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Call made to rethink pay to stay policy

A national body which supports local government is urging new government ministers to rethink the ‘Pay to Stay’ policy which will require councils to charge some of their tenants higher rents from April 2017.
New research reveals that more than 70,000 social housing tenants could face rent rise bills of an average £1,000 a year from next year under government plans to increase rents for those deemed to be earning high incomes.
The policy would create a bureaucracy causing stress to families, further costs to councils, and financial returns to the government far lower than it originally forecast. Administrative complexities now make implementation from April 2017 impossible, it is argued.
Councils across the country need to invest millions in new IT systems, hire new staff and write to more than a million social housing tenants to try and understand household income and approve individual tenant bills by January. This is expected to be a difficult, lengthy and costly process for councils, and is likely to be unpopular with tenants and result in high levels of costly appeals and challenges.
Under Pay to Stay, high income social tenants are defined as households with incomes above £31,000 – a higher threshold will exist in London. That means a working couple each earning above £15,500 would be defined as having a high income and will be forced to pay closer to market rents from next year.
Tenants on housing benefit and universal credit will be exempt. For eligible tenants above the high income thresholds rent increases will be tapered with every £1 they earn above will mean a 15p increase.
The Government will take additional rents taken from tenants minus a proportion that councils will retain to help administer the policy, an amount to be determined by the Government.
The research has also found that:

  • 70,255 households will earn above the £31,000 income threshold outside London and £40,000 inside the capital.
  • 3 per cent of households living in council housing in the south east will see their rent increase along with 7.7 per cent in the east of England and 5.3 per cent in the north east.
  • Average monthly rent uplifts would be £72 for households outside of London and £132 a month inside. Affected households will see their rent increase by an average of £1,065 a year.
  • Increased rents are expected to generate just £75 million annually, before making deductions for significant administrative costs. Originally the Government had forecast returns of £365 million in 2017/18.

Cllr Stephen Morgan, Labour’s housing spokesperson said:
“This helpful research by the Local Government Association shows what we already feared – the pay to stay policy will affect thousands of families, with the average affected household seeing their rent rise by £1,065 a year. This will cause anxiety, uncertainty and cost, and I am concerned for its impact on communities across Portsmouth.
The policy has unseen complexities and could generate large numbers of costly legal appeals and challenges from tenants. It is an expensive distraction from efforts to build much-needed homes.
I welcome the LGA’s intervention calling the new government to think again about this policy and allow councils to decide whether or not they will introduce Pay to Stay for their tenants”.
 
 
 

City celebrates GCSE successes but more to do

GCSE results for Portsmouth schools were officially announced yesterday as 16 year olds went to collect their results across the city.
Overall the council has stated that performance across most of the city’s schools has improved, with provisional results showing that:

  • 55% of pupils achieved five or more A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths, compared to 51% last year
  • 58% of pupils achieved A*to C in English and Maths, compared to 53% last year

These results came against a national back drop of the greatest ever dip in GCSE grades since the exams were launched in 1988.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, ward councillor for Charles Dickens, said:
“Many congratulations to students on their achievements. I take my hat off to all the hard work of students and staff across our city have put in.
My congratulations also to the headteachers and their teams whose hard work and collaborative approach is a huge and effective part of the drive to deliver the best for all our pupils”.
Priory School in Southsea attracts students from Charles Dickens ward, and is where Cllr Morgan is vice chair of governors. This year the school celebrated its best GCSE results in the school’s history.
The percentage of candidates achieving five or more GCSE passes at Priory at grade C or above, including English and Maths, was the school’s highest ever at 57% – a 11% increase on the previous year.
Cllr Morgan added:
“School improvement is above all about attention to detail, both in terms of data collection and analysis and individual students getting the targeted support they need.
The city is on an improvement journey to make sure all our school’s offer the very best education for all young people. We need to work hard to close the disadvantage gap. This year’s results are step in the right direction”.
Starting this year new national government performance indicators are focusing on how much progress students make from where they start in Year 7 to when they complete their exams at the end of Year 11.
This new measure is known as ‘Progress 8’. This will be calculated for each school and as an overall city-wide figure later in the year.
 
 

Call for answers over next steps on Victoria Park

Earlier in August, Portsmouth Labour set out the facts about the future of the popular Victoria Park after the city council proposed a new action plan.

We welcomed this commitment to enhance and upgrade the park for the benefit of all local people. Like many in the community, we care about the future of this scarce and important public space in the heart of our city.

Now we call for greater clarity over how the future of the park will be shaped, including securing the Arts Lodge’s future.

The park’s animals and birds

Portsmouth Labour is pleased that there is now an agreement to preserve an aviary in the park, which has been a feature much loved by the community over the years. The council has confirmed this in a public statement, which is available to view on its website. If the council does not honour this commitment, then your local Labour party will hold decision-makers to account.

A secure future for the Arts Lodge

We note that there is less clarity about the Lodge and its tenants, the Art & Soul Traders. Labour is keen to see the council give a clear and public expression of support for the Traders.

The future of their tenancy is uncertain, and a number of alternative uses for the building have been rumoured – from a day centre, to a cafe run by people with learning disabilities.

At a time of cuts to services, it isn’t clear to us how such changes might be funded. The future of the Lodge needs to be determined so all of this uncertainty can end.

Your local Labour Party are involved in the campaign to save the Arts Lodge, from liaising with the Arts Lodge team to helping fundraising efforts.

Silvi Veale, a local Labour and community activist is one such volunteer. She says:

“As a community arts and music venue with cafe, the Arts Lodge has offered community members the opportunity to get involved in a number of arts projects which benefit the city. It is also loved and cherished by Portsmouth people as a place to meet others and enjoy a beautiful, peaceful space in this busy, noisy city. It needs to stay in Victoria Park, under the tenancy of Art & Soul Traders who carry out this vital work, and Labour will continue this fight.”

Give the public their say

Cllr Stephen Morgan, deputy leader of the Labour group on Portsmouth City Council, is calling for decision-makers at the council to provide greater detail about their full plans for the park. He says:

“I urge the council to confirm that the promised public consultation on the future of Victoria Park will be open, transparent and wide-ranging. I ask them to recognise that the public have concerns about the plans and the sooner these are out for consultation the better.”

On the Arts Lodge, Cllr Morgan added:

“The Labour Group is committed to securing the best possible community benefit from the Lodge building, together with a strong and sustainable future for the Art & Soul Traders. They provide a valuable service and run a great facility in the heart of Portsmouth. The local party wants to see them stay”.

What next?

Portsmouth Labour through its activists and councillors will continue to work with others to monitor this situation as it develops, speak to stakeholders concerned, and work hard to try and keep the current Lodge tenants in their home.

If you have any further information or insights into future plans and possibilities for the park, please get in touch with us.

Doors open at Somerstown's new dental practice

Doors open at Somerstown's new dental practice

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Somerstown Central (The Hub) has a brand new health service


This week Solent Health NHS Trust officially opened a new dental practice in the heart of Portsmouth, at the Somerstown Central (The Hub) on Tyseley Road.
The new dental clinic completes a range of health services now on offer for local people at the £10.8m community hub which straddles Winston Churchill Avenue. Other community facilities include a community centre, youth club, dance studios, sports hall, café and housing offices.
The surgery is specifically designed to cater for people with a disability and vulnerable client groups, by providing specialist dental services.
Adaptive equipment and specially trained staff are on hand to make services more accessible. The team transferred from their old base at Eastney Health Centre.
Earlier this year a health survey across the city found that just under a fifth of five year olds in Portsmouth have tooth decay. A local health needs assessment also confirmed that that the oral health of the under 12 year olds in Portsmouth is significantly worse in the city compared to national averages.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, local ward councillor, popped into the new surgery to pay staff a visit and view the much-needed new facilities.
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Cllr Stephen Morgan tries out adaptive equipment at the new dental clinic


Stephen said:
‘This is a fantastic new health service in the heart of Portsmouth.

It has been excellent to meet the dedicated staff, health trust managers and representatives of patient groups and try out the specialist equipment which will help the clinic tailor care to those with specific needs.
It’s an impressive facility. I know it will be an asset to the city’s health services and well received by local people”.
For more information about the surgery and for opening times call 03003002017 or visit www.solent.nhs.uk

Confusion over walk-in health services 

Concerns over the city’s health care facilities are being raised already following the clinical commissioning group’s decision to close walk-in services at Guildhall Walk back in July.

The owner of Lalys Pharmacy has written to local elected representatives, including Cllr Stephen Morgan, informing the CCG of the impact of their decision on local people and patients.
Earlier this year the CCG decided to make a number of changes to the popular health facility in the heart of Portsmouth which as well as providing GP services also offered walk-in facilities for residents, students and vulnerable people.
Concerned by the impact of the changes, Cllr Morgan led a campaign to help save the walk-in last Spring, with a petition submitted to the CCG to try and stop the developments. The petition received over 1,000 signatories and was backed by local pharmacists.
In the letter the pharmacy confirm:
“We have received a large number of complaints concerning the walk in centre moving and many patients we have seen are confused as to where they should now go to receive urgent primary care”. 
Cllr Stephen Morgan said:
“I understand some patients are going straight to A&E at QA Hospital, rather than to the facilities at St Mary’s. 
Like others, I am very concerned by the pressure this places on already stretched services at QA. It will only increase once the academic year starts again. 
I urge the CCG to work look again at their decision and get this sorted”.