Austerity, immigration and the EU

By Tom McBeth

As national debts continue to grow across countries in Europe, and various other countries discussing the possibility of leaving the European Union, what is made of the UK’s decision to leave the EU?

Since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union on the 23rd June 2016, net migration from the rest of Europe and further has dropped with the expectation that this will continue to fall as Article 50 is put into place.

This week, Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, failed in her bid to become Prime Minister in France and her campaign to leave the Union

Elsewhere, the likes of Holland, Austria and Poland have all seen increase in support for political parties supporting leaving the Union, with increasing concerns over immigration and the overall cost of membership to their respective taxpayers.

Trevor Swinswood, Project Manager for Corporation Oaks, a young persons’ housing project in Nottingham in the UK, said,

Britain leaving the EU in 2 years time will be a major distraction in the UK and Europe.

Government and local authorities will be spending a lot of their time debating and focusing on leaving the EU.”

Various numbers have been suggested with regards to the cost of ‘Brexit’ on the economy of the UK, including a substantial drop in the value of the pound sterling in comparison to foreign currency, and this is something that other countries will need to consider.

Eurostat figures show that the majority of Western Europe, including France, Spain, Portugal and Italy, all have a debt greater than the UK, each over 89% of the national GDP.

Of the impact of the cuts on Corporation Oaks has faced due to government austerity and how “Brexit” may further affect this, Trevor added,

One of the main areas where these cuts have been implemented has been the funding of non-statutory services across the UK.

It has negatively affected homelessness support services, supported housing provision, mental health support service, women’s services and young person’s services and many other areas.

[Brexit] will potentially demand local connections, references and residency which will all have a negative effect on refugees and immigrants with more reliance upon voluntary organisations and refugee forums.”

April 2017

The Englishman and his castle

by Tom McBeth

As prices of homes in Amsterdam continue to rise, is this a local issue or is Europe really suffering from an international housing crisis?

Over the best part of the last decade the Netherlands has struggled with a lack of housing stock and high purchase and rent costs.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, the unpopular ‘rent control zones’ mean that only one house for every twenty is available to those earning over £35,000 a year.

Overseas, a lot is made of the Englishman and his castleand the ‘right-to-buy’ scheme that has run across the country in various guises since the 1980’s.

Right-to-buy’ allows tenants of council housing to buy their homes after a certain amount of time for a subsidised and reduced cost, allowing members of the public to own their own home.

David Simmons, Head of Intermediate Housing for Nottingham Community Housing Association (NCHA), explained how governments subsidise the housing marketing in the UK.

Public money for housing is channelled through the Homes and Communities Agency which makes grants to housing associations, housing organisations and private developers.”

The UK shares many similarities with the Netherlands in its housing stock, with average house prices at around £200,000 across both countries, and prices increasing by as much as 8.3% from July 2015-2016, according to the latest government statistics.

Both also have their figures wildly influenced by the inflated costs in their respective capitals.

In London, house prices average at £484,000, over £280,000 more than the rest of the country whilst rental prices are over twice as much. The average rental price for the UK excluding Greater London in March 2017 according to the annual rental index report from Homelet – a leading Nationwide Letting agency, is £751 pcm, whereas Greater London’s average rental cost is £1546 pcm. This report suggests that this raises the cumulative National average for the UK to £904 pcm.


However, Catherine Stocks, the City Manager for Nottingham City Homes (NCH) who manage over 27,000 council homes in the city, explains how,
“affordability in general is an issue, houses in Nottingham are cheap in comparison to UK overall but income is low in the city so housing is still unaffordable.

The issue with ‘right-to-buy’ is that it reduces social housing available in Nottingham and government policies for years have failed to provide adequate replacement.”

We have seen an increase in ‘right-to-buy’ but this is probably more to do with the increase in discount, meaning it’s difficult to tell if affordability of buying a property is becoming more or less of an issue for the average tenant.”

The government’s ‘right-to-buy’ policy means to increasing home ownership, but it gives a subsidy to those ‘lucky enough’ to get council housing and is not necessarily the fairest way to boost home ownership”

There continues to be ongoing and significant demand in Nottingham for social housing and affordable housing, meaning stable tenancies, which we seek to meet.”

David Simmons added that, “although a sale will mean a social home goes out of the sector [NCHA] will use all of the money in building new homes and so replacing the lost unit and adding to the UK housing stock.”

April 2017

Is this Britain’s worst Christmas tree?

by Tom McBeth

Peterborough City Council has come under criticism for this year’s tree situated in the market square.

Peterborough’s new £40,000 tree

The tree, which is being used in the city for the second year running has recently been featured on the BBC article “Are these Britain’s worst Christmas Trees?” and has been described as “an abomination” by locals after its erection and switch on in the market square last week.

A Peterborough City Council spokesman said, “Like all decorations, the city’s new Christmas tree will look at its best once it’s lit up.

This new contemporary tree stands at ten meters tall and will be the focal point of the festive display on Cathedral Square.

We continue to develop the city center as a regional shopping destination and festive displays help to encourage visitors to our city and support local businesses and jobs.

The council owns the new tree which cost around £40,000. As it will last for at least five years this represents a significant saving to the council.”(left: Nottingham, right: Grimsby)

There are claims that the tree shows a saving to the tax payer with over £80,000 having been spent each year on Christmas decorations across the market square before the tree was bought.

Social media users were less kind with Gordon Leed saying, “it’s NOT a Christmas Tree it’s an abomination and a misuse of Council Tax payer’s money.”

Charlene Osifo added, “the only place that monstrosity should be is in the tip.”

However, despite the public outcry it looks as though the tree is here to stay with a council spokesman saying that the tree “will last for at least five years”.

The full article in print, can be found here: 2. Christmas Tree Story (PDF)

December 2016

The US electoral system: Explained… almost

by Tom McBeth

As one of, if not the most powerful and influential country in the world, it should come as no surprise that its process for electing a leader and figurehead is far from straight forward. What may come as a shock is just how convoluted, inconsistent and, arguably, undemocratic the whole process is.

First of all, and contrary to what we as outsiders are led to believe, American citizens don’t directly vote for their presidential candidates. Instead they vote on mass, for a number of votes to be put forward by their state. This means that when Mr or Mrs America goes down to vote, they are saying what they want their state to be – republican or democratic.

Of all 50 American states, 48 of them, all apart from Maine and Nebraska, operate a system whereby all of their electoral votes are given to the candidate with the majority of votes in that state. So if a candidate wins a state with 1million registered voters in with a total majority of 500,001 votes they receive the full allocation of electoral votes.

To confuse things further the number of electoral votes varies from state to state and changes based on the population determined at each census. This means that a sparsely populated state such as Alaska gets 3 electoral votes, whilst California gets a massive 55.

This means that a presidential candidate who wins by small margins in the larger populated states can win the US elections without receiving the most individual votes across the country. This is exactly how George W Bush defeated Al Gore in the 2000 elections.

This is before you take into account what we would know as ‘safe seats’ and the number of states who are almost guaranteed to vote a certain way, to the extent that candidates usually don’t bother canvassing there at all. For example, the days of a democrat taking the 38 Texas electoral votes are a long way off.

November 2016

Then and now: Peterborough in pictures

by Tom McBeth

Much is made of the growth and change that has affected British towns and cities over the decades, but a new collection of before and after photos really show how Peterborough has evolved.

Local paramedic and amateur photographer Chris Porsz, 63, has gone about recreating a number of pictures he originally took in the 1970’s and 80’s of Peterborough and its residents.

Using a number of local residents in situations ranging from ‘goodbyes’ at train stations to ice cream vans on side streets, Chris has retaken over 100 pictures in their original style, tracking down and using the original models in a modern, in-colour Peterborough.

The 134 pictures are to be released in a new book, Reunions, released 4 November. Each picture tells a story of its own, ranging from young couples who went on to start families, to those who have since passed on.

I don’t think anyone else has tracked down so many strangers and recreated photos in this way before”, Chris said of the book.

I still love wandering the streets, chatting to complete strangers, listening to their potted life stories and recording everyday life in the changing face of our city.”

More of Chris’s work can be seen on his website.

November 2016

Council cuts funding to community groups across East Lindsey

by Tom McBeth

Another April has passed and the public continue to pay increasing rates of tax, and yet public services and funding seems to become more and more stretched.

With the announcement that East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) has completely cut its funding to community groups, and Public Health Lincolnshire is in the process of winding up the health trainer programme, we look at that the effect of the cuts on groups that are supporting the most vulnerable in society.

Furthermore, with the threats of devolution of power to district councils likely to have a detrimental effect on more rural areas. The likes of redistribution of business rates, which will no longer being handled at a national level, means that councils, and the people they support, are likely to have even tougher times to come.

Take East Lindsey as an example. This is a district that covers just two major towns in Skegness and Louth, and 140,000 residents in total, but over a massive rural scale of over 600 square miles. That’s a huge logistical, and expensive, headache for any centrally managed service, grounds maintenance, highways, education and refuse.

East Lindsey District Council (ELDC) needs to save £6 million over the next four years to meet its targets, and one of their first steps to doing this is to cut off financial support for community groups in the area.

Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS), who cover south Lincolnshire and provide support to groups in finding funding and volunteers, are one of the many who have taken a hit.

LCVS has been subject to cuts year-on-year in different areas but 2016 has proven the most damaging, losing over half of its core funding this year due to cuts from public health funding and ELDC.

Whilst the immediate cut of the service will save the council £40,000 a year, roughly 3% of the amount it needs to save in total, it is axing a service that helped to bring in over £600,000 into East Lindsey alone. That’s £600,000 brought in from out-of-county that would feed back through staff wages, paid for services, office and property rent that will have fed back into the local community – not to mention the spending of the staff wages in local shops.

Lincolnshire County Council, South Kesteven, which covers Grantham, Bourne and Stamford, South Holland, which covers Spalding and Holbeach and Boston Borough have continued to fund LCVS, although the latter has warned that this year may be the last if further cuts have to be made in 2017. Elsewhere, CommunityLincs which delivers a similar service but in Sleaford in North Kesteven have had all of their core funding cut by local councils.

CommunityLincs, who have recently helped Gainsborough Furniture and Resource Centre and Cherry Willingham Church Hall gain funding to deliver their services, will have to find alternative methods of funding themselves to deliver their support going forward.

Mr Fannin said the council has also, “stopped grant schemes so the council isn’t putting any direct funding into the community and have now [by pulling funding from LCVS] pulled money from the safety net.”

Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) is perhaps one of the most essential services the public has access to. But what many might not be aware of is that CAB is heavily reliant on volunteers and is entirely not-for profit.

Stuart Hellon, Chief Executive Officer for Citizens Advice Mid Lincolnshire who supported nearly 15,000 clients in 2015-16, highlights how “we support many advice areas but nearly 85% of our enquiries relate to benefits and tax credits, debt, housing, employment and relationships. Outside this we provide specific advice on consumer issues, energy saving/switching and legal support.”

Stuart points out how they, “have seen project funding ending with no consideration of any future continuation, reduction in funding to our advice service

One other area where we see increasing difficulty is recruitment of volunteers. There are many more services that were once provided by council funded bodies that are now “expected” to be provided by charities. This means that there is now more pressure on volunteer capacity and recruitment for increased workload and volume becomes ever harder.”

We undertook a survey, offering staff and volunteers of a cross-section of Lincolnshire’s community groups a chance to voice their opinion on how the cuts will effect groups and, ultimately, the people of Lincolnshire.

Replies generally echoed the sentiment that charities will suffer more than ever. “It makes it extremely hard for smaller groups to continue and hold heads above the water”, “Funding cuts always seem to affect minorities, leaving them worse off than they were before.”

One respondent to the survey said that the cuts, “will put more pressure on the private trusts and national lottery.” Whilst you could argue that is what they’re for, there’s only so much in those pots of money and only certain groups and services are able to bid and often with added targets to be met.

Similarly to ELDC, public health have pulled their funding of the health trainer programme across the whole of Lincolnshire. An immediate saving of £240,000 a year in south Lincolnshire but Mr Fannin points out that it will simply add pressure to the already hugely stretched NHS and GPs.

CarolAnne Payne, a director for Bringing Learning into Communities (BLiC) who support unemployed people access training, supports Mr Fannin’s conclusion that these cuts are short sighted.

The funding cuts will have a detrimental effect in services offered, not only does it affect the voluntary sector and statutory services it will affect the local community.”

If there are services [such as the health trainer service] being closed down, how will these services be delivered? It may also harm the health of participants who have been supported by these voluntary organisations as a supplement to local government services.

For years, community groups have filled a void that many will come to realise was only occupied because of these services. Groups such as Citizens Advice Bureau, which operates with a team of volunteers can’t function entirely for free and can’t charge the public for the use of their services. If they are continually squeezed to the point where they can longer deliver, the government will be under scrutiny to provide these services and without volunteers and the expertise of staff, how much more could that end up costing the taxpayer?

Speaking about the cuts to the sector, which have occurred yearly since 2011, CarolAnne suggested that there are trends to austerity aimed at the voluntary sector. “I have worked in the voluntary sector for many years, I have seen lots of changes in that time, some good, some not so good.” Hopefully, this offers hope to groups for the future.

Roger Fixter, Chairman of the Boston Disability Forum, an action group that gives local disabled people the chance to discuss and put forward changes to local government, pointed out that the cuts and changes to the welfare system as a result of austerity, effect its members on a personal level. “It is safe to say that these funding cuts will most definitely effect individuals who have already been receiving benefits. As an example of this, anyone who now has any piece of equipment which allows them to be independent will actually lose points when being re-assessed [under the new disability benefit assessment criteria]. Naturally, this is grossly unfair.”

One volunteer from a Lincolnshire foodbank, provides emergency food for those in need, said, “The cuts may have an adverse effect on the food bank, potentially this would impact on volunteers and paid staff’s ability to provide an effective service.”

Another volunteer said, “Funding cuts in the past have decimated the youth service to the point where it became impossible to get a qualified youth leader so the youth club was suspended three years ago.”

Another respondent to the survey said, “Most statutory organisations believe CVSs will pick up services on their behalf, they recognise charities can run the services as well and much cheaper. However, the statutory bodies responsible for funding cuts have not understood that grant cuts will impact greatly on a charity’s ability to deliver these services. Service users will be most affected with the reduction in support, they will see themselves back round the health system, causing the statutory services many more costs in the long run.”

Nonetheless, despite the tide long having been against the voluntary sector, volunteers and community groups always find a way to fight on in the name of delivering the services that mean the most to them.

A number of groups, ranging from the nationwide NSPCC to Chain Bridge Forge near Spalding have found self-funding methods of ensuring sustainability, ranging from finding pots of money available to bid for to general fundraising and offering chargeable services to raise money.

Mr Fannin added, “Looking at it positively, LCVS will be a lot freer to focus on its core purpose and to think about how best to organise and operate and what programmes to involve in. It will leave the organisation able to determine its own direction and chose who to work with, where, when and why.”

A reply to the survey stated, “Charities are used to public funding cuts and may be forced to become more commercially minded as donations make it difficult to sustain roles within the sector. Some charities I know have opted to become social enterprises that have the flexibility to attract funding as well as ‘trade’. They too rely more and more on membership and volunteers.”

Regardless of the length and severity of the cuts, it looks as though most of the groups will find a way to continue running at some level. As one respondent to the survey said, “Everyone in the country has used a charity and many rely on them for help and also employment. The cuts will affect more than just the ones in need!” But we will need to make sure we continue to support these groups though the tough times, because sometimes you just don’t miss something until it’s gone.

If you are interested in volunteering or supporting a local group, you can contact the Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS) on 01205 510888 or visit http://www.do-it.org

April 2016

GPs to bear the brunt as Health Trainer service for Lincolnshire to end by April 2017.

by Tom McBeth

£240,000 of funding has been pulled, leading to the redundancy of 30 qualified health trainers over the next 12 months.

David Fannin, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service (LCVS) which delivered the service across Boston Borough, South Kesteven and South Holland, said,

The Health Trainer programme has been core to the NHS and GP local delivery plans who will potentially be lost to Lincolnshire and leave a gap in local health delivery.

The burden will be passed on to the NHS and, ultimately, GPs”

The LCVS alone supported over 580 clients who were referred by GPs across south Lincolnshire in 2014-15.

The service supports its clients in addressing issues ranging from healthy eating and weight management to stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake, in a bespoke way over six to eight weeks of support.

The decision has come at a time when Public Health England has stressed the importance of tackling the growing diabetes crisis across the country and the “enormous cost to the public”. However, Public Health Lincolnshire has reaffirmed its intention to continue focusing on tackling liver disease and alcohol problems in the county.

The LCVS received £240,000 from the public health budget to deliver the service across Boston Borough, South Kesteven and South Holland in 2015-16.

Funding for the LCVS’s nine qualified health trainers has been pulled with immediate effect, whilst the rest of Lincolnshire will finish their support by April 2017.

April 2016