This week in Annandale 13/07/2015

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP)
This Councillor Seminar explained how the Council currently helps with household costs for a wide range of needs based on entitlement to housing benefit. An obvious problem is the choice between working a few extra hours at minimum wage, which means no entitlement to housing benefit, but foregoing any potential support from the DHP scheme. I don’t believe in encouraging dependency but there are a number of working families in our region who’s household income and outgoings are right on the wire and any emergency or unexpected bill knocks everything out – this is where support could be targetted and more people could benefit.

Of course the big levers for controlling minimum wage and the economic regeneration and DWP are not within Scotland’s control, so we’re in the unenviable position of trying to endlessly patch the holes in a forever sinking ship. An interesting issue that came out of the seminar was that about 7% of payments from the DHP fund go towards debt and credit card repayments which I have a problem with, especially if this is preventing the disbursement of the original purpose of the Scottish Government funded budget, primarily put in place to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax.

Another ‘tradition’ is for the DHP fund to pay for moves to private rented accommodation for tenants but this, although a one-off, is very costly with many private sector landlords expecting a deposit and first months rent BEFORE the tenant can even move in. The money is not recoverable although there must be scope to use the fund in the form of a bond that would be returned at the end of the tenancy so that another household could benefit.

Annandale & Eskdale Area Committee
This was the first Committee where I recorded my dissent at a proposed recommendation to look at building a purpose built Gymnastics building in Annandale & Eskdale. I have to stress that when there is evidence of need and a wider benefit, and a good business case to show sustainability and community involvement, then projects should be encouraged. There was just too little information or evidence presented at the committee to make a case, especially given these times of Austerity, the risks implicit of a big capital spend and maintenance regime, as well as the potential need for a regional facility, which could well end up in Annandale if the evidence stacks up.

What is interesting is that there seems to be a high level of junior achievement at national level in gymnastics in Annandale but this tails off in the teens. In Nithsdale there is reportedly a good level of national achievement at senior levels, so we seem to be doing something right in certain places for certain ages. This is what we should figure out first. On the property side there are old council buildings (e.g. the Old School in Lockerbie) that could provide community opportunities that Council could support but would allow for external funding to deliver.

My caseload already has a number of ongoing issues and problems around buildings the Council owns or has responsibility for, and there are higher profile examples like DG One that make me very wary about trying to hang a wishlist for a new ‘Regional’ facility on a loose nail. Area Committees have a budget but it’s not for Council new-builds – that needs to be done through the main committees, especially for a regional asset. And with a regional asset comes a regional business case.

The Area Committee’s powers don’t cover capital builds and the governance officer recognised this: at best we could “Recommend medium term actions which address failure in implementation of policy and which have policy or resource implications” which amusingly saw members of the diminishing Administration try to do exactly that.

Lockerbie and Lochmaben Common Good
It’s often the same set of applicants for these funds but Lochmaben groups and residents should apply to the Lochmaben Common Good as it’s now just disbursing from the capital. The income from the Fund doesn’t cover the cost of administering it so it would be better if residents of the burgh could benefit from it before it’s wound up.

Lockerbie Common Good members awarded to:

  • Lockerbie Riding of the Marches Gala Committee – £1,600
  • Lockerbie and District Music Society – £200

Lochmaben Common Good awarded to:

  • Lochmaben Pipe Band – £1,200

Johnstonebridge Community Centre
I took part in the interviews for the Centre Manager position. I’m not a member of the Development Trust but was invited as ward councillor to act as an independent member of the interview panel. All the candidates brought something unique to the interviews and I was grateful to get the chance to help keep the process as fair as possible.

Clyde Extension Wind Farm Community Council Liaison Group
Yes it’s a mouthful but there it is. This was a meeting on Thursday evening for all community councils and elected representatives in the affected area, held in a portacabin in South Lanarkshire at “Access 1” near Wandel on the A702 past Abington services on the road to Biggar. The reason why this is important is that the construction traffic for the first 18 months is all going through Moffat on the A701 to get to Access 3 in the Borders. Both the other councils were consulted but DGC was not (even though we should have been) as there is a recognised impact during the construction phase. There is a mysterious Traffic Management Plan which should set out what residents of Moffat can expect in terms of traffic volume, times, etc., I don’t yet have details of this although both Council Officers and SSE should be able to provide this soon. As an aside I was also able to speak with Aileen Campbell MSP (Children and Young People) concerning podiatry in the new integrated health and social care model.

Power Lines
(or Dumfries and Galloway Strategic Reinforcement Project)
This is currently in consultation with the end date now extended to 31st August. The Council has no specific locus at the moment but it will become a planning matter dealt with under the Electricity Act at which point DGC will be a consultee. Here’s how to get in touch:

  • Online, using the feedback form on the website at http://www.spendgsr.co.uk.
  • Download a copy of our feedback form from the website and fill it in by hand.
  • If you don’t have access to the internet, get a form by calling free on 0800 157 7353, or write to FREEPOST SPEN DGSR, no stamp required.
  • You can also submit feedback by letter to FREEPOST SPEN DGSR or by email to dgsr@communityrelations.co.uk.

Recess
It is now the time when councillors disappear for a bit so but I’ll post again to summarise anything of note before everything kicks off again…

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