NEW Government proposals to localise Council Tax Benefit (CTB) are going to prompt plenty of debate in the coming months.
The Department for Communities and Local Government wants the plans – which would see different rates of CTB paid in different parts of the country – to come into force from April 2013.
So what will it mean for Oldham residents?
For the uninitiated, Council Tax Benefit is a national pool of money that Government makes available to enable each Local Authority to give discretionary relief to people in their area.
Key components of this are, for example, the Single Person Discount and discounts for pensioners.
The Government now wants this benefit to be administered locally by Councils. Each would need to set and introduce their own eligibility criteria – but only after the money given to us has also been cut by ten per cent.
At the same time it is also proposed that pensioners should continue to get total protection from this reduction – i.e. their discretionary relief must remain untouched.
In Oldham our support for pensioners makes up about 60 per cent of our total CTB funding. Another group of recipients – about 25 per cent – would also be exempt from reductions in their support because of our duties to tackle child poverty and support vulnerable groups.
What this all then means is that most of that 10 per cent budget cut is likely to fall on the remaining recipients of CTB – typically the support we provide to low-income families or people in receipt of the Single Person Discount.
This would potentially impact on a smaller number of people much harder and the question now for us – and every other Local Authority – is exactly where and how to reduce relief in a manner that is as fair as possible.
We’re already debating these issues internally and there are no easy answers: especially when you consider that the existing Single Person Discount doesn’t take into account an individual’s actual ability to pay.
Difficult decisions like this require leadership and I’m determined that we must first undertake a thorough consultation exercise with our residents.
We need to explain these issues with clarity and listen to what you think it is fair and right to do.
Despite what the Sunday Express wrongly claimed at the weekend, no decisions have been made here in Oldham, and your responses to that consultation will be absolutely key to shaping what we introduce in April 2013.
Returning to more immediate concerns this remains an extremely busy time at Oldham Council.
At Cabinet on Monday we agreed to look at plans to form a new company that would deliver our social care services in the future.
If these plans proceed it could see up to 500 staff forming a ‘trading arm’ in which the Council would own a majority stake and a minority stake would be owned by an employee co-operative. I’ll return to this topic as the scheme makes more progress at a later date.
Tonight (Wednesday) we also have Full Council – including our pilot ‘Public Question Time’ – and you can now watch the whole meeting online for the first-time ever at www.oldham.gov.uk from 6pm.
February is also Budget-setting time too, of course. The opposition outlined their alternative budget last night and our own final proposals are undergoing final tweaks before going to Full Council on February 22.
I’m also looking forward to paying a visit to Higher Failsworth Primary School tomorrow. I’ve been asked to explain to young people there what Oldham Council is, what we do, and what it means to their daily lives.
That won’t be an easy task and I know from past experience it could yet turn out to be my toughest grilling of the week!
Thanks for listening,