Notices of Motion
Proposed by Councillor Wilkinson; seconded by Councillor Jeffries
This Council notes that:
- On 1 April 2022, Ofgem increased the energy price cap by 54%
- In light of the increased energy price cap, the average standard tariff energy bill will increase by £693 per year. The average pre-pay meter energy bill will increase by £708 per year (Ofgem, 2022)
- On 6 April 2022, the Government increased National Insurance by 1.25 percentage points, which is projected to cost the average family an additional £108 per year
- The Government has suspended the pensions ‘triple lock’ for 2022/23, meaning that Cheltenham’s pensioners will see a rise of 3.1% this year (instead of 8.3% under the triple lock formula). This year, this will cost Cheltenham pensioners on the full new state pension an average of £487, and those on the full basic state pension and average of £373 (TUC, 2022)
- Last year Cheltenham Foodbank distributed 3,777 three-day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis.
- Council notes the news that following calls by the Liberal Democrats last October for a windfall tax on energy companies, the Government has belatedly introduced one
This Council declares a ‘Cost of Living Emergency’ and calls on the Government to:
1. Immediately reduce the standard rate of VAT from 20% to 17.5% for one year, saving the average household a further £600 this year.
2. Re-introduce the pensions triple lock to support pensioners.
3. Immediately use revenue from the windfall tax on energy companies to help Cheltenham families with their energy bills.
Further, Council asks officers to:
- Continue this authority’s excellent track record of promptly distributing emergency funding to those in need.
- Investigate how to further support existing initiatives aimed at supporting those in need, including the Cheltenham Food Network and No Child Left Behind.
- Investigate with partners, including The Cheltenham Trust, Cheltenham Borough Homes and others, what can be done to further support struggling Cheltenham people.
Councillor Wilkinson introduced his motion, saying that the reality for too many people was that they could not afford to live at the moment. With the economy struggling, GDP flat-lining, the IDMF predicting the UK will have the slowest growth of G7 nations in 2023, huge rises in energy, food and transport costs, poverty was on the increase, and the motion outlined some national policy levers that could immediately help. A VAT cut, genuine windfall tax on energy companies, and certainty over the pensions triple lock would go some way to help. The motion also proposed a small audit of what we do locally to keep vital services going.
He said the picture in Cheltenham was really concerning, with many individual cases highlighting the increasing levels of hardship, and people having to choose between paying for food or energy. Illustrating this, there has been huge, unsustainable increase in the use of foodbanks across the town, with their work supplemented by other organisations, charities and concession schemes.
Whilst acknowledging that the current situation had many causes, some pre-dating 2019, and that there were undoubtedly factors the government couldn’t control, there were others that it could – rising taxation and welfare cuts at a time when people were struggling to make ends meet were not helping. Anecdotal evidence suggested significant gaps in government support schemes, and as a society we cannot afford to let people fall through the gaps.
In proposing the motion, he hoped that Members on all sides would endorse a course of action that sought to ensure that Cheltenham’s voice was heard in the national cost of living debate and to renew efforts locally.
Councillor Jeffries, seconding the motion, reserved the right to speak.
Members made the following comments:
- everybody in the Chamber understood the cost of living challenges, and that his group would do what it could to support the people of Cheltenham. He acknowledged some gaps in the national scheme, but pointed out that £37 billion had been allocated by the Chancellor, and £150 council tax rebate had already been received by many people. He wondered if there were any plans to follow the example of Eastbourne – the first council to declare a cost of living emergency - which had approved a £250k grant scheme, with £20k going immediately to the local food bank. He felt the suggested measures in the motion were right, but there were other things the council could do: in the budgetary process it should look to minimise additional costs on households from rents to charges for leisure facilities, car parks, taxi fares, adding that he would be arguing this at county level as well. He said his group was with the motion in spirit, but as it included a political attack on the government and didn’t present the whole picture, they would abstain from the vote. He said the government was trying to gauge a moving target, and could and would do more, but more concrete proposals were needed which all parties could support, reiterating that his group fully understood the crisis and recognised that something had to be done to address it.
- regarding taxi fares, one Member said the trade was important to Cheltenham and taxi drivers were obviously struggling with the huge rise in fuel costs. The council had to strike a balance between setting fares that allowed the drivers to make a living, but not so expensive that people were put off taking taxis.
- historic statistics showed that there were problems of deprivation in some parts of town before 2019, with Cheltenham ranking 836th out of 32k for income deprivation affecting older people in one area – a travesty in a town most people think is reasonably wealthy. The council had done what it could, including the No Child Left Behind project, but current events were making things worse, with the same areas – parts of Whaddon, St Paul’s, St Peter’s, St Mark’s, Hester’s Way – always the most deprived. The council needed to use all the levers it could locally, and government needed to provide funding to do that, to help people to help themselves. There were many stories and issues over which the council had no control – most recently barristers who provide legal aid voting to take industrial action, thus denying many people the right to a fair trial – which showed that the UK was failing as a country. He would support the motion and hope the government would listen to what Cheltenham was saying.
Councillor Flynn said it was not so much a cost of living crisis as an equality of income crisis, and proposed two amendments to the motion, with the addition of two further actions, calling on the Government to:
4. Increase the minimum wage
5. Restore the Universal Credit uplift and double it to £40
The proposed amendment was seconded by Councillor Joy.
The Leader requested a short adjournment for her group to discuss the amendment and whether to collectively support it.
When the meeting reconvened, Councillor Wilkinson thanked Councillor Flynn for the proposed amendments but, whilst having sympathy with the sentiment expressed, said his group would not accept them, and therefore proposed moving to the vote without any further debate.
The Monitoring Officer advised that Members would need to vote on this move first – it was carried – before voting on Councillor Flynn’s amendment to the substantive motion, which was not carried.
Debate continued on the substantive motion.
Councillor Jeffries, seconding the motion, said the word ‘crisis’ was commonplace and used in many ways, referring to health, climate, nursing, fuel, and now cost of living. He said he was proud of Cheltenham’s record in supporting the most vulnerable people in the town, and that it was at the forefront of his and most other councillors’ thoughts. Hundreds of people in the town, and across the country, were existing rather than living, their daily lives dominated by juggling bills, rent, shopping, in order to survive. Having experienced this as a youngster, he said it was tiring, debilitating, and affected mental health – the memories did not fade.
With poverty at record levels, he considered in-work poverty to be a scandal – people working all hours but still unable to afford to live. Soaring food, energy and fuel prices meant that real inflation was 25-30%, and thousands of people were claiming food support in the town and across the country, with thousands of charities providing that support. Particularly shocking was public servants – nurses and police – struggling and needing support, and this would get much worse in the winter.
He said he was mindful of what a Member had said about incorporating ways to help through the budgetary process - this was what he did and thought about all the time – and although he recognised that some problems existed before the pandemic, and recent times had been particularly difficult, he felt that the government’s record was atrocious. It put profit before people and inflicted additional tax rises on those least able to pay whilst cutting tax for the richest in society. It was the government’s job to help the most vulnerable, and time for Cheltenham to add its voice to the growing voice across the country in declaring a cost of living emergency.
In summing up, Councillor Wilkinson thanked Councillor Jeffries for his personal story, and agreed that in-work poverty was a particularly important issue to be addressed by politicians, as it broke the deal sold to people that if they worked hard at school and got a good a job they would be alright. It was the government’s role to put this right, and local authorities shouldn’t have to bring motions such as this to work out how to look after local people. He noted some political comments had been made, but felt that both sides broadly shared the same aims, and that while some factors were in government control, others were not, and it was important to recognise what it could or couldn’t control. With reference to the Eastbourne scheme, he said its package of measures was put together after it had declared a cost of living emergency, and the motion had been drafted to ensure all officers and community partners were able to work together to try and put right some of the things that had gone wrong.
He said that the statistics mentioned by a Member brought to life some of the issues, and agreed that barristers planning to strike, and nurses and police using food banks, proved that the cost of living crisis wasn’t just affecting the poorest of society. These people should be fine but they weren’t, which is why it was important to back the motion presented today.
The Chair then moved to the vote on the substantive motion, which was adopted.
Proposed by Councillor Horwood; seconded by Councillor Atherstone
- Welcomes the recent return of Pride Gloucestershire to Cheltenham on 15 May and congratulates the organisers on a wonderful day out in Pittville Park
- Would also warmly welcome EuroPride to the town should Cheltenham's bid to host this event succeed
- Notes that the public realm can be used by local authorities to promote inclusivity and community cohesion, to advance the opportunity of equality and foster good relations between those who share protected characteristics and those who do not
- Believes the creation of a colourful and inclusive ‘progress flag’ pedestrian crossing would help to foster this relationship, enhance the public realm and provide an interesting and safe place to cross the road.
- Would welcome a 'progress flag' crossing incorporating the six rainbow colours of the standard pride flag and the additional colours of black, brown, baby blue, baby pink and white, representing diversity and the transgender community.
- Notes that a motion was passed in September 2020 by Gloucestershire County Council (Motion 866) included open discussions with regions within the county to have crossings installed by Gloucestershire County Council following the example already in existence in Gloucester City Centre.
- Notes a possible location identified for the Progress Crossing between the Brewery and the NCP Car Park (already a crossing in place) on St Margaret's Road.
- This council requests that Gloucestershire County Council, as per GCC Motion 866 and following the precedent set by their co-operation with Gloucester City Council, funds and delivers the crossing through Gloucestershire Highways to help celebrate and protect diversity and inclusion within Cheltenham and the county.
In proposing the motion, Cllr. Horwood outlined the meaning of the progress flag and stressed the importance of visibility. By delivering a rainbow crossing, councillors could send a message that the town was an inclusive and cohesive community, and foster good relations between those who shared protected characteristics and those who did not. It would not solve issues of discrimination and exclusion overnight, but might help people to feel more welcome in Cheltenham. The motion called on the county council to deliver the crossing and suggested a possible location in the Brewery Quarter, while also supporting Cheltenham’s bid to host EuroPride. He thanked Jason Potter-Peachey of Pride Gloucestershire for driving both the rainbow crossing and EuroPride campaigns.
Members made the following comments:
- while happy to support the motion, a successful EuroPride bid would bring around 250,000 people to the county, which was roughly equivalent to another Gold Cup festival;
- hate crimes based on sexual orientation had risen every year since 2016, and had doubled since then. LGBTQ+ acceptance and tolerance seemed to be declining as part of the culture war. A crossing would not solve everything, but would send an important message about safety and inclusion. If just one person were to feel more welcome in the town as a result, it would have been worth it;
- homophobia was becoming part of the dog-whistle politics of the far right. The crossing would fight back against that and remind people that they were an open and tolerant society. It was important to ensure it was well-maintained and used the right paint to last a long time. It would also be nice to have an opening event as well, with partners and councillors drawing attention to it.
- the UK was going backwards in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, for example with regard to conversion therapy for transgender people. A recent Pride event in Bulgaria needed a police guard to protect it from far-right protestors, must ensure this does not happen in Cheltenham;
- having left their small town in the 1980s because they did not feel they fit in as a gay man, many young gay people from small towns were still having the same problem decades later. The crossing would show people, especially young people, that they were welcome in Cheltenham;
- having recently attended Council of Europe’s congress of regional authorities, a resolution was passed seeking to protect LGBTQ+ people from rising hate crimes. The crossing was a small step, but a step nonetheless. They added that local authorities had real influence when it came to inclusivity;
- many Members had lived through a time when being gay was illegal in the UK, as well as many decades of widely normalised homophobia. The world had come a long way since then, but there was still work to do. They hoped that one day it will be so normalised that LGBTQ+ people did not have to come out, and were free to live their lives without fear;
- the crossing was not just something that would look nice, but was a bold political declaration and a response to anyone who thought they could divide people in the town. Attacks on LGBTQ+ rights were putting people in danger, and progress was something that had to be fought for. Transgender rights in particular were being used as a political football by the government, with the same attack lines being used as were against gay people in previous years. Less than a decade after the legalisation of same-sex marriage, it felt like they were going backwards. True LGBTQ+ equality, that campaigners had fought for decades for, needed to be delivered;
- Pride Gloucestershire was to be congratulated for their work and thanks offered to the organisers of Culture Fest, which took place in Pittville Park recently.
In seconding the motion, Cllr. Atherstone thanked colleagues for a positive, diverse and educational debate. She hoped that the suggested Brewery Quarter location would be adopted as it was a real hub in the centre of the town.
Cllr. Horwood summarised Members’ contributions and thanked them for a passionate and personal debate.
The Mayor moved to the vote, where the motion was unanimously adopted.