Category Archives: Bristol

Bristol City Council quietly reverse unlawful action refusing EHCP applications

As Bristol City Council quietly reverse their decision to stop accepting applications for Education Health Care plans, Jacqui Jensen, the Executive Director of Adults, Children and Education, has changed her Twitter handle from @jacqui_jensen to @GoneTime6 (Gone Fishing). Parents who applied after November 26 have been asked to do so again.

In a letter of explanation seen by Ephemeral Digest, officers say in clarification: “Thank you for bringing my attention to the issue of the inappropriate notification when an ECHP request is submitted.  You are correct that this response is not in line with the SEND Code of Practice and therefore this process has been immediately stopped.

“I can assure you that a full investigation is now underway, to determine how this happened and to ensure that there are no further breaches of statutory guidelines.

I am informed that the motivation behind this action was to try and avoid further parental disappointment, regarding the timeliness of the EHCP process. The service had been in communication with schools, to highlight the impact the Christmas holidays will have on processing times, however this additional approach is unacceptable and I apologise for any distress caused.

The team are in the process of contacting all individuals who attempted to submit a request, to apologise and request that they re-send the form.  The initial six week process will be started from the date of the original upload and not the re-submission date.

I am sure you will have a sense of the enormous pressure this team are under, as they try to tackle the backlog and deal with the increasing requests.  We are taking a number of steps to increase capacity and improve the systems and process, in order to significantly improve our current performance.  Unfortunately, the impact of these improvements will not be immediate, but I am confident we can create an effective system that delivers for our families.

Up until 6 December, the following message had been posted on the council’s website :

The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team are busy dealing with requests for EHC Needs Assessments.

So that we meet the six week statutory deadline, we can process requests that we get by 26 November 2019.

We’ll start accepting new requests from 6 January 2020.

The relevant legislation, the Children and Families Act 2014, makes it a “requirement that such applications be considered, the legal test applied, responded to within six weeks and a right of appeal be given” as pointed out by Liberal Democrat councillor Tim Kent on Twitter.

As reported by Chopsybaby.com, a carer wishing to remain anonymous received an email on 05 December which included the threat that requests would be deleted:

“Therefore if you are considering sending a request for an EHC Needs Assessment after 26th November 2019, we ask that this request is sent to SEN@bristol.gov.uk from the 6th January 2020.”

While the council were unlawfully deleting and refusing to accept applications for EHCPs, Mayor Rees published a blog post praising and expressing his support for his Cabinet member for education. In addition to this, in people scrutiny, councillors had the previous week discovered that the official SEND figures previously provided about the service were misleading and inaccurate.

While official figures claimed that 169 EHC plans were produced in the quarter of April to June 2019 — with only four completed on time — the real figure was 36 EHCPs and none on time. The official figures had in fact been a rolling total from a 12-month period.

As reported by Bristol24/7, Councillor Tim Kent said: “I feel that the commission and parents have been intentionally misled. Where we had looked at these figures at the previous [people scrutiny] meeting, no attempt was made to clarify that the 169 figure was an annual one rather than over three months as presented.

“It is very clear that senior officers and councillors either did not understand key performance figures themselves or failed to inform the committee, the media and the public that their presentation was incorrect.

“Senior officers and the cabinet are aware of this yet despite this it continues to happen.”

A council spokesperson said: “What is important is the work we are doing to improve the current provision for children with special educational needs which we know currently falls way below the mark.

“The wider context of funding cuts and an increase in the amount of children needing SEND services means this transformation cannot happen overnight, however recruitment is underway to bring the EHCP targets up to standard and give children and families the service they deserve.”

Later in the day on December 6, 2019, and before reversing the decision altogether, the Council updated their notice, in seeming response to social media requests to confirm they were not denying applications:

Timescales for EHC Needs Assessments requests

The SEND Assessment, Planning and Review Team will process all requests for EHC Needs Assessments received between 26 November 2019 and 5 January 2020 from 6 January 2020. We’ll keep requests received between these dates on our secure email system until we process them.

To defend his Cabinet member for education and other cabinet members, the mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees also seems to have released details of the recent Ofsted report whose publication was blocked by the pre-election period. Rees wrote that “there is no question over [Cabinet member for education] Anna [Keen]’s performance. In fact, even on the challenge of SEND, the recent inspection said that while Bristol was not where it should be (a consequence of both local and national failures that have been building for many years), it is since Anna became the lead that the green shoots of recovery began to appear“. (Emphasis added)

All messages indicating a refusal to accept or deal with EHC plan applications have now been removed from the council website.

Jacqui Jensen has been contacted for comment. According to council reports, the Executive Director of Adults Children and Education has a salary of £145,685.46, is in charge of a budget of £351,721,000.00 — the largest budget responsibility of all executive directors — and is responsible for 2,241 employees.

 

Bristol City Council has spent almost £3m on a new fleet of diesel vehicles

Bristol City Council has spent almost £3m on a new fleet of diesel vehicles that would potentially have to pay to enter its own clean air zone.

The consultation on the clean air zone began on July 1, just weeks before the 12-month vehicle contracts worth £2.7m were signed.

On July 26, the city council purchased replacement vehicles from Toyota and Renault under a plan to replace old vehicles and purchase 342 new ones in order to save £2.3m.

The council says that of the 135 vehicles replaced to date, 19 have been EVs, 64 diesel and 52 petrol. 207 are still to be replaced, with no fuel type specification yet agreed although 10 more EVs are being tendered for.

Council-owned buildings including City Hall and the 100 Temple Street offices are both within the CAZ. Private vehicles would be banned if the council’s plans are approved with commercial vehicles facing a charge.

 

Traffic_Clean_Air_options_map_fig_2

The EV proposals were signed off by Green party member Fi Hance who was the cabinet member for Energy, Waste and Regulatory Service, just weeks before the mayor replaced her with Labour councillor Kye Dudd.

The consultation on the clean air zone began on 1 July, just weeks before the vehicle contracts were signed. Two options were consulted on; Option 1 with a compliance date to legal air quality limits of 2030, and option 2, the diesel ban for private cars and a charge for commercial cars, with a compliance date of 2025.

After two missed deadlines and a threat of having to repay £1.65 m grant from central government, the diesel ban was the one that would reach compliance earliest. The council were legally obligated to choose the earliest possible date.

According to the council’s own Air Quality Modelling report,”Diesel cars followed by diesel LGVs have the highest proportional NOx impact across all locations. Petrol cars have a relatively low NOx impact given that they represent around half of the car fleet”.

A spokesperson for Bristol City Council said: “We’re supporting the city to become carbon neutral by 2030. This includes our own target of being a carbon neutral council by 2025. To hit this target we’re reducing our carbon footprint across all departments and that includes upgrading our fleet to replace older vehicles. So far we’ve introduced 135 new vehicles for use across all services with another 207 due to be brought in over the next couple of years with 10 percent of the final fleet being electric. Of those purchased already, 64 are diesel and all conform to current emissions standards.

 “Bristol city council has a legal duty to improve our air quality. The full detail of the proposed clean air zone has yet to be established and will not be finalised until an agreed full business case is published. How the council’s fleet is used in future will be influenced by the final scheme put in place but both initiatives aim to achieve the same goal of reducing air pollution and establishing Bristol as a carbon neutral city.”

Cabinet approved the Outline Business Case to Cabinet on November 5, 2019 and it was sent to JAQU on November 6. The full business case will go to cabinet for approval in February 2020. The implementation date for Clean Air Zones nationally is March 2021.

Marvin Rees blames NHS for air pollution deaths in response to doctor’s petition

An excellent post by PsychoPolitico on aggressive behaviour by the mayor of Bristol.

PsychoPolitico

Anyone who follows the trials and tribulations of Bristol’s local politics is already familiar with the Mayor’s hostility towards questioning, and inability to tolerate any form of criticism.

As a case in point, Marvin was so prickled by a petition about air pollution at Full Council this week that he managed to attack the NHS itself for causing deaths from air pollution.

The lead petitioner, a doctor, asked on behalf of 70 health professionals:

“We would like to know how the inaction on cleaning up our air is justified, and what equalities focused measures the Mayor is considering alongside the clean air zone to mitigate its costs for those who can least afford them, are contributing the least to the problem, and who are suffering the most”.

After some condescending deflection, and a mandatory ramble about Labour’s green credentials [sic], Marvin responded in fairly typical Marvin style by going on…

View original post 382 more words

1000 Books to Read Before You Die, a Bristol perspective

1000 books is an incredible number to find and write about but the essays and sections feel like they have had individual attention rather than just being quick summaries, in this collection. From King to Kafka and the Quran to Nora Ephron, the book selections must fit most moods as they are incredibly varied.

It all boils down to what seems an enormous effort by a true bibliophile, James Mustich, editor-in-chief of the Barnes and Noble Review. Recommendations cover fiction, poetry, science and science fiction, memoir, travel writing, biography, children’s books and history.

Cleverly arranged alphabetically by each author’s last name, so that priority would not need justification, there’s Grimm next to Grisham, and Orwell followed by Ovid. Essays on why each book is an essential read conclude with notes on the best edition, other books by the author, “if you like this, you’ll like that” recommendations and recommended audio versions and TV and film adaptations.

I would love to pitch a Bristol section and help Mustich select more location-inspired reads as there are quite a few Bristol links within the choices but there could be more.

The second book listed is Flatland — the famous two-dimensional romance — by Edwin A. Abbott who in 1864-1865 was an assistant master at Clifton College. Another link to the exclusive Bristol school is the Agatha Christie entry of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Christie was married in Emmanuel Church on Guthrie Road. They came to Bristol because her husband’s step-father was a schoolteacher at the Clifton College.

St Augustine of Hippo is a bit of a non-literary link but it was pleasing to think of St Augustine’s Parade in front of the Hippodrome.

I’ll leave up to the reader to decide whether it is Mustich who has chosen from far and wide or whether Bristol does have its many links to literature. Sherlock Holmes was meant to have been written by Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife Louise who studied at Badminton School in Westbury on Trym; Edmund Burke was a Bristol MP, Jane Austen lived close by in Bath and died two years after Mary Shelley summered in Clifton in 1815 and looked down at the ships carrying slaves. It’s quite possible that Frankenstein’s monster came to pass because of the links with the horrendous exploitation she witnessed or could imagine.

Charles Dickens’ characters stay at a hotel on Corn Street where, next to the current Registry Office, there is a plaque celebrating our mention in the Pickwick Papers. J.K. Rowling is from Yates–and close enough to count as a local– while the Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett may not have the gripping plot of Harry Potter but this first epistolary book does make its way through Bristol too.

The most classic of Bristol novels, Treasure Island, is also on the list. Linked to both the Llandoger Trow and the Hole in the Wall just a street away from each other on Welsh Back, the book is said to have a “taut narrative line that ripples with ominous vibrations”. Read the first few pages and see if you can stop, suggests Murtich. I’d say the same about 1000 Books to Read Before You Die. The selection is intriguing and challenging at the same time. A worthy addition to any bookshelf.

1000 Books to Read Before you Die is out now from Workman Publishing

If I Die Before I Wake by Emily Koch

If I Die Before I Wake is ex-journalist Emily Koch’s first published book. It’s a crime thriller with the premise that the author has to solve their own murder before they die. The protagonist is male and he is locked-in to his body and unable to communicate with anyone.

The book has had some good reviews on Goodreads already as many advance copies were made available.

It is set in Bristol.

 

Published in 2018 by Harvill Secker, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

 

Students, speak now or forever hold your peace

A property developer has taken a sledgehammer to a 400-year-old Jacobean ceiling [ref]This is a metaphor –he, Mr Baio– probably had his construction workers do it for him. Ephemeral Digest does not claim that the owner of Midas Properties caused the destruction himself.[/ref] in a conservation area of Bristol in order to devalue the property and convert it into student flats. He did it only a day before it was due to be visited by Historic England and hopefully Listed.

The outrage has been huge locally and nationally. But this can’t be the only destruction that has occurred to Bristol’s heritage and it’s certainly not the only building in danger although it was the oldest, so why all the fury now?

The ‘insult to injury’ part of this particular moral, if not currently legal, crime is that the destruction was perpetuated by a quick-profit developer uninterested in  Bristol heritage and looking to benefit from students; some who pay up to £35k a year for their studies.

Students, as I was reminded at a neighbourhood consultation about cutting £30 million from public local services this year and a further £70m by 2021, don’t pay council tax. While the rest of us Bristol residents have seen our council taxes increase yearly, the university has so much money that it is buying property after property. While 17 out 27 Bristol libraries are to be shut down to save money, and others are having their hours reduced, the University of Bristol is spending £75m to rebuild its library.

At the consultation event, to discuss libraries being shut down and millions slashed from already underfunded public services, suggestions were made by people sat at our table of nine. They included ‘make students volunteer their time’ and ‘make the universities pay a certain amount out of tuition fees per student.’ Someone quoted a study citing a number of volunteer hours that students had available to them and the unspoken implication being that those students were withholding help from the city that was providing for them. Other worryingly familiar narratives also included ‘why shut our library down when other libraries are being used much less?'[ref]
‘Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!’ http://www.george-orwell.org/1984/21.html%5B/ref%5D

The Bristol City Council are cutting £1.8 million from the ‘supporting people’ budget and the University of Bristol is spending £300 million redeveloping a new site that will host students who pay no council tax but take up a lot of city resources. There are expected to be up to 5000 additional students in the new development and coming to the city but there will only be 1188 accommodation spaces built by the university itself.  The rest will have to be found in the private rental sector.

A CBRE report quoted by the Bristol Post claims that the current number of 41,000 students will go up to 44,000 by next year. Most of the growth will be coming from the University of Bristol.

A topical paper by the Council in 2014 states: “In recent years demand for student accommodation has placed pressure on the local housing stock often resulting in perceived or actual harmful impacts on communities accommodating students, especially in areas close to the UoB.”

Problems identified have included:

  • Noise and disturbance associated with intensification in the residential use of properties/or the lifestyle of occupants;
  • Pressure for on-street parking;
  • Breakdown in social cohesion;
  • A shift in the character of shops and businesses supporting the community;
  • Unsympathetic external alterations;
  • Poor waste management;
  • A shift from permanent family housing to more transient accommodation;
  • A reduction in the choice of housing available in an area.

Surprisingly, what isn’t mentioned is direct financial gain to the city through CIL fund payments by specialised housing premises for students. For example, just one student accommodation company CRM recently paid close to £1m.

In 2014, there were approximately 3800 bedspaces for students in the city centre and another 2489 with planning permission. There could be a lot more being created  without the numbers being known because, since 2010, legislation changes mean that permission is no longer needed for the transformation of houses into multiple occupation premises (Bristol City Council).

The council is set to cut at least £4.1m from the council tax reduction scheme that allows vulnerable people to pay less tax. Public toilets are closing, 1000 members of staff are being made redundant, parks will no longer be maintained, neighbourhood partnerships have been defunded, and a myriad other cuts are being put in place.

The number of student properties however are increasing and they include the University of Bristol’s own accommodation, Dwell housing on Hotwell Road that is registered in tax haven Guernsey and bought for £6.4m, and Unite which owns 14 properties for student accommodation in Bristol. And many others.

There will soon be so little left of Bristol and yet here is a man with a sledgehammer destroying what little we have in order to make profit from students who don’t even pay council tax and whose university has been flaunting its millions around in the city.

To top it all off, housing in Bristol has been a problem for a long time and the increase of housing stock was one of Mayor Marvin Rees’ campaign promises; the University of Bristol is spending millions and charging up to £35k for tuition fees; public services are being cut drastically while student numbers, and their perceived harmful actions, are increasing and taking up private housing just when housing is at a shortfall. People are getting angry and they are going to need somewhere to vent their frustrations soon.

Brexit has already focused anger on immigrants so before the pitchforks come out for the students [ref]whose number used to include me and will hopefully do so again in the future[/ref] it’s time to engage that part of Bristol’s community and look to them too for answers to our public funding crisis and student property worries.

Update: (22/10/17) Kerry McCarthy  speaking in parliament asked

The Minister talks about the expansion in student numbers. How often does he have conversations with the local government and housing Ministers about the impact on housing pressures in cities such as Bristol and on council finances, given that students do not pay council tax and developers do not pay the community infrastructure levy? Although those students are welcome, it does come at a cost.

Less tax for landlords in Bristol?

Should the Bristol City Council be accepting sponsorship from a company whose stated purpose is for landlords to pay less tax?

In October 2016, Mr Rees warned cuts of £92m would have to be made to Bristol City Council’s budget by 2022, with further savings of £33m before the end of the the 2016-17 financial year.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-39526029

So why were they accepting sponsorship for the Landlords Expo held on May 25, from Less Tax for Landlords.

“Less Tax For Landlords is a specialist tax and estate planning service dedicated to the needs of those who are involved in owning commercial property, residential buy-to-lets, HMOs, investment property, or property development.

Our goal is to help you build and run a highly tax efficient professional property business, and to pass on your hard-earned wealth to those you care about most, minimising tax leakage insofar as the law allows, and all whilst keeping  you in full control of your affairs today.”

One of the company’s directors, Malcolm Keith Rose, is associated with 10 other companies including LESS LAW FOR LANDLORDS LIMITED. Less law for landlords sounds like something in line with the legislation that failed to pass last year when Tories rejected a move to ensure rented homes were fit for human habitation. (Read debate on the Housing and Planning Bill here).

An Act that is accused of allowing the selling of housing association properties, subsidising that sale by selling council properties, reducing local authority incomes to build properties by reducing rent, and allowing developers to get away without building any social homes.

Some legislation that affects property owners is that since 2016, “buyers have had to pay an extra stamp duty surcharge of 3pc of the value of a home if it is not their main residence.”

At the same time the general population and the most deprived communities have had to deal with the effects of austerity, which include the slashing of local council funding, “[t[he most deprived all-purpose authorities saw cuts of more than £220 per head compared with under £40 per head for the least deprived.”

And let’s not forget that under the previous mayor, Marvin Rees complained about council homes being sold off and wanted to wait until after the election. In reality, had the council houses been sold any later, the money would have had to be given to the government and not been available to use to fund new council houses.

“[E]xisting council building programmes are often partly financed from the revenue projected from selling a small number of the most expensive council homes. Most of that revenue will now be seized by central government to fund discounts under the new Right to Buy instead.”

In a city where Labour mayor, Marvin Rees has vowed to build 800 new homes a year until 2020, should there be any support for such a company as ‘Less Tax For Landlords’?