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News from Mayor Jules Pipe -February 2016

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Hackney is considering raising the council tax for the first time in over ten years, to help cover the rising costs of supporting the borough's older people and disabled residents.  By 2020 Hackney will have lost £138million - 50 per cent of its funding - from the Government since 2010.

Council Tax

Hackney Council is considering increasing Council Tax for the first time in over a decade, to help cover the rising costs of supporting the borough’s older and disabled residents.

The two per cent increase would see the Council’s Band D charge rise by less than £20 a year, but would raise around £1.3m, which would help to fund services like home care, meals on wheels, day centres, the Freedom Pass and helping residents to live independent lives for longer.

Despite cuts to policing in the capital, the Mayor of London appears to be pressing ahead with his reduction of about £19 to the Greater London Authority precept that also is part of residents’ council tax bills. This means that the total charge of most bills in Hackney should rise by less than £1 a year.

The proposal follows notification from Government that Hackney will lose a further £38m in Government funding over the next four years. Taken together with cost pressures in adult social care and other key front line services, Hackney will need to make further savings totalling £58m by 2020. Hackney will have lost £138m funding (50%) from central Government since 2010.

The Chancellor announced in November that councils would be able to increase Council Tax by an additional 2% to generate funding towards their adult social care budget without triggering a referendum. Although optional, the central Government grant towards local services assumes councils will apply this increase.

We froze Council Tax for 10 years because we recognise the pressure residents are under as the cost of living rises. By freezing Council Tax for so long, a Band D council taxpayer has saved £1464 over the last decade, but we’ve reached the point where we can’t continue to do this. If it had risen in line with inflation, it would stand at more than £1,300. Taking into account the caps to council tax rises that have been introduced by the current and previous governments, it would still have risen to £1,248. Instead Band D council tax for the borough is currently £998, and will rise next year to £1018, plus the Mayor London’s precept of about £300.

Throughout the last 10 years, we have absorbed the costs of increasing service demand, inflation, and managing central Government grant cuts totalling £100m so far, but it’s simply not mathematically possible to go on forever making up the shortfall through efficiency measures alone.  

Protecting and supporting older and disabled people is one of the most important things councils do and is our largest area of expenditure. However, rather than the Government fully covering the rising costs, their grant funding for councils is based on the assumption that Council Tax will increase to help cover the shortfall.

The budget for Adult Social Care in Hackney is £83.4m and supports around 5,300 service users every year – more than half a million hours of homecare are provided, hundreds of residential placements, the prevention of more than 2,500 people being hospitalised through early intervention and prevention, and more than £12.5m spent on the concessionary Freedom Pass scheme. 

The proposal will be debated at Full Council on 2 March.

Opposing austerity

It should go without saying that as Mayor of the borough I am always making the case to all relevant agencies about the unfairness and negative consequences of the Government’s austerity programme on public services. This would include face-to-face discussions with the Secretary of State, other government ministers, Whitehall officials from the permanent secretary downwards, through the Local Government Association including its executive committee on which I sit, and in national, regional, and local government media. Much of this I am able to do by virtue of being the Chair of London Councils, which represents all of London’s 33 boroughs including its 22 Labour authorities.

Nevertheless, while I and my colleagues (see the piece below on Cllr Phil Glanville’s work opposing the Housing and Planning Bill) continue to protest to decision makers and others who influence government policy at all opportunities, we simultaneously have a responsibility to the thousands of residents who rely on council services being delivered regardless of the financial difficulties the Government creates for us. I am not referring simply to ensuring residents can continue to enjoy a clean street, but the many thousands of residents whose safety and well-being depend on the Council continuing to function properly.

The budget we will be moving later this month will not be proposing any service closures. However, the reductions in central Government grant proposed for the following three years, from April 2017, will make difficult decisions inevitable in the future. In the coming year, we will be engaging with residents on what this Tory Government’s future grant cuts mean for public services in the long term.

The most constructive thing we can do in the short term is work to ensure that Sadiq Khan is elected as the Mayor of London in May. As well as London gaining a significant Labour voice to speak up for us, it will crucially give us a City Hall machine that will work with the boroughs to deliver a better city for Londoners, regardless of the Government cuts, such as helping us tackle the housing crisis, improve transport, and making London safer.    

Hackney Labour opposes Tory Housing Bill

On Wednesday January 27 at Full Council, Hackney Labour passed a motion opposing the Tory Housing and Planning Bill currently going through the House of Lords. The motion built on the detailed work that Cllr Philip Glanville, Cabinet Member for Housing and the Living in Hackney Scrutiny Commission, led by Cllr Clayeon McKenzie, have already put into opposing and scrutinising this terrible Bill.

If the Housing Bill becomes law it will have a devastating effect on the supply of genuinely affordable housing in Hackney. The Bill seeks to end life time social housing tenancies, forces council’s to sell high value council homes, introduces Housing Association right-to-buy, transfers funding from social and affordable housing into new ‘Starter Homes’ which at £450,000 will be unaffordable for many in Hackney, and introduces pay-to-stay which means that council tenants with a combined household income of £40,000 or more will pay market rents.

The knock on effect of these changes will see the potential loss of 700 council and housing association homes in Hackney that should be let to homeless families, meaning the 2,300 families in temporary accommodation risk having to wait even longer for a permanent home. Under Pay-to-stay families, made up of for example two Hackney Homes cleaners or any other relatively low paid workers, could see rent rises of more than 300%, while none of this increased rent will be kept in Hackney or spent on new homes. We also estimate it will cost at least £500,000 to administer in the first year.

Through changes in the planning system it will force councils to promote these new unaffordable 'Starter Homes' over other genuinely affordable housing and give the Secretary of State blanket powers to redefine what is an ‘affordable’ home. The Government has accepted an amendment that claims to promise for every one affordable home sold, two will be built to replace them, but there is no commitment that they will be genuinely affordable homes or even in Hackney, and there is a very real risk that we will see council homes sold only to be replaced with a 'Starter Home' in outer London. Recently, Zac Goldsmith the Tory Mayoral candidate and promoter of the amendment admitted that it was unlikely these replacement new homes would be in inner London.

This week during the debate on the motion Hackney Tories shamefully supported the Housing Bill claiming it will turn ‘Generation Rent’ into ‘Generation Homeowner’; it will do nothing of the kind, while undermining genuinely affordable housing and doing nothing to tackle high rents, rip-off fees or insecure tenancies in the Private Rented Sector.

Hackney Labour and Hackney Council continue to fight this Bill and given the powers that the Mayor of London has to shape the Bill’s eventually implementation it is vital that we support Sadiq Khan, who visited King’s Crescent last week to see where Hackney is building 79 new council homes, and win back City Hall for Labour.

Over the coming weeks Hackney Labour will be starting a campaign against the Bill and organising meetings to discuss its implications. Hackney Council and Hackney Homes have also organised a briefing session on the 11 February for council tenants and leaseholders on the Bill. In the meantime, please sign up to the Our Homes, Our London campaign, sign the Council's petition to improve the Private Rented Sector and put the ‘Kill the Housing Bill’ March on Sunday, 13 March in your diary.

Bishopsgate

The GLA have launched a new public consultation on the proposals for the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, which would dramatically change the heart of Shoreditch.

Developers want to construct 12 buildings across the 11-acre site, which runs from Shoreditch High Street to Brick Lane. The tallest is a 177.6m (47 storeys) tower - more than five times the height of the TEA building opposite, and equivalent to the Gherkin.

Most of the site is earmarked for apartments, only 10% of which are proposed as ‘affordable’. Based on nearby developments, it’s estimated others would start at about £700,000 for a studio flat, and thus do nothing to address London’s housing crisis.  At the same time, it would stifle the local tech and creative sector.

Last month, Hackney and Tower Hamlets councils’ planning committees rejected the application, which spans both boroughs. The many grounds for refusal included the severe impact on the area’s character and heritage, loss of light to nearby homes and businesses, lack of affordable homes and business space, and build quality.  However, at the request of the developers, London Mayor Boris Johnson has ‘called in’ the application, meaning he alone, or his deputy mayor, will decide whether to approve it at a public hearing.

People have until 15 February to comment on the GLA consultation.  Over the last 12 months, I have continued to voice opposition to the proposals, and I know that thousands of residents and businesses remain strongly opposed to the plans - this has been demonstrated via social media, online petitions and public protests.  I am now urging everyone to respond directly to the GLA to ensure that their views can be considered as part of the planning process. 

Comments should be sent to bishopsgate@london.gov.uk.  It is these individual responses which will carry most weight as part of the formal planning decision.

More information on the proposals and the Council’s campaign can be found here: http://www.hackney.gov.uk/bgy.htm.

Crossrail 2

The Council is calling for a fundamental rethink over proposals for a new Crossrail 2 station in Dalston, which would see homes and businesses demolished and Ridley Road Market disrupted.  The Council supports the opportunity of a Crossrail 2 station in Dalston, but it should not come at the expense of residents, local businesses or the area’s much-loved character.

The Council has also urged Transport for London not to use Shoreditch Park or the Britannia Leisure Centre for an access and ventilation shaft to serve the Crossrail 2 line.

TfL’s current proposals for the new underground station in Dalston, which would have entrances near Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland Overground stations and take five to eight years to build, include:

  • Demolition of homes and businesses in and around Bradbury Street to create a new station entrance and ticket hall.
  • Construction of a vent shaft and escalator in Birkbeck Mews, off Ridley Road.
  • Construction of station tunnels, vent shaft, station entrance and ticket hall, on land to the south of Dalston Junction, around Bentley Road car park.

As well as opposing the works by Dalston Kingsland, the Council has asked for more details on the plans around Dalston Junction to ensure the impact on listed buildings and heritage sites is as limited as possible.

TfL also need to build an access and ventilation shaft in the Shoreditch park area. It would take about six years to build and result in a permanent structure at least two storeys high with a 25m x 25m footprint. Five potential locations have been suggested – the northwest of Shoreditch Park, Britannia Leisure Centre building, Britannia Leisure Centre car park, and two sites on Eagle Wharf Road.

The Britannia Leisure Centre site has been earmarked by the Council for major redevelopment. Plans are still to be finalised, but will include a new secondary school and leisure centre.

A ventilation shaft will also be needed in the north of the borough. TfL is proposing it be located at the southern end of Stamford Hill Road.

Constructive discussions are ongoing with TfL about how negative impacts from Crossrail 2 can be minimised while planning for the opportunities this major public transport scheme will create as and when it’s built. The Council will be working hard to ensure Crossrail 2 strikes the balance between the need for improved transport links and long term sustainable regeneration that supports our residents and businesses, and adds to the borough’s character.

The Council continues to lobby for an eastern branch of Crossrail 2, which would travel through Hackney Central and Hackney Wick and then onto Newham, Barking and Dagenham and Essex. Currently, part of an eastern route is shown in the plans for Crossrail 2, but only as a ‘future option’ and with no plan and no guarantee that it would form a Phase 2 to the scheme. However, the current proposals from TfL do support our arguments in as far as including a junction and stub branch that would facilitate eastern route at a later date.

Recognition for local residents and businesses

Hackney residents are invited to nominate for the Mayor of Hackney Business Awards 2016, which aim to showcase the achievements of the local business community, and reward those who contribute most to the life and prosperity of the borough's economy.

Award categories include ‘Best Fairtrade Business’, ‘Best overall contribution to the borough’, and a People’s Choice Award – voted on by the public – for ‘Best Place to Eat and Drink’.  Thirteen local businesses made it on to the shortlist for the latter category, and residents can cast their vote by visiting the Council’s website at: http://www.hackney.gov.uk/business-awards.htm.  Residents can nominate businesses for the other categories on the same page, and the winner of each award category will be selected by a panel of leading business figures which I will chair.  The awards ceremony will take place later this month.

This month will also see the launch of the Mayor of Hackney’s Civic Awards, which will celebrate the hard work and achievements of the unsung Hackney heroes who strive to make a positive difference to the community.  The awards will be officially launched on 14 February – Valentine’s Day – and will seek nominations from the public.  The winners will be chosen by a panel and the awards will be presented at the Council’s AGM in May.


Jules Pipe
Mayor of Hackney

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