By Councillor Alan Baldock / Latest NewsServices / / 0 Comments

In a last-minute election dash, the Canterbury Conservatives are trying to convince us that their new waste collection idea for 2021 is going to be the “in-house” service we all want. But let’s be very clear. It won’t be. Their proposal for a Local Authority Trading Company (LATCo), wholly owned by the Council, won’t look or feel like an “in-house” service which most of us would recognise.

Empowered by the 2011 Localism Act, Councils are now able to reject outsourcing and exercise greater control over their providers, feeding profits back into the local authority. But the Conservatives’ new proposals won’t work like that. Built into the plans is a degree of “flexibility,” which will benefit the council, not its workers. Their suggested new LATCo service could impose terms and conditions upon its employees which appear considerably less favourable than those enjoyed by direct Council employees. This is not Labour making an unfounded assumption, this change is the main reason the Tories are supporting this option. It appears in the report in black and white. It is designed to save them money.

Should the LATCo proposal be set in motion, our waste collection service may well be just SERCO in disguise, run by the Council in your name. Little will change on the outside. Quite possibly you will still get your bins collected by agency staff on short term contracts, but on zero-hour contracts and paid the minimum wage, with no guaranteed hours to bring stability to their lives. Make no mistake, this is the true face of the “flexibility” which the Tories intend to use LATCo to conceal. Canterbury’s residents and workers deserve better. There is no reason that a true in-house operation cannot be equally able to accommodate the many changes ahead for waste management, but without the imposed “flexibility” of poor pay and conditions. Yet that option has already been dismissed by the local Conservatives.

Labour will be opposing this proposal on these principles, not because we are stuck in a time-warp, but because we feel strongly that CCC should be setting a better example. It should be a fair and ethical employer, not one that is prepared to set itself up deliberately to pass on the consequences of in-work poverty to the taxpayer, and to wash their hands in the tears of local families struggling to survive. I see nothing in this proposal that puts my mind at ease, nothing that sets out to create a true LATCo, if that is what they are wedded to. Such a company should be based around fair and ethical conditions of employment and one that would not create a two-tier CCC workforce serving our community.

Unbelievably the Tories seem to think that residents don’t care how their bin collection is run. Well, I can share this with them: people do care, they are communicating this to Labour every day. Residents will not support a service delivered on the back of poverty wages, poor conditions and insecure employment. Any LATCo established in the name of the people would be wise to take note.

This article first appeared in the Kentish Gazette on 14 March, 2019.

By Chris Cornell / HousingServices / / 0 Comments

Last week Councillor Alan Baldock proposed changes to next years council budget which would improve the quality and number of affordable houses locally. His calls for a new type of council were roundly ignored by both Lib Dem and Conservative councillors that voted against it. Read his speech in full to understand why fully why we need a change to our local politics.

“We have a different vision for this Council, a vision focused on the everyday lives of our proud residents in Whitstable, Herne Bay, the Villages and our shared City. It is a vision at odds with this Conservative budget, a budget grounded in Conservative ideology.

This budget funds the choices this Conservative administration have made, today we can simply highlight the consequences of those choices to our Council Tax payers and tenants.

Please indulge me – consider the budget decisions you have made over this last four years against an alternative vision.  A vision that puts the lives of residents first and foremost, I offer you three illustrative examples.

You could have chosen a £9M investment in a long-term project to deliver environmentally sound local transport improvements including interchange hubs, desperately needed cycle route improvements or a Council run hopper Bus Company.  All of those would benefit ALL our local residents young and old as well as our businesses and valued tourists – instead you committed more than £9M to a monstrous multi story carpark for the benefit of mainly commuters and in the process gifted residents a crippling debt, congestion and pollution for a generation.

Consider how many urban residents would have benefited from a step change increase in the number of on street EV chargers instead, you chose to focus on installs in car parks. A simple choice you made, one that of course, that lets those city and town centre residents – hoping to go EV they are not going to get any support locally any time soon.

The political choice of Tory austerity has driven a wave of shabbiness over so much of what residents care about, they open their door it’s there, they take the kids to school its always with them.

But it is this administrations’ choice to spend huge sums of money on paving the City Centre – why did you not even consider adjusting that project a little and spending just some of that money to make a start on refurbishing our estates, parks, streets and alleyways?   Is that not a better use of public money – to tangibly improve the everyday lives of our local residents when Tory austerity has eaten the heart from Local Government funding?

You have made the choices – to close your eyes and hope for the trickle-down economic recovery unicorn.  Our residents know that under this administration they are bottom of the pile – no money to improve the lighting in dark alleyways or to re-open and refurbish the Wincheap Park toilets just two things that change the lives of dozens of families – there are countless other examples of course – every one of us here knows that.

So you have now had a tiny glimpse of a different vision – our vision focuses on sharing across our District what little we have to directly benefit first and foremost as many residents as possible – both today and in future.

If you do support this budget, you will at least know in your heart that it does not have to be this way.  You have a choice now – You made choices over the last four years, you can reflect now at leisure on the consequences of those – the ones residents wake up to every day.

I will now set out our brief budget amendment and the background to it.

The legacy, of this administration along with its Conservative predecessors since 2005, is one that will always haunt them – they failed to fix a looming housing crisis while the sun shone. We in the Labour Party cannot and will not turn away from this unacceptable cruelty, a secure decent home is a basic need of every human being – Canterbury District is in a housing crisis – it is failing.  Your oft repeated promise of homes tomorrow is a busted flush .The Conservative failure to build council homes has created today’s perfect storm one that continues to punish the poorest in our society, as it was intended to. It is your legacy that created today’s crowded homes and insecure tenancies that blight children’s lives and made for a sea of tears that breaks my heart.

We believe that our housing crisis will not be solved with speculative purchases at market value, nor buying costly unsuitable ex-student property, instead the emphasis must be on building.  The typical cost of a well-planned and effectively delivered council house is in the order of half the market cost of an existing property purchase – making our stretched HRA money go a lot further, loan repayments more affordable with increased properties for a similar investment. To make building happen it is an uncomfortable truth that at some point promises, plans and pounds must meet.

Our plan puts this Council in the starting blocks for this race to build many more new Council homes by funding a small team, the Affordable Homes Team of two to three people, 100% focused on building Council homes – their role to assess and acquire sites, mostly council owned ones, develop plans and establish viability and seek planning permissions – finally all importantly bring together a wide range of funding options that maximise the available funding opportunities.

This budget amendment will seek to fund the Affordable Homes Team, jointly from the General Fund, nominally covering the acquisition process within the team and from the HRA Capital Budget addressing the detailed planning and finance.The General Fund contribution can be made by taking around £60K from reserves.  It would seem an acceptable use of reserves against an unarguable crisis of need, coupled to the reduced cost of homelessness in the longer term with a successful project outcome.

The contribution from the HRA Capital Fund may at first seem counter intuitive.  We are all aware that EKH are in considerable difficulty and are subject of an eighteen month £240K improvement plan, funded by tenants rent money through the HRA.That Improvement Plan, included within todays budget includes £100K to manage increasing tenant’s debts accrued by the failed Conservative Universal Credit system, but the remainder does seeks to address their poor performance in the delivery of the HRA Capital Program.

To us it seems unwise to put both an Improvement Plan in place, which will inevitable take some time to bed in and at the same time increase proposed spending on Improvement and renewals by around £2M to £6.9M – £2M more than they have ever delivered in recent years.  Better to defer £1M of work in 2019/20, reducing the total to £5.9M – deferred work being carefully prioritised, spread over several budget lines and marked for delivery in the following two years.

The money used now from the HRA account to fund the 18-month improvement program can be used to support the increase borrowing in future years to quickly and reliable deliver the outstanding work – in a hopefully much better managed by then EKH.  This deferral allows a reduction in external borrowing down to £3.5M from £4.5M offering a saving of around £60K on interest payments available now to complete the funding of the Affordable Homes Team at an estimated £120K. Overall, this solution will achieve the urgent funding needed without damaging the precarious state of the HRA accounts.

The Affordable Homes Team, funded from our budget amendment will visibly kick-start the essential council house building program – planning now for a future that at last will offer hope.  A future of rents our most vulnerable families can afford – secure homes where future generations can thrive and be proud of the place they can call home.”

By Councillor Alan Baldock / Latest News / / 0 Comments

Following the last council meeting, Simon Cook (the Conservative Leader of the Council) published an press release expressing with sadness that ‘an era of co-operation between the political groups on the city council appears to have ended’ and accusing Labour Councillors of ‘artificially creating headlines’. His statement suggested the local party were adopting a tone which mimicked parts of the country where, in his words, ‘the militant, hard-left Momentum group have undermined the work of democratically elected councils’.

Responding to these accusations, which have now mysteriously been taken off the Conservative Party website, Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Alan Baldock today discussed the need for an effective opposition, stating firmly and fairly that ‘Canterbury is a one party state no more’.

In his full statement he made clear, his belief had always been that, that “councils are run on democratic lines. Indeed, it’s the responsibility of the opposition to scrutinize the proposals of the ruling party and challenge those that are unsound and to simply roll over and co-operate is to go against the interests and views of the many thousands of electors that did not support the Conservatives at the last local election in 2015.”

He also undermined the case that what Labour was doing was ‘ a sudden shift to the left’, defending its amendments which:

  1. Proposed £50,000 be put aside for  strategic plan to improve housing in the district because step change increase in the building of new council houses. Although some limited progress has been made, Canterbury City Council still has a waiting list of 2,700 and owns 700 fewer council houses than it did in 2012, so clearly a game-changer was needed. What the Conservatives are doing here, isn’t working. The aim was to create a 10-year strategic plan, obviously dovetailing with the work already underway, but setting up the conditions to build 100 new council houses every year in that period starting in 2020.It would have been a complex plan that needed to pull together partnerships, funding and opportunities hence the necessity of setting aside project funding.
  2. Asked for a little extra funding to kick-start local community-led projects reducing single-use plastics and packaging.We felt the opportunity for 1,000 new homes by 2030, to be owned by the council, may have been further investigation. The decision was made to reject the amendment. That’s politics. Labour lost.
  3. Proposed increasing from £10,000 to £20,000 money set aside already for residential on-street electric car charging next year. That £20,000 would have been matched by a further £60,000 of government money from the national “On Street Residential Charge-Point Scheme”. It would have enabled around 20 car charging points to be installed across the district. We took on board experience from cities much further forward with this technology than we are in Kent and decided this still small number would have given a much more robust start to this great and important initiative in our district.

In a final comment Councillor Baldock reminded Councillor Cook that Labour was committed to ‘working the Conservative, by being the opposition you so desperately need. Only when failings are pointed out, can anyone – even Conservative-led Canterbury City Council – be helped to do a better job.”