Funding equalities

People often criticise councillors for never agreeing – but some things feel so unjust that we can all stand together and present a united front.

The inequalities in the funding councils like ours receive from government is just such an issue.

Representatives of the Conservatives and Lib Dems joined me and some of our local MPs to lobby directly to the government.

We put our case direct to Marcus Jones – the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

In my view, our funding settlement is completely unfair in that it penalises us now for past decisions where we accepted government options available to us.

For example – we were told that if we froze our council tax, a 0% rise for our residents, we would receive the cash we would have gained from a 2% increase. That money has not been added into the base budget, it was to come through grant and now that grant has been cut. It is costing us £14 million every year.

That is on top of the disproportionate way councils like ours are affected. Kirklees is the 8th lowest funded council in the country – and the second lowest funded Metropolitan council per head of population. That is despite many areas of need.

The purpose of our meeting was to appeal directly for help to bridge our funding gap.

Kirklees is heavily dependent on its government grant, and like other authorities in a similar position, has seen a much greater cut to its overall level of funding. With our council tax and business rates funding base not as strong as most other authorities because the vast majority of properties fall in Band A and most of our businesses are SMEs, the net funding loss for the Council over the next three years will be £10.8m.

Changes to New Homes Bonus and Education Services Grant have added a real financial issue which risks undermining our financial plans.

The 2017-18 provisional figures and latest population statistics show Kirklees spending £639 per head of population. The average for mets is £747.

sheardblog1

The combined impact of a fundamentally unfair distribution, an existing low funding base, rising demands, and the additional negative impact of the changes I mentioned earlier means there is an unprecedented shortfall, which we have limited options to put right.

We have saved almost £130 million already. Our future savings plans risk being harmed by government policy. Local residents and businesses are the ones paying the price for that, and all can see the inequality in this. A united front to government was important – it is only that way that they see that our efforts are not posturing or playing politics – they are real, and urgent, and  vital to stop us losing more and more vital services.

 

sheard-3

Update on the Kirklees local plan

We are now at the stage where we need to agree on our Local plan – the blueprint for the next 15 years of development and employment decisions.

As a reminder, we need to find space for about 31,000 homes and enough development land to sustain the thriving economy we all want to see. Having a plan is not a choice – government tells us we must have one in place, and they are also the referee on whether our plan is acceptable – or sound.

Which is why we have a problem come the council meetings next week, because what is acceptable to government may not be acceptable to local residents, businesses or councillors or any of our MPs. But without a sound plan – however politically difficult that is – we lose all control of the process.

So where should local residents make their views known? If they come to council, we still have to agree a plan that is sound before one that is politically united.

I think therefore that the best place for them to make representations is to the planning inspector themselves.

Cabinet will receive an officer document on the basis that this is a sound plan, one which we believe will be found to be sound by the Planning Inspectorate.

 It is really important that the plan is found to be sound because if we are in a position where there is no plan at all, the Secretary of State would intervene and impose a plan on us.

If no plan is in place, we would have much less control over planning processes, so it would be difficult if not impossible to safeguard our urban greenspace or our green belt. That would continue to be at risk. We have already lost almost all control over “provisional open land”.

The test is of soundness in relation to planning law and guidelines as set by national government rather than political acceptance.

The process allows for people to make representations to the Planning Inspectorate. I believe that people should come forward to make objections or support applications at that stage where they can be judged on their merit.

I believe all political groups on the council, while probably not agreeing entirely with the proposals as they stand, understand and recognise the need for us to have a sound plan in place. I think they believe the proposals we have are sound, although politically they are difficult. The issue is bigger than any piece of land in any individual ward, and I am asking all councillors to see that bigger picture.

We will discuss the Local Plan on Wednesday and I am sure it will be lively – but we all know that the person we really have to convince is the inspector, and he or she will not be in the room.

Quarterly budget update

The huge financial challenges facing the council are back in the spotlight after the publication of a new report.

The document, which was discussed at this week’s Cabinet meeting, shows a potential budget overspend for the current financial year, even though we’ve continued working exceptionally hard to save money wherever possible.

It’s a result of the ever-growing demand for social care – in both children and adult services – which means there’s greater pressure to look after vulnerable people in our communities. For example, people are living longer with more complex needs such as dementia, while we have a duty to keep children safe from harm. At the same time, of course, we are having to deal with further cuts in the funding we receive from central government.

The figures suggest that current spending would lead to a two per cent overspend this year, which equates to £6million and would put even more strain on council resources. Sometimes people ask me why we don’t use our reserves to plug some of the financial gaps, but we are already doing that in a carefully managed way.

There are problems with using up your reserves. For example, you can only spend them once – once they’re gone, they’re gone. If we had taken certain people’s advice a few years ago and started spending reserves without proper controls, they would have run out long ago. Instead we’ve been careful and responsible. Yet, at the current rate of spending, our reserves will still be at a critical level by midway through next year – that’s the serious reality of our economic situation.

Following this week’s Cabinet, plans are being developed to reduce the predicted overspend and we will continue monitoring spending. I have asked for detailed reports, on a quarterly basis, to monitor progress against the budget.

It’s vital to remember that, overall in Kirklees, we’ve already responded to government cutbacks by saving more than £106million, with another £29million planned over the next few years. There’s no doubt that northern areas are being disproportionately hit. Add the figures for all of West Yorkshire and the combined cuts forced on Bradford, Calderdale, Leeds, Wakefield and Kirklees are upward of £700million, with lots more to come…….the figures are astonishing.

New spending pressures appear all the time and local councils are being given more and more responsibilities, yet there’s no end in sight to the cuts we need to make. You have to ask: When central government are drawing so much money from the people of Kirklees through income streams like VAT, income tax and vehicle tax, what exactly are they giving back to the area?

That’s one reason why the Local Plan is so important. It will help us to create jobs, meet local housing need and contribute to Kirklees being a successful and vibrant place to live and work. Our financial challenge is also the biggest reason why, as a ‘New Council’, we are encouraging local people to do more for themselves and each other.

Improving support for children, young people and families

Doing things differently is very much the way forward for the council, and it’s part of the fundamental shift in the way we are shaping our services.

Whilst there might be some things affecting everybody which are stopped or reduced – for example glass collections or the cutting of grass verges – there will be a greater focus on huge, life-changing interventions for the people who need them most.

A few months ago, our budget consultation about future services showed strong support for helping those people with the greatest need. And that supports the council’s main priorities, which are:

  • Keeping vulnerable people safe and helping them to stay in control of their lives
  • Focusing on the things that only the council can do
  • Supporting communities to do more for themselves and each other

It’s also vital that we intervene early, give people the support they need and try to make sure their situation doesn’t become any worse.

Providing this early help can prevent people from needing more acute services in the future, so we save money and save resources for our hard-pressed health service at the same time as supporting vulnerable members of our community.

For a long time, we have been considering ways to improve our support for children, young people and families whilst also managing a growing demand for these services. An engagement process is running at the moment, asking for your views on the way we might work with partners and communities to support people with low level health and social care needs, ensuring they stay well and get the right help.

The fact we are changing these services is not simply down to money. Maybe the process has been accelerated by the fact we are under such huge financial pressures, but this is an area we would have looked at regardless of finance. We need to do things differently, using early help, working with other organisations and better co-ordinating services for children, young people and families.

The engagement is a chance for everyone to have their say. We want feedback from a wide cross-section of the community, including families, so please take part by visiting the website by August 7th.

At this point we are asking for your views on some of the general principles and approaches, but these will be used to develop more specific proposals. A consultation will then follow, enabling us to change services in a way which best reflects local needs.

I’m also a strong advocate of the council facilitating or promoting support groups for people of all ages. You only need to see the phenomenal success of Facebook and other social media to understand how virtual communities can link people together.

When there are networks which keep people connected with those they know and who can help them in some way, they can still receive vital support without the need for formal care services. In some cases we may need to break down barriers for people who are reluctant to go online, but social networks are another way that the council is keen to take new approaches which achieve real, long-term benefits for the people of Kirklees.

Have your say on the future of museums and galleries

The council wants your views on the future of its museums and galleries – please take part and have your say.

This is a really important process because our museums and galleries will be changing. Unfortunately it’s not a question of ‘if’ this will happen, it’s a matter of ‘how’.

I’ve talked before about funding cuts from central government causing immense pressure on council budgets. Museums and galleries are one of many, many services which need to be reshaped, but the engagement process which is currently under way isn’t just about financial savings. It’s something we should be doing anyway, because we need to make sure our visitor attractions are relevant to local people and fit for the 21st century.

We want venues which are not only high quality but also appeal to a range of people in a way that provides longer-term viability.

To me, our museums should not be about rooms full of curiosities – they should tell our local story and resonate with audiences.

Different approaches have already been trialled, for example a successful pop-up museum. We are looking to offer new ways of experiencing our collections and your views are important in shaping the future.

The council’s present museums are Dewsbury Museum in Crow Nest Park; Bagshaw Museum in Wilton Park, Batley; and Tolson Museum in Ravensknowle Park, Huddersfield. The council also manages Huddersfield Art Gallery and is responsible for two historic houses: Oakwell Hall and Country Park, Birstall; and Red House Museum, Gomersal.

The available funding means the number of sites needs to be reduced and it’s being proposed that Oakwell Hall and Country Park would stay open, along with Bagshaw Museum. Both of these sites are in North Kirklees while, in the south of the district, both Huddersfield Art Gallery and Tolson Museum would stay open for the time being.

However, to attract more visitors into a revitalised Huddersfield town centre, the council would look to develop a combined Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery in a town-centre location still to be decided. Once this was open, Tolson Museum and the current Art Gallery would close and appropriate collections would transfer to the new site.

This would leave the three sites as Oakwell Hall and Country Park, Bagshaw Museum and a new Huddersfield Museum and Art Gallery. Other sites would close and their collections would be transferred or stored. We are mindful of the historical context of our buildings, so this would be considered when alternative uses were being found.

It’s inevitable that museums and galleries will change so, as the saying goes, doing nothing is not an option. Instead we want to hear some really constructive feedback which will help us to make difficult decisions.

You can find a lot more detail, including a survey, on our dedicated web page. Please have your say by the deadline of July 24th – thank you.

Focus on the future

Following an uncertain and difficult couple of months both inside and outside the council, I have now been re-elected as Leader of Kirklees Council.

A lot has been said and written about how and why we were in the position where we temporarily did not have a political leader, but now our focus has to be on the future.

The Jo Cox murder, the EU referendum, and political struggles at a national level have all served to highlight issues and tensions we must address. Leadership has to be at the heart of our response to those issues.

Councillors have to step up their community leadership roles, and I have committed to involving a wider number of councillors so that all 69 have a role; and not just those in Cabinet or on licensing or planning committees.

I have asked Cllr Shabir Pandor to be my deputy – his previous cabinet roles and experience outside the council mean that he brings a challenge and perspective we will need if we are to reach the best decisions for all of Kirklees.

My Cabinet will be:

Name Description of Portfolio or other responsibility
David SheardShabir Pandor LeaderDeputy Leader – Strategy and Strategic Resources, New Council & Regional Issues (Shared Portfolio)
 Peter McBride  Economy, Skills, Transportation & Planning
 Naheed Mather  Housing and Enforcement Management
Musarrat Khan Other Place:Highways and Neighbourhoods
Erin Hill Family Support & Child Protection(Statutory Responsibility for Children)
Viv Kendrick  Adults, Health & Activity to Improve Health(Statutory Responsibility of Adults & Public Health)
 Masood Ahmed  Community Cohesion & Schools
 Graham Turner  Asset Strategy, Resources & Creative Kirklees (Arts)

The challenges we face are huge – we have talked endlessly about finances, but the reality is that we must live within the budgets we have while still tackling our major priorities.

How we work is key to our service delivery in the future – if we can get right the Early Intervention and Prevention and also the Economic Resilience strands, we will see more manageable future demand on services, at the same time as a positive impact on our local economy.

Many of our decisions will be emotive – none of us became councillors so we could close buildings and services down. But hard decisions must be made so we can protect the services we see as essential.

The hard work does not start here – it has been going on for some time – but the pace certainly has to pick up from now on.

Thank you

I was first elected in Kirklees in 1982 having previously worked for the council when I came out of the RAF in 1974.

Over that time I have held many positions culminating in my current role as leader of the council. I have worked with many Officers and Councillors, whereas the quality and dedication of councillors has always varied, I have found little variety in the quality and dedication of the Kirklees workforce, it has been almost constantly excellent. One need only to consider the number of ex-Kirklees workers doing well in other authorities, I doubt if any other authority can match the number of chief executives or senior officers doing well in other authorities who “learned their trade” at Kirklees.

It would be wrong, and much too long a task to single out any individuals, but I must thank specifically our current workforce, who have done a more than excellent job over the past couple of years in the face of a constant onslaught of cuts and other pressures. Few people realise the work that has been required as the workforce has shrunk significantly or the pressure that has put on our workers, workers that are constantly insulted by central government and the press.

I also must specifically thank the current Cabinet for their dedication and efforts over the past two years. On nearly every day of the week from early in the day till late evening six members were working in the office on their portfolios and helping each other and contributing to the cross cutting themes that contributed to the council policies. These six members have also been available late into the night and at weekends to explain our policy and direction to anyone who asked.

Cathy Scott has taken the Housing portfolio and made it a Home’s portfolio, advancing our strategy to create an organisation that delivers on all fronts. Steering the merger of Building Services and KNH, working with all involved to see a smooth transition into a service we could be proud of. Ensuring our strategy for creating more homes of all tenures, particularly homes that people can afford, she has also co-operated with other Cabinet members in our wider agenda and played a full role in developing the policies that keep people safe and tackling inequality.

Thank you Cathy

Steve Hall rose to the challenge to oversee significant developments to the speed and quality of decisions through planning committees – a thankless yet vital task in that very few members of the public understand the system and fewer still understand how vital development is for the future of the council and how much some perverse decisions were costing us. He also saw through massive changes in the Place Directorate, a department hit proportionally hardest by the cuts. Steve was tackling the costs of road maintenance and was keen to see us delivering more with less.

Thank you Steve

Graham Turner took on one of the most diverse and challenging roles in the Cabinet, that of Resources. A title that does not reflect the importance of the task, hard enough in normal times, but near impossible in “interesting times”. Not only do we have to keep an eye on council finances but managing incredible levels of “downsizing” including asset transfers, demanding hours and hours of patient negotiations. The Resources role touches nearly every aspect of the council, the very survival of the council is dependent on steering a financial plan, on making unpopular and tough decisions when required, and sticking to them.

Thank you Graham

Erin Hill is probably the youngest cabinet member Kirklees has ever had, but it does not show. Before joining the Cabinet she had taken on a “shaky” licensing committee, steering it towards being more aware of current problems, the way she tackled this entrenched committee demonstrated her ability to be an excellent cabinet member. She was much more than a breath of fresh air to children’s services at probably the most difficult of times for the service with all the failings reported from other authorities. She demonstrated an ability to absorb large amounts of information and translate the guidance into action.

Thank you Erin

It is very difficult to comprehend that Viv Kendrick is only one person. It would be very difficult for anyone to comprehend the changes to adult social services, the move to “New Council” let alone to steer them to success, at the same time being bombarded with numerous current cases that she tackled with gusto. Few could achieve the same results without the wealth of experience Viv has. The changes to adult services probably demand too much of one person, yet Viv also took on the role of chairing the Health and Wellbeing Board, in better times a role that would be a full time job for anyone, another role in constant flux.

Thank you Viv

Peter McBride probably demonstrates my biggest failure. Knowing that Peter’s wealth breadth and quality of understanding of economic development, apprenticeships, strategic planning and regional politics cannot be matched even by a number of people and despite Peter wanting to impart this knowledge to others, I failed to ensure that happened. This meant that Peter not only undertook one of the most difficult tasks this council has ever had, the LDF, he also made sure that Kirklees punched well over our weight at the region, policies that Peter developed have been accepted as regional policy.

Thank you Peter