One of the really positive items in the Council’s budget (look out for my letter and info arriving through your door soon!) is £50,000 to encourage new allotment societies.
The money is also available to existing allotment societies to pay for improvements like security fencing and water supply. The Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Lesley Rennie, who is also Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Leisure, is keen for local groups to identify council land that could perhaps be used for new allotment sites to help us tackle the waiting list for an allotment plot.
There are 1,689 individual allotments in Wirral, across 41 sites. Along with the Wirral Federation of Allotment Societies, the Council works in partnership with allotment holders to produce development plans, which in turn helps individual allotment societies apply for external and Council funding.
The criteria around funding are currently being developed, but initial expressions of interest from new or existing societies are welcome. Please address any expressions of interest to: Stella Joseph, Allotment Officer, Cheshire Lines Building, Canning Street, Birkenhead, CH41 1ND.
Even in these tough economic times, I’m determined that the Council does everything possible to improve improve our Borough. It’s too easy, especially if you’re a Labour Councillor, simply to shrug your shoulders and blame the Government for there being ‘no money left’ and, in effect, do nothing.
So, at last week’s Cabinet we agreed to tackle some of the derelict properties that are blighting communities, not least the eyesore premises on King Street in Egremont. This once bustling community has declined over the years and the decline has been much farther and much faster than other neighbourhoods. No doubt changes in shopping patterns (supermarkets, the web) and growth in car ownership has contributed. The result has been properties lying empty for decades, blighting the community.
As well as £218,000 from the Government, the Council will put in a further £380,000 to buy up properties here, and elsewhere in the Borough, and bring them back into use – mainly through new, much-needed accommodation.
Earlier this morning, Wirral’s Cabinet Member for Customer and Community Engagement, Cllr. Ian Lewis (Leasowe & Moreton East) was on BBC Radio Merseyside, talking to Sean Styles about Wirral’s support for local community groups.
We’re helping groups who want to celebrate the Golden Jubilee with up to £200 and I’m really pleased we’ve had 82 applications (so far). We’re also scrapping the fee for any group that wants to close the road while the street party goes on.
The events are organised with The Big Lunch and are a great opportunity for neighbourhoods and communities to get together, just as we did for the Silver Jubilee in 1977…
Among the many bids (closing day tomorrow by the way!), is one from the Mountwood Allotments Society – one of their members was a Guard of Honour at the Queen’s Coronation and is keen to share his memories and mark this year’s Jubilee.
To find out more about Wirral Council’s support for the Big Jubilee Lunch, click here and, if you’re on Twitter @thebiglunch
Last year, we discovered how Labour had lost track of the mobile phones given to Council staff. So what did we do? We sent a text to every phone we were paying for, asking the user to confirm who they were and why they needed it. Anyone who didn’t respond was, to put it bluntly, cut off.
Now, there is more progress on this item of council spending. At Cabinet on Thursday, we will be cutting the remaining bill by around 25% – meaning we have £67,500 to put into the services that matter. Wirral Council currently pays £218,500 per year for 2,100 ‘active connections’, which includes a mix of mobile telephones with or without e-mail, mobile broadband devices and data only connections. The successful renegotiation of our contract with supplier Vodafone will reduce this outlay to £151,000.
As well as reducing the amount residents pay in their Council Tax bills, we must also make sure we get better value for money in the money we spend. This reduction in mobile phone costs is a big saving which will be used to support front line services instead.
At a time when many people are seeing their household budgets squeezed, it’s only right that the Council also lives within its means.
Some years ago, when Gordon Brown was splashing the cash, we were promised a renewal of the local housing market. The ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ would, we were told, transform areas where people didn’t want to live; refurbish homes that weren’t of a decent standard and regenerate the local economy. Well, just as we were promised ‘no return to boom and bust’, so the promises made on housing are widely derided in many parts of the Borough.
Last week, I was asked to react to the latest homeless figures. Homelessness, as we know, is the result of many things – relationship breakdown, financial problems or lack of accommodation. But, here in Wirral, we have hundreds of vacant, empty homes owned by private landlords and registered social landlords.
Last year’s Conservative budget in Wirral ended the nonsense of Council Taxpayers subsidising these empty homes by allowing the owners not to pay Council Tax. This year, we have made sure the Council Tax reduction doesn’t apply to those properties either. We must do all we can to encourage the owners to bring them back into use.
But we also need to recognise that some properties (such as some of those up the road from the Town Hall on King Street) have been lying derelict for years and virtually abandoned by their owners. So, at Cabinet on Thursday, we will be agreeing how to use some £658,000 to tackle some of that dereliction, following very welcome grants of £278,000 from the Conservative-led Government.
At the same time, we need to do more to enable people to get their first home – whether it’s social landlords developing run down, derelict sites or refurbishing more properties – or first time buyers being able to buy.
Yesterday, the Housing Minister Grant Shapps announced plans to give tenants improved discounts under the Right to Buy and a great new scheme to reintroduce 5% discounts for housebuyers, called NewBuy Guarantee.
All of this news does, of course, sit within the Portfolio of the Cabinet Member for Housing and Community Safety. Sadly, as Labour would rather play politics and leave four Cabinet seats empty, it will fall to the rest of us in the Cabinet to work together and implement these plans for the good of the Borough.
So, the bombshell that broke last week continues to impact on the Council and, more important, on the families affected. The revelations that care packages were being unlawfully delayed by a decision of the Council are now causing incredible concern and justifiable anger in the Borough – take a look at what James Robinson of Birkenhead has to say about his mother in the Globe. Judging by the calls and emails to the Globe and to my office, he is not alone.
I cannot begin to explain how angry I am at the length of time it has taken for this situation to come to light. After a series of denials from the Department I am giving my personal guarantee that everyone who believes that they have been let down by the Council will be given the opportunity to have their cases properly considered and dealt with.
Anyone affected by this situation can email me directly at email@example.com
In addition, I am setting up a specialist team established to examine each and every case where concerns are raised by residents along with a dedicated telephone line staffed by trained social workers.
I will be receiving regular updates on how many people contact the Council and how each enquiry is progressing. I would therefore urge anyone who feels that they have been adversely affected by this disgraceful situation to come forward safe in the knowledge that they will be treated properly.
Details of this telephone number will be released later this week.
Never again should vulnerable people have to wait for care they are entitled to. Everyone who should be held to account will be.
I will be working closely with the new Director of Adult Social Services to deliver on the promises I have made today.
Did you know that under Labour, just one person, yes, just ONE person was fined for not picking up after their pet? Last year, we established a permanent team of enforcement officers to tackle the minority of owners who don’t clean up after their pets. The result? the number of people fined and/or prosecuted went up to 70. But, let’s be frank, it’s still only the tip of the iceberg.
So, from next month, we are doubling the size of the enforcement team. This is one of the differences between our budget and Labour’s – their’s didn’t even mention this problem. And, to many people, this is a major problem – whether it’s dog mess outside schools or play areas or getting home and finding it on the wheels of your pram or scooter.
Now that we are doubling the size of the team, offenders are twice as likely to be caught than under Labour.
As well as reducing the amount that people have to pay in Council Tax this year, we have also been able to invest more money in the services that really matter to our residents. We are doubling the size of the enforcement team as people consistently raise concerns that their neighbourhoods are being spoilt by dog muck.
It is totally unacceptable for people to suffer the consequences of a small number of thoughtless dog owners and this investment sends a clear message that we are serious about holding offenders to account.
The new patrols will work 7 days a week and through area forums, local people will play a major role in deciding where the team should focus their efforts. People who fail to clean up after their pet may either be prosecuted or issued with a £50 fixed penalty notice, which must be paid within 14 days to avoid prosecution. If it is not paid and the individual is found guilty by the court, they could be fined up to £1000 and end up with a criminal record.
As well as having a dedicated Dog Fouling team, the Council’s Community Patrol Officers, Park and Coastal Rangers and Animal Welfare Officers are also trained to educate the public on the issue and enforce legislation. In addition, 70 police community support officers are authorised to issue Fixed Penalty Notices.
To report an offender please call 0151 606 2004. The Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996 applies to the whole of the Wirral. This means that, by law, dog excrement must be removed straight away from land that has public access, whether or not warning signs are displayed.