Swindon Council cuts – there is a choice

March 23, 2016

Article after article by David Renard drives home the message that Swindon Borough Council ‘has no choice’. It has to outsource leisure facilities, close Children’s Centres, transfer services to parishes and abandon funding libraries save for the central one. How does this assertion look in the light of Ian Duncan Smith’s resignation and the rapid withdrawal of the proposed £4.36 billion cuts to Personal Independence Payments? What it surely shows is that the government can be made to retreat in the face of large scale opposition, including in the Conservative Party itself. Twenty Conservative MPs had written to the government opposing this outrageous attack on the disabled. The government knew it was unlikely to get a majority for this proposal through the House of Commons, especially when as Duncan Smith had pointed out it sat somewhat uneasily with tax cuts for better off and the rich. How could they say “we’re all in it together” when they do this, he asked.

IDS is not, of course, opposed to austerity per se but has challenged the way that it is being implemented. If he can challenge the government then why can’t David Renard and Swindon’s Conservative Group follow suit? IDS said exactly what I told Swindon’s Cabinet at one of its open forums, that their “fiscal self-imposed restraints” (the £10 billion surplus) are “more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest”.

According to the Financial Times IDS’s “central concern” is that

…the Chancellor’s commitment to running a fiscal surplus is a self-imposed political decision that it would not be in the national economic interest to deliver at any cost. This accusation is difficult to refute.”

The FT had previously denounced this surplus target as unnecessary and “extreme”.

If the rapid withdrawal of the tax credit proposals last year, and the PIP cuts now, was possible as a result of the government being put under pressure, then why not mobilise pressure against the £6 billion cuts which are being imposed on local government and causing such damage? As I pointed out to the Cabinet if the Chancellor’s target was break-even rather than the £10 billion surplus then the local government cuts would not be necessary. None of the measures which Swindon’s ruling group is proposing would be necessary.

If the opposition within the Tory Party to PIP cuts does not give Swindon’s Tory administration the courage to abandon its supine position then what will? Do they really want to go down in history as ‘the wreckers’, in the words of the Swindon Advertiser Editorial? Did they really enter local government in order to destroy services? Why should they cause all this damage to the town’s social infrastructure in defence of a government strategy which even one of its central figures has now challenged together with others in their Party? Isn’t it time that this administrative put the interests of local people before Party loyalty to a programme which is rapidly unravelling and has been shown to have failed?

Martin Wicks

March 23rd 2016

The Letting Agencies rip-off

March 13, 2016

The problems of high cost and poor standards are not confined to a few “rogue” agencies but are widespread across the industry. Many of the complaints we and other organisations have heard do not only relate to egregiously poor practice by a minority of agencies, but are widespread, and related to common practices – such as charging high fees. ” (Shelter: End letting fees June 2013 )

Around half of landlords use a lettings agency to market and/or manage their properties. Unlike employment agencies who charge the employer for finding an employee, Lettings Agencies charge both the landlord and the tenant, sometimes both of them for the same service. Agencies notoriously rip-off tenants. Here’s a list of the types of fees that are charged by agencies.

  • general administration fees

  • reference fees (including credit checks, bank, guarantor, previous landlord etc)

  • application fees

  • fees for drawing up tenancy agreements

  • inventory fees, including check-in and check-out fees

  • guarantor arrangement/application fees

  • additional occupant fees

  • pets disclaimer fees/additional pet deposit

Agencies are inventive. We have even discovered locally one charging a fee if you pay too much rent! (Read on below or download a PDF here laripoff )  Read the rest of this entry »

BMA strikers in Swindon

January 12, 2016

A few photos from today’s picket line in Swindon at the Great Western Hospital.

bma2 Read the rest of this entry »

Parishes proposal: the electors must decide

November 20, 2015

This is written on behalf of Parks & East Walcot Community Forum, of which I am the Secretary.

Yesterday Parks & East Walcot Community Forum discussed the Community Governance Review being launched by Swindon Borough Council – the proposal to devolve some of its services to new parish Councils in the main body of the town (covering roughly 97,000 electors) where none currently exist.

It was agreed that the Forum would oppose introducing new parishes and call for a referendum of the non-parished areas on whether or not they should be set up.

The Forum felt strongly that such a significant reorganisation of local government in the town should not be a decision for a few dozen Councillors. The imposition of new parishes where no mandate exists would be completely undemocratic. Read the rest of this entry »

Swindon Council to ’empower’ local people by denying them power to decide on parishes

November 13, 2015

At the Council meeting yesterday I asked a couple of questions on the Community Governance Review which will consider whether to introduce parishes into all the non-parishes areas of the town.

Question 1: “Will the administration make a commitment that no area of the town, which currently does not have a parish, will have one imposed on them without their residents being able to vote for or against the creation of a new parish?”

Answer : “Thank you for your question. The law makes no provision for holding such a referendum. If Full Council resolves to undertake a Community Governance review tonight, then the local authority will follow the process set down by law and government guidance.”

It may be true that ‘the law’ under which a Community Governance Review takes place says nothing about a referendum. Yet there is nothing to stop the Council organising a ballot of the non-parished areas, either together or singularly. The fact is that they do not want to commit to one because they fear that they would lose it. Read the rest of this entry »

Not so much a ‘vision’, more a nightmare

October 21, 2015

This is a guest post by a Swindon Council employee who has been given a ‘vision’…

A couple of weeks ago I went to an event for all SBC employees.  It was called On Track To A Vision For Swindon.  It was designed to present the ‘vision’ of the leader of the council, as represented in 4 ‘priorities’ and exemplified in 30 ‘pledges’.  Staff were being asked to think about what their contribution to the vision would be.

The event took place at STEAM.  Each pledge was set up in the form of a custom-made stand and they all lined both sides of a walkway, the floor of which was designed to look like a piece of railway track.  The staff involved in creating and staffing the event wore orange t-shirts with logos specific to the event and there were several tables with orange gazebos above them.  I can only imagine this was in order to create a feeling of coherence about the whole vision thing.  I describe it in detail because of my amazement at what must have been spent on it at a time when we are being told to reduce the cost of virtually everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Labour should oppose parishes move and demand referendum

October 19, 2015

Just when I was thinking that’s a good letter from Des Moffatt (“Beware Parish Plan”) he said this: “…I am not necessarily against going this way provided the citizens of Swindon know what is involved and the opportunity for well off areas to pull up the ladder is avoided.”

This unfortunate statement contradicts the logic of the arguments by which Des himself explained why it would not be a good idea.

Given the fact that the proposal is being put forward by the Conservative administration in the context of an austerity programme which is about to be reinforced by the government’s Spending Review there can only be one outcome to its implementation: the decimation of services and the reinforcement of inequalities based on the different Council tax levels in different wards. Read the rest of this entry »


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