Library Battle Is Not Over, Despite ECC Agreement to Cough up £10,000

Stansted Labour Party warns that the fight to save the community’s local library is not over after Essex County Council agreed this week to pay £10,000 towards rent of the Stansted Exchange and foot the bill for the refit of the library.

Essex County Council had agreed to rent the library space in the £1.2 million building at a rent of £13,000 per annum plus a contribution to running costs. However, just days before the lease was due to be signed, ECC launched a library strategy consultation that put the library in the Tier 4 category, scheduling it for closure. The new multi-purpose building, which includes parish offices, opens next month after years of work, during which ECC committed to supporting the project.

Stansted Labour spokesman Daniel Brett, who is a member of the parish’s library working group that prepared Stansted’s response to the consultation, said: “The parish council was forced to hike its precept by around 10 percent to cover a shortfall that was mostly related to the uncertainty over the lease. It would have been better for residents if ECC could have listened to parish protests months ago so that the parish did not have to resort to raise taxes.

“The offer of £10,000 falls short of the annual rent expected and seems like the ECC is trying to squirm its way out of potential legal difficulty. It also suggests that Essex only plans to rent the space for nine months, potentially withdrawing the service in January next year. We have been handed a small amount of extra time to respond to the consultation outcome due in June, should alternative plans have to be made for the library.

“Labour supports the parish council’s position that there is firm evidence Stansted library has been wrongly classified and, based on past usage, local deprivation and rural isolation, it should be re-categorised as Tier 2 and kept open and properly staffed. We believe no libraries in Essex should face a withdrawal of services and the county council should honour its statutory responsibility to maintain a comprehensive library service.

“If Stansted and Thaxted libraries are closed, Labour will urge Uttlesford district council to step in and pay for the rent – totalling £20,000 across both libraries – and the cost of librarian staff to cover the opening hours as well as creating user groups. This could cost up to £50,000 per annum and is well within the means of UDC’s Communities and Partnerships budget.”

 

Uttlesford Tories Chasing Prestige Projects at the Expense of Community Sports

Uttlesford should help local football clubs get league promotion

Uttlesford District Council is plunging vast amounts of money into prestige projects in the Saffron Walden area at the expense of other parts of the district, said Stansted South and Birchanger Labour district candidate Daniel Brett following the authority’s annual budget.

The council rejected proposals by Stansted district councillor Geoffrey Sell to reallocate £500,000 of proposed spending on a running track at Carver Barracks to a new reserve for community infrastructure including sport provision.

At the full council meeting, Daniel Brett said: “Stansted football club is set to win the Essex Senior League, but to be promoted it needs to invest to meet the requirements for pitch and facilities, which it shares with the cricket club at Hargrave Park in Stansted. It was not promoted in 2010 because it failed to meet the requirements. It is unfair that vast resources are allocated to Saffron Walden while successful community sports groups in the south of the district need funding to grow and improve.”

After the meeting, he said: “I am disappointed that the Conservative administration rejected the motion and seems fixated on putting a lot of money into projects in the north of the district. Even some Saffron Walden councillors noted that community sports groups in their wards did not support the expensive running track, which still lacks clarity and certainty.

“Labour believes that community sports groups are fundamental to boosting participation in sport for people of all ages. We want to spread expenditure across a range of facilities, helping to improve facilities at community sports clubs in order to benefit the most amount of people. We believe it is only fair that successful community sports clubs get a share of funding.”

Uttlesford is Staring Down the Barrel of a Gun with Risky Investments

Chesterford Research Park, as seen from outer-space

Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for a complete rethink of the investment strategy, warning that Uttlesford is taking major risks by seeking to raise £100 million in debt without any comprehensive investment strategy.

Speaking at the full council meeting on Thursday, spokesman Daniel Brett said: “The investment programme lacks a coherent strategy, ignores emerging risks, has no professional asset manager oversight and is focused on one asset – the Chesterford Research Park – which is in one niche sector and in one ward in the far north of the district.”

Uttlesford agreed to go ahead with borrowing £100 million in addition to the £50 million already borrowed for the CRP investment, backed by the Tories and three R4U councillors. It will also set up an investment committee comprised of councillors to consider how to spend the money.

Speaking after the meeting, Daniel Brett said: “We have to acknowledge that the council is forced to borrow to invest due to massive cuts in local government spending by the Tory government. The council is staring down the barrel of a gun because it is trying to be an investment manager without professional expertise.

“A fat round number has been plucked from the air with some vague aspirations determined by amateurs in the council with no idea of what return they are seeking or how they will achieve it. Uttlesford Tories are determined to allocate most of the investment to the CRP regardless of risk – Brexit in the short-term, over-supply of research park property in the medium-term and the long-term economic cycle.

“Labour believes an investment strategy, drawn up by professional asset managers, is crucial. We believe in spreading risk across a range of asset classes with varying risk exposure, including fixed income, funds managed by external asset managers and venture capital. There are far more investment targets that are worthy of consideration in Uttlesford, particularly as we have an international multi-modal transport hub in Stansted that the council fails to capitalise on.

“Ultimately, we believe Uttlesford should approach other councils in Essex to build a £1 billion sovereign wealth fund which would have more financial muscle and can afford the asset management expertise to deliver higher returns with risks properly hedged.”

Labour Backs Cross-Party Campaign Against Library Closures

Saffron Walden Labour Party supported the demonstration outside Saffron Walden Library on 2 February, alongside the Liberal Democrats and the Residents for Uttlesford parties.

Saffron Walden town spokesperson Simon Trimnell said: “The Labour Party will always be open to working with others to defend our hard-won public services from attack. Opposition parties in Uttlesford are united in opposing these Tory cuts. The Labour party will continue to fight ideologically motivated austerity at all levels of government. It is a sad day when politicians working together a cross party lines for the common good is viewed as a source of suspicion.

“We support keeping all libraries open as a community resource for the young, the old, the poor and needy from the lonely pensioner seeking some relief to the parents with children who want to open their children’s’ minds through reading.”

Research based on freedom of information requests by the local Labour Party shows that libraries that have sustained cuts in opening hours and book stock have seen large decreases in usage and loans.

Until 2011, loans and active membership remained stable. In 2011/12, there was a 14% cut in opening hours across the county’s library service, which led to a 19% drop in book loans over the following two years. In 2014-16, the number of books held by Essex libraries was cut by 11% and this led to a similar decline in library loans and membership.

Libraries that did not see cuts in hours and book stock saw no decline and, in some cases, witnessed growth in use in recent years. In Great Dunmow, which saw the opening of a new library building in the centre of town, the number of active users rose 48% to 4,319 between 2008/09 and 2017/18. Over the same period, opening hours increased from 29 hours per week to 50 hours per week and the book stock increased by 4%. Yet, despite its success, Dunmow’s library is seeing its hours cut as it is downgraded to a Tier 2 library.

At Saffron Walden library, hours were cut by 21% from 61 to 48 hours per week with the popular Sunday opening times ended and earlier closing times during the week. Loans fell by the same amount over the following two years.

Saffron Walden Labour Party believes that further cuts to Saffron Walden town library’s opening hours will lead to a downward spiral of cuts with potential closure in 2024, when Essex County Council says that most of the libraries not closed this year will be moved to shared accommodation. The Corn Exchange could be sold off by the council and turned into yet another chain restaurant.

Click here to complete Essex County Council’s library survey.

Chesterford Research Park: Brexit Risk Threatens Council Finances

Saffron Walden Labour Party has questioned the wisdom of Uttlesford district council’s finance chiefs in committing £47 million of debt towards an investment in the Chesterford Research Park (CRP), via the council-owned subsidiary Aspire (CRP). They are neither spreading risk nor considering the effects of Brexit on the biotech and pharma sectors.

Labour warns that if the CRP starts losing tenants due to economic problems in these sectors, it will put in jeopardy the council’s long-term finances as well as the plans for the North Uttlesford Garden Village, which forms a crucial part of the proposed local development plan.

The annual directors’ report filed at Companies House in early September stated that “once the country has got past March 2019, the likelihood of new tenants coming to the park, with some requiring new buildings, will significantly increase.”

Following a fact-finding meeting between Saffron Walden Labour Party representatives and UDC cabinet member for finance Cllr Simon Howell and UDC finance officer Adrian Webb, who also serves as executive director of Aspire, party spokesman Daniel Brett said: “Uttlesford is wrong to have all its investment risk linked to one asset in one sector and we are extremely worried that their future plans seem to be more of the same initially, rather than spreading risk.

“UDC is basing its investment policy on a blind faith that everything will be alright in the end. It is incredible that UDC have, in the Companies House filings, reached completely the opposite conclusion to the conclusions of a report published in May by parliament’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee on Brexit risks to the pharmaceutical industry. The committee concluded that the UK may become a less attractive place to launch new medicines, particularly with regulatory divergence, and found that ‘any small gains would be hugely outweighed by additional costs or the loss of access to existing successful markets.’

“There is a very real risk that businesses will quit the CRP, potentially leaving the council with a large hole in its finances and sending its plans for the North Uttlesford Garden Village into chaos. We were told that the average remaining length of tenancy is eight years, but we are concerned that some of the larger tenants approaching the end of their tenancies may plan to quit for Europe or other research clusters.

“There are also specific risks to CRP. It is likely to lose business to nearby Hinxton, where companies are likely to cluster around an expanded Wellcome Genome Campus. Unlike Hinxton, the park remains outside the proposed Oxford-Cambridge technology arc with Uttlesford excluded from potential infrastructural benefits.

“Astonishingly, the council is not only wedded to investing everything in CRP, it is considering buying Aviva’s 50 percent share and expanding the park in the future. This will involve more council debt committed to an increasingly risky investment. If Aspire starts to struggle with interest payments, the council will have to deplete its reserves and cut local services.

“Even if the risks were totally mitigated, Uttlesford has placed all its eggs in one basket and opted for a low return asset. The council could have achieved higher returns in other sectors. It continues to ignore the tremendous commercial opportunities offered by Stansted Airport.”

UDC decided three years ago to set up a subsidiary, Aspire (CRP), and loan it money to acquire a 50 percent stake in the CRP. The funds were raised by council borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) and other lenders at a low interest. Aspire would then repay the interest on the loan to UDC at a rate of 4% over the 40-year period of the loan, plus any dividends. The differential between the interest rate paid by the council and by Aspire is being used to plug the £2.5 million funding gap caused by the end of central government core funding and cuts in the council’s New Homes Bonus.

Kemi Badenoch’s crime campaign has failed; it’s time to reverse Tory cuts

Kemi Badenoch’s ‘Report It’ campaign to encourage crime reporting to the police to secure more police resources has failed due to her own party’s austerity measures, says Saffron Walden Labour Party.

The local party is demanding a complete reversal of Tory cuts in police staffing numbers over the past seven years and an increase in police pay to tackle the crime wave that is hitting Uttlesford.

Saffron Walden Labour’s statistical survey, based on freedom of information requests and public sources, finds that since 2010 crime in Uttlesford has doubled. Crimes per 1,000 people have risen from 35% of the rate in Harlow district to 70% since 2010. Unless the tide is turned, within five years Uttlesford’s crime rate will be the same as Harlow. Between 2010 and 2017, Essex Police has cut one in six police officers – 567 officers – to 3,000.

The police inform us that across the whole of Uttlesford and Braintree there is a specific allocation of just nine officers: five to local policing teams and four to community policing teams. We have been told there would be an allocation of an additional nine staff for Braintree/Uttlesford, “managed in accordance with operational need.” Based on shift rotation, this means an average of six police officers allocated to an area the size of London and a population the size of Swansea.

Saffron Walden Labour also highlights the real terms cuts in police pay that are adding to demoralisation of the police, who are not allowed to take industrial action, and undermining police staff retention rates. After accounting for inflation, the starting wage for police in Essex fell by £2,306 per annum between 2010 and 2017 – that’s a 10.2% cut. At the same time, housing costs have soared and there are not enough houses for key workers to accommodate them.

Unless the police have a significant pay increase, Essex Police cannot hope to retain them and boost the skills the police need to fight crime.

Labour’s Saffron Walden town spokesperson Simon Trimnell said: “Ram raids are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the effects of Tory cuts on policing in our area. The police are already over-stretched and will now be under pressure to catch these criminals, who are taking advantage of an under-policed affluent area. This will divert resources from other crimes, such as house burglaries.

“No-one is saying crimes would not happen under another government, but Kemi Badenoch should admit that Uttlesford’s lower level of policing due to Tory cuts has coincided with a rise in crime. She should also admit her ‘Report It’ campaign launched last year for a larger slice of resources has failed because cuts have reduced the amount available.

“We want to return to the numbers of police we had before the Tories came to power in 2010. We need to give them a pay rise and decent pensions that reward long service to help keep them in the force, build skills and reduce crime.”

Civilised society should be embarrassed by Britain’s social care system – leading economist tells Thaxted Labour meeting

Report on the talk by Dame Kate Barker – former government adviser on housing and health care and ex-member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee – at the Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party All-Member Meeting, Thaxted 13 September 2018

Kate Barker began her talk by quoting a recent survey which found that 50% of people in England believe that social care, like most NHS services, is free. In fact it is actually means-tested. Many people therefore only discover the reality of the costs involved when the need for social care impacts on themselves and their families. However, although the demand for social care is growing in our society, with people living longer but developing longer-term health issues including dementia, governments of all parties have failed to create and fund the policies needed to address the issues adequately.

In 2014 Dame Kate produced a report for the King’s Fund think-tank entitled: ‘A new settlement for Health and Social Care.’ It made a number of recommendations, including the need for adequate funding, as well as integrating health care and social care in order to deliver coordinated services and rationalise the funding of the whole offering.

The main recommendations have not so far been taken up by government, and health care continues to be delivered through a centrally-funded NHS, while social care costs are borne by local authorities. This produces startling anomalies, whereby for instance treatment and care for cancer patients is correctly seen as an entitlement, while care for dementia most often has to be paid for by individuals and families when local authority funding falls short. NHS funding is ring-fenced, while social care funding is not. The organisations are separate and generally have different workforces.

When the NHS was established after World War 2, social care was less of an issue as people didn’t live as long as now, and ageing relatives tended to be cared for at home by younger female relatives. The NHS still tends to be regarded as unassailable, and issues around its funding and operation all too often deflect attention from the problems surrounding social care and the resources needed there.

The King’s Fund report panel listened to many ‘experts by experience’ – many of them people who had social care needs which were not being adequately met. Their testimony was often moving and pointed to systemic failings in delivery and its funding. During a discussion session at the meeting, several Labour members described situations within their own families which reflected the same problems of accessing and funding adequate care for their relatives, and the need to raise funds from family assets to cover care.

So the needs and the problems are stark, and this is coming home to people all the time throughout the country. And yet government still fails to grasp the social care nettle, despite pledges made during election campaigns.

Following the 2015 general election, the Government postponed for an uncertain period the implementation of the report commissioned from Sir Andrew Dilnot, which recommended protecting families from catastrophic social care costs (above £72,000). To fund the better care recommended in the King’s Fund report would cost at least £3bn annually now, rising to an estimated £5bn by 2025.

Kate Barker said: “The worrying aspect of the present debate is the focus on helping those who have some financial resources, rather than on extending care to those with limited resources whose needs are not being met – Age UK estimate these number 1.2 million.

“A civilised society should be embarrassed about this and prepared to share the burden of risk in social care as we do in health.  In addition, cuts in local authority funding has led to those in more deprived areas being less likely to receive support.”

She went on: “There is a stark divide between those with their own assets, and those with none, which the government is failing to address. In addition, local authorities, faced with the need to fund social care for the elderly in particular, have often been compelled to respond by cutting back on services for younger people, including those with housing, social and mental care needs.”

Over recent years a number of reports have put forward concrete proposals, including making pathways to care clearer, ensuring people can easily access information about entitlement, issuing personal care budgets to fund people’s needs, and free social care for those with the most critical needs.

The possibilities of compensating for social care funding by charging for some NHS services have not been taken up, even though this already applies to areas such as prescriptions, dental care and vision care.

Changes to taxation and National Insurance could also raise funds for social care, but are seen as no-go areas by a Government determined to keep taxation low to appeal to its electorate. In addition we already need to fund the promises to the NHS, which often succeeds in shouting more loudly than social care. But with the numbers over 85 requiring round-the-clock care expected to double by 2035, effective action must not be postponed again and the Green Paper due out this autumn must be a full response to the social care crisis.

Call for Overhaul of Residents’ Parking in Saffron Walden

Road safety and congestion are being made worse due to the expansion of residents’ parking in Saffron Walden, prompting local Labour activist Simon Trimnell to call for a review.

Simon Trimnell has pointed to residents parking in Catons Lane as an area of concern with parents voicing increasing alarm at parking problems as they drop their children off to school.

Said Simon, “I have spoken with parents with children at St Mary’s school who have called Little Walden Road a death trap while the road’s residents complain that it has caused parking problems as cars are displaced by residents parking on Catons Lane.

“More parking along Little Walden Road is disrupting sight lines for drivers as they turn onto the road, so they have to pull right out into a busy road with fast traffic. They have already seen one accident that they claim is caused by this problem. It’s also a road used by school children cross from Pound Walk to St Mary’s and it’s very difficult for parents to see around the parked vehicles.

“There needs to be a complete review of parking in Saffron Walden so that the needs of residents and visitors are met and our roads are safe. If residents parking is not working, then a better long-term solution should be found. Imposing a parking tax on some roads and displacing cars onto others is not working.”

Under-45s are Turning to Labour Due to Tory Failure – Labour Housing Spokesman Tells Local Meeting

John Healey in Mountfitchet estate, Stansted, with local Labour Party members

Labour’s Party’s Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey attacked Tory policies for failing to build enough social housing for local people during a visit to Saffron Walden constituency on Thursday (12 July). With the number of households on Uttlesford’s council house waiting list approaching 1,000, he said Uttlesford District Council “should deal with those at risk of being made homeless, because it offends people no matter how they vote that we have people without homes, particularly children.”

After meeting residents on the Mountfitchet estate in Stansted, Mr Healey told a packed local Labour party meeting, “The average monthly rent in this area is over £1,000, yet the average full-time weekly wage is under £500. No wonder that people with no family wealth behind them are struggling. No wonder that young people who grow up here and want to stay here simply can’t afford to either rent or to buy.

“The Tory record on housing is one reason why they did so badly in the last general election. Since they got into government, home ownership has declined to a 30 year low with a million fewer under-45s owning their own home than in 2010. No wonder so many under-45s turned against the Tories and switched to Labour at the last election.

“It’s Conservative ideology as much as Conservative policy that is failing to produce the answers that are needed. It’s only Labour that can come up with the ideas and the alternatives, the programme of action that’s going to be needed to help solve the housing crisis.

“For private renters, the situation is urgent. There’s 1.3 million households with families trying to raise children in houses in which they could be kicked out with less than two months without having breached the terms of their tenancy. This is the single biggest cause of homelessness.”

In addition to Labour’s national housing policies to freeze right-to-buy and support massive investment in council housing, Saffron Walden Labour Party is calling for realistic policies at Uttlesford District Council:

  • Create a voluntary landlords’ register so that private renters can choose to rent their homes from responsible landlords.
  • Establish a private tenants’ association to give private renters a voice and the ability to collectively organise for better conditions
  • Set up a landlords’ co-operative so that landlords can avoid the high charges from private lettings agencies and tenants can get a fairer deal. Uttlesford District Council should also establish a not-for-profit lettings agency.
  • 60% of housing in new garden communities in the local plan should be genuinely affordable by indexing them to average local wages, with council housing making up half this target.
  • All affordable housing should be based on modern “zero carbon” and safety standards.
  • Viability assessments for all housing developments should be publicly available.
  • Covenants should be put on the leases of all future properties sold under Right to Buy, prohibiting leaseholders from renting them out at anything above affordable rent.
  • Set up a local commission to examine innovative debt models, such as social housing bonds, as well as Public Works Loan Board borrowing and co-investment with asset managers to invest in social housing stock under council control.

Labour believes that by adopting these policies, by 2033 the planned garden community developments alone should yield 570 new council houses in North Uttlesford, 540 in Easton Park and 290 in West of Braintree with a similar number of affordable houses with different tenures and ownership options. This would ensure that garden communities would deliver affordable housing for 2,800 households with local families given the highest priority.

Daniel Brett, Saffron Walden Labour Party housing spokesman, said: “Labour believes that strong communities are based on families. Nationally and locally, the Tories have failed to deliver. Uttlesford is now dialling down its affordable housing target for garden communities in the local plan from 60 percent to 40 percent, subject to viability assessments that could drive the numbers down further.

“Our community’s young people are being pushed out of the district due to soaring housing costs and low wages, which is breaking family and community bonds. While other parties are arguing with each other over where to put housing, only Labour is arguing the case for building communities for the many and not the few and putting forward policies that are both radical and credible.”

Uttlesford has seen a net loss of more than 60 council properties since 2010 as right-to-buy has eroded the council’s housing stock. In 2017, despite 21 new social houses being built, 16 council homes were sold and 12 were demolished – a net loss of seven council houses. The proportion of the district’s housing stock in UDC ownership has fallen from 9.0 per cent in 2009 to 7.8 per cent in 2017. The number of social houses is increasingly provided by private registered providers who often sell what is supposed to be social rented housing on the market at a profit.

Kemi Badenoch Risking Local Economy By Supporting Hardliner Tory Group

Saffron Walden Constituency Labour Party has hit out at local MP Kemi Badenoch for supporting a hard Brexit group that is causing chaos in the Tory party, disrupting the UK’s Brexit negotiations with the EU and putting local jobs in peril.

Jane Berney, Saffron Walden CLP parliamentary spokesperson, said: “The resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson have only served to highlight the utter chaos that is the Tory government’s handling of Brexit.

“Whatever you may think of Brexit, the role of the UK government is to seek the best deal for all of us, not to be side-tracked by the divisions within their own party.

“It is not just the national government that needs to be held to account, where is our MP Kemi Badenoch in all this?  We know that she is a member of the European Research Group which favours a hard Brexit: by their lack of support for Mrs May she and they are only adding to the chaos.

“The local economy is anchored by the Stansted Airport and the life sciences sector, which are all highly exposed to the EU market and depend on access. Collapse of our biggest employers will have a domino effect across the constituency, affecting small and medium sized enterprises that supply them with goods and services.

“By participating in the ERG, Ms Badenoch’s championing of hard Brexit is a pledge of economic suicide for her constituency in the pursuit of a failed ideological crusade.”