future policy developments.”

The PCC wants this work to truly reflect victims’ views and experiences, in order to support future service improvements. If you have been a victim of domestic abuse and would like to share your views and perceptions of the service you received, then please contact UCS on the email: cjsreview@ucs.ac.uk or call 01473 338559.

Fact Check: Have the hours been slashed for an East Ipswich Children’s Centre?

David Ellesmere, Labour's Parliamentary Candidate for Ipswich

David Ellesmere, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Ipswich

The row over Ormiston Children’s Centre took another couple of twists yesterday, as Labour accused the Tories of misrepresenting the facts, only to see their own arguments countered by the County Council.

Labour Parliamentary Candidate, David Ellesmere, took umbrage at the claim by Tory MP Ben Gummer that the number of hours provided by the replacement services for the Ormiston Children’s Centre catchment area had gone up, saying “The facts are there in black and white. The Ormiston Children’s Centre has been shut and the services it used to provide have been slashed. Parents know it. The staff at Ormiston know it. It is disgraceful that Ben Gummer and Suffolk County Council are still trying to pretend otherwise.”

Mr Ellesmere contacted IpswichSpy.com after reading comments by Mr Gummer yesterday, and he highlighted a number of services that he claimed were no longer being provided from the Ormiston Children’s Centre – evidence, he says, that the hours have been slashed from 28 hours a week to just 12 hours a week.

Strangely his own colleague, Labour’s shadow Cabinet member for Children & Young People on the County Council Sonia Barker, claimed in a local newspaper today that the same Children’s Centre had seen services slashed from 19 hours a week to just 3 hours a week.

Helpfully the County Council were happy to explain the reality. It seems Mr Ellesmere was referring to the Summer 2013 programme, but actually the “last” programme delivered by the Ormiston Centre was the Winter 2013/2014 programme. In addition, Ormiston (now East Ipswich) Children’s Centre operated with Ravenswood and Treehouse. They do not operate in isolation. That means courses/sessions rotate around them and are, therefore, not always at one place. For instance, the ‘Incredible Toddlers’ session advertised on OCC’s summer 2013 list was, in fact, run from Ravenswood. This is in the notes on the course.

In addition, many of the activities listed on the Summer 2013 schedule were not commissioned by SCC or were provided or commissioned by other organisations, for instance the NHS, at the venue. So if they’ve stopped that is nothing to do with SCC. So they have no bearing on the new programme which is delivered by SCC.

Many of the activities were also delivered on demand and by referral. Therefore if the demand or referrals aren’t there, the course won’t be for a period of time either. Additionally, Suffolk County Council is providing information and support from Ormiston Centre for 24 hours per week and we have agreed to fund room hire for an Adoption Support Group so this can continue at the Ormiston Centre.

Mr Ellesmere suggested eleven specific courses that he believed were no longer being provided at all, but the County Council had answers for each specific claim:

Ante-natal support from the local midwife is a session that NHS Midwifery ceased to deliver at Christmas and is now delivered at the Treehouse Children’s Centre instead. The NHS Midwifery service considers this to be sufficient service coverage for East Ipswich. Parentcraft days for parents continue to be delivered at Ravenswood Children’s centre.

A session named Bumps to Babies, where new parents get parenting information and advice, meeting other parents with bumps to babies up to 6 months old, was renamed Baby Babble and is being delivered at a community venue in the reach area.

The County Council insist that a session called Child-minding Group, a session where parents looking for childcare could drop in and meet local child-minders, was not offered at Ormiston Children’s Centre, and it is not advertised on their previous timetable.

Development Reviews for 1 Year Olds – by appointment with the health visitor. SCC say these are offered across East Ipswich by the Health Visiting team parents select a venue to attend according to the convenience of the day and time, there is no reduction in the number of appointments being offered.

Freedom Programme – for women who have been or are affected by domestic abuse. This is offered at one Children’s Centre at a time as numbers are small, there is a current programme running locally. SCC also chooses not to openly advertise the location of these sessions as they are for vulnerable women who require discretion. This doesn’t mean they are not running.

Incredible Babies is a 10 week course for babies aged 0-5 months, and Incredible Toddlers is a 12 week parenting course to encourage children’s co-operation and reduce difficult and challenging behaviour in 10 to 3 year olds.
The County Council say Incredible Babies/Toddlers/Years are parenting support programmes that run when there is sufficient number of parents being referred that is run in light of the referrals received and rotates from centre to centre in North East Ipswich depending on staff availability and the need for on-site child care support. Currently there are no pending referrals for these courses in Ipswich East according to the Area Parenting Co-ordinator. They do not run continuously and the next course is provisionally planned for the 15th of May. We are also delivering Triple PPP parenting support from next week at Treehouse.

Made of Money – group workshop on how to make money go further. SCC will consider re-running this course in the future if the demand is there. They say they wouldn’t run it without people requesting it/attending.

Polish Drop In – for members of the Polish community with children under-5. This was run by Ormiston Trust by a parent volunteer and not delivered by the Children’s centre. It ceased in February when the volunteer left. The cessation of this group is not related to changes in the contract to deliver a Children’s Centre service.

Self Esteem and Confidence Group – 6 week course to include feelings of self-worth, handling conflict and learning to be assertive. This was not on the previous Ormiston timetable. This course is delivered by Realise Futures. This was not being delivered in 2014 and therefore SCC has not sought to run it in the immediate transfer period. An identical course is running at Ravenswood Children’s Centre currently and courses will continue to be available in the future. The Realise Futures learning centre is situated in the Ormiston reach area and has a number of courses of a similar nature. The support and information service will be able to redirect parents to these pending courses.

Talk It Through – free and confidential counselling. This was not a Children’s Centre service, there is no reference to this on the Ormiston Children’s Centre timetable and was not delivered as part of their Children’s Centre contract. Ormiston Trust was funding counselling separately for one or two parents. SCC has referrals routes to Suffolk Wellbeing service and Suffolk MIND for parents requiring counselling.

A spokesman for the County Council added that between the 1st September 2013 and the 13th April 2014 some 68% of the parents accessing services attended the sessions that are still being offered directly from the Ormiston Children’s Centre.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,708 other followers