We purposely did not contest the commissioner budget or your last budget, thus giving you the opportunity to set and manage a sound budget effectively. Having been party to the scrutiny of the revenue element of the current budget, the implementation has been reasonably effective. However, there are the overspend issues in the areas of Children’s services and adult social care and, although there is national problem across social care, I do believe that the management of demand could have been tighter and better forecast.
Perhaps the most worrying concern with regard to your stewardship is the failure to recognise the strong message emanating from this government regarding the future direction of funding. It is clear that cuts will continue and, self-reliance will become increasingly necessary. Even if we have a change of government and more funding becomes available, for how long will this last? No one can predict, and therefore, the need to develop our own revenue streams will become increasingly necessary. I have in the past raised the need to look at what the best LA’s are doing with partnerships and investments. And I believe that reserves should have been for investments rather that than used to top up unsound budgets and invest in highly speculative IT infrastructure projects. This is after all where pension providers invest their funds. It is simply not good enough to repeatedly cry in your beer about government cuts, it is time to prepare for budgets based upon zero funding from central government while there is still some time to so, thus any central funding would then become a bonus.
About a year after becoming a councillor I had a long conversation with Ian Thomas after reading, what for me was a very disturbing article, that the long term future for the majority of children is predictable by the age of 7. For the majority of children this outcome will not alter, many of you may have been aware of this, but for me it was a total shock. You may take the view that I am/was naïve; I had simply failed to recognise what was happening around me. This is surely a national scandal. Social mobility must be one of the most important challenges for us to address and the focus of this article has remained at the forefront of my mind ever since. The simple fact is that many people find themselves in a difficult predicament through no fault of their own.
That said, we UKIP, have participated fully in the scrutiny of the revenue budget and there is little room for manoeuvre. Where I disagree with the recommendations of the budget I have made my views known and, voted against specific items, for example the CTS proposals and the approach to waste collection. Therefore I began to think about the use of the capital budget.
Following the general election in June 2017, a survey in the North of England into homelessness in its widest context among people under the age of 35 both single and young families revealed that 74% of respondents stated that the so called bed room tax was, along with the shortage of suitable available accommodation, was a significant contributory factor to their plight.
Over the summer I began to wonder if anything could be done about this and, if so, any proposed solution would have to meet two specific criteria:
- Speed of deployment
I concluded that any such housing development would have to be provided at the lowest cost and utilise the fastest method of deployment. So I focused my thoughts around a modular housing solution and, I began to investigate whether or not this would be possible. At this point, towards the end of the summer I began to discuss my ideas with relevant council officers who have provided excellent support.
Since these early discussions and the initial idea, I have verified that a tight financial target is feasible, and that a low cost solution is possible and if such a project is given the go ahead it could deliver a solution in a 9 month time scale. To include a short build period determined by the number of units that could be delivered by the budget and, required to meet the demand in the borough.
I then began to think about the other financial challenges that people face and how these might be resolved. Initially heating and, I am aware for example of the district heating project. I am also aware that other technology is available and used in other projects. Therefore I would propose that a solution based on ground pumps would be implemented and although power is needed to drive the pumps, this could be on a reduced demand control basis as is used in Manchester. This is where the pumps are turned off each day during periods of high demand on the grid. The feedback from such a scheme is that people do not notice when the heating is turned off because these modern buildings are thermally efficient.
What I have said so far would cover the base needs and forms the basis of the proposal.
Moving onto lighting and cooking it should be possible to meet these requirements using solar power and solar spray. I am especially interested in these technologies because we have the ability to showcase locally developed technology. Currently the storage of solar energy is through the use of lithium ion batteries based on lithium carbonate; however, more recently batteries using graphene storage technology are being developed. Graphene is a carbon based material developed by Manchester University and, solar spray is being developed by Sheffield University.
It is important to recognise that we have little experience of these technologies and, that they would be fulfilling a critical function, as such they would need to be accessible for replacement purposes. We would need to consider whether they could be housed in the roof space or even in wall panels. We could add to this capability with solar spray, a material sprayed onto glass surfaces that is rapidly reaching maturity and is being developed by Sheffield University. We would have a project to showcase that Rotherham, and that northern universities are among the best in the world. Thus my intention is that these dwellings would eventually have no need to be connected to the national grid. But this will need to be tested and proven to be reliable. Therefore it maybe a little ambitious to say now that it would not be unnecessary to connect to the grid, demand in the evening with all the lights on, the TV, cooking and making tea might be a struggle, nevertheless it should be the aim as technology improves. However, this technology should put a dent in energy bills. The fact is we need to learn about these and future new technology, how to manage the technology and we need to be able to market test the capability on a small number of the units.
I would hope that with experience we might have a capability that could be utilised on other social housing and offered to the wider public. Perhaps even open an energy shop in Rotherham, there are plenty that are empty.
These dwellings would need to be deployed on LA land and I would suggest that they should be close to the town centre, but if the demand shifts to a surrounding ward we should try to ensure that they remain transportable to Wath or Dinnington if demand dictates. Again this may be ambitious, but should remain as an option at this stage.
The outcome should be: Available housing for those defined as homeless that we can also use to show/demonstrate that Rotherham is good place to work and live and, that it cares for residents. A project that as technology improves we could have a housing development that would allow us to test and learn about new technologies.
During my discussions with officers it was clear they had been having some similar thoughts, however, so far as I am aware they have been considering converted containers. Whilst I think these units might be applicable as short term accommodation, or in a refugee situation, I do not see them as a long term housing solution for our residents.
Thus I am asking you to make up to £4m of unallocated capital from the HRA available to support this project.
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