Reports are saying the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to halt the full rollout of Universal Credit. If the Government is finally recognising this is a flawed system, then that’s welcome, but if that means they are halting Universal Credit roll-out, it needs to stop immediately in Nottingham.
In July, I called for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted before it inflicts more pain on families in Nottingham. The limited experience of Universal Credit so far in Nottingham has seen risinig levels of rent arrears along with more debt problems. It’s high time the Department for Work and Pensions accepted that the way they have implemented Universal Credit so far is actively hurting the people it is there to help. It’s totally unacceptable for them to simply plough on regardless while it damages people’s lives, driving them into debt and needing to use foodbanks.
There has been a chorus of opposition to the Government’s flagship welfare reform and a list of examples exposing the inherent flaw and problems with its implementation:
These problems have emerged while only a fraction of the total number of benefit claimants have been placed on Universal Credit. The Government should take this as a chance to stop the process, and fix the obvious problems that exist, otherwise they will be knowingly inflicting the same pain on more families in Nottingham and millions of other claimants due to be placed on Universal Credit.
Last November Nottingham City Council passed a motion calling on the Government to remove the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap. Just under 12 months later, the Government has finally listened and is recognising councils as essential in tackling the UK’s housing crisis.
Nottingham City Council has embarked on the biggest new Council house building programe in a generation, building 404 council homes since 2015 and aiming to build 2500 homes that Nottingham people can affordable to rent or buy by May next year. The council has created award winning quality developments in partnership with Nottingham City Homes and last year Nottingham City Homes built more new homes than any other Arm’s Length Management Organisation in the Country. We always aim to do more, however, two issues have prevented this:
- Councils are only allowed to use right to buy receipts to fund 30% of the cost of a scheme, the remainder must be funded through borrowing on the Housing Revenue Account which is in turn limited by central Government;
- Councils are only allowed to spend the money on a very narrow range of housing types and it cannot be given to Nottingham City Homes to support them with the costs of homes they are building to own for themselves.
Earlier this summer a lift on the borrowing cap was proposed but was based on criteria which would have had nothing to do with demand or affordability, instead simply relying on a crude comparison between housing association social rents and private rents where only 104 Councils could extend their borrowing cap – 91 of which are in the South of England.
The Government’s latest announcement thankfully extends this to all councils meaning areas with high demand like Nottingham will be able to get on with building the new homes that local people need. Crucial to solving the UK’s housing crisis is ensuring that we build a mix of council homes, aspiration family housing and bungalows. The lifting of the HRA borrowing cap will allow is to achieve this in the numbers we need and I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement last week.
The consultation on a new Central Library has now closed and the result was pretty clear – people like the idea of a new Central Library that we can design and build from scratch to best suit the city’s and our children’s needs for the future.
Over 85% of respondents said they would like to see a new library located in the revamped Broadmarsh area – many seeing it as a good addition to the emerging new site. The redevelopment of the Broadmarsh area will transform this area of the city. Adding state of the art children’s facilities in a new high quality Central Library will make this an even better development for Nottingham.
I know it’s taken some time, and I know there is the potential for some disruption, but everything is being planned carefully to make sure we make the most of the opportunity to completely change the Broadmarsh area for the better. Though the consultation has ended, the Council will continue to look to local people for input into the design and layout of the new library to help make it an inspirational space for Nottingham’s residents and visitors.
As UNESCO City of Literature Nottingham has a rich literacy heritage and children’s literacy is a big priority for us. A new Central Library could give Nottingham children access to books, learning, imagination and ideas.
The response to the consultation shows how important libraries still are to the people of Nottingham and we are committed to creating an imaginative and innovative space for young children in particular, although we aim to encourage all walks of life to use the library spaces and to embrace and enjoy opportunities for lifelong learning and development.
A copy of my published letter to the Guardian on the unfair funding of local authorities.
“Owen Jones (A quiet crisis? No, we’re just not listening, 13 September) is right that Brexit is overshadowing the issue of crippling government cuts to council funding. This is a national scandal that is having and will continue to have an impact on people’s lives at least as significant as Brexit. Eight years of austerity has seen Nottingham’s main government funding slashed from £127m to £25m, despite the city council serving some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Councils serving affluent areas are not only getting a better deal under the government’s unfair funding formula, but have also benefited from extra government handouts over the last few years.
Surrey county council, one of the wealthiest authorities in the country, benefited from £24m of a fund designed to soften the blow of the cuts – the most for any council – while councils like ours received nothing. The government has refused to tell us its criteria for allocation. However, what’s clear is that Conservative-led authorities benefited from 89% of the £300m provided over two years, and are now set to get 86% of the further £153m being allocated under a new scheme. Surrey will get £17m and, again, we get nothing.
It’s high time that this was taken seriously at a national level, given the devastating effect that austerity is having on our communities.”
Last week was Robin Hood Energy’s third birthday and this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on why Nottingham City Council took the ambitious decision to set it up and recognise what the company has achieved in such a short space of time.
The idea of Robin Hood Energy was born out of the necessity to tackle fuel poverty in Nottingham. In 2010, 21.8% of people in our city were living in fuel poverty meaning that they have required fuel costs that are above average and were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line. As a council we had worked for a number of years trying to tackle this through improving the energy efficiency of homes across the city by installing external wall insulation on 6000 properties, as well as running campaigns that encouraged residents to switch suppliers. This could never change the fact though that the energy market is dominated by six big companies that run a monopoly and put shareholder profits before people.
In 2015 we committed ourselves to tackle fuel poverty by setting up a not-for-profit energy company to sell energy at the lowest possible price to Nottingham people to take on the Big Six. Robin Hood Energy was the first publically owned energy company in the UK for more than 30 years. The company now has 115,000 customers and continues to grow, made £250,000 of surplus faster than most of its closest competitors, is bringing in money to Nottingham City Council by paying back its start-up loan at a commercial rate and now sources all its energy from renewables.
Perhaps most significantly, Robin Hood Energy has changed the market with regards to pre-payment meters. Robin Hood Energy introduced Britain’s first competitively priced gas and electricity prepayment tariff for pay-as-you-go customers – those who are most likely to face fuel poverty. The whole energy market followed our lead and even Ofgem has now introduced a prepayments tariff “price cap”.
As of February 2017, the number of households in fuel poverty in Nottingham was 12%, Though that is a significant improvement on the figure eight years ago, there is clearly still more to do. As Robin Hood Energy gains more customers, the cheaper it can make prices for Nottingham people and I am the confident that is what will happen going forward. Its success would no doubt have made one of its founders, Councillor Alan Clark, very proud, who was pivotal in its creation. The company continues to go from strength to strength while fulfilling its purpose of tackling fuel poverty in Nottingham.
Watch my video account of day ten by clicking here.
After a night in one of the more eccentric accommodations we have stayed in. Bath and shower in the cupboard, TV and basin in the wardrobe and a tuna sandwich and packet of crisps for breakfast. We headed back to the end of Saturday’s epic 28 miler.
The first 5 miles back to Bellingham were pretty straight forward and as the day was lower mileage than the previous few days we took time out for breakfast in the village. Bacon Butty and Beans on toast at the Rocky Road Café.
In and out of Bellingham was the most road walking we had done so far. But we where back on the hills in warm and breezy weather. Overlooking rolling moor land as far as the eye could see.
I experimented with a change of boots at about the half way stage and then set off again across the moors. As Kielder Forest loomed closer, the ground got boggier. It was a desolate landscape of felled trees and stubble and we found ourselves again walking through bog and gravelled road, as we trudged towards the end.
As we headed down, an adder slithered from under my feet and off into the undergrowth, Startled I enquired about Andy’s first aid skills and his willingness to suck out the poison where another encounter to occur. Lack of sympathy and enthusiasm was evident for the necessary first aid.
The track seemed to go on for ever, eventually we crossed the river and headed towards our destination. Past a campsite we ended up in a car park next to a small chapel in Bryness. A long day done but the final and longest still yet to do.