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.
A small number of people with views to the far right used the EU Leave campaign as an excuse to legitimise racism. Now the country has voted to Leave the EU we are starting to hear about incidents of racism where they had not been encountered before.
The Police Borough Commander has written to us to advise that the Met Police are taking action to provide reassurance to communities and that any incidences of hate crime will not be tolerated and will be investigated.
The local Police advise that they have had no incidences recorded, however I have lately received reports of local people being racially abused both during and after the campaign.
I would strongly advise anyone who has been subjected to racist abuse to report it to the Police. We need to stamp down on this quickly and hard and be clear that racism and hate crime is not acceptable under any circumstances in the London Borough of Sutton.
I believe that the vast majority of people in Sutton are kind, tolerant, thoughtful people who find racism abhorrent, and the people who voted to leave the EU did so for reasons a million miles away from the views of these Far Right groups. Which makes it all the more important that we stand united to fight any upsurge in racism in our local area.
Police letter below:
UK EU Referendum : Keeping London Safe and Secure Together
The EU Referendum may have divided public opinion, but one thing that I am certain we can all agree upon is our great liberal values, including the principles of democracy and tolerance. The very large majority of us are proud of our nation’s diversity and the value that difference can bring. This is obvious in our #westandtogether campaigns, when all communities of all backgrounds and from every neighbourhood stand together in unity against hatred and extremism. We are also highly aware that some critical events, whether at home or abroad, can incite incidents of intolerance and/or hate which we will not tolerate. We are also mindful that when this happens communities can feel insecure and unsafe. The MPS has responded quickly by putting in place a comprehensive policing plan across each borough that will enable us to communicate directly with communities to reassure them; to engage at a personal level in local communities, building further trust and confidence; to have local policing plans that provide highly visible policing at times and in locations which meet the needs of our communities; and to monitor community sentiment through a rolling community impact assessment. There have been some isolated incidents of hate crimes and I am proud of the way in which communities have come together and shown unity. Any act of hate crime is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We would appeal to anyone who witnesses or suffers any hate crime to come forward and report it immediately. We have over 900 specialist detectives who investigate all hate crimes and want to bring offenders to justice. I would like to encourage you to get to know your local Neighbourhood Officers who will be able to offer support and friendship.
With my best wishes,
Mak Chishty Commander Engagement
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.
Sutton Council is supporting the Government’s Love Food Hate Waste campaign and I must say that it is a campaign that very much chimes with me personally.
You see I have become a bit of an addict at seeking out recipes to use up leftovers and fresh produce before it goes off.
I have made it even more of a challenge as for many years I have had a regular organic veg box delivery. Whilst I love trying to use seasonable veg that hasn’t travelled for hundreds of miles, it has led to me encountering a much broader range of fruits and vegetables than I would have picked out at the supermarket. As a result I have had to learn how to prepare and cook them. Some vegetables I have come to know and love: squashes, aubergines, kale, spinach and leeks, but there are still one or two that I haven’t developed a taste for like celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes (although I did manage to smuggle Jerusalem artichokes into a recipe recently that the family actually liked!)
My failsafe is to make soup. There are so many soup recipes out there that I don’t believe there is a single vegetable that can’t be made into a warming and delicious soup (except perhaps celeriac!) Family favourites in my house are Leek & Potato, Pumpkin and Sweetcorn, and Chinese Noodle soup – which is especially good for using up small bits of whatever leftover meat and leafy veg you have.
My next favourite way of using vegetables or an excess of fruit is to use them in baking. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes and beetroot can all be used in cake recipes. I love to see the faces when I serve up my chocolate beetroot cake and people realise that it tastes really moist and chocolatey and nothing at all like beetroot. I have a special apple cake that is full of fruit and so good when you need to use up your apples as they start to wrinkle, and of course if you can make a crumble topping or pastry that is an easy way to use up most fruit in various combinations.
Some other dishes I find helpful for using up leftovers are:
Macaroni cheese – use up those end bits of cheese and throw in any leftover veg – peas, onions, frozen mixed veg, chopped kale or spinach.
Kale or spinach are also lovely mixed in with a curry, and very good for you. Curry is also good for a variety of veg leftovers.
Meatloaf with courgette and herbs is a firm favourite in our house when I have a glut of courgettes.
Banana & cocoa muffins – perfect for using up overripe bananas.
Omelettes and frittatas are perfect for lunch and can use up lots of leftovers like bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, cooked potatoes, peas and onions.
Leftover wine (it can happen occasionally) gets thrown into tomato sauces for pasta, and don’t throw away your stale bread (unless it is mouldy of course) as there are many recipes that need stale bread, or blitz them into breadcrumbs and make a savoury crumble topping (mix with grated cheese) or mix with melted chocolate and ground almonds for an indulgent chocolate cake.
Having given it a trial I have now swapped to the Sutton Community Farm for my regular veg bag delivery as I was very impressed with the quality. Even less food miles as it is based in Wallington and I know I am supporting a local enterprise too.
If anyone is interested in some of the recipes I have mentioned drop me a line as I am happy to share.
The Love Food Hate Waste website has lots more tips and recipes for anyone who wants to find out more, and Sutton Council is providing special activity sessions for local people in support of the campaign – for info contact firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 8770 6389.
I was searching through some old files and came across this extract taken from ‘Greening the Concrete Jungle’ a Policy Brief produced by the Woodland Trust that I thought deserved a wider audience.
The importance of trees in urban spaces
The beauty of towns and cities arises from a mix of good architecture and design, and the landscape of public spaces. There is strong evidence that improving green infrastructure and the urban environment helps promote inward investment by creating a more attractive environment for businesses and their staff.
Trees are a vital element in providing structure and texture to green infrastructure, and yet this has been eroded in many places. Maintaining what we have, ensuring future generations of trees to replace those that are being lost, and imaginative creation of more places rich in trees is central to making towns and cities places people want to live in, visit and do business in.
Health and Wellbeing
Trees and woods are vital to health and wellbeing. There is a strong relationship between the quality of urban green space and people’s health and wellbeing.
Increasing tree cover mitigates some of the effects of a warming climate, reduces the impacts of poor air quality, and increases the opportunities for people to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Green space, and trees in particular, provide both direct shade and reduce the temperature through the cooling effect of evaporation from the soil and plant leaves. One mature tree transpires up to 450 litres of moisture a day – equivalent to five room-sized air conditioners left on for 19 hours.
Trees improve air quality by absorbing pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and ozone, intercepting harmful particulates from smoke, and dust and of course release oxygen through photosynthesis. This helps to alleviate the problems caused by chronic respiratory disease.
Each year, 24,000 people in the UK die prematurely from air pollution. Research by the British Lung Foundation suggests that one in every seven people in the UK is affected by lung disease, almost 8 million people. The UK also has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood asthma, with about 15 per cent of children affected and a higher prevalence in lower socio economic groups in urban areas.
There is evidence that trees not only provide physical benefits but can also be important to mental health.
Trees and woods can have a restorative and therapeutic effect on the mind. Studies have looked at the beneficial effects of natural surroundings on children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Trees have been found to enhance mood, improve self esteem and lower blood pressure. The quality of natural features and trees in the city helps reduce mental fatigue and stress, and has important benefits for child development.
The weather is set to get even colder in the next few days so help us make sure that Wallington is ready for the potential frost or snow.
Hopefully many of you will have taken advantage of the free grit offer and have your supply on standby to grit your driveways and footpaths.
Please help you and your neighbours by checking that your nearest grit bin is topped up with grit. You can find your nearest grit bin locations on the council website. Just enter your address on the Local Services page. If the bin needs topping up note the bin number and location and use the Report It function on the council home page to report it. Feel free to use the grit in the bins for slippery pavements or residential roads that the gritters don’t usually get around to. The gritting lorries will be prioritising main transport routes, areas outside schools, GP surgeries and health centres, high streets and care homes
Muhammad, Steve and myself have reported any drains that have not coped with the rain so that they are cleaned ready for any further rain or snow melt, including the big puddle in Wallington Square. If you notice any others again use the report it function on the council website to get these attended to.
Thames Water have been in touch with councils and advised the following:
“As well as the possibility of flooding, the cold weather can bring more bursts and leaks on our clean water pipes. As soon as water entering our reservoirs drops below 5 degrees Celsius, we see an increase in leaks and bursts as cast iron pipes contract. If you or your residents see any leaks please report these to us as soon as possible via our 24 hour freephone leak line 0800 714 614, or
www.thameswater.co.uk or Twitter @thameswater.”
And of course don’t forget to check on any elderly neighbours to make sure they have supplies and are able to keep healthy and warm.
There is more information about being prepared for the wintry weather at the Winter Information Centre on the council website.
You can check whether your child’s school is closed due to severe weather using the OpenCheck tool.
The AA has useful advice for driving in cold and wintry conditions.
Stay safe and help others by reporting any problems you come across.
Jayne, Steve & Muhammad
Small Business Saturday is an initiative that supports small local businesses by encouraging their communities to ‘shop local’. It is an opportunity for small businesses to showcase themselves and to grow by demonstrating the quality and value that it can give to its customers and how it differentiates itself from its larger competitors.
This year to support Small Business Saturday Sutton Council is offering free parking in locations throughout the Borough to encourage shoppers to shop locally and support their local high streets including Gibson Road, Wallington Library, Carshalton High Street, Kingsway Road Carpark Cheam.
There are 7,400 SMEs in Sutton and they rely on your support. Show them some love on Saturday 5th December.
And if you are a small business looking for help and advice the Sutton Chamber of Commerce run 121 Business Clinics offering just that. See their website for more details. Or check out the Council’s Opportunity Sutton website for details of its Business Rate Relief scheme for small businesses and other support and information.
I was very pleased to be shown around the new serviced offices in the St Nicholas Business Centre, Sutton by James Hale, the Managing Director of City Skyline.
City Skyline are a boutique operator of high quality fully serviced office centres with established suites in Epsom and New Malden. They have now refurbished 9,000 sq ft of Chancery House to provide high quality contemporary office suites in a prime Sutton town centre location.
This not only represents a positive new business venture for Sutton, but provides a great offer for new or established businesses looking for a professional and hassle-free environment.
Sutton Fire Station is opening its doors to local residents to meet their local Fire Crews and enjoy a fun family day.
The Open Day is on Sunday 16th August 12 – 4pm at 43 St Dunstans Hill, Sutton, SM1 2JX and will be supporting the Firefighters Charity and St Raphael’s Hospice.
Activities will include: