£9m of cuts proposed for Portsmouth

The city council’s administration has published proposals for budget cuts before the next council meeting on 13 December.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth’s Labour Leader said:
“The Lib Dems and now Tories have been cutting local services that we all rely on for too long. Now another £9m. How much more can we take? I am more concerned than ever.
We all agree management costs can come down, sharing services will help and there are one or two ideas for generating much needed income. However, much more must be done. We need to see vital frontline services guaranteed and services for the most vulnerable people protected. 
We also need to ensure Portsmouth gets a better deal from central government. A better government grant for local services. Better help for our city to attract new business investment and better projects to create new employment opportunities.  I also want to see our city invest in skills to help local people get better jobs.
The Tories are just making things harder.  In the new chancellor’s first autumn statement, not £1 extra was assigned to help older people relying on the NHS and social care.
Locally there is no attempt to get Portsmouth a better deal for our city. Instead plans will cut our social care services by nearly £2m.
Whilst evidence suggests Portsmouth has some of the highest levels of poverty and health inequalities in the country, these plans cut public health services by over half a million.
I expect better than this. And the people of Portsmouth deserve better than this”.
Budget plans for discussion by councillors in December are available here

Future of social care at risk

Yesterday’s Autumn Statement failed to address the funding crisis councils, the NHS and voluntary sector face in providing social care. 
The Local Government Association has said that the government must take urgent action to properly fund social care if councils are to stand any chance of protecting the services which care for the elderly and vulnerable.
They also state that extra council tax raising powers will not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care and councils will not receive the vast majority of new funding in the Better Care Fund until the end of the decade.
Cllr Stephen Morgan says:
“Despite the largest deficit and longest waiting lists in the history of the NHS, there was not a single extra penny announced in the Autumn Statement to deal with the crisis in the NHS and social care. The Chancellor didn’t even mention social care in his speech once. 
Social care services supporting the elderly and vulnerable are now at breaking point”.
The autumn statement also made no mention of the NHS at all. 
The next few years are expected to be extremely challenging for councils with central government cuts.
“All councils are facing difficult decisions about the future of local services. The Government must allow local government to use extra business rate income to plug the growing funding gap as a result of reductions in the formula grant and give councils more time to plan their budgets”.
Estimates suggest local government faces an overall £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. 

Fair transitional arrangements for women needed

Tonight local people invited councillors to support a motion presented to the Council to make fair transitional state pension arrangements for 1950s women. This was referred to the Scrutiny Management Panel for consideration and any referral back to Full Council.
Portsmouth’s Labour Group are in full support of this important local and national campaign and congratulated representatives of WASPI at tonight’s meeting for their impassioned speeches.
Cllr Stephen Morgan said:
“The last Labour government had some success at reducing pensioner poverty. However women and the lowest paid remain at high risk of falling into poverty in their retirement.
This injustice is being extended to 2.6m women born in the 1950s, who have been short-changed by the bringing forward of their state pension age.

I want the government of today to deal with this issue and ensure that women affected are given proper transitional payments”.
One WASPI campaigner thanked Cllr Morgan for his and the Group’s support by staying “Thank you so much for caring”.


It's time to care for our NHS

Thousands of hospital beds are set to be lost, pregnant women will face long trips to give birth and a string of accident and emergency units will be closed or downgraded as part of controversial plans for the NHS as a result of yet more reorganisation of the country’s health services. 
Proposals have been developed in locally agreed Sustainability and Transformation Plans.  These are currently being analysed by NHS campaigners and already show that health chefs are set to push through an unprecedented centralisation of hospital services across England.
This could mean reducing the number of A&E hospitals from 140 to less than 70 across England and cutting hospital beds – while hoping that care in the community will pick up the slack. The plans also include selling off land and assets that belong to the NHS.
Critics have argued that whilst the plans may include some good ideas, the overall programme is unrealistic about funding and includes untested assumptions.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth Labour Leader, has written to health decision-makers sharing concerns and asking questions about any proposals locally. 
Portsmouth’s health services are included in a Hampshire and Isle of Wight Sustainability and Transformation Plan which is due to be published next week. The document covers a range of health and care services spanning eight clinical commissioning groups and providing for an estimated population of two million people.
Cllr Morgan said:
“Under the Tories our NHS is underfunded and understaffed. We’re seeing the worst NHS deficits on record at £2.45 billion. Around 3.9 million people are now on the English waiting list to start treatment and 1.8 million people waited four or more hours in A&E last year – up over 400 per cent since 2010.
One in four patients have to wait a week or more to see or speak to a GP or nurse, or don’t get an appointment at all
Our country already has the second lowest number of hospital beds per head in Europe. We simply cannot afford to lose any more.
With recent changes in health services in our city we’re already seeing people needing to travel further to access the care they need. Labour created the NHS to care for us all, now it’s time to care for the NHS.
Portsmouth Labour will be talking with local people at different locations across the city next Saturday, 26 November on an NHS community action day.

Increase in violent crime needs urgent action

Last month the Office for National Statistics reported that, after a decade of decline, there have been real increases in levels of violent crime across the country occurring in our communities and imperiling victims.
This is nothing to do with changes in police recording practice that have also boosted this year’s figures for recorded crime.
In Portsmouth we have seen a significant increase in violent crime in the past year. Information released by the Safer Portsmouth Partnership – which brings together the police, probation, council and other local stakeholders to tackle crime and disorder in the city – has identified there has been a 49% increase in recorded violent crime overall. This compares with a national average rise of 27% in the last year, and is at the highest level since 2007/8.
Violent crime now also accounts for 45% of all recorded crime compared to 36% in 2007/8.
Concerned by these increases and the impact recent incidents is having on perceptions of safety in communities across our city, Portsmouth Labour has raised this important issue in the Council Chamber with decision-makers.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth Labour Leader asked the Cabinet Member for the Environment and Community Safety at Full Council on 15 November. He sought assurance that the administration was doing everything it could to tackle the rise in crime and address the concerns of local communities.
Cllr Morgan said:
“Urgent action is needed to tackle the significant increase in violent and overall crime in Portsmouth and build confidence in our communities that our neighbourhoods are safe. Portsmouth people deserve better.
 I welcome news that the Safer Portsmouth Partnership is prioritising serious and violent crime in our great city in their strategies.
 I am also meeting the local police’s Chief Superintendent Schofield with other Group Leaders next week to hear how the police are keeping on top of this issue and how we can work together to address concerns.
Public safety in Portsmouth must always remain paramount”.
Portsmouth Labour believes real increases in crime ought to be met by real increases in police resource to cope with them and not with more cuts.

Why council tax support changes are flawed

Portsmouth Labour’s council group voted against proposals to change council tax support for residents at Full Council on Tuesday 15 November.
Here is the speech given by Cllr Stephen Morgan, Group Leader before Members of the Council:
“My Lord Mayor, Fellow Members,
 The decision to create separate local schemes of support for those in financial hardship from paying Council Tax is, in policy terms and logic, flawed.
And the rationale set out in the government’s consultation document, could have been written by ‘Sir Humphrey’ from Yes Minister!
It excludes significant elements of Council Tax administration from localisation including a whole category of people (pensioners) and specifically targets working age claimants.
The City Council’s own Equality Impact Assessment more accurately identifies the rationale for a localised scheme stating that it, “……. was introduced under the Local Government Finance Act to reduce the annual expenditure for Council Tax.”
We now have the absurd situation of a national system of local government taxation in the form of the Council Tax and a localised system of relief and support with different entitlements and exemptions based purely on where people happen to live, and the pressures on local authorities to find cuts in spending, not on their needs because these will be interpreted differently across the country.
The main proposal before us today is to introduce ‘Option 4’ to make a minimum council tax amount payable (20%) by all working age claimants so there would be no distinction between people available for work, have limited capacity for work and those on disability benefits.
The list of disability benefits that would be affected are listed on page 2 of the council report however the EIA states that, “We recognise that disabled people suffer much bigger obstacles to gaining employment which would enable them to afford paying council tax so we do not take their Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment into account a income”.
In spite of the exemption of DLA and PIP the council ignores the fact that other benefits have been awarded through a national system that recognises people’s entitlement and need, but will now require the use a portion of these benefits to pay towards council tax. The local scheme is therefore not integrated with the national benefits system, in particular Universal Credit.
The EIA also acknowledges that, “We are indirectly discriminating against all working age claimants as legislation dictates that people of pensionable age will not be affected by the changes but people who receive protection at the moment may need to pay something or more toward their council tax”.
There are also some supplementary changes proposed.
One is to introduce a minimum Council Tax award of £2.00. This is wrong in principle regardless of the number of people affected. A person who qualifies for council tax support but is entitled to a sum up to £1.99 per week will be denied their legal entitlement. What is to prevent the council from increasing this figure in the future to £3.00 or £5.00?
Consider, if the Inland Revenue said that a person was entitled to a tax refund but they were not going to pay it because it was less than £104.00?
The council propose to introduce a number of changes to align entitlement with Housing benefit Regulations where the EIA admits that “…it is unknown how many people would be affected as it relates to future events.”
The proposal to limit the number of dependent children affecting a claim to 2 will result in some families with continuing claims getting entitlement based on more than two children and could act as a disincentive for them to change their circumstances and end their claim because if they reapply they will come under the new rules and be disadvantaged.
The Hardship Fund is cash limited and discretionary with no right of independent appeal against decisions. There is potential for a clear incentive here to make decisions to ensure the cash limit is not breached.
The survey evidence shows that on the question of ‘should the council keep the current Council Tax Reduction Scheme’ only 43% said no while 57% said yes or they did not know (40% Yes, 17% DK) so there is no majority for a change from the total number of respondents. Don’t know is not support for a change but for the status quo.
Let us not forget that the localisation of council tax support was introduced under the coalition government with Liberal Democrat support. It was Danny Alexander as Chief Secretary to the Treasury who did this.
This type of policy has similarities with the introduction of Housing Benefit Subsidy Limitation which meant that council housing revenue accounts were not fully compensated for housing benefit spending.
So tenants rents were subsidising the housing benefit of other tenants, a divisive and inequitable policy given that tenants were likely to be low income households (the poor subsidising the poor).
For these reasons I urge Members to vote against these proposals”.

Portsmouth Labour calls for more action on local jobs

Over the last 10 years Portsmouth has seen major businesses leave the city, many of them have moved to out of town business parks, or take jobs to other parts of the UK, or other parts of the world. 
Portsmouth Labour is committed to reversing this trend by working with business to create new investment in our great city.
Local Labour councillors are not satisfied by the decline in good job opportunities for hard working people in Portsmouth. 
Portsmouth Labour believes it is essential to attract business investment into our city if we are to ensure that we create new jobs for local people.  We need to invest in the skills of local people so that they can take advantage of the well-paid jobs that Labour is committed to attracting to Portsmouth.
Only Labour has a plan to secure the future prosperity of our city and create the new jobs that local people so desperately need.
Cllr Yahiya Chowdhury raised concerns about the lack of investment in the local economy in the Council Chamber on 15 November. He was seeking an update on why there are delays to the important Dunsbury Hill Farm development.
Cllr Chowdhury said:
“It is essential that the city capitalise on development opportunities and opens up key sites. The Lib Dems did little and the Tories need to do more. Otherwise we run the risk of yet more lost decades and Portsmouth people deserve better than that”.
 Cllr Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth Labour Leader said:
“I am using my new role as the city’s first heritage champion to advocate for Portsmouth’s assets to be unlocked to create jobs and stimulate the local economy. This weekend I toured the city with council directors to see how with the right investment Portsmouth has massive potential”.
“We also need to also create a diverse economy by attracting different types of business, all too often in Portsmouth’s history the city has been over dependent on one or two major employers, which has left the job prospects of local people vulnerable to decisions made in Whitehall or further afield”.

Cabman's Rest planning application: views sought

Residents at Ladywood House and Cllr Stephen Morgan met this week to share their views on a planning application for an 11 bed development at the former Cabman’s Rest public house on Plymouth Street.
The city council is inviting responses in support or objections to the proposals with a deadline of Monday 21 November for submissions.
Cllr Morgan is keen to hear residents’ views and ideas over the proposed development.
A direct link to the developer’s application and supporting papers can be found here
The reference is 16/01601/FUL and plans are available for public inspection at the civic offices.


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Reducing homelessness – the Private Member's Bill

In recent years the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of Britain has doubled. A Private Member’s Bill currently before Parliament is intended to confront this homelessness epidemic currently facing the UK.
The Bill sets out twelve commitments to reducing homelessness. These are as follows:

  1. Defining the meaning of “homeless’ and ‘threatened with homelessness”
  2. Duty to provide Advisory Services
  3. Duty to assess all eligible applicants’ cases and agree a plan
  4. Duty in cases of “threatened homelessness”
  5. Duties owed to those who are homeless
  6. Duties to help secure accommodation
  7. Deliberate and unreasonable refusal to cooperate: duty upon giving of notice
  8. Local connection of a care leaver
  9. Reviews
  10. Duty of public authority to refer cases to local housing authority
  11. Codes of practise
  12. Suitability of private rented sector accommodation

 Homelessness has been on the rise since 2010 and some experts have suggested that government figures have understated the number of young adults in need of assistance for shelter by as much as two thirds with an alleged 83,000 young people far outstripping the government’s own figure of 26,000.
The proposed bill, put forward by Tory MP Bob Blackman, is part of a concerted effort from politicians and charities such as Crisis to put more pressure on public bodies up and down the country to end the ‘national disgrace’ that is people sleeping rough.
The main crux of the bill is that it changes the definition of being ‘threatened with homelessness’ from 28 days to 56 days meaning people have longer to attain the guidance they need to avoid sleeping rough. Blackman added that the government would be providing funding for this change in time scale, in a move that amends the 1996 definition.
Additionally, councils would be obliged to provide support in the form of accommodation for those seeking housing through an expansion of the support net to include an applicant vulnerability ahead of the previously used priority list system.
Another stated aim is to create a culture change in councils to prevent the demonisation of the homeless that has been seen in the past. Efforts such as the expansion of the ‘threatened with homelessness’ time scale indicate this.
While broadly supporting the proposals, the Labour shadow housing secretary John Healey urged the government to ‘let actions speak louder than words and ensure extra council duties were fully funded’. Extra investment is needed to tackle the underlying causes of housing insecurity otherwise the Bill will not on its own solve the problem of rising homelessness.
In Portsmouth, the Labour Group echo John Healey’s support for the Bill.
Work cross-party is already underway in the city to help address the increase in homelessness in Portsmouth, take advantage of opportunities available nationally and to learn from what works elsewhere so that all our communities benefit.
The legislation should be seen as a positive step towards the kind of thinking that is needed to end homelessness in the UK and indeed in Portsmouth once and for all.

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Sleeves rolled up to improve Portsea's public space 

Portsmouth Labour members were out in force this weekend working with the local community to improve green space in Portsea on Saturday. 
Cllr Stephen Morgan and a group of party members rolled up their sleeves and helped tidy up the community garden area outside St George’s on St George’s Square, including planting bulbs and seeds for next spring.
The community action day was part of a series of initiatives by Portsmouth Labour to stand up for, and work alongside, communities across the city.
St George’s is looking for more volunteers to help enhance its public spaces as part of efforts to provide facilities to the local community.
Clean up days are open to anyone and take place on the first Saturday of the month, 10am-12noon.
Cllr Stephen Morgan said:
“It’s been a great day. I’ve really enjoyed working with others to clean up a public space and get it ready for the community to enjoy next spring. 
I urge anyone who also wants to give back to their community to come along to a future day of action. Every small offer of help makes a big difference”.