Selasa, 05 Oktober 2010

Lib Dems scrap 'tenant tax'

Liberal Democrat ministers have today announced a major change to the way that the Government treats rents paid by people who live in council houses - including many thousands of residents in North Cornwall.

Lib Dems have long campaigned to reform the Housing Revenue Account subsidy and replace it with a fairer system. We’ve now been able to deliver on that pledge in government.

The unpopular 'Tenant Tax' will be scrapped, with local authorities being allowed to keep all council house rents and sales receipts they collect to reinvest in social housing, under plans announced today by the coalition government.

The proposal, which sees the coalition delivering on a major Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment, will result in the Housing Revenue Account subsidy being scrapped in favour of greater financial freedom for councils. Under the previous system, all council tenant rent was paid into a local housing pot, from which the government retained some of the money centrally.

The new proposals will see this Housing Revenue Account subsidy scrapped. Instead councils will be able to retain all of the money from rents and sales receipts to invest in the repair, maintenance and construction of social housing in their area.

Full details of the new system will be announced as part of the Spending Review on 20 October and will be introduced as part of the Localism Bill this autumn.

This is great news for residents of Ridgegrove, Trecarrell, Hurdon Way and Lanstephan in Launceston as well as other council tenants across Cornwall. It means that Cornwall Council will have more cash to spend on making sure their houses and community facilities are really up to scratch.

Cuts, cuts, cuts

Cornwall Council is talking about nothing but cuts at the moment. The rhetoric coming from the 4th floor at County Hall is that we will have to make £110 million of cuts over the next four years.

The last message to members from Leader Alec Robertson is that they have identified £100 million of cuts which, they claim, will not have an adverse impact on front-line services. It is only the last £10 million which will affect John and Jane Taxpayer. And so the Leader is inviting ideas from councillors across the spectrum for how to save that final £10 million.

The Council is also planning to hold four public consultation events across Cornwall next week to ask the public for their ideas. These events will be in Penzance, Saltash, St Austell and Bude. I hope that members of the public go along to them but I fear that, unless the publicity machine goes into overdrive, few people will actually know they are going on until the last minute.

The Bude event (the closest to Launceston) will be taking place from 6pm-7pm on Friday 15th October at the Parkhouse Centre. If any Launceston resident wants to attend but cannot get there, please give me a call or drop me an email (details in the 'About Me' section the right).

I do think it is interesting that the Council claims to have found £100 million of cuts already and that these will not affect frontline services. If this is true then I congratulate them. We will have to wait until the Cabinet Meeting on 27th October for any details, however, as the planned discussion on 13th October has been postponed.

Jumat, 01 Oktober 2010

So what happened to the promised cheap North Cornwall rover ticket?

The thorny issue of parking charges will be debated again on Wednesday with the next meeting of the Council's Parking Policy Panel.

The last decision of the Panel was to consult all Cornwall Councillors on the proposed scale of charges and 68 (out of 123) members have replied. Panel Chairman Andrew Wallis has posted on the subject and has (quite rightly) pointed out that he has sought to be as open as possible on this subject. Full marks to him for his post and for organising the consultation and keeping members generally informed on the subject.

I have a big issue with the proposed scale of parking charges - a point I made in my own response to the consultation. That is that Cornwall Council is trying to squeeze too much money out of parking and that all of the five charging schemes had the overall level of charges too high. I argued that if charges are set too high then people will simply not use council car parks. They will either park illegally on the streets creating lots of obstructions or they will avoid using town centre car parks altogether and simply shop at Tescos where parking is free (other supermarkets are available).

I also argued that the only proposal for a cheap first hour rate did not take into account the nuances needed for such a scheme and therefore could not be supported. I said that we needed a properly worked out 10p first hour scheme so we could make a reasoned decision.

Almost all of the recommendations made by councillors have been ignored since they appear to have been based on a lower overall income from parking. The report simply states:

"With the other budgetary constraints facing the Council it is felt that a reduction in car parking income is unlikely to be acceptable."

It is true that there is a genuine difference of opinion here. Some people will feel that the Council should be trying to boost local business by providing more affordable car parking whilst others will see different service priorities. The trouble with this report is that it closes off that debate.

One of the requests made by a number of members was for the retention of the North Cornwall Rover Ticket (and a similar ticket to be created for other parts of Cornwall). This has also been ignored with the glib response that:

"As we are now one Cornwall there is not a good reason to impose artificial boundaries on car parking."

This is a truly terrible response in my view. Of course we are now operating in a single council environment, but that is no reason to have a centralised 'one size fits all' view of parking. There are many people who travel extensively around the North Cornwall area who do not need or want to have a very expensive ticket that entitles them to park for free in Helston or St Ives - and I am sure that there are people from down West who feel the same about parking in Bude or Saltash. What on earth is wrong with the concept of offering regional parking permits?

The only concession that I can see has been to extend the single car park permit to allow a driver to nominate up to four car parks with charges being based on the most expensive of the four. The minimum charge for such a permit will be £550 per year sticking to the cheapest car parks. If you ant to use more than four car parks then the annual cross Cornwall ticket will cost £825 a year.

So what has happened to the promise made by Cllr Wallis on Radio Cornwall when I questioned him about the North Cornwall Rover Ticket? That ticket is currently £190 per year. On Laurence Reed's phone in, Andrew Wallis promised that a similar ticket would continue to be available and it would cost around £200-£220 per year. Of this there is not a sign in this report. You can read my blog on the day that he made that promise here.

So full marks to Andrew Wallis for the openness of this consultation, but please could he explain what has happened to his promise to retain the cheap Rover Ticket?