Shropshire Council return 1/2 of DHPs grant unspent branded a disgrace

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Wem, Chris Mellings, labelled Shropshire Council’s poor use of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) a disgrace.

Chris said: “Every year the Government awards Shropshire Council a grant for Discretionary Housing Payments to help people with short-term housing costs. Every year Shropshire Council sends Grant money back to the Government unspent. Every year for the last four years the proportion returned has gone up! All at a time when more people are feeling the financial pressure of austerity. This is a disgrace.”

The Conservative government has been good at increasing the level of DHPs grant. The failure of the Conservative-run council to deliver the grant money to the maximum number of people who could benefit is appalling.

Last year Shropshire Council received £531,974 yet Shropshire Council sent back £234,855  or 55.6%  of the grant to the Government unspent. In 2013/14 the amount returned to the government was £60,847 of which 21.9% was returned unspent.  

At the full council meeting in December 2013, Chris asked how much of the DHP grant wasn’t being spent and later chaired a task and finish group on the use of DHPs. “We argued in 2013 that more should be done to improve take-up by people in or seeking rented accommodation in council, social and private rental sectors. If you are struggling with your housing costs, then applying for some short-term relief through Discretionary Housing Payments may be of help.” Chris concluded: “These payments are designed to help stop people building up arrears and people becoming homeless. If you need help ask.”

Shropshire Council returned 5x more unspent DHP Grant to the Government in 2017/18 than it did in 2013/14

The proportion of unused Government DHP Grant returned each year has more than doubled in four years to 55.9%.

Shropshire Liberal Democrats are the largest opposition group on Shropshire Council. They would work harder to reverse the trend and make sure more of the allocated grant money reaches the people who need it the most.

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs)

DHPs are additional payments for people currently receiving Housing Benefit or universal credit who require further financial assistance with their housing costs. Housing costs are not defined in the regulations. This gives Shropshire Council broad discretion to interpret the term. Payments can be made to Council, Social or Private tenants. DHP is paid for a time-limited period and is intended primarily as ‘transitional’ assistance. For example:

  • Alleviate hardship and help prevent homelessness;
  • Support vulnerable people in the community;
  • Help people through a family crisis or difficult life events.

In general, housing costs means rental liability; however, housing costs can be interpreted more widely to include:

  • rent in advance;
  • deposits;
  • and other lump sum costs associated with a housing need (such as removal costs).

Alternatively, the award can be used to assist with the cost of taking up a tenancy.

Where to find out more about and apply for Discretionary Housing Payments:

Shropshire Council’s DHP webpage
Shropshire Council’s DHP Policy

Many people struggle with housing costs when things are tight. Applying for some short-term help through Discretionary Housing Payments may offer some help
Many people struggle with housing costs when things are tight. Applying for some short-term help through Discretionary Housing Payments may offer some help

Brexit Vote Delayed

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

The Government is in absolute chaos. We are closer than ever to securing a People’s Vote on Brexit, thanks to your hard work and support.

Today Theresa May was forced into an embarrassing delay of her Brexit vote. She knew she was going lose by a huge margin. She is running scared.

It’s a huge moment, and it has been driven by Liberal Democrats.

I would like to thank everyone who has supported our campaign. All of you who have lobbied MPs, knocked on doors, shared our message online and offline – you’re holding this government to account and fighting this Brexit.

We can stop this mess, and it requires you continuing that fight. The Government cannot continue to delay and dodge the fundamental need for a People’s Vote.

Keep up the fight. This is your victory today, and if we keep pushing, we will win.

Human Rights Day: Demand better for freedom and dignity

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

On 10th December 1948, history was made. The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In the shadow of the Second World War, the nations of the world came together to declare that everyone – no matter who they are and where they live – has the same fundamental rights.

With one voice, we pledged to “strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”

That was a mission statement for the world. But it equally serves as a mission statement for the Liberal Democrats today.

We are committed to promoting and protecting human rights, here in the UK and around the world.

And, as we celebrate the momentous step that was taken 70 years ago today, we must also rededicate ourselves to that mission.

Becausetoo often and in too many places, human rights and freedoms are not effectively recognised and observed.

Almost a thousand people were executed last year, and more than 20,000 are languishing on death row. Women are tortured, imprisoned and even murdered simply for demanding that rights are respected.

We are committed to promoting and protecting human rights, here in the UK and around the world.

65 million people have been forcibly displaced or left stateless, including the 1 million Rohingya Muslims who are the victims of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Here in the UK, more than 2,000 people are being held indefinitely in immigration detention centres, including 240 who’ve been there for more than six months.

State intelligence agencies routinely invade our privacy by intercepting electronic communications, and the Government is pushing through a new Counter-Terrorism Bill that unnecessarily erodes individual freedoms.

The Liberal Democrats demand better. We demand a freer society where rights and liberties are protected.

That’s why we will continue to #StandUp4HumanRights – on Human Rights Day and every day. Stand with us.

Stephen Lloyd no longer a Liberal Democrat MP having resigned the party whip.

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

For two years the Liberal Democrats have led the fight to give the people the final say on Brexit and the opportunity to Exit from Brexit.

Tuesday’s vote is the best chance yet to secure a People’s Vote and the Liberal Democrats will be using every opportunity to demand better than Brexit.

The Conservatives have made a mess of Brexit, aided and abetted by the Labour leadership.

This is a touchstone issue for the Liberal Democrats. Our passionate support for remaining in the European Union has helped us grow our party to more than 200,000 supporters. Stephen’s commitment to his constituency has proved impossible to reconcile with the position of the party on this most important of issues.

Stephen has been a valued colleague and we shall miss his contribution to our work in parliament.

Letters between Stephen Lloyd and Alistair Carmichael

The Liberal Democrats will continue to passionately campaign to give the people the final say on Brexit, and the chance to end the national embarrassment of Brexit.

Theresa May’s Brexit deal would make Britain less safe

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

To try and sell a plan that would rob us of many vital cross-border crime-fighting tools on the basis of national security takes quite the brass neck.

Consider the European Arrest Warrant. It enables us to bring criminals who’ve fled our shores back to justice in the UK, as well as to extradite thousands of others to face justice in other European countries.

In Europol, British leadership has helped take out criminal gangs engaged in modern slavery, child sexual exploitation and cybercrime. And direct access to EU crime databases lets our police and Border Force officers identify and arrest traffickers, terrorists and other international criminals.

All of these would be lost under Theresa May’s deal. Only if the Government and the EU can agree a new security treaty before December 2020 would we retain some unspecified, weakened form of these vital crime-fighting tools.

There is no ‘backstop’ for police and security service co-operation

Yet negotiators have euphemistically described such a deal as “particularly challenging”. And if they fail, there is no ‘backstop’ for police and security service co-operation.

Theresa May used to understand the importance of this co-operation. Back in 2014, the then-Home Secretary described the European Arrest Warrant as “a vital tool for ensuring that justice is done in this country and for keeping the British public safe.”

She warned that, without it, the UK would become “a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice”. But that’s exactly the status she wants to inflict on us.

The Tories’ insistence that we leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ makes that impossible. ‘It can all be worked out during the transition period,’ they say. It can’t.

The UK would become “a honeypot for all of Europe’s criminals on the run from justice

Theresa May expects us to trust her ability to square these circles over the next two years – despite her complete inability to make any progress on them over the last two years.

When the Prime Minister asks MPs to approve her deal, she’s asking us to bet the safety and security of the British people on her negotiating prowess.

That’s simply not a bet I’m prepared to make.

Gender neutral school uniforms in Wales

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

At our 2018 Spring Conference the Welsh Liberal Democrats followed in the footsteps of our Scottish friends and passed policy calling on Welsh Government to overhaul its guidance on school uniforms to make then more inclusive for trans and non-binary young people.

I am proud to be in a party where members’ shape our policy – and can directly make a real difference in peoples’ lives.

And last month, Kirsty Williams, Welsh Liberal Democrat Cabinet Secretary for Education, announced a consultation on overhauling school uniforms.

I am proud to be in a party where members’ shape our policy – and can make a real difference in peoples’ lives.

One of the drivers behind school uniform policies is often the will to prevent bullying by giving everyone the same options or canvass to draw from. We can expect that to help individual pupil morale, attainment, and overall wellbeing; and we have to admit that however much we may all have disliked our school uniforms!

Prescriptive school uniform policies have the potential to have an enormous impact well-being and confidence of students.

But for a young person who may not conform to the gender binary that society forces on us, or those may not want to express themselves in a way that conforms to expectations, prescriptive school uniform policies have the potential to have an enormous impact well-being and confidence.

In fact, we can even go as far as saying that binary uniform policies can actually encourage exclusion and contribute to bullying where pupils are forced to conform with an expression of identity that isn’t their own.

So, this move is about giving pupils the freedom to choose, and about all pupils having the freedom to dress appropriately for their personal identity, regardless of their gender.

In my speech proposing the motion, I argued that adopting a gender-neutral approach to school uniforms not only offers girls a more practical option, so they can engage freely with school activities but gives young people the freedom to express themselves in a way that supports their confidence and wellbeing.

This policy is also an opportunity to make school uniforms more affordable for families.

Anyone who has a young family or has served as a school governor will know that the cost of school uniforms can be prohibitive, particularly where schools prescribe a certain provider. The consultation offers an opportunity to make school uniforms far more affordable for families at a time when average household incomes are still struggling to keep up with the cost of living.

As an ordinary member of our party it makes me incredibly proud that Kirsty Williams is not only delivering radical reforms to our education system in government with Welsh liberalism at its heart, but that ordinary members continue to be the driving force behind our party.

Three government defeats in a day 😳

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Parliament found the Conservative Government in contempt over its failure to release their Brexit legal advice

Yesterday, Parliament found the Conservative Government in contempt over its failure to release their Brexit legal advice.

So they are publishing the full advice this morning – and our team of experts are ready to pour over the detail and find out what they were trying to hide.

Last night, an important amendment also passed – giving control back to MPs if the Brexit deal is voted down next week.

MPs no longer have the threat of a No Deal hanging over their head if they don’t back Theresa May’s poor Brexit deal.

MPs must now vote against Theresa May’s deal – and use the powers they have been granted to back giving the people a Final Say.

MPs must now vote against Theresa May’s deal – and use the powers they have been granted to back giving the people a Final Say.

We’ve identified 14 key Conservative MPs that represent Remain constituencies. We want to convince them to reject Theresa May’s deal – and instead vote to give the people a final say.

You can help here:

Thank you. With your help, we are going to win a final say.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Vince Cable and Liberal Democrats on Europe March 2017

Today as we mark the international day for persons with disabilities, I am very aware that one billion people around the world live with a disability – that’s roughly 15% of the global population. I am one of them, mainly using a wheelchair and sometimes walking with sticks. I could have written something smooth and supportive, but I am angry at having to be an afterthought in our society today.

I am angry at having to be an afterthought in our society today.

I’ll be frank. Most people are not aware of the daily barriers and difficulties that we face, whether it is the benefits system using the medical model of disability, making decisions about us that bear no relation to our lived experience, or travel – whether by bus, train, taxi or plane – where both the companies running transport and the wider public have no idea of how difficult even the simplest journey can be.

I turn up to event after event around the country, including TV interviews, where I cannot get to the stage or platform.

As a senior politician, I turn up to event after event around the country, including TV interviews, where I cannot get to the stage or platform. As a traveller, I have been left on trains at 10pm at night, been reduced to tears in airports, been offered an accessible room in a hotel to discover it has a bath, not a shower…. Many other disabled people can add to this tale of frustration!

I want to thank friends and colleagues who are supportive on social media when I post if things have gone wrong. But we need a more fundamental rethink. People with disabilities need everyone to come on side and help us to change the system.

It is not acceptable that children with disabilities are facing worse cuts in their support from both education and health, with personal support and respite care being cut for the most vulnerable in society.

It is not acceptable that new trains are designed with only a handful of wheelchair spaces, which are still used more for luggage.

It is not acceptable that the benefits system targets people with disabilities, and also removing their access to Motability support, and thus access to specialist cars and wheelchairs.

It is not acceptable that house builders can avoid building even the minimum number of disabled accessible and affordable homes, meaning disabled people have nowhere to live.

It is not acceptable that shops and theatres are allowed to continue to be inaccessible.

It’s not acceptable that in too many offices the disabled access to the building is via the bin store.

It is not acceptable that people with an invisible disability are refused seats on public transport, even if they are wearing a “Please offer me a seat” badges

It is not acceptable that disabled people are targeted in hate crimes as easy prey.

Under the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act before it, the law in our land is absolutely clear: discrimination is unacceptable and illegal. Unfortunately the law is not upheld.

If you want to help change things, don’t stand by and offer help afterwards: please, intervene early! Ask individuals what help they need, but also help us to campaign to change attitudes and get the basic services that others take for granted.

The Liberal Democrats fight inequality, conformity and ignorance. Help us to fight discrimination and inequality for all those with disabilities, visible or invisible.

Advertiser Open Letter: Where are you Mr Paterson?

Dear Mr Paterson,

Possibly Leaving the European Union & Oswestry

I understand from the media you are visiting the United States and trying to promote the UK leaving the European Union.

Why are you not in the United Kingdom representing your constituents in North Shropshire?

The Government has both a Foreign Secretary and yet another Brexit Secretary, both employed to represent us on matters outside of the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile locally:

The National Health Service in both Shrewsbury and Telford are in crisis.

In Oswestry the local NHS dentist has only one dentist left.

Many of the local roads in North Shropshire are falling to bits.

Several street lamps do not work throughout the area.

There are an increasing number of people living/sleeping rough in the town of Oswestry.

Local Bus services being cut back.

You were elected to represent the people of your area in North Shropshire and not your own personal interests, why are you not here in the United Kingdom?

You should be in the area explaining to local people of your constancy the massive changes and impact that leaving the European Union will have on their lives.

Who is paying for your trip to the United States?

At the moment explanation of the United Kingdoms possible exit of the European Union is being done in Oswestry and elsewhere by volunteers from the “Peoples Vote Campaign”.  Who have regular street stalls in Oswestry and the local area.

These events are staggeringly popular, as people just do not know what is going on and look to these events for information.

But where are you?

It seems anywhere but in the local area or your constituency!

When will you be spending more time in the local area?

Clive Geary

LED street lights on the way for West Felton

David Walker in West Felton

Last Tuesday West Felton Parish Council agreed to upgrade their remaining street lights to LED street lights.

I am grateful that colleagues supported my proposition to carry out the upgrades. I only wish Shropshire Council were so enlightened. Instead, their light upgrades will take 36 years.

The upgrades will be paid for from the CIL neighbourhood fund. CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) is money provided by housing developers to support/provide infrastructure in a community to support those houses.

West Felton LED street light with an old Sodium light behind
West Felton LED street light with an old Sodium light behind

Getting the lights upgraded has been a no-brainer for me because:

  1. The money comes from a developer (and we already have the money in the bank) so there is no spending impact on the Council Tax.
  2. Also by carrying out the upgrades, we cut the maintenance bill because the lights last a lot longer. This reduces the impact of the lights on the Council Tax.
  3. The existing sodium lights are being phased out next year
  4. Finally, the upgrades cut our energy bills by 75% (based on our existing lights that have already been upgraded to LED).

It has been a long process – probably longer than it should have been. (See my previous posts) I suggested the upgrades in the summer of 2017. Members rightly wanted to see figures. I calculated estimates for the upgrade a year ago. Then the sum for the upgrade was added to the budget in the new year. A lengthy process to obtain quotes followed… frustrated by no response or delayed quotes. Having obtained sufficient quotes we have now resolved to make the upgrades.

The upgrades will consist of replacing the sodium luminaries to LED luminaries. We still have some concrete columns that have been sleeved. These will be upgraded to new longer life columns.

We also agreed to support the residents of Queens Head by exploring the options of expanding our lights there. I have suggested 3. The options for connecting the electricity supply are now being costed. Hopefully, this won’t be an obstacle but we can also cover those light from CIL money.

More details on the LED street lights upgrade will appear on here and on West Felton Parish Council’s website and the parish magazine soon.