North West Norfolk CLP AGM
The Annual General Meeting of the North West Norfolk Constutuency Labour Party was held at the community centre in South Lynn, very close to home for me.
We heard an interesting presentation from Chris Lindley of Churches Together about the effects of changes to the welfare system to people of King's Lynn & West Norfolk. Some interesting statistics about the use of food banks, homelessness and sanctions being imposed on benefit claimants by the Job Centre for seemingly unfair, often trivial reasons. Examples would be the withdrawal of benefit payments for 1 month because a claimant did not make an appointment when their bus had been cancelled, appointments being made deliberately early so as to prevent claimants from rural localities reaching town due to lack of public transport and in one instance, for failing to keep an appointment with a named advisor because that advisor was on sick leave at the time of the appointment (which the claimant turned up for and was see. By another advisor)
Labour Group meeting with Finance Team
A delegation of Labour Group Councillors met with senior members of the Council's finance team to look at areas of the proposed budget for next year that could be changed and put forward by the labour group as an alternative or as amendments at the Council's budget setting meeting.
It is thought that increasing Council tax would not be a popular move so it is difficult to find areas of the budget that could be changed to accommodate any alternative ideas as the Council's budget does not run at a surplus at the moment. Nonetheless, there are some areas of non-essential expenditure that could be looked at to suggest providing some alternatives that might be of more use to a greater number of people in the borough.
Much of the discussion centers around the council tax support scheme which will see many claimants of council tax benefit have to pay 25% of their council tax bill from April onwards. The Labour Group did not vote for this scheme at January's full council meeting but as it was voted through by the administration it is not possible to change this year's scheme, even if money were found in the budget. It would cost a relatively small amount (between £100k -£200k) for the Borough to remove this requirement for council tax claimants but as Council Tax is divided up between other agencies (County Council & Police Authority) it would have an impact on their income too - for the County Council, to the tune of around £1m, at a time when County services are being stripped bare.
Notwithstanding this, it appears that other authorities in the county, notably Great Yarmouth and Norwich have managed to keep their claimant contribution to less than 10% in their schemes which will also have had a significant impact on the County Council's budget.