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.