Workplace Parking Levy
Councillor Gul Khan asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Jobs and Growth:
Could the Portfolio Holder for Jobs and Growth tell Council if there is any link between the Workplace Parking Levy and investments in the tram and a report placing Nottingham in the top 10 areas in the country for job growth?
Councillor Nick McDonald replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor, and can I thank Councillor Khan for his question. The report Councillor Khan cites is the Centre for Cities ‘2015 Cities Outlook’ published 15 January. It is an interesting report, and it is well worth a read, not least because it identifies Nottingham amongst the country’s top 10 performing cities for job growth. Now Lord Mayor, colleagues will already be bored of me saying this, but the work and labour market issues and employment issues in Nottingham are far from done. Yes, it’s pleasing that unemployment is falling so quickly in Nottingham, now down to below 4% and already far in excess of our manifesto commitment.
Equally it’s of course pleasing that our work on youth unemployment is beginning to pay off, with apprenticeships up substantially over the last few years, again, outstripping many other cities; our Nottingham Jobs Fund, having created hundreds of jobs, our Step Into Work programme already having placed hundreds of people into pre-employment training and work.
But of course, challenges remain, and there are major challenges that the national government has done precious little to address: low pay, zero hours contracts or low hours, poor terms and conditions, and ineffective employment support schemes. The figures on unemployment also mask major challenges on health related unemployment, something Councillor Norris and I are working to address. Of course the report that states we’re producing a lot of jobs in Nottingham is of no help to the many people who remain without work, or cannot find good work, or work that pays them properly, I fully understand that. The prevalence of low paid work remains a crisis in the UK, and it is a reason that unemployment support remains a major focus for this Council, and must do in the future.
But I think it is worth dwelling on this report Lord Mayor, because to be in the top ten for job creation, just as we were recently placed in the top ten for business growth by another report, does say something important about the direction of travel of Nottingham’s economy. Job growth figures, particularly comparative job growth figures, don’t happen by accident. They happen because we as a City Council have made enormous efforts to support business, create jobs and apprenticeships, to restructure our local economy, despite the cuts in government funding that we’ve endured.
We have a credible plan for growth, unlike the national government, and we have taken brave decisions. One of those decisions was the bold step to be the UK’s first city to introduce a Workplace Parking Levy, although I dare say, not the last city. Now we all remember the outcry when the WPL was introduced. In some parts of the business community, and from the Tories opposite: it would drive businesses from the city, it would make it harder to bring businesses into the city. The reality is that since the WPL was introduced, the Council has supported more employers into the city than in the previous 5 years. Now why is this? Well Lord Mayor, the answer is very simple; if you invest in a city, you ultimately reap the reward, it’s called progressive economics.
The Workplace Parking Levy could actually be titled the Public Transport Infrastructure Levy, because that’s what it’s for; to invest in high quality infrastructure for our city, to make it easier to travel around the city, to make it more attractive to visit, to live, to work. A greener city, a better connected city, and importantly; WPL not only provides resources to do this, it leverages substantial further money from government; hundreds of millions of pounds into our local economy. The impact of this investment is already paying dividends for the city and Nottingham businesses.
With more than 3 times the amount raised by the levy, some £54,000,000, being invested back into Nottingham firms through construction contracts generated by the tram extensions and the redevelopment of Nottingham station. Some 1,500 people gained employment, apprenticeships and training qualifications on these projects. In fact, since WPL was introduced, the Council has supported new employers to create over 2,000 new jobs in the City, and of course, more new employers will have moved into the city without coming to the Council for support.
The public transport improvements that WPL makes possible will serve key employment sites. The NET tram extension will service around 1,800 city workplaces, to which around 55,000 employees commute. It will serve 2 of the 3 biggest employers in Greater Nottingham; the University of Nottingham, and Queens Medical Centre.
Employers told us they wanted the tram to be expanded, and the station redeveloped. In fact, they were 2 of the top 3 transport priorities they saw as vital when they were asked. Put simply, for every £1 that has been raised through WPL, the levy helps lever in £3 of government funding. Once the schemes it funds are complete, it will delivery £10 of economic benefit to the city for that £1 invested. That’s a pretty good ratio.
So not only is the levy helping to kick-start the projects to which it’s directly providing funding, it also enables other projects in that area of the city. For instance; the £700,000 Heritage Lottery funding we’ve gained to restore the shop frontages on Carrington Street; Unity Square - a £20,000,000 investment; and of course the proposed £150,000,000 redevelopment of Broadmarsh. These will all benefit from a brand new tram stop for the centre, as well as huge public realm and transport improvements. These projects, in my view, would not be happening were it not for the investment in the tram.
It is no surprise that it’s already generating jobs, because employers aren’t daft. If you invest in a city, employers want to be part of that, and they will invest in their own growth as we invest in the city’s growth. To those in the business community who still criticise WPL, I would say this; Look around you. Look at the way the city is being transformed. Look at the way the city is growing. Economic development cannot be a zero-sum game, it requires investment. We must all play our role in that, even if that means further contributions, albeit small contributions, from business, or from employees of businesses who use their cars.
So yes, I’m pleased to say that our bold decision to introduce WPL is not only paying dividends for Nottingham, it’s also attracting interest from other Councils across the UK, including, I might add, Tory run Oxfordshire County Council and Boris Johnson in London.
Councillor Sam Webster asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Energy and Sustainability:
With wholesale gas prices falling by up to 29% surely token reductions in prices to home energy consumers in Nottingham fail to pass on the savings energy companies are making. With many of my residents struggling with the cost of heating their homes, can the Portfolio Holder tell me what this Council has done to deal with this issue and what more can be done?
Councillor Alan Clark replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor and I thank Councillor Webster for his question. Councillor Webster is correct that the market shows a reduction in wholesale energy prices for both gas and electricity which is consistent with falling oil prices. Wholesale prices control approximately 50% of the total cost of supplying energy to a home. Price setting by energy suppliers is therefore to some extent based on wholesale buying strategies designed to predict future demand and supply. This mean that suppliers lock themselves into future prices in the belief that this is the most cost effective and competitive solution to wholesale purchase.
Therefore despite wholesale prices falling, many energy companies claim to be still locked into higher price commitments based on their own predictions that wholesale prices would be higher than the current market now offers, and therefore claim to be committed to paying over the odds for gas and electricity. Consequently, despite consumer demand, energy companies claim not to be able to pass wholesale price reductions to their customers until their commitment to “locked in” prices has been fulfilled.
Clearly, many energy companies are somewhat slow to respond to such fluctuations. The current reductions in gas, but not electricity prices, represent a saving of about £50 per year for typical customers according to Martin Lewis. He also explained on his weekly ITV programme on Friday that there are better offers on the market for the majority of people. He warned viewers not to allow the planned reductions to distract them from the additional savings of around £200 per year that can be achieved by moving to a fixed tariff.
Nottingham City Council has its own switching site, to encourage our citizens to shop around, and since prices started falling, the typical dual fuel tariffs available in the market today offer an average saving of £187 per customer compared to 12 months ago. I would therefore encourage citizens directly, and all Councillors to promote switching as the quickest way of saving money immediately by utilising our website at www.nottinghamenergytariff.com
Since 2008, with increasing pace since 2011 when this portfolio was created, the Council (with our partners Nottingham Energy Partnership and Nottingham City Homes) has a fantastic record of delivering home energy efficiency measures to reduce energy bills for our citizens including:
This combined activity is saving Nottingham citizens over £34,000,000 per year which would otherwise have been spent with Energy Suppliers. This money in people’s pockets is largely spent in the local economy. Despite all of this activity, perhaps the biggest shake up of the energy supply market will be the launch of Robin Hood Energy, a wholly Council owned and fully licensed energy supply company set to enter the market in the summer. Nottingham is leading the way for local authorities in the energy agenda. Our not for profit company will offer competitive prices and as a not for profit organisation, will put our citizens and businesses first, ensuring that Nottingham continues to be a great place to live and work.
Councillor Sally Longford asked the following question of the Leader:
Could the Leader comment on the government’s new mode of electoral registration, and does he agree with me that politicians should be doing all they can to make voting more straightforward, not more restrictive?
Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor. I think it's fair to say that Individual Registration is one of the most stupid ideas governments have introduced over the last decade. In its stupidity it ranks alongside Poll Tax, the bedroom tax, and building aircraft carriers when you can't afford the aircraft to fly off them.
What's stupid about it? It's yet another barrier that people have to overcome if they want to vote. It's a barrier than in addition to the 6,000,000 people that before Individual Registration was introduced were not on the register, about another 1,000,000 nationally have failed to overcome.
Why has this happened? Well, the conspiracy theorists among us might take a view that it's a system designed to keep people off the register for party political reasons. After all, it's the more transient population: the young, students, the least well educated and the functionally illiterate, who are least likely to understand and fill in the forms, to see the relevance of voting, or understand that registration is necessary if you're going to vote at an election. And they don't tend to vote Tory.
But in reality, I suspect it's more cock-up than conspiracy. It's the kind of decision the metropolitan elite make in Westminster and Whitehall when they have no understanding of what life is really like in our towns and our cities. It's an idea that looks good to a civil servant used to living in a settled suburb, mixing with educated and articulated people, and for whom the perfect process is more important than the impact or result. And that's how we've ended up with a system that makes it more, not less, difficult for people to get to vote. That discourages people, most of whom see voting as a pretty marginal activity anyway, from engaging with an increasingly bureaucratic process, just to get the chance to vote, should they feel like it.
Add to that, that because people have to register in their own right, we have to repeatedly go and canvass houses until everybody in a property is registered, and repeatedly send letters to people who aren't registered, even when others in the same household are, and you can see how stupid the system really is.
At the time when we've had to cut budgets by more than £75,000,000 with many more millions of pounds worth of cuts to follow, Individual Registration requires us to send out tens of thousands more letters than necessary and spend thousands of pounds more repeatedly canvassing homes we've previously already canvassed once.
Voter registration is a process. It should be done as simply and easily as possible, using whatever data we have from whatever Council or government database we have, to get a register that is as full and accurate as we can make it. And if we can get by as we did in the past, with a single return from a household, why should we insist on 2, 3, or even a dozen returns instead? As for the position in Nottingham; our registration staff have worked hard to make a poor system work. However, even though the position is worse in many other cities, the register we published on 1 December of last year showed an electorate of 191,378, which is a drop of 13,029 people from February 2014’s figure of 204,407. Given that over the last years the population of the city has increased, it is damning that the registered voter population has fallen in the same period.
Lord Mayor, Individual Registration is not just a disaster waiting to happen, it is a disaster that has happened. It needs to be re-thought, and we need a system that can cope with the real world, and not one designed by the metropolitan elite for a world only they and their friends in Westminster and Whitehall inhabit.
Accident and Emergency Crisis
Councillor Mike Edwards asked the following question of the Portfolio Holder for Adults, Commissioning and Health:
Could the Portfolio Holder for Adults, Commissioning and Health comment on the recent reports of a crisis within A&E departments, and can he reassure us that everything is being done to make sure that the needs of Nottingham people are being met?
Councillor Alex Norris replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor, and I thank Councillor Edwards for his question. For the month of January, newspapers, television, radio, Twitter, have been dominated by talk of the winter A&E crisis, which as a name and as a brand for what's going on in our hospitals is about one third correct, because there certainly is a crisis. We know that in the months running up to Christmas, the 95% target of people to be seen in A&E within 4 hours has been missed consistently, and that nationally throughout that period it hadn't even touched 93%, a significant drop-off in what we ought to expect. So there's definitely a crisis in the system, but it isn't just a winter one.
Actually, for many parts of the country, and for our community as well, that has been a norm throughout the year, that the 95% target has not been sustained and not been met, so it's clear that there is a system issue here that means our A&Es aren't functioning as they are supposed to. And it's also not an A&E crisis either actually; it's a crisis in a health and social care system. I've spoken here before at great length about the interconnection between NHS health services and City Council social care services, and the need to integrate them so it works much better.
As one follows the other, we have a social care crisis that isn't as easily visible, because it doesn't have such a neat brand around it, and such a neat target around it, but up and down the country what we see is a real shortage in people wanting to work in the care sector, a shortage in packages of social care that councils can commission to meet their populations’ needs, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly; councils are under pressure. We know that better than anyone else with the reductions that we've had, but up and down the country needy areas have had money taken away, as the government re-trenches from local government, and as a result social care has had to bear its part of the cuts, as other bits have too. As a result, we commission, and it's a national scandal that I've spoken about before, as I say in this chamber, but we commission social care and care for those who need it the most in their own homes at rock bottom rates because that's what can be afforded and that's what can be procured.
So that's part one, and part two that's as a result of that; care sector jobs aren't attractive, certainly to young people who look at alternatives, whether that's working in Nandos where they might get better discounts, or they get better terms and conditions alongside a job with a private care provider, or whether it's to go and work in a bar, Or working in a shop, they make judgements that the work will be more pleasant than working in the care sector. We simply are not valuing care highly enough in this country, and as a result we have a shortage of people fulfilling those roles and that is playing a significant role in the crisis.
So what's behind this, not just winter crisis, not just A&E crisis that we have? Well, first of all, we've got a lot of people going through accident and emergency departments in this country. Now I'm going to refrain from committing a crime against statistics that the government is very fond of, which is whenever the government wants to announce something that's good news, which they know they're struggling to, they say 'more people than ever are...'. The favourite one is ‘more people than ever are in work’. Obviously they ignore the underemployment that Councillor McDonald talked about, but they also ignore that basic population fact that there are more people than ever. So as a result, you can mask the fact that your percentage success rate in achieving outcomes for people has not improved, but actually that the raw numbers have. So what I'm not going to say is that simply more people are going through A&E and that's the government's fault. But what I am going to say for context is that the rate of increase, the rate that more people are going into A&E between 2010, between David Cameron taking over as Prime Minister, to this day, is 10 times faster than under the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown administration.
So that shows that the choices that are being made now, as a result of reduced funding in the system in social care, means that more and more people are having to default to the emergency department, rather than being treated where they ought to be. Whether that's getting better treatment through 111, or whether that's through their GP and being able to get in there, whether that's council social care, they’re not able to get that, so they default to where they are most comfortable; the natural backstop to catch them, and that’s accident and emergency.
So flashing back to 2010, and Cameron’s promises on the NHS, remember he said firstly the NHS is safe in my hands, no expensive top-down reorganisation. Obviously, as with most things he says, he's a presentation man not a detail man, so what did he do straightaway? He forgot this, he got your vote, well probably not your votes, he got himself elected so he didn't need to listen to us anymore! So obviously, he launched an expensive top-down reorganisation, costing £3 billion, you think of the capacity that sucks out? As a result, reducing funding, again, promised real term rises that have not materialised, but also the energy that it consumed in the system to implement what were such detailed and complex changes to bureaucracy and administration, as a result has really sucked energy out of the system.
Thirdly, social care as I've discussed, a chronic shortage of social care. And then finally, my familiar refrain around systems not being well linked up enough, and I will speak a little bit about that in a Nottingham context shortly. So where are we locally? That's our national situation. Through my role as chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board I've the leadership and the accountability around us having a good health and social care system. So I have a vested interest perhaps in saying that actually we're doing okay, so we are doing okay, but just to give you a couple of measures to help with that.
First of all, by the government’s official measure we haven't had any delayed discharges over the winter, which is testament to the hard work of our social care staff to get people out of beds they didn't need to be in. In the news they're called 'bed blockers', actually they're not bed blockers generally, its people who ought to be in their own home and probably would very much like to be in their own home, but can't get out of there because they can't get the care in their own home. Yet they’re blamed for their plight as they lie there prone, I think that's particularly cruel.
Similarly, and this will make Councillor Chapman very upset, we invested because we knew the problems we were going to have over this winter, so we invested ahead of that, so that we could pay a supplement to care providers so they weren't paid minimum wages, so they were reaching living wage standards. As a result, we've managed to do a little bit better than some of our colleagues around the country. So we invested, obviously at a cost, there's other things we can't do as a result of that.
There’s a winter A&E crisis now, so what the government’s done, and what they love to do, they’ve plugged money into the system. Normally they just plug it into hospitals, I’m happy to say, actually, they’ve plugged it into local authorities this time, 65 of the worst hit are going to share £25,000,000. Looking at the people with equivalent populations to our own, we’d have got about £700,000 out of that. We haven’t got that, because we’re not considered to be one of the failing authorities, so again, I can cite that as evidence that we’re doing our bit and meeting our need. What we’ve been telling our MPs is that we’d like funding to replicate what systems need, not just to be a perverse disincentive to plan and invest early. Nevertheless, it is a sign of the successes we’ve had.
But we’re not where we need to be, we know that throughout this year we’ve missed that 95% far too often, I know that as a local authority on any given day, because I ask this question every time I see social care officers, that we run between 70 and 100 home care packages short of where we ought to be. Now that’s not people ignored, but that’s people in interim solutions, so whether that’s people who’ve gone on to interim residential care that really ought to be in their own home. So that means (a) it’s not as good for that individual, but (b) from our perspective, we can’t start that real re-ablement process to make sure that that individual’s needs don’t escalate again, or to make sure that the things that meant that they ended up going through the emergency department do not repeat. It’s not a good way to run a system. We need to do better there. We need to meet our social care needs locally.
How are we going to do that? Firstly, Nottingham University Hospital have really raised their game through this difficulty, they’ve used the crisis as an opportunity to straighten out patient flow practices in the hospitals, and they know they need to do more. We’re working much better as a system, as I cited the meeting before last, our Better Care Fund plan of integration is one of the 3 best of the 151 in the country, we’ve invested extra in our homecare, as I say, so that the choice of the care sector, we’re not asking people just to choose care just for the love of doing so, but actually because it’s better rewarded than it was before. So we’re doing better there, but we know we need to sustain those things.
We’re doing more, the hospitals are doing more, patients are doing more, who’s doing less? The government, of course is doing less. It’s a familiar refrain, it’s the same with the funding of the city, and it’s the same in the health service. And again, why do they do this? They’ve talked down the system; they want the system to fail, so they can sell it off. They daren’t take it head on, because they know how popular the NHS is, but they’re trying to do it by the back door.
But just as a final story to end on; Hinchingbrook hospital was taken over by a private provider. As soon as the winter A&E crisis hit, what’s the first thing they did? They gave it straight back, because they couldn’t make the money they wanted to out of it. It’s a salutary tale, it’s the tale of our times, and it’s something that we have to make sure we keep fighting to avoid. Thank you.
Internet Service Provider Charges
Councillor Georgina Culley asked the following question of the Leader:
Does the Leader of the Council share my concerns about £100,000 of charges Internet Service Providers have made of Nottinghamshire Police for access to information during criminal investigations, particularly those ongoing regarding historic child abuse cases, and will he join me in calling for these excessive charges to end?
Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor. The charges to which Councillor Culley refers are approved by the Home Office on behalf of the government. Perhaps she can ask the Home Secretary to reduce them, and should she do so, I would be happy to offer my support.
Councillor Eileen Morley asked the following question of the Leader:
Ahead of debating Councillor Liversidge’s motion regarding social housing in Nottingham later in the meeting, could the Leader of the Council update the Council on just how many of those involved were ever brought to justice following the 2003-2005 housing allocations scandal? How many people were prosecuted, how many were disciplined or dismissed, and how many houses were reallocated?
Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor. The matters to which she refers were covered in a report to the Executive Board 4 years ago on 21 December 2010. I suggest if she's interested she gives it a read.
Questions answered at Council
Councillor Georgina Culley asked the following question of the Leader:
Would the Leader of the Council inform the council how many questions for City Council meetings addressed to him by the public have been refused and deemed unworthy of submission and response?
Councillor Jon Collins replied as follows:
Thank you Lord Mayor. I'm happy to say I've answered all the questions from the public I've been asked in this chamber.