John Denham Refuses To Put Figure On Council Spending Cuts

(Telegraph) – JOHN DENHAM, the Communities Secretary, has admitted “things are going to be tighter” for councils in England and Wales but has refused to put a figure on how much they will have to cut their budgets by.

In a bad tempered exchange on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Denham refused to quantify the amount councils may have to cut spending by, despite being asked seven times.

A survey of local councils conducted by the BBC found that many feared their budgets would have to slashed by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent after 2011, which could lead to as many as 25,000 job cuts.

Many councils are also warning that the spending reductions will inevitably lead to cuts in front line services.

But Mr Denham said cuts in front line services would not be necessary if councils made efficiency savings elsewhere.

Asked what his recommendation was for the sort of cuts councils should have in mind for the three years from 2011, Mr Denham refused to speculate.

He said: “The first thing they should be doing is not taking bad decisions now … we have maintained the promised funding to local government at an increase of 4 per cent this year so many of the cuts in front line services you are reading about in local papers are local political decisions usually taken by Conservative councils.”

Pressed again to put a figure on the level of spending cuts councils should expect he again refused to name a figure.

He said: “After 2011 the spending totals have not yet been set as you know because there are uncertainties. What will determine the absolute levels of spending will be what happens to growth, what happens to unemployment, the income from taxation and those are decisions that Alistair Darling will take … in due course.

“What I would say to local authorities is that people who are rushing now to say we will cut our front lines services shouldn’t be doing that when we all know there are efficiencies to be made behind the scenes … there are still large areas of duplication and inefficiency that can be dealt with and the real challenge here is that people should be saying to their councils who say your front line services are going is why unless you can tell us that you have done all of these efficiencies and have dealt with them within the system.”

“I am not going to put a figure on it because that will be determined by the next spending decisions.”

White Working Class Left Behind By Labour

(Telegraph) – WHITE WORKING-CLASS PEOPLE have been left behind by Labour’s policies and can suffer greater social disadvantage than successful members of ethnic minorities, ministers have admitted.

In a shift in Labour’s approach, John Denham, the Communities Secretary, said that social class is sometimes more important than race in determining the progress someone makes in life.

His attempt to “move on” from more than a decade of Labour thinking on racial equality and social policy comes after the British National Party made electoral breakthroughs in Labour heartlands last year.

In another departure, Mr Denham also accepted that the unprecedented levels of immigration Labour has overseen have had “a big impact” on race relations in Britain.

The BNP last year won its first seats in the European Parliament after a campaign that argued that the main political parties have abandoned the white working class.

Some Labour MPs have said that should force the Government to do more to respond to the concerns of white working class voters.

In response, Mr Denham has already revised rules to allow councils to favour the children of long-standing residents when allocating council houses, and announced a £12 million fund to address the sense grievance felt by people in poor white areas.

Yesterday, Mr Denham attempted to argue that Labour’s race policies have addressed many of the race-based inequalities that minorities used to suffer, allowing ministers to “broaden the focus” to address the class divide.

In a report on the Government’s approach to race, Mr Denham’s department said that working-class children of different races have more in common with each other than with middle-class children of the same ethnic group.

“Socio-economic status and poverty affect people’s chances in life regardless of race or ethnic background,” the report said.

Mr Denham also said that it was important to acknowledge and celebrate the “growing black and Asian middle class”. Many members of minority groups have a degree, a good job and own their own home, he said.

“We must avoid a one-dimensional debate that assumes all minority ethnic people are disadvantaged,” he said. Non-white people are no longer automatically disadvantaged because of their race, he said.

Mr Denham said there is “no evidence” to show that the white working class are held back simply because of their race. Rather, he said, they suffer “social disadvantage” because of their class.

That disadvantage can be a greater handicap than the prejudice that is experienced by some people from minority ethnic groups.

He said: “It is no longer enough to make simple judgements or assumptions which equate race with disadvantage. That would overlook, for example, the striking achievements of Indian and Chinese students, but it would also overlook the fact that white working class boys are struggling to keep up.”

He also accepted that immigration had played a part in the rise of far-Right groups.

“Migration has had a big impact on the debate about race in Britain,” he said.

“In some places we’ve seen antipathy against Eastern Europeans or Muslims becoming more acceptable – justified on the grounds of religious difference but manifesting itself in terms of racial prejudice and gaining a political voice through the BNP and other far right groups,”

The Conservatives said Labour had been forced to admit that white working class people had been neglected.

Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, said: “In the past decade the Government has framed its rhetoric on social inequality around marginalised groups and it now appears to be repositioning itself when it sees that approach has failed”

She added: “While Gordon Brown has played class warfare politics, social mobility has gone backwards under Labour.”

Top Town Hall Earners To Be Named

(BBC) – COUNCILS AND THE POLICE will be legally required to publish the names, pay and perks of all officers earning more than £150,000, under new regulations.

Communities Secretary John Denham is due to announce that they will cover 475 local authority bodies in England.

The move will bring council officials in line with civil servants and MPs.

The Local Government Association agreed pay should be open to public scrutiny but said councils with big budgets had to be able to attract the best staff.

‘Boomerang bosses’

The new information to be made public in the local authorities’ next annual statements of accounts includes salaries, bonuses, pensions, perks and severance pay-outs.

Individuals earning more than £150,000 will be named in £5,000 bands.

Mr Denham said the changes were the first step towards making council wage bills fairer and meet taxpayers’ expectations.

Pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance has been highly critical of so-called “recession-proof” rewards for senior council staff as private sector workers face tough pay deals or unemployment.

It has claimed 1,089 town hall staff earned more than £100,000, 16 took home more than the prime minister, who earns £194,250, and 124 people earned more than £150,000.

Mr Denham has also asked the Audit Commission to investigate “boomerang bosses” – chief executives who walk off with big severance pay-outs after falling out with the council’s political leaders.

The probe, which is expected in the new year, will examine whether the practices are robust and value for money.

The new regulations are being introduced as part of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s public sector pay review, ahead of next year’s Budget.

The review will include recommendations on pay and bonus caps.

Councils are expected to deliver the already agreed pay cap of 1%.

The local authority bodies covered by the new level of scrutiny include London borough councils and county and district councils in England.

Other joint authorities include the Greater London Authority, national park authorities, waste authorities, Transport for London, and police and fire authorities.

Poll Violence Feared With Rise In UK Far-Right

(Reuters) – A RESURGENCE OF FAR-RIGHT GROUPS is likely to fuel abuse, violence, and even riots in the run-up to Britain’s next parliamentary elections, community relations experts warn.

In the last few months, Britain has seen disturbances in London and in Birmingham, with police coming under attack after far right protesters clashed with Muslims and anti-fascist groups.

So far the trouble has been minor, with few serious injuries or major damage. But mainstream politicians are worried.

Following trouble outside a mosque in north London, Communities Secretary John Denham warned that far right extremists were using the same tactics as fascist groups before World War Two to provoke British Muslims.

Denham likened the disorder at the mosque to that employed by the black-shirted supporters of the British Union of Fascists who generated fear and violence when they marched though Jewish areas of London’s east end in the 1930s.

Community relations experts fear the situation could deteriorate as Britain heads towards an election due by next June, even raising fears of a repeat of race riots that engulfed towns across northern England in 2001.

‘We have got a much bigger and more determined far right than in 2001, which has been emboldened by recent successes,’ said Professor Ted Cantle, who led the government review into the 2001 riots, Britain’s worst disturbances in recent times.

‘Clearly any community can be provoked and the far right is taking more action, and some of its provocation is nastier and more sophisticated.

‘The provocation is serious and it could lead to some forms of disorder,’ Cantle, Executive Chairman of the Institute of Community Cohesion, set up by the government following the London bombings in 2005, told Reuters.

The far right is certainly more popular and high profile than it has been for decades. This summer saw the British National Party (BNP) enjoy its greatest success at the ballot box, winning two seats for the European Parliament.

Although the BNP remains at the fringes of British politics, other extreme groups, such as The English Defence League (EDL) and Casuals United have sprung-up promising more direct action.

They emerged after a small group of Muslim militants staged a protest in Luton in March against soldiers returning from Iraq.

While the government sees building better relations with the Muslim community as essential following the 2005 London suicide attacks by four British Islamists, the right-wing groups accuse ministers of pandering to militants.

‘The government and police need to decide whether they want to carry on turning a blind eye to killers in our midst, a small minority, or whether they want to listen to the concerns of the ignored majority, and deal with the Jihadists before widespread disorder breaks out,’ the Casuals Utd website says.

Critics dismiss the groups as being a small number of racist, former soccer hooligans. But Muhammad Abul Kalam, spokesman for the police advisory body the Muslim Safety Forum (MSF), said there was great concern at the groups’ impact.

‘There is a genuine fear that their message is becoming more acceptable to mainstream British indigenous people because of various reasons, including the economic downturn,’ he said.

He agreed the rise of the far right combined with tensions generated by the elections could be an explosive combination, leading to serious public disorder.

‘It happened in London in Harrow,’ he told Reuters, saying Muslims were being incited to react both by the far right and anti-fascist organisations.

‘There are certain hot-headed Muslims out there looking to protect their community in a criminal way who want to engage in street fights and demonstrations, and hurl bottles and bricks, and we want to contain that.’

The next flashpoint is expected on October 10 in Manchester, when the EDL holds a march and the Unite Against Fascists organisation stages a counter protest.

… (Reuters, 10/10/2009) – Police arrest 30 as far right, opponents clash

Council Pay-Offs To Face Review

(Reuters) – THE GOVERNMENT HAS ORDERED a review into expensive pay-offs granted to senior council staff who then find jobs in other local authorities, a spending watchdog said today.

The Audit Commission said Communities Secretary John Denham (a man of few expenses) had asked it to assess ‘practices and procedures’ governing severance payments for top employees at local authorities.

‘It’s not acceptable for town hall chiefs and council leaders to agree expensive deals to part company just because they don’t get on or because they’d prefer to work with someone else,’ said Denham.

‘If a chief executive, who has served his or her administration well, leaves for no justifiable reasons it does not mean a council should spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money just to move them on to the next council so they can then find a more favoured face.’

High salaries paid to local authority executives have become controversial at a time of economic recession and rising unemployment when many workers face wage freezes.

‘This is great news for taxpayers,’ Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers’ Alliance told Reuters.

‘All too often council bosses can rake in a huge salary, leave with a massive pay-off and then walk into another council. It’s simply unacceptable.’

The campaign group says 1,089 council executives earn more than £100,000 a year, and nine are paid more than £200,000, according to freedom of information requests to local authorities across Britain.

An Audit Commission report last year found that council chiefs’ salaries had risen by a third between 2004 and 2008, while senior staff turnover rates were rising.

It said councils were making more appointments from other local authorities, even though chief executives from outside performed no better than cheaper appointments from inside the same council.

‘The evidence from recent years is that higher rates of recruitment of existing chief executives led to increased turnover rates, additional recruitment costs and wage inflation,’ said Commission Chairman Michael O’Higgins.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said council chief executives were responsible for multi-million pound budgets in highly complex organisations.

‘Councils are determined to attract the best and brightest people to deliver not only value for money, but the highest standards of public services,’ said LGA Chief Executive John Ransford.

£3m For Recession Hit High Streets

(Press Association) – THE GOVERNMENT HAS ANNOUNCED details of a £3 million fund to help regenerate high streets hit by the recession.

The money will be shared between some of England’s hardest-hit areas and will allow councils to replace boarded up shops with projects such as art galleries or community learning centres.

A total of 57 local authorities have been given grants worth more than £50,000 each to help prevent their high streets from becoming ghost towns.

Communities Secretary John Denham said: ‘We know that the downturn has really hurt high streets in areas of high deprivation across England.

‘These grants will help to transform and reopen empty shops as part of our real help to keep town centres vibrant and to combat the recession.

‘Those councils will now be able to use our funding to come up with their own creative ideas to transform their boarded-up shops into something useful like a learning centre, meeting place for local people or showroom for local artists.

‘There is no need to see unused shops on our high streets going to waste, especially when we know that it doesn’t take a lot to turn a vacant shop into something beneficial for the community.’

Fashion designer Wayne Hemingway is involved in a scheme in Gateshead which will see an empty building turned into a business space for local creative industries.

He said: ‘This is about giving the creative community a helping hand and putting empty units to good use. It has the potential to attract leaders and entrepreneurs to Gateshead and give the local economy a boost.’

In April, the Government set out a series of measures aimed at making it easier for local groups to take over vacant stores. They included speeded-up planning procedures, extra powers for local councils to intervene and standard short-term leases.

John Denham Is New Communities Secretary

JOHN DENHAM, from the Dept of Innovation Universities and Skills, has just been appointed as the new Communities Secretary, replacing Hazel Blears.

BBC political correspondent James Landale says: The big question now is who gets health and who gets the Department for Work and Pensions – John Denham had been tipped for both. We’ve yet to see any echo of what James Purnell was saying. Everyone seems to be falling into line.