Letter from Cllr Ron Woodley

Dear Editor

Just further ideas/information, I have included in my previous letter and hope that you take on board the information supplied in a way that it was intended as an aid to help local and national finances.

Just to introduce myself to you, I am an Independent Councillor in Southend-on-Sea and Chair of my local resident’s association. I have no real political affiliations other than trying to represent my local residents in these most difficult times the country is facing during and now post the Covid 19 Pandemic.

However, that thinking outside the box is needed in helping councils and the government. Raising finances to help fund local services instead of relying more and more on Central government for funding services are now much needed. Clear decisive decisions are now necessary but hopefully the financial gains will be supported by the majority that will bring much needed revenue although might upset a few residents.

It is clear to me that at this point in time we do need to come together as a nation, put aside politics and decide what is best for the country. Some will look at the negativity in these proposals, but hopefully the majority will see these proposals as what they are, trying to help the most vulnerable of people in these desperate times for the country.

Some of these proposals might seem too far out of the box to be considered, however they might be of some value if they are allowed to be adjusted to then become worthwhile taking forward and that will be solely the government and councils decision alone.

At the moment when any major alterations to properties are done (attracting additional council services), the change in a council tax banding occurs once the house is sold and this could be many years hence. What I am suggesting, is that the procedure comes forward to the point when the building completion certificate is issued.

At present, there are approximately 1.5 million homes across England and Wales waiting to be revalued. If I refer to Southend-on-Sea, the increase between council tax bands per year is on average about £350. If we use that as a guide then that is just over half a billion pounds worth of council tax, which is a significant sum that can help councils across England and Wales to reduce their funding gap and or ensuring services to residents are maintained.  

I understand that the Government might be considering a revaluation of properties for council tax banding going forward. I am also aware, that this is a very contentious and risky business for any Government to undertake. However, what I am suggesting is a part-way scenario that would not only help councils to increase their funding but would give the Government a halfway stage which takes out that politically dangerous situation.

As you can imagine, the additional revenue quoted is only based on just one change of a council tax banding from C to D or D to E. There are a great number of properties that will probably jump two bands or more, all depending on the alteration to the property.

The other thing I would suggest is that we have a band H+, which will mean that the higher value properties are also contributing to the additional council tax when making alterations.

If possible and using any influence you might have within Central Government, I do believe there is an opportunity here and hopefully the Government will let councils take that opportunity to re-evaluate properties as to council tax banding at the point of completion, allow that additional band H+ for the most expensive houses which have also done alterations but are currently capped at the maximum band H.

There is a possibility to give the authority for individual councils the opportunity to claw back up to seven years in line with planning regulations the additional council tax lost. (This of course can be over a seven-year period going forward, i.e. the additional amount for the next seven years).  But of course, that would be up to each individual council to make that decision. For Southend-on-Sea that additional revenue could be in the region of £21 Million pounds and would wipe out any funding gap that is currently being experienced.

There are a number of other ideas where we can use council assets to generate income, enabling funding for adult social care to be increased and to build more council homes without the need of borrowing through councils HRA (Housing Revenue Accounts) and these are in the following narratives.

Following on from the council tax banding and the proposed meeting to discuss further ideas, it seems that the current pandemic has for the time being stopped us in our tracks. However, I thought it important to put some of the housing ideas in writing, as it is apparent that once this current cost of living crisis comes to an end, ways to drive the local economies must be considered, as Central Government funding will be best served supporting the national economy and that local councils must look inward at best practices in supporting themselves and in bringing out funding opportunities from their assets.

Therefore, my proposals are:

•    Allow councils to build homes through a rent to buy system of their existing housing stock up to 90% of the home’s value and allow all the rent receipts and reducing capital/maintenance costs to fund the building of new homes. Benefits would be that council tenants become gradual home owners, therefore taking responsibility for maintaining and managing their own home. Potential savings will run into many millions per year for individual councils with the income, reduced capital and maintenance costs falling onto the former tenant rather than the council. This will enable the council to re-invest that money into building new council homes for rent, which will mean more revenues from rents and council tax. Importantly all done with no borrowing.
•    All new homes built through this method to be allowed into the rent to buy scheme after a 10-year period of renting.
•    The added benefit to this approach is that more people will start to own their homes and if in future years they need social care, then they will have assets to help fund that and reduce the burden on the state.
•    Stop the influence of developers and private sector landlords in Government policies.
•    Allow councils to charge council tax/business rates on properties that have approval after a 2-year period if there has been no substantive progress on the development.
•    Councils should through compulsorily purchase orders, buy all empty homes and refurbish to sell or rent.
•    In all the above, councils must retain the right to buy back the properties if and when they once again become available.

Older Downsizing Buyers

•    We should consider putting forward plans for older people on their first downsize to smaller homes to be considered to be exempt from stamp duty. This could release family sized homes back into the market place for families to purchase. I think it is also important that developers build the right type of homes that elderly people would want to move into, rather than the box type flat that developers are currently building and for those homes to cater for the possibility of the resident requiring social care in the future.


Adult Social Care/NHS

There is sufficient evidence to say that the bureaucratic cost of NHS nationally outweighs the benefits to a local community and that Adult Social Care and the NHS should be intrinsically linked, and in doing so it could reduce bed blocking in hospitals by having council run step up and step-down facilities, this being achieved through the creation of a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC).

The development of the LATC will give opportunities for different employee terms and conditions from local Government contracts, but at the same time the increase in the quality of care prior to going into hospital and care after recovery has taken place would be greatly improved.

Having these local authority care homes with fully trained staff will reduce the profit element of the private sector, which will of course give us a better quality with cheaper costs. Domiciliary care should also be included, which would mean a significant cost reduction without sacrificing quality.

Included in this must be the ability for the training of carers through local colleges and apprenticeships, with opportunities for career growth in the adult social care service.

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG’s) to come under the health budgets of local authorities, again taking out layers of unnecessary management within the NHS. Finally, there should be a planned integration of hospitals coming under local authorities, reducing management, and facilities, accountancy, and HR etc costs.

Residents Pensions (private and state) should be subject to NI, whatever that percentage should be, with the additional funding going straight into local councils, depending on the number of elderly people living in each town or area, to help fund adult social care. This could help replace the need for elderly people to completely sell their homes if they require care.


Finally, on the above, if sheltered and temporary accommodation were transferred into a Care LATC, then the additional revenue (less operational costs) would also benefit from the funding in supplying quality care for those residents that need it. Yes, it would mean a fundamental revamp of how councils manage their housing stocks but unless councils are prepared to re-use billions of pounds of assets wisely and correctly, then funding of housing and services for the many residents who most need it will be forever at a shortfall.

I have drafted further ideas on how councils can use their assets and not just those that are physical but that of their personnel. There is substantial knowledge within councils but of course officers are prone to be risk adverse, especially when dealing with council tax payers’ money. (Quite rightly so).

However, that does not stop officers from thinking differently about how services are delivered to residents, the quality and performance of those services.

Commercialisation should not be seen as a dirty word in the public sector, but as an opportunity to offer their skills and knowledge to the private sector by creating as many Local Authority Trading Companies (LATC) where possible because when you consider the skill base of councils, it is huge compared with the private sector. In many cases small/medium size businesses cannot afford the costs of HR, finance, legal and facilities etc. We are also aware that the quality of private sector housing is not always at the desired level and therefore the opportunity of managing and maintaining homes for private sector landlords is another opportunity.

Solar Panelling. This is not inventing the wheel but exploring opportunities by manufacturing and installing small 4 solar panels on a stem system, (using growing places funding), initially on council homes which would generate energy and reduce the cost to the tenants once the funding has been repaid. This would create thousands of energy hubs and could be offered to the private sector once the council homes have been completed.

In other words, councils should ensure that there are as many local economic sectors within the boundaries of their town to buffer against future recessions, safeguarding the financial aspects of any town or area.

The above is only a guide to opportunities, but councils should look at their own services and decide if a LATC could do their services more efficiently. Let’s remember big is not always beautiful, where control and direction sometimes get lost in the translation of providing services.  

Highways and Parking Strategy. There is a golden opportunity to stabilise and increase revenue. At present, many councils rely on parking revenue to supplement the costs of repair to our highways and footways and over the years, monies spent on these have slowly declined to such an extent that our roads and footways are becoming dangerous to the many vehicles and importantly pedestrians. Trip hazards are increasing and residents, especially the elderly, are ending up in hospital and sadly a number do not survive. Relying solely on parking charges and fines that are unreliable is not a way to run a business and why should local residents keep footing the bill for damage being done to the town’s environment (rubbish on beaches, air quality due to increased traffic) from visitors and pay the same when parking to do the shopping or enjoy the town’s facilities.

Therefore, the way through this is to apply a different charge for residents in the local area to that of visitors to the town from outside the locality. This approach using a virtual permit for local people will and should have a major increase in £millions of revenues, local residents and businesses will feel they have been listened to and town centre and local shopping areas will benefit from increased footfall.


It is important to:

•    Analysis of car park usage and on-street parking
•    Analysis of permit types
•    Analysis of complaints from residents and businesses
•    The priority is to ensure we are efficient, fair, consistent and transparent.
•    Identify our key customers who are residents, businesses, traders, tourists, commuters, visitors, shoppers, local workers, schools, council staff and community groups.

Currently the main issues that have been identified are:

•    An inconsistent approach to all permit types and charges
•    Average number of car park users are consistent during winter and summer
•    Inconsistent charging tariffs
•    Free parking in unlimited stay car parks minimising turnover of spaces and reduced revenue.
 
It is therefore important to:

•    Introduce a new tariff structure based on demand in all car parks and on-street parking
•    Standardise enforcement hours in each new charging zone to improve compliance
•    Standardise permit types to meet customer needs
•    Signposting to car park locations currently under utilised

To cover a whole borough/town wide scheme, it will be necessary to introduce a number of enforcement zones. The proposed hours of enforcement are based on the overall demand for parking in each zone, with varying enforcement hours for each zone being apart from increasing revenue this will:

•    Help reduce congestion at the heart of the borough
•    Better manage demand and occupancy in all car parks
•    Increase turnover of spaces by reducing the impact of long stay parking
•    Improved compliance by more efficient and effective enforcement

The current number of permit types can be confusing for users. It is proposed to reduce the number of permits to make them more customer friendly and easier to manage.

The following types of permits should be considered: Resident pass, Visitors, Carer, Business, Traders, Season tickets, Staff permit, Operational permit and Volunteer permit.

A non-refundable annual ‘pass’ that can be used for parking in car parks and on-street, with the following terms:

•    Only residents of a local area will be eligible to apply
•    Will be valid for a limited stay in each parking zone
•    Will only be available via mobile app
•    Can be administered by monthly charge via direct debit.

It is envisaged that by taking the number of car owners in the locality, (in Southend’s case 179k) the monthly charge will equal that of a current single 2-hour weekly visit to a car park or street. This approach will enable local people to visit each and every parking zone for up to 3 hours (i.e., 4 zones = 12 hours) each and every day of the year. Revenue will also become available from the other permits listed above and from visitors. This approach will benefit coastal towns and high visitor areas.

Southend-on-Sea, has now adopted this approach and charge £8.50 per month and revenues are now funding £10million per year of road and footway resurfacing.

All permit/passes will be a virtual one and be based upon the vehicle’s registration number.

To help our local shops and town centres, maybe look into a delivery levy (20%) on companies such as Amazon, or mail order etc. unless they open shops in towns where residents can pick up their goods, which could also add to footfall in high streets.

Air quality through vehicle transmission, at present it appears there are no real enforcement powers in controlling exhaust fumes from vehicles such as ice cream vans and parents waiting to pick up their children from schools. This is especially worrying as these young children will be breathing in these fumes, possibly affecting their health. My question here is should we create environmental zones around schools and have a ban on vehicles within a certain distance, encouraging park and stride?

Digital Advertising. Consider digital advertising as motorists enter towns, advertising local businesses and when leaving the town advertise national businesses. This could also include wrap around advertising on lampposts in key town centre areas.

Ground Maintenance/Highways. There are a number of issues within this section that councils face on a daily basis. When issuing planning permission or through permitted development, it appears that there is no due care and attention taken by builders/ house owners to protect the footways or highways during this work. I will point you to the 1980’s highway act which is still current. Councils have the authority to ensure that the highways and footways are protected while work is carried out. The cost to councils each year in failing to uphold the highways act runs into many millions of pounds in damage and there is a great opportunity to increase revenues by installing PVX’s or crossovers.

Page 117 section 133 of the highways act clearly states; If a footway of a street that is highway maintainable at the public expense is damaged by or in consequence of any excavation or other work on land adjoining the street, the highway authority may make good the damage and recover the expenses reasonably incurred by them in so doing from the owner of the land in question or the person responsible for the damage. (The householder or builder). I read this to mean that the owner of the land or property if damage has been caused from work done, can be charged for the repair of our footway.

Page 169 section 184; Where the occupier adjoining or having access to a highway maintainable at the public expense habitually takes or permits to be taken a mechanically propelled vehicle across a kerbed footway or a verge in the highway to or from those premises, the highway authority for the highway may, subject to subsection 2 below, serve a notice on the owner and the occupier of the premises.

(a) stating that they propose to execute such works for the construction of a vehicle crossing over the footway or verge as may be specified in the notice: or

(b) Imposing such reasonable conditions on the use of the footway or verge as a crossing as may be so specified. It goes on to page 170 (3) a and b, then on page 171 item (7) recovering the expenses and item (10).

Then on page 172 item (17); if a person knowingly uses a footway or verge as a crossing in contravention of any condition imposed under subsection (1)(b) above or knowingly permits it to be used, he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine.

This would generate substantial income/savings each year for councils, by ensuring these PVX’s are installed and that pavements and highways are protected during any construction works.

Emergency Highway Services - police, ambulance, fire. Currently any accidents that occur on our highways are dealt with by our normal services, taking valuable resources from day-to-day priorities. We have all faced serious complaints about the lack of police presence on our streets, the time to get an ambulance to an emergency and sometimes the pressure on our fire service is immense. Funding cuts to our emergency services are having a dramatic effect on residents. Therefore, is it time to consider how we help fund these services in the future?

Is it a question of forming a new emergency service which includes highway police, paramedics and crash tenders, funded by a premium on vehicle insurances and fines from motoring offences? These three groups could be housed together and strategically positioned in key points throughout towns and country, leaving the current funding to be concentrated on neighbourhood policing, emergency ambulance services and fire services.

Finally, some of the suggestions outlined are for discussion with an element of tongue in cheek, but with past Government cuts I would suggest that future funding will be curtailed, it is important that councils look at all avenues to increase efficiencies, savings and where possible, revenues.

Just another thought!

There are further economy concerns in people working from home and not commuting and going to the office, this will continue to have the effect financially on public transport and city/town centre businesses. To encourage a return to a relative normal, consider a home office tax and or for landlords to pay both council and business rates on the homes that they rent.


Regards

Cllr Ron Woodley
Independent Councillor
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council

Chair, Burges Estate Residents Association

01702 588662
07870 416862

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