Councillor Roma Mills with playground and sports equipment your Labour councillors worked to provide in Batchwood.
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
“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
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.”
BAME Officer, St Albans Constituency Labour Party
26 February 2018
ALL DIFFERENT – ALL EQUAL
Discounts of up to £78,600 are encouraging the ongoing sale of Council house – and the stock of homes in St Albans District has now reduced to under 5,000. Speaking at the meeting of the Full Council on 21 February, Labour’s Roma Mills pointed out that The District Council was not able to replace the homes that have been sold – and we now have over 100 families in temporary accommodation with many others living in overcrowded or unsuitable properties. Roma quoted the report from Inside Housing which found that in 72 councils 12,000 council houses had been sold since 2014 but only 4,309 houses have been built in the same time.
Trying to replace lost Council housing by negotiating a percentage of affordable housing on residential development sites is not working – the Council has only managed to secure 6 units of social rented housing via the planning route since 2015.
‘We need to be able to build Council houses again if we are going to meet the needs of local people on low incomes’ said Roma. The Local Government Assocation has already faced up to this and has been lobbying Government to allow Councils to borrow to build and to keep 100% of Council house sales to invest in new local homes.’
The Labour Motion was passed without objection and the Council will now be writing to the two local MPs to lobby them to put pressure on Government ministers.
For information contact Roma Mills, 07949825026.
Wording of the Resolution:
This Council supports the Local Government’s call for the Government to:
- allow Councils to set Right to Buy discounts locally and keep 100% of sale receipts to replace local homes,
- scrap the cap on the amount Councils can borrow to invest in new and existing homes,
To this end, this Council will write to the Members of Parliament for St Albans and the Hitchin and Harpenden constituencies to seek their support in securing these powers.
Residents of St Albans will be facing an increase of 5.8% in their Council Tax bills in April 2018 without seeing the benefit of new or improved services, claimed Councillor Roma Mills at the District Council meeting on 21 February. She slammed the increase in the Police and Crime Commissioner’s share of the tax when there is no longer a police station in the city – just a telephone line outside the Council offices – and residents have to go to Hatfield or Watford to report a crime in person.
Roma also commented on the County Council’s decision to raise their share of the tax by 5.9% – pointing out that while 3% is ring-fenced for social services, people are having to pay higher charges for their social care support while services continue to be cut back.
‘Council tax payers are just picking up some of the bill for the Conservative Government’s underfunding of public services’ said Roma after the meeting ‘while residents are also being asked to support crowd-funding and sponsorship to maintain local services like playgrounds. This is what austerity means in practice.’
The District Labour Group voted against the increase in Council tax for 2018/19.
For information contact Roma Mills, 07949825026.
Andrew Dixon and St Peters Labour team have called for the speed limit on Sopwell Lane and Albert Street in St Albans to be reduced to 20 miles per hour. After hearing numerous stories from local people about the dangers of speeding traffic on the streets and the frequent damage caused to parked cars, Andrew has lead a campaign to get the District and County Council to deliver safer street for residents.
Earlier this year Andrew presented a petition with 98 signatures to the joint district and county council highways committee calling on them to reduce the speed limit and protect local people. The issue will finally come up for discussion this summer and Andrew is keen to hear from all those local people who have concerns about traffic.
Responding to the demands of local people who are finding it increasingly difficult to park near their homes, the St Albans Labour Party has called on the District Council to abandon their piecemeal proposals for reform of the residents’ parking permit scheme and demanded that they conduct a full review of local needs. Branding the response from the Conservative leadership inadequate and out of touch with local people, Labour’s councillors and local community activists have said that they fear that a rare opportunity to help residents in the crowded city centre will be squandered.
“What we need, first, is a full review of the situation,” said Councillor Martin Leach, leader of the Labour group on the council. “The District Council leadership needs to take a proper look at what local residents and the community needs. They need to assess the real demand for parking space, the realistic amount of available space, the unique needs of each of the town’s areas and work out where and how more space can be created. In short, we need a long term strategic response not a half-baked scheme cobbled together withough paying attention to residents. What’s more, with the council due to begin drawing up a core strategy to guide planning over the coming decades, now is the right time to look at this. It may be many years before there is a better opportunity.”
The St Albans Labour Party has launched a campaign to increase the number of affordable homes built in the District. The campaign seeks to commit the council to return to the target, first set in 1994, of building at least 200 homes every year. There are a record 1,800 families on the waiting list for Council housing this year – a number that grew by 300 in 2o10.
The response of the Conservative leadership of the District Council to the growing crisis has been dangerously inadequate. Instead of working harder to help ordinary families in need of decent housing, they have made the decision to reduce the building target into just 100 affordable houses per year as part of their new Local Plan. It is a decision that threatens to blight the lives of families and our community for years unless they can be persuaded to change their mind.
Roma Mills scored a remarkable victory on Thursday, reclaiming the Batchwood District Council seat she lost just eighteen months ago. The bye-election victory saw local residents deliver a resounding victory for the popular local figure, she received 55 per cent of the vote thanks to a 15 per cent swing to Labour, taking votes equally from Liberal Democrat and Conservative.
The Labour councillor said that, having held the position of local councillor for more than 20 years before losing the title at the 2010 district elections, she already has a good understanding of the issues affecting the area and its residents and the needs of local people