Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Defending the indefensible

Nick Guyatt (NG), Deputy Leader of HDC, was on the Jeremy Sallis (JS) Breakfast show on Monday trying to defend HDC's stance on the New Homes Bonus. Nick didn't do very well. Below is a transcript of what he had to say. The transcript isn't verbatum but is as near as I can get it. What snrednek says about what they say is in red.

If you want to hear the interview on the video below (give it a 5 seconds):

When the Coalition came to power on of their first initiatives was to introduce the New Homes Bonus. This is to reward communities accepting new developments with a bonus thereby showing communities there is a good financial reason for accepting new developments. A good idea, one rooted in a Government report. The The Government decided on an 80/20 split in favour of the District Council over the County Council. The normal split for Council tax is the other way round. The New Homes Bonus is funded for one year and thereafter Councils will see a reduction in grant to pay for the New Homes Bonus.
HDC firstly hid the New Homes Bonus as the New Homes Reward Grant and now is spinning that it is a reward for itself and not the communities accepting developments.

Anyway here is the transcript of the interview:

Jeremy Sallis: Is St Neots being robbed of cash which should be going towards new developments?

Nick Guyatt: No! Not at all

JS: Why?

NG: Erm because the first thing is Cllr van de Kerkhove has obviously misunderstood what the New Homes Bonus is about. The government has decided that it is going to re-look at the way it is going to finance local government and it wants local government to be more responsive to its desires for economic growth and the Government wants new economic growth to come in via new houses. So what is actually doing is reducing the grant it gives to local authorities erm to cover all the services it gives throughout the whole of their area. And is saying we will reduce your money one end and we will give you some more money if you achieve some of these spending targets.

Cllr van de Kerkhove hasn't misunderstood what the New homes bonus is about. The misunderstanding is HDC's. The Government is looking into how local government is financed. That has nothing really to do with the New Homes Bonus.

There are also no spending targets. These have been taken away by the Coalition. So what Nick was on about in his answer is a load of rubbish.

JS: That is not the impression given by the Government’s own Communities website which suggests this is an incentive as to why communities should accept new homes in their area.

Very true

NG: I can’t speak for the Government.

Well your informing us what the Government is telling you. A get out by Nick which didn't work.

JS: Well your speaking on behalf of the Government when you say they are telling you it is to be spent all across the board as opposed to just the areas where new developments are going up.

This is a Conservative/Liberal Democrat government and this is a Conservative policy.

NG: Let me give you two analogies first of all. If I say to you that I live, I don’t, in a house that pays £1000 tax to the local authorities and you live in house that gives £200 tax does that mean you should receive a fifth, er 20 percent of a year less spending on you because you produce less council tax? No it doesn’t. Council tax is spent across a whole district for the benefit of every member of the communities. If government reduces the money it gives us for spending on all the communities then all the communities have to suffer that cut.

So what has this answer got to do with the New Homes Bonus? I just don't know! The answer must be in the last sentence. What Nick can't seem to accept is the areas accepting new housing should get more money than those areas not accepting new housing.

JS: Love’s farm residents suffering more than most. If they are having houses put up without the facilities being put when there is money there to provide those facilities.

Now Love's Farm has yet to be completed. Much of the housing was built before the New Homes Bonus was introduced. Section 106 agreement monies from the developers to pay for local facilities is where the money comes from to pay for a community centre and play areas.

NG: Can you differentiate please between what there provided by the Council and what is provided by the developer. It is a relatively new development which is happening. I heard people talking about the drains in the road. That because the roads haven’t been brought up by the developer to the standard required by the Council to adopt them.

And it is up to HDC to ensure these things happen.

JS: Residents are telling us about the lack of facilities for young people. Your getting £8000 per property.

NG: We are not getting £8000 per property. We are getting £800,000 of new money in the first year. Thereafter all the money is coming, we are told by the Government, out of the revenue support grant.

How does Nick know that? HDC cannot produce any figures on how the New Homes Bonus is calculated for HDC. So how does Nick know it isn't £8000 a property? The Council is looking to get £1.8 million in NHB for 2012/13. Indeed it is forecast to rise even further in future years.

JS: That will be the tune of?

NG: That will be to the tune of a £1 million next year.

JS: Is any of that money being spent on these new Developments?

I think Jeremy get the wrong end of the stick. Nick is going on about a cut whilst Jeremy thinks it is a gain.

NG: A lot of this money is being spent in St Neots and the new developments.

Where and how much?

JS: How much of that money? The majority or all of the money intended by the new homes bonus.

NG: If your granny lived on Love’s Farm and she fell down the stairs and went to hospital and came back as said she needed a stairlift. And she was eligiable for a grant for a stair lift we would be put in a stairlift in for her. OK. That is the kind of way we spend peoples money.

So no answer on where and how much. Indeed with this answer I have to wonder how Nick got to be Deputy Leader. "That is the kind of way we spend peoples money". 

JS: lets go back to the communities website again. This is money coming from the Government. I just want to quote something from this website. Communities themselves will decide how to spend this extra fundingwhether council tax discounts for local residents boosting frontline services like rubbish collections or providing local facilities like swimming pools or Leisure Centres. Of which these people talking to us are calling out for. Have these communities, have these residents been consulted. Have you spoken to them and asked them how they would like these monies spent.

NG: Lets go back the very basics. We have spent a lot of money on St Neots swimming pool and leisure Centre. A lot of money was spent before, in fact, Love’s Farm was even digging the foundations of Love’s Farm. So a lot of the money the council is spent isn’t spent on a whim, erm based on what happened last year we have to plan what we spend going forward.

Yes money has been spent on the Leisure Centre. But this was all planned before the New Homes Bonus was introduced. The New Homes Bonus is there to show communities the benefits of new housing. Now the argument seems to be we have given you a Leisure Centre so we'll take the money back for that.

JS: A very simple question. Have these residents been consulted?

NG: Most of them weren’t here to start with when the decisions were made. They have elected representatives who have an input into how into deciding how the money is spent.

The New Homes Bonus is intended for the communities accepting development. The DCLG wants councils to consult with the communities accepting development on how the money should be spent. HDC will not do this.

This is the problem with the New Homes Bonus. The Government thinks if it tells local authorities what to do then they will do it. Councils have a reputation of taking the money and doing something else. Whether the Leisure Centre has been upgraded is a backwards argument. The money is new and here and HDC is nicking this money to prop up it failing budget.

I can hear the frustration in the voice of Jeremy Sallis as he fails to get answers to many of the questions he asked. If Nick is deputy leader of HDC and this is the muddled thinking behind HDC decisions then you have to wonder whether the Conservatives are best in charge. All we got from Nick is a mixture of muddled arguments and answers that went no-where.

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