Buses in the firing line for cuts

It was reported today that research from the Campaign for Better Transport shows 72% of councils are making cuts to bus provision.

London bus stop
Photo via Creative Commons by mellowynk

Councils subsidise bus services in places where they are not commercially viable but are vital to the local community.

Cuts to bus services will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Older and disabled people have hugely benefited from free bus travel and often rely on public transport to do shopping, get to GP and hospital appointments and visit friends.

But there is no point having a free pass if there are no buses to get on.

Cutting bus routes could lead to people losing their only independent access to transport.  If you live in the countryside you will be doubly disadvantaged because poor bus provision in rural areas already causes isolation.

Only yesterday the government was celebrating significant savings from “cutting waste, and not from cutting services”. This is clearly not always going to be the case.

The government must recognise the many benefits of accessible public transport for older people.

New ways to pool budgets or contract bus services need to be found so that we can ease the impact of cuts to the people who need them the most.

Setting councils free

In a speech last week Communities Secretary Eric Pickles declared ‘the sky’s the limit for localism’. And according to Mr Pickles when it comes to public services ‘there is no guidance manual’. The balance between setting councils free and making sure they are meeting the needs of all their residents is an ongoing debate (also see my blog: Is there a limit to Localism). As the Localism Bill enters Committee Stage of the House of Lords this week the debate goes on.

The Localism Bill gives local authorities a ‘general power of competence’. At first glance the general power appears to have adequate safeguards. Yes, local authorities will be given the ability to do anything an individual can do, rather than only being able to do things that Parliament specifically authorises. But they will also have to act in accordance with statutory limitations or restrictions.

The concern arises when you look at the other powers sited in this clause: the Secretary of State has the power ‘to amend, repeal, revoke or disapply’ any statutory provision that prevents local authorities from exercising the general power of competence.

For a Bill pledging to give more powers to local authorities, you may be surprised to hear that the Secretary of State gets a large share of extra powers too. These so-called Henry VIII clauses give them the power to amend or repeal primary legislation without further parliamentary scrutiny. Many services for older and disabled people are delivered under statutory provisions by local authorities. Any repeal of these kinds of provisions should be subject to public consultation and full parliamentary scrutiny. Not on the whim of the Secretary of State. Continue reading “Setting councils free”

Achieving Pride of Place

This post originally appeared on the ILC-UK blog.

Many older people have told us that they want to feel a sense of pride in their local area. While there are many things they love about their area, they also know what needs to be fixed. Physical barriers such as a lack of public transport, uneven pavements or poor access to public toilets are stopping people in later life from getting out and about. An age-friendly neighbourhood may be the key factor that enables someone to go on living in their home. But to date there has been a failure to take this vision of a better/age-friendly/lifetime neighbourhood, from strategy to the streets. Will a new focus on community empowerment turn this around.

The localism agenda has certainly reinforced the importance of communities taking responsibility for the future of their local neighbourhoods and service provision. For instance the community rights in the localism bill present an opportunity to set neighbourhood plans, to own community assets and hold local referendums. All represent powers that with the right ambition could help communities create their own age-friendly neighbourhoods. Yet this localist shift has high expectations for what a community can deliver. In a recent ILC report it was suggested that the success of the localism bill depended on three features existing in the local community: i) equitable access to cross-generational social networks; ii) interpersonal, intergenerational and political interest and trust; iii) substantial levels of community engagement. It seems that while many communities will thrive on this new localist approach, this isn’t a done deal.

This isn’t to say that localism cannot work, but the limitations need to be taken into account. Localism should also recognise that communities and local authorities can work together, providing mutual support and driving change. Age UK believes that, in addition to provisions the government sets in the Localism Bill, local councillors in partnership with local older residents are in a unique position to make change in their neighbourhood happen. Councillors are in a position to bring together an understanding of the specific needs of older residents in their ward together with a working knowledge of the decision making process of the council and local partners. Continue reading “Achieving Pride of Place”

Can you make the localism challenge?

Community empowerment is at the heart of the government’s Localism Bill. On the face of it, the community rights in the bill present a massive opportunity for older people to be more involved in the future of their neighbourhoods and local services. But when we were asked by Inside Housing whether it was realistic for older people in sheltered housing to use the community right to challenge to run warden services, unfortunately we had to say no.

The community right to challenge is designed for voluntary and community groups, charities, parish councils or local authority employees to submit an Express of Interest to run any local authority service. A local authority must consider and respond to this challenge. Then, if they accept the challenge, they will conduct a procurement process. This is part of the government’s ambition to encourage greater plurality in local service providers.

Greg Clark, Decentralisation Minister, had suggested the community right to challenge could be used for wardens services in response to a direct question about the provision of wardens from Adrian Saunders MP. In theory, Greg Clark is right. The problem is that in practice the rights are not going to be simple to use.

When we were considering whether sheltered housing residents could use the community right to challenge, I started setting out a number of questions they would have to answer and processes they go through. It quickly seemed that the likeliness of success was slim. You can see for yourself – below is a map  of the hurdles you would have to go through to get from conceiving the idea through to winning the tender to deliver. As it stands, there are going to have to be some dedicated people to get the community right to challenge to deliver its ambition.

The community rights are not a lost cause. Localism can and should be designed so that everyone has a chance to be involved.

As you can see from the community right to challenge map, if you were going to submit an expression of interest there are a range of skills needed. You are likely to need to know: how to set up a community organisation; do business planning; access capital or revenue funds; and engage with service users. And if you don’t have them already you need to know where to find them.

With this in mind we were pleased to see the Government amended the Bill during the House of Commons’ Report Stage to give the Secretary of State the power to provide communities with advice and assistance in relation to the Community Right to Buy and Community Right to Challenge. The question is what will this package of support look like? Can it meet all the demands that the process presents?

If the government wants localism to be inclusive, and to meet the needs of more vulnerable groups, they will need to develop these advice and assistance measures with a strong regard to equality. They need to ensure that the powers given by the Localism Bill are accessible to the whole community, including to disadvantaged areas and groups.

Plenty to give

Adrian Chiles volunteering with Age UK volunteer Faiza Kanwal and Alice Willetts
Adrian Chiles volunteering with Age UK volunteer Faiza Kanwal and Alice Willetts

Later life is a time when many people wish to volunteer and make an active contribution to civic and community life. If you tuned into ITV’s Daybreak breakfast show today you would have seen Adrian Chiles promoting the wide range of volunteering opportunities that Age UK offers.

Indeed, Age UK and our partners already work with more than 10,000 older volunteers. But there’s plenty more we can all be doing, which is why we need the government to step in with their Giving White Paper.

Across the UK only a minority of people participate and only 20% of people aged over 75 participate in formal volunteering at least once a month. Many more older people have something to offer, and something to gain from being more active in the community. There needs to be more support for older people to get involved, as well as support for those who currently volunteer.

The older population is also more diverse than ever before and will become more so. With this in mind, approaches to increasing giving need to be developed with older people themselves, to design new ideas that fit with their expectations and lifestyles.

Here are some of the challenges we made to the government to support more people giving:

  • Removing myths and burdens: There are myths and burdens to volunteering that need to be removed. For instance, some voluntary organisations believe people over 75 cannot participate because they would not be adequately insured, when in fact more flexible insurance is available.
  • Volunteer management is not cost free: Public bodies must ensure volunteer management costs within funded programmes are properly costed for the level of volunteering being delivered. While volunteering is freely given, it is not cost free.
  • Training and community development: There needs to be ongoing investment in the voluntary and community sector to give them the ability to involve volunteers effectively and in greater numbers. Effective volunteering requires well-managed volunteering. This is particularly important for more complex roles, such as in health and social care.
  • Digital inclusion: Social media offers exciting new ways for people to give time and money. However, in the UK 60% of people over the age of 65 have never used the internet. While progress needs to continue on digital inclusion, in the meantime alternative communication methods should always be provided and information must be accessible to all.

The government has recognised the potential to boost volunteering and philanthropy by connecting with and empowering older people. We need to make sure that there is a plan in place to make it happen.

We would like to hear your giving stories. If you volunteer already, what motivates you? Would you like to do more or are you struggling to see how you can get involved? Let us know.

Localism: Making it work for older people

This week Age UK challenged speakers and audience alike at our policy seminar to think about how localism would improve the lives of older people. It’s fair to say there was an overwhelming sense of scepticism from the audience about the localism agenda. But, optimistic as ever, I think there were some glimmers of hope in the debate.

The day kicked off with Claire Cooper, Deputy Director for Community Action at the Department for Communities and Local Government, explaining how the government aims to put communities at the heart of their own destiny. The government sees their role as facilitative, ensuring the right conditions are in place to make this happen. In turn local government are going to have to be more responsive to local communities; facilitating more and delivering less. From the panel we heard the perspective of local government from Andy Sawford, LGiU and Guy Robertson, LGID and from an older people’s perspective from Belinda Wadsworth, Age UK.

The audience response was critical but  constructive,  as long as government is prepared to respond to these challenges. Comments generally fell into three themes: Continue reading “Localism: Making it work for older people”

Shutting up shop

There was a time when we would take popping to the local shops for granted. We wouldn’t need to make a journey into a major town to get basic shops and services – they would be a few minutes walk away. Increasingly we’re finding that the corner shops and local bank branches are shutting up shop. This is not new, but the last few years have hit local retailers hard and 1 shop in 7 is now vacant on England’s high streets.

Yesterday, Living Streets launched their Neighbourhood Heroes campaign to let the government know how much we care about our local shops. They believe the government can change the planning system to protect our neighbourhoods by closing a loophole in the system. For instance, banks can change to a betting shop without planning permission – 81% think that communities should have a say when the use of a building is changed.

More than a quarter of adults (28%) feel isolated, or have a friend or loved one who feels isolated, because of a lack of access to essential shops and services within walking distance. These familiar stories show the realities of losing a neighbourhood with a bustling community life:

Our shop is the hub of the area: it displays local news and events and customers even get free samosas at Christmas as a thank you. There is no other shop nearby and if it closed many people, particularly those who are not so mobile, would feel much more isolated.” Nigel, Cardiff

When I lived in an area which had a baker, corner shop and polling station within a couple of minutes’ walk, I would walk there, and talk to and acknowledge people as I went. Now I just tend to do shopping on my way from work. I go behind my front door and only go out again if I really have to.” Viv, Worcestershire

If you want to do more to make sure your neighbourhood doesn’t lose local shops and services, you could join Age UK’s Change One Thing campaign. Whether it is access to shops or improving pavements, we’re supporting local groups to change the practical things that can make the difference between being stuck at home and being able to get out and about in the local area.