Sunday, 4 March 2018

Former Northumberland County Council CEO dies suddenly

Steve Stewart, the former chief executive of Northumberland County Council,  has died suddenly at the age of 64.
Steve Stewart was CEO, during the time I  was Joint Branch Secretary of the UNISON Northumberland County branch, Steve was at the helm during Local Government reorganisation, the implementation of Single Status, Essential Car Users dispute,  pension dispute and the privatisation plans for transactional services which we opposed and overturned. I found Steve very approachable and he tried to change the culture during his time in Northumberland - which to a certain extent he achieved. We may of had different opposing views but he believed in the Trade Union movement which was helpful to our industrial relations involvement. A keen Sunderland supporter, it often give us a reason to have social discussion outside the normal work stuff.
His death was announced by Worcestershire County Council, where he was interim chief executive, on Thursday evening.
The notice read: 'It is with deep sadness we announce that Steve Stewart, interim chief executive of Worcestershire County Council, has passed away. Steve joined the council in May last year, making a big contribution during his time in the county. Our thoughts are with his family at this very sad time.'
He was previously assistant chief executive at Northamptonshire County Council and also held top roles at councils in Wakefield and Leeds, Sunderland and York.
He opted to leave Northumberland council in November 2013 shortly after the Essential Car Users dispute and under the Labour administration.

My thoughts are with Steve's family and close friends at this difficult time.  RIP

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Wooler youth Drop-in Centre has obtained a grant of £10,000 which helps the existence of this great community resource for young people. The centre was under the threat of closure but thankfully the grant has helped the Drop-in Centre to remain open for at least another year.  A public meeting where a £3 a month donation was suggested in order to support this great project was also announced. For more details about Wooler youth drop in centre goto

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Osborne to allow councils to raise tax to fund social care

George Osborne is expected to announce plans in the Autumn Statement on Wednesday to allow councils facing a social care funding crisis in their area to raise council tax by up to 2%. It is estimated that if all councils decide to impose the chancellor's 2% "social care precept", as much as £2bn could be raised by the end of the parliament in 2020. On Band D designated homes with the owner paying £1,400 a year in council tax, the additional cost would be £30 per property. It would be for the local council to decide if it wanted to raise the cash, but the money has to be spent on social care.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Care homes and a looming crisis

The FT's Jonathan Eley writes that the "economics of care" are miserable. Four Seasons is lossmaking because a lot of care is paid for by local councils, he claims. Facing substantial cuts in budgets, local authorities have reduced the fees they pay to care home operators and are being more demanding in their judgment of who needs care. Also, running costs are rising, claims Mr Eley: "Ahead of the Autumn Statement, George Osborne may currently be preoccupied with ways to extricate himself from the tax credits brouhaha, but the looming crisis in social care could turn out to be just as damaging," he concludes.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Care sector destined for failure due to lack of government funding

UNISON, the public service union are increasingly concerned that some of the UK’s largest private care providers are on the verge of collapse according to reports.

It is understood that Four Seasons Healthcare, the largest provider of care homes in the UK, are struggling to meet rising debt.

UNISON fear the government are not listening to several pleas to invest in social care, and that residents will suffer if the Government does not act quickly.

In the Northern Region, Four Seasons Healthcare have already sold three homes within the last couple of months, in what was described as an organisational structural change.

Ian Fleming, UNISON Area Organiser, said, “If the situation doesn't improve with Local Authority funding, it won't just be Four Seasons Healthcare who will be selling homes. It will be industry wide in their attempt to work their way out of rising debt. We are deeply concerned that recent reports have highlight warnings that the entire care sector is in a slow motion collapse.

“We want residents, their families, and our members to be kept informed and not hear about changes through press coverage.

UNISON repeatedly raised concerns about Southern Cross when they collapsed, but our concerns were ignored then with dire consequences, the Government needs to heed the warnings and support local authorities in funding care for the most vulnerable in society and treat them with dignity and respect.”

UNISON has arranged to meet the Regional Four Seasons Healthcare Senior Management team in order to address some of our members concerns but the root of the problem lies with the Government and their policies.

For further information contact Ian Fleming on 07817 120625

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Support Jus-Rol Workers

As you will be aware on the news the ‘General Mills’ has announced plans to close its Jul-Rol site in Berwick with the loss of over 265 jobs, due to the review of its manufacturing and distribution network, with the goal of streamlining operations and identifying potential capacity reductions.  General Mills is one the world's larger food companies, with offices or manufacturing facilities in more than 30 countries, with its base in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA).  In fiscal 2015, its global net sales were $17.6 billion!  Part of its portfolio are:  Häagen Dazs, Old El Paso; Green Giant; Betty Crocker; Pillsbury; Cheerios; Nature Valley.  The Chief Executive is:Kendall J Powell – Email:  

The Employer has a 50 year history with Berwick and is the town’s largest employer, and supporter of the town’s culture and charities.  Jus-Rol is the No. 1 Brand in the frozen and chilled pastry categories, and Jus-Rol leads both the chilled and frozen pastry sectors. Delia Smith has given the seal of approval to Jus-Rol. The brand is included in her book “Delia’s How to Cheat at Cooking.”
Workers at the factory are rightly worried about their future.   The potential loss of 265 jobs would be a devastating blow to Berwick and the surrounding areas.  Northumberland County Council is setting up a taskforce to help the workers.
Please sign and share the following petition in support of Jus-Rol Workers  -  Yours support is greatly appreciated.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Wrong to Buy

by Allan Hepple

The much vaunted Conservative manifesto commitment to allow 1.3 million families to buy their housing association home, dubbed Right to Buy 2, at Right to Buy discounts, between £77,000 and £104,000, has generated much discussion and criticism from professionals and Housing Associations alike. Such august bodies as the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing have been particularly vocal on the matter.

I will attempt to summarise the position as I understand it.

Current position Council tenants since 1980 have had the ‘Right to Buy’ (RTB) with discounts on the open market value currently of between £77,000 and £104,000. This was on the promise of replacement on a one to one basis with new council homes. In reality local councils can only build one for every 10 sold!

Housing association tenants have the ‘Right to Acquire’, introduced under the 1996 Housing Act. It is substantially different from the RTB:-
* It only applies to eligible tenants who live in properties provided with social housing grant, or transferred to housing association, after 1st April 1997
* Housing associations have right to sell the tenant an alternative property other than the one they live in.
* Properties in rural areas, population at or less than 3,000, are excluded
* Current discounts stand between £9,000 and £16,000 dependant on location

Consequently take up is low.

Housing associations; to which paradoxically the then Tory government in the 1980’s  gave powers as alternative providers of new social housing in place of local authorities; are private and not public bodies like councils and have the ability to borrow on the private market as well as obtaining social housing grant from the government. Most have charitable status but all have a legal responsibility to house those in housing need. Their debts, estimated at around £60bn, are private debts and are not counted toward the UK national debt.

Extending RTB to all housing association tenants would see discounts increased dramatically to between £77,000 and £104,000. Whilst the detail of the Tory plan is yet to be released, currently there is no planned restriction on rural areas.
So why is it ‘Wrong to Buy’?
First Housing associations are not-for-profit organisations. Their properties are not government assets to sell off.
A third of RTB properties have ended up as private rented homes at a greater cost to taxpayers as result of higher rents requiring increased Housing Benefit expenditure. Private rents in the UK have increased by 10% in the last year (5% in the North East. SHOUT (Social Housing Under Threat) have estimated that HB expenditure could rise to £200bn in the next few years if current housing policies don’t change.

The sell-off will be funded by the forced sale of council’s most expensive homes when they become vacant. Effectively compensating HAs for the sale of their homes by councils.  Funding through forcing sell off of most expensive council houses is wrong. Government estimates the cost of discounts will be £4.5bn a year yet Savills estimate the sell-off of the most expensive council houses will raise £3.2bn at best. The numbers simply don’t stack up. This money will be used to fund no fewer than 5 discrete things: fund the discounts to tenants: replace the sold council property, repay the grant on the sold housing association home; replace the sold housing association home and the contribution to the [government’s] brownfield regeneration fund? What’s even more interesting is that the Times claims that Whitehall officials warned David Cameron against the plan to RTB scheme weeks before the general election!

According to Inside Housing the Conservative’s policy is to sell off the most expensive in the area not nationally. The numbers from Inside Housing (12-06-15) give valuations at or above which they'd be sold off in the North East: 1 bed £80,000 2 bed £125,000 3bed £155,000 4 bed £250,000
It is highly likely that this could affect the most rural parts of Northumberland where house prices are highest but demand for affordable homes is highest.

The irony is that they are largely in Tory constituencies! If you add to that sell off of rural HA homes and the inability for us to get any affordable home contribution for less than 10 homes built by private developers it really is a nightmare scenario for affordable homes in rural areas.

The government have promised a one for one replacement on all homes sold. We’ve heard this since 1980 but it’s never been achieved. Between April 2012 and December 2014, 26,184 homes were sold but just 2,712 were built from these proceeds – a rate of 1 built to every 10 sold!

This could also pose a threat to our Core Strategy which provides a good policy for new affordable housing being affordable in perpetuity in rural areas. 

Credit agency Standard and Poors, which provides ratings for 17 HAs, said the policy could affect their credit worthiness in the long term affecting their ability to borrow on the private market. Social housing grant has been cut since 2010 from £60,000 to £20,000 a unit so HAs rely more and more on private loans to finance new development.

The Office of National Statistics said if the policy led to greater control over housing associations, the ONS would have to assess Housing associations as public bodies. This would result in their current private debt being added to public debt amounting to £60bn or 4% of the total national debt.

Overall, there are clearly many unintended consequences but the most important impact will simply be less affordable housing particularly social rented housing and less opportunity to build new homes. At current rates of provision homes built today will have to last about 250 years!

In short that’s why this policy is not Right to Buy but Wrong to Buy!