Welfare Reform and its impact in Cornwall

Latest data* is showing the welfare reforms are having an impact on the citizens of Cornwall. As indications suggest citizens are facing financial hardship; though in some areas this is not as high as expected. However, this is before further reform like the introduction of Universal Credit.

Housing providers across Cornwall are seeing increasing levels of arrears due to the under-occupancy (Bedroom Tax) changes. In Quarter 3, 8% of social housing tenants are affected, with 61% of these are in arrears. For 2013/14 Q1 – 59% and for Q3 – 63%. (Cornwall Housing Ltd, Devon and Cornwall Housing group, Westward Housing, Coastline Housing, Cornwall Rural Housing Association).

In Q3 70%  (Q1 – 59%/Q2 – 74%) of tenants affected by under-occupancy were in arrears. This compares to 23% of non-affected tenancies. That is a clear sign the Bedroom Tax is having an adverse affect on families. It is perverse people who want to move, but cannot due to a shortage of housing stock are penalised this way.

Council Tax changes and the impact of these are also having an effect on families. To date, the collection rate is slightly down by about 1.39% in Q3. Since the changes 26% of new payers (5184) are in arrears, this is slight reduction of Q1 – 28% and Q2 – 31%. It might be cold comfort, but there have been 10,500 cases referred to bailiffs this year (compared to 11,300 at the same time in 2012/13) due to increased efforts to encourage people to make payment arrangements and to attach recovery to earnings or benefits.

The Exceptional Relief/Transitional Support funding is not being accessed to extent expected. As Only 14.12% (£155,334) of the £1.1m budget is currently spent. However, the success rate for those applying has increased from 57% in Q1, 69% in quarter 2 to 72% in Q3. It has been informally agreed that unused money for 2013/14 will be accrued to 14/15 subject to formal agreement from Members. I really do not know why there is such a low take-up despite the Council’s best effort to inform people of this help.

You only got to look at the following picture to see in huge increase on the use of Food Banks. It makes for some stark reading.

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Though it cannot be directly linked to the welfare changes Hospital admissions with malnutrition have increased in Cornwall. There has been an 87% increase over the last 5 years. This compares to a 63% increase nationally (2008/09 – 63, 2009/10 – 79, 2010/11 – 92, 2011/12 – 130, 2012/13 – 118).

More hardship is set to follow with the introduction of the Universal Credit. Details are still a little fuzzy on how this will be implemented in Cornwall and how Cornwall Council will be involved. Luckily for Cornwall this will be implemented before 2016.

However, the Government have set a target of 80% of universal credit transactions to be carried out online. This is likely to impact in two ways; those who cannot or will not use the internet and those who are able, but do not have access to a computer. Universal credit will be paid direct to the ‘head of the household’, monthly in arrears.

The line ‘We are all in it together’ seems very hollow, as reality is far from it.

 

( *Cornwall Council’s Understanding the impacts of Welfare Reform report Q3 2013/14)

Cornwall Council Charity Quiz 2014

Last night 37 teams drawn from different departments within the Council took part in the annual council charity quiz. This is a hotly contested event, with department battling it out for departmental honour and of course the all important bragging rights.

For near four hours – with a pasty break at the halfway point – teams battled it out answer a series of questions which were drawn from the very dark corners of the library of useless information, to the most cunning and ridiculous question only a lawyer could know. We had to  listen (I would say endure) to a series of music questions which left you very worried on the musical taste of the quiz master!  And if you hadn’t already guessed it, the quiz master was in fact the chief lawyer at the Council, who also goes by the name of the Monitoring Officer.

Of course the aim of the event was not only to have fun, but to raise money for charity. A whopping £1500 was raised during the event. This is a fantastic achievement.

The winning team came from transportation department; so congratulations to them. I was part of the Leaders Team, and we came – a surprise to us – 7th. Another Member team came two points behind the winners in 2nd. Again well done. The Council’s very own Corporate Leadership Team made up of the CEO and Corporate Directors were mid-field. Which I am sure they would say it was sportsmanship like to come there… (I did say honour and bragging rights were at stake).

Special mention to those who organised the event and those students from the C4L programme who helped during the event. Without those organisers, this even would not be the success it is. Thank you for the hard work.

Cabinet decides on the future of St. Christopher’s and Lowenna Redwing

Cabinet was particularly difficult today with the Cabinet making the final decision on the future of St. Christopher’s and Lowenna Redwing Residential Short Break centres. The whole process has not been easy, either for myself, Council officers and the families who will be affected.  Any change to service provision can lead to a lot of anxiety because the need for regular short break provision is always highly valued by parents and carers.

The changes to the service is due to the massive reduction in available funding. This results in having to look at delivering the service with less money. Those 35 families and 27 staff who will be affected by the closures are going to find the decision difficult. I understand that, and I want to reassure people there will still be a service. However this might be delivered in a different location, by a different method – like direct payments, or some of the other short break provision.

In todays Cabinet report, the original recommendation was to close both St. Christopher’s and Lowenna on the 1st June. However, I have listened to parents and carers; read and re-read the consultation responses, and with this I feel that  recommendation to close both centres in June should be extended.  This will allow those affected by the decision to have more time to adapt to the changes leading up to both centres closure.

With this amendment, the Cabinet vote unanimously to close both St. Christopher’s and Lowenna Redwing on the 1st September.  It is important to say, even though these centres will close, the individual needs of those affected will be met after assessment.

I really wish it was different, but we have to adapt and services will change as there is just less money to go around. And with less money I want to make sure we as a Council help as many people as possible despite the dwindling resources.

My previous blog on this subject is found HERE

C4L visits the Guardian

The Citizenship for Life (C4L) programme was given a unique opportunity to visit the Guardian newspaper in London. This visit was to give the students an understanding into journalism and news from a national and international news organisation.20140127-090307.jpg

The students were made very welcome by some of the most senior people at the Guardian who kindly stayed with the students for their entire visit. The students got the chance to visit different parts of the Guardian and to learn  what goes into providing a printed paper, online articles and how the organisations looks at engaging with its readers and future readers.

Technology plays its part too, as we were shown a room where people are invited in and asked to play with some of the latest technology to see how they would use it, and how the Guardians apps and other web-based products could be used. This I have to say as a geek was a very cool room.

The real highlight of the day was when the students were given the opportunity to make a film and interview one the of the Guardian’s leading journalist – Patrick Butler (@partrickjbutler). Also on hand to give advice on filming and interview techniques were film makers and editors behind the recent ‘Canned Hunting’ story.

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Group photo of the visit – picture curtesy of the Guardian

With so much to see and do, time quickly shot past and sadly the day came to an end. A huge thank-you must to go to all those at the Guardian who gave their time showing the students some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a 24 hour news organisation.  It was truly a great day, enjoyed by students and mentors alike (even though we had a 16 hour coach journey!).

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Students receiving lessons in filming techniques

Cornwall Council praised for its Adoption Service

Cornwall Council has received some very good news about its adoption service. The Department of Education has published the Adoption scorecards covering the three-year period to March 2013. This data have shown that Cornwall is the fourth best authority in the country for meeting the targets for how long it should take between a child entering care and moving in with its adoptive family.

The target for how long it should take a local authority to match a child with an adoptive family after receiving court authority to do so was six months for the period between 2010 to 2013, whilst the target for how long it should take between a child entering care and moving in with its adoptive family was 20 months. Cornwall Council met both targets.

Cornwall Council has further been singled out for praise by the Children’s minister Edward Timpson congratulated the Council in a letter on meeting the targets and indicated that he wants to explore how to share the lessons from Cornwall Council’s success more widely. High praise indeed.

This is fantastic news.  I welcome being fourth but we really want to be the best.  We will not be taking our foot off the pedal as we push hard to make sure we can meet the even more challenging targets that are being put in place for next year.

Furthermore, on Sunday I attended a special party for adopted children and their families last weekend at Raze the Roof, Penryn where children and their parents were given the opportunity to come together for a social event and to foster friendships and support networks. This was the largest of these events to date with another planned for the summer. It was good to meet staff, children and parents at this event and hear the very positive stories.

On average Cornwall Council successfully places 40 children a year in loving adoptive families, but continues to have children waiting for a family.  There is a lot of information about adoption at www.cornwall.gov.uk/adoption or telephone 01872 322200. If interested, give them a call.

 

 

 

Headstart programme to help address young people’s mental health issues

Back in November 2013, The Big Lottery Fund contacted Cornwall Council with an invitation to be part of the HeadStart programme. The funding is intended to help equip young people (aged 10 to 14) to deal better with difficult circumstances in their lives, so as to prevent them experiencing common mental health problems.

  • Cornwall is 1 of 12 geographical areas selected to deliver an initial project up to £500k (delivery between August 2014 to August 2015) with an additional £10k available to support the development of the project proposal.
  • Up to £10m will be available to develop the initial project into a full project, 5 to 6 areas from the initial 12 (competitive bidding process) will be selected to deliver their projects from August 2015 to August 2020.

The timescales for submitting  the stage one bid submission is tight (17th January 2014) and so Cornwall Children’s Trust Board agreed to Cornwall Council leading / coordinating the stage one partnership submission. The stage one submission has now been submitted.

Stage one sets out the partnership vision for HeadStart Kernow with the detail to be established as part of the next stage of the programme. We have drawn on the depth of experience across the partnership & the range of evidence available to us to develop the vision for the project. At the heart of the partnership & project is our commitment to placing young people at the centre & a determination to improving ways of working now & in the future.

It is the intention that the project will:

  • Consolidate, evaluate and improve the spectrum of existing provision. To ensure there are accessible, consistent & high quality interventions across Cornwall, that make the most effective use of intelligent targeting of resources and what already works.
  • Provide opportunities through the delivery of a range of interventions, addressing a spectrum of needs using evidenced based approaches that build resilience & prevent issues escalating. Listening & learning as we go, to what works, and what else is needed.
  • Prepare for the future, making sure we have the infrastructure, the skills and the learning in place to continue to design and deliver high quality proven interventions that will make the most impact.

 Through the project we want to see the following outcomes & benefits:

  • Prevent young people aged 10 – 14 developing diagnosable conditions by intervening early with evidenced based approaches, improving support & intervention in school, in the community & at home
  • Build the resilience of young people aged 10-14 by reducing risk factors, providing interventions at key turning points & targeting intelligently those most vulnerable
  • Improve & develop new pathways to preventative services by using tailored approaches, taking into account new technologies and making better connections
  • Ensuring the voices of young people are heard in service design & delivery, and that approaches are evaluated, shared and learning shared to maximise impact.   

This is a really exciting programme which will help address the many imbalances in children’s mental health services. The website: www.cornwall.gov.uk/headstart

Recommendations for the future of the Residential Short Break Service

The review on the residential short-break service for disabled children has travelled a long way in the last few months. This review has been undertaken because the service needs to be delivered differently as there is less money to go around. I have said it many times before; I wish it was different, but it is not.  In the coming years, most services will either see a reduction, a different delivery model, or sadly stopping all together.

Currently the Council operates six short break centres in Cornwall; and this provides residential short breaks to over 160 disabled children. The cost of running this service is £3m. Overall the Council spends £10.5m on services to support children with educational needs and disabilities.

The proposal is to close St. Christopher’s and Lowenna Redwing. This will affect 35 families and 27 staff. The residential short breaks needs to save roughly £600k from a £3m budget. Here is the REPORT  and recommendations which were presented to the PAC today.

As part of the democratic process the proposals were discussed at the Children and Young People Portfolio Advisory Committee (CYP PAC). The report detailing the proposals was given a vigorous challenge. This was to make sure the proposals would not leave any young person who needs the service without access to provision. The PAC rightly pointed out that they wished things were different and challenged many points in the report.

There was a moot point of members of the public were not allowed to address the committee. They may have felt this was unfair, and generally the public is allowed to submit questions to the PAC. It is just on this meeting it was an extraordinary meeting, and there are no public questions. You might think it is too much process, but when you play fast and loose with the rules, you tend to come unstuck. However, there had been a lot of representation from parents which had been fed into the report.

I want to make it clear that by reducing the number of buildings the Council operates this service; people will still get a short break service. It just might be delivered in a different location, or by another method. I want to reassure people no child will be left without any provision they need. I know this is a worrying time for parents and carers, and from the correspondence I have read, I totally understand the concerns.

The following are the final recommendations that had the support of the PAC. It will be these recommendations I will be presenting and recommending to the Cabinet on the 29th January. It will be up to the Cabinet who will make the final decision.

  1. That the content and outcome of the Cornwall Council Review of Short Break Services for Disabled Children and Young People, as set out in Appendix 1 to the report, be endorsed. 
  2. That the outcome of the consultation meetings with staff and parents/carers, as set out in Appendix 2 to the report, be noted.
  3. That, following the relevant children’s needs being re-assessed and suitable alternative provision being identified and implemented including crisis placement, the proposal as outlined in Paragraph 1.5 of the report to close St. Christopher’s (Redruth), including Lowenna Redwing (Truro), be approved.
  4. The Children and Young People Portfolio Advisory Committee requests that Cabinet recommends to Council a waiver to the Council policy on capital receipts that would allow the receipts from any sale to be reinvested in short breaks provision.

Recommendation to Corporate Director for Children Schools and Families:

  1. The Children and Young People Portfolio Advisory Committee is concerned that there may not be sufficient capacity in family based short breaks. The Portfolio Advisory Committee recommends that the Children Schools and Families Directorate prioritise short breaks provision as part of its Medium Term Financial Review process. 

Many will think the Council is being cruel in reducing this provision. This is not true, as the Council has to change services because there is simply less money to go around. The last point I want to dismiss is the Council is not reducing the service because it wants to make a profit from the sale of the buildings. This is not how the Council or the Children’s Service operates.

 

Cornwall’s Local Plan

It has been four years in the making, and at today’s full council meeting, the Local Plan was debated. This plan will be the cornerstone of Cornwall Council’s planning strategy for the next 17 years. The importance of the Local Plan cannot be stressed enough; as without one, it would leave Cornwall open to a development free-for-all.

Most if not all of the process and todays debate has been on the number of dwellings within this plan. If these numbers are set too low, the plan will be rejected by Government. This would leave Cornwall without that all important plan. The advice given is a plan with numbers less than 47,500 would be in grave danger of falling foul of the Government rules. We may not like it, but it is the Governments ball, and they set the game.

The government guidance states the headline figure should be evidenced using a Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment or SHMNA unless better evidence is available these should start with data from the Office of National Statistics. There is currently no other defensible evidence and the 47,500 is the lowest figure that aligns with this guidance and our officers feel they can robustly defend this figure.

Local Plans elsewhere have been rejected for proposing as little as 1 and 2% lower than ONS projections. Out of the 64 other Local Authority Local Plans, only three have managed to defend a lower figure, and all these were told an early review was to be undertaken on those numbers. Interestingly, no Local Plan in the last year has managed to defend a plan with lower numbers.

Of course, this does not stop opportunism, as the Tory Group submitted an amendment for a much lower figure of 33,000 That is 30% lower than the evidence supports. In some of the biggest Damascene conversions I have witnessed in the chamber, many of the previous higher figure zealots, now spoke in favour of the lower figure. Furthermore, the whole amendment came unstuck when the Tory Group Leader admitted their numbers could actually turn out to be 36,000 or 38,000. Talk about undermining your own groups amendment.

A vote was taken on the amendment with 28 Councillors voted in favour of the lower number, with 78 against. There was no abstentions. With a little more debate, a vote was taken on the higher figure of 47,500. This vote resulted in 62 for, 31 against and 10 abstentions.

I will point out that the 47,500 includes extant permissions and houses that have been built between 2010 and the present day will be deducted from the headline figure and not added. This means that of the plans target, 27000 of these have already been granted planning permission of which over 7,000 have been built. That leaves 20,500 dwellings for the next 17 years.

The Local Plan will now be subject to public consultation, and then after this has been completed, with be subject to the gaze of the Planning Inspectors. Only after this will Cornwall have an adopted and robust Local Plan.

Deadline for September Primary School places approaches

I really shouldn’t be having to write this blog post, but I am having to because there are a large number of parents and guardians who have not yet applied (unless they are electing to home educate) for a school place for September.

I must urge you to do this as soon as possible or you might be in a position of not getting your first choice of school. It is hard to believe, but there is still a very large number – in excess of 700 – of children who have not applied for a primary school place.

If your child was born between 01 September 2009 and 31st August 2010, the deadline to apply for a primary school place is 23:59 on Wednesday 15th January 2014. There is no advantage to those who leave their application until the last-minute. Our advice to all parents and guardians is to get your application in now and not to leave it until the deadline day.

Parents should be aware that all applications submitted after 15 January will not be processed until after all those applications submitted by the deadline. There will therefore be a delay before a place can be allocated and it is highly possible that a number of schools will already be full.

Should you have any questions about applying for a school place, please do not hesitate to contact Cornwall’s School Admissions Team on 0300 1234 101 or email schooladmissions@cornwall.gov.uk

You can apply for a school place HERE

Please apply now, or you might find yourself being disappointed in not getting your prefered school choice.

 

 

Cornwall counts the cost of the weather

Unless you have just landed from Mars, you will know Cornwall  – and other parts of the country – has been subjected to an extreme weather-front that has not been in many-a-year. It was prolonged and weather forecasters are predicting more unsettled weather.

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Luckily, we are in a welcomed lull and this gives the Council, the public and other organisations the time to assess the damage caused by the storms. The damage is extensive, and tragically, the storms have resulted in a loss of life. Cornwall Council is now in the process of assessing the damage, and making good that damage.

The cost of repairing the damage across Cornwall is estimated at being just over £2 million – initially £1.56 million in the short-term with an additional £575k in the long-term. This money has to be found from within the Council finances, and as we all know, the pressures on the Council’s money are massive.

Huge praise should be given to the Council, all the emergency services, which includes the Coastguards, Cormac and other agencies like the EA and the utility companies/services for all their work in these extreme conditions. They worked in some pretty difficult conditions and should be congratulated for that work.

 

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