Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Reply from Thurrock Council regarding the stealth rent increase

I got a reply from Michael Everest from Complaints and Information Governance at Thurrock Council regarding the ‘service charges’ being imposed on council tenants to cover the increase in council rents the Tory-led council wanted to impose but couldn’t due to the pledge by their Westminster brethren to reduce council rents by 1%.  Below is the full text of that e-mail:

Dear Mr Cook,

Thank you for your email. I can confirm that only the grounds maintenance aspect of the service charges has been suspended and the other charges will remain in place. All residents are being contacted to confirm this information and an appeals team has been set up to respond to anyone who wishes to query these charges or appeal the decision directly.

In regards to receiving a response directly from Cllr Gledhill, unfortunately as he receives a very large amount of correspondence this is often investigated by relevant officers within the council, who respond on his behalf.

Kind regards,

Michael Everest l Complaints and Information Governance Assistant I HR, OD & Transformation

And here’s my reply:

Dear Mr Everest,

Can you give me the contact details of the appeals team?

Regarding Cllr Gledhill - it is his policy and it is his defence of said policy so it is his responsibility to reply to my article as a publically elected official who should take personal responsibility for his ignoring his own party's pledge to reduce council rents.  His response is not just for myself but for all the council residents of Thurrock who are having their council rent increased at a time when his own party's 'government' pledged to reduce council rents by 1%.  As I will be posting any reply I get from him, as I have with your responses, on my blog which then has links posted on relevant websites, his personal response will get the public airing it deserves.  Please pass this onto Cllr Gledhill and tell him that I won't go away until he responds.


Myles Cook

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Letter to Thurrock Gazette - Tory behaviour in council meeting

Here’s the full text of my letter to the Thurrock Gazette regarding last night’s council meeting:

Cllr Coxshall used expletives in the council meeting on 27th September and not for the first time.  The repeated use of this kind of language shows his contempt towards his duly elected colleagues.  He should have been ejected from the Council Chamber and Cllr Gledhill, Council Leader and Mr Coxshall's superior within the Thurrock Tories, should have been instructed to suspend Mr Coxshall for a specified number of months by the Mayor.

This, of course, didn't happen.  The Mayor is a Tory so Mr Coxshall was asked to apologise and the matter was dropped, an apology that was as insincere as the Mayor’s admonishment was.

It seems, given the other incidents that occurred that night when another Tory councillor shouted at an attendee from the public and yet another Tory councillor showed contempt towards the audience in the public gallery, that the Tories are nothing but yobs enabled by Tory Mayor to get away with whatever behaviour they wish and bringing yet more discredit to their elected offices.

At one point I had a good deal of goodwill towards Mayor Ojetola because of his stance on some issues.  Given his performance last night, I now have none.

If it gets published I’ll post the printed version here on this blog.

Thurrock Council’s stealth rent increase – Cllr Gledhill’s distinction without a difference

At last night’s full council meeting Cllr Gledhill tried, once again, to defend the Tory-led Thurrock Council’s ‘service charge’ workaround to increase council rents at a time when his Tory Westminster brethren pledged a 1% decrease in council rents.  He tried to make a distinction between publicly owned land and land owned (and, therefore, maintained by the Housing Department) to justify charging people the so-called ‘Grass Tax’ (also known as the ‘Grounds Maintenance Charge’).  This is a distinction without a difference and can be countered with the following argument:

The Housing Department may own the land but it is a department of Thurrock Council which is publically funded which means that all land (apart from that which is privately bought and thus privately owned) is, in fact, publically owned land.  As Thurrock Council is responsible for all grass cutting, tree maintenance, play area maintenance, paths and pavements as well as all health and safety on publically owned land, this means that the cost for these items is covered in the Council Tax revenue which all residents already pay.

Good try, Mr Gledhill.  Close but no cigar.

I have noticed, however, that although the ‘Grass Tax’ has currently been suspended, there is no mention of the other ‘service charges’ being imposed on certain council tenants - the ‘Access Tax’ (‘Lift Maintenance Charge’), the ‘Safety Tax’ (‘Communal Lighting Charge’) and the ‘Security Tax’ (‘Secure Door Entry Charge’) – and whether they are going to be suspended as well.

I will define the ‘Access Tax’ for you as it may seem strange to call a ‘Lift Maintenance Charge’ thusly.  For some residents – the elderly, the disabled or those with mobility issues and families with young children – all of whom regard a lift as essential, not having a lift would deny them access to their council flat.  This is an issue of discrimination against those groups because if the lift(s) were taken away for any reason, they would not have an alternative method of access to their flat.  As this is an issue of access to one’s council property, the term ‘Access Tax’ seems most appropriate.

I will define the ‘Safety Tax’ for you.  Communal lighting is essential in areas that have, at times, wet floors or obstacles due to cleaning by the caretaking staff, a service paid for by all council tenants in such tower blocks and low-rise blocks.  The lighting is a matter of safety, therefore, the term ‘Safety Tax’ seems most appropriate.

I will lastly define the ‘Security Tax’ for you.  Security doors are placed on buildings to deny entry to all people except residents, visitors to a resident and tradespeople.  This is meant to be a security measure to protect the residents of the building from harm and the building from damage by vandals.  The use of the term ‘Security Tax’ should therefore be self-evident.

As a local authority now has responsibility for Public Health, anything that can improve the health and safety of the community is the responsibility of the council.  This covers communal lighting as well as any security measures, such as security doors, in publically owned buildings.  All of these items are covered by grants from Central ‘government’ and Council Tax revenues.

I have to ask myself the following questions:

Would the Tory-led Thurrock Council remove the lifts from council tower blocks if residents refused to pay the ‘Access Tax’?  If they did, they would open themselves up to court cases based on the Equality Act 2010 from the elderly and the disabled residents.

Would the Tory-led Thurrock Council remove all communal lighting from council tower blocks and low-rises if residents refused to pay the ‘Safety Tax’?  If they did, the council would open itself to injury claims and compensation payments on those claims based on the fact that the council is liable as the landlord of the building.

Would the Tory-led Thurrock Council remove the security doors from council tower blocks and low-rises if residents refused to pay the ‘Security Tax’?  If they did, would anyone actually notice the difference?  I live in a block with a security door and it doesn’t seem to provide much security anyway.  However, if they did provide any level of security, removing the security doors would open the building up to potential damage from any passing ne’er-do-well and that would add extra expenses for damage repairs.

And, to take us back to the ‘Grass Tax’, would the Tory-led Thurrock Council stop maintaining public areas by withdrawing grass cutting, tree pruning, pathway and pavement maintenance and play area maintenance if residents refused to pay the ‘Grass Tax’?  If they did, the borough would start to look unkempt and would turn possible investors off from investing in Thurrock.

So, if the Tory-led council wants to open itself up to massive costs (which would probably be more than they would get from these ‘service charges’) and scare off possible investors, I say go ahead, you’ll only have yourselves to blame.

Finally, I’d just like to say that I hope that the debate around the ‘service charges’ doesn’t fixate on the ‘Grass Tax’ and that both the debate and the campaign is similarly robust for the other ‘service charges’.  I hope that people who are only being hit by the ‘Grass Tax’ will fight for those who are being hit by the other ‘service charges’ as well.  My building is being hit by every new ‘service charge’ being introduced so I’d like to hope that, if the ‘Grass Tax’ is stopped, the campaign will continue to stop all of the charges.