Throughout this first edition of COSLA Connections you could say that there has been a “The times they are a change” theme. Therefore in keeping with this theme here are another couple of examples of changes that are coming in the next few weeks.
Councils are absolutely committed to improving outcomes for their communities. Every single elected member in Scotland wants to know that their Council is delivering effectively for the people they are elected to serve, and if others have made performance improvements, they want to know about these and understand how to emulate them.
Getting the most out of that approach requires good systems, useful data, and a strong learning and sharing approach. This has always been technically challenging because it means ensuring that all organisations make comparisons on a like for like basis. To help, SOLACE (The Society of Local Authority Chief Executives) has worked with the Improvement Service and Councils to develop a new benchmarking framework for Scottish local government.
The project has helped Councils rally around a consistent set of indicators, which are collected in a consistent way. The purpose is to help Councils understand their performance and how other comparable authorities achieve their results. In a sense, each indicator is a can opener—it does not explain everything about Councils and their performance, but helps to start the discussion about how services compare.
Importantly, the project is owned and initiated by Councils themselves, meaning that Councils are taking control of the information that is important to them. This brave, new self- regulation benchmarking project will be launched at the COSLA and Improvement Service Annual Conference on 7 and 8 March 2013.
The UK Government’s Welfare Reform Act is making big changes to the benefits system and this will have a real and dramatic impact on both communities and Councils. The changes, which are about to hit, will affect many people within our communities of working age and on benefits or indeed those within our communities who perhaps only need to claim benefits from time to time.
As many of you will already be aware, this is what is due to happen this year, and we thought it made sense to actually lay out what the changes are and when they will come into operation.
From April, housing benefit will depend on the size and age of your family. For example, if you live alone but have two bedrooms, you will not get housing benefit for the extra room. Many tenants will be affected throughout Scotland by what has been dubbed “the bedroom tax” by the media.
From April, a Scottish Welfare Fund will replace crisis and community care grants previously dealt with by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Scottish Councils are putting arrangements in place to deal with these requests.
The Scottish Government is taking on responsibility for Council Tax Benefit from the DWP. Councils will continue to administer the new Council Tax Reduction Scheme and there will be little change in the first year at least.
From 10 June, Personal Independence Payments (PIP) will replace Disability Living Allowance for all new claimants aged 16 to 64. From 7 October, existing DLA Claimants who request an uprating or who have fixed awards due to expire after the end of February 2014 will be asked to claim PIP. (The majority of DLA claimants will not be affected before October 2015).
From September 2013, a benefits cap will limit the amount of money households can receive, reducing the income of some larger families and people in more expensive accommodation.
From October, a new system of Universal Credit which brings together a number of benefits is due to be rolled out across the UK. At first this will only be for new claims but eventually, it will apply to everyone of working age on benefits. This will be paid calendar monthly in arrears and tenants will be responsible for paying their own rent. It will not be paid directly to their landlord.