Friday, December 31, 2010

Will Planning accede to political demands?

5 months on from the decision to make Turnstone Estates the preferred bidder for the Cinema project and nothing has come forward. SNTC is dropping the Cinema from the Forward Plan - version 4. Is reality setting into the project. To recap the project is for a 7 screen cinema including a Theatre auditorium with 160 car parking spaces.
The 7 screen cinema with theatre auditorium will have to be fitted into the size of the potential larger scale building in the centre of the development. This is roughly the size of the Lidl supermarket. I seem to be the only one who feels this is utter lunacy to try to develop this site for a cinema. Only if the HDC's Planning Department throws out its own rulebook if a cinema of the size being proposed is to be accommodated on this site.

Anything less than a proper 7 screen cinema will be derided by the St Neots public. A cinema at any cost is the product of the politics of envy. I want to see a proper cinema in St Neots. This isn't the solution.
"A spokeswoman for Turnstone Estates said: “We are working on proposals with a view to submitting a planning application by the end of this year or early next year." So they haven't this year. Early next year. I would say 31st January 2011 is the end of early next year.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Old Post of mine from the Forum

This is what I wrote back in February 2009.

I've just received a copy of the summary of the Liberal Democrat run St Neots Town Council budget for 2009/10. This is my take on it. 

Bringing Grounds Maintenance in-house is costing the Council Tax payer an extra £90,000 a year! This is the main finding of my analysis of the Liberal Democrat run St Neots Town Council budget. 

Grounds Maintenance has also put a hole in the current budget with a not forecast cost increase of £57,000. This has led scrapping the Town Plan and the One Stop Shop in trying to keep this Town Council afloat. 

Whilst the Liberal Democrats seem to celebrating(?) a rise of only 5%, this has come at a cost to the Towns future. 

This has been achieved by cutting: 

  • The Capital Budget from £189k to £25k. This drastic cut will come back and bite this Town Council in the future. By cutting back a healthy capital programme the Town Council will need to increase CT in the future to reinstate these schemes. The Town Plan, One Stop Shop and Play Areas are £215,000 of capital expenditure on their own.
  • The essential Town Plan. Saved £60k. Not so essential now!
  • The One Stop Shop. Saved £50K. So the Town Council staff can still hide behind the closed window after HDC leave.
  • Play equipment promise scrapped. £40k supposed to be spent next year with an additional £55k the year after. Another Forward Plan promise gone!

So why has the Town Council had to make these cuts? Because the Eatons Community Centre is eating up so much cash and grounds maintenance, despite detailed reports, has come in a far more than budgeted! Looking at this mess no wonder the Town Clerk left! 

Under the General Budget headings the main increases/decreases between 2008/09 and 2009/10 are: 

  • Central/CRM/DRM down by £32,000. This is due to not replacing the Town Clerk for 6 months into 2009/10. This is a gamble that they can get away with not having a new Town Clerk in the future and promoting the Deputy and deleting that post.
  • Income is down by £32,500. This is due to the loss of interest from reserves which are being spent on the Eatons Community Centre.
  • Depot Operations/Play Area’s/Open Spaces/Cemetery & Churchyard is up by £90,000. This rise has everything to do with bringing the contracts in-house.
  • Promotions has gone up by £22,000. This largely went up in 2007/08 but wasn’t budgeted for in 2008/09. Another cause of budgetary problems.
  • Town Promotion has gone up by £18,000. This largely went up in 2007/08 but wasn’t budgeted for in 2008/09. Again, under budgeting causing problems!
  • An extra £25,000 is to be used as start up money for the EEC. Good idea to include this item.
  • Priory Centre cut by £26,000. There is a £10k cut in staffing but an increase of £16,000 in income? This is odd because the TC is looking at £107k income for 2008/09 but has increased this by £16k to £123k. Economic recession?
This has been financed by cutting capital back from £189,000 to £25,000 = £164,000. 

The result of this mess is: 

  • The essential Town Plan scrapped. Saving £60,000. Not so essential now!
  • The One Stop Shop scrapped. Saving £50,000.
  • Upgrade of play areas scrapped. Saving £95,000
  • Town Wardens scrapped. Cost not indicated.
  • New Cemetery? How is the Town Council ever going to afford this?
  • Town Lottery. That idea has been scrapped. Saving: £10,000.
  • Love’s Farm Community Centre. Extra money needed for this project. Where is this money coming from?
  • Eynesbury Community Centre. Extra money needed for this project. Where is this money coming from?
  • Town Open Air Swimming Pool. If the land is sold, where is the trust going find free land from to build the new pool?
My conclusion is this budget is a bad budget because it is a very short term budget to try get out of the problems caused by bad budgeting in the recent past. All this budget is doing is storing up problems for the future instead of tackling the actual problems now and getting the Town Council on the right financial footing to face the future. 
The Forward Plan is a good plan as it sets out a series of objectives which this Town Council could achieve. What it lacked was the financial foresight needed to make the Town Plan achievable. All this Liberal Democrat run Town Council is doing is desperately treading water waiting for the cash bonanza of 2011 when the new areas are annexed into the SNTC area. By not tackling the problems now this will mean when 2011 actually gets here the cash bonanza will spent on the stored up projects rather than progressing St Neots forward!

I was a little early on the 2011 date. The area were annexed in 2010. Otherwise I feel much has come out the way I thought it would.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why not put an "Eynesbury Community Centre" on Sydney Banks fields?

This is the question I pose to those who want a community centre for Eynesbury. This could be a boon for the area. A community centre with changing rooms for football pitches and the open air swimming pool there for the summer. A good idea? Well I put this forward as an idea which achieves both a focal point for the community and allows for the new open air swimming pool.

No clear thinking?

The Hunts Post - 29/12/2010

A letter from Russell Taylor of St Neots appears in the Hunts Post talking about flood risk to the new housing development. Looking at the Environment Agency website he is wrong.
There is some risk, but the main risk is to the Parklands area rather than the new development. This risk has been lessened by building up the ground at the new development site.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What should Labour do?

Labour is currently an insignificant party in St Neots. With the party now in opposition in Parliament and the Liberal Democrats have got into bed with the Conservatives it would seem a good opportunity to restart Labour in St Neots. Labour could start with a proper election campaign.  There is an opportunity for Labour to do something at the May elections.

Labour seems to have allowed the Liberal Democrats a free run at the Town Council elections. This allowed the Liberal Democrats to win the Town Council in 2007. It is a pity that Labour have nothing to show for this act of kindness. The Liberal Democrats squandered the 4 years going from one financial crisis to another.

Will Labour support the Liberal Democrats again by not fielding candidates for the Town Council elections? I hope not and nor should they. By doing so Labour will be endorsing a party which made many cuts. Time Labour stood alone. The Coalition will lose popularity and Labour should be the main beneficiary.

It will be no use complaining about the Liberal Democrats at future elections if Labour stands aside at for the Liberal Democrats at some elections.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Predictions for 2011 Town Council elections

What happens at the Town Council elections depend on many different factors as to who is standing and where. There have been many who said they would stand for District or Town Council as Independents. This is normally hot air and nothing comes of these flights of fancy.

Eynesbury - 7 seats - 1 extra for 2011. 
At the 2007 elections the result was 5 Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives 1. There was a 30 vote difference between the Conservative and the last Liberal Democrat. With the annexation of part of Eynesbury Hardwicke the best comparison would be the 2010 election.
If UKIP stands at Town Council elections they will cause harm to the Conservative vote. On the otherhand if Labour puts one or more candidates up this will hurt the Liberal Democrats.

Priory Park - 4 seats

The Liberal Democrats undoubtedly one this because Labour stood at the Districts and not at the Town Council elections. If Labour were to stand this could swing this the Conservative way as it did in 2010.
Depending on Labour not standing seems the only hope for the Liberal Democrats. If Labour stands this would cut the Liberal Democrats vote.

Eaton Socon - 4 seats
The Labour vote swung to the Liberal Democrats in 2007. The Conservatives should win if Labour doesn't stand at these elections in 2011.

Eaton Ford - 5 seats. 1 extra for 2011

This could prove interesting if the UKIP stands here. Marian Appleton, who stood in Eynesbury at the District elections, lives in Eaton Ford. If UKIP stood in this ward they may be able to garner enough Conservative vote to let the Liberal Democrats in. On the other hand a full set of Labour candidates could keep them from winning.

East - 1 new seat for the new ward taking in Love's Farm.
No idea how this seat will go. If anything this seat is up for grabs and is small enough for an independent or Labour to campaign and win. Otherwise I've marked this down as a Conservative win. As a single seat it could hold the balance of power.

My prediction.
There are loads of different factors going on here. Labour, UKIP and any Independents could upset this election.

Each scenario means lots of work for each party. If I was running the campaign for:
 the Conservatives, I would be concentrating on the whole Town to get out the vote across St Neots.
 the Liberal Democrats, I would be talking to Labour to stop them standing candidates. I would then be concentrating on the whole Town
 Labour I would put at least one candidate up in each seat. More if I could. I would then concentrate my campaign on Love's Farm.
 UKIP, I would get at least one candidate into each ward. I would then aim my campaign on Eaton Ford.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

St Neots Conservatives finally delete their website.

The St Neots Conservatives have finally gotten around to deleting their website. I suppose it had become very embarrassing with Vote Conservative on 1st June 2009. What has also been very embarrassing is my use of the website picking up embarrassing bits of what was said by the St Neots Conservatives in the past.
The demise of this website means the Conservatives can hide what they have said before. Also it consigns to history all the work the Conservatives did in the run up to the 2008 and 2009 elections. Luckily I took a copy of the website before its demise.

With little or no political leafleting and the St Neots Conservative website deleted this is just another avenue for our local politicians have closed in communicating with their electorate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Good Idea but the numbers just don't add up.

The Liberal Democrats put forward a motion to the District Council at 15th December 2010 trying to stop cuts to the voluntary sector proposed in 2012/13 and 2013/14. But what is this about?
It looks as though the Conservatives are going to cut back on grants to certain voluntary organisations. This will not leave much in the budget for these local organisations to bid for. Many, which are wedded to District Council funding will have to find money elsewhere or close. The largest recipient if the CAB. 

I will start back to front and look firstly at the organisations the Liberal Democrats are trying to save.

The grants made by HDC to the voluntary sector this year are as follows:

Citizens Advice Bureau: £183,250 - This is a registered charity. For better or for worse the CAB is relying mainly on HDC for funding.
Hunts Forum for Voluntary Organisations: £41,200 - This is a registered charity. This charity seems to exist to train other charities into being effective organisations. It also runs the Maple Centre in Huntingdon.

Volunteer Bureau: £37,140 - This is a registered charity. The main purpose is to find volunteers and match them to opportunities for volunteers.

Shopmobility: £37,140 - This is a registered charity. This lend out mobility scooters to people from Huntingdon and surrounding areas to shop in Huntingdon. Excuse me! Why is the District Council paying towards this in the first place. Shouldn't the retailers, banks and other service providers chip in for this service rather than rely on the Council taxpayer to fund!

Bedford Pilgrims Housing Association: £27,140 - This is a housing association which made £4.9 million last year. So HDC is contributing £27,140 a year until March 2011 so the BHPA can boast it is "building communities".
St. Barnabas Learning Centre: £26,370 - Not a registered charity but a company limited by guarantee. Companies House info. seems to do much of its work in Huntingdon.

Disability Information Service: £7,070

'Natural High': £4,000

This is what the Liberal Democrats are defending.

How were they proposing to make up the shortfall of £309,000? By:

(i) increasing Council Tax annually from April 2012 by 3.5% or 4.5%;
Council tax is already predicted to rise by 2.5%. An additional 1% is £75,000. An additional 2% is £150,000.

(ii) pursuing shared services with other district councils with greater determination and in particular by unifying the collection of council tax across the district councils in Cambridgeshire;
Unknown whether this will mean savings in the short term.

(iii) making more aggressive savings in the expenditure on Pathfinder House by taking elements out of use quickly as staff numbers fall and by seeking to sub-let as early as possible;
Sub-let to whom? Is there a massive number of companies who want to relocate to Pathfinder House? I don't think so.

(iv) freezing Members' allowances for the next four years;
Not much savings there.

(v) reducing the size of the Council from 52 to 35 members, reducing the size of Cabinet to 7, reducing the number of Scrutiny Panels from 3 to 1 with concomitant savings on administration, postage, printing and stationery;
Good ideas. The cutting of the Council would need a total re-warding of the District. With the Cabinet, why stop at 7. This should be cut to 5. The useless scrutiny committees should be cut to 1. Minimal short term savings.

(vi) starting to investigate now the possibility of transferring the leisure centres to trust status;
But this is a medium term saving and needs funding to complete. One Leisure looks to try to stop this transfer. Earlier could do well. 

(vii) considering saving on redundancy costs by offering groups of staff the option of reduced hours (whilst maintaining pension contributions at their previous level); and
The Local Government Pension Scheme doesn't run on pension contributions. It was a final salary scheme which depended on the salary and not contributions.

(viii) reconsidering the other savings proposed by the Liberal Democrat Group last year and earlier this year.'
The proposals the Liberal Democrats made were trashed by the Council Officers.

Whatever I feel the Liberal Democrats need to resolve is the issue of savings still needing to be made.
There is a need to deal with these unidentified spending adjustments. This money still has to be saved.

In conclusion, the Liberal Democrats need to look at the unidentified spending adjustments. This is still money that has either to be cut or gained. Without a viable plan to find an extra £3.5 million by 2014/15 any savings the Liberal Democrats put forward are illusionary. Whilst it is easy to criticise the Liberal Democrats, it is the Conservatives who have made this mess and it is they who should be bringing forward plans to inform the public where all these cuts are going to fall. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Better Deal for Eaton Socon said Mandy Thomas

Conservative District Councillor Mandy Thomas, who has made only one meeting in the last 8 months, said this when she was running for election in 2008.
Well, Mandy was given the chance and now isn't attending meetings. Is this the first real resignation over Car parking Charges by default. I feel we should be told!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finance and General Purposes Committee 23/12/10

Is this meeting taking place? I have not seen otherwise. There has been no advanced publication of this meeting - a legal requirement - on the Town Council noticeboard nor on the Town Council website. Why is the Town Council being so secret?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Promise is only fulfilled when swimming pool is built

In a rush of excitement by the Hunts Liberal Democrats website there is an announcement they have fulfilled an election promise over the open air swimming pool.
This is very premature. To fulfil the promise shouldn't the pool be built and opened? Yes it should! All they have done is chosen a preferred buyer. Like any land purchase this is going to take a long time and may not be fruitful. 

Liberal Democrat Town Councillor Derek Giles has been very vocal in predicting when a new swimming pool would be built. He predicted a pool would be open in the summer of 2009. Doesn't look likely in Summer 2011

Time for a reality check here. The proposed land at Riversmead is not that big. A smaller pool could be fitted onto this site. But what of the residents. Unlike the previous site Riversmead has many residents backing onto this land. It may sound good but all these residents are going to have their lives disrupted by the noise and traffic generated by this facility.

Where is the car parking going to go? I pity the poor residents who will find on high days and holidays their peace disturbed. I feel this is the wrong location for an open air swimming pool. SNSPT needs to find somewhere else fulfil the promise.

Latest on the Accounts/Annual Return saga.

Pool Plan Takes Shape?

The Hunts Post St Neots - 22/12/2010

So SNSPT may get £1.75 million for the sale of the old swimming pool site. I say may because until it is in the bank the money isn't there. With a build cost of £1.25 million and £500,000 for investment to help pay for the running of the pool. Unfortunately, I feel the £500,000 won't be enough to keep the pool running. A pool will need public subsidy to keep open.

It is obvious that Martin Land is jumping the gun by announcing the amount the preferred bidder has made. This should come from the Town Council/Town Councillors not the paid help. Whilst this is welcome news, the money isn't in the bank.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Are our District Councillors attending meetings?

I thought I would see how the District Councillors we send from St Neots are doing at attending HDC meetings. On the whole they put in good attendance. You can check here.
Whilst Cllrs Farrer and Ursell are a few meetings short, the District Councillor who stands out like a sore thumb is Cllr Mandy Thomas. Only 1 meeting out of 9. This isn't good. There may be very good reason why Mandy isn't attending meetings. Her attendance, in the past, isn't that good.

But here is the crux. Mandy attended the meeting of OSP Economic Well-being on 15th July 2010. I don't know if Mandy attended the meeting of 9/12/10. If she didn't then she may fall foul of the 1972 act.

According to Section 85 (1) of the Local Government Act 1972: “If a member of a local authority fails throughout a period of six consecutive months from the date of his last attendance to attend any meeting of the authority, he shall, unless the failure was due to some reasons approved before the expiry of that period, cease to be a member of the authority.”

Unless Mandy turns up to the next OSP Economic Well-being on 13th January 2011 then there will be a by-election.

If Mandy fulfills her basic duties and does attend, there does remain the question over her attendances. With so few attendances I have to ask why are we paying Mandy to continue to be a Councillor. She is elected until May 2012. But the Conservatives are carrying her. St Neots needs representatives at Council. Not an absent one. Mandy should resign her seat and a by-election can be held at the local elections in May 2011.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Something Cllr Ursell needs to answer

A short while back I had a spat with Cllr Ursell over the use of the 1960 Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act and the secret item called Burial Plots. Browsing through the archives I found the following:
So the Conservatives themselves thought that secret meetings were being used as a shield information that residents should know. How the Conservatives have changed!

Referenda - Has the coalition got this wrong?

Part of the coalition plans were for local referenda to decide local issues. Whilst the the Council Tax increases over and above a level yet to be set has been made mandatory, the problems with other referenda is they are not mandatory and require Council approval for a referendum to take place. Localism Bill here.

This is wrong! The Local Government Association has got at the DCLG over this issue. Where a council has authority to do something then the people should be able, through the use of referenda, to change public policy. What is the coalition so scared of? I suppose Proposition 13 is a classic example of people wanting their cake and eating it.

I always think that referenda should always carry a way of paying for a particular service. Here are some examples:

St Neots Leisure Centre will now owned and managed by St Neots Town Council by transferring the ownership of the lease and raising St Neots Council Taxpayers bill by £80 a year Band D average.

All parks and open spaces, including any buildings, currently owned or leased by HDC will be transferred to St Neots Town Council. This will be paid for by raising the St Neots Council Tax by £100 a year Band D average.

With each question should be the cost to the Council Taxpayer. The big question for those who moan at cuts is: "Where is the money coming from to pay to retain the service". A question that politicians and moaning members of the public don't want to answer.

A question of mandate.
I like the concept of mandate at elections. The winning party has the right to push through policies which they are elected on. This can work fine at national elections and even County Council elections and Parish/Town elections as these are on a fixed term basis. Where concept of mandate falls down is with election by thirds or halves as not everyone has the opportunity to vote on the issues.

On the question of referendums for Town Councils I'm a bit perplexed. Electors already have the right to call for a non binding Town Poll. These are pretty limited and are only open for part of the day - 4pm to 9pm. The changes I would like to see is the moving of the Annual Town Meeting to the months of January to March. Then any Town Polls flowing from the Annual Town Meeting can be held at the elections in May. This would require changes in the law.

I feel these referenda proposals are too timid and should be binding on a Council, where it is legal to do so. I'm not one for massive direct democracy but if we are going to have these powers lets make them real rather rather than illusionary.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ian Bates out of the loop?

Does District Council Leader Ian Bates know what is going on at HDC? In a recent article in the News and Crier he says:
The District Council expected something else. It expected higher Government Grants than were given. True the total for 2011/12 ends up the same with additional grant. This money doesn't continue into the next year with a provisional announcement of £9.3 Million against the forecast of £10.5 million. That is £1.2 million less than predicted!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Neighbourhood meetings moving around

In the summer there was much moaning about how can the St Neots Neighbourhood Forum be held in Kimbolton. As I pointed out then, this was a venue within the Neighbourhood Forum area. It was also stated that other Neighbourhood Forum meetings were held in their respective Towns. This was proved wrong then.

Now HDC is pushing the Neighbourhood Forums out to the people it is supposed to serve. Only St Neots will be held in St Neots.The others have dis-burst to other locations with their areas.
If the Sawtry sex shop goes through I want to be a fly on the wall at the Sawtry meeting on 19th January 2011.

There's life Jim, but not as we know it!

I was amazed. The Huntingdonshire Liberal Democrats have got their website up and running again with some interesting news. I will take a look at these in depth in later blogs. The Liberal Democrats are getting into election mode. Not only is St Neots Town Council up for grabs and so are District seats in St Neots.

I just hope they keep this up.

And where are the Conservatives? Look at their local website. Still calling for people to vote Conservative in 2009.

Conservative HDC gives Sawtry Sex Shop the go ahead

Not what the objectors want but Conservative run HDC has done something good for a change. It stood up for the individuals rights over those of the community. Not that I really want to be defending a sex shop. This is a legal business which Parliament has put restrictions on. Those restrictions have been met by Cocktails Ltd who now have a licence.

The losers are the protesters who have put much effort into trying to stop this licence going ahead. They are:

Shalish Vara MP who gave support to the protesters
Former County Council Leader Keith Walters
New boy Cllr Darren Tysoe who Chaired at least one meeting.
Sawtry Parish Council which paid out for a top notch barrister and still lost.
The Sawtry residents who are going to pick up the bill for the barrister.

The test of all this, of course, will be whether the Sex Shop will make any money. If it doesn't it will close.

So who to blame as blame will be aimed at someone?

The District Councillors - Well no! They were pretty much in a straight jacket over this. Going with residents would mean a judicial review and much cost. Not going with the residents doesn't cause the Councillors much harm.

Shalish Vara MP - He lent his support. He is a member of the Coalition Government and is the MP for the area. It is Parliament which passed the legislation allowing these types of shops. Parliament can always change the law. Is Shalish going to press for changes? Or is he going to sit on his hands and do nothing in Parliament.

The protesters - because they weren't realistic over their chances. Legal businesses can do legal things. Nor did the protesters come up with the money to make a counter offer. This is the basic problem. People don't want things they don't like but aren't willing to put their hands in their pockets to take things over. Welcome to Localism. Because this is what the Coalition is wanting us to to do. Want to save the local pub don't get up a petition. Band together, raise the money and run it yourselves. In the case of the sex shop land buy the land up. But they won't. A chance at a bit of true localism and the residents flunk it.

The new Localism will give communities much more powers to intervene by opening their wallets. In a free society it is Parliament that sets the rules. It is Parliament and their MP Shalish Vara whom the protesters should take their disgruntlement too and not HDC.

What is the betting they will blame HDC? A very good chance.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

David Monks and his £130,000 payout

Here we have it. David Monks, who as Chief Executive has presided over the mess that HDC finds itself in, is making a run for it before he has to make the Tsunami of cuts coming. At his next birthday, in March 2011, he will be 60. The age of retirement for Local Government workers is 60. So the Council Taxpayers are paying him off with £130,000 to go soon! That equates to £2.22 per Council Taxpayer on the Band D average.
From the Hunts Post:
Nice pay off when HDC is faced with cuts of up to £10 million. The empire that David Monks built is falling down around him. So David Monks will not be there when most of the redundancies and job cuts are taking place. Not really a man for the difficult decisions in life. I feel David Monks should forego this payment. Because he could have done much to change this position HDC finds itself in.

I can find no warnings by David Monks that the position the Council was in was unsustainable. All I can find is how wonderful HDC was by keeping the Council Tax low and what wonderful services residents received. It is only recently, with reserves running out, has it been panic stations at HDC. This has been far too late. I feel David Monks should take much responsibility for the current situation. Like others before him, it seems to pay to fail.

I suppose the Conservatives will be handwringing about all this and how they had to pay off the Chief Executive Officer. Well they didn't have to pay him off - but they did. The Conservatives have responsibility for the mess HDC find itself in. Their pursuit of the low tax/high spending policy has got HDC into this right muck up. The Chief Officers should also take part of the blame in the muck up that HDC find itself in.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What about the others.....

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Fire Authority has problems. In the 2010/11 Medium Term Plan, they were looking at a standstill grant.
With the grant announcement there will be a £973,000 cut in grant for 2011/12. The grant will be further cut in 2012/13 by £444,000. This is faster than the Fire authority expected.
They were looking at a 10% cut over 3 years. This is a 10% cut over 2 years.

Cambridgeshire County Council

Not too sure whether their figures are correct. This is because of the following statement:
So I've taken the figures as they are. This leads to two options. These are a far better than expected turnout with an extra £24 million for 2011/12 and an extra £23 million for 2012/13 OR this has problems with an extra cut of £12 million for 2011/12 and a cut of £14 million for 2012/13. 


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Grant cuts to HDC will mean more cuts!

The Coalition Government has announced the Grants Allocation for Councils. Huntingdonshire hasn't done that well.
The Formula grant has been cut to roughly to £10.5 million. This is down from the £11.1 million and is a further shortfall of £0.6 million than predicted. There is an additional grant for this year only of £1.1 million (Reads £1.3 million but £0.2 already included in HDC calculations for zero Council Tax increase). This will help for this year only and will mean the £0.5 million of unfunded cuts will not now have to happen this year. The additional grant, mainly for Council Tax and Housing Benefit administration, cannot be relied on. In the initial proposal for 2012-13 Grant Allocation this extra grant fall out.
For 2012/13 the formula grant was predicted to be £10.5. The proposed grant total is reduced to £9.3 million. This is a further fall of £0.6 million. An unpredicted fall of £1.2 million. Add this to the "savings still required" of £1.6 million, this will mean an extra £2.8 million of cuts has to be found.
Is the DCLG fiddling the figures? With the additional additional grant falling out for 2012/13 the 5.04% reduction doesn't take any account of the loss of additional grant. I feel this is wrong and distorts the figures.
Without the additional grant the outlook for HDC is more cuts and deeper cuts. This will mean the Conservative ruled HDC will have to act fast, something it hasn't done for many years.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More on the Church Car Park.

The Church Car Park outside St Mary's, Eaton Socon, which hit the headlines with the Church wanting the Council Taxpayer to pay for their car park, has been resurfaced. This has been paid for by the Town Council using a large grant from Tesco.

The Church must me laughing at the Council taxpayer having got one over the Town Council who will have to maintain this church car park. I still maintain this is a car park for the Church. As can be seen by these photos it is the church sign which is the only prominent sign. There is no Town Council sign informing users that it is a Town Council car park for the use of all the residents. Nor is their a sign informing people the car park was mainly paid for by Tesco. The only sign up was the St Mary's Church Noticeboard which makes the car park look like a car park for the church. Also I found no Council notices so anyone can park at this car park for free as long as they like as there are no restrictions. Plus there is no notice up about responsibility. So the Town Council takes responsibility for any damage to cars parked there? No sign up to say otherwise.
Is the church that poor that it couldn't afford this car park? In their accounts for 2009 the Parochial Church Council had enough money to fund these improvements. There were £17,825 in unrestricted funds at the year end (31/12/09). What is interesting in all this is how much the Church relies on the Taxpayer for some of it's funding through Gift Aid.
So the taxpayer has to stump up to keep the Church going through Gift Aid, the maintenance of the closed churchyard and now the car park. Good deal for the church. Bad deal for the council taxpayer.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Neighbourhood forums fail to inspire.

The Neighbourhood Forums still fail to inspire the residents. In a recent article HDC said a total of 200 people attended the last round of Neighbourhood Forums. That is 200 people over 5 venues. This makes an average of 40 people a meeting. But how many were ordinary members of the public? Going by the previous meeting this is not many. As I have pointed out most of the people attending are Councillors, Police, County and District Officials. This has totalled nearly 35 officials and politicians at each meeting leaving 5 members of the public. Hardly worth all this expenditure and Officer time.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Is 5% off enough?

The District Councillors are taking a 5% shave off their existing allowances. Whilst that is a start the problem is the District Council is looking at a 25% decrease in funding from Central Government. Added to the financial problems the District Council faces because of low tax/high spending policy I feel they should take more of a cut, say an additional 20%, until HDC has got itself into a balanced budget position. At this time this is far off.

I do feel our Councillors should be properly paid. The element of reduction for "public service" is wrong. There are far too many Councillors and this should be reduced. This would take a redrawing of the ward boundaries.

When HDC is in a fit state the Councillors allowances should be properly paid. Until then they should show leadership and take more of a pay cut.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Does the recent issue of Priorities stand up to the test

On part of getting the Town Council back to Quality Town Status is getting the communications right. The current Town Council propaganda sheet just isn't doing the job. The test is:
In the last issue, still to be added to the website, the Town Council had the Town Mayor's usual splurge about how he and the Town Council are raising money for his nominated charities. A bit on the back about who the Town Councillors are and apart form a couple of adverts for the Priory Centre that is just about it.

The Mayor's charities aren't the Town Councils and there is a question mark over how much it costs to raise the small amount of money that is raised. This part of the Mandatory section for regaining Quality Town Status is as far off as ever.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Your community needs you" says Grant Shapps

I thought I would add a link to this speech.

Burial Plots stopped over water fears

St Neots News and Crier - 09/12/2010

The new cemetery extension has been closed to new burials because of problems with the high water table. This is a muck up by the Town Council. What makes this worse is the Town Council tried to hide all this behind the 1960 Public Bodies (Admission to meetings) Act rather than be open and transparent with the public. This Town Council loves secrecy and hides behind this by various ways. The reason given this time by Cllr Thorpe was: the "sensitive nature" of this subject.

Nice try Cllr Thorpe. I feel it would be better to be honest with with residents rather than hiding behind secret decisions. Rather than explain to relatives, plot owners and the public that there are problems with the extension the Council resorts to secrecy.

Being secret is easy. Explaining what is wrong is hard. This Town Council takes the easy way out. Being open and transparent needs a change to the culture. The Liberal Democrats don't seem up to the job of changing this culture of secrecy within the Town Council. Openness and transparency is the way forward.

Corkscrewing in the swimming pool of despair!

As ever with the swimming pool trust the questions go unanswered. Back at the Annual Town Meeting I asked the following question:
The answer I got from Cllr Ursell (Chairman of SNSPT)was:
Not the answer to the question at all. They focussed on the £1,980 and I was asking about returns and accounts. I therefore asked a supplementary about why the accounts and annual return were 4 months late? The answer I got from Cllr Ursell was he would look into it. I thought then that he didn't know.

6 months on and I get into a clash on the St Neots Community Forum. This was about the cemetery. I took the opportunity to ask Cllr Ursell about the swimming pool trust and the late accounts.
Cllr Ursell answered:
Now I find that very strange because Cllr Ursell didn't inform me of this when I asked the original question at the Annual Town Meeting when the accounts and annual report were 4 months late.
I therefore replied with this:
I have yet to receive a reply. Is this why they are being so quiet? Cllr Ursell either knew why the accounts were late and didn't answer the question or he didn't know. As Chairman of the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust he should have known!

This leads me onto another question I asked at the Annual Town Meeting:
This is the answer I got back then:
So according to Cllr Ursell the Swimming Pool Trust has no money. Except when I take a look at the Annual Accounts for 2007/08 I find the following:
Less any accruals leaves a bank account balance of:
So when is £53,435 in the bank - no money?