For anyone inconvenienced by the phone system 'outage' at the council offices in Margate yesterday, you have my apologies. The fault, I'm told lay with a damaged fibre-optic cable, somewhere near Paddock Wood and the service provider, Global Crossing, discovered that not only TDC but many other clients were abruptly taken 'off the air' as a consequence.
Whether this was the common result of an enthusiastic JCB driver digging a large hole or an equally large rodent with a taste for plastic, I don't know, but normal service should, I'm told, be resumed by 9:00 am this morning!
This evening, we have a Cabinet meeting which will present a number of new properties for potential inclusion on the council's asset disposal register. I was struck by local newspaper coverage that in the light of Gordon Brown's speech to the TUC, this week, fails to grasp why this is happening around the country at large.
Simply stated, Government has told local councils, (as I've written before), that with community support budgets from central Government slashed, if they are to raise money to deliver services, rather than raise council taxes, they must sell assets, land, properties, anything that can raise money. It's as simple as this and on a par with the latest adverts on television encouraging cash-strapped viewers to find 'Old Gold' in their homes and send it away in an envelope for cash in return. So while councils are being censured by the local papers for selling assets I would like to encourage readers to imagine what the council services landscape will look like over the next five years in they don't, as much as Gordon Brown tries to play down the harsh impact of his speech to the Trade Unions.
With Thanet Council working vigorously to improve housing stock and availability and particularly in target areas of deprivation such as Cliftonville West and Margate Central (see my earlier Blog on the subject) another measure that readers may not be aware of from the news, is that Government funding for restoring empty homes to use and improving the standard of private sector (privately rented and owner occupied) housing is to be reduced by 20 per cent for 2010/11 from £376 million to £301 million.
The South East England Councils (SEEC) reports that this funding reduction contradicts the findings of a recent Audit Commission report, 'Building Better Lives', which concluded that public expenditure was more effectively targeted on improving existing housing stock than building new homes. However, the Commission found that councils felt pressured into focusing on building brand new housing rather than improve existing stock. 94%of councils have prioritised new and/or affordable housing targets through their local area agreements, but fewer than a third prioritised targets relating to their existing housing stock. This is despite the financial savings, environmental improvements and social benefits of doing so
Key findings in the same report showed that:
- Spending between £2,000 and £20,000 on adaptations that enable an elderly person to remain in their own home can save £6,000 per year in care costs.
- If only five per cent of empty homes could be brought back into use, councils could cut their annual homelessness costs by £500 million
Details are still awaited on how the funding cuts for private sector housing stock will feed through to regional budgets. However, if the reduction of around 20 per cent was to be applied across the board, with all regions being affected equally, the existing South East allocation would fall from £30 million to around £24 million.
In summary then, the cuts that the Prime Minister referred to are already taking pace but many of these are invisible to the public and the consequences won't be felt for some months yet. In some ways it's reminiscent of exploring how many small, paper-like cuts a man can take, before he shows outward signs of bleeding to death.