Islington Council has accepted criticisms made by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) over the way it tried to recover historic business rate debts.
It was investigated by the LGSCO following its attempts to recover debts going back to the early 2000s despite the person involved telling them she was not liable.
The council delayed trying to track down the payments for 16 years, with the LGSCO finding it at fault as this meant the person concerned no longer had any evidence with which to defend themselves.
LGSCO Michael King said: “While councils have every right to pursue people who do not pay their tax or business rates, they should also do this without undue delay and not let debts drift to such an extent.
“Any decision to pursue an historic debt should be based on sound evidence it is fair, appropriate and reasonable to do so.
“To take someone to court for bankruptcy is a very serious matter and, in the Haringey case, the council based its decision on a flawed assessment. This has had significant financial and emotional consequences for the woman."
Islington council agreed to pay £100 to the person concerned to acknowledge the avoidable time, trouble and frustration it caused.
Haringey council agreed to pay over £1,000 to a woman against whom it started bankruptcy proceedings for business rates of more than £50,000 based on an incorrect assessment of her assets.
An Islington council spokesperson said: “We accept the ombudsman’s findings.
“We are also reviewing our council tax and business rate collection policies to take the findings into account.”
A much-loved activity centre for older people is to be closed from the start of next year because of funding difficulties, despite the majority of its users’ pleas for it to remain open.
Services at the council-owned Drovers Centre are set to end in late January 2020, with the Town Hall preparing to look at turning the site into “much-needed housing”.
Over half of 118 respondents to a council consultation said that the loss of Drovers would have a significant impact on their level of social contact, with 74% of 107 people reached by questionnaire opposing its closure.
In a petition to local MP Emily Thornberry attempting to prevent the closure which gained 282 signatories, campaigner Diane Armstrong wrote: “The Drovers is a very important place to so many people. It provides a haven for users who without the centre would probably go for days if not weeks without seeing another person.
“It runs a variety of services that would be unaffordable elsewhere for a huge proportion of older people in the borough.
“The centre being closed will be a devastating blow for some of the most vulnerable residents of Islington and will leave them isolated and alone.”
The council has pointed out that the Drovers currently requires around £170k in repairs, with the annual £90k it pays Age UK Islington proving insufficient in recent years, with the full cost of services estimated at £150k yearly.
Islington Council has expanded its reserve cash by £2 million in expectation of the impact of a no-deal Brexit.
Town Hall now holds reserves of £10.9m, representing about five per cent of its net expenditure, money not allocated for any specific purpose apart from to cushion blows to its finances or as contingency, after years of the level falling.
Council officers at an audit committee meeting said that the expectation of how much ought to be kept back had been set at four per cent in previous years.
The news did not come as a surprise to committee chair Cllr Nick Wayne (Lab, Canonbury) who said that there had been a “clear steer” to council officers from his influential panel to set the level up to five per cent, “bearing in mind what could be coming down the road”.
Council urged to promote Islington 'upsides' to recruit GPs
Islington Council is to receive a recommendation encouraging them to advertise the upsides of living and working in the borough in the face of an approaching crisis in GP recruitment.
According to the borough’s clinical commissioning group (CCG), a “significant number” of local GPs are due to retire within the next 10 years, and the high cost of living and housing in the area could be an impediment to easy hires.
It was recently reported that at least 146 urgent care shifts around the country in 2018 did not have a single GP.
A report by Islington’s Health and Care Scrutiny Committee, chaired by Cllr Osh Gantly (Lab, Highbury East), states: “There is an ageing profile of GPs in the borough, and there is a need to address demographic change, the expectations of the younger generation of GPs and the need to develop increased integrated networks of staff, and to build resilience amongst the GP community.
“In addition, the provision of alternative therapies, and the development of teams of staff within practices, such as physiotherapists and pharmacists, can assist in alleviating the workload of GPs and ‘free up’ time for improving access to patients to GPs.
“The attractions of Islington to work and live we feel can also be marketed to recruit younger GPs to the borough. However the high cost of housing and living may limit such recruitment.”
The committee’s report aims to consider how sustainable general practice currently is in the borough in the face of rising demand and population growth.
Councillors also plan to recommend that the CCG, GP Federation and council planning department work together to ensure that premises are allocated for new surgeries where necessary in new housing developments in the borough.