Hastings Council Leader’s Report: July 2018

Street Cleaning Contract

At the Cabinet meeting last Monday, it was agreed to bring the street cleaning contract back in-house, creating a street cleaning ‘direct services organisation’ (DSO) and running the street cleaning service directly, rather than through an external contractor.  This will include removing flytips, and bulky waste collections.

Many councils were forced to hand over services to private contractors back in the 1980s, under what was called Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT).  This meant councils had to put their services out to contract and were in practice forced to accept the lowest tender from commercial contractors.  Their own in-house workforce could put in a bid, but the process favoured external contractors. CCT was abolished under the last Labour government and replaced with a requirement to demonstrate ‘best value’ when procuring services. But without the in-house expertise, many councils continued to use external contractors to provide services such as street cleaning, refuse collection, and grounds maintenance.

In recent years however, there has been a move across local government to bring services back in-house, as councils realise that running a service directly gives the council more control, and they’re not tied to a contract specification that requires commercial negotiations and additional payments every time it needs to be changed. It can also be cheaper, or at least no more expensive, than providing a service through a contractor, as the council doesn’t have to pay for the contractor’s profits. It’s better for the workforce too, as they’re entitled to enrol in the local government pensions scheme,  Any savings achieved from privatisation are often chimeral too, as they’re quickly wiped out through the time and cost of resolving disagreements with the contractor.

Running services in-house also allows for more flexibility. For example, under the current street cleaning contract, flytips are priced differently in the contract according to their size.  So when a flytip is reported, it has to be assessed by a Hastings Council officer, and a request put through to our contractor, who then issues a ticket to their flytip team. So it can take several days for the flytip to be cleared, and the team can only collect the flytip they have a job ticket for.  Under the new arrangements, an in-house flytip team will simply stop and pick up flytips when they see them, acting on their own initiative.  We’ll also be able to vary the service more, to take account of different demands on different days and at different times of year – something that’s very hard to write into a specification for an external contract.

The new service will start next June.  Another advantage will be that the council can market the service to other organisations, and will look at other commercial possibilities, such as collecting trade waste, particularly in areas such as the Old Town that are difficult to reach with a standard size refuse freighter.

Now we’ve established a DSO, we’ll aim to bring other services back in-house when the contract expires – for example, building cleaning, toilet attendants, and grounds maintenance.  The domestic waste collection service will however be let to an external contractor again this time, as we don’t have the resources to develop an in-house waste collection team at the same time as street sweeping.  So we’ll be looking for a shared contract with Rother and Wealden councils.  When that expires, our aim would be to bring it back in-house.

  

Homelessness Grants

Hastings Council has been awarded a government grant to introduce some new initiatives to tackle rough sleeping.  Hastings already has a high level of support for rough sleepers, through council-funded services and local voluntary organisations.  These include a council-funded outreach service provided through Seaview to contact and offer help to every rough sleeper they can find.  There are also mental health and GP services for rough sleepers, as well as drug and alcohol addiction services, and support to help rough sleepers maintain a tenancy when they’re found somewhere to live.  Many rough sleepers in Hastings are not from Hastings, but they’re still offered support.  But rough sleeping remains a problem, and is likely to get worse as homelessness increases, and as the support services that, in the past, prevented people from ending up as rough sleepers, are cut further.

To help cope with this, we have now been awarded £664,000 between Hastings, Eastbourne, and Lewes councils for reducing rough sleeping.  Rough sleeping across these three areas has increased by 370% over the last five years, with the biggest increases in Eastbourne, where the numbers sleeping rough are now about that same as in Hastings.

The funding will pay for the development of an ‘accommodation pathway’, which broadly follows the ‘housing first’ model – getting people sleeping rough into temporary accommodation where their needs can be assessed, and the right support allocated, including support to maintain a tenancy once suitable rented accommodation has been found.  It will also provide some permanent accommodation for the most vulnerable rough sleepers, who can’t maintain a tenancy and need high levels of support.  The current rough sleeping prevention programme will also be expanded, to identify those at risk of homelessness and rough sleeping.

While this project should help to develop new ways to deal with rough sleeping, it won’t cure the problem.  The amount of money is far too small to achieve that – it needs to be dealt with at a national level, The reasons for rough sleeping are complex, arising from mental health, addiction and other problems that have developed long before a person ends up sleeping rough.  It also requires rough sleepers to accept help in the first place, which some are reluctant to do, often because of past experiences.  We already know that some rough sleepers in Hastings refuse all offers of help and assistance, for all sorts of complex reasons.  A lack of genuinely affordable housing will also mean homelessness continues to rise.  All the time there is nowhere near enough social rented housing available, and private rented housing is too expensive because housing benefit isn’t enough to pay the rent, there will be insurmountable barriers to ending homelessness and rough sleeping.  So this project could help limit the forecast increase in rough sleeping and will help the most vulnerable rough sleepers.  But it won’t cure the problem.

 

June Festivals

Saturday, June 30th saw a very successful St Leonards Festival, part-funded by Hastings Council through a £10,000 grant.  The main focus of the festival was a stage and events in Warrior Square, with amongst other things a storytelling tent and a Global Food tent.  But there was also a market in King’s Road, and ‘fringe’ events at various other locations around St Leonards.  This festival is perhaps the most culturally diverse in Hastings, highlighting the many different cultural traditions that have become established in this part of the borough, and have helped with its continuing regeneration.

The festival was busy, it seemed busier than previous years, helped by the fabulous weather, with music on the main stage all day, culminating with ‘Dundo and the World Beaters’, a high-tech extravaganza of drumming, dance and giant puppets (pictured).

This was the 13th St Leonards Festival, and it’s now come of age – an established part of the local calendar of summer events, highlighting how St Leonards is becoming more culturally diverse, and more of an attraction to both local people and the increasingly large numbers of visitors.

The Mid-Summer Fish Festival was held at the Stade Open Space on the weekend of June 23rd – 24th June.  I missed this one this year, for the first time since it began, as I was on holiday.  But it was another successful festival, helped by the weather.  There were stalls selling local products (more than ever before, this year), with a focus on locally caught fish, promoting our local fishery.  There was music throughout the weekend too, as well as fish cookery demonstrations in the Classroom on the Coast in the Stade Hall by Billingsgate fish cookery school.

This festival is run by Hastings Council, and was originally funded by an EU grant.  When the grant expired, we introduced an entry charge, although that didn’t significantly reduce the numbers at the festival – people tend to stay longer now. The charge was the same again this year – £1 in advance, £2 on the gate, under 18s free. Stallholder charges are kept fairly low, to encourage local businesses and not price them out.  Numbers attending were up on last year, with over 5,000 tickets sold. With the entry charge, the festival is close to breaking even in its costs and income, so it ought to be possible to continue it in future years.

 

Hastings Pier

Like many others, I was disappointed at the administrator’s decision to give the pier to Abid Gulzar without fully considering other bids. The council had no formal way of influencing this decision but did try to persuade the administrator to allow more time to other bidders – there were at least two other bids that needed more time to raise funds or do the necessary due diligence, but their requests for more time were turned down. Officers talked to the administrator, and I personally wrote urging them to give full consideration to other bids, and to allow more time. The Foreshore Trust Charity Committee was set to discuss possible options at its meeting later in June too. But all this was to no avail. In the end, there was nothing the council could do to affect this decision.  The administrator doesn’t even have to consult the council, and certainly doesn’t have to pay any regard to what the council might say.  Hastings Council hasn’t owned the pier since the 1960s (when it did own it for a few years I believe, before selling it on), apart from for one minute, when the compulsory purchase process was successfully completed by the council, and the pier was immediately transferred to the Hastings Pier Trust.

During the administration period, all other organisations interested in taking on the pier asked to meet the council, and I met all of them, to discuss their plans and proposals, and to determine how the council could support them as the planning authority.  However, we had no such formal approach from the owners of Eastbourne Pier, so we didn’t know what they were proposing. Nor have we seen their successful bid to run the pier that was put to the administrators.  So we have at the moment no idea what his business plan is, whether it’s likely to succeed, and what he wants to do to the pier to make it financially viable.  I shall be meeting Mr Gulzar soon though, to find out.

Over the years, Hastings Council has spent well over a million pounds on the compulsory purchase and restoration of Hastings Pier. But we didn’t own it – it was transferred to Hastings Pier Charity, who eventually put the pier into administration because they couldn’t run it without several hundred thousand pounds a year in public subsidy.

In the end, it’s a private property sale – it was owned by a charity that put the pier into voluntary administration, so it was then up to the administrator to find a buyer. The pier ‘shareholders’ weren’t shareholders in the legal sense, we were just people who’d donated money to a project, so had no formal say in what happened.  There appears to be no process by which such a sale can be challenged or overturned, as long as it was legal, which it appears to be.

So the pier now has a new owner. While I was unhappy with the process by which the administrator rushed through the sale, we will now try to find out what plans Mr Gulzar has for the pier, and how he intends to make it viable. We’ll be making it clear that it’s a Grade 2 listed structure, and that any breaches in planning rules will be rigorously enforced, and that we’ll need to involve Historic England in considering proposals for new structures on the pier.  That’s entirely possible, and arguably essential to make the pier viable, but they have to be appropriate for a listed building. Any other changes to architectural detail, or paint colours, also require permission. We’ll also be urging him to involve the local community in the future of the pier, and stressing how that’s likely to be essential to its future success.

 

Tressell Issues

There’s little to report in Tressell this month. There seems to be, at the moment, no further progress with potential developments on Ore Business Park, Broomgrove allotments, Frederick Road or Church Street.  The first of these is still up for sale we understand.  The Broomgrove allotments site has been bought by local developer Park Lane, and the Frederick Road site still awaits further details of the proposed cycle route, which in the plans as they stand doesn’t conform with the council’s local plan (picture shows the ‘road to nowhere’ in the site).  We expect a flurry of plans and new proposals in the Autumn.

There have been several other enforcement issues we’ve been pursuing, mostly around ‘Grotbusting’ and failures to get permission for works that have taken place – these have been in and around Greville Road, Clifton Road, and Percy Road.  We’ve also tracked down a couple of unlicensed private rented properties and have been dealing with anti-social behaviour complaints.  This is all pretty much routine – issues Tania and I pick up as we wander around the ward, or complaints from residents.  If there’s anything you think we should be looking into, please let me know.

We’re having a short break from our street-by-street newsletters till later in July, but we’ll be out delivering newsletters and knocking on your doors from then on.

 

You can see all our newsletters at:

www.tressell.org.uk/tressellnews.htm

That’ll do for now – if you’d like more information on any of this, email me at

cllr.peter.chowney@hastings.gov.uk.

We also have a Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/tressell

And there’s the Tressell Councillors’ website at:

http://www.tressell.org.uk

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Secretary