This week in Annandale 15/02/2016

The Good:

Beattock Station Action Group are refocusing their strategy now that the indepedent pre-appraisal study is being carried out. This is now ‘in the system’ so hoping that the outcome supports improved transport provision and the re-opening of the Station on the West Coast Main Line. It’s one of the simplest to do physically as the track is already there and trains go by but one of the hardest to negotiate because of the complex contracts around the use of the line. Bring it under Scotland’s control – would be my Step 1 but things are made deliberately complicated sometimes.

The Bad:

Welfare Reform Sub Committee and DHP (discretionary housing payments) – this is a fund to help with Bedroom Tax and additionally a welfare fund for those with more going out than coming in. The reality is that more people will need help with the primary purpose of the fund than we can afford to help if we keep funding the discretionary part. Sensitive and difficult to change but the Council officers have been careful in gradually phasing out the level and length of awards so that future specific demand can be better met. The reason for ‘The Bad’ is the difference between what was discussed and agreed at the meeting and what came out in the press release from the Council communications unit.

Here’s what was agreed: (check out who actually attended the meeting then join the dots)

4.3      CONSIDERED the options as detailed in Appendices 2 and 3 of the report and AGREED to amend the current award criteria to option Ongoing 6 and option On-Off 2 as detailed in paragraph 3.10 of the report; and

4.4      AGREED that the Chairman write to the Scottish Government making representations for additional funds for discretionary housing payments on the basis of an assessment of the full impact of national policy and the local context  having regard to the evidence of rural deprivation/other relevant factors as set out in the Council’s Anti-Poverty Strategy.

One agreed change to criteria and a subsequent agreement to write following an evidence-based assessment to the Scottish Government for additional funds.

Here’s what went to the press:

Members noted and agreed to amend the current award criteria by lobbying and making representations to the Scottish Government after hearing that if the Council were to continue with the current proposal, then by 2017 – 18 the current reserves would be drained. This was based on the Department of Works and Pensions and Scottish Government indicative allocation of Discretionary Housing Payments for 2016/17.

Not expressed in quite the same spirit is it?

Chair of the Welfare Reform Sub-Committee said: “Given the anticipated demands for DHP in 2016/17, we have had no choice but to amend the Policy. We have carried out a thorough investigation, on the estimated weekly costs of DHP expenditure based on the qualifying criteria and have recognised that our reserves were not sufficient to meet this proposed demand.

N.B. The Chair didn’t actually attend the meeting. 

We are therefore amending our policy to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our Region are assisted for the maximum time possible and ensuring our reserves will be adequate for this purpose.

Officers are now compiling a further report based on the evidence we have collated for the basis of our Anti-Poverty Strategy. We will then use this report to make representations to the Scottish Government to come up with a sustainable, long term solution to this ongoing problem.”

The Boring:

Pension Sub Committee. Important but can be boring.

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