Apr 262018
 

 

St Albans Labour Councillors reject 5.8% Council Tax Hike
Labour leader Roma Mills has blasted the Tory and Lib Dem obsession with austerity that has cost St Albans millions of pounds.She says “Local residents, even in an affluent place like St Albans, can see the results of eight years of the Tory obsession with cutting public services under the guise of austerity. We see wholesale reductions in services across the public sector locally with the pulling of funding from Nascot Lawn, local libraries closing, social care in crisis, rising homelessness because of the council’s inability to house those in need and cuts to the NHS”. Next year’s cuts will mean less funding locally for important services like Home Start, Youth Talk and the Women’s Refuge. Services like grass cutting and road sweeping are at a minimal level already, and will continue to decline. The advice from the Tories is: “Do it yourself” – and if you want a new play area then crowd funding is the answer! The local Lib Dems also deplore the loss of services. However, their party put the Tories into power and supported the austerity agenda being used to destroy local government. Even Torycouncils are saying the cuts are unacceptable and that they fear going broke.

Labour believes in strong local government. Labour councillors voted against the increase in council tax in 2018/19 because residents will just be paying more for less.

 

St Albans Labour Councillors say,“ build Council Houses again”
St Albans Labour councillors won the support of all the other parties when they asked the council to lobby the government for permission to keep the money from sales and build houses again.The Labour councillors said, “We need to be able to build Council houses again if we are going to meet the needs of local people on low incomes.”Discounts of up to £78,600 are encouraging the ongoing sale of Council houses – and St Albans now has a stock of under 5,000 homes. St Albans has over 100 families in temporary accommodation. The “hidden homelessless”of people lodging with family and friends, is a reality for many local families. Soaring private rents are driving more and more people into these difficult situations.
The District Council cannot replace the homes that have been sold. They must hand the money from sales to the government and cannot borrow to invest in homes for the future. Trying to replace lost Council housing by negotiating for affordable housing in new private developments is not working-the Council has only managed to secure 6 units of social rented housing via this route since 2015.

Council officers will write to the two local MPs to ask them to put pressure on Government ministers

Apr 202018
 

I am writing to you as the CLP’s black and ethnic minorities officer.

The debate on anti-semitism in the House of Commons on 17 April 2018 has shown a deeply felt disquiet about anti-semitism and the abuse and threats that dedicated parliamentarians have experienced. Watching and hearing from those who contributed to the debate, I was left feeling unnerved that this issue hasn’t been addressed with sufficient rigour and further progress needs to be made. It is not in question that anti-semitism is intolerably prevalent generally and also that this is being addressed with commitment.

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the recommendations made in Baroness Chakrabarty’s report following her inquiry in 2016. It concluded that the party “is not overrun by anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or other forms of racism,” but has suffered from an “occasionally toxic atmosphere” and “too much clear evidence [of] ignorant attitudes”.

Baroness Chakrabarti’s report contained twenty recommendations on tackling instances of racism, These included procedural rule changes to improve the party’s disciplinary process, the adoption and publication of a complaints procedure and the appointment of a general counsel to give advice on issues including disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers.

In her interview on Today on Radio 4 this week, Baroness Chakrabarti commented that the progress with implementation has been slow and not all her recommendations made in June 2016 had been implemented. She implied to the BBC there was still a “serious problem”, nearly two years after a report that she wrote for Jeremy Corbyn urging action to address an “occasionally toxic atmosphere”. But she said  the new general secretary Jennie Formby had prioritised the issue. She added: “I think it is time to tackle some of the tropes that have been promoted on the left of politics as well as on the far-right of politics, particularly any confusion between anti-elitism and anti-Semitism. That really has to stop.”

Jewish groups, which demonstrated outside Parliament last month, have demanded urgent action – including the full implementation of the 2016 report.

All our party members should support full implementation of the 2016 report to be undertaken as a matter of priority.

Jagat Chatrath

BAME Officer

Apr 172018
 

Recent changes to immigration law in the UK, which requires people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, has highlighted a serious issue affecting long-term residents from the Commonwealth and has left many people fearful about their status to live in the UK and the right of access to, e.g, NHS care.Many long term British residents are being subjected to appalling treatment and distress. A large number of commonwealth citizens are having to contend with a lack of help and support .

This diagram shows how many people could be affected….nobody knows!! Many long term British residents are being subjected to appalling treatment and distress.  This problem has been going on for years. It is a systemic problem at the Home Office which needs to have a fundamental change in its approach to one of offering assistance to those affected and move way from detention and removal of people who have every right to stay here. A caring and well judged approach by the Home Office is needed. The immigration system should be about individuals and the default position should not be one of overly complex and bureaucratic requirements to be met. The Home Secretary is urged to review the situation urgently and take the necessary action to assist all those who are facing appalling treatment. The Home Secretary has announced yesterday a new task force to help those affected, and promised to waive fees for new documents needed to prove their status to stay in the UK. The announcement  is welcome but her commitment needs to be firm and it needs to be demonstrated in practice.

We’re going to be watching!!

Jagat Chatrath, Black and ethnic minorities officer,St Albans CLP

Apr 152018
 

Labour candidates across the City and District are campaigning against the Government’s austerity drive which has cost St Albans millions of pounds and led directly to cuts in public services and a massive hike in Council tax

Labour leader Roma Mills has blasted the Conservative and Coalition Governments’ obsession with reducing the public sector that has stripped funding from local services and left hundreds worse off.  At the Council Budget-making meeting she blamed central government dogma that has wiped away millions of pounds earmarked to help the most vulnerable,  “Back in 2010 At Albans District Council received over £7m from the government out of general taxation.  It’s been whittled down every year since and next year will amount to one big fat nothing.”

Nearly a decade of Tory and LibDem austerity is now resulting in wholesale reductions in services across the public sector with the loss of the last two rehabilitation wards at our hospital, the pulling of funding from Nascot Lawn, local libraries closing, social care in crisis, rising homelessness and ever more families depending on food banks.  We no longer have a police station in our District, our schools’ budgets are being squeezed and people are being asked to ‘crowd fund’ to renew our play areas.

That is why Roma and her Labour colleagues voted against the Council’s budget and the inflation-busting increase in Council tax.  People are being askd to pay more for less.  A vote for Labour on 3 May will send a powerful message to Government that we have had enough.

 

Mar 232018
 

In the District Council elections on 3rd May, you have the chance to show  what you think of the state of public services, and the need for change, by voting for the only party that can form an alternative government.

If you live in Batchwood and Marshalswick North wards, you can do that twice as there is a County Council by-election for St Albans North on the same day.

Mar 022018
 

Addressing disparities and equality gaps in St Albans
The feature is based on the Council’s response to my enquiries.The Race Disparity Audit Report published by the government last year
recognised that:
“There are disparities between ethnic groups in all areas of life affected by public organisations.Some are more pronounced than others or have a greater impact on people’s life chances and quality of life. In some areas, disparities are reducing, while in others they are static or increasing.”
In November 2017, St Albans City and District Council launched its Inclusion Strategy for 2017 -2020. Its aim is to build an inclusive community where everyone has the opportunity and support to take part in and contribute to community life. The Council in its strategy recognises that some people and communities may require additional support to reach their full potential and participate in community life.Within its strategy, the Council has identified current priority areas for inclusion as Age, Disability, Race,Religion and Belief. By targeting its resources in these areas, its aim is to work to reduce the equalities gap.Examples of some key actions that relate to these priority areas are as follows:
– Carry out detailed study on the current population to identify issues and challenges.
– Use findings to undertake targeted work to build community networks and engagement in each area to help support specific needs identified e.g. youth provision, isolated elderly and black and minority ethnic groups.
– Monitor delivery of services against all protected characteristics and target resources where gaps are identified with the aim to help ensure that inequalities do not arise and to respond to the changing needs of our community.

The Council needs first to understand the specific challenges faced by communities locally.The key objectives identified in the Delivery Plan for 2018 are:
– To understand our communities, the needs and concerns of local people, and respond to them.
– To involve local people in decision making to ensure an active democracy.
– To encourage and empower all local people to become involved in community projects and play an active role in community life.
– To ensure access to information and feedback for local people
and organisations.
Questions & Answers
I set out below some specific questions that I posed to the Council and their feedback.
Q. How is implementation of the plan going so far?
A. “We are on track with the Inclusion Strategy delivery plan. Our Community Grants programme has successfully funded a number of projects to support the priority areas identified in the strategy. These include:
• a project at St Nicholas Church in Harpenden, to bring people from different communities together;
• Herts Practical Parenting Programme who are providing a specialist project aimed at supporting BAME families in the district.
• Internally we are implementing Equalities training for elected Members as well as officers. This will ensure that the principles and practices of inclusion are embedded across the work of the Council.”
Q. What linkages are likely with the Council’s wider Local Plan in terms of “community facilities” for meeting BAME communities needs?
A. “The first consultation on the local plan is open until 21st February. There are 14 points across the district where residents can view the local plan exhibition and comments are welcomed online as well as via email and post. The plan can be made available in different languages as well as accessible formats and we very much encourage all members of the community to contribute their views. In line with national policy the infrastructure will include community facilities to support the number of houses identified. We will continue to work closely with the community to identify the specific needs for facilities.”

Q. What schemes are being developed locally through engagement with employers to provide greater opportunities for paid internship mentoring, apprenticeships and volunteering specifically for BAME youngsters?
A. “The Council has a programme of graduate placements, internships and apprenticeships. We source graduates through the National Development Graduate Scheme (NDGP) and directly for some areas. We also work closely with Oaklands College and the University of
Hertfordshire to promote our apprenticeships and internships to ensure these opportunities are advertised widely to all their students as well as within the wider community. We had a number of employees going through these programme over the past two years, up to 11
candidates were from BAME backgrounds.” We are developing further volunteering at the new St Albans Museum and Gallery, which is
due to open Summer 2018. We are working with YC Hertfordshire and other local youth groups to create brand new ambassador opportunities for young people to become engaged with the museum. In particular we are targeting young people who may not have been involved with participation before, including those from BAME backgrounds.”
Q. What are the more significant emerging issues so far from work already undertaken (e.g., isolation, hate crime)?
A “Isolation is an issue for some of our residents and may be more so for those who are older, from BAME backgrounds and with disabilities/ mental health needs. We have in place specific action plan to tackle loneliness in the district. This includes commissioning projects to increase our information on services for older people and supporting community groups to expand their volunteering workforce. We will ensure these current initiatives fully reach residents from BAME backgrounds and very much welcome discussions on further proposals from BAME community groups.
Working with the police and our voluntary sector partners we have robust systems in place to respond to hate crime We monitor incidents through the Community Safety Partnership and our partners at Citizen Advice are shortly to become a Hate Crime Third Party reporting centre. As part of this initiative Council front line customer services staff are also being trained.”
Jagat Chatrath
BAME Officer, St Albans Constituency Labour Party
26 February 2018
ALL DIFFERENT – ALL EQUAL

Feb 272018
 

Labour’s alternative budget for Hertfordshire

Cllr Sharon TaylorSharon Taylor, Labour County Councillor for Stevenage Bedwell, introducing Labour’s amendment to the Tory budget for the county for 2018/9, put the blame for the cuts squarely on the Tory government. “We recognise the impossible position the council has been placed in by its own government,” she said.

“The appalling treatment of local goverrnment in successive austerity-driven budgets will go down in history as the most unprecedented and concerted attack on localism and local services this country has ever seen. £16bn of cuts between 2010 and 2020.”

She drew attention to the predicted £5.8bn gap in adult care services funding and the rising demand for child protection, leading to a gap of £2bn or more by 2020.

So, Labour could only “seek to mitigate the worst impacts on our most vulnerable residents” and to show the importance of making this a “county of opportunity for all of our younger residents”.

So, Labour proposed a fully costed amendment to redeploy some of the money available – principally money being set aside for future use – to allow the Council to:

  • Exempt those leaving care from council tax until age 25, as over 60 councils have already done.
  • Allow councillors to use their Highways Locality budget to subsidise bus services (no additional cost for the council).
  • Reverse the decision to close Cuffley Camp (see below).
  • Reverse the proposal to cut the Youth Service and Youth Connexions budget.
  • The Tory administration has just agreed to reconsider one element of their proposal to increase the charges for home care. Labour proposed withdrawing all the increases and conducting a full consultation (see below).
  • The Tories have also agreed to withdraw for one year their proposal to cut the funding for the Savercard, which allows yooung people to access education and job opportunities, as well as the wealth of cultural opportunities in the county. Labour demonstrated how this funding could be kept in place at least until 2020/1.

The proposals were rejected by the Tory-dominated council, but show how Labour could make things better, even in the impossible situation created by the government. There is more on the increase in the county’s council tax precept here

27 February 2018
Feb 272018
 

Top-down changes in how the NHS operates with the introduction of Sustainable Transformation Partnerships which have already linked  Hertfordshire with West Essex – and the heralded development of Accountable Care Organisations without any consultation or parliamentary oversight are causing concern nationally and locally.

In a move to highlight these developments Councillor Roma Mills moved amendments to a motion debated at a meeting of St Albans District Council on 21 February.  ‘It’s a great relief to know that  Professor Stephen Hawking has been granted a full judicial review of the Government’s plan to introduce Accountable Care Organisations in the UK’ Roma said   ‘As Professor Hawking has pointed out, They have not been established by statute, and they appear to be being used for reducing public expenditure, for cutting services and for allowing private companies to receive and benefit from significant sums of public money for organising and providing services.

‘We are now hearing that this new system of providing health and social care services could be introduced in Hertfordshire and West Essex in 2019.  We need to understand what is being proposed and how this will affect services for local people.  Although the Conservatives have blocked this at District level, the Labour Party will continue asking questions until we get some real answers.’

For information contact Roma Mills, 07949825026.

Wording of amendment at Full Council on 21/02/2018:

This Council:

Congratulated Professor Stephen Hawking and colleagues from the campaign group JR4NHS for securing permission to apply for a judicial review of government policy on the introduction of Accountable Care Organisations in the NHS and notes that the case will decide whether the policy is ultra vires and/or whether the Secretary of State for Health and/or NHS England have breached their duties of transparency and clarity in respect of the policy/

Seeks urgent discussion with representatives of the Hertfordshire and West Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership to clarify reports and that Partnership is proposing to establish an Accountable Care System across the whole STP footprint by a 1 April 2019. (Note the term Integrated Care System is being introduced to replace Accountable Care System.)