Oldham Labour Group Friday Briefing (07/02/14)

Weekly Leader’s Blog

America is fighting back against online tax-dodgers like Amazon, but what about here in the UK?

America is fighting back against online tax-dodgers like Amazon, but what about here in the UK?

The face of retail is changing
“Over the years we’ve seen many new businesses created here in Oldham from people with a great idea and a small amount of money, but they need a helping hand. In my view it’s time we called for a level playing field to give these high street outlets a fair shot.The Tax Justice Network has calculated that tax evasion in 145 countries worldwide costs $3.1 trillion every year. In the UK alone, more than £70 billion is lost, which could pay for more than half of the NHS budget. At a time of dwindling public finances and brutal cuts to services, people are beginning to wonder whether the status quo is right or fair.

The total revenue from UK internet sales in 2013 was £32 billion. Even if a tiny 1 per cent sales tax was applied to that, it would pump a much-needed £320 million back into the economy which could then be used to support hard working small business owners who often find themselves out-priced by e-retailers.

The total revenue from UK internet sales in 2013 was £32 billion. Even if a tiny 1 per cent sales tax was applied to that, it would pump a much-needed £320 million back into the economy which could subsidize small business rates.

Although the culprits are numerous, particular attention has been drawn to discussion of a so-called ‘Amazon Tax’ in recent months in America. Critics of Amazon.com argue that its avoidance of paying sales tax in many states – despite having warehouses there – gives them an unfair advantage over ‘real life’ shops with storefronts. Following drawn out legal battles in courts across the country, Amazon is now forced to pay this tax in 20 American states. But what about here in the UK? Amazon is the UK’s leading online retailer, but it paid just £3.2 million tax on sales of over £4.2 billion last year. Although frowned upon my many, this is totally legal at present because HMRC allows it to get away with arguing that it should be taxed in Luxembourg. This situation is similarly dismal for countless other online retail corporations. If taxed fairly, the potential income to Britain’s economy from online sales could be transformational…” (Read more)

News from Oldham Council

Full Council roundup (Watch again here)

    • Drive to stub out smoking: A Labour motion resolving to adopt the tobacco declaration and to declare a commitment to reducing smoking in the community was unanimously approved. Deputy Cabinet member for public health Cllr Sue Dearden, who proposed the motion said, “What this motion is trying to emphasise is the terrible cost that tobacco has on Oldham as a whole; particularly in poorer communities who spend five times as much of their weekly household budget on cigarettes than higher income smokers.”
    • Anger at education funding cuts: Councillors have agreed to fight to protect college education funding in Oldham. The Education Funding Agency announced in December a reduction of 17.5 per cent in funding available to schools and colleges for students who are 18 at the start of their course. It means that more than 700 of Oldham’s 18 year olds attending sixth form or college can expect to receive only £3,300 in course funding, a decrease of over £800. Cllr Shoab Akhtar argued that the cuts were “unfair” and would have a “detrimental impact on students”, citing personal experience of this issue with his son who is set to graduate college older than 18 due to illness.
    • Police cash cuts ‘reckless’: Cuts of £6.4m to Greater Manchester police have been condemned by Oldham’s Labour councillors. Cllr Steve Bashforth proposed a motion calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to reconsider the decision, which will see these funds diverted to projects which have little or no direct benefit to Oldham (such as £110,000 going straight to the City of London Police). Cllr Bashforth described the cuts as “outrageous, reckless and dangerous”, arguing that the cuts will leave fewer police on the streets and could lead to an increase in crime.
    • Holding Arriva to account on poor ambulance service: A Labour motion calling for Arriva to deliver “urgent and drastic improvements”  to their non-emergency medical transport service in Greater Manchester or face having their contract terminated was carried without time for debate. It has been less than a year since Arriva Transport Solutions took over the running of Greater Manchester’s non-emergency ambulances but their persistent failure to meet important contractual targets and a huge volume of complaints from patients has led Oldham Labour Group to push for a review of their contract.
    • Fighting for Fair Credit: Opposition Leader Cllr Howard Sykes took the opportunity during Leader’s Question time to ask Leader Cllr Jim McMahon about the use of Discretionary Housing Payments and  Local Welfare Provision. Cllr McMahon replied that around two thirds of this money had been spent so far by the council, a total in proportion with the time left in the financial year. Administration costs had been paid for from a separate Government payment with “every penny of the local welfare payments going to the people.” He highlighted that many benefits are paid to people for whom work simply doesn’t pay enough to live on, adding “Working Family Tax credits are subsidising businesses who pay people less than they deserve.” He highlighted how Oldham Labour Group is tackling this, with Cllr Jenny Harrison leading on the development of a Fair Employment Charter and work being undertaken to explore the possibility of setting up a high street shop as part of a Fair Credit campaign “to allow Oldham to respond to a Government that doesn’t care.”

Helping residents stay safe online for e-safety week
Oldham Local Children Safeguarding Board (LSCB) is to help children and vulnerable adults stay safe when surfing the web as part of eSafety week 2014. Over five days of eSafety week – starting Monday, February 10 – the team will run a series of events and competitions to encourage people to think about their online privacy, security and viewing. The events will work with a variety of ages – from primary school children to older people – two age groups who can be particularly at risk when online. E-Safety week is a national scheme to promote responsible internet use and highlight the issues that new technology may present, especially in relation to young people and vulnerable adults who may not be fully aware of the risks. The week highlights the potential risks of the internet, such as children being able to access sexual content that is inappropriate for their age, and older people can be at risk from cyber-criminals as they may not be as experienced as younger generations with computers. Cllr Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Social Care and Public Health, said: “Learning to be safe online is a crucial skill that is important to learn from a young age. The sooner you know your child is safe on the web, the sooner you both become confident about it. E-Safety week is not about dwelling on the risks or scaring people into action – it’s about giving young people and vulnerable adults the tools to know how to confidently deal with situations that they may feel uncomfortable with.” (Read more)

Royton Assembly Hall bites the dust
An eyesore has finally been reduced to rubble after years of uncertainty. The doomed Royton Assembly Hall has been cause for controversy among locals for decades. But it is now making way for the ambitious redevelopment of Royton by Dransfield Properties. Oldham Council Leader, Jim McMahon, said: “This project is another example of the council’s commitment to improve our borough and transform eyesores into eye-catching developments.”)

New leisure facilities profiled on BBC Radio Manchester
Last Wednesday’s evening drivetime show with Phil Trow featured an interview with Cllr Shoab Akhtar about the proposals for the new Oldham Sports Centre and Royton leisure facilities. Oldham Council’s Deputy Leader spoke of how the £15 million ‘flagship’ facility is needed for the town centre and highlighted other regeneration projects taking place, including the Old Town Hall development and Hotel Future. He said the new Oldham sports centre will be able to hold televised and regional competitions for a number of sports. (Listen here – 1hr 47 mins)

News from Westminster

Michael Meacher MP on the national affordable housing shortage
“It’s difficult to portray the contempt with which the Tories view the victims of this acute squeeze on housing.   A large majority of the electorate believe the bedroom tax is wrong and unjust, yet when a UN special investigator on housing called on it to be withdrawn, a Tory housing minister excoriated it as a ‘Marxist diatribe’.   But if the Tories are so obsessed with the idea that in the housing scarcity they’ve created themselves through their economic policies, every available area of accommodation must be utilised, why do they ignore large areas of London (and also other cities) which the super-rich have bought up as an asset and then left to decay unoccupied by them and unlet?   Why force poor people to move because they cannot afford the bedroom tax, even though there’s a huge shortage of single-bed accommodation for them to move into, but then at the same time allow 15% of new-build homes in Greater London to be snapped up by foreign buyers, rising to 70% in the city centre, who then leave their properties vacant?   In one and the same city a third of the mansions in the most expensive stretch of Bishops Avenue ‘billionaires row’ in north London lie idle, while over the last 3 years the number of families forced to move into bed and breakfast has tripled…” (Read more@michaelmeacher)

Debbie Abrahams MP calls for an inquiry into DWP sanctions
“Last Tuesday (28th January) the Work and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, published a report which backed my request during Committee evidence sessions that the Government should set up an independent review into the way sanctions are being applied to hundreds of thousands of people on benefits. This followed two Committee evidence sessions in November where I quizzed Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his Minister of State for Employment, Esther McVey and called for an independent review. I brought to the Secretary of State’s attention evidence from a whistleblower who approached me with evidence that the Government are setting Jobcentre Plus staff targets to get as many claimants off benefits as they can just so they can distort the unemployment figures. I have also had a number of constituents coming to my advice surgeries with examples of inappropriate sanctions, including one who had a heart attack during a health assessment and was sanctioned for inability to complete the assessment.The misery this Government is causing to hundreds of thousands of people on benefits in Oldham and across the country is unforgivable; but, at last, they can no longer ignore the demand that a full and independent review should be carried out. No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on benefits should do all they can to find appropriate work. However, this Government have gone beyond the pale by using underhand tactics to manipulate unemployment data. Since the initial evidence session with Iain Duncan Smith, I have received e-mails and letters from people across the country giving evidence of inappropriate sanctions that had been applied to them…” (Read more / @Debbie_Abrahams)

News from the LGA

LGA Leadership: Taking Labour from Opposition to power
It is likely that Labour will take control of the LGA following the elections this coming May.  With this is mind, the leader of the LGA Labour Group, Cllr David Sparks, asked Oldham Leader Cllr Jim McMahon to prepare a report looking at how a Labour led LGA can best speak up for local government and bring about the changes you want to see. An email with a survey was sent to all councillors on Friday 31 January. Your views matter and we hope that you complete it. The deadline for responses is Friday 14 February. If you have any queries please contact Martin Angus in the Labour Group office on 0207 664 3134 or at martin.angus@local.gov.uk

      • Hilary Benn writes for The Guardian that the 25 most deprived local authorities are being forced to shoulder a disproportionally large share of funding cuts.
      • Council chiefs warn the Government’s flagship care loans scheme could leave them facing crisis within a decade to meet costs of more than £1 billion.
      • More than 270,000 of the poorest households in England face councill tax increases of £80 a year as the Government’s safety net is withdrawn. The Independent reports that up to 70,000 people are being pursued by bailiffs over their failure to pay and have seen their annual bills rise after the Government imposed a 10 per cent reduction in funding for the handout last April.
      • Caroline Flint, the shadow Energy Secretary, threw down the gauntlet to the big six energy companies this week, accusing them of over-charging customers.
      • Ed Miliband has pledged to “complete unfinished business of the past 20 years” as he unveiled sweeping reforms designed to recast Labour’s link with the trade unions and allow wider participation in the party’s leadership and other internal elections.
      • Labour’s latest party political broadcast on a new approach to banking.

News from the District Executives

Royton: Friends of Royton group launched
‘Royton District Executive have launched a ‘Friends of Royton’ group. We are calling on interested residents to volunteer their time to support events around Royton. The scheme was launched at our last community forum and money has been set aside to enable training in leadership skills to be given to volunteers. This will help us when we need assistance at functions such as Christmas lights switch on and St Georges Day events etc. We believe that this is in the true tradition of a co-operative way forward’.

Failsworth and Hollinwood: Community Safety plans
Dozens of local residents and partners attended a public meeting last week, held at Oasis Academy Oldham, to discuss their priorities for Community Safety in Hollinwood. Hollinwood previously had one of the highest rates of anti-social behaviour in the town but has since declined markedly to one of the lowest. This is a testament to the excellent work of the District Team, supported by District Executive funding, and effective partnership working with the police. The meeting discussed the various ways of reporting different kinds of crimes, how best to spread community safety messages and the setting up of more homewatch schemes, with a number of residents present expressing interest in becoming home watch co-ordinators themselves. Councillors and officers are taking forward suggestions from a very productive meeting.

Oldham: New District Town Hall
The new Oldham District Town Hall will be opening on Monday 17th February. Located on Level 2 at the Civic Centre, the facility will provide a base for Ward Members and the Oldham District Team, making them more accessible to local people. Cllr Abdul Malik, Chair of the Oldham District Executive, said “I’m glad to be able to announce the upcoming opening of our new District Town Hall. This office will bring together services working in the Oldham District, to allow them to work much closer together in delivering against local people’s priorities, and will further support the hard work of your local Ward Councillors.” The District Town Hall can be accessed via the Rochdale Road Reception at the Civic Centre.

To share good news and campaigning events, email leadersoffice@oldham.gov.uk or tweet us at @oldhamlabour

Employee Supported Volunteering – Council staff ‘doing their bit’

To help employees to ‘do their bit’ for the borough we have introduced an Employee Volunteering Scheme (ESV). Under this, employees can use up to three days (pro-rata for part time staff) away from their normal working duties to volunteer for the benefit of Oldham communities.

This is key to Oldham becoming a cooperative Council and establishing a better connection between the Council (and its employees) and the communities we serve, giving thousands of hours of staff time and expertise to local community groups.

The scheme has been very successful so far and both employees and the organisations they have supported have benefited from taking part. This is now being developed to target support to our priority areas, such Get Oldham Working – for instance using staff volunteering time to help local unemployed people prepare for interviews.

You may become aware of community initiatives that would benefit from the support of ESV volunteers. In the event that you identify suitable opportunities for the scheme, please contact Sarah Roche (sarah.roche@oldham.gov.uk / 0161 770 3059) , Project Officer in People Services, and provide details of the requirement. Sarah will then make contact with the organisation / community group to consider the format of, and ‘work up’, the placements and promote to staff accordingly.

If you would like further information regarding the scheme, then please do not hesitate to contact Sarah on the above number / email address.

Three case studies of completed volunteering placements are available to view below:

Briefing: Social Value Procurement Framework

As a Co-operative Council we are committed to acting in a socially responsible way and to influencing partners, suppliers and others to do the same. We spend in excess of £232million with 5,700 trade suppliers each year, so by formally and consistently considering social value in the decisions we make in spending this money, we can make a major contribution to delivering a Co-operative Borough.

Accordingly, we have developed a social value procurement framework in order to:

  • Ensure that we have a systematic, consistent and coherent approach to social value across each and every contract that the council lets,
  • Encompass a broader range of social value considerations in what we do, and
  • Implement a more outcome-focused approach with clearer links to our broader strategic priorities and overarching organisational objectives.

Read the full Social Value Procurement Framework here.

Briefing: Troubled Families programme

In December 2003, a three year Troubled Families Programme was launched nationally to support 120,000 families who, despite numerous interventions from multiple agencies, were still unable to function well.

In Oldham, 660 families were identified who could be supported through the programme over the three years.

A scheme was set up in Failsworth to pilot the new way of working with 37 families. A Family Focus Team was trained to a high level and equipped with a new set of skills. They focussed on dealing with problems identified by the families, such as debt, and worked together on a plan with each family could own. The plans included small, achievable steps and greatly reduced the need for the overwhelming number of interventions previously experienced by the families.

The programme is seeing success with many of the families and, by the end of September this year, the programme will go borough wide.

Oldham has taken part in a national evaluation and this has shown a reduction in demand for other agency intervention. Families feel supported by the Family Focus Team in taking the small steps that enable them to turn themselves around. Through the success, there is an indication that the national programme will be extended by a further two years.

Briefing: Boiler Replacement Scheme

Background

In November 2012 the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced a new fund called ‘Local Authority Fuel Poverty Fund’, with the primary focus to help reduce fuel poverty in local authority areas. At the end of December it was announced that Oldham Council had won £190,000 for a boiler replacement scheme (only 61 projects received funding out of 136 bids nationally.)

This left little time for delivery as the funding had to be spent by the end of March 2013 and the scheme had to be started from scratch. This funding was on top of the £89,540 that the Council was awarded from the Department of Health in November. This is being used to offer home visits and fuel debt help to our most vulnerable residents.

Results

In total 73 households were assisted and the following installations were completed:

  • 20 boiler replacements (from D-rated or below to A rated), average cost of these was £1924
  • 10 boiler conversions (e.g. from a back boiler system to a combination system), average cost £2265
  • 42 full central heating systems installed, average cost £3412
  • 1 new radiator system (resident only had a boiler)

46 of these households qualified due to the household being on means tested benefits.
26 of the households qualified due to someone in the household having a health condition related to the cold.
37 of the households we assisted previously had no working heating or hot water in place before we helped them.
3 households who didn’t qualify for the scheme were provided with a new heating system through the Greater Manchester DoH funding, and we were able to secure a further £27,000 from ‘ECO’ funding on top of the £190,000 grant for those households who were eligible.

Conclusion

Cllr Dave Hibbert, Cabinet Member for Housing, Transport and Planning said, “I am proud of what Housing Energy Officer Angela Carr and her team have achieved. There was such a tight time-line for this scheme that it is remarkable how many residents they we’re able to help. However, the number of households that we discovered to be without heating, and even without running hot water, shows us just how much work there is left still to do.”

Briefing: Cooperative Council – Employee Volunteering Scheme

Key aims and objectives for the scheme

  • working for a Cooperative Borough – developing and changing the relationship between council and citizens to strengthen our communities
  • Increasing staff motivation, developing staff skills, especially transferable skills for a new way of working in times of reduced external recruitment.
  • Increasing service understanding and connections with communities in Oldham.
  • Providing additional capacity to the voluntary sector in the borough in a time of reduced funding.

Why employee volunteering? 

Employee volunteering schemes are becoming increasingly popular amongst both private and public sector organisations, as a different but effective way of helping to contribute to employee development and to support corporate social responsibility goals. There are a number of benefits an employee volunteering scheme will bring to the reputation of the Council, Council employees; and to people and organisations operating in the Borough:

For the council 

As a business, the council will benefit from more highly motivated and skilled employees, who are better engaged with the communities they serve. Such a scheme would help to improve strategic and informal links with third sector organisations in the Borough. Learning by individuals during placements would also be shared with teams, services and the wider council both informally and formally. An employee volunteering scheme designed as a development opportunity for employees could also lead to reduced internal organisational training costs as an alternative to existing training options. The Council should also achieve a more positive reputation and improved citizen engagement as a result of its employees’ volunteering in the community.

For employee volunteers 

Employees will benefit from the training and development opportunities that volunteering offers. Benefits for individuals are wide-ranging, from personal gains such as increased confidence and self-esteem, to soft and hard work skills including leadership, communication, project management, team-working and community engagement. Employee volunteers will be supported and encouraged to take part in opportunities which not only fulfil their philanthropic interests but which also support their personal and professional development needs. Using employees to invest time in the community helps to foster individual commitment and boost morale. Research by the Corporate Citizenship Company found that corporate volunteers become more motivated and are likely to stay longer with the employer. Centrica, for example, found that involvement in its Cardiff Cares volunteering scheme increased employees’ job satisfaction, improved retention and reduced absence due to sickness.

For the borough and the Voluntary, Community and Faith Sector (VCFS)

VCFS organisations in the borough, and the people and places they work with, will benefit directly from such a scheme. In a time of reduced funding, the additional help from volunteers who perhaps would otherwise not participate in volunteering is very much welcomed by the sector. Employee volunteering schemes will help employees gain a greater understanding of the needs and problems of local communities, and therefore contribute to the council’s overall understanding of the issues our communities face. This learning would be captured and actioned through both formal and informal mechanisms. Employee volunteering should also help to spread the spirit of co-operation across the borough, and through leading by example, our volunteering activity may help to encourage other people and businesses to do the same.

More information can be found here.

Briefing: Cooperative Council – Cooperative Charter

Our ambition

Oldham is committed to developing a Co-operative future; one where citizens, partners and staff work together to improve the borough. We want all members of the community to play an active part in building our co-operative borough. This means everybody doing their bit.

Our values

To help make this ambition a reality we have developed Co-operative Values. We will encourage our staff, citizens and partners to adopt these values in everything they do:

  • Fairness

    We will champion fairness and equality of opportunity, and ensure working together brings mutual benefits and the greatest possible added value. We will enable everyone to be involved.

  • Openness

    We will be open and honest in our actions and communications. We will take decisions in a transparent way and at the most local level possible.

  • Responsibility 

    We take responsibility for, and answer to our actions. We will encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and their actions. Mutual benefits go hand-in-hand with mutual obligations.

  • Working together 

    We will work together and support each other in achieving common goals, making sure the environment is in place for self-help.

  • Accountability 

    We recognise and act upon the impact of our actions on others, and hold ourselves accountable to our stakeholders.

  • Respect 

    We recognise and welcome different views and treat each other with dignity and respect.

  • Democracy 

    We believe and act within the principles of democracy, and promote these across the borough.

More information can be found here.