Bidston & Claughton Area Forum 3rd October 2012 Part 4 Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit and Universal Credit

Continued from Part 3. Cllr Foulkes said that the tactic of government was to save money to pay off the deficit and that they had to save £3.2 million or find it elsewhere. He said that he didn’t invent the figure, but if they believed in Council Tax Benefit for certain groups it would be … Continue reading “Bidston & Claughton Area Forum 3rd October 2012 Part 4 Council Tax Benefit, Housing Benefit and Universal Credit”

Continued from Part 3.

Cllr Foulkes said that the tactic of government was to save money to pay off the deficit and that they had to save £3.2 million or find it elsewhere. He said that he didn’t invent the figure, but if they believed in Council Tax Benefit for certain groups it would be implemented.

Paddy said that just because people had mortgages and things were tight didn’t stop them eating and that the changes could cripple people. He said it could be done over a longer period of time and that the deficit was going up.

Cllr Foulkes said it didn’t support it and agreed [with Paddy]. He said he was a Labour councillor and that the way to get out of the depression was to stimulate the economy.

Cllr Harry Smith said that as well as the possible cuts to Council Tax benefit and the issue of spare bedrooms affecting Housing Benefit, that service charges were going to be removed from Housing Benefit and that the current Wirral Partnership Homes service charge for sheltered accommodation was about £13/week. He said that this would affect the poorest in society.

Cllr Foulkes said that rents were no longer going to be paid directly to landlords and that landlords would have to collect the rent, which would be a massive change.

A member of the public asked a question about Council Tax Benefit/Housing Benefit and the means testing system.

The officer said that they wouldn’t get more money next year for new claims, but they would try and divide it as best they can, these decisions were being consulted on as to whether people wanted Council Tax to go up or the debt to fall on the most vulnerable people.

Cllr Foulkes asked if they would still administer Housing Benefit?

The officer said that they would, but there would be changes to reductions for excess rooms, one room would result in 14% less, two rooms 25% less.

A member of the public asked about a family of four who needed this income who were on tax credits and how it couldn’t be looked at in isolation.

The officer said there would be a discretionary fund.

Cllr Foulkes said that people were “blissfully ignorant” and they had “not got a clue” what was coming round. He suggested that they ask all Area Forums to have an expert give a demonstration to tell people what was coming round the corner. He suggested there was a knowledge gap and that an expert making a presentation explaining what it meant for certain families would be useful.

Donnie said that Wirral Partnership Homes had done that with a mailing about the bedroom tax, which had a four page breakdown about what it meant to people.

Cllr George Davies said that pensioners were exempt from the changes, but referred also to the change to Universal Credit.

An officer said they could give six or seven worked examples.

Donnie said that people were not understanding the changes.

Cllr Foulkes said that it was different for tenants with organisations with resources such as Wirral Partnership Homes, but private tenants, community groups and church groups were up a creek and needed to have a semblance of understanding to mitigate the impact of the changes. He also said the appeal and claim process would be made more difficult and if the benefit was lost it would take “ages and ages” to appeal.

Paddy said it was important people had enough “bread and two potatoes” to eat, but what are people going to do? He said it was life and death with people starving and that “we are the plebs”, whereas government ministers were more concerned with what they have with their Beaujolais. He again referred to the crisis loans.

Cllr Harry Smith referred to people having to downsize because of the bedroom situation, but that Wirral Partnership Homes didn’t have enough one-bedroom homes.

Continued at Part 5.

Bidston & Claughton Area Forum 3rd October 2012 Part 3 Council Tax Benefit Consultation and Rampworx

Continued from Part 2.

Donnie said that the document said there was £200 million left and asked to the layperson what did that mean, as most people don’t talk in those figures? He said he had come along to try to get an understanding of the mechanics. Normally there would be presentations from the grass-roots about bids, but they had received a letter from the new Chief Executive saying the funding had been suspended which he was disappointed about. He said that funding at that level was important and he didn’t understand what caused a £17 million overspend unless people just “can’t add up”. He asked a question about the Rampworx project and how Wirral Council had offered match funding, but that the site had archaeological significance and contamination issues and how they had looked at a plan B which was the back field to the Bidston Rise estate. He asked whether this had been put on hold or they’d switched to plan B?

Cllr Foulkes said that he hadn’t got the Cabinet decision which was about non-essential spending and why it fell foul was that it wasn’t life or death. He said that it should be a priority as it would create jobs and youth opportunities and sounded like good value for money, however they had to fight for investment.

Donnie said that the land in question belonged to Wirral Partnership Homes and had been transferred by mistake with the housing stock, so it was designated as building land due to the need for affordable housing. He was hoping at the Strategic Housing Partnership meeting that he would find out more.

Cllr Foulkes asked Ian Brand to answer.

Ian Brand said if they had entered a legal contract then the money wouldn’t be frozen, he said he would talk to Donnie separately after the meeting.

Cllr Roberts said although this fund was frozen, that there was another pot of money called Community First that it was possible to apply to and that Anna Wallace the person responsible for Bidston could help. She said as there were no further questions, they would move to the consultation on Council Tax support and benefits.

The officer said they were proposing changes from the 1st April 2013 and that there were 40,000 people in receipt of Council Tax Benefit. There were a few rules, pensioners were protected so they would be no worse off and there was a suggestion that they should protect vulnerable groups. There was another consultation about the changes and they were now seeking people’s views. They currently received £32 million for Council Tax Benefit, which would be reduced by £3.2 million next year, so they were looking at options, one of which was not backdating claims and whether there should be a discretionary fund for hardship. If they didn’t agree on a scheme, then the default scheme would be the same as the one they had now. The consultation was running from the 1st September [2012] to the 31st October [2012].

Continued at Part 4.

Bidston & Claughton Area Forum 3rd October 2012 Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

A member of the public called Paddy asked why the “Labour controlled council” was planning to make cuts? He said the benefit changes from April next year and the move to Universal Credits were an “attack on the poor”. He said that most cuts affected the poor, who would “get it in the neck”. Paddy went on to refer to tax credits, no crisis loans for a month, and how [the Coalition Government] was making you [the Labour controlled council] implement this. He said that in 1932, there had been a crisis in banking system, which led to an attack on the poor because of the errors of rich. Paddy referred to riots in Europe unless reps do something with the power in own hands and went onto refer to the 1930s, fascists and war as well as a lost generation of youth.

The Chair, Cllr Denise Roberts said that they were dependent on money Government gives us and went on to refer to militant Labour in Liverpool in the 1980s.

Cllr Steve Foulkes suggested to Paddy that he put his comment on the consultation form, so that his view would be in the system. He said that part of their thing was that they had to set a legal budget, in fact they were forced to set a legal budget. He suggested they take the fight to Government. Cllr Foulkes asked why Metropolitan Authorities, mainly Northern and North-West ones were facing more severe cuts than the shire counties and the South-East?

Cllr Foulkes said the figures showed they were taking a heavier burden of the deficit. He said it was “our job”, to take the “fight to government” for a fair share. He referred to a protest on the 20th and how the public sector would bear the brunt. He felt that at the end of the day, he believed they could predict significant funding cuts.

He said that people complain bitterly about the NHS cuts, but the NHS in [Coalition government] terms was not cut just frozen. Cllr Foulkes referred to a 20% cut and the cries of anguish about the National Health Service, but that it was an unprecedented future. He said the public would be consulted and people would be involved, even if it was inevitable. Cllr Foulkes said he was an Evertonian, so he was naturally a pessimist, but the Director of Finance had said that if they don’t make decisions it would be a bigger failure of their duty.

He said in the heady days of Derek Hatton, by taking a stance and causing mayhem they had got an extra £1.8 million, which would not go very far [today]. He said there was a will within [Wirral Council] to tackle the problems. He said that with a number of services provided, such as the Department for Adult Social Services, in reality a small number people took up a third of the budget, but that we’re all “going to be old at some point”. He said it was a statutory service and if there was a belief that the public sector would diminish, then there needed to be the jobs in private sector. Cllr Foulkes said they needed to promote jobs and that even if the general public came out with the theme [in the consultation] of higher spending, all departments would take some hit. He said some authorities are saying the only services protected are adult and children’s protection, with the rest hired out to the public sector or volunteers, it was these sort of dimensions [of cuts], but that very rarely services were not loved. Cllr Foulkes said they were involved with a number of lobby groups, the Local Government Association (LGA), the Special Interest Group of Metropolitan Authorities (SIGOMA) all of which had common cause, that they would not take an inordinate share [of the cuts]. Cllr Foulkes said that local government was the best spender with regards to efficiency and that there was a big campaign the Fire Chief was running in the local press. He also mentioned that they would be electing a new Police Commissioner, but that they had to plan for the worse and hope for best, that the consultation was about realism and what really matters.

Cllr Foulkes said that the Department of Adult Social Services was demand-led, whether collecting in debts, or issues of child protection such as Baby P, he said the basic element was a loss of a third of funding and currently they provided services to people classed as critical and substantial.

Continued at Part 3.

Bidston & Claughton Area Forum 3rd October 2012 Part 1

Bidston & Claughton Area Forum
Bidston Avenue Primary School

Cllr Denise Roberts, Chair, Claughton
Cllr Jim Crabtree, Bidston & St. James
Cllr Steve Foulkes, Claughton
Cllr Harry Smith, Bidston & St. James
Michelle Gray, Community Engagement
Jim Thompson Community Safety
Paul Murphy Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service
Ian Brand, Lead Officer (Asset Management)
Jim Parson, Community Representative
plus about thirteen members of public

The Chair, Cllr Denise Roberts welcomed people to the Area Forum and asked those on the panel to introduce themselves. She then asked the Lead Officer, Ian Brand (Head of Asset Management) to make a statement.

Ian Brand said he was making a statement on funding, which was a standard statement that would be read to all Area Forums. In September the Director of Finance had reported to Cabinet. Due to a projected overspend, immediate action was taken to freeze non-essential spending and release a [£7 million] reserve, which meant the suspension of the Neighbourhood Funding grants program. He said that this doesn’t mean it is cancelled or removed, but suspended until there is a recommendation as to how to move forward. Mr Brand said that by end of the year they would know the status of applications.

Cllr Roberts said that Kay Smith, from VCAW Wirral was also here to talk about how Healthwatch would replace LINKS.

Michelle Gray gave an update on items discussed at the last Area Forum. On Buttermere Avenue, she said the work has been completed, but she had not been down to see it.

Cllr Harry Smith said that Cllr George Davies had had a site meeting and was satisfied, but another issue raised had been raised at the last Area Forum. He said that the siting of the telegraph pole was down to the developers Rowland Homes, however no one would move into the property unless work completed. On the subject of speeding traffic on Budworth Road, Cllr Smith said that in the program of works it wasn’t identified as priority, but there would be more information at the next Area Forum.

The Chair, Cllr Roberts asked for an officer to give an update on the Budget consultation.

Michelle Gray said she would give a brief update in two stages. The consultation was launched on the 10th September [2012] and would be running until the 19th October [2012] . They had visited Aldi, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons as well as community groups and resident’s groups. Once the consultation was finished all the feedback would be collated and there would be a full report, done around November or December time. The plan was to save £100 million over three years. The consultation would also feed into the three-year Corporate Plan and at the end the Budget would be cut by about a third. She gave out some statistical information and said that they has visited ninety-six events and distributed thirty-seven thousand of the questionnaires. So far three thousand six hundred had been completed online and there were more coming in daily.

Continued in Part 2

Bromborough and Eastham Area Forum 2nd October 2012


Cllr Steve Niblock (Chair)
Cllr Joe Walsh
Cllr Phil Gilchrist
Cllr Tom Harney
Cllr Dave Mitchell

Brian Christian (Older Peoples Parliament)
Steve Preston (Community Safety)
Louise Harland-Davies (Community Engagement co-ordinator)
Phil Miner (Streetscene Manager)
Mark Craig (Community Representative)
Paul Murphy (Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service)
Merseyside Police: Police Sergeant and Police Community Support Officer
Lead Officer Kevin McCallum (Press and Public Relations)
Plus ~seven members of the public.

Cllr Steve Niblock opened the meeting by welcoming everybody to the Bromborough and Eastham Area Forum. He gave apologies for Cllr Irene Williams and Marjorie Hall and thanked Mark Craig and Marjorie who would continue to be community representatives.

Louise Harland-Davies said the minutes of the last meeting were on the seats, under matters arising, she said she understood that antisocial behaviour at the local skateboard park had been set as a local policing priority, so it had received extra attention from police and youth services, with a number of incidents dealt with through Community Patrol.

Steve Preston said there had been five reports since the last Area Forum, three were about noise, two were about youths with one of the reports of noise being at 11 pm and one of the others at around 4 pm. He said they had made some improvements which he believed were beneficial to children and residents as the last report was in August, he hoped the problems had decreased because of the soundproofing.

The police said they had only had two reports in September of noise.

Louise Hartland-Davies gave an update on 20 mph zones and said there had been a spending freeze on non-critical areas. She referred to Laura Quigley who had been from the GP Commissioning Consortium and a response that Cllr Gilchrist had received direct from Laura. Louise Hartland-Davies said there was a minor injuries service at Parkfield and referred to a visit by Cllr Walsh to Bromborough Recreation Bowling Club, who had put a bid in for Area Forum funding.

Cllr Niblock said he was aware Tony had got to go early.

Tony said that on behalf of Wirral Festival of Music, Speech and Drama and Bromborough Recreation Bowling Club that he wanted to say thank you for money previously received. He mentioned the visit of Cllr Walsh, when the sun shone and there was no rain, however he described the problems in the rain of no shelter which is why they had approached the Area Forum and thanked Community Engagement Officer Louise Hartland-Davies for her assistance with their applications. To his chagrin Louise Hartland-Davies in 48 hours had cut through red tape and they had an approach by phone compared to four years of him trying and he thanked Louise.

Louise Hartland-Davies said there had been changes to parking, which had resulted in more spaces, however there had been questions about the number of disabled bays, traffic management had developed an alternative draft layout and the funding could happen but for the spending freeze.

Cllr Niblock said that unless there were other matters arising it was agreed. He said he would deviate from the agenda and ask Kevin McCallum to talk about the spending freeze.

Kevin McCallum said Wirral Council was now in a spending freeze on all non-essential expenditure based on a report by the Interim Director of Finance in September, he said the funding supposed to be distributed by the Area Forum was caught up in the spending freeze and was frozen until further notice, he had been told that it looked like November before they would know what might happen, but the decision was out of our [officer’s?] hands. He was happy to take questions.

Mark Craig said they knew Neighbourhood Funding might be reduced but why were monies unspent last year not carried over?
Kevin McCallum said it was more or less the same in every Area Forum, what had happened was there was a spending freeze and they were working through the implications. He said councillors on the Area Forum had raised that point.

Cllr Gilchrist said he had emailed Mr. Timmins, who had £42,000, but Mr. Timmins was trying to be prudent and careful by trying to keep the money aside, the difficulty was a recorded fact which had passed into the great machinery.

Kevin McCallum responded to Cllr Gilchrist’s point.

Louise Hartland-Davies said there was a consultation on the budget called “What Really Matters”, which comprised of a questionnaire. She said that it was not just Wirral Council that was affected, they were trying to engage many of the residents who live on Wirral to gather their feelings and opinions, their team had been out and about in the community. She said that there were four themes & nine questions, which asked for people’s thoughts about reducing or stopping services, along with boxes to write thoughts and comments. She asked for contact details if anybody wanted them to visit community groups and that every day there was a schedule of events, with a few groupies following them around, so if they were not where they were supposed to be people were aware.

A member of the public asked how long the consultation was?

Louise Hartland-Davies answered the 19th October [2012].

Brian Christian (Older Peoples Parliament) asked if when completed, would the results be audited,  shown and analysed by a small team of people?
The answer given was that they had a team of people doing this and that the raw data would be published. They had also asked the Market Research Society to double-check the questionnaire.

Cllr Harney said that although as a councillor he had plenty of opportunity to ask questions, there was an implication in how some of the questions were phrased. He said the evidence, especially when looking at the research into children showed that there were better results when one person was involved rather than many. He said it was his feeling it was not about spending more money, but about spending money properly and efficiently rather than destroying the futures of the vulnerable, but that it was not just about adults and social services.

A member of the public asked if there had been an indication if any of the Budget was ring-fenced, for example education and social care had previously been ring-fenced?

Kev McCallum said the Schools Budget was ring- fenced.

The member of the public asked him to explain.

Kevin McCallum said that it was a very difficult concept as there were additional bits of funding, but the world had changed.

I asked wasn’t this partly because Wirral Council lost out on £1.6 million of education funding this year because Wirral Council gave the wrong numbers for Early Years learners to the Department for Education?

Kevin McCallum (Press and Public Relations) said he didn’t know.

Arthur asked if they were looking at best practice in other Councils?

Kevin McCallum said that they should do that, but they don’t do enough of it.

Cllr Niblock said if there was nothing more, they would have the presentation.

The softly spoken Michelle Davis from the Department of Finance was asked by a number of members of the public to speak louder.

She told those present of the consultation on Council Tax Benefit changes, as Council Tax Benefit was to be abolished from the 1st April 2013, with the reasons for the changes being the Localism Bill and Welfare Reform Act 2012. She said that central government was cutting their benefit grant by £3.2 million, but as part of the scheme they had to protect pensioners, vulnerable people, people of working age with a disability, households with a disabled child or in receipt of a war pension. She said that working age people would either be paying Council Tax for the first time or paying more Council Tax. Michelle Davis said they would be mirroring the scheme they had currently, but there would be a change to the non-dependant charge and they planned to abolish a rebate, stop it for households that had over £6,000 in savings and stop backdated claims. She said if they didn’t develop their own scheme then one would be imposed upon them, they were legally required to consult residents, which they were doing from the 3rd September 2012 to the 31st October 2012. People could call the telephone centre, go to One Stop Shops, go into their nearest library, or go on the website. There were surveys available for people tonight, that they could take to a One Stop Shop or library. Michelle Davis said that once the consultation finished, there would be a report to councillors, who would be able to make adjustments, but it had to be finalised by the 31st January 2013. She told people that the proposed regulations had not gone through Parliament yet, but they still had to propose, design and implement a scheme.

A member of the public asked her to go through the list of people again.

She said pensioners in reply.

A member of the public asked about the leaflet.

She said that the proposed design of the scheme was in the leaflet and that they had to protect vulnerable people.

Brian Christian (Older Peoples Parliament) asked if they had consulted Age UK [formerly Age Concern]?

The officer said they had written to Age UK, who had responded.

Steve Preston (Community Safety) said would this include the single person discount?

Michelle Davis responded that the single person discount was not changing, this was a consultation on the benefit side [of Council Tax].

I asked how many responses had been received so far and was told they had received nearly four hundred responses. She said they planned an article in the Wirral Globe.

A member of the public asked if it would be in the Wirral News too as they don’t get the Wirral Globe?

The officer said it was only going to be the Wirral Globe.

Cllr Mitchell said he gets the Wirral Globe, but not the Wirral News.

Cllr Niblock thanked Michelle Davis and went to partner updates.

The police sergeant said that reported crime had fallen and on antisocial behaviour calls, the Archer Green Project had helped. He was pleased that hopefully it had been sorted, but they would still get problems in the open space, which was a congregating area for young people. He thanked Wirral Council. In early July over a two-week period they had received reports involving back to back garages which weren’t used on a regular basis. Although the reports came in over months, they’d released it was a one-off incident and “nothing major”.

A member of the public referred to banners outside a school saying that parking on zigzag lines was selfish and dangerous, she asked if it was an offence not only on zigzags but opposite zigzags?

The police sergeant said his colleague had more traffic experience.

The Police Community Support Officer answered that it was only enforceable if on the zigzag, unless they were blocking the driveway it was not an offence.

Paul Murphy gave an update on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service and said their target for Wirral was 13,000 Home Fire Safety Checks, to date Bromborough had had 771 free Home Fire Safety Checks, which had been free of charge. He said that there were very low numbers that hadn’t been visited, but they were prioritising high risk people, but how sustainable it was over the longer term he didn’t know. In December he said the Chair on the Merseyside Fire Authority would make budget announcements. He expected an similar cut or an even larger cut compared to last year’s £9.2 million. Working with Wirral Council they were targeting their resources and he reported a reduction in deliberate secondary fires, mostly down to the poor weather and interventions with young people.

Paul Murphy continued by talking about their bonfire plan, how private firms were on board with rubbish removal, the community safety partnership and how they would be working with Wirral Council to prevent bonfire material building up. He said it was a very safe forum area, with two accidental dwelling fires over the past three months and a reduction in deliberate secondary fires to about twenty-eight. On road traffic collisions, they had attended three in the past three months, with the ones the Fire Service attended involving people who needed to be removed from cars.

George Thomas said he had asked a question at the last Area Forum he couldn’t answer, but since then he had made a Freedom of Information Act request about the money generated as income through groups using Wirral’s fire stations. He said it had been £25,000 over two years and £15,000 last year. George Thomas said that it was unfair that they could use the premises with not paying rent or utility bills.

Cllr Niblock said it was easier if he answered, he said in November [2012] they would know how bad the cuts would be, but nothing would be debated until they knew the figure, the Metropolitan Authorities were getting the highest cuts, whereas Cheshire had a three percent increase. He said the cuts were back loaded which could be even more horrendous, but that community groups could [currently] use the stations free of charge.

George Thomas responded.

Cllr Niblock said he can’t preempt the decision and the budget [for 2013/2014] would be set in February [2013] which may result in the closure of fire stations.

A member of the public asked what the number was to ring for reporting rubbish?

Paul Murphy replied that it was also the number for Home Fire Safety Checks if they know somebody vulnerable and was 0800 731 5958. He said people could call about the rubbish removal from the 22nd October and they would be working with their Council partners.

Jim Thompson said that Wirral was a safe place and antisocial behaviour was falling and that Cllr Harney had pointed out that the community safety team was a joint agency, the One Stop Shop for community safety, on burglaries there were less than a thousand across the Borough, but they were planning ahead for Bonfire Night.

A member of the public said Bonfire Night had been much quieter last year.

Community Safety answered that 65 tons of rubbish had been removed.

Brian Christian (Older Peoples Parliament) said he didn’t want to rub salt in the wound, but they had applied to the Area Forums to two part-time outreach workers and that it was a shame it hadn’t happened, he said it was more important now but that if the Council wouldn’t listen to a single voice, they would listen to over two thousand people. He referred to an event in February 2013 about safeguarding across all ages, which would involve plays through the schools and that it wasn’t just about elderly people living on their own.

Cllr Niblock asked if there were any questions?

Someone said they worked in the leisure services and in the 1980s there had been the same problem, so they had put the prices up at Christmas, so they would get three months of income before the end of the financial year.

Cllr Niblock asked Arthur if he would care to suggest it on the form?

He said he had sent the form in, but it was only a thought.

Cllr Niblock said the date of the next Forum would be Wednesday 6th February 2013 and people would be notified of the venue. He thanked people for their attendance.