Local referendum scrapped

Communities lose the chance to use local referendum to debate the issues they think are important.

As the Localism Bill enters its last stages the government dropped a clause that allowed local people to instigate referendum on any local issue and concerning any local public body.

This is disappointing because it takes away an opportunity to give older people a way to be involved in local decision making and get their issues debated.

The change of heart came after a Lords debate earlier this month, which suggested the referendum process would be expensive and at risk of abuse from extreme groups.

The government could have responded to these challenges by strengthening the Bill rather than scrapping the whole idea.

In the original proposals the local authority would have been able to decide whether it was appropriate to carry out the referendum or not. There could have been clearer standards to give councils the ability to legitimately decide whether or not to take a topic forward as a referendum. This would have reduced the risk of the process being hijacked.

It’s also important to remember that in fact the Bill stated the results of the referendum were non-binding. Councils could have decided whether or not to act on the results.

This supported an alternative argument that the local referendum was too weak.

On the other hand referendums would have given another method for communities to participate in local debate, rather than waiting for the council to consult them.

Baroness Hanham claimed there was “pretty good coverage for people to have their voice heard”.

Having spoken to older people’s forums about the Localism Bill I thought this seemed a little disingenuous. More ways are needed for there people in later life to shape the neighbourhoods they live in and services they rely on.

There are other measures still in the Bill that give communities more rights, including running public services, neighbourhood planning and buying local buildings. Yet what marks all of these is the level of complexity that is neededto understand them and the commitment needed to make them work. (See previous blog – Can you take the community challenge?)

The government now needs to focus energy on making sure engagement and inclusion are at the heart of the remaining community rights so that everyone is given equal opportunity to participate.

The referendum idea may not have been perfect. It was however a fairly straightforward option for individuals to understand and be able to initiate  debate on issues that come from the community rather than the council.

Read our brefing on the Localism Bill

Age-Friendly Cities sign the Dublin Declaration

Over 40 cities from across the world signed the Dublin Declaration this week showing their commitment to creating age-friendly cities.

Ghassan Tabet

Alongside Dublin and 9 counties in Ireland a diverse range of cities including Mexico City, Manchester and New York have signed up.

In doing so they have declared they will work to meet actions based on the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Age-Friendly Cities Guide:

  • awareness of older people, their rights, their needs, their potentials.
  • developing citizen centred processes.
  • develop urban and other public places that are inclusive.
  • include housing for older people that is of the highest quality.
  • public transport systems available to older people.
  • promote the participation of older people in social and cultural life.
  • promote and support the development of employment and volunteering opportunities.
  • ensure support and health services are available to older people.

The signing ceremony was the culmination of the first WHO international conference on age-friendly cities, which aims to be the first step in building a global network of cities. The over-arching theme of the conference has been about building momentum, making sure that cities can build on the work of the pilot projects, which led to the age-friendly cities checklist. Continue reading “Age-Friendly Cities sign the Dublin Declaration”

New climate change project working with older people and voluntary sector

Squaring another cold summer with the risks of future climate change is always difficult as the autumn rain sets in. But scientific evidence has shown the impact that climate change will have on our day-to-day lives if we don’t prepare for change.

The long-term trends suggest that over the next 30 years we will see climate change due to the carbon that has already been emitted over the last 100 years.

We will experience hotter summers, with less rainfall and warmer winters, with heavier rainfall. We will see more irregular and unpredictable events such as the heatwave in 2003 or the floods in 2007.

There is growing awareness that some people such as children, vulnerable older people and those with health problems will be more at risk from the consequences. This makes preparing for climate change particularly important for organisations working with more vulnerable people, who may be disproportionately affected by changes in our climate. Continue reading “New climate change project working with older people and voluntary sector”

New guidance re-writes councils’ relationship with the voluntary and community sector

The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles MP has announced new guidance for councils under the banner of “a fair deal for the voluntary and community sector”.

But on whose terms is this deal fairer?

On the one hand the new “best value” guidance boasts greater financial protection for the voluntary and community sector. It warns councils not to pass on disproportionate funding cuts and to give at least three months warning of any reduction.

On the other hand, in a bid to cut red tape, the document skims over the complexity of building lasting relationships with the voluntary and community sector.

They have revoked guidance and plan to repeal statutory duties that were important cornerstones to supporting effective local relationships between councils, residents and other organisations. Continue reading “New guidance re-writes councils’ relationship with the voluntary and community sector”

Government ends concessionary coach fares

Making longer journeys is about to get more difficult for many older people. From 1 November 2011 older people will not be able to benefit from a 50% discount to coach travel.

At the moment coach operators claim subsidies in return for offering a half-price concession to older and disabled people. The move to end this arrangement was quietly announced by the government in an annex to the Department for Transport’s Spending Review last year.

Higher prices

We have heard concerns from older people who depend on the coach concession to get out and about, to see friends and family or travel further afield if they wish. Removing the concession will mean higher prices and some people will think twice before travelling. People in later life that are at risk of facing loneliness and social isolation will be further put off from leaving their home.

The increased cost will also have an effect on demand, which in turn could mean some coach services are no longer viable. National Express run 18 routes where 32-51% of passengers receive concessions. This is a particular concern on some rural routes where concessionary passengers currently make up a significant proportion of travellers. Without their custom the route may not be able to run.

Pressure on public transport

The implications of removing the concession should also be seen in the context of other changes to public transport. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen reports of rising rail prices and cuts to subsidies that keep bus services running. For people without access to private transport the options for affordable travel are becoming more and more limited.

Delay plans

It has been reported that the government has to make this cut to meet the budget deficit. While we recognise that something has to give, the cut to the coach concession feels arbitrary with no proper consideration of the impacts. There has been no public consultation on the change to coach concessions, which means disabled and older people have been excluded from the debate and decision-making process.

The government should seriously consider delaying plans to cut the concession to allow enough time to consult properly with both concession pass holders and operators. With proper consideration an alternative solution could be agreed.

Age UK is working with Disability Alliance and Campaign for Better Transport to make sure the government recognises the impact this will have on older and disabled passengers.

Mary Portas – Future of the high street

Mary Portas, the ‘Queen of Shops’ , has been asked by the government to do an independent review of the high street. This is Age UK’s response to the call for ideas  to ‘halt this decline in the high street and create town centres that we can all be proud of’.

Image: roberthunt1987 via Flickr

Older people’s spending reached an estimated £97 billion in 2008 (65 plus)‚ around 15% of the overall household expenditure, and is set to grow. Age UK believes the High Street is missing out on the spending power of older consumers because the design of town centres and shops do not take their needs into account.

Design age-friendly neighbourhoods so that older people can use the High Street.

Lack of public transport, or somewhere to sit down, or access to clean public toilets limits how far people are able to go. Poor-quality pavements or poor street lighting in an area can stop people feeling confident enough to go out at all.

Leeds Older People’s Forum told us  “The city centre is viewed as a young person’s playground, with acknowledgement from planners that more must be done to make it accessible to young families, yet there is little consideration beyond the realms of social care for the needs and wants of older people in the city.”

This is not a problem that can be fixed by focusing on the High Street alone. People need to be confident to travel between their homes and town centres.

Age UK is calling on councillors to support our Pride of Place campaign to help them improve neighbourhoods for people in later life. Councillors have a good idea of what is important in their ward and can bring the co-ordination and leadership to make improvements happen.

Age UK is inviting councillors to become a Pride of Place Advocate, which means they will:

  • Make time to listen to older people.
  • Make change happen to improve the neighbourhood.
  • Make an ongoing commitment to keep people involved.

Improve the retail environment to make it accessible to older people.

Businesses are unnecessarily excluding older people from their shops because of the way they provide the service.

Research by ILC for Age UK identified a number of recurring problems that older people experience when in shops, including:

  • A lack of rest areas and seating, making shopping tiring.
  • Poor store layout (particularly narrow aisles and poor shelf signposting) making shops difficult to navigate and goods hard to find.
  • Shelves at a height that are difficult to reach (high and low), a particular problem for those with limited mobility and dexterity.
  • A lack of adequate toilet facilities.
  • Deep trolleys which are difficult to get shopping out of (and scarcity of the shallow trolleys that are designed to mitigate this problem).

The barriers to feeling able to spend money in High Street shops are not only physical. For instance, participants in the ILC research said they were deterred from shops where the staff used technical jargon when asked about products.

Businesses should consider small changes such as easy-to-use trolleys and better store layouts. Combined with visible and willing support from shop staff this can go a long way towards opening up existing shop environments to older people.

The participants in the ILC research offered these suggestions to businesses:

  • Consult older people.
  • Put yourself in our shoes when going around your store.
  • Provide clean toilets and seating in your stores.
  • Publicise your support services.
  • Train your staff to provide for the needs of their older customers.
  • Reach out to isolated older people.

Transport Committee warns about impact of bus spending cuts

MPs have reiterated Age UK’s concern that cuts to subsidies that keep bus routes open will have a huge impact on older people.

In the Transport Committee’s report Bus Services after the Spending Review they warn that a combination of spending cuts is creating the “greatest financial challenge for the English bus industry for a generation”.

The changes include reduction in local authorities’ revenue expenditure, changes to the Department for Transport’s concessionary fares reimbursement guidance, and a 20% reduction in Bus Spending Operators Grant.

Free local bus travel is a lifeline for many older and disabled people who use it to get to the GP or hospital appointment, to go shopping and visit friends. Cutting bus routes leads many to lose their only independent access to transport.

The Committee are calling on government to monitor and review the impact of spending cuts.

They also made a series of practical suggestions for local authorities, including:

  • Local people should have the opportunity to voice their opinion if the local authority or integrated transport authority proposes significant changes to bus services that it supports.
  • Greater partnership working between local authorities, bus operators and community transport operators will be necessary post-Spending Review, in order to better utilise diminished resources.

In the rush to meet short terms spending challenges local authorities should not ignore the benefits of working with local people to find a better solution to transport problems. For instance, finding innovative uses for existing transport like school buses and community transport.

The Committee also suggests the government should legislate to permit the use of the concessionary pass on a wider use of community transport schemes.

It is important that the increasing role of community transport is recognised. Where private travel is not possible and the public transport system does not fully serve the needs of older people in the area, we believe local authorities should provide financial support towards community transport or taxis.

As we know, there is little point in having a free pass if there are insufficient buses to use.