Monday saw the 31st council budget from a Liberal/Lib Dem administration in Sutton.
The budget was presented by Cllr Simon Wales, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Resources, stating that, “Producing a budget is a team effort and I am grateful to all those who have played a part in getting us to this stage.”
To demonstrate this we had a total of 12 of our councillors contributing to the debate on the night. In contrast, and in these times of severe and significant pressure on council’s budgets affecting social care, schools and homelessness, the Conservative opposition had only two of their eight councillors with anything at all to say on the matter.
Even the two independent councillors felt the budget was important enough for them to contribute to the debate, even if Cllr Mattey’s fantastical ramblings took us off to La La Land.
My Lib Dem colleagues talked passionately about what the Government’s cuts meant for the services the council provides, and the innovative ways we have tried to mitigate the damage through shared services, new service delivery vehicles and targeted solutions. In particular Cllr Crossby welcomed the £1.25m that will be spent to transform Sutton’s performance in tackling domestic violence and abuse.
But it was Cllr Abellan’s speech that I felt summed up the way things are done under a Liberal Democrat administration. It is so good that I have reproduced it in full:
We’ve heard many great speeches so far tonight and if there is one clear message that stands out it’s that we are delivering value for money, working hard for every resident and keeping our borough one of the best places to live, work and raise a family.
But don’t just take my word for it. Our Ipsos Mori surveys continue to show remarkable levels of satisfaction with our services, our recent peer review demonstrated that we’re already one of the best Councils and if this wasn’t enough, last summer, Carshalton Central residents put their trust in us once again by electing Councillor Chris Williams.
Mr Mayor, this last year has seen another assault on local Government from this Tory Government but despite the challenges, we are proud to present a balanced budget this evening.
And the challenges have been great but we have rolled up our sleeves, got on with the job and as we’ve heard tonight, found innovative ways to deliver good value for money for all our residents.
Innovative by sharing services with other boroughs when necessary and by developing an approach that delivers the best outcomes for our residents. By finding millions of pounds of savings with a new waste contract that will help us to significantly increase our recycling rates.
Transformative by improving our partnerships and leading on the Sutton Plan. Or by investing money to deliver a world-leading hub for cancer research and treatment right here in Sutton.
As Liberal Democrats we believe that no one should be left behind and that’s why despite these difficult financial times, our decision to spend over 1 million pounds to tackle domestic violence is something we are very proud of.
Mr Mayor, what have we learned from the opposition this evening?
We’ve learned that they continue to support damaging cuts from this Tory Government.
We’ve learned that they still have no vision for Sutton, no credible policies, no costed plan, no alternative budget, no leadership.
And as we’ve heard tonight from Cllr Crowley, they confirmed that they would only reveal their plans for Sutton the year of the election. So here is the Tory plan, we hibernate for 3 years and come out at election time.
How can Sutton residents trust them to spend their money wisely?
Mr Mayor, in these times when politics is being used to divide us – middle class and working class, young and old, immigrant, EU citizens, the values that unite this group of Cllrs are needed more than ever if we are to continue to keep a compassionate, tolerant and cohesive community here in Sutton.
We are not career politicians. We believe that our communities are stronger when decisions are made as close to our residents as possible. That no one should be left behind. We are immersed in our communities in many different shapes and forms and our engagement did not start and does not end with our position as Cllrs. We see this is a strength that keeps us in touch with our residents, help us stay grounded, not lose sight of what matters to residents and to understand that behind every policy, every decision, there are thousands of lives. These values have helped us build a healthy and trustworthy relationship with Sutton residents over the years.
So as we enter into the last year of this administration, let’s be proud of this budget, let’s congratulate the work of our officers and strengthen our partnerships but let’s continue to champion these values and not forget that we have a lot more work to do . I commend this budget.
This heartfelt speech was followed by the Conservatives’ second and final contribution from Cllr Garratt. I summed it up in my own speech as “A presentation of alternative facts, and a plea for more funding for cycling and bridges.” It aptly demonstrated the Conservatives complete failure to understand how the budget pressures we face require fundamental and substantive changes in the way councils operate, not just salami slicing or shuffling money around. Over the last three years, under the leadership of Cllr Crowley, the opposition has failed to offer any solutions or ideas, and seek only to oppose, insinuate and undermine our efforts. They offer no policies, and have no principles.
Independent Councillor Graham Whitham correctly predicted the fence-sitting of the Conservatives in abstaining from voting either for or against the budget, and reminded them curtly that the reason they had been elected was to make decisions, but by abstaining in this and the many other decisions they have the opportunity to participate in, they were abdicating that responsibility.
As Cllr Wales highlighted, here was an opportunity for the opposition to support the voices of their colleagues in Conservative-run councils, for even they are calling on their government to cease this onslaught on council budgets. But no, they clearly supported their Government’s policies whilst accepting no responsibility for the harsh cuts being imposed on their residents as a result. Shameful.
All the work the council does and the decisions it makes are in the public domain and largely accessible through its website. However as this is often embedded in committee reports and paperwork you need to know what you are looking for or put in an FOI.
So in an attempt to make it simpler I thought I would do a series of posts setting out current activities in the areas covered by my committee portfolio – the Housing, Economy & Business Committee.
I have previously posted about Housing, so now it is the turn of ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
All the council’s work to boost the local economy is badged as OPPORTUNITY SUTTON and is overseen by the Opportunity Sutton team.
This area of work is huge so I will have to break it down into parts on separate posts.
EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING
Partnership working for better jobs
The council works closely with JobCentrePlus; local training providers such as Carshalton College, Sutton and District Training, JACE Training, Sutton College and Orchard Hill College; local business representatives including the Sutton Chamber and Successful Sutton; MENCAP; Epsom & St Helier University NHS Trust and SHP, bringing these partners together with council departments covering Education, Revenues and Benefits, Housing Services and Public Health. Together we work at improving the employment opportunities for people living in the borough. As a group we are called the Sutton Economic Support Taskforce which I chair.
Making apprenticeships easy
The Council paid SENSE Communications to set up and run an online Sutton Apprenticeship Hub bringing together information and apprenticeship opportunities all in one place. The Hub is useful for students looking for apprenticeship places, for businesses looking for apprentices, and is full of information about apprenticeships useful to businesses, students, teachers and parents.
Offering council apprenticeships
Sutton Council aims to lead by example by offering a number of quality apprenticeships at the council. It currently employs 12 apprentices and is recruiting for a further 2. We were very proud to see one of our apprentices working in the Opportunity Sutton team achieve the ‘Apprentice of the Year’ awarded by London Borough Councils.
Improved training for local jobs
The council’s Sutton Skills Match programme brings together local businesses, schools and training providers so that employers can advise of the skills and training that is required for them to offer employment to local people. As a result of this relevant information the training providers have adapted their training programmes to better meet the local need, and businesses are working with schools to talk about career pathways. An excellent example of this work is Sutton & District Training taking over the Building Lives program which offers training in construction skills that offer a direct route into work with local construction firms.
Working with schools
The council works closely with local schools helping them with work experience placements and providing special courses to help students be work-ready.
Annual Careers Fair
Each year the council organises a careers fair for young people aged 14 to 24 with the help of the partners above.
Supporting disabled and disadvantaged residents into work
Through the Our Place scheme helping people with mental health conditions and the new DWP Work and Health Programme the council offers targeted interventions to help and support people with barriers to employment get into the workplace. Last year it successfully completed an EU funded scheme to help a number of lone parents into work. The Our Place scheme has now placed 30 people with mental health conditions into paid work with 4 recently achieving a full year of employment.
Developing budding entrepreneurs
The council employs Successful Sutton to provide business training and advice to people thinking of or just getting started with new businesses. Together they are running a special project called POP UP SUTTON providing free monthly stalls in Sutton town centre accompanied by a programme of business advice and support for entrepreneurs wanting to try out their business ideas and products.
Working with local boroughs for a wider employment offer
Sutton is part of the South London Partnership which also includes the boroughs of Croydon, Kingston, Merton and Richmond. Sutton is leading on a programme of work to improve residents’ skills across the five boroughs, drawing on our local experience. This also involves supporting the area based reviews of further education providers. Cllr Ruth Dombey takes the lead on this area in the South London Partnership.
Skilling up residents for London Cancer Hub careers
Together with our partners the council is working to ensure there are opportunities in place offering health, science and social care training so that there is a pool of talent within our local community that the London Cancer Hub can draw on. The potential careers that the London Cancer Hub can offer will be huge and wide ranging and we want local people to be able to get the maximum advantage from having this illustrious campus on their doorstep.
Creating new jobs
Opportunity Sutton is working to attract new businesses to Sutton, and offers help and support to existing businesses so they thrive and grow. In both cases this leads to new job opportunities for local people.
The council reviews its progress in ensuring its residents can find work or training as part of an Economy Watch document that it publishes quarterly. I am pleased to report that Sutton has higher than average economically active residents at 82% of the population, and increasing. The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance is on a downward trend across all age ranges, and there is an increasing number of business start ups.
All the work the council does and the decisions it makes are in the public domain and largely accessible through its website. However as this is often embedded in committee reports and paperwork you need to know what you are looking for or put in an FOI.
So in an attempt to make it simpler I thought I would do a series of posts setting out current activities in the areas covered by my committee portfolio.
I will start with HOUSING
Sutton is building council houses for the first time for many years
Previously the government took money away from Sutton to pay for housing in other places. When the rules were changed we immediately took the opportunity to start building again. We now have planning permission to start building 93 new homes across three sites.
Council housing protected for Sutton residents
You need to have lived in Sutton for at least two years to be eligible for council housing in the borough.
Council tenancies for Life
When councils were given the freedom to do away with tenancies for life we consulted with tenants and abided by their wish to retain lifetime tenancies. Unfortunately the Housing & Planning Bill recently passed by Parliament no longer allows us to do this so new tenancies granted will not be for life.
Improving existing council homes
The council has spent £140 million over the past 4 years improving people’s council properties. This has included installing new kitchens and bathrooms, new windows and doors, and major renovation projects like Balaam House and Chaucer House. Many of these measures will improve the energy efficiency of these properties resulting in lower heating bills.
Increasing the number of houses for purchase and rent
The council has been encouraging developers to build new homes in Sutton. We have done this by marketing Sutton and by having positive working relationships with developers. This has enabled us to ensure family houses are built as well as one and two bedrooms flats, and that developers make contributions to improve the area around their development. We have also worked hard to get a good amount of affordable homes delivered as part of private developments.
The work on delivering a new Local Plan means our planning polices will direct housing development to suitable locations and demand high quality, sustainable design that works well with the area.
The regeneration of the Durand Estate is now in its third phase with a total of over 700 homes (250 net additional homes) due to be provided under the Partnership working with Affinity Sutton, Rydons and the residents. The area has been transformed and renamed The Lavenders.
Setting up a council owned housing development company to deliver homes
Called Sutton Living Ltd this company means the council can buy empty properties and rent them out, build new homes for sale or rent, or partner with house builders or social housing providers to help deliver additional housing. As the council knows what type of housing residents need in the borough it can use Sutton Living to deliver the right type of housing, and keep prices affordable. It also has a policy of ensuring new properties, whether to rent or sell, are offered to Sutton residents first. It also enabled the council to get extra help from the London Mayor through becoming a Housing Zone. Any profits generated will either be reinvested in delivering more housing or given back to the council to spend on services for residents.
New specialist housing
This year the council opened Dymond House, a new facility especially to house people with Dementia, as well as people with learning disabilities and a reablement centre.
In Cheam Elizabeth House was rebuilt to provide high quality sheltered housing for older people replacing the outdated original building which had no lifts and communal bathrooms.
And it was not long ago that bespoke-designed housing was built for people with learning disabilities to enable them to live more independently outside of institutions following the closure of Orchard Hill.
Helping people into the private rented sector
The council works with good landlords to encourage them to offer quality accommodation to residents. The council can help with deposits and housing allowance transfers.
The council also takes a hard line against landlords that break the regulations they must abide by and put tenants at risk. We have had a number of successful prosecutions against such landlords.
Lobbying Government on behalf of Sutton residents
We responded to consultations on the Housing & Planning Bill highlighting that it would make finding local affordable housing even harder, cause council tenants to face insecurity and eviction and reduce the amount of social housing available and deter social housing being built.
In advance of the Housing and Planning Bill coming back to be debated by MPs in the Commons I sent this letter to our two local MPs, Paul Scully & Tom Brake:
THE HOUSING AND PLANNING BILL
I am writing on behalf of the Sutton Liberal Democrat Group on Sutton Council and in my role as Chair of the Housing, Economy & Business Committee to express our significant concerns about the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill currently being considered in Parliament.
Whilst the aims of the bill to increase the delivery of housing and give greater protection to private sector tenants are to be welcomed, we are concerned that without significant amendment the bill will actually exacerbate the housing crisis, increase homelessness and push more people into poor living standards and poverty.
This situation is particularly a risk for London. We have soaring house prices where the average cost of a two bedroom house in London is now out of reach for more than 80% of people, and a rental sector in which too many people spend over half their income on rent or are victims of rogue landlords.
Right to Buy extension to housing associations
As more homes are sold off under ‘right to buy’ with no commitment to replacement, and council houses sold off to pay for this, there will be less affordable housing available overall, forcing more people into the private rented sector, and a rise in homelessness as more are added to the 1.6 million people already on waiting lists.
This policy also renders our Housing Revenue Account unviable in the medium term, which will in the first instance mean we have to curtail our council house building plans, and may eventually force us to consider selling off all our housing stock as we cannot afford to manage it.
We know that many housing associations are also reducing their building plans because of the potential impacts of this policy combined with the forced rent reduction.
Only those earning at least £90,000 per year will be able to afford the Government’s flagship Starter Homes in London, representing just 5% of renters, so the next generation of young people stand little chance of ever owning their own home.
Starter Homes will be more attractive to developers than affordable homes so this will further reduce the availability of homes that average working people can afford.
‘Pay to Stay’
Under ‘Pay to Stay’ and the end of lifetime tenancies, council tenants will face higher rents or eviction if they get a better job or if their partner starts work. This anti-aspirational policy penalises hard working people and locks many in poverty.
This means council tenants will be kept in limbo, potentially being forced to move away from family and friends and not knowing if their children will attend the same school from one term to the next, or if they can keep their jobs.
Nor will the council benefit from increased income as it must be paid to the Treasury, further undermining the council’s Housing Revenue Account viability.
More people dependant on a fiercely competitive private rented sector
The combination of these policies means that poverty and homelessness will increase as more people are forced into paying exorbitant private rents. More people will find themselves in debt and facing the fear of eviction.
This Bill will have a profound negative impact on the Council’s ability to deliver desperately needed affordable homes in Sutton, and reduce the availability of genuinely affordable homes overall. It will mean more people facing the threat of eviction from their homes, and more people pushed into poverty and debt as they have to pay more of their income in rent.
To mitigate the most negative impacts of the bill the Lords have recommended a significant number of amendments, and I urge you to vote to accept these amendments when it is debated in Parliament next Tuesday.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss our concerns in person and work together to ensure the best deal for Sutton residents.
Tom Brake sent this reply in response:
As you will know, the Liberal Democrats believe that for people to live fulfilled lives, they need a decent home at a cost they can afford. We believe that access to housing is fundamental to liberty, opportunity and hopes for the future. Due to successive government’s failures to build enough homes and manage the sector efficiently, millions of people suffer daily in poor conditions and are unable to afford their own home. Meanwhile, our housing market is overheating, with soaring prices and a rental sector in which many people spend over half their income on rent.
There is a need for Government, first, to show that they understand this housing crisis and then to show the ambition to make real change that improves people’s lives. However, the Housing and Planning Bill currently making its way through Parliament, is disappointing and unambitious even at its best. It doesn’t make a significant attempt to tackle the housing crisis – and in fact, will make it worse.
Tim Farron has described the Housing and Planning Bill as an all-out Government assault on social and affordable housing. Through the Bill, the Government will allow Housing Associations to sell their existing homes, without the requirement to replace them in the same area. This will have long-term consequences across the UK, breaking up and irreversibly damaging communities. Similarly, the Bill will allow developers off the hook from providing affordable homes by prioritising Starter Homes for the better off. It will also force councils to sell thousands of council houses with the proceeds going to central, rather than local, government.
What Britain really needs is more homes of all kinds. That’s why we’re pressing the Government to produce a long term plan that increases supply, gives security to the most vulnerable and creates homes that are genuinely affordable. My Parliamentary colleagues and I did that in the Commons today. We believe house building must increase to 300,000 new homes per year, with homes built in the right places and to a decent and sustainable standard.
Our vision includes the creation of at least 10 new garden cities and villages, empowering councils to get the funding they need for housebuilding by removing caps on borrowing, bringing more empty homes back into use, bringing back Zero Carbon Homes regulations and stimulating house building through the creation of a new Housing Investment Bank.
We believe Britain needs a radical, ambitious and compassionate housing policy like this; something that the Conservatives are not delivering. I can assure you that we will continue to fight this Bill in Parliament and outside and we will continue to push for more, better and greener housing across the country too.
Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington
I have yet to receive a response from Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam.
We are not the only ones expressing grave concerns about the negative impacts of this Bill.
Sir Bob Kerslake, a former Permanent Secretary at the DCLG, has accused the Government of launching an “attack” on England’s council homes, adding that middle-class buyers have been helped “at the expense of lower-income people in desperate need”. In addressing a section of the Housing Bill that will end lifelong secure tenancies for council tenants and replace them with five-year terms, Lord Kerslake described the move as “another attack on social rented housing” which “effectively removes the security that people need to build a new home and build a new life.” He added that despite having some “good bits,” the Bill has a lot that is “fundamentally wrong,” highlighting “the actions to diminish affordable housing” as those which concern him most.
Housing charity Shelter has branded the Government ‘reckless’ and claims that over 20,000 council homes could be lost across England in a year to pay for the extension of the Government’s right-to-buy policy. On Starter Homes Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “By building homes for people on middle to high incomes, the government is redistributing existing resources away from those on low incomes. This will have a massive impact on ordinary families being priced out of the dream of owning their own home, and millennials faced with expensive and unstable private renting, or living with their parents well into their 30s.”
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said that the Government’s manifesto pledge to allow housing association tenants to buy their own home at a discount has not been accurately costed, is open to abuse and may end up exacerbating the UK housing crisis. The PAC said the Government should provide “a full analysis showing how this policy is to be funded, provide a clear statement of where financial and other risks lie, and spell out its contingency plan if its policies prove not to be fiscally neutral. It added that the DCLG should publish detailed data on how it intended to ensure that every home sold off would be replaced with a like-for-like social property. “We share the committee’s concerns about the difficulty in assessing the impact of this in each local area, and have opposed proposals for it to be funded by forcing councils to sell much needed housing,” said Sharon Taylor, vice-chair of the LGA. “We are urging MPs to vote for a vital amendment that will mean councils retain sufficient funds to replace any higher-value home they are forced to sell to fund the policy one-for-one and with a tenure that best meets local need.”
Cllr David Hodge – leader of the Tories at the Local Government Association (LGA) – warns that elements of the bill could have the “unintended consequence of increasing homelessness and pushing more families into the more expensive private rented sector”.
And our own Peer and ex-council leader Lord Graham Tope has been working with the council to understand the likely impacts of the Bill and supporting relevant amendments put forward by the Lords to mitigate some of the worst effects of the bill.
Unfortunately the Minister responsible for the bill, Brandon Lewis, has called on MPs to vote down all the amendments.
You can add your name to those concerned about the impacts of this bill by signing our petition.
I am pleased to announce that the Liberal Democrat candidate Steve Cook was elected to be the new councillor in Wallington South.
The results were as follows:
Liberal Democrats 1251
Total votes 2834 Turnout 35.4%
A huge thank you to the residents who voted for Steve, and for all the help we had in the by-election from Liberal Democrats across the country.
But if Steve thought getting elected was hard work, wait until he sees what we expect of him as a Sutton Councillor!
Here is the full text of the open letter I submitted to the new Sutton and Cheam Conservative MP in the Sutton Guardian this week:
Dear Paul Scully MP
I believe that I have the right to liberty; the right not to be tortured; the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; the right to a fair trial, and the right to be free from slavery or forced labour.
All of these rights and eleven more were established in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights led by the UK and set up with the Council of Europe. The purpose was to prevent any state abusing its citizens following World War II and the atrocities of the Holocaust. These rights were later enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998 to ensure that British courts could uphold them.
Page 60 of the Conservative Party Manifesto 2015 states ‘We will scrap the Human Rights Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights.’
As these rights were set down to protect the citizen from the abuse of the state, a scrapping of the Act is the state withdrawing my rights and redefining them. The UK Government should not have the power to change or take away my fundamental rights. The Human Rights Act is the British Bill of Rights.
I ask you to promise to protect my human rights as enshrined in the Human Rights Act and not support the Conservative Government when it seeks to remove them.
Jayne McCoy, Liberal Democrat and supporter of human rights.
I am not alone in my concern about this Conservative Government’s attack on universal human rights, see:
Following the sad death of our highly respected colleague Colin Hall, the process has to begin to elect a new councillor to take his place in Wallington South.
Our Liberal Democrat candidate is Steve Cook. Steve has lived in Wallington for 35 years, ran a prestigious sound and post production business in the film industry based in London and also Los Angeles, and has been an active member of the Wallington community for many years, as well as more widely in Sutton.
Steve is used to championing the residents of Wallington as chairman of a local residents association and being its official representative on the Beddington & Wallington Local Committee.
We have been used to working with Steve for some time in this role as he was part of the Wallington Integrated
Transport Package Steering Group which delivered the successful Wallington town centre improvements; he played a key part in the campaign to see off the proposed McDonalds Drive-thru, and he helped organise the Festive Light Switch-On last Christmas.
Being such a proactive and involved resident Steve was the obvious person to join the Wallington South Lib Dem team. He has been working with Muhammad and myself to help out since we lost Colin, and we have been impressed by his energy and commitment. Steve will be the perfect addition to the team.
Colin Hall has represented Wallington South since he was first elected to Sutton Council in 1998. We have been colleagues working together on behalf on the residents of the ward since I became a councillor in 2006.
His illness and untimely death has been a shock to me and to the very many people who knew Colin.
I also regularly worked alongside Colin on a number of committees and projects, and I find it difficult to take in that he won’t be there anymore.
Colin had a wide ranging knowledge and experience, but his chief interests were environmental matters and sustainability. Colin was the driving force ensuring that sustainable living was at the heart of everything the council does, and encapsulated this by ensuring the borough took on the principle of One Planet Living.
It has been a privilege to work alongside Colin and to learn from him. He was totally dedicated to his work as a councillor, giving up so much of his time to carry out his duties.
Colin was a gentle, kind man. He wanted to convince through discussion and information, and together with our other colleagues we spent many times discussing issues and finding solutions together. We didn’t always agree and Colin’s strength was that he didn’t always need his to get his own way but was willing to see the other side of the argument. A trait I hold in high regard!
He brought humour and goodwill to his work, and was always willing to share his knowledge and understanding with new or less experienced colleagues. For this reason he was well known, liked and respected by all his council colleagues.
Colin will be greatly missed, by the council, by colleagues, by me. Of course the biggest loss is for his family, and my thoughts are with them all, as they come to terms with the sad loss of a good man.
Lib Dem Spring Conference: Members setting priorities for mental health, tackling climate change, fairness, equality and freedom of expression
I am just back from the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Liverpool where I was very proud to have a hand in voting through key policy motions that set out the Liberal Democrat vision for the future.
The first was the call for greater investment in and parity of status for mental health care. Very pleased to see Paul Burstow our Sutton & Cheam MP bringing this motion to Conference, fully supported by Norman Lamb, our Minister for Care and Support.
Then we agreed to keep our foot on the accelerator in our response to climate change by calling for five ‘Green Laws’ to protect our natural environment, move Britain towards a Zero Waste and zero carbon economy and reduce our energy use.
Then we reaffirmed our commitment to freedom of speech and expression whilst promoting tolerance and understanding.
I was particularly pleased to make a small contribution to the manifesto debate: Stronger Economy, Fairer Society, Opportunity for Everyone, by seconding an amendment on behalf of Sutton Lib Dems which had been put forward by Mark Pack. The amendment sought to enhance the policy by emphasising that we need to rebalance the way we address the financial deficit by working harder to ensure that big businesses and the richest in society pay their fair share so that we can reduce the burden on the poorest and on local government which have borne the brunt of the austerity measures in the last four years.
The text of my summation is below:
I am speaking in support of amendment two.
I support it because as a local councillor I have seen first-hand the impacts of the welfare reforms. I have seen increased homelessness, the rise of reliance on food banks and people struggling to manage debt.
I have seen and spoken to people affected. It is clear that it could be any one of us tipped into that situation whether it be through illness, loss of employment, or low wages failing to keep up with rising rents.
I therefore completely reject the Conservative narrative of these people as scroungers; as feckless families taking advantage of the state.
In Sutton we have seen that 50% of the people on our list as eligible for a council house are in work.
The majority of all benefit claimants are working. These must be the hard working poor the Tories like to refer to. But what about those who are out of work? That would be the undeserving poor if we stick to their narrative.
As budget cuts have been passed down to local authorities we have seen many people put out of a job as a result. Workless because of government policy. And the economic downturn meant that there were few jobs to be found. But if you are not working does that make you a scrounger?
The Conservatives might argue that they just mean those who have never worked. But if our children leave school without the necessary skills to take up employment then whose fault is that? If the training they are being provided with does nothing to lead them into employment then who is to blame? And if the job offer is a zero-hours contract or low pay we can’t blame them and penalise them as a result.
A recent study found that 51% of all government cuts were in the form of cuts to local government and benefits.
The majority are being generalised as scroungers based on a few bad examples, and that has been used as an excuse for reducing benefits and services for the poorest and most vulnerable.
This is not the Liberal Democrat way. We believe that everyone should be given an opportunity and not be penalised for circumstances over which they have little control.
This amendment recognises that the poor have suffered the greatest burden of the last four years’ austerity measures, and it is time to redress the balance, and the narrative.
When people are struggling you give them a helping hand, not a kick in the teeth.
I note the points made by Michael Deyes about, who are the wealthy? However this amendment is about getting the balance right, not attacking the better off.
I therefore ask you to please support this excellent motion enhanced by our amendment.
I was pleased that the amendment was agreed.
Thank you to all those residents who have generously placed their trust in us and re-elected Colin Hall and myself, and newly elected Muhammad Sadiq, to represent them on Sutton council.
We look forward to continuing to work with our residents to ensure that Sutton, and especially Wallington South, remains a lovely place to live.