Friday, December 29, 2006

Sutton Council Budget Consultation 2007/08 - Full Analysis

Below is my annotated conmmentary and analysis of the entire Council Budget options. It is unlikely that the two political parties on the Council or other media sources will provide this detailed analysis anywhere. A further paper setting out some possible options for a range of additional growth items will be published here in January

General Points

1. Despite all the hype, the level of grant, whilst tight, was in line with expectations. Sutton is a quarter of a billion pound local authority and has seen its budget increase from £134 million in 1997 to over a £250 million. An increase of £116 million in the last 10 years is well above inflation!

2. The extra ASD spending is a legitimate cost to the Dedicated Schools Grant and will impact on schools. However there are some opportunities for schools as well in this process.

3. Sutton Council Tax may well rise about 3.5% as the Lib Dems won't want to go too high with a Tory opposition going on about this single thing, without putting an alternative budget forward.

4. The GLA Precept will not go above 5% this year or next. Most extra GLA money is likely to go on extra Policing.

5. There are no proposed growth items at this stage, but look out for the overall level of contingency and balances to see how much flexibility the Council has. In the last two years, this sum has risen to nearly £10 million unallocated at the start of the financial year.


The numbers after each option are:
a) 2007/08 actual saving - in many cases this will be a part year cost
b) Full year cost - presumably in 2007/08 estimated prices
c) After the factual detail on each budget option, I set out my views after the word commentary.

Adult Social Services & Housing

1 Reorganise Administrative Support and Other "Back-Office" Functions in Various Service Areas
- Secretariat 21 21
- Directorate and Management Support 22 22
- Systems and Complaints Support 24 24
- Housing Partnership Teams and Housing Centre 33 33
- Meals on Wheels Catering Contract 14 14
Commentary: Seems reasonable

2 Review Provision of Home Care Services
- Streamline management and admin function of in-house home care 100 100 service.
- Review current customs and practices around restbreaks. 60 60
- Increase proportion of care hours provided by the independent sector through "natural wastage" within the in-house service. 100 100
Commentary: This will reduce the percentage provided "in-house". Councillors may wish to ask what the percentage reduction is compared to this year and over the last 5 years?

3 Review Provision of Service to Clients with Learning Disabilities
Increase choice and independent living and reduce institutional care by 275 550 offering personalised modernised services.
Commentary: Seems reasonable as it is assumed some of this comes from the Orchard Hill process and Day Care Review.

4 Increase Charges for Meals on Wheels 25 25
Increase cost of meals from £2.70 to £3.00 and teas from £1 to £1.10, which, with likely increases in neighbouring boroughs, would still leave Sutton's prices at below the average.
Commentary: Paul Burstow as an MP used to criticise the government over rises, yet his own Council did not prioritise keeping the figure down here.

5 Changes to Care Centre Staffing 35 35
Review staff structures across care centres following implementation of reprovision programme. Commentary: Is this a good idea to reduce when we are redesigning the service? Surely we need extra capacity for a short while?

6 Review Placements Policy for Young People in Transition 25 100
Offer greater choice and support through local services to young people and their families, reduce spend on out of borough institutions.
Commentary: Seems reasonable, but some parents might not be happy.

7 Review Number of Vehicles Used by Service 64 64
By transferring responsibility for repairs and maintenance to the contractor, the service could operate with 4 fewer vehicles.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

8 Review Charging Policy for Domiciliary Intermediate Care 50 50
The proposal is to charge clients from the beginning of the period of care.
Commentary: Needs clarification on the current postion and impact on clients?

9 Reduce Pooled Budgets for Hospital Discharge 50 50
Reduce current pooled budget with health partners by £50k.
Commentary: Seems reasonable, but Councillors might want to ask for what response we have had from the Acute Trust and PCT?

Total Adult Social Services & Housing 898 1,248

Chief Executive's Group

1 Review Structure of Policy and Communications 100 100
Reduce staffing levels with the aim of streamlining service delivery.
Commentary: Seems reasonable. If the Tories were bright they would claim this as a victory and then shut Pickles up on the subject as they will need a large press unit to reassure a distrustful public if they ever secure power! However I fear hubris will triumph over common sense!!

2 Review Production of Sutton Scene Magazine
- Bring design in house. 0 12
- Introduce advertising space through increasing number of pages. 35 75
Commentary: Seems reasonable. Again if the Tories above...(ditto above item)!!

3 Review Grants to Voluntary Organisations 62 62
Reduce grant aid to the Citizens Advice Bureau and Sutton Racial Equality Council.
a) Even though the CAB shafted their St Helier service to keep North Cheam bureau, I would still defend their need for their current grant. Maybe the CAB will now shaft North Cheam too?
b) I suspect even the Tories might think spending some money on the SREC makes sense when the BNP got over 500 votes in St Helier and was leafleting Carshalton Central?

4 Restructure Safer Sutton Partnership Service 132 132
Reduce strategic policy function and implement changes in the way in which parks are policed.
Commentary: It would nice to have a debate and some scrutiny about this issue, rather than assume a blank cheque of a £132,000 saving at this stage! Will it be the Neighbourhood Wardens turn next?

Total Chief Executive's 329 381

Children, Young People & Learning Services

1 Review Play Service / Early Years Provision
- Transfer the operation of the Parent and Toddler group at The Grange to the voluntary sector in line with other similar groups in the area. Review current charging structure at The Grange for casual and non-booked places. 15 15
- Reduce administrative cost of the play service 37 37
- Administrative efficiencies from combining Tweeddale Play Centre with Tweeddale Children's Centre and extended services. 13 13
- Transfer Worcester Park and Culvers House out of school clubs to either schools (as part of the Extended Schools programme) or another provider. 15 15
- Streamline the range of administrative and business support provided to the Extended School Services and Early Years. 40 30
Commentary: Some of this was flagged up last year. I recall talking to Leslie Coman about it. Some ideas make practical sense, however thedanger with some of these proposals, especially the Grange, is they assume the new Childrens centres and Extended Schools will provide a full alternative, when the Council should be using its ability to subsidide to build capacity and choice into this quasi-market.

2 Review of Youth Service 90 90
Reorganise provision to allow the Youth Service to reach neglected groups in the local community rather than through the static facility at Club Constellation. Review the future of Centre 21 by providing more comprehensive activities in the context of the proposed citizenship and lifeskills centre highlighted in the Capital programme.
Commentary: Is Club Constellation being sold off and a new base being created at Centre 21 from the capital proceeds? The Centre 21 concept sound good, but its financing might be controversial?

3 Recharge the Dedicated Schools Grant in respect of increased costs in the management of permanently excluded pupils 50 50
Recharge the Dedicated Schools Grant for the increased management costs associated with the Loxley Centre Pupil Referral Unit as a result of the increase in permanently excluded pupils.
Commentary: Here we go! Having failed to take £500,000 of the Education Budget in 2002-04, they are now, with this and other items resorting to extra recharges on the Education Budget. Each one should be looked at carefully to see if it justified and explanation should be made as to why it was not done in the past?

4 Review Provision for Looked After Children 100 200
Develop the use of community-based and local services to keep more young people within the family unit or with local foster carers rather than placing them in more costly residential provision.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

5 Review Provision of Day Care and Associated Early Intervention Services for Children 50 50
Review eligibility criteria for early intervention services, continuing to prioritise those most in need and making stronger links with universal services such as the play service, children's centres and extended schools.
Commentary: The new eligibility criteria will reduce the number of children seen. Councillors may wish to ask what the current numbers are and what they will be after the change?

6 Leaving Care Team
Delete the vacant post of teacher case worker for young people leaving care. 40 40
Commentary: Seems reasonable to delete a vacancy at this stage.

7 Reorganise Administrative Support and Other 'Back Office' Functions in Various Service Areas - Special Educational Needs and Educational Psychology 22 30
- School Improvement 15 25
- School Government 0 10
- Service Management 25 25
- Policy and Research 20 20
- Children and Families 38 43
Commentary: Seems reasonable

8 Increase Income to Advice and Inspection Service 38 45
Increase fee income above inflation from consultancy services and training courses, including maximising government training funding for inspectors.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

9 Review Funding for Schools Causing Concern 50 55
Review the way funding is used, and targeted toward inspectors' and advisors time spent on providing intervention and support.
Commentary: More information on the implications of this is required?

10 Restructuring Advice and Inspection functions
Review the structure of the Integrated Support Service, Work Experience and the Education Business Partnership, and delete the vacant inspector post for Children's Workforce Development. 55 85
Commentary: Seems reasonable

11 Increase Income from Services Provided to Schools 50 50
Review charges for services to schools, and identify additional income from the sale of new services.
Commentary: Is this feasible when the ASD spedning is likely to put pressure on school budgets?

12 Recharge the costs of capital investment, for improved provision of ICT in schools, to the Dedicated Schools Grant 340 340
Charge to the Dedicated Schools Grant the prudential borrowing costs of matching the Government grant for ICT provision in schools.
Commentary: Here we go again! Is this a reasonable change?

13 Recharge Capital, Planning & Advisory staff costs to the Stanley Park High School Project 45 45
Recharge internally commissioned work on the Building Schools for the Future Pathfinder project to capital.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

Total Children, Young People and Learning Services 1,148 1,313

Environment & Leisure

1 Increase Charge for Pavement Crossing for Car Access 75 75
Increase charge by 20% to an average charge of £435.
Commentary: This is arguably discriminatory to the less well off areas of the borough with less off-street parking, who mainly have Lib Dem Councillors!! A bit tactically stupid really?

2 Review Charges for Waste Management Services
- Charge for replacement wheelie bins. 60 60
- Increase trade waste charges to incorporate Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme targets. 72 72
- Introduce tariff of charge for disposal of fridges and bulky items. 40 40
a) The charge for replacement wheelie bins could see bin snatching in some areas. Not very sensible.
b) The charge for disposal of fridges and bulky items is outrageous and will increase fly-tipping.

3 Review Waste Management Services
- Cease the 'Adopt-a-Bank' Scheme, which pays community groups for the maintenance of specific sites and local promotion of recycling services. 18 18
- Cease pilot household glass collection service which serves some 23,000 properties, install more glass banks at strategic neighbourhood recycling centres and review waste collection service with an intention to include glass in green wheelie bins in the future. 100 100
- Savings through reduced unauthorised use of the Re-use and Recycling centre through extra marshalling. 50 50
- Efficiency review of Waste Collection Service. 50 50
a) No doubt the great and good in the local green movement will lobby to keep the adopt a bank scheme. It doesn't seem a lot to spend on extra community engagement?
b) The ceasing of the glass collection will not be popular. I think bottles should go in the green bins ASAP for all areas.
c) I think we should have more details on unauthorised use. Don't we have CCTV on the site?
d) Any changes to the wheelie bin collection should in terms of less going in the brown bins should be piloted in three areas first.

4 Reorganise Administrative Support and Other 'Back-Office' Functions in Various Service Areas
- Business Services - Property Information. 38 38
- Environmental Sustainability. 45 45
- Eco-Management Audit Scheme (EMAS). 16 16
- Member and Management Support Service. 30 30
- Regulatory Services. 35 35
- Building Site Inspections 12 12
- Fleet Services 50 50
Commentary: Seems reasonable

5 Reduce Grant to Centre for Environmental Initiative (CEI) 12 22
Current grant is £27k, and used to cover administration costs.
Commentary: The Labour Group opposed this cut in the past. However CEI are now more of a national organisation with a realtively cheap lease of the Old School House in Carshalton?

6 Identify External Sources of Funding to Support Services 45 45
Seek external support for environmental sustainability and public health projects which offer positive opportunities for attracting external funding.
Commentary: Seems reasonable, but is it likely?

7 Increase Grave Charges 72 72
Increase charge by 50% to better reflect costs and continuing maintenance. Current cost of a new grave for two is £799.
Commentary: A bit of a steep rise. Useful to have comparative costs with other cemetaries?

8 Review Library Service Provision 150 150
Review staffing and media fund to secure efficiencies.
Commentary: Less books, less staff?

9 Funding of Highways Maintenance Programme 200 200
Transfer funding for major highways maintenance schemes from the revenue budget to the capital budget to recognise the scheme as an investment in the Borough's infrastructure.
Commentary: Seems reasonable in the current circumstance.

10 Review Inspection Services Council Wide 100 100
Rationalisation of "eyes and ears" services reporting defects and street problems including enviro crime, in conjunction with the Safer Sutton Partnership.
Commentary: Seems very reasonable to use our staff and the Police more effectiely. A very good idea.

11 Review Transport and Highways Function 70 70
A review to examine transport, highways and network management functions, generation of income and recruitment and retention issues.
Commentary: It would be helpful to understand what are the drivers (no pun intended) for the need for this review?

12 Use of Catering Service Reserve 90 0
Balance accumulated from previous years surpluses to assist with single status costs. No longer required for this purpose.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

Total Environment & Leisure 1,430 1,350


1 Management of Council's Debt and Cash Balances 274 74
Interest savings from restructuring Council's long term debt and improved cash flow and interest earnings.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

2 Reduce Budget for Human Resources (HR) Computer Services 17 17
Reduce running costs for HR and payroll computer system.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

3 Reorganise Finance Support Functions Following Centralisation of Service
- Streamline work of the finance service and review charges to schools and HRA 150 150
Commentary: Which means simply transferring more costs on to schools and the ALMO!

4 Reorganise Human Resources Functions Following Centralisation of Service 208 208
Streamline work of human resources service.
Commentary: Seems reasonable in view of new contract. HR is evidently setting a good example to other departments.

5 Review Postal Service 31 31
Cease all first class post, and reduce frequency of postal deliveries to some outlying buildings across the Council.
Commentary: Seems reasonable, but will it be used as an excuse in future.

6 Replace the Information Computer Technology (ICT) Managed Service Contract 111 206
Replace the current ICT managed service contract with a new 5 year contract with the incumbent supplier providing IT infrastructure services.
Commentary: Seems reasonable. Perhaps a few Topry Councillors can se if they can suggest a bigger saving?

7 Review Use of Room Hire for Meetings 60 60
Review cost of hiring external meeting rooms by making greater use of the Glastonbury Centre and provision of additional small meeting areas within Civic Offices
Commentary: Seems reasonable. Less money to be spent on the Holiday Inn?

8 Review IT Functions Following Centralisation of Service 58 58
Reduce training, general office expenses and support budgets through streamlining service provision.
Commentary: Seems reasonable. Maybe the IT department will want to start looking at Open Source and Web 2.0 applications to save money?

9 Review Car Parking Charges at Gibson Road and Times Square Car Parks 79 79
Increase cost of all day Sunday and Bank Holiday parking from 80p to £1 (both car parks). Increase charges for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 hours and daily rates by between Times Square 7% and 16% Gibson Road 5% and 25%
Commentary: Seems just about reasonable. Perhaps it could be badged as a "Green Tax" by both Lib Dems and Tories?

10 Review Charging for Residents' Visitors' Parking Vouchers 61 61
Amend from first 200 hours free to first 100 hours free and then £10 per book of 100 hours.
Commentary: Perhaps there should be some consultation on this significant change?

11 Restructure Car Parking Service 118 118
Review of staffing structure and administrative savings by increasing parking cards from a minimum purchase of £5 to £10.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

12 Review Functions of Business Service Managers 54 54
Refocus role of the managers on working with Heads of Service to identify business needs, exploitation of corporate systems and development of potential projects for decision, prioritisation and resourcing.
Commentary: But are they "pushing the envelope" on this? Doesn't sound too plain English too me?

13 Review Opening Hours of Civic Cash Hall 45 60
Revise public opening times to 9.00 - 13.00 on weekdays. Current opening times are 9.00 - 16.00, on weekdays, except Wednesdays when open from 9.30.
Commentary: At a time when many organisations are increasing hours, this does seem retrograde? It would be useful to see the hourly transaction stats?

14 Increase Income from Housing Benefit Subsidy 120 120
Efficiency gain from improved performance and rule changes.
Commentary: What impact will this have on the public as opposed to the Council?

15 Review Service Provision in Financial Services 53 53
Economies from supplies and services budgets and work on regeneration finance.
Commentary: Seems reasonable

16 New Contract for Mobile Telephony 43 43
Savings from reletting this contract.
Commentary: This will go through quietly, yet at a later point some Councillor will oppose a mobile phone mast in their ward. Let's hope they are honest with residents as to the quantity of usage by the Council.

Total Resources 1,482 1,392


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sutton Council Annual Review and Challenges Ahead - Initial Comments

These documents are likely to be discussed by Strategy Committee in the September and at the October Council Meeting:

Below are some initial comments on some of the key issues. There is lot of material here for the Parties on the Council and not on the Council to consider when looking at the policies the Council should be adopting.

1. Chief Executive's Presentation

a) The Capital Programme
The reduction of this will either require more property disposals or greater prudential borrowing. If there is to be more disposals, whilst accepting there will be a need for some commercial confidentiality there should be more public consultation over what site might be disposed, prior to us getting into the planning process when residents think they face a fait accompli. My general experience is that residents are usually quite reasonable if one involves them early. This will also empower local Councillors and avoid the situation where Lib Dem indecision forcing officers to almost bounce them into a decision.

b) Balances
I was pleased to hear the Chief Executive say we had reached our maximum limit. The £8 million indicated for the General Fund presumably includes the Contingency Fund?

c) Having a Say
The half who do not feel they can influence things is rather high. Instead of asking the same questions every 2 years, perhaps we can in future be a bit more creative with the next MORI poll?

d) Fear of Crime
A very high figure. It would be helfpul to have this broken down and a fuller report circulated to Strategy Committee, the Safer Sutton Partnership and Sutton Police Consultative Group. We need to know if this varies in different Safer Neighbourhood Team Areas so we can identify more of the specific reasons that cause it.

e) Education
The Chief Executive reported that we were third for secondary school results. What he didn't mention was that we are 31st for primary school results. This is because up to half the places in our grammar schools come from places like Purley and Epsom. That is the reality of the current system which simply improves our results through wide catchment areas for grammar schools. I think it is better to focus on improving the near enough comprehensive education system we now have for 86% of secondary pupils and nearly 100% of primary pupils, though key projects such as specialisation, the development of setting rather than streaming and through investment in new buildings such as the £20 million for Stanley Park. Because of our generally good results, there seems to be much less a case in Sutton for Academies or Foundation schools (Glenthorne only seemed to want to become one to see if they could get their hands on our land, but thankfully the Council rejected that). After a few years we can then compare our emjerging system with other boroughs who might head down the Academy/Foundation route to see which system is adding the most value.

f) Autism
I understand from informed sources that this is rising because schools are encouraging more paernts to apply for a Statement of SEN. In the longer run I hope we assess all children in much more depth and develop individual learning plans for all of them. Perhaps that is a target Sutton should aspire to?

g) Adult Social Services
In September we should receive a report on the future of day services for older people anbd people with Learning Disabilities. I hope there will be continued direct provision of older people day care provision and grant funding of voluntary day care. A sensible approach would be:
(i) accessible services, distributed across the borough.
(ii) Early intervention rather than a service led by eligibility criteria which means a resident is only dealt with when their health is already poor, rather than seeking to delay this.
(iii) A mixed economy of provision (ie we provide some of the day centres and also commission or fund the voluntary and private charged sector). This would not prevent our own current direct provision being part of the integrated health and social care and managed at "Arms Length" by any joint structure that emerges from future health and social care integration.
On Learning Disability day care I would support the modernisation and retention of new learning disability services at Hallmead and other sites at North Cheam and Fellowes Road following proper family and public consultation.

h) Recycling
Now we are at 30% are we setting a proper target to achieve 50% at some stage in the future?

i) Car ownership
I don't think the issue is the number of cars as the slide implies, it is more about car usage. The only way to reduce that is to generally improve public tranport and rather than pin all our hopes a decade into the future on Tramlink, we should be looking at ways to improve buis services especially through increased frequency on less reliable routes.

j) Sutton Town Centre
I don't think there is currently a local consensus on the future of Sutton town centre. Some Tory Councillors seem to be in favour of managed decline and they are entitled to make the case for that. My own view is that high growth in the town centre may be one for the few mechanisms we have to help reduce borough inequalities (see below).

k) Inequality
The Chief Excutive reported that Sutton is among the 2% most socially polarised local authorities in England. In other words we have very high levels of inequality. This is not good for local community cohesion and as well as directly impacting on poorer residents in terms of perceived status, does not assist well-off residents well as they are likely to have poorer perceptions of Council services and higher than average fear of crime. In other words everyone loses out from this figure. This is surely a fundamental issue which I will be returning to in much greater detail in the near future.

2. Annual Review Document

a) The closer working with Merton (page 4) is to be welcomed and may help us jointly tackle some of the inequality issues mentioned above.

b) The admission of a lower recycling rate at Kimpton Road centre (page 10) is welcome honesty. I think there should be more space created at the centre, so residents can bring their waste and it can be looked through before it thrown away. This would help maximise the percentage. Currently the site is too cramped to do this sort of thing.

3. Priorities for Change Document

a) The development of area based working (page 13) is vital to respond to the expanded Police presence locally. Hopefully this should lead to develoved budgets.

b) I welcome the member sign-off of business plans (page 17) . This used to be done, but hasn't happend in recent years, so I welcome the restoration of accountability. I also welcome the focus on the 30% of underperforming indicators. I will look at them in detail in a future posting.

c) The annual housing target of 370 (though it is 345 in the presentaion slides) and the 40% (up from 25%) affordable housing target (page 17) is important to help people to get on the housing ladder. It may also tackle some of the inequlaity issues mentioned above.

d) The joint intermediate care stategy (page 18) and care unit at Carshalton War Memorial is welcome, but there really should be a little more honesty that this will may come out of shutting 3 out of 4 Council old people's homes between 2006 and 2009 to in effect part fund it.

I will return to these report in the coming months looking at more detail at certain issues.

Monday, July 24, 2006

More Failure? More Choice?

The posting below briefly covers future challenges facing local government. These arise out of increased expectations over choice of services services creating pressure to expand capacity at a time when there is also a greater public expectation regarding efficiency.

How local government solves these challenges will have a strong impact on the rest of the public sector.

In recent years we have had long debates about the cost of computer systems, most of which have had significant cost-overruns. Personally this is what I would have expected in an area where we were developing new integrated management almost from scratch.

One of the problems is that local Council's as public bodies are rightly seen to hold money in trust on behalf of the public and as a result should be ultra-careful as to how they spend it.

When they get it wrong they then come under criticism. Many times this is from people who might also claim they admire the risk-taking of entrepreneurs in private sector, many of whose failures inevitably reduce the returns of those who may have their money invested in them.

Thus we inevitably see a situation where officers and Councillors seem to have a naturally risk-adverse approach to future plans to avoid public criticism.

What this leads to, is that smaller voluntary groups or social enterprises will not be asked to tender for services as they are seen as too risky! Instead less "risky" larger private contractors are favoured, despite the fact they are just as likely to fail, but when that happen and they are "taken over" we have little control over that.

In order for services to improve we need to accept that there will be failures. The economist Paul Ormerod recently wrote a book about how failure helps drive progress. Members of all political parties have to be mature to recognise this, rather than simply point score out of individual failures, unless there is good reason to suspect that something untoward occurred.

We also need to recognise the future challenge that there is likely to be legislation that allows the public to request extra choice through additional services. In other words consumer choice may be less tolerant of local failure and demand improvement and will risk-adverse local government be flexible enough to respond to this?

In the coming years, there could be debates around how we develop services in the following areas, which may imply some risk of failure in provision to the Council:

a) Waste Management

b) Sports Centres

c) Parks

d) Theatres

In addition we also need to recognise there may also be a need to cater for greater local choice in:

a) Personal budgets in Social Services (an extesnion on from Direct Payments)

b) Which local health facilities people want to use.

c) Improving local Neighbourhoods through a statutory rights to request this.

d) Requesting more Police for an area through a specific local precept.

The logic of the above issues are that local government culture will have to come to terms with more failure and more choice, whichm themselves may come into conflict from time to time!

Unlike some past challenges, this does not call in to question the future of local government. Instead it may requires flexibility and the need for greater risk-taking.

Over the coming months I will cover the above issues in much more detail.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Planning Issues 1 - Planning and the Regulation of Local Capital

IMPORTABT NOTE: This is an intial contribution to the Core Planning Policy Debate and is the start of a number of articles that explores some of the fundamental issues that need to be considered. The ideas set out are purely to encourage discussion and do not constitute any sort of policy approach either from me or any organisations I am associated with.


When Councillors discuss planning issues they understandably look at how planning policies affect the local area.

Most of this is about design or density.

However in economic terms we know that planning policies also act as a regulatory function in the creation of new capital.

By understandably restricting densities our planning policies inevitably restrict the acquisition of capital by our own local residents.

A good example of this was the Lavender Avenue planning application, where residents who hoped for £60,000 extra on the value of their property were opposed by the Council, who responded to the concerns for residents living nearby the proposal.

For example if a policy was adopted that allowed substantial areas of the borough to increase to at least 4 to 6 stories in height (with even higher heights for town centres) we know that the value of the land with planning permission would increase.

For existing residents their property would be worth more. For potential residents, in theory the price of property might drop, though this might only happen if the same policy occurred in a much wider area, rather than on a borough basis. We can broadly assume these likely outcomes as we know there is a clear demand for property in the borough and a lack of supply. You do not need to be Kate Barker to know that waiting lists and house prices amply demonstrate this.

However we also know that such an approach won't be agreed locally by any of the political parties as such a radical change would almost certainly have a substantially destabilising effect on the local community as well as having substantial environmental impacts.

There are of course social cohesiuon issues too. Any extra capital would be gained by those who already had it, but it would not benefit the 30% of households in the borough who do noy have capital invested in housing. Thus whilst a large majority of households would benefit, it would lead to a widening capital gap between them and a significant minority.

Clearly there will be some basic consensus for incremental change, even if there are differences as to how incremental it should be and the pace of change! In the Core Planning consultation, Council officers set out three options and these are a sensible range to engender a series debate on capital acquisition issues.

Generally the Council develops planning policies that are ostensibly about design and density and do not cover issues to do with the acquisition of capital and its impact on the local economy. Yet however low density we intend to keep the borough, some of our own aspirational residents will seek to push and change that figure and secure more capital for them and their households.

Council Officers in this area also understandably see themselves as professional planners rather than local economists.

Councillors also talk in design and density terms but we also know at least some of them have experience in developer issues as well. Instead of political point scoring in this area, perhaps we should all be a little more open to at least debate these sort of economic issues, prior to coming to an overall policy decision based on the options presented in the Core Planning Policy consultation.

This posting therefore poses the question: in view of the challenges this borough faces over housing demand, population change and suburban sustainability, will the Core Planning Policy debate lead to some work on the issue of planning and distribution of personal capital acquisition through housing, so we are fully aware of the likely impacts in the coming years?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Manifesto Survey - Part 1 - The Lib Dems

NOTE: This item was originally posted on "The Sutton Council Observer" Blog, however it seemed more sensible to report it here, so the second part on the Tory Manifesto could also be posted here in due course. This version is slightly revised from the original.

This is a two part report on the Manifesto's of the two Party's represented in the Council chamber. This posting concerns the Lib Dem manifesto and in Part 2 will cover the Tories.

The 2006 Lib Dem manifesto is a substantial improvement on the 1994, 1998 and 2002 manifesto's which mainly set out what the Lib Dems had done rather than what they would do.
You may be aware I was complimentary towards the latest manifesto at the April Council meeting.

Key points to note are:

1. Develop local residents asociations.
This could be something local ward Councillors are encouraged to develop in their representative role. The Council could set local targets to cover two-thirds of the borough by a Resident Assocation by 2010. The Council could also work with the Police to get groups to double up as Neighbourhood Watch Groups as well as Residents Associations, thus building community cohesion.

2. Devolved Area Budgets.
I hope this receives all-party support and Sutton gets a move on with our own local scheme. My impression is that Corporate Finance Officers are relaxed about this and that the big debate is with Senior Management Team within Environment and Leisure. Once this is developed we could also see Areas then devolving some money to Ward Councillors to recommend spending on within their ward, perhaps consulting with local residents Associations and the local Safer Neighbourhood Team. Surrey County Councillors each get £20,000 a year to spend, why can't we develop something similar.

3. Become a Museum Authority.
If we do this perhaps we could then bring in free admission to the Heritage Centre and thus bring it attendance up to the much better attended, free admission Ecology Centre.

4. A New Theatre for Sutton.
I welcome the commitment to retain the Secombe until a replacement is built in a more prominent place in the High Street. In doing so perhaps we could even develop a Theatre Trust with the Arts Council and local Theatre groups. I note there is no reference to the Charles Cryer Theatre though?

5. Twin with a town in the developing world.
Let's hope we can develop a local consensus on this. Perhaps a number of South West London Council's can jointly twin with a place to maximise the benefits?

6. Campaign for Tramlink.
I suspect the same wording will be in the 2010 and 2014 manifestos!! It would be better to set out a strategy for improving local bus services as this is much more achievable.

7. School Bus Services.
Do we really want to increase the number of outborough pupils in the borough by making their bus journeys more comfortable by increasing the bumber of double deckers coming in from South Croydon!! Does Tom Brake, through his bus campaigns, now seem to support the Greenwich judgement?

8. Policing.
I think now we have 18 Safer Neighbourhood Teams and ward Panels, we should let them get on with it for the next four years. In particular, we should allow each local ward and Area Committee to develop their own local priorities and to share good practice. The substantial expansion of Policing, requires the Council to develop a similar ward based strategy for tackling local quality of life issues, rather than being seen as part of the partnership being unresponsive to local Police initiatives.

9. Hospital Provision.
Lacks any detail on what the Lib Dems would like to see at LCH level let alone the CCH where unlike their MP's they are sitting on the fence. This is a big weakness of the manifesto and lets the local NHS off the hook. I have elsewhere set out a full strategy that goes beyond BHCH. Can we have a debate on that in the absence of any alternative local plan?

10. Children's Centres and Extended Schools.This is very important and I hope gets all-party support. One way to do this is to get local Councillors involved with their local Centre at an early stage.

11. Education Spending.
Rather amusing how the manifesto says the Council has always spent above the minimum set by the government on education, especially when under the Don Brims era, the Council kept trying to reduce the amount spent on education by up to half a million a year. I am glad that in recent years, that this budget policy has been dropped.

12. Older Peoples Day services.
This is an important area and I have set out in a posting on "The Sutton Council Observer Website" some criteria as to how this might be effectively conducted.

13. Upgrading and modernising old peoples homes.
Surely this should be in the singular as having failed to sell them off to London and Quadrant and Hexagon Homes in the mid 1990's the Council looks likely to sell off the Bawtree, Ludlow and Franklin sites for housing in the coming years, leaving them with just Oakleigh to run and the purchasing of places probably at a presumably GP led Carshalton War Memorial Hospital.

14. Extra Care Housing.
The Belsize development is a good idea in principle, but was achieved by misleading existing residents, much to the embarrassment of Councillor Janet Lowne, who had made some perfectly reasonable commitments in 2002. Hopefully lessons will be learned when looking at other old peoples sites, such as the potentially very lucrative sites in Cheam Village and near Carshalton Ponds.

15. Revitalise Sutton Town Centre.
I am not convinced there is any local consensus on this and I think we need more debate on this issue.

16. District Centres.
No reference is made to Rosehill as a District centre. It is a disappointment that we are still £20,000 short from the money obtained from the Rosehill Triangle Section 106 agreement.

17. Planning.
The manifesto is against "overdevelopment" but in favour of Tramlink which inevitably increases local housing density. How will they square this circle?

18. Affordable Housing.
Laudable sentiments but no detail. I hope my suggestion of developing a Sutton Tenant owned Community Land Trust is taken up over the coming years. Then instead of affordable properties being "lost", we get permanent rented housing in sensible mixed developments. We could then have the Sutton Housing Partnership working as an agent on behalf of the Community Land Trust. This is the sort of local policy that should get support from Brown, Cameron and Campbell, so lets get ahead of the game.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Big Decisions 2006-10 - Number 1 - Waste Management Contract

This is the first of a series of articles that looks at some big decisions that need to be made over the lifetime of this Council.

The Council has recently set up a Waste Management SCAG (WAMSCAG) to look at the forthcoming Waste Management Procurement.

As borough contracts come to an end, there is a big decision required as to whether we set up a joint South West London contract with Merton, Croydon and Kingston by 2009.

There are some good reasons for doing this:

1. I suspect this will secure all-party consensus on the Council as it may lead to rather large savings over the 10-15 year period of the contract, which can be used to spend on extra serives or to hold down the Council Tax.

2. Sutton is strongly placed to lead on this as a potential site for the operation is Beddington Lane.

Whilst I think the principle will be readily accepted, the procurement process will throw up some challenges:

1. Will the Council's be able to agree amongst themselves?

2. What will be the management and monitoring arrangements? Will there be a a joint scrutiny body?

3. How will it fit in with the developing London Mayoral role?

4. Will the procurement process be risk-adverse thus ruling out the increasing role of social enterprise. For example the social enterprise ECT which runs Ealing's Waste services has just won the contract for Council's in the Avon (Bristol and surronding) area. Will a commitment be made to encourage social enterprise to apply through the procurement process?

In coming months, I will cover more of the detail of what will be a key issue over the next 3 or so years.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Issue - Big Houses and CO2

The facts:

1. Many Sutton residents pride themselves on their green image and recycle to a high degree. We have a high recycling rate for an urban area at nearly 30%.

2. If we published ward recycling breakdowns we would see that people in larger properties had the highest recycling rates and people in flatted social housing had a much lower recycling rate.

However a British Gas Report published in the Standard on 30 May showed that Sutton was the 6th highest generator of carbon dioxide (the big problem at the heart of climate change and global warming) in London.

More worryingly boroughs like Bromley and Richmond, that are most like the highest recycling areas of the borough of Sutton were in the top 3 worst performers, whilst Camden and Barking and Dagenham (similar to our social housing stock) were the in the top 4 best performers.

In other words if you live in a big house in Cheam you can do a lot of recycling, but your choice of housing may not be helping tackle climate change, whilst ironically people have probably no choice to live in what are low recycling areas are probably our best performers. At some stage when some bright spark wants to penalise them for their low recycling, I will point out this irony.

All this should cause some agonising at dinner parties over the fair-trade South African wine!

This long-term issue is one that we clearly need to debate when we consider the planning options the borough faces.

A Local Care Network for Sutton - An Alternative to BHCH

NOTE: This was originally posted on "The Sutton Council Observer".

Like a lot of people locally, I welcomed the idea of 3 Local Care Hospitals (preferably at St Helier, Wallington and Sutton General - though we know the PCT preferred North Cheam to Sutton General).

I did have one concern at the time and that was the 3 LCH would lead to a substantial reduction in GP surgeries as local services migrated to the LCH.

However, my support for the LCH has waned because:

1. BHCH was always an acute trust led project with the PCT running behind. I never once saw the PCT set out their vision for a LCH.

2. The Government has announced over £700 million for local community hospitals. It makes sense to sort out a local consensus soon and not wait for the failed BHCH project.

3. It makes more sense to develop instead a "Local Care Network" of Acute Trust, PCT and Local Authority sites. This is much more achievable as I set out below.

My alternative proposal is for the following sites and the following providers:

1. Critical Care Hospital at St Helier Hospital with a phased rebuild (run by the Epsom and St Helier Acute Trust).

2. A "Local Care Network" made up of the following sites:

a) The new Robin Hood Lane Clinic (GP led)

b) The Sutton General Local Care Hospital site (Acute Trust led)

c) Priory Clinic/Surgery/Malden Road Health and Leisure Centre (GP/PCT/Local Authority Partnership)

d) St Helier Hospital Local Care Unit - part of the phased rebuild St Helier Hospital (Acuter Trust led with local GPs)

e) Middleton Circle Local Care Unit (PCT/GP and Local Authority Partnership)

f) Walllington Shotfield Local Care Hospital (GP and Local Authority Partnership)

3. Intermediate Care at Carshalton War Memorial Hospital (joint PCT/local authority partnership). I have an issue about flogging off Ludlow Lodge and Franklin House to fund this, but lets at least have a debate.

The above proposals combined with sorting out integration of health and social care and the development of personalised budgets is a big agenda for the 2006-10 period, but I believe the above proposal is more likely to happen than the failed BHCH proposals for the following reasons:

1. A phased rebuild of St Helier has always been the easiest option as it required much less controversy and was less complicated in planning terms. Whilst I would like to see the "St Helier Gherkin" I don't think the money is available for the forseeable future.

2. The Local Care Network comprises 6 buildings which cover all 4 area committees. All the land is currently in NHS and local authority ownership and 3 of the sites (Middleton, Robin Hood and Shotfield) are new build of about to be built. The other 3 sites are large and have space for new build under the £700 million scheme. if the local NHS bids quick enough.

3. I suggest a range of partnerhsip providers which could also include some GP co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise, which should go down well whoever is in government.

In other words, we should get a move on to develop the overall scheme above for this borough.In order to start it off, why doesn't Health Scrutiny kick things off with a scrutiny on "A vision for health care in Sutton by 2010"? This might concentrate minds.


There have been national and regional public policy think tanks, but this is the first think tank for a borough.

Sutton is an "excellent" rated borough and I devoted much of the last 4 years into continuing to push for this (especially in social services) despite quite a bit of pessimism along the way.

An "Excellent" borough deserves to be the first to have its own public policy "think tank".

Unlike my other website: "The Sutton Council Observer" this website is not aimed to be represent a single political view.

I hope others with a range of views will contribute to "Policy4Sutton". Unlike organisations like the Sutton Partnership or the Council this website will seek out a wide range of political views and encourage those that disagree with the "received wisdom".

My hope is this is where the local manifesto policies of the future are debated and put to the test.

One of the first points that should be made is that those organisations that seek to sanitise debate will struggle with legitimacy in the long-run. If I were running public sector websites I would be allowing those that disagree with policy to post on them. I will probably do a much longer post on that issue in the future.

I am confident that within the next 5 years this point itself will become the "received wisdom"!