Success as council reviews housing sell-off policy

Liberal Democrats have welcomed a change in heart by Southwark’s Labour administration which could see an end to the sale of all council homes worth under £500,000.

All council properties valued at more than £300,000 are currently considered for sale when they become empty. However a Cabinet paper next week could see this minimum value threshold pushed up to £500,000, meaning that homes priced beneath that amount will be safe from sale.

The rise in the sale price threshold was a central part of Southwark Liberal Democrats’ recent local elections campaign in May, with Lib Dem councillors consistently arguing that the sale price threshold should be raised to £500,000.

The proposal to change the policy marks a notable shift in the Labour administration’s approach to council housing, after they had previously argued that selling-off lower value homes was necessary. On taking office in 2010, one of the first decisions of the Labour administration was to reduce the threshold down from the previous amount of £400,000 to ensure more homes could be sold-off.

Speaking at Council Assembly last week (Wednesday 16 July), Southwark Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Anood Al-Samerai thanked the council leader for reviewing the policy. She also asked if he would consider another Liberal Democrat policy of allowing residents to fix up council homes in exchange for a reduction in rents, instead of homes in need of repair being sold at auction.

The proposed change to the sales threshold value will be agreed at a council Cabinet meeting today.

Commenting, Southwark Liberal Democrats’ housing spokesperson Hamish McCallum said:

“I welcome the change of heart by Labour on this issue. For a long time, Southwark Liberal Democrats have pushed for an end to homes at the lower end of the market being sold-off, given the huge and growing demand for council homes in the borough.”

“I hope Labour will also consider some of our other ideas on housing, such as allowing residents to fix up empty council homes for a reduction in rent, and investing in new homes through the council’s pension fund.”

More Poor Southwark Uni Kids

London and Southwark have seen a dramatic increase in the number and proportion of our poor children going onto university.

At 63% of young people from the poorest families going onto university this is a higher proportion than children from wealthier families in all other parts of the country.

Well done to all those schools, teachers, staff, governors, parents and of course the hard working children. And despite pessimists the tuition fee changes have not deterred this incredible change.

Southwark Council Fraud

Southwark Council officers have won a number of awards for cracking down on fraud. It’s been a long journey over many years working well with the Police, fraud specialists and supported by all councillors to get serious about fraud.

Reactive fraud work for the last financial year resulted in 290 sanctions around council rented properties – recovered tenancies, benefits sanctions, etc. Another 151 properties were recovered. But the National Fraud Authority estimates 4% of Southwark’s 45,000 tenanted properties will be done so fraudulently – that’s 1,800 properties. So we clearly still have a huge problem to solve. This would make a huge dent in our council housing list.

This technique has also seen:

1. 434 blue badges and concessionary passes cancelled

2. £0.7M of housing benefit overpayment identified

3. 619 housing application cancelled

4. 1,988 singles person council tax discount wrongly claimed

Proactive anti-fraud work. 20% of new applications to join the housing waiting list are now being rejected as a result of data matching and identity checking. 12% of those already on the list about to be offered a property are being found out as not meeting the criteria. Sadly this data matching hash;t been applied to all those on the waiting list. This would remove 12% immediately and make it much clearer who should be on the list. I’ll continue to push for this.

What next?

We need to apply these techniques to school place applications to ensure confidence in the system.

Prodding for voter registration – nudging people to register to vote.

What other council areas do you think needs extra anti-fraud scrutiny?

 

Southwark Says Economy On The Up

Southwark Council has to record all the risks it is at risk from.

The latest report from Southwark Council officers to the Audit & Governance Committee I sit on stated that risk from the economy have dropped from 8% to 6%. That’s a big drop and good news of how council officers responsible dispassionately for judging risks now see the economy seriously picking up.

Pot Hole Chaos

During 2013/14 the number of people making claims against Southwark Council for damage caused to them by using Southwark Highways rocketed from 233 claims in 2012/13 to 299 in 2013/14. A huge 28% increase.

Sadly this isn’t an aberration. 2011/12 to 2012/13 it also increase from 187 to 233 claims. Another 25% increase.

This will be a lot of personal injuries and damage to property.

pot holeI’ve asked council officials what their plans are to reverse this worrying and dramatic trend.

Have you been injured by using Southwark’s roads?

Southwark Businesses Owed £39M

Reviewing Southwark’s draft 13/14 accounts (page 138) they show a financial provision estimating that Southwark businesses with appeals against the Business Rates (NNDR) are expected to win £39M !

30% of this will come from Southwark Council and 70% from the Great London Authority and the Government. This is a result of the pickle of the Business Rates review in 2005.

The backlog created by appeal in 2005 is taking a very long time to resolve. Amazingly businesses typically have been waiting 8-9 years for their appeal with the Valuation Office Agency to be decided. It really is not clear when this huge backlog damaging Southwark businesses will be cleared.

Think how many extra jobs could be created if those businesses had that money sooner rather than later.

So at Southwark Councils Audit & Governance committee on Monday evening I asked, and the committee agreed, that we invite the VOA to attend our next meeting in September to explain how they will fix this and what Southwark Council can do to help resolve this.

Night Flying Fence Sitting

Today the governments Dept for Transport announced effectively a non-decision on night flights.

They’ve extended the current regime by three years keeping the terribly life destroying night flight regime in place. Evidence has shown the detrimental costs of hundred of thousands of disturbed nights sleep far out way the tiny benefit of continuing to allow night flights into Heathrow. The excuse of doing this fence sitting has been given of waiting for the Airports Commission to produce its report. But banning night flights would have made the landscape clearer for this commission. It’s clear that the agenda still includes the possibility of more night flights.

The joys of coalition governments where one political party, the conservatives, heads have been turned by the airline industry. Thankfully the Lib Dems in government have at least ensured things haven’t been made worse.

Please do join HACAN (Heathrow Action Campaign Against Noise) to fight against the insanity of night flights.

Thank Christ!

Today the official church of English state, the Church of England, caught up with the 21st century – it agreed to allow women bishops.

Well done to Justin Welby for patiently workin to make this happen. Long long overdue.

We’ve now caught up with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the US anglican communion.

Why is this so important – the Church of England is the state church. It shouldnt be but it is. To have a state church until today discriminating against women was at best embarassing..

 

106 Lordship Lane

Lots of building work had been taking place at 106 Lordship Lane. Residents were concerned that another attempt was being to turn it into a restaurant but on the sly.

So I and my ward colleague Cllr Rosie Shimell called-on the planning application to be decided by a Planning Committee to ensure the best possible scrutiny.

So it was a pleasant surprise to be on that Planning Committee.

It was even more of a pleasure to hear from both the objectors and proposers of the scheme. The proposer clearly felt bad about the fear that had been caused and agreed to obscured glass at the new rear windows and doors. The residents appears pleased that this had been agreed.

Fingers crossed this all works out well. I thought everyone at the Planning Committee had been really focused on getting the best possible result for all concerned.

My first Planning Committee attendance since being re elected and it was a real pleasure.

Dr Sharma Mess

Dr Sharma is retiring . A perfectly natural event. Good luck to him – thank you Dr.Sharma for serving our community so well.

But NHS England (London) have decided not to allow a new doctor to take over. They’ve decided the area has plenty of spar capacity and all the patients can move to alternate practices. Practices that patients can;t get seen at already.

This truly is a bizarre stupid decision by NHS England (London).

When patients and staff said they would hold a demonstration NHS England (London) effectively said ‘so what’. The caring face of the NHS!

If ever a stupid bureaucratic decision screams for GP patients to come with budget with patients able to decide where to take that budget…. The system should be patient led not faceless bureaucrat led who haven’t a clue about local decisions.

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