At this week’s meeting of the Executive, Cllr Ian George announced that as Kingston Conservatives’ Lead Member for Housing, he will be quitting the Council’s Cross Party Member Group on Housing Investment Options.
Cllr George made the shock announcement following the Executive members’ public criticism of the Tory’s recent behaviour. The Council Leader had condemned his leakage of the Housing Group’s reports to the press before their agreed publication dates, as well as comments which mislead residents on the reality of housing finance.
The Liberal Democrat administration has welcomed the Government’s pledges to give greater power and responsibility back to local authorities. The Secretary of State’s policy response to the Place Survey was announced at the LGA conference.
The Ipsos MORI survey confirmed that 85% of Kingston residents are happy with their locality. That is one of the highest levels of satisfaction in the whole of the UK.
Cllr Penny Shelton has written to the Government’s new Housing Minister in support the LGA’s call for a transformation in the way that social and affordable housing is financed.
In advance of a national housing conference, the Local Government Association announced that local authorities in England should be allowed to keep all of the revenue raised by local council tenant rents.
The Government have responded positively to the lobbying efforts of Kingston’s Executive Member for Children and Young People’s Services. On Wednesday, 22 April the Chancellor announced he would be plugging the budget shortfall left after the LSC’s “funding fiasco” last month.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Patricia Bamford announced: “Last month, the Learning and Skills Council slashed its expected funding arrangements for sixth form classes and colleges.
Kingston Council is playing a key role in the London-wide campaign which last week demanded £740 million of government money to guarantee every five year old a primary school place over the next five years.
Cllr Tricia Bamford (Lib Dem, Exec Member for Children and Young People’s Services) contributed to the research by London Councils, which found that 2,250 children in the capital will be without a reception class place this year.
At this week’s public meeting of the Executive, members approved a strategy for implementing Sustainable Community Act (SCA) powers in the Borough.
Kingston is at the forefront of embracing the SCA’s powers for local people. We have approved the timetable for a very broad consultation arrangement.
At this week’s public meeting of the Executive, the decision making body of the Council approved a 3.2% reduction in the rent increase set for council housing.
Lead Member for Housing, Liberal Democrat Councillor Penny Shelton announced: “In February of this year, the Executive agreed a rent increase averaging 5.7% after the Government said that it would be setting the level of rent increases for council tenants at a staggering 6.1% - a hike far, far higher than current inflation.
The Executive Member for Economic Development, Cllr Simon James has welcomed the news that Kingston businesses are taking up the national ‘Time to Pay’ scheme: benefiting the local economy with millions of pounds worth of cash flow.
Liberal Democrat Cllr James announced: “The ‘Time to Pay’ scheme offers companies short-term relief to cash flow difficulties. Between November last year and the end of March, 250 businesses in the Borough deferred £3 million worth of VAT and other taxes.
The Government quango responsible for funding education for 16 to 18-year-olds in the UK has unexpectedly cut its budgets for further education. Sixth-form classes and colleges in the Royal Borough of Kingston now face a cash shortfall when paying for next year’s classes.
Executive member for Children and Young People’s Service, Cllr Patricia Bamford explained: “The Learning and Skills Council has slashed its funding for post-16 education throughout the country. Kingston’s schools now face a cash cut of £266,000 out of their funding budget. This is a nightmare scenario for Further Education in the Borough.”
Chancellor u-turn on business rates rise
Kingston businesses were given some good news after the government reduced the planned 5% increase in business rates to 2%. The Leader of the Council’s had written a letter to the Chancellor on the topic last week.
However, firms will still have to wrestle with government red tape before seeing their taxes cut. They will have to pay the full 5% rise until June, and can only then apply to the council to defer 60% of the increase.
Govt announces extra £29 a week for visually impaired people
Many members of Kingston’s visually impaired community could receive an extra £29 a week following the success of a Royal National Institute of Blind People campaign that received cross-party support in the borough.
The RNIB has been campaigning since 2006 for people with visual impairments to receive the higher rate mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance, recognising the difficulties they can face moving around safely.
Next month’s 5% increase in business rates could be the final straw for some Kingston firms, the Leader of the Council has warned.
In a letter to Alistair Darling MP, the the Leader of the Council has called on the Chancellor to reverse the increase in business rates from 46.2p in the pound last year to 48.5p in the pound from April.
At this week’s public meeting of the Council, Kingston councillors approved the Liberal Democrat’s proposed budget for 2009-10. Council Tax was set at an increase of 3.2% - the lowest tax rise in Kingston for 15 years and lower than neighbouring areas of South West London.
Kingston has received the worst financial settlement grant from Government in years. The current financial crisis also means that local authority income is down at the very time when demands on council services are increasing.
In advance of tomorrow’s Westminster Hall Private Members' Debate on Council Housing and Rents - Kingston’s Executive Member for Housing Cllr Penny Shelton has spoken out against the “vice-like hold” that the Labour Government’s funding system has on council housing in the Borough.
In support of the debate organised by Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, Cllr Shelton said: “The system by which Councils can own and manage housing – the Housing Revenue Account – and the operation of the subsidy system act together to force the Royal Borough of Kingston to hand over locally raised income to the Government for redistribution.
In effect, Kingston council tenants are being taxed to pay for housing in other parts of the country, as well as subsidising the Treasury’s budget.”
The London Boroughs have agreed a new five-year funding deal with Transport for London: guaranteeing the introduction of the 24hour Freedom Pass, as well as approving a fairer funding deal for Kingston.
Cllr Bob Steed, Executive Member for Transport at Kingston Council said: “I am delighted with the outcome of the negotiations between TfL and London Councils. We have succeeded in securing the future of the Freedom Pass – a lifeline for the capital’s elderly and disabled residents.”