This morning, after a minor false start, I started by collecting rubbish on Old Yardley Park with various local residents who are taking part in an annual clear-up.
To me the big issue really is how we persuade people that parks are not rubbish bins. We are spending a lot of effort on clearing them up, but really we need people not to drop rubbish in the first instance.
I turned up at my advice bureau on time (normally I am about 30 mins early) which meant there was a queue. The numbers of people turning up seems to be gradually increasing. There are also a continuing flow of people that I have not had dealings with before.
My casework team (Angie and Daphne) are finding that things are now running quite smoothly although we still have connectivity problems with the broadband connection that links the office to the casework server.
I have had a few cases recently where people seem to be being means tested for housing and council tax benefits on incorrect figures. This may be because these people had not been to see anyone previously.
According to the DWP website the clawback rate for Housing Benefit is still 65% and Council Tax Benefit 20%. I thought the government was going to try to do things about these, but it does not seem that they have.
My understanding is that there is a plan to introduce flat rate housing payments. There was a pilot scheme that was very expensive. In theory there is merit to this, but the changeover is really very complex, worrying and probably expensive.
At the moment I think I am getting roughly 10 new cases a week via email, 20 cases on Saturday and about 20-40 through the post otherwise. That ignores the lobbying letters and emails which I generally handle differently.
One area on which I have got a few emails (7) is about smoking. Although I don't smoke I am not inclined to prevent people from smoking everywhere that is public. I think that having smoking areas is not unreasonable as long as people don't have to work in them. I do think it is a sensible idea to require areas that are non-smoking to be part of any public operation. The House of Commons and various Hospitals now have places for people to go to smoke. I think that is a reasonable thing to do. We have banned smoking on buses for some time, not that this stops people.
It strikes me that this would make a good subject for a public meeting. I attended two meetings on Thursday one of which was LocalWorks and the other was the District COmmittee (both in South Yardley Library). The LocalWorks public meeting attracted 11 members of the public 5 of whom were from Yardley. There was, however, quite a well-informed debate and Chris Crean ably chaired the meeting as one would expect.