David Burrowes and Nickie Aiken: Coming to you soon. The family hubs revolution.

This week’s National Family Hubs Fair and Conference brought together around 50 organisations that are committed to supporting families.

David Burrowes is Executive Director of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families and was MP for Enfield Southgate from 2005-2017. Cllr Nickie Aiken is the Leader of Westminster City Council.

This week in Westminster whilst MPs attention was on Brexit, a revolution began. It took place within the eight minute distance it takes to get to the division lobby in the Commons. But it was not about votes or Parliamentary plots – and certainly not about Brexit. It was the first National Family Hubs Fair and Conference. That does not sound too revolutionary, but these family hubs are transforming the lives of children and parents up and down the country, and are carrying the torch for the Government for when its attention returns to the domestic policy agenda.

The National Family Hubs Fair and Conference brought together around 50 organisations and family hub areas who are committed to supporting families. It was initiated by the Manifesto to Strengthen Families (led by Fiona Bruce and Lord Farmer in 2017 and signed by 60 MPs and several peers), which had a key recommendation: that the Government “encourage every Local Authority to work with voluntary and private sector partners to deliver Family Hubs, local ‘one stop shops’ offering families with children and young people, aged 0-19, early help to overcome difficulties and build stronger relationships…and put in place a transformation fund and national task force to encourage Local Authorities to move towards this model”.

Westminster Council did not need any encouragement, because it has been on the journey of service integration for many years. An integrated leadership team, consisting of statutory and voluntary organisations, oversees the development and work of the hub, and is committed to developing a shared approach through sharing of information, assessments, meeting processes and, importantly, their resources.

The significant funding challenges for children and family services mean that councils have to integrate, but in Westminster we have done it to improve and expand the reach of our services. We have shifted to a Family Hub model as a natural evolution from Sure Start Children’s Centres, realising that parents of older children (five plus) need and were asking for the same integrated support. We have launched the Bessborough Family hub as one of three hubs, supporting families with children across the age spectrum from under one to 19. As well as a physical building, the hubs will be a network of providers working across a given area.

All this sounds like management changes rather than a revolution but what we heard at our conference is that in Westminster and across the country in places like Chelmsford, the Isle of Wight and Rochdale, family hubs are tackling at source the biggest social problem which is relationship and family breakdown.

A lack of readily accessible early support for families with children aged from between under one to 19 who experience difficulties in their parenting and couple relationships and in their mental health threatens to undermine efforts to narrow the education attainment gap. It also fuels crises in social care services which are faced with unremittingly high numbers of children who are ‘in need’, on child protection plans, and coming into care.

Over half of referrals to children’s services come from the police, schools and health services, for whom the child or family’s presenting need was significant enough to require more help than they could offer. Yet without additional help many of these families will, sooner or later, require costly social services interventions.

The family hubs developing across the UK are key to tackling the “burning injustices” which the Prime Minister has identified as her mission – identifying families with complex needs as early as possible, no matter which service they come into contact with; preventing family breakdown; preventing children from going into care and from entering the criminal justice system; helping parents to gain employment; providing access to first-line mental health support to reduce referrals to higher level, more costly intervention.

Family Hubs are delivering significant outcomes: children and young people feeling safer; families being helped to improve parenting and children’s behaviour; better emotional wellbeing of mothers and children in the perinatal period and beyond; good lifestyle choices; more resilient families who can respond well to crises and cope with shocks; young people having strong attachment to at least one adult; and people being connected to and involved in their local community.

Nadhim Zahawi, Minister for Children and Families, opened the Family Hubs Fair and expressed his support for family hubs and highlighted the £8.5 million LGA fund to support delivery of best practice. He then poignantly went off script to talk about the Valentine’s Day card he had received from his daughter Mia, and those strong relationships between family or friends which we all want in life.

Andrea Leadsom later took time out of a busy Brexit day to deliver a speech outlining her work as Chair of the Inter Ministerial Group for the Early Years. She emphasised the progress being made in supporting the crucial attachment between parent and child in the perinatal period and beyond and the implementation of her 20 years of experience encapsulated here at www.1001criticaldays.co.uk.

The call for early intervention is not new, but now there is a clarion call for leadership nationally and locally so children and family services can not only survive but thrive through partnership working of innovative Councils such as Westminster developing family hubs. So look out for a family hub coming to you soon and join the family hubs revolution!

Vivienne Michael: Collaborating across the party political divide? In Mole Valley we are familiar with the challenges.

You have to start early earning trust with openness, honesty and a lot of work on both sides.

Cllr Vivienne Michael is the Leader of Mole Valley District Council.

2018 was, undeniably, a year of rancour and division, not just in national politics but in the country as a whole, a year when we seemed more divided and less tolerant than ever. So, it was no surprise that, as we entered 2019, commentators were urging politicians to set aside their differences and come together in the national interest. As I write, our MPs may not be setting aside differences but they are certainly casting off traditional allegiances to form new cross Party alliances in an attempt to extricate us from the Brexit stalemate.

At the local level, there have always been people who believe that Party politics have no place in local democracy. From the perspective of the South East, this view seems, once again, to be gaining traction with Independent candidates and councillors challenging the traditional Parties, driven by what they see as the need to represent local people, place and community, rather than Party.

I am, and always will be, a Conservative but, since becoming Leader of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC), I have consistently called for councillors of all political parties (and of none) to work together in a spirit of collaboration. I have done so for one simple reason – when I talk to residents, most of them tell me that’s what they want to see.

Of course, when we lost our slim Conservative majority last year, we didn’t have much choice but to engage with other Groups in the Council and our early discussions were, understandably, tinged with some suspicion on both sides. However, when we talked with the Independent Group it really didn’t take us long to identify common ground – we were all united in wanting to do our best for our respective communities and for the District as a whole. In short, we could do business with these people.

The outcome of those talks was a Cabinet of three Independents and six Conservatives including myself as Leader and we faced our first test early on – which Group would hold the Deputy Leadership? We agreed a creative compromise – we would retain the Deputy Leadership but the Independent Group Leader would join us in a new “top team” of three meeting regularly with the CEO. This has worked well and I like to think that it set the tone for our subsequent working relationship.

It was clear that Independent Cabinet Members, all of whom had been councillors for a relatively short time, would face a steep learning curve – but so too did those of us with more Cabinet experience as we adapted to working in the very different environment of a coalition. So, very early on, we brought in the LGA to facilitate training for the entire Cabinet and senior officers. This helped everyone’s understanding of how the Council worked and the way in which policy was developed and we identified some significant improvements that needed to be made to our decision making processes. The training sessions also helped officers understand the Members’ perspective – something that becomes much more important in a coalition.

Just as valuable was the chance for Cabinet Members to get to know each other, something that has helped break down barriers to an honest discussion in our private Cabinet meetings and avoid overt disagreement in public. If this all sounds a bit touchy-feely to those who thrive on the adversarial style of politics, it’s really not, it’s just pragmatic and effective politics. After all, isn’t politics all about people and the art of compromise.

Our biggest challenge as a coalition – finalising the Local Plan – is still to come and I won’t attempt to predict how that will play out. But having just succeeded in putting forward proposals for a balanced Budget – one that keeps Council tax low, invests in key areas and secures medium-term stability, all without cuts in services – I’m allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic.

Mole Valley councillors have taken the spirit of collaboration one step further recently with all three Groups unanimously opposing County Council proposals to close Children’s Centres and Community Recycling Centres in the District – perhaps this is a sign that even our most tribal Opposition colleagues now realise that, at a time of great uncertainty, when local government is facing so many financial and social challenges, we can be stronger and more effective when we work together and speak with one voice.

What, if anything, can others learn from the MVDC experience? I would say it’s that engagement and collaboration can’t be superficial or a last minute add-on. You have to start early earning trust with openness, honesty and a lot of work on both sides.

Finally, does any of this signal a significant shift in the local political landscape? I suspect it does. Nationally, people now seem to identify as Remain or Leave rather than Conservative or Labour and they are, clearly, increasingly frustrated by our MPs reluctance to work together in difficult times. So, how long before the public’s expectations of their local politicians change just as radically? And are we as a Party ready for that?

Alison Cork: To flourish, the retail sector in London needs the chance to adapt

Why not build more co-working spaces into large retail units, to fit modern lifestyles? Places like Pret A Manger already double as mobile offices for many people.

Alison Cork is an entrepreneur specialising in home interiors, and a television presenter. She was among those shortlisted to be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.

Far from being paved with gold, the shopping streets of London currently tell a tale of retail woe. Empty units, an unhealthy balance (literally) of fast food outlets, and most depressingly for me, a lack of spark and originality in the brands on offer. High street retail should be an exciting process of discovery and consumer courtship, but more often than not it is now a repetitive and uninspiring affair.

Rent, rates and online retail are normally quoted as the reasons for this malaise, all of which play their part, but I don’t feel that this paints a wholly balanced picture.

All businesses have to face competition, whether they are online or physical retail, and to say that online retail should pay supplementary taxes to counteract their supposed advantage seems a counter-intuitive way to deal with the problem (I’m not referring here to the well known behemoths of online retail who seem particularly adept at paying tiny amounts of tax – this should definitely be addressed). I’m saying that we should be looking positively to reinvent the high street, rather than penalizing online shopping,  which appears to be succeeding in serving up speed and convenience to the consumer.

Part of the solution I feel lies in how we use physical retail space and the way in which increasingly we spend our leisure time. Shopping is now less about the mechanics of purchasing an item at the till and carrying it home, and more about having an enjoyable leisure experience discovering new product and services, whilst relaxing and socializing. Physical retail needs to respond to this, particularly the large stores which have such enormous overheads and considerable square footage to monetize.

A few years ago my own homeward brand won a retail competition to run a concession in House of Fraser on Oxford Street for two weeks. Whilst it was a great opportunity and one we hugely enjoyed, I remember feeling a deep sense of foreboding that there were many days when the sales staff seemed to outnumber the customers passing through, and I could only wonder at the electricity bill. Fast forward a few years and we know what happened to HoF. And they are not alone, retail profit warnings generally recently reached a seven-year high, so something needs to be done and quickly.

However, I do believe that large stores could reinvent themselves and provide the lifestyle experience people now want. Increasingly we are working for ourselves, demanding flexible working hours and arrangements, and wanting low overhead workspace, hence the growing success of shared workspace businesses such as Wework.

Why not combine this demand with the more fluid lifestyle people now lead, and build more co-working spaces into large retail units? Places like Pret A Manger already double as mobile offices for many people, but this would be taking the concept to its next logical step and providing a more comprehensive yet still flexible workspace. It would also facilitate networking amongst the self-employed, something I know to be very important from the work we do at Make It Your Business. This approach could also be adapted to help the elderly, providing a more formal place to meet people and socialise, counteracting another big challenge – that of modern-day loneliness.

Add in a bigger choice of eateries, other services such as child care, fun interactive brand experiences harnessing technology and efficient, cost-effective home delivery of purchases (so we can continue our retail experience hands free so to speak) and the overall result might be that we spend more time exposed to the retail proposition and end up spending more. All of a sudden, House of Fraser sounds a bit more interesting and relevant to our everyday needs and changing work/life habits. Physical retail needs to become multi functioning and go beyond its somewhat linear offering.

This is perhaps a solution for the larger stores, but what is the solution to my other point about wanting retail to be a journey of discovery of new product and brands? I think it lies in the other type of shopping street we have in London, the traditional high street of what is often 20th century construct, a parade of shops with retail outlets on the ground floor and more often than not, offices on the first floor and above.

Currently, the ground floor typically would be classified as retail, as it has a street frontage, but it is this very advantage which makes it expensive and beyond the reach of many new and more niche retailers. Why don’t we amend or allow more flexibility around our building classification to allow first floor and above also to be divided into smaller retail units (as opposed to office units), which could give rise to a honeycomb of exciting, new and niche brands getting the high street exposure they need. It would also give back the consumer that sense of discovery, originality and authenticity that I think they crave and miss. Take a walk down somewhere like South Molton Street and imagine how much more enticing it would be if every building was three floors of retail discovery. I know I’d be there like a shot.

London has the potential to be the best retail destination in the world. We certainly have the creative spirit to deliver on that. Let’s match that with some creative retail thinking and policy making.

Ferris Cowper: In East Hampshire we are breaking away from the “jobsworth” approach

We are improving services and cutting Council Tax. We have one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the nation.

Cllr Ferris Cowper is the Cabinet Member for Finance of East Hampshire District Council.

The great Peter Drucker was a committed believer in the benefits of change and once said “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”. Since leaving one of the great exemplars of modern industrial success, Mars, Inc., my 20 years in local government have taught me that we really need to embrace this notion.

There are so many “somethings old” that we cling to in local government. We have to raise taxes. We are risk averse. We can’t make a profit. We don’t pay our staff commercial rates. Some even wear the “jobsworth” badge with a resigned fatalism.

I want “something new”, like Drucker. At East Hampshire District Council we have been removing our  unwanted “somethings old” for quite a few years now. Amongst the unwanted “somethings old” are freebie government hand-outs which used to kill off our sense of entrepreneurism, and levying Council Tax which hits rich and poor indiscriminately and makes you pay for things you don’t use.

  • Over the past 20 years, (the time our Conservative administration has been in power at EHDC), we have the best District Council Tax record in Britain*.
  • The Local Government Association’s latest benchmarking survey shows EHDC having the fourth highest resident satisfaction rate in the nation. (The benchmarking data for the councils in second and third place is at least 5 years old and ours is current)
  • Over that time front-line services have been improved dramatically with no cuts.
  • EHDC are finalists in this month’s Local Government Chronicle “Entrepreneurial Council of the Year Awards”.
  • All three of our corporate directors in post last summer are now Chief Executives, so we have peer recognition as well.

We have agreed to freeze Council Tax for the forthcoming financial year.

This success comes from a radical rethink of who we are. Of course we provide vital services for those that need them free of charge. That is never challenged because that is why we are here.

By the way, before readers tell me I’m so lucky to live in a rich person’s leafy lane paradise, we have wards with some of the worst deprivation statistics in England. At no cost to the taxpayer we’re rebuilding one of least affluent communities in record time with a total cross sector investment of £1 billion. We’re about to launch a mold-breaking welfare strategy and we’ve even offered to take on local adult social care from the county council.

So what are we doing that’s new?

We charge for services where customers have choice. We market and sell a range of products and services and in Regenco we have one of Britain’s most respected regeneration consultancies.

We invest and yes, we invest in commercial property. Before Lord Oakshott vents his spleen on us upstart competitors raining on his cosy parade, our property procedures in all aspects have been independently vetted by one of the top UK pension fund advisers.

We look hard at all our jobs and we cut out those that are unnecessary. EHDC taxpayers only pay for half of the top three layers of management because they are shared 50/50 with a neighbouring council. We share premises with the Police. We don’t need these bloated overheads from the “something old” culture.

All of us in the public sector have to face the fact there just isn’t enough tax in the economy to pay for all these public services. That’s why the public sector, across the board is in a shocking financial mess. This tax-and-handouts based financial framework is delivering embarrassing adult social care for our elderly folk and a progressively weakening NHS. Colleagues, it’s nothing whatsoever to be proud of.

But I’m proud of my Council because we improve services all the time, we cut tax in cash terms to be the best in Britain and we have one of the highest customer satisfaction rates in the nation. We did that because we wanted something new and to get that we stopped doing something old.

That should be the mantra of all in public service in order to lead the nation towards post-Brexit prosperity.

Stephen Greenhalgh: The Conservatives need a stronger crime-fighting agenda for the capital

We must bring in the technology to allow frontline police officers to carry scanners which enable them to detect knives and guns beneath clothing

Stephen Greenhalgh was the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime in London, and has also served as Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

After yet another bloody weekend in the capital, Mayor Sadiq Khan has announced another in his long line of timid pilot projects.  This one to tag, using the Global Positioning System, only 100 habitual knife-crime criminals in just four London boroughs when they leave prison in order to reduce their re-offending. In The Times, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has called for collective action to prevent violent crime from “scarring our society, terrorising our communities, and, most devastatingly, destroying the lives of our next generation.”

The Home Secretary has made a commitment to do everything in his power to give those on the front line of the fight, the tools they need to end the bloodshed. He has backed this up with the announcement of the knife crime prevention orders in response to the police wanting more powers to help them divert young people away from the dangers of knife crime.

So why is the London Mayor not using GPS tagging in combination with these new civil orders? Perhaps the Home Secretary can put this to the Mayor, in the cross-party serious violence taskforce that he is convening today. This is yet another example of the Mayor focusing on PR rather than the measures that will do something to stem the bloodshed on London’s streets. GPS tagging has been around for years and should be rolled out far more widely – not just to reduce re-offending but also with preventative measures such as these new knife crime prevention orders, gang injunctions, and criminal behaviour orders. With the murder rate and knife crime at a 10 year high, Londoners deserve a Mayor who prioritises the prevention of knife crime.

However, we also need more police officers in our capital city. This Home Secretary has risen to the challenge and is providing the biggest increase in police budgets since 2010. Police and Crime Commissioners all over the country are planning to recruit thousands more officers. However, the Mayor of London has let police officers fall to below 30,000 from at or around 32,000 when Mayor Johnson left office in 2016.  This is despite receiving a flat cash settlement from the Home Office. The Mayor needs to have a budget plan to increase officer numbers dramatically and this will not emerge with more pointless PR. Under Mayor Johnson we had a plan to release under-utilised police buildings, reduce overhead, and reform the policing model to keep police officer numbers high in spite of having £100 million less to spend each year.

Finally, if we are going to stem this mindless violence, our candidate for Mayor, Shaun Bailey, should pledge to bring in the technology developed by British scientists that allows frontline officers to carry scanners which enable them to detect knives and guns beneath clothing. These portable scanners can differentiate knives from everyday items such as keys. A widespread roll-out of this technology will give the police another tool that will enable the Met to ramp up intelligence-led and targeted stop and search so that we can get the knives off the streets of our capital city.

Barry Lewis: The Conservatives are delivering for Derbyshire

A record number of 68,000 potholes were repaired in 2018. The new model will mean even better performance and efficiency in the future.

Cllr Barry Lewis is the Leader of Derbyshire County Council

It has now been almost two years since the Conservatives took control of Derbyshire County Council. This was with a cataclysmic landslide that has rarely been seen in local politics, mid-term, with the same party in government. We bucked the national trend by overturning a majority of 43 Labour councillors to achieve our own majority of ten, achieving a result that many thought unthinkable.

Two years on, we are now leading an ambitious change agenda focused on delivering the most efficient and effective public services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. Our aim is to become an “Enterprising Council”. This is not just about providing services in a different way but also about changing the mindset of the council. We are one of the biggest county councils in the country and culture change in local government is never easy. However, we are steadily moving from a bureaucratic approach to decision-making to one where teams and individuals feel empowered to get things done. In doing so, we are underpinning a sense of individual responsibility to make the organisation and culture far less paternalistic.

A few people have read “Enterprising Council” to equate to a programme of privatisation – which is wrong. This is not something that is driven by ideology, but by a desire to always find the best solution to delivering the highest quality of public services, at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. In doing so, we want to tap into the creativity and passion of our own staff to come up with different solutions. An example of this is a new operating model for our highways services which is already regarded as one of the best in the country, thanks to an extra £6 million of investment since we won the election. This has seen a record number of 68,000 potholes repaired in 2018. The new model will mean even better performance and efficiency in the future.

We are rolling out a new libraries strategy that is working with local people to turn 20 of our least visited and used libraries into community-run facilities that will not only safeguard their future but also ensure that they play a leading role in the community. We are also looking to work with local organisations to safeguard the future of our mobile library service, a service decimated by previous Labour cuts.

The sea change in the way that we work with local communities is fundamental to Enterprising Council. We do not want to be a council that “does things to” local communities, we want to be a council that works with local communities to find the best solutions. In doing so, we are changing the whole dynamic of the council by driving top to bottom culture change. I make no bones about it: I want people to recognise that Derbyshire County Council is a Conservative County Council.  Working hand-in-glove with our senior officer team, we are developing leadership skills across the organisation to embed an ethos of efficiency, effectiveness, and enterprise, while making sure that the ethos is cascaded down.

We have just completed a Corporate Peer Challenge from the LGA which has not happened in Derbyshire for more than 10 years. This has been a nerve-wracking experience because you open the council to criticism. We did it because we wanted to benchmark ourselves with other authorities.  Overall we came out well with many of the issues identified already clear in our minds and already being addressed via the emerging Enterprising Council approach.

Our Labour colleagues have already lambasted us for not taking the full 4.99 per cent council tax rise allowed by Government without triggering a referendum.  We had to explain to them, and the local press bizarrely, that it’s not a target to aim for. We have a responsibility to balance our budget and take into account that residents are squeezed too. It is critical to remember that taxpayers fund our services and the people who we employ or commission. Often it seems that they get very little that is noticeable from us on a day-to-day basis. For them, it is all about street lights, well-maintained roads, bins and pavements. Of course, go below the surface and you will see the sheer range of life-changing services and support that we provide, particularly to people who are more vulnerable. We also take care of large areas of countryside, former pits, railways and opencast sites, canals and other assets that are there for environmental or recreational purposes.  Not every taxpayer will benefit directly from this provision. So we should always ask the question: could someone else look after these sites?  If so, who from the local community would come forward to manage the assets at less cost while deriving more benefit from that sense of involvement?

There is of course a huge range of other things we do, which is mostly unseen. For example, facilitating economic growth, promoting tourism, providing public transport, managing budgets for schools, and a whole host of other things.  All these things cost money, some of which is non-statutory but if we did not do it, who would?  This means that Derbyshire has a circa £1.1 billion annual operating budget.  A not inconsiderable sum which demonstrates the need to take a carefully balanced view on how we spend the money.

I hope that I have given you a flavour of the sense of change that we are trying to engender in Derbyshire. I am unapologetic in my ambition for Derbyshire to be seen as, and feel like, a “Conservative County Council” in four short years. There’s no reason why, with good policies and a laser-like focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and lower tax we could not be as safe as a Sussex council.

Thomas Kerr: Why the people of Scotland deserve a Council Tax freeze

Glaswegians have seen increases in their taxes – but no improvement in local services. This is why Conservatives are standing up for hard-working families.

Cllr Thomas Kerr represents Shettleston Ward on Glasgow City Council.

It won’t be a surprise to many of you reading this today that times are tough, especially for local government. As budgets get tighter our services get strained and in Glasgow that is the position we find ourselves in as we draw ever closer to the council’s budget on 21st February.

So what are the options facing our city and how did we get here. The story begins as all major economic failures do with a previous Labour administration and, while normally that saying is used to pivot the blame, this time the finger is pointed and extremely accurate.

In 2006 Glasgow took the decision to bring in a new pay and grading scheme – a scheme I may add which was supported by officers, unions and the opposition parties. Its introduction however, created more problems than it solved and to cut a long story short we ended up in a position where the new system disproportionately penalised female workers. The council and trade unions fought this in the courts for years and while Labour, the beacon of equality that it claims to be, refused to settle it was left to the new intake of 2017 councillors to sort out their mess. Glasgow’s budget this year and for years to come must find a way of paying out around £500 million in equal pay settlements, money which these women are entitled to but which will leave us having to face many tough decisions in the years ahead.

The Scottish Government would love nothing more than to be able to blame Glasgow’s financial problems on the previous Labour Administration – for as we know there is nothing the SNP like more than to engage in grievance politics and play the blame game. This time however they can’t. Despite their claim that “Tory Austerity” is the cause of all of Scotland’s problems, the reality is that the SNP mismanagement of Scotland’s public purse is endangering the public services upon which my constituents rely. Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay have decimated local government budgets throughout the country and the blame for this lays squarely at their door. Combined with the equal pay bill, these cuts are set to devastate local services.

Scotland’s block grant has been rising in recent years but the SNP are still cutting council budgets, why? It’s because they have no respect for the services that councils like Glasgow deal with. Enough is enough, this isn’t the “Westminster Tory Government’s” fault this is yours First Minister and it is about time you and your Government accept some responsibility. This Scottish Government should hang its head in shame for the complete contempt in which they hold Scotland’s local authorities. As a Glasgow MSP, Nicola Sturgeon’s apathy towards the city is evident on a daily basis – and her cohort of councillors are scarcely any better. Glaswegians expect their governing party in the City Chambers to be fighting our corner but in this administration, we see the exact opposite.

The Council Leader, Cllr Susan Aitken, is not Glasgow’s voice in the SNP and she never has been. Rather she is the SNP’s cheerleader in Glasgow and that must change.

That brings me to the now – Glasgow is facing a £50.9 million shortfall to makeup and the options we are now seeing include higher council tax for fewer services that just isn’t on. The makeup of Glasgow City Council means two parties need to come together to agree on a budget. Glasgow Conservatives were elected to oppose the SNP’s obsession with Scottish Independence and we will continue to do so every step of the way. Given the financial circumstances that have been imposed on Glasgow, we’ve made clear five key priorities for any budget that we would need to see in any budget for us to consider supporting. These are:

  • Safeguarding addiction/homelessness services: We believe in protecting the most vulnerable in our society – and that includes those suffering from addiction and those who find themselves homeless. We are therefore asking the administration to protect and enhance funding towards these vital services.
  • More investment in our roads/pavements: Our city is heavily reliant on roads and pavements to ensure not only that Glaswegians can get to work and live their lives but also to make sure that visitors to Glasgow enjoy the transport links that a world class city deserves. The Conservatives are therefore calling on the Administration to use capital funding to bring our road network up to a standard fit for the modern age.
  • Taking the non-residential parking levy off the table: Removing the current threat of the administration introducing a non-residential parking levy. Such a proposal would hurt business, workers and commuters and is completely unacceptable. For any talks to be serious the SNP administration must take this proposal off the table.
  • More support for small businesses: Small businesses are the backbone of any economy – especially Glasgow’s. However, under Susan Aitken’s leadership, small businesses have not had a champion within the city chambers. We are offering the administration a chance to reverse this record by supporting small businesses and changing a culture that is driving investment away from our city.
  • A council tax freeze: Over the past couple of years Glaswegians have seen their income and council tax bills rise. We say enough is enough. No more should Glasgow’s taxpayers have to foot the bill for SNP spending cuts to local government. Our constituents have seen increases in their taxes but no improvement in local services. This is why Conservatives are standing up for hard-working families by opposing any further increase in council tax at February’s budget.

Glasgow Conservatives are showing the SNP, Labour and Green Parties what effective opposition looks like. For too long Glasgow politicians have been ducking the hard decisions. Our five priorities are common sense and realistic and we would urge the administration to take them seriously and engage constructively. We as a party believe in a common sense approach to dealing with our city’s problems that is why we are willing to find common ground on issues for the greater benefit of all Glaswegians.

John Myers: Allow local people to take back control of building design

Should there be a right to extend your house upwards by a floor or two? The residents in each street should be allowed to decide.

John Myers is co-founder of YIMBY Alliance and London YIMBY, campaigns to end the housing crisis with the support of local people.

After years of increasingly bitter and divisive argument, both sides dig in to their positions. They trade insults and then shots. A battle royal begins.

Brexit? No: the Government’s proposal to give you a ‘permitted development’ right to extend your house upwards by a floor or two.

The outrage has soared to heights many times those of the proposed buildings.

Kit Malthouse with his #MoreBetterFaster mantra and Mr Brokenshire’s clever team are determined to augment the nation’s housing stock.

Since 1947, the number of UK homes has never grown at the net percentage rate of the 1830s, let alone the far higher rate of the 1930s. We have failed to build enough high-quality homes for decades. That drives down wages in places with more homes than jobs, and holds people away from better opportunities in places with more jobs than homes. Fixing that would boost fairness, wages, economic growth and opportunity.

Stasis is less controversial but has caused a slowly-mounting human and economic catastrophe. Brokenshire and Malthouse are absolutely right about the need for improvement.

The current proposals are a small step back towards the historic position.

Until the 1940s, you could build nearly anything on your own land. Since London’s Great Fire, simple regulations were written on fire safety and later to guarantee light, air, and back yards at least ten feet deep. After the 14-storey Queen Anne’s Mansions caused a backlash, height limits were reduced in 1894 – to 80 feet.

The current need for discretionary planning permission for almost everything dates from 1947. Few would argue it has engendered the best buildings across the land.

Nearly all of our most-loved heritage – centuries of it – was built before 1940.

And yet one small move back towards clear rules, not dependent on some official’s fiat, has caused an outcry.

Why?

The Royal Town Planning Institute has magisterially weighed in, arguing the proposals will damage “character and amenity”.

Has the current system preserved character and amenity across the land? And if those would be even more jeopardized by simple rules, how were so many stunningly beautiful places built in prior centuries?

We all know that furniture is different. The best pieces appreciate over time, but the banal sinks in price until you must pay to be rid of it.

Back when houses were priced more like furniture, people would pay for good design.

Investors love things guaranteed to get ever scarcer and more expensive – like planning permissions since the new 1947 system. In the South-East, most of the value of a home is the planning permission, not the building, nor the land. Even a concrete box with a door and a window will gain value over time.

Planning permissions have ballooned in value until they now account for some two-fifths of the entire net worth of the nation: around £4 trillion.

Why spend money on design when houses go up in price anyway, and when most new buyers are painfully stretched to afford something their family can just about squeeze into?

Is it surprising that good design has almost disappeared?

Putting the genie back in the bottle will take time. The RTPI is right that new rights to jam on any old storey or two will not give the best results.

Other countries have clear, simple rules with angles and setbacks to preserve light for neighbours, as we once did. That would help, but how can we avoid a forest of concrete excrescences?

There is one proven way to get higher quality buildings: a design code.

True, some of our prettiest places were built without such codes: the Cotswolds, or Hampstead.

But in many others – Edinburgh’s New Town or Bath’s Royal Crescent – a single landowner set standards for high quality.

That, then, is an obvious way to allow more housing that almost everyone can support. Happily, the consultation has given hints in that direction.

Who should write those codes? I suspect Sir Roger Scruton, chair of the new Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission, would agree that it should not be the housing Ministry.

Even setting good design rules across a single county, town or borough is almost impossible – a Herculean task given the range of existing buildings, even before the great style debate begins.

What’s more, many places simply don’t want change.

But there are plenty of others where the locals would be delighted to take back control and pick designs that would allow them to add rooms for growing families or an additional flat for a grandparent or adult offspring.

We already have neighbourhood planning, but it works best in small villages where people know each other. Good luck getting ten thousand people in a borough to agree.

Smaller is better. In existing towns or cities, the simplest decision unit that makes sense is the single street – with limits and rules to protect neighbours on other streets.

What is missing, then, is a simple way for the residents of single street to choose their own designs and vote by, say, a two-thirds majority to permit the extensions that make sense for them.

How can we expect the layperson to come up with high-quality design? With a great British institution that worked for centuries: the pattern book. Architects can compete to offer designs over the internet. Picking a design that makes sense for your street should be easy. The designs that give the best results – and the best prices on sale – will soon become known.

The way forward is to learn from how our favourite heritage was built. Design and quality are key. The best results come when local people have the power to improve their own communities and homes.

Phil Taylor: The rise in rough sleeping has halted at last

The challenge is complex. New factors such as poor EU migrants and increasing drug use are driving it.

Phil Taylor is a Conservative activist in Ealing.

There was good news for the government on Thursday that there has been a slight dip in the rough sleeping numbers.

Overall numbers are down two per cent having risen relentlessly for the seven previous years since 2010. Not everyone was gracious in welcoming the news. For instance, you have to read down to the fourth paragraph of this Guardian piece, entitled “Rough sleeping rises in nearly all England’s major cities”, to find out that numbers have fallen.

Of course, the numbers still make for grim reading. 4,677 souls sleeping rough up from 1,768 in 2010 when the counting system was comprehensively revised and improved, a rise of 165 per cent in eight years.

The causes of this rise are not well understood and there are lots of voices out there trying to pin these numbers on poverty, homelessness and/or “austerity”. The details of the report do give some clues as to what the real drivers are.

It is worth comparing the rough sleeping rate by region with regional disposable incomes. The rate of rough sleeping is pretty much inversely proportional to regional wealth.

Is there not an argument that rough sleeping is as much about a wealth pull rather than just a poverty push?

It is hard to argue that poverty drives rough sleeping when our poorest region, the North East, has the lowest rate of rough sleeping and the numbers have only grown 35 per cent in eight years.

The high prevalence of non-UK nationals in these numbers is also considerable evidence of wealth pull.  Only 64 per cent of rough sleepers in England self-identify as UK nationals.  In London, this factor is much more important.  Only 33 per cent self-identify as UK nationals.

Across England last year the number of UK nationals sleeping rough dropped 11 per cent.

In London, the number of UK nationals dropped nine per cent.  In fact, if the number of non-UK EU nationals rough sleeping in London had not risen by a massive 87 per cent last year there would have been a huge drop in London. This year almost half (48 per cent) of rough sleepers in London were non-UK EU nationals (not even counting those who refused to give their nationality).There is no good reason why London should host hundreds of non-nationals sleeping rough on our streets.

The 165 per cent rise in numbers overall across England is driven by rises in 150 or so boroughs, towns and cities. Yes, London and the big metropolitan centres, but also seaside towns such as Brighton, Hastings, Isle of Wight, Weymouth, Torbay,  Blackpool, Worthing, Christchurch, Great Yarmouth and Scarborough.  And university towns such as Oxford and Cambridge.  Tourist centres such as Bath, York, Canterbury and Windsor.  And many, many well to do towns like Luton, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Swindon, Southampton, Woking, St Albans, Sevenoaks, Wokingham, Stafford, Watford and Basingstoke.

We should ask why people end up on the streets, often begging, and certainly, most have very difficult and chaotic lives. Windsor is an interesting case. It gained notoriety last year as a result of the royal wedding and reporting on the plight of rough sleepers who are very visible on Thames Street adjacent to Windsor Castle which is thronged with tourists all year round. The whole borough of Windsor and Maidenhead only has 11 rough sleepers in the count. Either the borough is failing to find people or practically every rough sleeper in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is on Thames Street saying thank you to passers-by as they drop change in their cups.

The annual rough sleeper count statistics we have are a good start but they do not explain rough sleeping behaviour. Clearly visible rough sleeping in wealthy areas is connected with income from begging as much as it is with housing issues. Last year for the first time ever we had some hard numbers on homeless deaths. These showed 32 per cent of deaths were due to drug poisoning and ten per cent due to alcohol-related causes – 42 per cent down to substance misuse. Worryingly the numbers of drug deaths had increased by 52 per cent over the four years 2013 to 2017. Judging by the causes of death of homeless people substance misuse must be a large cause of the chaos that leads to rough sleeping.

Of course, lack of cheap housing must be a factor in rough sleeping but it would not be wise to provide social housing for every non-national who ends up on our streets. Similarly it would probably be unwise to make substance misuse the fast track to social housing. Rough sleeping is a complex problem that didn’t go away under New Labour, contrary to what some may claim. New factors are driving rough sleeping, people from poorer EU states and increasing drug use, and we need to find new answers.

Anna Firth: How we are helping to protect children in Sevenoaks from digital harm

Using our extensive links with schools, charities and parents, we have designed an array of internet safety measures.

Cllr Anna Firth contested Erith and Thamesmead at the 2015 General Election, is Co-founder of the #DigitalSunsetChallenge and is also Cabinet Member for Legal & Democratic Services at Sevenoaks District Council.

Today is Global Safer Internet Day. It could not be more timely. Up and down the country, reports of social media being linked to teenage depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide, are becoming ever more common. The recent tragic deaths of 14-year-old Molly Russell and 16-year-old Leilani Clarke who both killed themselves in their bedrooms after accessing online suicide related content are no longer “one-offs”. Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that between 2013 and 2017, there was an 82 per cent increase in suicides in the under 15s, and a recent three year study into hundreds of teenage suicides shows that a quarter had used the internet in a way that was suicide-related, and one in 25 had visited websites where suicide was encouraged.

Suicide is not the only problem affecting children’s mental wellbeing today. Official NHS figures show that there is a steep increase in the number of primary aged children suffering from depression, including children as young as five now diagnosed with severe depression. The causes are multi-faceted, but pressure from social media and cyber-bullying, school testing, and family breakdown all play a part. School heads and charity chiefs alike are pointing out that “whilst it used to be the case that if a child had a hard time at school at least they could go home, switch off and relax. Now there is no escape. Children as young as five are on devices all the time and the online discussion never stops”.

The fact that the Government is publishing a white paper later this month making new demands on social media companies to protect young people is very welcome, as is yesterday’s announcement by the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, that he will be unveiling plans later this month to ensure that teenagers have lessons on how to deal with the pressures of social media to stem the rising tide of self-harm.

But as elected representatives and parents, we can’t wait for the Government or internet providers to clean up social media sites and make the internet a safe place for our children. Nor should we. Parents and children need help right now to navigate the unchartered waters of the internet. Only half of all households with children, aged seven to 15, have parental controls or broadband filters to block out adult or illegal content, and almost half of all ten year olds now own a smartphone.

It is vital, therefore, that we equip young children with the skills they need to stay safe online and to help them develop good digital habits while they are you. At Sevenoaks District Council, we are doing just that. Using our extensive links with schools, charities, and parents, we have designed an array of internet safety measures for primary aged children including games, quizzes, challenges, and parent discussion groups. These raise the awareness among primary aged children of the dangers of indiscriminate use of the internet and social media sites, while at the same time seeking to empower the children to become self-regulating in their use of devices, especially at night. Last year, rather then burden schools and/or parents with more detailed guidelines and information, we issued a simple challenge to the children of Kent to challenge themselves to go seven days from 7pm to 7am without their devices – the #DigitalSunsetChallenge. Harder hitting cyber-bullying and sexting workshops are also delivered in secondary schools across Sevenoaks, as well as encouraging youth theatre productions which deal with online bullying.

Advice over the weekend from a leading mental health nurse that “parents should remove mobile phones, iPads, and any other device from their bedrooms of all children under 16” is long overdue, especially for primary aged children. For older children too, especially those showing signs of depression or self-harm, this is an obvious step to take, not least because of the clear link between lack of sleep and poor concentration, irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Calls to raise the minimum age for opening a social media account from 13 to 18 are also helpful and well-intended, but will not solve the problem since recent research by the Children’s Commissioner showed that three out of four children aged eight to 12 now have their own accounts and, in addition, in the six months following it being an offence for an adult to send a sexual message to a child, 1,316 offences were recorded by the police.

Ultimately, living in a digital world requires adults and children to develop healthy digital habits, including the ability to self-regulate their time online. The earlier these new life-skills are acquired, the better.

However, as a society, we need to go much further both to understand and to tackle the underlying social causes of social media addiction and its link to depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Social prescribing is already proving to be an extremely valuable tool in tackling the non-medical reasons why people visit their GP, thus saving the NHS money and enabling people to access appropriate care in the community. However, the service is currently aimed primarily at those who can attend their GP during the day.

Teenage social prescribers are required in secondary schools on a rotating basis. They should be equipped with mental health and counselling skills to spot signs of serious depression, but also sufficient knowledge to give “low risk” teenagers advice on healthy living, diet, exercise, and mindfulness. They should be able to direct them to low cost sporting or social activities taking place in their area. Equally, an annual or biannual online mental health check-up should be compulsory for all teenagers attending secondary school in the UK. Regular immunization and physical checks have radically reduced the number of deaths from certain diseases and cancers. There is no reason to assume that a regular mental health snapshot would not have the same benefit over time. There is widespread expert agreement that modern life is increasingly stressful for teenagers, but it needs to be accompanied by accurate widespread monitoring of stress and anxiety levels amongst teenagers.

Finally, education regarding the importance for young children of a varied digital diet accompanied by a regular digital sunset needs to become a compulsory part of the new year six transitional PSHEE curriculum. Joining the 2019 Sevenoaks #DigitalSunsetChallenge would be a good start.