Two motions were submitted for debate in accordance with Council Procedure Rules as follows:
Proposed by Councillor Alison Butler
Seconded by Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed
"This council calls on Gavin Barwell MP, the Minister for Housing & Planning, to show his commitment to affordable council housing for local people by:
Removing the artificial borrowing cap on the HRA to allow councils to borrow funds to enable the delivery of more affordable housing.
To stop the enforced sell off of high value voids meaning this council would need to sell off desperately needed family homes and hand the income over to central government.
To end the unfair 'Tenants' Tax' on working households which could force families from their homes.
To end the enforced 1% rent cut, costing this council £31 million over the next four years, reducing services to tenants and affecting our ability to build new council homes."
Councillor Butler, in moving the motion, stated that Gavin Barwell MP in his new ministerial role had stated his support for new, affordable homes. However, actions were more important than words. There was a quiet war against social housing taking place through central government regulations that were having devastating consequences for residents who cannot afford new homes.
There were many such regulations that needed to be addressed such as the freezing of the housing allowance, the "Tenant's Tax" and the cap on benefits. There was a long list of new regulations that affected those who could not afford housing in the borough, and the minister should address.
Councillor Shahul-Hameed seconded the motion and reserved her right to speak.
Councillor Creatura, opposing the motion, stated that the motion was an attack on Gavin Barwell MP who was not present to defend himself. The Housing Revenue Account (HRA) cap was in place to control government spending and in 2014 the government made available £300 million for building new homes yet the Council submitted no bids. The money made from selling Council housing stock was funnelled into the Right to Buy scheme, thus enabling people to fulfil their dream of home ownership. It was right to make tenants on higher incomes pay more in rent, those who earn more should contribute more. In any event, over 90% of tenants in Council properties would not be affected.
Equally, the rent reduction would save tenant's bills and also costs in benefits payments. The motion was poorly researched and showed poor understanding of the government's policies.
Councillor Hale, opposing the motion, stated that the events in Calais highlighted the importance of owning your own home. In 2010, house building had reached its lowest level since the 1920's and the number of people on social housing waiting lists nearly doubled to 1.8 million. However, since 2010 over 700,000 homes had been built, including over 270,000 affordable homes. The Right to Buy scheme would see each property sold replaced and it was right that taxpayers should not pay for spare bedrooms. The continuation from the previous administration of building homes on brownfield sites was welcomed. This government was committed to building new homes for everyone.
Councillor Shahul-Hameed, speaking for the motion, stated that the Council was doing all it could to provide high quality social housing to address the current shortages. The Brick by Brick company would build thousands of homes in Croydon by 2018. Yet the Conservative government was doing everything it could to make this more difficult. There was a war on social housing by reducing services to tenants. One example was a resident who attended Councillor Shahul-Hameed's surgery: a supermarket worker who stated he would never be able to afford his own house and was already struggling just to pay rent in a one bedroom flat above a shop in cramped conditions. It was hardworking people like this resident that Gavin Barwell MP should consider when determining the government's housing policy.
The motion was put to the vote and was carried.
Proposed by Councillor Jason Cummings
Seconded by Councillor Yvette Hopley
"This council is very concerned about the pattern of overspends in the people department of Croydon council, particularly in social care. At the same time many highly vulnerable user groups are complaining that key services they rely on are being withdrawn. Council believes that the administration has lost control of its budgets in this critical area and must take urgent steps to address the issues."
Councillor Cummings, in moving the motion, listed the recent overspends of the People department since 2014, which had been over £7 million pounds each financial year. Whilst the administration blamed central government, this was an issue of adherence to budgets. Councillor Flemming did not protest that there was not enough money when these budgets were set. These budgets were set to take into account demand and allocation from central government and yet Councillor Hall had to step in through the oversight committee.
Councillor Hopley seconded the motion and reserved her right to speak.
Councillor Woodley, speaking against the motion, stated that the motion was delusional and a blatant misrepresentation of what was going on. The inconvenient truth in this debate was the £4 million overspend in adult social care by the previous administration in the 2013/14 year. Work was being done to address this matter but was very difficult. There was a determination to bring down the projected overspend for the 2016/17 year. However, it should be noted that two thirds of local authorities were overspending due to central government cuts. The other side voted against raising the precept to help with the costs, and would rather privatise or salami slice the department instead.
Councillor Margaret Mead made a point of order under Part 4A, paragraph 1.15 regarding an incorrect statement made; that the stated overspend for 2013/14 was incorrect.
Councillor Avis, speaking against the motion, stated the speech made in favour must have been contributed to by Gavin Barwell MP. The current administration had saved adult social care in Croydon despite 75% cuts from the Conservative government. The speeches made for this motion should congratulate the Cabinet Members and officers who had still been able to deliver these services to older residents. It was hypocritical that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer would rather impose cuts on Croydon than tax his wealthy friends.
Councillor Hopley, speaking in favour of the motion, highlighted the importance of the issue being raised in the motion. The Cabinet Member had lost control of the budget and staff spending had skyrocketed. The projected costs had not been managed so that services operated within the financial limits imposed. Knee-jerk reactions were being made such as closing services for vulnerable people, including Heatherway, in which users felt they were not properly consulted over its closure. There was no clear plan for the future of this provision. Likewise at a recent meeting of the Autism Board the plan for diagnostic pathways was dropped in favour of adopting the Bristol model, but was not made clear what this would look like.
The motion was put to the vote and was lost.