Cllr. Simon Christopher has submitted the following report for this evening’s Meeting of Broadwindsor’s Group Parish Council at Drimpton village hall:
Dear Helen and Councillors
Just a few notes prior to the meeting.
During the last month I have attended a number of meetings including Parish Council meetings and meetings at County Hall together with many events in the local community including meetings with farmers and also veterans and teachers.
I write this report after meeting 2 cabinet ministers, Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, the Transport Secretary and Rt Hon John Glen MP the Chief Secretary to the Treasury . I explained to Mr Harper the need for improvements to transport in Dorset . I discussed with Mr Glen issues that are causing a reduction in the 55 to 64 age group that is restricting the active working population .
Nine out of 10 councils are struggling to find and keep the staff they need to run vital local services, including adult and children’s social care workers, according to the LGA’s 2022 Local Government Workforce Survey. Councils are offering more flexible working, running targeted recruitment campaigns and offering accessible training and development opportunities, while also looking to grow their apprenticeships offer.
There is clear concern about lack of provision of courses at Kingston Maurward. Our MP is aware of concerns and the matter was discussed at the Breakfast for Farmers organised by Councillor Frampton and others and sponsored by myself .
The Spring Budget will be held on 15 March 2023 ,let us hope that there will be announcements that address workforce shortages not least of which is reform of pension premium restrictions that have impacted the NHS.
On 20 December 2022 the Office of Tax Simplification published its final report, following the announcement of its closure on 23rd September 2022 .
Some will regret the demise of the OTS. Others may not ,particularly local farmers, given an OTS report last year suggesting restricting Agricultural Property relief for Inheritance Tax .
By way of background the OTS was set upon the very early days of the Coalition Government and your previous MP was highly instrumental in its creation .
The final report covers a hot topics – hybrid and distance working (seebit.ly/3wuY48w).
This impacts many working residents in the Marshwood Vale Ward Many companies, taxpayers, advisers and representative bodies contacted the OTS to share their challenges and experience.
UK-based hybrid working
I believe ,where possible ,office employees should return to pre Covid working arrangements . The impact of working from home also has a detrimental impact on town centres .
The Office for National Statistics estimates that about 40% of the UK workforce are hybrid workers (see bit.ly/3JekemV): that is, they spend part of their time working from home and part at their employer’s offices or other bases or visiting other work sites. It seems that almost everyone who can work in a hybrid manner is doing so. Businesses report significant demand from employees to continue hybrid working; the debate is about the terms, as policies and approaches continue to develop. Academics told the OTS that hybrid working could boost productivity in the short term (mainly due to reducing travelling and flexible working hours) but there was considerable uncertainty over longer term effects.
At the time that I became a Dorset Councillor Hybrid working hadn’t needed to be considered very much, Since 2020 this has changed greatly – so it’s not surprising that tax reliefs and policies are directed at working at an employer’s premises, at customer premises or at home. Most of the business comments about UK hybrid working covered three areas:
- A change of policy towards expenses, with an unsurprising request for more tax deductions. Some employers wanted to reimburse employee costs, such as broadband, or office equipment purchased by the individual. However, the rules don’t permit tax relief for reimbursements, which is an unneeded complexity. Some employees were asking employers to pay travel costs from the home office to the employer’s base – whilst employers prefer an employee tax deduction. The whole issue of ‘workplace’ (which defines when travel costs are tax deductible) needs to be re-examined.
- Reconsideration of reliefs originally defined by working at the employer’s base, such as the cycle to work scheme.
- Improvement in guidance to recognise the issues of hybrid working.
Dorset Council’s Cabinet has taken the decision to defer their “Council tax premiums on second homes and empty properties” report to allow more councillors to be involved before a decision is made. The report recommends that the Council should take advantage of flexibilities contained in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which, if it becomes law, will enable the introduction of a 100% council tax premium on second homes. As written, the Bill requires the Council to make a decision a year in advance of introducing a premium on second homes and so the earliest the change could be introduced is from April 2024.
A 100% premium could bring in an extra £9.5 million of council tax revenue from second home owners each year. Another change proposed in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill would enable the Council to introduce a premium where a dwelling has been empty for a year.
Deputy Leader of Dorset Council Cllr Peter Wharf was set to present the report at the January Cabinet meeting. However, the Cabinet agreed that the report should be discussed by as many councillors as possible before it is taken to a vote at Full Council.
Cllr Wharf said, “Parliament is still considering the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which will give us the flexibility to apply a council tax premium on second homes and other homes if they have been empty for a year. We originally had a report about this at the January Cabinet agenda so that a recommendation could be made to the February Full Council meeting. As the Bill is still being considered in Parliament we have a great opportunity to further discuss and debate the report locally.”
The report was discussed as a new item to the Place and Resources Overview Committee on Thursday 9 February to consider before providing recommendations to Cabinet on Tuesday 28 February. If agreed, it will then go to a Full Council meeting at the end of March, which has been brought forward from April so the proposed introduction of the premium isn’t delayed.
Cllr Wharf continued, “This ensures as many different opinions as possible are heard before we make such an important decision, and demonstrate the transparency of local democracy in Dorset. I strongly encourage everyone to follow this report’s committee journey by going to our website and watching our live and recorded video streams. If you have an opinion or question about the report, please contact us via the committee webpages or engage with your ward councillor to make your views known. I look forward to hearing – and participating in – the discussion around this report next month.”
In order for the premium to be implemented in 2024, the government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill must have received Royal Assent by 1 April 2023. According to the council tax database, there are 5,722 second homes registered in Dorset.
Rural Shop Report released
Given the Importance of the Broadwindsor Community Shop I thought I would make reference to the importance of rural shops: More than a third of all convenience stores in the UK are rural. A report by the Association of Convenience Stores ACS found 41% of those stores were isolated, and a further 46% located on a small parade with up to five other small businesses nearby. The report shows these stores could be helping with the cost of living crisis; close to two thirds of consumers believe they save fuel money by travelling shorter distances for their groceries. Around half say they are able to better manage both food waste (55%) and money (47%) by buying smaller quantities more often at their local convenience store. 59% save money on fuel due to the range of services offered by these stores; around a quarter offer parcel collection (26%) and , grocery deliveries (27%) .
Cost of living payments 2023/24
The government has announced a series of cost of living payments to be paid across this year and next. Exact payment dates and eligibility periods will be announced soon.
- First Cost of Living Payment (£301) – Spring 2023
- Disability Payment (£150) – Summer 2023
- Second Cost of Living Payment (£300) – Autumn 2023
- Pensioner Payment (£300) – Winter 2023/4
- Third Cost of Living Payment (£299) – Spring 2024.
I now turn to environmental matters :
Local authorities in England dealt with 1.09m fly-tipping incidents in 2021/22 compared to the 1.14m reported in 2020/21. The figures show that the percentage of fly-tips involving household waste has fallen from 65% to 61%.
However, some regions in England have shown a significant increase, with some boroughs and districts reporting double or treble the number of incidents compared to 2020/21.
Defra says that an extra 52,000 enforcement actions were carried out and that the number of fixed penalty notices issued was 91,000 in 201/22 – an increase of 58% compared to 2020/21 figures.
However, a large majority of fly-tipping incidents occur on private land, which is not included in these figures. Two-thirds of all farmers and landowners in England have, at some stage, been a victim of this crime, leaving them with a bill that can run into thousands of pounds to remove the rubbish.
In 2022, the government introduced measures to crack down on fly-tipping, including more funding for local authorities.
It appears the Government, local authorities and police can always to do more to achieve serious results in tackling the problem.
Some progress is being made in the fight against fly-tipping – including increased penalty fines which have led to an overall decrease in incidences.
“Yet despite the overall decrease in incidences, these figures fail to reflect the full scale of the crime, as increasing reports of fly-tipping on private rural land are not included.
Hundreds of thousands of offences on private land are going unrecorded, as farmers often have so little faith in the ability of the police or council to deal with fly-tipping that they simply bear the cost of removing rubbish themselves.“It’s not just the odd piece of litter blotting the landscape, but tonnes of household and commercial waste which can often be hazardous – even including asbestos and chemicals – risking the safety of people and animals. This often requires costly expert treatment to remove.
“The maximum fine for fly-tipping is £50,000 or 12 months in prison, but this is rarely enforced. This means landowners pay on average £1,000 to remove the waste, but in some cases have paid up to £100,000 to clear up other people’s mess or risk facing prosecution themselves.
“The UK Government’s promises to clamp down on fly-tipping on private land are yet to yield serious results. It seems that criminals simply do not fear prosecution. Ministers should look urgently at increasing the penalties for convicted fly-tippers and properly resource rural police forces to ensure they are held to account. Without more progress, landowners, not the criminals, will continue to pay the price.”
Looking after mental health and wellbeing in rural communities
No matter where we live or work, everyone should have access to mental health support.
The mental health charities and initiatives tcan make a difference in rural areas. There is a wealth of support, advice and guidance to help members look after their mental health and wellbeing and that of their friends, family and colleagues.
Rural initiatives include the Yarn in the Barnconcept from the Farming Community Network. Featured in this month’s Land & Businessmagazine, the project focuses on improving mental health by tackling the issue of loneliness in farming.
Next week, the Mind Your Head campaign from the Farm Safety Foundation will shine a light on farm safety and wellbeing. The week-long campaign from 13 – 19 February will signpost to support and guidance through a series of articles, videos and interviews.
The importance of our mental wellbeing cannot be taken lightly. The CLA will provide further updates on its social media channels next week as part of the #MindYourHead campaign.
Councillor Simon Christopher
The Dorset Councillor for the Marshwood Vale
Mob: 07798 833715