Monday, November 30, 2009

Annexation is in 2010 rather than 2011

The annexation of the Town Ward of Eynesbury Hardwicke Parish (most of Eynesbury Manor and part of Parklands) and St. Neots Rural Parish (Love's Farm) by SNTC will take place on 1st April 2010 (no joke). This is according to the Huntingdonshire Parish Orders 2009. The new St. Neots Town boundary is here or here.

I found this out whilst looking for next years council tax base. As I saw the jump in the base for St. Neots. I looked and I found the orders. I searched further and found the orders are to approved by the District Council on 2nd December 2009.

This will mean the all those who are in the areas to be annexed will start paying St Neots Council Tax from 1st April 2010 (again no joke). The Council Tax base will rise from 9178 to 10195. That is an increase on the Council Tax base of 1017.

If the new base was against the 2009/10 precept this would have meant a band D tax charge of £78.82 instead of £87.55. This lower amount of £78.82 band D is the new measure against which any SNTC 2010/11 budget outcome will be measured.

Seeing the order was signed on 29th July 2009, why are our local politicians and council being so quiet over this major change to SNTC? Whilst HDC has published this somewhere on their website, SNTC has said nothing about any changes.

2009/10 Town Council Budget Explained

This budget was formulated (link to budget document) against the realisation of the problems caused by the 2008/09 casino budget.

In January 2009, the Liberal Democrat run Town Council had a massive problem. They weren't too sure how much money they had and were not sure of the whole financial situation. The Town Council Leadership (Cllr Giles and Cllr Thorpe) took a series of emergency measures. This left the Forward Plan, which the Town Council had passed less than 8 months earlier, in tatters.

So what did they dump?

Town Lottery (Saved £10,000 in 2008/09. Money transfered to a Traffic Scheme the County decided that wasn't important. The Town Council decided, without professional advice, that it was necessary.)
Play Areas Upgrade (Saved £40,000 in 2009/10. £55,000 in 2010/11)
New Cemetery (Saved £17,000 in 2009/10. Likely £29,000 from 2010/11 onwards)
Town Plan (Saved £30,000 in 2008/09. Money went to prop up the General Reserves. Saved £30,000 in 2009/10)
Town Wardens (No budget, so not happening)
Council Office Refurbishment/One Stop Shop (Saved £50,000 in 2009/10. £30,000 went to prop up the General Reserves. £20,000 to create a budget to fit out the Eatons Community Centre.)
Market Stalls (Saved £5,000 in 2008/09. Money transfered to fit out the Eatons Community Centre.)

By dumping all the above projects the Liberal Democrat leadership was able to prop up the 2008/09 Budget and have some money to put towards the fit out of the ECC which hadn't been budgeted for. This is partly why the Liberal Democrats were able to keep the rise to 5.05%.

In itself this was a major foul up by the Liberal Democrat leadership (Giles and Thorpe) and has gone pretty much un-noticed by residents.

So why did the Liberal Democrat leadership (Giles and Thorpe) get into this mess? Although they were Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee they seem to have little idea on what was happening with the finances. Below part of what the Policy and Resources Committee is for:

So what were the main problems that arose during 2008/09?

Ending the contracts for much of Grounds Maintenance and starting a new department cost this Town Council dear. During 2009/10 budget process this was predicted as an extra cost of £89,332 more than in 2008/09. This was despite the assurance this scheme had a detailed study.

The ECC was not properly funded and "mission creep" and other changes were not accounted for in the scheme. This led to a financial crisis which needed more money.

In the previous article I pointed out the Liberal Democrat leadership of Giles and Thorpe had understated the 2008/09 precept by £180,000. This casino budget caused problems for 2009/10.

After the January cuts in the 2008/09 casino budget the cuts continued into the 2009/10 budget process.

The £36k decrease in the Central Administration is because they only budgeted for a new Town Clerk for 6 months. So Giles and Thorpe had decided to under staff the Town Council for 6 months. If they employ another full-time Town Clerk with the same staff structure this will mean an increase for the 2010/11 budget of £36k.

The Other Costs/Income fall of £33k is to do with the loss of interest from the use of those reserves to pay for the ECC.

Because Grounds Maintenance was brought in-house this has added costs to the Depot and Operations section but has dropped the cost of both the Play Areas and Churchyard section. But this still represents an increase of £89,332 in costs over 2008/09.

The upping of the Promotions budget to £46k from £24k has much to do with the under budgeting in previous year.

The Town Promotion budget increased from £6k to £23k is to do with the inclusion of the xmas lights from the reserves budget.

The Priory Centre budget was cut by £26k which was a political decision.

The Capital Budget was a decrease from £188k to £48k meaning £140k reduction. Whilst this looks good cutting capital programmes will mean this will need to be reinstated in the future. To reinstate above £48k will mean tax increases.

The Town Council did put £25k aside for the running costs of the new ECC.

It should also be noted the 2009/10 budget left out Play Area Upgrades and Town Plan which saved another £70k. The leaving out of Play Area Upgrades will mean this will become a cost further down the line.

The 2009/10 budget was a slashing budget which the Liberal Democrat leadership of Giles and Thorpe used to rip up to tatters the Forward Plan and trash many of their programmes. The ECC carried on as the money pit. This budget has stored up problems for the future which can only be resolved by more tax rises. Of course the Liberal Democrats are hoping the 2011 annexation of parts of Eynesbury Hardwicke and St Neots Rural with all the extra housing will ease these budgetary problems.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

SNTC 2008/09 Budget Explained

From the outset this looked a good budget to our Liberal Democrat Councillors. But it wasn't. In the report on the 2008/09 the Auditor found that there was little detail on how this budget was formulated. This meant this was a budget whose figures could not be relied on.

Whose fault is this? Well, the Deputy Town Clerk, at the time, has much to answer for. The former Town Clerk had the responsibility of supervision of the Deputy Town Clerk. The Chairman and Deputy Chairman (Cllrs Giles and Thorpe) of the Policy and Resources Committee were in charge of the budget process. [7] [9]

What was missing from this budget?

The Council decided to cancel most of the Grounds Maintenance contracts and start its own department. This is known as bringing the service in-house. Despite a detailed study that should have identified the costs involved these weren't included into the accounts. This totalled £95,000 in costs over a full year. As this was started during the year then roughly £55,000 that should have been added to this budget.

The Capital Receipt of £60,000 is a large problem. The reason why it is a problem is the amount against reserves. The inclusion of a £60,000 against a reserves of say £16 million is minimal risk to the budget if things go wrong. In the case of the Town Council the inclusion of a £60,000 Capital Receipt against balances of  virtually zero is a gamble and a gamble that didn't pay off.

This casino budget caused many problems for the Town Council. The inclusion of the extra £55,000 Ground Maintenance costs and the exclusion of £60,000 Capital Receipt would have given a budget of £874,873. This is up from £695,794. That would have been a £179,079 increase. That would have been a 25% increase in the precept or a 24% increase in the Towns portion of the Council Tax. This would have been politically unacceptable for the Liberal Democrats and would have outraged the Town.

So instead of a proper budget of £874,873 the Town Council passed a budget of £695,794. This caused many problems. During the financial year this underfunding led to the cancellation of many projects which should have gone ahead. From the cutting of the essential Town Plan to the Play Area Upgrades. This Town Council lost its way on a big gamble and lost. The gamblers were those in charge and time and again the former Liberal Democrat leadership of Cllrs Giles and Thorpe are those who gambled and lost. This is bad  government.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2007/08 Auditors Report

The External Auditors Annual Report 2007/08 is a damning report by Grant Thornton on the financial problems of this Town Council going back to the 1980's. The original SNTC Annual Report should have been presented to Town Council for approval by 30th June 2008 (legal deadline). It wasn't until October 2008 the Annual Report was finally presented.

So what did the Auditors have to say?

Under Value for Money section the Town Council failed to meet adequate 10 of the 11 criteria. The only one it achieved was "Communication with service users and other stakeholders and partners". What this Town Council failed at was:

Setting, reviewing and implementing strategic and operational objectives.
Management of performance against strategic objectives.
Monitoring the quality of published performance information.
Maintaining a sound system of internal control.
Managing significant business risks objectives.
Managing and improving value for money.
Ensuring spending matches available resources
Managing Performance against budgets.
Managing the asset base.
Promoting and ensuring probity and propriety in the conduct of business.  

Some other quotes:

"There were no written procedures in place for the accounting system,..."
"There is no evidence that the Council has effective procurement policies in place."
"Because of the absence of comprehensive financial and non-financial reporting during the year it is not possible to confirm that areas of high spending were identified and subject to review and scrutiny."
"There was inadequate monitoring of spend against the budget during the year."
"The Council does not have a written policy on the level of reserves and balances,....."

Other concerning parts.

The Auditors were concerned that the position of Town Clerk has yet to be replaced. This was a decision by the Liberal Democrat leadership (Cllrs Giles and Thorpe) to save a bit of money to get them through the budget process as they, obviously, didn't know what the financial position was!

There is evidence of non-compliance with the Council's Standing Financial Instructions, which require the Town Clerk to authorise all debt write-offs. However, the Town Clerk was never requested to authorise debt write-offs in practice.

The cost of the Audit rose from £10,000 to £20,000. (This extra £10k was taken in the 2008/09 accounts.)

Members were not able to establish whether Council objectives were being delivered or that Value for Money was being achieved in the use of resources.

Managers budgets weren't devolved to them.

I can only assume that instead of being open and honest our political leaders hid the problem and went on with the massive undertaking (in SNTC terms) that is the Eatons Community Centre. I quote from Page 14 section 4.6. of the report. "The outturn position for 2007/08 was not known until the accounts were fundamentally complete for approval by members in October 2008. This had implications for managing the 2008/09 budget and a freeze was placed on spending for part of the year which could have had a significant impact on the Council's activities and achievement of its priorities. "

In effect the ECC was held up during the summer of 2008 because they didn't know what the financial situation of the Council was!

In conclusion, I would state this audit report basically says the Councillors who were in charge were not doing their jobs. The Senior Officers were not doing theirs either. Information was kept back and this had implications for the 2008/09 budget and the 2009/10 budget.

Political resignations because of this report = 0

So what about the "missing loan" that headlined in the local papers. Well, the Town Council was paying the loan back and in each budget this was accounted for. It was just the amount was left off the balance sheet. Inclusion of this loan didn't effect the Council Tax. Whilst highly embarrassing it didn't warrant the attention it received. Indeed, Cllr Derek Giles was able to use the "missing loan" to smother all the faults the report exposed under his leadership of the Town Council.

Setting the SNTC Budget and Precept

I'm publishing a little series on previous budgets and auditors reports that I have information on. This is in the lead up to the setting of the budget and precept for 2010/11. This 5 article series is about trying to explain how we have arrived at the position SNTC is in. Anyway I hope they make sense.

  1. 2007/08 Auditors Report
  2. 2008/09 Budget Explained
  3. 2009/10 Budget Explained
  4. 2008/09 Auditors Report
  5. 2008/09 Budget Outturn Report

Friday, November 27, 2009

The old swimming pool fairy tale?

Once upon a time there was an Open Air Swimming Pool. People came from many parts of St Neots to use the pool during those hot summer days. This pool was run by the VAT and business rate efficient St Neots Swimming Pool Trust (SNSPT). Things were good. The Town Councillors were the Trustees. The Trust enjoyed three sources of income. These were:

1. A £20k pa grant given by St Neots Town Council (SNTC).
2. Money from Operations - Admission money and catering.
3. £10k pa from land leased to the Eat n' Bowl.

Things were good until those nasty Health and Safety Inspectors condemned the pool as being "unsafe". Following on, those nasty Insurers decided not to insure the pool.
Balking at the cost to refurbish the pool, the Councillors/Trustees decided to destroy the pool and sell the land. They told the St Neots population that the money from the land sale would be used to build a new pool or something!

But who owns the land?

Back in the 2005/06 it was stated: "The pool is owned by the Trust..."
At the 2007 Annual Town Meeting in answer to a question it was stated: "The trust can sell the land by virtue of the powers in the Charity Acts."

Those answers give the definite impression the land is owned by the SNSPT.

But at the meeting of the Town Council 05/12/2007 it was stated: "Since the land is in the legal ownership of the Town Council,..."

So SNTC is the legal owner not the swimming pool trust?!

At the 05/12/2007 Town Council Meeting it was decided to make the land available to the SNSPT to sell. SNTC went to HDC as they had some rights over the land. In the secret part of the HDC Cabinet meeting (31/01/08) it was decided to authorise the disposal of HDC interests in the land. So what was behind this sale of land? Back to the fairy tale.

The knight in shining armour (Huntingdon Regional College) wanted to expand the St Neots Campus. HRC had gone to a Government Agency for money to achieve this aim. The land was needed for the expansion or something and the College was willing to purchase the land.

They even got Hunts DC to agree to this scheme. Everyone was happy. Until...

The Government Agency decided it didn't have the money to lend to HRC. As the knight in shining armour didn't have the money to expand they couldn't buy the land from SNSPT or SNTC. So the SNSPT is back to square one looking for another knight in shining armour to come along and buy this land.
So we are left in the situation where the SNTC owns the land. It has given authority to SNSPT to sell the land and take £1 million. Whilst the SNSPT has the same membership as SNTC it is legally a charity and a separate legal body. The Swimming Pool Trust will decide what it wants to do with the money, not the elected Town Council which owns the land. With the sale of this land SNTC is giving the Swimming Pool Trust roughly £1 million. The Trust is not accountable to anyone apart from the Trustees. This will mean all decisions over the use of this £1 million will be made in secret. This is wrong. SNTC must take these decisions!

I can see no advantage of the Town Council giving £1 million of our money to the Swimming Pool Trust. The Town Council land at Riversmead will need to be given to the Trust. There are advantages to having the SNSPT manage a new facility. A different VAT regime and zero business rates are a couple of advantages. But that is all I can find.

And what of the £10,000 pa SNSPT gets from the Eat n' Bowl lease? As it doesn't own the land why is it getting this money? Why is this money being diverted from the land owner, SNTC, to the Trust?

This looks like a bad deal for the Council Taxpayer. Where is the transparency from the Town Council? Where is the democratic accountability over this project? This scheme is wrong, wrong, wrong! 

All this reminds me of a programme on BBC Choice called "Simply Complicated". The basis of the programme was to invent a daft way of doing something simple. Sounds like St Neots Town Council.

And the moral of this fairy tale is: Give it to our Town Councillors and they make something so simple very complicated.
As an aside I thought I would come up with a contribution for a new outdoor swimming pool. It is outdoor, cost effective and mobile. See below:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Can't UKIP's Jennifer O'Dell get off the EU record?

I know UKIP have a one track mind when it comes to Europe. Jenny O'Dell's recent letter in ever excellent News and Crier is a call to stop the EU sending troops to Somalia. NATO has trouble getting many EU countries to put troops into the firing line in Afghanistan. So I doubt very much they'll put boots on the ground in Somalia.

And that is the problem with UKIP. A party which wants to be taken seriously for Westminster is still messing about with EU scare stories. Come on Jenny, get off this record and start talking about the budget deficit, MPs expenses and other things that Westminster is responsible for. It is Westminster you are standing for which is a broader base than just Europe.

Because all the political parties have decided Huntingdon is a safe Conservative seat the General Election will pass us by. The choice seems to be between Djanogly and a non-entity. Given the choice I'm still voting for the non-entity.

I went to the consultation at the library and said.....

"Where are the comment forms and the box you are supposed to post your comments in.". The nice library assistant indicated HDC had set this half and hour ago and their wasn't any! So no post box or comment forms. Does the Conservative run HDC want to know what the people actually think about this scheme? Obviously ignorance is bliss.
So I went round the corner any made a complaint to the nice lady at the HDC in the Town Council Offices.
I was told I could comment online. Except the information at the library is radically different to what was provided online at the HDC site. This is unacceptable! HDC have now changed consultation document to the correct version.

Now down to the nitty gritty of the planning consultation. The cinema is off. For all the cinema freaks out there this is not the site for a cinema.
There are going to be problems with plonking a cinema on this site. This is because this site has always been open land.
The first problem is this development will back onto a number of houses. Build it too high and you are blocking light. If you were living in those houses would you really want a three or four storey building backing onto you house? I wouldn't.
The second problem is the restrictions on Lidl over deliveries.  If HDC imposed the same sort of restrictions as on Lidl, the cinema would close at 9pm.
The third problem is over noise. Air-conditioning plant, vehicle movements and general disturbance are all things to be considered in the planning process.

I don't feel the cinema project has been thought out. Mainly because the way this cinema project has come about. The logic seems to be: We want a cinema. There is spare land. Build the cinema on the spare land.

Of course if you disagree with this simple logic then the supporters are up in arms. I still reckon the best place to put any cinema is next to the Eat n' Bowl. The land has been used for leisure purposes. Put these two buildings together and we have a mini Leisure Park.

The up side to this plan would be the Town Council would get money from this project and then will be able to build a new outdoor swimming pool.

What also concerns me is the tarmacing over of the public open space. This is a valuable urban open space. Time we stood up for this piece of land.

Cllr Derek Giles campaigns for free parking for visitors

I read in the letters page in the ever excellent St Neots News and Crier a letter from Cllr Derek Giles. His letter about the car parks is a good indication of why lots went wrong under his leadership of SNTC. Conservative controlled HDC is in massive financial trouble and needs money. In the real world HDC has to make real choices. There are real choices to be made between Car Park charges (and other income), tax increases and service cuts.

Cllr Giles is following his normal course of action when he was in charge of SNTC. This was to increase council tax and slash promised projects to the residents of St Neots. So Cllr Derek Giles wants visitors to have free parking and for St Neots Council Tax to go up and services cut to pay for this!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How is SNTC STILL a Quality Town Council?

2 damning audit reports (one for 2007/08 and a seperate one for 2008/09).
Missed a statutory deadline for the 2007/08 annual report and accounts.
Having an Acting Town Clerk effectively in charge for over a year instead of a properly qualified Town Clerk.
Being less than transparent with information which should freely available.
With a website now down for a indeterminate time.
A Forward Plan in tatters.
And more....

SNTC is still a Quality Town Council! This begs the question: What do you actually have to do NOT to be a Quality Town Council? 

So I thought I would put this question to the trade body that "awards" this status. The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Association of Local Councils or CPALC, for short, is the trade body which awards the Quality Town Council status in Cambridgeshire. CPALC isn't there to help us, the residents, it is there to represent the interests of local councils and SNTC is a major member of this organization.

I therefore used the contact form on their website to contact Ian Dewar, County Executive Officer and sent the following on 30/10/09:

Dear Sir,

I see from St Neots Town Council website that they currently are a Quality Town Council.
This year they have received two damning reports from their auditors.
They have also missed deadlines for submission of accounts and annual reports.
They have problem being transparent with information which should be public.

If a Town Council can do this and more and still be a Quality Town Council what do they have to do for this status to be revoked? Or is this status basically meaningless?


I have as yet to receive a reply from Ian Dewar or anyone else at CPALC. As I said before CPALC is unlikely to take this away from any large paying member of its organization. So the Quality Town Council status is meaningless.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The first Forward Plan explained

As part of ending to the Best Value regime the Town Council introduced "The Forward Plan". Best Value was introduced to the Town Council level to replace Compulsory Competitive Tendering. This proved costly to the 41 Town Councils (known as the 41 Group) which fell under the Best Value Regime. The Government gave each local council a £30,000 pa grant to cover the costs of Best Value. This grant ended when the requirement to do Best Value ended.

As an aside, SNTC had a choice. It had just lost £30,000 of income. Instead of making someone redundant to cut £30,000 of expenditure it was decided to add the £30,000 to the Council Tax bill.

Back to the Forward Plan.

The Forward Plan is the most useful document the Town Council produces. The plan will show the direction the Town Council is going. By quantifying the planned projects this allows the Town Council to plan for the resources that will be needed. This is a very useful tool for residents and local politicians. The plan will show how the projects will effect future budgets and Council Tax. If the local politicians don't like the future they can either balk at the costs and cancel projects or they can stand by the tax increases. That is if the plan is done properly.

The trouble with the first Forward Plan was it wasn't a proper plan. It was a real muck up. Because of this Liberal Democrat (Giles and Thorpe) run Town Council got into a right mess.

To start with The Objectives (pages 6 to 9) numbered 24. The Project details (pages 10 to 18) didn't match the Objectives. So what was missed?

In Objectives and not in Projects:
Allotments, Farmers' Market, Town Centre Events, Grant Aid, Anglia in Bloom, Partnerships, Swimming Pool, Corporate Governance Review, Expansion of Town Boundaries and Support our Staff.

In Projects but not in Objectives:
Love's Farm Community Centre, Play Ground Upgrades, Town Christmas Lights.

This mismatch of Objectives and Projects is at the core of what was wrong. If Giles and Thorpe had got to grips with the core part of the plan the outturn would have been different. Because the resources identified as needed to progress and achieve these Objectives must go into the budget forecasts.

The problem is some of the Objectives and Projects weren't included in projected budgets (forecasts) or the resources needed weren't properly identified. Some of what was missed:

Eatons Community Centre - underfunded by at least £150,000.
Ground Maintenance - Despite a study underfunded by £95,000 pa.
Town Wardens - No resources allocated.
Town Swimming Pool - No resources allocated.
Love's Farm Community Centre - No resources allocated. A loan was alluded to but not how much.

Other problems with the budget forecast was:

Underfunding of Central Costs.
Bank Interest was went up year on year except much of the money was to be spent on the ECC. This meant the was gone but the interest was still added to the forecast as if the money was still these. So this figure was overstated by £30,000 p.a.

The budget forecasts was a load of muck and could never be relied on. I do realise that this is a forecast. A Council cannot just make wild budget forecasts. Changes in the budget forecast and other variations must be able to be identified and reported. This didn't happen.

So who is responsible for this muck up. This is actually rather easier than I thought. Under the Councils' own Standing Orders 65 - 3 -d - The Leader of Council (at the time Cllr Derek Giles) is: to be responsible for the development of the Forward Plan, its review and update

So Cllr Giles is in the frame for this Muck Up. I did notice Cllr Gordon Thorpe did introduce this item to Town Council for adoption. So he must have thoroughly understood what he was presenting! Didn't he?

The forthcoming revision of the Forward Plan needs to address the issue of matching resources to projects. The budget forecasts will need to be robust. I say forthcoming? Cllr Thorpe told residents: "I believe that I have covered the major projects and objectives detailed in the Forward Plan which incidentally will be updated and released soon." That was on 6th May 2009.

Forward Plan Document
Town Council Standing Orders

My voting intentions for the next elections!

My current selection of which party I intend to vote for at each election is:
Next General Election - UKIP (only because they are the only ones likely to give Djanogly a challenge). I will only change my vote if Djanogly stands down.
Next District Elections - The Liberal Democrats. I know Cllr Gordon Thorpe is Deputy Leader of the HDC Liberal Democrats and this causes me concern. But even with his track record I have to say this Conservative administration has to go. Not changing my vote on this one.
Next Town Elections - Conservative. Not too sure about how the Conservatives would run the Town Council. Again this is more of a vote against the incumbent rather than a vote for the current opposition. If the Liberal Democrats can get the Town Council on a level footing and loose Giles and Thorpe I could vote for them.
Next County Elections - Conservative/Haven't decided. Voting for Catherine Hutton if re-standing in 2013. I haven't decided on my other vote. The Eynesbury and Eaton Socon Division is a 2 member division so we have two votes.
Next Euro - Conservative. I like the sceptical stance they take. Not everything the EU does is good. Nor is everything the EU does is bad. On the whole better to be in than out.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Has anyone had any political literature recently?

When it comes to low turnouts at elections the political classes feel it is the electors fault they don't come out to vote. But what have we heard from the political parties since the Euro Elections in June 2009? I've had no leaflets through my door. Nor have the local political parties updated their websites.

With Djanogly expenses, 2 damning SNTC audit reports, HDC in a mess and more, I would have thought I would have received at least a leaflet or even seen the websites being updated. Our local political elites are staying very quiet over these issues.

The next elections are going to be boring. Simply because no one will be campaigning. The turnout will be down and who will the politicians blame? The Voters of course!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Should SNTC be subsidising a private School and a Church?

Part of the scandal behind the cost of the £1.2 million cost is the agreement with The River Church over the use of the brand new Eatons Community Centre. Another part is the privately run pre-school. There are many reasons as to why the centre was built and to this enormous size. I just wish I knew what they were! Link to the plans filed at the planning department.

Part of the deal concerns the exclusive use by a privately run business called a pre-school. This means the public has built and paid for part of the building the public cannot use. This is wrong. The trouble is the taxpayer is going to get yet another bad deal from the Town Council. At the Town Council meeting 09/09/09 it was found the bids from the privately run pre-schools were expecting to have this specially built facility for free.

The other part is an agreement with The River Church over the use of the centre. Why is the Town Council allowing a church to have any control over a public building?

Part of this agreement means the River Church is to provide a number of theatre style chairs for fitting out of the building. Notice the number of chairs is not discussed.

Looking on the River Church website I see they are still trying to raise funds to provide chairs for the ECC less than a month before the "grand opening". This doesn't bode well for the future.

The crux of the Memorandum of Understanding is the exclusive use by hire of the ECC on Wednesday evening and Sunday mornings by the River Church for 3 years from 01/08/08. In exchange the River Church will provide an unspecified number of theatre style seats and a projector for the upstairs Meeting Rooms.

I believe public buildings should be able to be hired by any group in St Neots and shouldn't be exclusively allocated to one group. I can understand that by giving exclusivity in return for chairs and projector this looks good on the Councils budget, but I feel if these items are deemed as necessary they should be provided by the taxpayer.

There is a Committee overseeing this project. It is the Eatons Community Centre Committee. So which Councillors are on this committee. Yes you guessed it. Cllrs Giles and Thorpe are still running the show. This time with Conservative Councillors Harty and Ursell.

I have asked the Town Council for a copy of the agreement between the Town Council and the River Church and received it promptly.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Town Council website still down!

When is this Quality Town Council going to get its website going again? My current conspiracy theory (I'm not one for conspiracy theories) over all this is the Liberal Democrat administration doesn't want the residents to know what is going on inside the Town Council. The Town Council has had months to sort out a new website provider or do this internally.  With the upcoming budget, changes to the staff structure and the opening of the Eatons Community Centre it is rather naughty to allow the website to go down.

When I hear the Liberal Democrats lecture everybody over transparency, open government and freedom of information remember this Town Council. Because the Liberal Democrats are showing here they can be a dirty as any other political party they complain about!

What is this?

Question: What is this?

Answer: The £1.2 million Eaton Community Centre. Well I'm guessing it is as there is no signage up to inform anyone what this place is. If I was building something like this I would want St Neots and to know where this new facility is and who owns it. This is taking Town Council secrecy to the extreme!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Priorities magazine - Priority for SNTC to sweep the bad news under the carpet

The SNTC propaganda rag - Priorites - was found on my door mat when I got home. Reading through the glowing propaganda I don't see anything about the damning external auditors report for 2007/08. Nor was there anything explaining about the second damning auditors report received this time for 2008/09.

There was a full page dedicated to the Xmas Lights Switch-On. Nothing about the report into the incident when the Xmas lights fell down.

There is also an article on community programmes in the Love's Farm development. But why is this article in this propaganda rag? Love's Farm is still within the Rural Parish and is separate for Council Tax. So is this propaganda rag being delivered into Love's Farm? If so, which Council is paying for this? Is it the highly taxed Town council taxpayer or the low taxed Rural council taxpayer?

I feel we should be told!

The Priority of this propaganda rag is to sweep all the bad news under the carpet. Again this Liberal Democrat run Town Council is not being transparent about what is happening under its auspices.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Liberal Democrats are still slow on the uptake!

A Conservative MP in trouble over his expenses. A Conservative run District Council in massive trouble over their budget. I would have thought the Liberal Democrats would have been up for the fight. According to one Liberal Democrat they are. Except they have no parliamentary candidate. In the Cambridge constituency the MP stood down on 5th November and the closing date for prospective candidates is 5th December. In Huntingdon they are just ahead with the closing date on 4th December. So really they have just got around to starting the selection process for their parliamentary candidate. For all those interested the link to the advert is here.

Many other constituencies have already got their Liberal Democrat candidates in place. Huntingdon is one of the last seats. UKIP, The Green Party, Labour and of course the Conservatives have all selected their parliamentary candidates for Huntingdon. Obviously any Liberal Democrat candidate will now be a paper candidate whilst the local Liberal Democrats activists are packed off to campaign in either Bedford or Cambridge.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How much should we pay a Town Clerk?

This is a key question for this Town. I feel we had been overpaying our previous Town Clerk for an easy job done badly. The Society of Local Council Clerks has a job finder section. This has jobs such as one for Wokingham Town Council (slightly larger than St Neots) which advertises the Town Clerks job as between £38k and £50k.

So how much was the salary of the former Town Clerk (P. Devonald)? In a Freedom of Information request the salary was given as between £53,116 to £56,039. In the first version of the Annual Report the salary scale was between £60,000 to £69,999. In the amended second report presented to the Town Council his salary has now moved up another bracket to between £70,000 to £79,999.

He was only employed for 3/4 of the year so that would make an pro-rata salary of £100,000.

So what are the benefits of being a Town Clerk? The job will entail job a 37 hour a week with 6 weeks paid holiday plus bank holidays and other occasional days. There would be a contributory pension scheme (7.5% employee/20% taxpayer) and a car or car allowance.

Councillors and other politicians are required by law to publish their salaries and allowances. High time our high up Council Officers have to do the same.

Getting back to the original question. The cynic in me sees the "game" being played. This is a long term game. Make the Town Council larger and the Town Clerk wants more pay. The salary and wages are reviewed and upped and of course the Town Clerk needs to be paid at a higher rate. Currently there is a staff structure review going on. If SNTC is compared with similar Town Councils then the size of our pre-crisis administration must reduce. We should be attracting a Town Clerk at less than £50,000 salary.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Paddling in the pool of despair.

Time and again the red herring of a new open air swimming pool comes up. Looking back at the local press this is something Cllr Derek Giles went on about.
So it was with a bit of concern that I looked into this bit of St Neots history. I found there was a charity which ran the open air swimming pool and all the Councillors of SNTC are trustees on the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust. The Trusts Charity Commission webpage is here.

Since the closure of the swimming pool, the Trust relies on the income it receives from rent on the land leased to Eat n' Bowl next door. The Rent is at £10,000 pa.

The main expenditure of the Trust is the cost of ground maintenance or grass cutting. Plus there is an administration charge levelled at the Trust by the Town Council for the old swimming pool site owned by the Trust.

So, the Town Councillors are the Trustees and charge this charitable trust for all the work the Town Council does in administration. Plus any work to the land at the old swimming pool site.

So what is the record of this Town Council in respect of this? The answer is pretty simple. Atrocious! Not only does the Town Council keep missing deadlines for its client it isn't really that good at administrating this tiny charity.

The problem with this cosy arrangement is the Town Council has little incentive to stop this arrangement. It is way beyond time the Trustees were independent of the Town Council. Rather than the same 18 Councillors who have presided over two damning audit reports!

The only report on time was the 2005 accounts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Conservative Stealth Tax on going to a public loo!

Cllr Ursell has been on The St Neots Forum making claims about the public toilets issue. To recap, Cllr Ursell claimed the Town Council used to run the public toilets in St Neots and this only cost the Town Council.

In fact SNTC ran the public toilets on behalf of HDC via an Agency Agreement. So HDC paid SNTC to run the toilets and they did so within the money paid by HDC. So the cost to SNTC was nil or they made a few pounds out of this arrangement.

Now HDC wants to abandon the public toilets and let the Town Council pick up the bill. This is a Conservative Stealth Tax on St Neots and the other Town Councils. This has purely come about because the Conservatives have made a total mess of the HDC budget.

Time our Conservative Councillors were straight with us over troubles with the budget and what that will mean for the Council Taxpayers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What is the point of Huntingdon Labour Party?

This Constituency Labour Party seems to be just doing the utter minimum of putting candidates in most wards at most elections. This allows those who wish to vote Labour the ability to do so. I have been here a couple of years and haven't seen single leaflet from the local Labour Party.

With Djanogly in expenses trouble, all I could see the CLP doing was an on-line petition (75 signature) and write a few letter to the papers. If the Labour Party wants to become a force in Huntingdonshire it needs to start by targeting one seat and only one seat. Otherwise Labour will continue to disappear from Huntingdonshire and St Neots.

Look at the work Labour put into the Glasgow North East by-election. The result was it got much of the core vote out and voting Labour. The problem in St. Neots is Labour has all but given up tending to its core vote and getting former supporters out to vote. The contraction in the turnout has much to do with Labour supporters staying at home. The reason behind all this has to do with Labour not getting its message out to its supporters and potential supporters during the year and even at election time.

Who will fill this void? The BNP and other motivated minor parties do prey on wards where the main political parties take the vote for granted. A good, vigorous campaign will get supporters out to vote. Keep up the vigorous campaign and more supporters will vote. If the local Labour Party is waiting for the political scenery to change then it will have a long wait. By not doing the groundwork during the bad years, this local Labour Party will be unable to respond when the scenery does change. And it will.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Less Tax! NOT more new facilities.

In April 2011, the new development at Love's Farm will be annexed by St Neots Town Council. At the same time the Town Ward of Eynesbury Hardwicke (gray shaded area in the picture) will also be annexed. Other designated development land to the east of the railway bounded by the A428 will also be annexed. St Neots will lose some land west of the A1 to Hail Weston and parts of Skipper Way development will be annexed by Little Paxton.

Currently St Neots has a council tax base of 9178. On current figures Love's Farm will add at least 100 to the council tax base. Eynesbury Hardwicke will add roughly 700. The loss of Skipper Way will lose roughly 100. So when SNTC finally gets to add this to the Council Tax base this could mean a bonanza of at least an extra £61,000 a year to the Town Council coffers. As Love's Farm gets larger this may add another 800 to the council tax base. So a potential £70,000 pa extra. That is without including any housing developments to the south of Cambridge Road.

The question is what should the Town Council do with this annual bonanza? The temptation is to spend all this money on "something". I'm sure there is a list of things the Town Council will want to do with the money. The list will get longer as Town Councillors have more ideas. The Town Council has shown a lack of financial discipline over the ECC and moving Grounds Maintenance in-house.

In the Forward Plan it says:
c. Loves Farm Community Centre
The Council has been approached by the District Council to assume responsibility for the future Loves Farm Community Centre. Land will be made available and some £350,000 will be transferred to provide a suitable building. However, that sum will be insufficient to provide a suitable building.

This means SNTC is already planning to take out another loan to pay for facilities we don't necessarily need. But these residents are paying substantially below what the rest of St Neots are paying.

In St Neots we currently pay band D = £87.55.
In Love's Farm they pay band D = £16.95.
In Eynesbury Hardwicke they don't pay anything towards their Parish Council. So ALL bands = £0
(It will be a shock for these residents when their Council Tax bill will go up to SNTC levels in April 2011.)

I think it is wrong that St Neots residents will potentially have to pay towards new facilities for our new residents. Both Love's Farm and Eynesbury Hardwicke residents pay little or nothing currently to their Parish Councils. If these facilities are needed then a dowry should be paid with the residents. In Love's Farm there is land and £350,000 for a building and that should be it. Build the facility for £350,000 and no more! I feel this bonanza should be used solely for reducing the Council Tax for the whole of the new St Neots.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Should our Councillors Take The Pain?

The Conservative run HDC is running a £4.9 million deficit. HDC is also looking introduce a "Stealth Tax" on the Town Council by shifting the cost of Public Toilets. What I did notice in the Budget was £5,000 set aside to review Councillor allowances.
Review Councillor Allowances???!!!
This would only be an upward move. When this Council truly balances the budget (NO BUDGET DEFICIT) then Councillors should be looking at their Allowances.
Until then, the Councillors who got us into this mess should be taking the pain along the residents.  I say: Halve Councillor Allowances and Special Responsibility Allowances until the budget is balanced.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

So who is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the General Election?

Having looked up Huntingdon on I'm perplexed that our local Liberal Democrats have still to select a candidate. The Conservatives have the damaged Djanogly. UKIP have Jennifer O'Dell. The Greens have selected John Clare. Even Labour have Anthea Cox.

The General Election has be be held on or before Thursday 3 June 2010. The local elections are due to be held on Thursday 6th May 2010. If Gordon Brown decides to go for the latest date we will have elections campaigns for 2 months. If he decides to go in tandem with the locals this will be a month long campaign. If he decides to go in late March this would mean the election will be called in February.

So the local Liberal Democrats have very little time left to select a candidate. They either select between now and 1st December 2009 or in January 2010. If they select in December then Xmas and New Year will drown out the news.
Maybe the Liberal Democrats aren't going to fight in Huntingdonshire and only want to put up a "paper"* candidate. With David Howarth, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge, standing down at the next election this will throw the Cambridge election wide open. Most Liberal Democrats will be across there campaigning to keep the seat Liberal Democrat.

With all the furore over Djanogly I would have thought the Liberal Democrats would have got a candidate in early. Instead they seem to be leaving this to the last moment!

*A "paper" candidate is someone who stands on the understanding they won't win and will not do any campaigning. The reason is to allow your party supporters to vote at every election. There have been many times when a "paper" candidate wins when they shouldn't.

Monday, November 9, 2009

To Mayor or Not to Mayor? That is the election!

Apparently, Huntingdonshire District Council messed up the on whether we wanted an elected Mayor or not by holding the consultation early and not wide enough. Yes, the Huntingdonshire DC missed out on involving THE PUBLIC. Now we have a second chance to decide on whether we want to have an elected Mayor.

So would an elected Mayor be better for Huntingdonshire? My answer is it could be. Instead of having a party person in charge we could have an Independent or a person from a minor party elected by Huntingdonshire to run the Council on our behalf.

If things go wrong we would have someone to blame and if things go right then we have someone to praise. This would mean better accountability of the elected Mayor. At least we would be likely to know whom he or she is rather than the faceless party hack we have at the moment. I don't know who the current Leader of the Council is and I do read the local press and District Council propaganda.

What an elected Mayor won't do is make the electorate come out and vote. It hasn't done this elsewhere.

At the moment we have a Council which is being less than honest with residents about how bad the situation is with the budget deficit. We cannot hold these people to account until the elections in May. Even then it will be an election with a third of the seats up for election so it unlikely the Conservatives will lose control. There are 13 Conservative seats up for re-election. With 37 seats out of 52, the Conservatives need to lose 12 seats to lose control. Even if the Liberal Democrats win all the Conservative seats up for grabs they cannot win control of the Council. What we can look forward to is a hung council with no party able to push through the reforms needed. An elected Mayor looks good from this point of view.

In conclusion, I'm in favour of having an elected Mayor for Huntingdonshire (though shouldn't it be an elected Sheriff?) as we need better local Government than we currently have and we need a way of circumventing the current electoral arrangements to try and ensure it is THE PUBLIC has its say.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Are the Liberal Democrats "out of date"?

Having had a go at the Conservatives I thought I would look at the Liberal Democrat website for St Neots. I though the Conservatives were behind the times but the St. Neots Liberal Democrats are far more behind talking about April 2008.

Pictured top right Sam Kemp who is the newly elected Councillor for Huntingdon North. Except she has already resigned and there has been a by-election.

Also the page informs us the the St Neots Liberal Democrats decided to print and distribute an Annual Report. That was way back in 2008. With 2010 rapidly approaching and 2 damning audit reports later they are hardly going to issue another one!

In the picture is Bob Eaton who was Town Mayor at the time and he stood down as Town Mayor in May 2009.

Along with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats are doing St. Neots a disservice by not keeping up with and exploring the issues happening in St. Neots.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Djanogly wants an overnight count. Why?

In a recent article in the ever better News and Crier, Jonathan Djanogly MP wants to keep an overnight count for election night. Whilst I can understand the reasons why, I disagree with the reasons.

I feel the main reason why he Djanogly wants an overnight count is that he can get of out the constituency and back to his main home, the one in London. Of course, THE PARTY will be in London and Djanogly will be stuck in St Ives waiting for the result. Being in London will mean he can receive the call to Government and be in position to start being a Minister without delay. I can understand all this. I disagree with these reasons but I can understand it.

Before we condemn this idea out of hand, lets look at the logistics. The likelihood is this will be a double poll with national and local elections. Polls open at 7am and close at 10pm. This will mean that those staffing each polling station will have to be there at 6am to set up and then go onto the count until 2, 3 or even 4am. This is a 19 to 22 hour day. And then back later in the morning to count the local elections.

The likelihood is we will have one ballot box for the General Election and one for locals. To ensure all ballots are correctly counted all ballot boxes should be opened and verified (this means the number of ballots in each box matches the number of ballots issued). All the postal ballots which were received during the day need to be processed and added to the other ballots. Because this Government has widen the use of postal votes these need to be verified and this takes time.

Lets have a humane election and have the count on the next day.

Friday, November 6, 2009

HDC is whitewashing the dire situation!

On the HDC front page I found this piece on how the Council is going to examine ways of cutting the deficit the Council has been running for years. Initially I thought good! This is what the Council needs to do.

I then read this linked press release. Having read this press release I was concerned that this was a white wash of the the problems which HDC faces. The press release also said the whole Medium Term Plan (MTP) will be discussed at the next meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel (Economic Well-Being) (OSP-EWB) on 12th November 2009.
So I looked up the Agenda for the meeting (linked here) and found yet another whitewash of a report. True you can find the following:

amongst the 22 pages in this whitewash.

Nowhere in the report does the Council actually address what services need to be cut. The line in the MTP still has these cuts as "unidentified". This is head in the sand mentality because these savings are the minimum and the HDC itself forecasts a need to continue making savings far into the future. Nowhere in the report are there proposals of where the £8.75 million will be cut!

This is a whitewash because HDC is saying: "...will be setting out proposals demonstrating how it intends to balance its budget....". I see not demonstration. All I see is whitewash.

Jonathan Djanogly MP and his Legg letter.

A few weeks ago we were told by Jonathan Djanogly MP that his Legg letter said he didn't have to pay back as much as the £25,000 he originally handed back. The Legg letter, we are told, went onto ask for more information about the infamous gates.

But shouldn't we actually see that letter? The letter from Legg was about expenses Djanogly had claimed and if he hadn't paid them back he would be asked to pay them back now! So I feel Jonathan Djanogly MP should publish the Legg letter and any correspondence that results.

I do feel the information we are getting is being managed very tightly by Djanogly. I feel he wants to limit what is being published. I have to decide between a solicitor MP, who didn't hold a public meeting and hasn't published his not blacked out expenses and The Daily Telegraph who have seen the originals. I tend to agree with the Daily Telegraph in this instance.

What I find frustrating about this is I would have supported Djanogly at the forthcoming General Election. That would have been if he had held a public meeting to discuss his expenses. The only trouble with that is I need the information about his expenses claimed from public funds to ask questions. This has been withheld (follow this link to see how an FOI request is getting on). There are questions I would love to ask Djanogly about his Legg letter and correspondence. But as it hasn't been published so I can't.

This is the problem with all these expenses. I know Djanogly has the information. I'd love to ask him questions about his expenses' claims. But I can't because I don't have the information. I feel without this information I am being held in contempt and will not vote for Djanogly.

To me if Djanogly had actually held a Public Meeting, published all the information and answered the questions I would have been out there supporting him. Now I find I'm having to hold my nose and vote UKIP.
I recently looked for his current expenses claims. I looked on his website and couldn't find anything. What I did find was on the website where I found a list of his current expenses. So come on Jonathan. You didn't hold a public meeting with you electorate over your expenses. Why don't you publish your Legg letter correspondence and your expense claims that you have paid back?

If you want to see the blacked out expenses follow this link.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Are the Conservatives revolting?

Looking at their local website it hasn't moved since 4th June 2009. 2 damning reports by the Auditors on the Liberal Democrat run Town Council and the Conservatives still have to say anything on their ever informative website.

Why can't they tell us what is going on in St. Neots and what their thoughts are on local issues. An then it is the electorate who get told off because when we can't be bothered to vote. Politics is a two way process and the political parties are talking to a smaller and smaller numbers of the electorate.


The other answer is the St Neots Conservatives are revolting against Djanogly by not updating their website.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Djanogly should be looking worried!

The recent by-election result in Huntingdon North should be worrying for Djanogly. The results show the Conservative vote has dramatically fallen once again. At the 2008 District Elections the result was:

Conservatives 473
Liberal Democrats 300
Labour 143

The 2009 by-election result was:

Conservative  213 (-260)
Liberal Democrats 243 (-57)
Labour 123 (-20)
UKIP 167 (+84)

This was a massive disaster for the Conservatives who should have won this election hands down going on the 2008 result. What this shows to me is UKIP is the only party gaining from Djanogly's woes.

Those woes started with the last Euro results which made UKIP the party chasing the Conservatives in Huntingdonshire. The partial result is below:

Conservative  16,543
UKIP  10,422
Liberal Democrats 6,498
(this result is for the whole of Huntingdonshire which is larger than Huntingdon Constituency)

This massive drop in the Conservative support should be looked at as a direct challenge to the re-election of Djanogly as our MP. I also noticed that an assistant to Jonathan Djanogly, Simon Burton, has been appointed as Agent. So the MP has to get his placeman into the job.

The problem I have is not necessarily one of his expenses. What I have a problem with is we don't know what his expenses are and why he made them. Unless you are a member of the local Conservative Party (which I'm not) you have been unable to ask Djanogly questions about his expenses. Jonathan Djanogly MP should have held a public meeting to inform his electorate what he claimed and why and to answer our questions. Djanogly has avoided this public examination and this is why I cannot vote for him.

I'm not a supporter of UKIP but if I want to get rid of Djanogly I'm going to have to bite my lip and vote UKIP at the next election. I suggest to all readers they do the same.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So what is on the agenda for tomorrow night?

At the meeting of the Town Council one of the first items is to approve the minutes of previous Town Council meetings and committee meetings. What I found by reading this was a whole bunch of meetings had taken place without the agendas being published on their website. Those missing were:

The ECC Meeting of 14th October 2009.
There were 2 special Town Council meetings held on 19th and 27th October 2009.
Also there were meetings held on 21st October 2009 for Policy & Resources Committee and the Audit Committee.

Moving on... There are a few items of interest.

Item 10 is to inform the Town Council about the increased costs of the kitchen fit out at the ECC.

Item 16 (excluding Press and Public) is a presentation by Cllr Gordon Thorpe (Town Mayor) about the ECC Pre-school. This can't be good news! Seeing that it was only back in September that it was decided to charge this business a rent!

But what I find frustrating is the inability of the Liberal Democrat run Town Council to inform the residents of its meetings on their website. For a political party that lectures everyone else on the necessity of transparency these Liberal Democrats do a very good job of keeping the public in the dark as those they complain against.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I have to start somewhere!

Having seen what a blog can do in Somerton, Somerset, I thought I would have a go with one for the lovely Town of St Neots. Because of what our local politicians are actually getting away with, there needs to be a bit of publicity.

Our local St Neots Town Council has had two damning audit reports yet no Town Councillor has resigned. This is run by the Liberal Democrats. Who seem to have made a fine mess of the whole structure.

Not that Huntingdonshire District Council is doing much better. With a forecast deficit of £5 million in 2013, the Conservatives are using up £13 million in usable reserves to keep the budget going.

Not only that, but our MP, Jonathan Djanogly, has been embroiled in the expenses scandals that hit Parliament. Despite the call from Cameron that his MP's should hold public meetings, Djanogly hasn't and I feel that is wrong.

So this blog is about my thoughts on politics in and around St Neots. As for my political stance, well I'm too right wing for the Liberal Democrats and too left wing for the Conservatives. I have worked in local governemnt and find most local government workers, officers and politicians are there for the good of the people they serve.

The only trouble is no one wants to take responsibility when things do go wrong.