Labour Oppose the Public Health and Well Being CiC

At the full council in November we were asked to approve a report of the Next Generation Council Public Health and Well Being CiC. After consultation and expensive advice from legal advisers and consultants the administration has decided to form a new Teckel company limited by guarantee with a separate trading company. This will involve the transfer of staff from lots of services- libraries, Sport Northamptonshire, Adult Education, Country Parks, the School Meals services and so on. The Labour Group have been asking questions and making a challenge to this idea right from the beginning. We understand the need for partnerships, pooled budgets and joint commissioning. We do not agree the case has been made for taking the services out of the county council and forming new company.
At the meeting I circulated a letter of complaint I have received from a constituent who rightly said that she expects her Councillors to be there to represent constituents, develop policy and hold the administration to account- not to oversee privatised services.
This is the essence of the speech I made opposing the Conservative case for a Public Health and Well Being CiC.
“Chair, I want to do two things.
The first is to acknowledge the enormous amount of detailed work that has gone into the report and the way that questions raised by Councillors and through public consultation have been addressed. This is a much better piece of work for that kind of forensic response.
But the second thing I want to do is to take issue with the conclusions. There is nothing in this report or in the business case that reassures me that the time, money, effort of such a major upheaval is going to be either cost effective or produce better outcomes. The rationale for this at the outset was about integration but also about pooled budgets. NCC is contributing 96% of the budget. The argument has gone out of the window. The university is contributing expertise? But no personnel and no budget? The argument has gone out of the window. Does that mean the NHS is contributing just 4%. What is all that about? The argument has gone out of the window.
I want to object very strongly to recommendation 4 calling for agreement to set up the CiC. The case has not been made. It will be costly. It will include duplication of management oversight, it is a distraction to the job that needs to be done and it will produce worse- not better outcomes.
5.11.2 of the report refers to health checks in country parks. Is this a perk for the leisured and the rich? We know disadvantaged communities find accessing the country parks a huge issue.
I want to refer to two other things. In 4.4 of the report talking about the maximum scope option it refers to integration, holistic approaches, a well trained staff able to undertake multiple interventions. Yes that is what we want and that is what we should have been having. Strategic, coordinated, well managed. We do not need to outsource to get this.
I refer to 5:12 of the report. This is about equalities impact.
In this area of work equalities is all too important. The health and life chances inequalities across the county are damning, they are man- made- I choose my words with care- , and they need to be addressed. A good outcome from consultations has been the realisation that additional services need to be part of the integrated whole including debt and benefit advice. Can I add to that , income maximisation? The rich have their accountants to help them do that the poor have no-one.
Finally- it is important to work more closely with the boroughs and districts and I look forward to Northampton Borough receiving a presentation from the county which I hope is also an invitation to co-design and co-deliver”.

Support the Cobblers

On Monday 2nd November the Labour opposition party called an extraordinary meeting of the council to discuss the  difficulties faced by the Northampton Town Football Club. This is the speech made by me as leader of the opposition.

“The saga of the loan to Northampton Town Football Club has been on a very sorry story. In 2013 this Council agreed to pay up to £12 million to Northampton Town Football Club for a new bigger improved stadium and development. I understand the loan agreement, which I have asked to see a copy, says the money MUST be used for this purpose and that there was a schedule which showed that the money could be drawn down in stages of the process. Such as 20% at the beginning, 20% after planning permission was granted and so on. Clearly this has not happened and we are now owed £10.25 million by Northampton Town Football. Why was so much money given to the football club without them sufficiently progressing with development? Where has our money gone? Why did the previous Leader of the Borough Council place so much trust in the owners of Northampton Town Football Club? This Borough Council can’t wait forever as we need to pay back the Public Works Loan Board at some future date. It is common knowledge when the money arrived at NTFC much of it was transferred to First Land Ltd, a company that has now been wound up. Did the Borough Council know the money would be transferred to First Land Ltd? The builders Buckinghams have been very patient but understandably want to be paid for the work they carry out.

This whole saga has lacked transparency and has been heavily criticized for its secrecy. In order to address the breakdown in trust I make two recommendations-
One- that in all future negotiations between the Borough Council, NTFC and Buckinghams there should be a representative of the Supporters Trust and a member of NTFC staff at the top table. The member staff of NTFC should be middle management or below who could report back to their colleagues. Having someone from Supporters Trust and a member of staff from NTFC in the negotiations would give reassurance to everyone.
And two -the Loan Agreement should now be immediately published to the general public.

Our main concern at this meeting however is the welfare of the Football Club and the well- being of the players and the supporters. Yes we want our money back but this is our club. It is an asset to our town. It is part of the cultural offer in the town. It is a part of who we are.
We need a plan to support the club. We need a plan that recognises how important the national game is to us locally. A plan that recognises that many of our young people, boys and girls, follow football and play football and look to the players for role models. It is our job to show solidarity with the Supporters in these difficult times.

The Labour Group motion called on the Borough to get our money back
It called on the Borough to support the club
It called on the Borough to ask the audit committee to investigate what went wrong.
It was passed.”

Poor and Getting Poorer

There has been a recent and welcome scrutiny of poverty in the town and I welcome all the recommendations that were accepted by cabinet.
One of the concerns with this kind of issue, is that the national and local picture keeps changing. We have seen an increase in poverty in the town in the last year and it is an increase that is predicted to be keep growing until 2020. The causes of poverty are changing too. At one time poverty was much more about families and single people on benefit. Now it is much more about the working poor. Northampton Labour Group has argued for Northampton Borough Council to devise an ‘Anti-Poverty Strategy’. Our Opposition Business at the last full Council was about why we must develop an anti-poverty strategy.                                                                                                                 Why a Strategy?
Northampton Borough Council cannot address poverty alone. Many causes of poverty are beyond the control of the Borough Council. An argument for unitary status for Northampton has been that it would allow services to much more joined up and free up resources through reducing the bureaucracy of the two-tier system.
An Anti-Poverty Strategy helps to pulls various agencies and services, in all sectors, together and agree a common approach. The Borough Council must be committed to taking action against poverty and work with all available partners.
The statistics are well known. Latest figures from the End Child Poverty charity show that, when housing costs have been taken into account, 24 per cent of the town’s children are in poverty. And in some areas it is even higher. Based on the old ward system, both Lumbertubs and Castle have child poverty levels of 37 per cent based on families unable to set aside any money for emergencies.
More worrying still is the reduction in help on offer. The Discretionary Housing Payment, designed to cover the penalty imposed on victims of the ‘bedroom tax’, is set to fail to meet demand in Northampton.
The causes of poverty are endless. Bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy are obvious ones. Casualised work, zero hour contracts, part time jobs, agency working, bogus self- employment plays a bigger and bigger role. Add to this inadequate benefits, discrimination, lack of education, caring responsibilities and the rising cost of rent, energy bills and transport. GPs are seeing more cases of malnutrition, loss of well- being, and depression caused by the increase in social isolation that poverty brings.
So an Anti-Poverty Strategy can set out the Borough Council’s ambition to take positive steps to address the pressures felt by low income households in Northampton.
Such a strategy must acknowledges the policy and financial challenges faced by local authorities and the wider public sector in this time of continued austerity, and that partnership working, and community level actions will be critical.
We need to work with the County Council as they provide essential statutory services. By working together we will be able to address the uncomfortable truths of poverty and learn how best to tackle the issues that surround poverty. It is imperative that those who are affected by poverty are part of the process and they must be heard, so public consultation is crucial.
Through a focus on household incomes, community resilience and tackling child poverty we could put in place a comprehensive package of activities and services to make a difference. I hope that by working in a joined up way, we can focus effort to look at how to make best use of local resources and assets to help communities.
A strategy must describe the current picture of poverty in Northampton along with the outcomes the Council is seeking to achieve, our priorities for addressing poverty and the actions the Council will commit to over the next few years in order to respond to these challenges. If Glasgow and Cambridge can do it so can we.
We need a strategy that works to support people in poverty, that lifts people out of poverty and prevents people from slipping into poverty.

Ethical Planning

In our last Labour Opposition business I set out our vision for a cleaner, safer, greener, more connected town where the citizens feel valued and where our home grown post graduates feel welcome to stay.
With that in mind, this time I want to address some of the issues to do with planning. I do this in the hope that we can find ways of working cross party on the issues where we can all see a clear benefit for the town. I am going to suggest we need an ethical planning policy- one that puts the needs of the people and of the town first. I know this isn’t easy because Planning is laid down in a National Policy Framework by Central Government. As it is Planning Policy favours developers. It is very hard for local people to influence outcomes. But we can take heart from what some other LAs are doing. We want developers to work with us so that development meets need and meets our vision. First, we need to agree basic principles.

We have Article 4 which seeks to protect the inner part of the town from an over- supply of Houses in Multiple Occupation- HIMOS.
We have set the bar at 15% in a radius of 50 metres. We should bring this down to 10%.
We should extend Article 4 to Far Cotton and other areas that are going to be magnets for developers seeking to exploit the university move into town.
We need to prioritise family housing and stop the trend of family housing being turned into tiny one bed apartments. We allow the smallest sq. footage for living spaces in the whole of Europe. We should be setting higher standards for developers to follow.
HIMOS and the loss of family housing to flats are putting unbearable pressure on neighbourhoods that use to be the pride and joy of the town, like Watkin and BeaconsfieldTerrace. We are creating ghettos of transience, with all the accompanying nuisances- anti –social behaviour, dirt, noise, litter, rubbish, rats and cockroaches.
In Watkin Terrace, if I may continue to use that as an example, in a row of 21 houses only four dwellings are family homes. The rest are flats and HIMOS. The resulting loss of community, the increase in everything undesirable is making life difficult for the householders who remain while all about them comes and goes.

We face a housing crisis and that is being compounded by developers trying to wriggle out of 106 commitments for infrastructure and affordable homes. The viability test is being used over and over with developers becoming expert now in viability issues. We need to stand firm and insist on no development wit6h put 35% affordable homes and no development without the appropriate infrastructure.

That’s housing. But we should also be doing the same with our retail areas. We need to bring in by-laws that restrict the number of Poundland shops, the number of payday loan shops, casinos, betting shops, fast food shops, in any one area. This is a particular issue in the Market Square and the rest of the town centre but it is an issue on our estates and smaller retail areas too.
Our environments are man- made. Or should I say person made? We need to be in the driving seat of development, looking to create balanced, diverse and cohesive communities. We need homes fit for families that are energy efficient and give all the people in the household room to breathe, to rest, work, study and play.
We need balanced and diverse retail, leisure and service areas that are welcoming and encourage towns people to come here and spend their time and money.
And it goes without saying all these areas need to be safe and well lit. They need to be clean and free from hazards and rats.

We need to get better at looking after ourselves, our town and put people before exploitative development.
• We want an end to Rabbit Hutch Britain
We want to learn from the Town and Country Planning Association

Housing provides just one example of why we need to plan properly for the future.
We must act on a crucial guiding principle: good-quality housing, for people of all incomes and circumstances, is a pillar of a civilised society

Building the future-The TCPA’s Prospectus for Progressive Planning
“Successive governments have simplistically viewed planning as an ‘enemy of enterprise’ – a frequent if totally unsubstantiated complaint. In fact, smart planning is an engine of sustainable growth that delivers multiple benefits to our society: certainty and confidence
to business, democratic rights for communities, and protection for our heritage, environment and biodiversity. Planning is a positive force for good and should be at the heart of future public policy.

“Planning is a creative enterprise, embracing the arts, economics, engineering and
community development. We need a transformation of planning practice to restore these creative elements and to apply them positively to the development of our communities.”

Talking to Yvette

Dear Yvette Cooper,
Thank you for asking me what I think we need to do to put Labour back in the driving seat.
For me it is all about engagement with the electorate and building a movement where Labour values are the common sense values of our age.
To do that, we need to demonstrate our ideas in practice. These can be in small and local ways and big national ways. It certainly ought to mean a focus on the regeneration of our economy and of our communities.
Some ideas :- We need to create well paid jobs; jobs paying a Living wage and more. We have a housing crisis, a school place crisis and a NHS crisis. Let’s invest to save. Let’s have a building programme to provide those houses, those schools, those hospitals and clinics. Let’s create jobs and apprenticeships in Construction, in Local Government, in Medicine and Education and Green Technologies.
We need an anti – poverty strategy that all the key players sign up to. This means Employers, the Banks, the Credit Unions, the Energy Companies, Landlords, Local Authorities, Universities, Schools and the NHS. Let’s create jobs in Social Work, Advice and Benefit services, Careers Information and Guidance for young people, Children’s Centres, Community Development, the Voluntary Sector.
We need a foreign policy that supports global development to ensure people are safe and happy at home. This will reduce the numbers having to flee persecution or poverty. We need a global campaign against People Trafficking, Child Exploitation and the Commodification of Women. Let’s create jobs in the Police, Community Organisations, Child Protection Services, and Border Controls. Let’s stop those organised gangs that capitalise on the misery of others and who add to the misery.
We need a policy for youth and votes at 16. The last Labour government implemented Citizenship studies, School Councils, Youth forums, and Youth focus groups. Let’s empower our young people and give them a real stake in our society.
We need an infrastructure of public transport, cycle tracks, buses, rail and roads to meet present day needs. Let’s invest in Green Technologies and energy efficient forms of travel. Let’s get haulage off our roads and on to rail.
And then there are schools. It is a national disgrace that Education in this country has become a political football. Stop the privatisation of schools and hand Education back to the profession with local accountability.

As a local Labour Councillor I will do all I can to help.

All Best Wishes
Cllr. Danielle Stone.

A Vision for Northampton

I want to talk today about a vision for the town for the next four years that I believe we can all unite around and work together on.
First we need to get an infra-structure that works for the people of the town. This means that the Borough and Highways at the County need to forge a better and more productive relationship. For example, we have projects such as the redevelopment of the St Edmund’s Hospital site and the Chronicle and Echo site where local people have a view of how the road systems can work for them, how traffic flows can be planned. We want the people of the town to be properly heard and responded to. Frankly we are tired of being done to.
We need to think about how we are going to make the town centre experience for the people who live in town, shoppers coming into town, visitors and students a good experience.
We know from Scrutiny, from the Town Centre Czar and our own experience that people want to use the Town Centre for more than main stream shopping. They want to access niche shopping, they want to access services, leisure and culture.
We need to look at how we can develop links between the Waterside and the Town Centre. Bedford Road should be developed with a dual use surface that encourages people to walk between the two.
We need a better deal for bus passengers. And we need that now. We need to link the Station with the bus station with the town centre. We need to have a Town Centre bus that goes to all the main destinations in town; the hospital, the university, the retail parks, the Sports Clubs and the Leisure Trust facilities.
I think we should think hard and long about the Greyfriar’s site. I know there are plans to put the long distance coach terminus there. It might be controversial but I think we should put the long distance coaches into Northgate and build a bigger better bus terminus at Greyfriar’s so passengers can come straight into the shops as they use to do and still want to do.
We are going to be having two thousand students living in and around town. We need to think of how we can be a welcoming town to young people that offers civic, volunteering and cultural opportunities beyond the cheap booze and night club culture. Successful university towns keep a good proportion of their graduates. Northampton has not done very well in this respect to now. Graduates breathe new life, energy and creativity into their towns and we need to think how we can retain ours and encourage them to settle and help regenerate our local economy and build our future prosperity.                                                 We have a new duty for the well- being of citizens of the town. We have an obesity epidemic. We need to be doing what we can do encourage healthy lifestyles. Can we look at organised town walks, park gyms, free swimming, leisure passes and other initiatives that promote activity?
Everyone is fed up with living in a dirty town, with fly tipping and littering everywhere we look. The Enterprise contract is up for renewal in 2018. We need an all-party group to review the contract and make recommendations to full council. We need a cleaner town.
And finally Madam Mayor. We need bold and radical steps to address poverty in this town.
We need to develop an anti -poverty strategy that supports people in poverty so no-one in our town goes to bed hungry and cold. It needs to be a strategy that lifts people out of poverty and a strategy that prevents people falling into poverty. The Living wage, an end to zero hour contracts, direct employment, and end to agency working are all important to create a work force fully committed to the town, able to look after their families and to spend money in the local economy.

Opposition Business, Guildhall,  June 2015

Campaigning for a Fairer Northampton

I have found my first term as a Borough Councillor very interesting and I have learnt such a lot.
So a big thank- you to the people of Castle who elected me.
One of the things I have learnt is that all our communities benefit hugely from the hard work and commitment of volunteers who run our residents associations and all the other organisations that make our lives better. They all deserve Councillors who will work with them and for them.

How disappointing then to also learn that some people enter local politics purely for status and position. I for one am grateful that the people who defected from Labour in the last term did so. They were position seekers and time wasters who did very little for the people who elected them.

By contrast we have Labour candidates standing in the next election who have gone through a rigorous selection process and training. I know they are all committed to working for a better Northampton. I know they listen to people and will work with their communities to get a fair and just deal for them.

I am looking forward to May 7th when we can vote the Tories out and have a Labour council committed to grass roots organisations. We are determined to deal with the cost of living crisis and the poverty in the town that the uncaring Tories have plunged us into.

It will be difficult to deal with the £ 24 million pounds of borrowing this administration has lumbered us with. It will be difficult to deal with the £15 million hole in the budget that we will inherit.

Our policies will be people centred and will not entail any vanity projects so loved by the present Tory council.

Barrack Road Free School

Although the county group of Labour Councillors is vehemently opposed to Free schools because they take money from the public purse with no accountability, we are delighted that our preferred bidder has won the tender.
Our children need to be educated by professional who know what they are doing and who have high aspirations for all our children including the most vulnerable.
I have met the EMLC Academy Trust several times and I am impressed by their inclusive approach and their willingness to engage with the local community. I like the fact that they want to encourage global perspectives in education and encourage languages. Our children are part of a globalised and shifting world. We need to work with them so they can find a place to study, work, travel and live where ever opportunities present themselves.
I am delighted too that the children at Castle will transition to a secondary school with the same ethos that they are used to.
The site is a challenge. It is one thing renovating an old industrial building- which can be exciting. It is another to provide outdoor leisure, recreation and sports facilities, and a safe access to the site.
I hope this Academy Trust will meet the challenges of providing out door facilities and safe access to the school free from traffic hazards and the anti- social behaviour that is endemic in parts of this area..

Labour Calls in Cabinet decision re Connexions

This Call In is about the process of Cabinet decision making in relation to the future of Connexions. Everything I say here I have already said to the Connexions board, of which I am a member.
Our services are paid for by the public purse and are of vital importance to the users of the service. We must ensure therefore that what we do is evidenced based and is the most likely to produce the desired outcomes.
When I first joined the Connexions board we had an away day looking at the future options for Connexions. Our SWOT analysis seemed to suggest we needed to bring the service back in house. The agreement that day was that we would commission a piece of work evaluating and costing all the different options we came up with and this would inform our final decision.
This piece of work was never done. Cabinet has not been given evidence for the decision it has made to allow Connexions to re-brand and to become a private company.
The options that should have been explored and presented to Cabinet are these:-
• Leaving Connexions as it is.
• Bringing it back in House.
• Working with the team to create workers cooperative that we develop a partnership with.
• Working with the team to create a community interest group or social enterprise that we are in partnership with.
• Allowing the service to carry our name and re-brand a traded service as a limited not for profit private company.
• Allowing the service to carry our name and re-brand a traded service as a for profit private company.
I would like to see a business case for all these options.
I would like to see the intelligence for each option, driven by needs assessment and an assessment as to which option is most likely to be successful.
I am mindful of the lecture on the Free Market given to us at Cabinet by Cllr. Clark when he graphically explained how out of ten companies that are created, 8 necessarily go to the wall.
I am mindful of the experience of the childrens centres in the county who wasted much time, money and effort creating consortia to bid for the work they were the experts in only to have the work awarded to national bodies. We lost a great deal of local intelligence through this wasteful exercise
I am mindful of the fact that on many occasions our young leaders and other young people have told us that the Careers Information, Advice and Guidance in the schools are woefully inadequate. Our young people need more support to understand all their options from apprenticeships to university, to work opportunities.
My fear is that the energy, time and money that the Cabinet has committed to transforming Connexions in to a private company will be a waste of energy, time and money. It is a distraction from the work Connexions should be doing supporting our young people in these difficult times.
There is every likelihood that re-branded as a Free Market company Connexions will be one of the 8 of ten new companies referred to by Cllr. Clark that goes to the wall.
If our own schools, even knowing the high quality of service provided by Connexions do not in the main buy in their services, what chance is there of other schools in other authorities buying the service?
We need to see all the options laid out. We need to see the intelligence around each option and we need to see proper business planning.

NBC CABINET-Not a Question and Answer Forum?

Cabinet 17/12/2014

These are the questions I asked at Cabinet last night.
The Leader of the Council ruled that Cabinet was not a question and answer forum and so I have now posted the questions on my blog and to the Portfolio holder.

Removing the right of opposition politicians to represent their constituents at Cabinet and on their behalf raise questions and expect answers is deeply worrying and very undemocratic. I hope voters bear this in mind during the general election next year.
                                                                                                                                        Questions for the Finance Portfolio Holder
The cumulative effect of the Council Tax freeze since 2010, on the revenue budget is £4 million. This means instead of being £32 million pounds the base budget would have been £36 million. The gap between revenue and need in 2017/18 is predicted to be 3.8 million. If the Conservatives on the county are happy to raise the council tax this year by 1.95% why are the same Conservatives on the borough averse to doing that?

The cost of parking to the boroughs budget is £600,000. It is NOT free! What is the return on the investment in monetary terms and what is the evidence?

LGSS promised us savings. What has been achieved in the first year. Have staff kept the terms and conditions they were tuped on?

The Environmental contract is due for renewal in 2017/18. We need o be looking at options from now. This could include bringing the service back in house and offering a service to other LAs as an income generation scheme. It could be working with the county and all the districts and boroughs on a waste management strategy.

Do we have a profit sharing contract with businesses run in our parks? Do the businesses in the park pay business rates?

There is a budget line of £22,000 for toilets in Victoria Street for the next 5 years. I presume this is for hiring a port-a-loo? A recent motion passed at full council agreed facilities at Victoria Street for the long distance coach drivers and passengers. This should include a transit lounge with toilets, vending machines and information boards. When is this going to happen and where is the budget line for that?