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Call made to rethink pay to stay policy

A national body which supports local government is urging new government ministers to rethink the ‘Pay to Stay’ policy which will require councils to charge some of their tenants higher rents from April 2017.
New research reveals that more than 70,000 social housing tenants could face rent rise bills of an average £1,000 a year from next year under government plans to increase rents for those deemed to be earning high incomes.
The policy would create a bureaucracy causing stress to families, further costs to councils, and financial returns to the government far lower than it originally forecast. Administrative complexities now make implementation from April 2017 impossible, it is argued.
Councils across the country need to invest millions in new IT systems, hire new staff and write to more than a million social housing tenants to try and understand household income and approve individual tenant bills by January. This is expected to be a difficult, lengthy and costly process for councils, and is likely to be unpopular with tenants and result in high levels of costly appeals and challenges.
Under Pay to Stay, high income social tenants are defined as households with incomes above £31,000 – a higher threshold will exist in London. That means a working couple each earning above £15,500 would be defined as having a high income and will be forced to pay closer to market rents from next year.
Tenants on housing benefit and universal credit will be exempt. For eligible tenants above the high income thresholds rent increases will be tapered with every £1 they earn above will mean a 15p increase.
The Government will take additional rents taken from tenants minus a proportion that councils will retain to help administer the policy, an amount to be determined by the Government.
The research has also found that:

  • 70,255 households will earn above the £31,000 income threshold outside London and £40,000 inside the capital.
  • 3 per cent of households living in council housing in the south east will see their rent increase along with 7.7 per cent in the east of England and 5.3 per cent in the north east.
  • Average monthly rent uplifts would be £72 for households outside of London and £132 a month inside. Affected households will see their rent increase by an average of £1,065 a year.
  • Increased rents are expected to generate just £75 million annually, before making deductions for significant administrative costs. Originally the Government had forecast returns of £365 million in 2017/18.

Cllr Stephen Morgan, Labour’s housing spokesperson said:
“This helpful research by the Local Government Association shows what we already feared – the pay to stay policy will affect thousands of families, with the average affected household seeing their rent rise by £1,065 a year. This will cause anxiety, uncertainty and cost, and I am concerned for its impact on communities across Portsmouth.
The policy has unseen complexities and could generate large numbers of costly legal appeals and challenges from tenants. It is an expensive distraction from efforts to build much-needed homes.
I welcome the LGA’s intervention calling the new government to think again about this policy and allow councils to decide whether or not they will introduce Pay to Stay for their tenants”.
 
 
 

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City celebrates GCSE successes but more to do

GCSE results for Portsmouth schools were officially announced yesterday as 16 year olds went to collect their results across the city.
Overall the council has stated that performance across most of the city’s schools has improved, with provisional results showing that:

  • 55% of pupils achieved five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths, compared to 51% last year
  • 58% of pupils achieved A*to C in English and Maths, compared to 53% last year

These results came against a national back drop of the greatest ever dip in GCSE grades since the exams were launched in 1988.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, ward councillor for Charles Dickens, said:
“Many congratulations to students on their achievements. I take my hat off to all the hard work of students and staff across our city have put in.
My congratulations also to the headteachers and their teams whose hard work and collaborative approach is a huge and effective part of the drive to deliver the best for all our pupils”.
Priory School in Southsea attracts students from Charles Dickens ward, and is where Cllr Morgan is vice chair of governors. This year the school celebrated its best GCSE results in the school’s history.
The percentage of candidates achieving five or more GCSE passes at Priory at grade C or above, including English and Maths, was the school’s highest ever at 57% – a 11% increase on the previous year.
Cllr Morgan added:
“School improvement is above all about attention to detail, both in terms of data collection and analysis and individual students getting the targeted support they need.
The city is on an improvement journey to make sure all our school’s offer the very best education for all young people. We need to work hard to close the disadvantage gap. This year’s results are step in the right direction”.
Starting this year new national government performance indicators are focusing on how much progress students make from where they start in Year 7 to when they complete their exams at the end of Year 11.
This new measure is known as ‘Progress 8’. This will be calculated for each school and as an overall city-wide figure later in the year.
 
 

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Call for answers over next steps on Victoria Park

Earlier in August, Portsmouth Labour set out the facts about the future of the popular Victoria Park after the city council proposed a new action plan.

We welcomed this commitment to enhance and upgrade the park for the benefit of all local people. Like many in the community, we care about the future of this scarce and important public space in the heart of our city.

Now we call for greater clarity over how the future of the park will be shaped, including securing the Arts Lodge’s future.

The park’s animals and birds

Portsmouth Labour is pleased that there is now an agreement to preserve an aviary in the park, which has been a feature much loved by the community over the years. The council has confirmed this in a public statement, which is available to view on its website. If the council does not honour this commitment, then your local Labour party will hold decision-makers to account.

A secure future for the Arts Lodge

We note that there is less clarity about the Lodge and its tenants, the Art & Soul Traders. Labour is keen to see the council give a clear and public expression of support for the Traders.

The future of their tenancy is uncertain, and a number of alternative uses for the building have been rumoured – from a day centre, to a cafe run by people with learning disabilities.

At a time of cuts to services, it isn’t clear to us how such changes might be funded. The future of the Lodge needs to be determined so all of this uncertainty can end.

Your local Labour Party are involved in the campaign to save the Arts Lodge, from liaising with the Arts Lodge team to helping fundraising efforts.

Silvi Veale, a local Labour and community activist is one such volunteer. She says:

“As a community arts and music venue with cafe, the Arts Lodge has offered community members the opportunity to get involved in a number of arts projects which benefit the city. It is also loved and cherished by Portsmouth people as a place to meet others and enjoy a beautiful, peaceful space in this busy, noisy city. It needs to stay in Victoria Park, under the tenancy of Art & Soul Traders who carry out this vital work, and Labour will continue this fight.”

Give the public their say

Cllr Stephen Morgan, deputy leader of the Labour group on Portsmouth City Council, is calling for decision-makers at the council to provide greater detail about their full plans for the park. He says:

“I urge the council to confirm that the promised public consultation on the future of Victoria Park will be open, transparent and wide-ranging. I ask them to recognise that the public have concerns about the plans and the sooner these are out for consultation the better.”

On the Arts Lodge, Cllr Morgan added:

“The Labour Group is committed to securing the best possible community benefit from the Lodge building, together with a strong and sustainable future for the Art & Soul Traders. They provide a valuable service and run a great facility in the heart of Portsmouth. The local party wants to see them stay”.

What next?

Portsmouth Labour through its activists and councillors will continue to work with others to monitor this situation as it develops, speak to stakeholders concerned, and work hard to try and keep the current Lodge tenants in their home.

If you have any further information or insights into future plans and possibilities for the park, please get in touch with us.

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Doors open at Somerstown's new dental practice

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Somerstown Central (The Hub) has a brand new health service


This week Solent Health NHS Trust officially opened a new dental practice in the heart of Portsmouth, at the Somerstown Central (The Hub) on Tyseley Road.
The new dental clinic completes a range of health services now on offer for local people at the £10.8m community hub which straddles Winston Churchill Avenue. Other community facilities include a community centre, youth club, dance studios, sports hall, café and housing offices.
The surgery is specifically designed to cater for people with a disability and vulnerable client groups, by providing specialist dental services.
Adaptive equipment and specially trained staff are on hand to make services more accessible. The team transferred from their old base at Eastney Health Centre.
Earlier this year a health survey across the city found that just under a fifth of five year olds in Portsmouth have tooth decay. A local health needs assessment also confirmed that that the oral health of the under 12 year olds in Portsmouth is significantly worse in the city compared to national averages.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, local ward councillor, popped into the new surgery to pay staff a visit and view the much-needed new facilities.
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Cllr Stephen Morgan tries out adaptive equipment at the new dental clinic


Stephen said:
‘This is a fantastic new health service in the heart of Portsmouth.

It has been excellent to meet the dedicated staff, health trust managers and representatives of patient groups and try out the specialist equipment which will help the clinic tailor care to those with specific needs.
It’s an impressive facility. I know it will be an asset to the city’s health services and well received by local people”.
For more information about the surgery and for opening times call 03003002017 or visit www.solent.nhs.uk

Confusion over walk-in health services 

Concerns over the city’s health care facilities are being raised already following the clinical commissioning group’s decision to close walk-in services at Guildhall Walk back in July.

The owner of Lalys Pharmacy has written to local elected representatives, including Cllr Stephen Morgan, informing the CCG of the impact of their decision on local people and patients.
Earlier this year the CCG decided to make a number of changes to the popular health facility in the heart of Portsmouth which as well as providing GP services also offered walk-in facilities for residents, students and vulnerable people.
Concerned by the impact of the changes, Cllr Morgan led a campaign to help save the walk-in last Spring, with a petition submitted to the CCG to try and stop the developments. The petition received over 1,000 signatories and was backed by local pharmacists.
In the letter the pharmacy confirm:
“We have received a large number of complaints concerning the walk in centre moving and many patients we have seen are confused as to where they should now go to receive urgent primary care”. 
Cllr Stephen Morgan said:
“I understand some patients are going straight to A&E at QA Hospital, rather than to the facilities at St Mary’s. 
Like others, I am very concerned by the pressure this places on already stretched services at QA. It will only increase once the academic year starts again. 
I urge the CCG to work look again at their decision and get this sorted”.



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Future of Portsea Adventure secure

Local community representatives and residents raised concerns over the future of the Portsea Adventure Playground at a meeting with council officers earlier this week.
A meeting was called at the request of volunteers involved with the Portsea Adventure Play Association after the city council prepared to move staff between the city’s other five adventure playgrounds. Proposals would mean the popular deputy manager at the site moving elsewhere in the city.
At the outset of the meeting council officers told play association volunteers and Cllr Stephen Morgan, ward councillor for the area, that managers would not change their mind over the staffing moves, despite concerns raised and a petition from local people.
Community representatives were concerned staffing changes would mean more changes afoot at the popular play facilities on Aylward Street, Portsea.
Pressed on the issue, now council staff have provided much-needed assurances to local people that the future of the adventure playground in the heart of Portsea is secure.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, Labour’s deputy group leader said:

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Cllr Stephen Morgan speaking at the Portsea Adventure


“As a former play worker in the city myself I know consistency in staffing is really important so that children and young people can build a rapport with the staff team. So I share the concerns of community representatives at the meeting.
With such fantastic and active local people involved in the delivery of this service in the heart of Portsea, I think the council needs to do more to engage these volunteers in any changes to the service much earlier on in the process in future.
Without their passion and giving up their time for free, the service just wouldn’t run.
Whilst there is obvious disappointment about the changes to the staff team, we are assured the council have confirmed the future of the popular playground is secure. That’s what our community deserves”.
Portsea Adventure Playground is a free adventure play facility in the heart of Portsmouth, staffed by dedicated and qualified staff supplied by Portsmouth City Council. At adventure playgrounds children make their own choices about what they want to do, motivating them to become independent and boost their confidence.
 
 

Actions identified in bid to end homelessness

A year ago, the Labour Campaign to End Homelessness (LCEH) was set up to encourage the party to make a commitment to end homelessness. Now key commitments have been identified to make this pledge a reality.
This is not seen as a pipe dream. Leading national homelessness charities such as Crisis and Shelter believe that by working together we can end homelessness too.
Under the last Labour government, homelessness fell substantially, but it was not eradicated. Yet in recent years, homelessness has doubled nationally according to DCLG statistics.
Locally too we have seen these national trends reflected in our city, with the number of rough sleepers on Portsmouth’s streets doubling in the past year.
A pledge to end homelessness by the Labour Party has now been formalised by the LCEH campaign group, and they have Cllr Stephen Morgan’s backing.
In an open letter to The Guardian this week the campaign group made up of MPs, councillors and party activists from across the country have called for Labour to make real the pledge to end homelessness.
The open letter states:
“We ask the Party to consider five key policies which will go towards eradicating homelessness. We also ask that the next Labour government enacts these policies in the order set out below:

  • A government-led national structure involving all of the major organisations, including statutory and community sector organisations, dedicated to ending homelessness.
  • Implement more efficient preventative measures and early intervention programs to stop homelessness becoming entrenched and end the cycle.
  • Create a more effective registration system and information database of rough sleepers and hidden homeless to begin the process of rehousing.
  • Enshrine the right to a home for everyone and begin the process of rehousing all of the UK’s homeless population, including those with complex needs.
  • Launch a substantial and sustainable programme of public and social house building.

Cllr Stephen Morgan, Labour’s housing spokesperson said:
“I welcome this open letter on what Labour should do to end homelessness in our country, and have therefore adding my name to it.
These proposals are well-thought through, evidence-based and practical. They are just the solutions we need to see to end homelessness once and for all. They have my full support here in Portsmouth”.
Since being elected to Portsmouth City Council in May 2016, Cllr Morgan has joined a member-led working group to explore local issues, work with partner agencies and find innovative ways to address rough sleeping in the city.

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The facts about the future of Victoria Park

 
You may have heard some worrying-sounding noises recently about the apparent removal of animals and birds from Victoria Park. Portsmouth Labour would like to set the record straight on the park’s future.
Victoria Park in the heart of our great city was opened on 25 May 1878, and was the first public park to be opened in Portsmouth. As well as the animals and birds the 15 acre site also has a number of monuments and a play area for children.
Back in July a high level action plan with a range of options for the park was agreed at the city council’s Planning, Regeneration and Economic Development (PRED) meeting. At this stage, the plan is simply for guidance. Next we are told we can expect consultation on what the future will look like.
Some things are certain. The future of Victoria Park will include the much-loved aviary, animals, and unlimited community access. Your Labour representatives on the council have sought, and received, assurance on this from the council’s administration.
It could also see some innovative services for adults with learning disabilities, who will have the opportunity to get involved in animal welfare and horticulture.
One question about the future of Victoria Park that has proved controversial is – what will happen to the Arts Lodge?
The council has decided to serve a contract break on Art and Soul traders, who are the current tenants of the Arts Lodge. This decision was taken to keep options for the future use of the venue open for both parties, rather than committing to a long-term lease.
At Full Council in July, your Labour Group supported a Liberal Democrat motion to support the Art Lodge. Members of Portsmouth Labour have also been working with the Art and Soul traders on their fundraising efforts.
image twoCllr Stephen Morgan, deputy leader of the Labour Group, explains Labour’s views on what’s next:
“Given the lack of public open spaces in our dense city environment, we welcome the council’s efforts to produce an action plan for Victoria Park. We want to see the park not simply protected, but also enhanced, for the benefit of all local people.
“We like the sound of creating opportunities for residents with learning difficulties, and we are pleased that the action plan recognises the importance of community access to an upgraded public space.
This consultation will be key to make sure changes made are what the public want. I urge everyone to have their say when the council consults”.
Portsmouth Labour also want to see a secure future for the Art and Soul traders. They have invested time and money into the Arts Lodge, where they deliver important work with widely appreciated benefits for the community.
“Whatever happens next, it is important that the Art and Soul traders receive assurance that they can continue their great work. They deserve to be able to plan for their future,” Cllr Stephen Morgan added.
“If a decision is ultimately made to change the purpose of the current Arts Lodge to bring about a different community benefit, Labour will ask the council does everything in its power to support the traders in finding suitable alternative premises.”
 
 
 

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Cautious welcome to action on Wilmcote House delays

 
Local people have given a cautious welcome to the city council’s announcement that the authority will be seeking further compensation from Keepmoat, the contractors in charge of the building work at Wilmcote House, north Somerstown.
The news broke after Labour’s housing spokesperson and local ward representative, Cllr Stephen Morgan has been working with residents since Christmas to help address local concerns. Support has included hosting two residents’ meetings for people to have their say.
In a story titled ‘Fury as renovation delays leave Portsmouth residents living in a nightmare’ in The News on 9 August 2016, the council’s Cabinet Member for Housing agreed with Cllr Morgan and recognised that the delays and disruption are having an impact of residents’ lives.
He has committed to enforcing the terms of the contract, meaning contractors could be short by many thousands of pounds. Some of this could be used to compensate tenants for the inconvenience caused.
Work on the redevelopment of the properties started back in December 2013. The scheme has been plagued with problems throughout the project, with residents increasingly dismayed by the setbacks.
News also broke that the building works are delayed further, with the first block – whilst due to have been completed in May – still has work outstanding, and the overall scheme pushed back again from January 2017 to later in spring next year.
In hearing the news, Wilmcote House resident Chris Evans said:
“I am assured the council’s administration is finally listening. This redevelopment has been a nightmare for three years. The whole thing’s a joke.
I hope this isn’t just warm words and we see better compensation and a decent rent rebate all residents rightly deserve for all the disruption we’ve suffered.
Meetings must continue with progress reports given to the tenants by Keepmoat and better communication put in place. The contractors owe us that much at least”.
Cllr Stephen Morgan added:
“Solutions need to be found to finally solve the problems residents have faced with the ongoing building work, and fast. I’ve heard too many horror stories, and residents feel let down by this project and rightly deserve action.
The council and contractors need to crack on and get this project back on track. I am happy to work with the council’s administration to make sure this happens”.

Hate crime: report it

 
Some residents have been in touch with me about how to report a hate crime. The following information is included in the latest issue of the city council’s House Talk and is really useful.
Hate crime is any criminal offence perceived by someone to be motivated by prejudice or hatred based on a person’s race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.
A hate crime can be physical violence, verbal abuse, online threats, obscene calls, criminal damage, arson, dumping of rubbish etc.
The council’s housing and property services’ antisocial behaviour unit has a specialist
caseworker to provide victims of hate crime with a high standard of practical support. The victim must be a Portsmouth City Council tenant or leaseholder.
How does the council support victims?
As each case is different the council develop a specific individual action plan which can include support thorhgout the criminal justice process, emotional support, advocacy, housing advice, evidence gathering and home and personal safety advice and signposting for victims in employment disputes.
Key things to know:

  • If you or another person perceives a crime to be motivated by hate then it will be treated as such
  • Hate crime can affect everyone. The council supports victims of any age from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Hate crime will not be tolerated

Further information
To report it or speak to someone in confidence contact 023 9284 1050 or email hate.crime@portsmouthcc.gov.uk
You can contact your housing officer, city helpdesk or visit www.portsmouth.gov.uk; searching ‘hate crime’.