Monday, 11 November 2013

Small business Saturday: An opportunity lost

“One of the most important things that councils can do to improve local life is to support the local economy. The Localism Act gives councils more freedom to offer business rate discounts –  to help attract forms, investment and jobs. Whilst councils would need to meet the cost of any discount is outweighed by the long-term benefit of attracting growth and jobs to their area.”

 Straight out of the Localism Bill. Sounds good!

Small Business Saturday on 7 December this year will shine a much-needed spotlight on a struggling sector that urgently needs support.

 It is believed that almost 40 per cent of small businesses in Barnet go under within just three years of starting up, due to disastrously high tax rates and lack of support from the council and the Tory-led coalition government.

 Shops and small businesses across the country are due to see their business rates increase by an average of £430 from next April, at a total cost to businesses of £700 million.

 Small business owners face a stark choice: either pass these business rate increases on to their customers through higher prices – adding to the cost of living crisis for hard-working families – or face a further squeeze until they can no longer afford to stay in business.

 They need help to see them through these tough times. That’s why a Labour Government would cut business rates for small and medium businesses in 2015 and freeze them in 2016. This move would mean an average saving of nearly £450 for 1.5 million business properties and would be paid for by not going ahead with the Tories’ plans for an additional Corporation Tax cut for just 80,000 large companies.

 The Labour Party is the party of small business, and is pledged to cut business rates for 1.5 million businesses nationally if it wins the general election in 2015, then freeze them the next year saving small businesses at least £450 a year.

 Small businesses are also facing rising energy costs and Labour’s Energy Price Freeze would save businesses on average £1,800.

 Families are facing a cost of living crisis with prices rising faster than wages for 39 out of the last 40 months, more people than ever are working part-time because they can’t get enough hours to work full-time and energy bills having gone up by an average of £300 since David Cameron became Prime Minster. But small businesses are facing their own version of the cost of living crisis – a cost of doing business crisis.

 The living standards crisis is hitting businesses as well their customers. Many small businesses report that energy bills are the second biggest cost they face after rates and our pledge to freeze energy prices for 20 months until January 2017 will save small businesses an average of £1,800.

 Most of the jobs in the future will be created by a large number of small businesses which is why they need our support. Our plans will make a real difference for small firms, benefit ordinary consumers when they’re doing the weekly shop and also benefit our community through more local jobs.

 Barnet has the third highest number of VAT registrations in Greater London, and 90% of Barnet businesses employ fewer than 10 people - so helping small businesses is key for the local economy and for local jobs.

 The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) supports Small Business Saturday and wants to make sure as many small businesses as possible maximise its opportunities, and we should take this opportunity to show we mean business for small businesses.

That is why as part of Small Business Saturday I am asked that the Council investigated ways of offering small businesses in Barnet a discount on business rates under new powers in the Localism Act in order to attract new firms, growth and jobs to the local economy, and support those small businesses currently operating in the Borough. Council asks Cabinet to work with local businesses and traders on any proposals, and report back by the end of the financial year on possible proposals.

With small businesses under the cosh, parking restrictions and charges imposed by the Tories on Barnet council in the last two years have in many cases been the last straw to their survival. Sadly the Grinch lives on in Barnet. Our Tory councillors could not support such a move that could be lifeline for so many. They ignore advice form their own Government, they ignore the calls from small businesses whom the profess to support.

 They have learnt the lessons of last Christmas on their free parking and are very likely to use Saturday 7th December 2013 to launch the free days, but no amount of flag waving and self trumpeting will save struggling independent businesses unless drastic action to help them happens now.




Friday, 18 October 2013

Housing: Which Century Are we in?

As more people are priced out of homeownership more and more are having to rent. That combined with the lack of social housing means we now have 9 million people across England renting their homes from private landlords. But renting isn't working.
This is partly due to a small but dangerous minority of rogue landlords who continue to make their tenants' lives a misery through high rents but with no or little management. These landlords condemn their tenants to living in rundown, unsafe or overcrowded homes. They often neglect their properties and intimidate those who speak out, threatening them with eviction or even violence.
It's difficult to overemphasize just how serious the impact of these landlords can be. Research shows that one in nine renters say their health has been affected by their landlord failing to carry out repairs or deal with poor conditions in their home. They have the uncertainty of unsecure tenancies in properties that even Charles Dickens would be shocked at.
Governments need to take action and not shy away from responsibility. Many families in the private rented sector have been placed there by their Local Authority, who do not have access to affordable rented housing in the public sector. These families and vulnerable single people are then left to the mercy of landlords just out for a quick profit and in many cases using tax payers money in the form of housing benefit to line their pockets.
All this is made worse by new rules that risk turning England into a ‘knife-edge nation’, where losing your job puts you at immediate risk of losing your home.
As ordinary families struggle to make ends meet as we see the removal of a vital protection measure designed to help people get back on their feet after losing their jobs. Under the coming changes, financial help available to renters during the first three months after they lose their job will be dramatically reduced.
The changes this autumn will mean that, in over a quarter of the country, a family paying a typical rent on an average three bedroom home would need to find an extra £100 a month or more as soon as they became unemployed, or risk losing their home.
Six in ten renters surveyed said that having to find up to £100 a month would make it impossible for them to pay their rent, while nearly two in five renters (38%) said that they could not afford to find any extra money at all.
It can’t and must not continue.
One thing councils can do is to set theie own ‘Tenant’s Charter’. Shelter the housing and homelessness charity, have been calling on councils to take a tough stance against rogue landlords operating in their area.
By signing up to the 'Evict Rogue Landlords' campaign, Councils can commit to using all of the tools at their disposal to crack down on landlords who are ignoring their responsibilities and causing misery to local families.
Shelter have launched a guide to the best examples of rogue landlord enforcement seen across the country. These are based on in-depth interviews and conversations we've been having with the many councils who have signed up to our Evict Rogue Landlords campaign over the last year.
How councils can beat rogue landlords
• Manage and inspect properties to make sure that they are appropriate homes for renters.
• Provide the appropriate resources and support for local enforcement teams.
• Be tough on rogue landlords, and publicise your tough stance in the local press.
• Offer advice to renters and give them the support they need to bring complaints to the council.
• Implement a clear complaints procedure and harness the skills of other agencies.
• Introduce accreditation and licensing schemes for private landlords.
• Educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities when it comes to renting property.

With rents rising and hosue building faliling to meet need Government must act and act now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

When is freeze not a freeze

When is freeze not a freeze

Last week, both David Cameron and George Osborne used their speeches to deride Ed Miliband's focus on the "cost-of-living crisis" on the grounds that it was a distraction from the primary task of 'fixing' the economy. But while doing so, the Tories have also acknowledged that the Labour is onto something

The Tory fightback has begun with the announcement that rail fare increases will be capped at 6%. Ministers say that the move could save commuters around £20 a month but with fares still set to rise above inflation for the eleventh year in a row it's rather small beer.

This late running fares review is a slap across the face for millions of passengers who have seen their fares go through the roof while seeing wages frozen or cut.

Despite seeing walk on fares rise by over 200% since privatisation, there is no action whatsoever to actually end inflation plus fare increases.

All they are offering is to limit them to twice the rate of inflation rather than three times the rate of inflation which have left us with the highest fares in Europe.

They are simply offering to hold passengers coats while they continue getting mugged every year by the same set of spivs- the private rail firms.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Your Choice the Wrong Choice

This weeks Council meeting was very reminiscent of the Thatcher years withthe old battle grounds drawn. One Party on the side of the vulnerable and the other kicking the weak when they are down.The ‘Your Choice’ debacle just highlights the case.
A Your Choice Care worker said:

"There is a sinister undertone to these proposals. The people who will lose out as always are the vulnerable service users who take second place in what is now a business not care provision."
The Leader himself has openly admitted that the Council face a difficult challenge as the number of elderly and disabled residents requiring support is likely to increase 10 fold over the next 10 years. Is it therefore right and proper that a company interested in profit should be tasked with delivering these services?

We know that not all services provided by the Council need to be provided in house, but the business case needs to be proved. And in this case it has not, the process like the outsourcing project is deeply flawed.

But there are inconsistencies in their argument. They leap like lemmings off a cliff chasing the mantra of more for less although we have always felt that this just another con trick.

They never planned to get more for less, but provide less for less. But out of the blue they decided to keep the refuse service in house and bring back the recycling service. So why farm out services to the vulnerable for profit and not the bins? Just like their counterparts in Westminster the veneer has slipped the nasty Tories never went away.
The proposals are exceedingly questionable and need to be revisited. The recent decision to outsource back office services to Capita has led to a series of statements from the Council. "We will have £120 million to spend on public services in Barnet which we would not otherwise have. This will help to protect frontline services such as social care and libraries."

In which case the Council should follow the example set by Stockport Council and bringing back these services under the direct control of the Council in order to ensure there is no erosion of service delivery to vulnerable adults in the London Borough of Barnet."

You don't need a great mind to understand what effect this will have on services.

 One example given by Unison is: "For continence issues, those who require changing in the night do not require the use of hoists as they are already in bed. It takes two staff to safely use a hoist" - the implications if the above cut is implemented is that if a service user is incontinent during the night they will have to wait until the morning before they can be helped."

It must be absolutely clear now that those who are wilfully rushing ahead with the implementation of One Barnet ideology in this borough are a bungling group of ideologists totally removed from the realities of real world.

But they can put a stop to this. We have spoken of legacies this evening and if they do not heed the cautions the Tory legacy will be a borough that is left bankrupt with local services damaged beyond repair.

Conviction politics is all well and good if it delivers for all and particularly the most vulnerable but it is not always the right choice.  

And Your Choice is clearly not the Right Choice.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Our NHS NOT safe in Tory Hands

This week Labour called a debate in Westminster on plans by the Tories and Lib Dems to contract out services in the NHS. I firmly believe that the government was making the privatisation of the NHS "inevitable". It coincidently coincided with Barnet Labours emergency motion on virtually the said same subject tackling the financial shortfall GPs in Barnet would face.

It was obvious in the new regulations that if Clinical Commissioning Groups did not advertise services to full and open competition, private health companies would be able to mount a legal challenge. This is essentially a wish by the coalition to bring in full scale privatisation of our health service, something Labour has been warning since the Tories and Lib Dems came to power three years ago.

But shortly after the debate, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government announced a climb as it confirmed a rewrite of the rules around NHS commissioning.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has repeatedly raised concerns about the Tory-Lib Dem Government's determination to privatise the National Health Service.

From April, the new Clinical Commissioning Groups in Sefton will be taking on their new roles, but now without the guidance of the government.

The guidance must be to ensure that the NHS is the primary supplier of services. If we don't get that, then the NHS will end up being run down with vital services going to private companies whose primary aim is to make profits.

It is a road which the Tories and Lib Dems seem determined to go down, despite the repeated warnings of the health professionals, including thousands of doctors, nurses and even the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges who warned that the changes could cause 'dangerous' fragmentation of health services.

However, the announcement that they would rewrite the rules around commissioning is welcomed, but only cast iron assurances that the NHS will be the primary supplier of health services in this country will be acceptable.

That's the message we are hearing from those who have contacted us expressing concerns that the Tories and Lib Dems are selling the NHS down the river.

Many Labour MPs have signed EDM 1104 that reads:  That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the National Health Service (Procurement, Patient Choice and Competition) Regulations 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 257), dated 11 February 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 13 February, be annulled.
Sadly Barnet’s MPs and even the diminutive member for Brent Central have failed to join the fight against privatisation of our Health Service
It is also worrying that the Tory Leader welcomed private companies moving into the NHS when during the debate in the Town Hall he stated: “Private medicine is good, the more we get in the NHS the better.”

As Andy Burnham quite rightly said: “The greatest threat the NHS faces right now is a Government whose only prescription for it is the toxic medicine of cuts, re-organisation and privatisation”.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A Rotten Bill and a Rotten Borough too

A Rotten Bill and a Rotten Borough too

Last night Tory and Lib Dem MPs sniggered and chortled as they voted to cap vital benefits to those ‘strivers’ they claimed to support.

With help from their media allies and Daily Mail headlines it has been easy for the Tories to turn large sections of the population agin each other. ‘Strivers’ versus ‘skivers’ and ‘shirkers’ with Cameron & Osborne continually drawing on evil images of the work shy and feckless with their curtains drawn, “asleep, living a life on benefits.”

But who are these ‘scroungers’ Cameron & Osborne will be clamping down on? According to the Governments own figures; forty-thousand soldiers will be hit; three-hundred thousand nurses will lose out and one-hundred and fifty thousand teachers will be hurt.

More than 60% of the recipients of the benefits are working people, meaning that seven million working households will now lose £165 a year and those who will be hit the hardest will be lone parents, the disabled, and women.

These ideological cuts will push hard working people below the poverty line at a time when they need help the most. Those on low incomes contribute a much higher percentage of their income to the economy, but unless the Government intend to legislate to ensure fuel bills, fares, rents and food prices are capped, they will now be paying a far higher price. 

The grins and guffaws from the Government benches yesterday were sickening. As they hand a tax cut of over £2,000 to the wealthiest in the country, food banks are springing up across the UK and even in leafy green Barnet.

The issue isn’t the unemployed but lack of a fair days pay for a fair days work. As the rich get richer the poor get poorer. But if you base your policies on Daily Mail headlines it is hardly surprising.

That can't be fair. People are struggling to make ends meet. This is a time when they need help.

We have gone back to the days of divide and rule. The ideology of ‘striver’ vs ‘shirker’ and ‘private’ vs ‘public’.

This will not cut the Welfare Bill as they think but will put more pressure on local services already hit by Tory policies nationally and by daft privatisation plans locally. 

We all want to make work pay but we need to tackle the issue of low pay, temporary and part time employment and the rising cost of living. Fure bills, fares, rents and food prices are crippling for many families and they need support from Government. This is just another kick in the teeth for millions out there.

The mean old Tories backed by their Lib Dem friends are truly back!

To quote David Miliband this should be “a priorities debate, not an affordability debate”.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Kaff's Corner: This town is looking like a ghost town

Kaff's Corner: This town is looking like a ghost town: So Little Dean sees himself as the saviour of our Town Centres and the Tory to rid the borough of the spectre of the lesser known Cllr Brian...