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.”
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.
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.
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.”
A petition calling for a Council Tax-subsidised collection service of green garden waste has been rejected by Kingston’s Liberal Democrat administration for being a costly and environmentally unfriendly alternative to home composting.
At present, households who wish for the Council to collect their biodegradable garden waste from the kerbside pay for the service – with disabled and elderly residents offered collections at a reduced charge. A petition presented at this week’s public meeting of the Council’s Executive requested for green collections to be provided for ‘free’.
Kingston’s Executive Member for Transport has assured local residents that the Council was well prepared for this week’s bout of extreme weather conditions – and it continues to have good reserves of salt for gritting the roads.
Cllr Bob Steed said: “The press have been covering stories on how during the current unprecedented weather conditions, some Councils’ low stocks of salt has meant travelling chaos across the UK.
“I am pleased to say that Kingston had an excellent contingency plan in place.
Kingston’s Executive Member for Housing has spoken out against the Government’s formula for setting local authority housing rents. Cllr Penny Shelton says that an inaccurate calculation of this year’s inflation rate will mean arbitrary hikes in the amount paid by council property tenants in the borough.
Cllr Shelton explained: “Because of the way that Government has calculated the rent formula for local authorities, the average council housing tenant in Kingston will be wrongly paying an additional £5 in rent a week for this forthcoming year.”
Transport for London have responded to pressure from Kingston’s Liberal Democrat Councillors and local campaigners to delay the cancellation of the Capital Call service in Kingston.
Capital Call is a complementary service to Taxicard which provides subsidised door-to-door transport for people with mobility issues living in London boroughs where there is a shortage of London taxis. On 28 January, it was announced that funding was being cut from the scheme in Kingston, and the service would cease in the borough with effect from 31 March 2009.
The Leadership of Kingston Council, have spoken out against media “scaremongering” about the state of British recycling markets.
Cllr Liz Green raised her concerns about the considerable negative press coverage regarding the current state of the market for recycled materials, as a Full Council question for the public meeting held on 27 January.
Kingston’s Liberal Democrat Councillors have welcomed a parliamentary bill aimed at protecting garden land from being bought up and built on for housing developments.
The Protection of Garden Land (development Control) Bill was presented and given its first reading in the Commons on Tuesday. It is designed to protect private gardens from development ‘which is out of character with the surrounding area’.
RBK’s Executive Member for Housing has praised the “fantastic” work of Kingston Churches Action on Homelessness (KCAH), for setting up a month-long pilot project to provide night-shelter in the borough.
Cllr Penny Shelton said: “This has been an exceptionally cold winter with snowfall bringing delight to many Kingston residents -- but for those sleeping rough, the cold snap will be distressing and dangerous.
Kingston was the safest borough in London in 2008, according to new figures from the Metropolitan Police website.
In the year to November, Kingston suffered less than half the number of crimes as the average London borough. Among the key statistics, burglary fell 3%, criminal damage dropped 6% while theft and violence were both cut by a remarkable 10%.
And despite some people’s perceptions, crime in Kingston town centre fell by double digit amounts. Criminal damage in Grove ward was down 17%, violence against the person down 22% and town centre theft was slashed by 24%.