Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Town Council saves £120k

The Town Council has come in under budget for the year 2009/10 by £120,855.  We will hear much about good management and the strong Town Council finances. This is good. What needs to be looked at is how the Town Council has achieved this. A copy of the Accounts is here.

The first problem I come across is the Budget in the 2009/10 Accounts differs from the original Budget passed in January 2009. The budget used in the Annual Accounts must be the revised budget. Two clues to this. Firstly, the original budget didn't have money going to reserves. Secondly, The Eatons Community Centre wasn't in the original budget (though £25k was put aside), but in the revised budget there is a budget for ECC at £11,000.

So I am not comparing the original budget with the outcome but the revised budget (December 2009) which is written a year on. I cannot find a very good reason for using the revised budget rather than the original. 

Whichever budget I use some of the figures are good. The Priory Centre is again the star of the show with a loss of £43,579 against an original budgeted loss of £103,243. Just under £60,000 down. On the revised budget this is shown as £83,415 + £10,000 for loan =  £93,415 or £50k below budget.

Out of a Council Tax amount Band D of £87.55 for 2009/10, The Priory Centre cost just £4.27. 
The budget for 2010/11 is £95,735 without loan repayment.

I wish the Town Council would decide on one set of figures and stick to them! Decide to either include loan repayments + interest or don't. Just don't use both. Or is this just the weird way of doing the accounts so comparisons are hard to do?

So Priory Centre has done well and will hopefully do well this year.

Moving along to Central Administration (£213,103). Whilst this looks like a good saving against the revised budget (£249,092) £35,989, it is a massive saving against the original budget of £288,270. I take this has much to do with not having a proper Town Clerk/Deputy Town Clerk and not filling the positions of Financial Assistant and Town Centre Manager.

I have to question whether just leaving posts open and not having a proper Town Clerk was the best way forward and is good management. I don't feel this is.

Another cut is in Grounds Maintenance which came in at £173,832 against the revised budget of £191,094  or £205,411 on the original budget.

The delay in the construction of the Eatons Community Centre also helped this budget. Because it wasn't built until later in the year and opened in December last year, much of the annual costs weren't taken up. There were also savings as the building contingency wasn't used and there were savings of £32k. This was mainly made up from £16k not fully invoiced and £12k from a penalty for being late. This also delayed the taking up of the loan which saved £17k in the budget.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats may feel this is down to their management of the Town Council finances, many of the savings in the budget were actually because nothing was done. Positions were left unfilled and the Priory Centre did another good job during the year. The lateness of the ECC caused savings in this budget but some costs were pushed into the future.

The Reserves are in a very good state. Some £350,000 in unusable reserves and earmarked reserves stand at £362,192. This allows the Town Council to do a few things without worrying about money.

The Town Council is getting financially stronger. It should be remembered that much of the first Forward Plan was dumped by Cllrs Giles and Thorpe in their panic budget. Dumping things like the Town Plan, new Play Areas and others put the Town Council back on track. What has also helped is the precept has gone up and up and the taxbase has expanded and will continue to expand. This is not good budgeting or financial management because the Town Council is coming out of a crisis. By not doing much and putting up the precept the Town Council has stabilised.

Moving onto Corporate Governance.

This is where the Town Council informs the public what is doing about Corporate Governance or how the Town Council works. I thought I would compare this against the Town Council's website and minutes
But I was told by the Town Mayor that:
So the Town Council is informing everyone the Council publishes Priorities whilst telling everyone it doesn't!? The Town Mayor and Town Council need to make up their minds! Not very good!
When was the last questionnaire? The website is so out of date. The pursuit of information on the website is often left with a blank screen.
What is the Code of Corporate Governance? I thought I would look in the Council's constitution. As ever I found:
So where is the Code of Corporate Governance?
Other policies are that are quoted but cannot be found are:

Code of Conduct for Members
Council's Standing Orders
Financial Regulations
Whistle Blowing Policy
Complaints Policy

All cannot be found on the Council's constitution webpage.

This part of the report also states the Forward Plan was published in March 2010. I didn't see or hear of this. The new Forward Plan is certainly not on the SNTC website. Where was the consultation with residents? This was "published" with the smallest fanfare ever. It is a though the Liberal Democrats are embarrassed by their Forward Plan!

Other information of interest.

Pension costs rose another 1% on 1st April 2010 from 18.2% to 19.3% of pensionable salary. Yes you read this correctly.

The new Town Clerk has finally gotten onto the report as her salary is over £50,000.
In conclusion

The Town Council has got itself back into a good position with the finances. Whilst there is some uncertainty over the ECC and the Toilets, this is now less of a worry about. Don't forget for much of the last three years the Town Council has done little, than what was programmed. In effect it has cleared up the mess and now can look to the future. But that has been 3 wasted years.

It looks to me The Priory Centre should be in the good books. What does need watching are Grounds Maintenance, Central Administration and the ECC. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Its £15.1 million not £16.9 million.

In a recent Editor's note on the letters page, HDC informed the News and Crier of the following:

St Neots: £16.9 million
Huntingdon: £12.6 million
St Ives: £9.7 million
Ramsey: £4.6 million

Err.. this isn't quite right. In fact the figures are wrong. The amount of Council Tax can be worked out with two pieces of information. The first piece is the Council Tax Base. This is published here. The figure for each Town is:

St Neots: 10195
Huntingdon: 7255
St Ives: 5725
Ramsey: 2890

The next piece of information that is needed is the Band D amount for each Town. Table 2 in this publication. These are:

St Neots: £1483.61
Huntingdon: £1500.82
St Ives: £1496.32
Ramsey: £1441.94

To work out the total council tax paid by each area all the needs to happen is multiply the council tax base by the Band D amount.

St Neots: 10195 x £1483.61 = £15,125,403.95
Huntingdon: 7255 x £1500.82 = £10,888,449.10
St Ives: 5725 x £1496.32 = £8,566,432.00
Ramsey: 2890 x £1441.94 = £4,167,206.60

Using the HDC's own way of calculating Council Tax there is a wide discrepancy between the figures published in the News and Crier and the correct figure here.

So the figures should be:

St Neots: £15.1 million not £16.9 million
Huntingdon: £10.9 million not £12.6 million
St Ives: £8.6 million not £9.7 million
Ramsey: £4.2 million not £4.6 million

HDC Conservatives want a 36% rise to plug the deficit.

snrednek comments on the statement by HDC on the forthcoming cuts. Firstly, there is a statement  from the Council. Secondly, there is a setting out of potential cuts and Council Tax increases. My comments are in this colour.

The first steps towards setting its budget for the coming year are being taken by Huntingdonshire District Council, and there will be tough challenges ahead, members were told at last night’s meeting of the full council. - But is was going to be a bad budget anyway!

A day after the coalition government announced its emergency budget, which could mean a reduction in grant of up to 35 per cent, the council outlined its proposals and the need to identify savings. In order to balance its books over the coming three years the council has identified that it needs to find at least £5 millions, either in savings or by generating income. - This budget deficit has been going on for at least 5 years!

A statement given to councillors last night by the leader of the council, Councillor Ian Bates, sets out ways in which the target may be reached, but over the coming weeks the council will be consulting widely with residents, partners, employees and local businesses to establish their views and suggestions on the level and type of services they require. - This will be a first! This deficit has been around for years. When have you properly consulted residents about these cuts.

Councillor Bates told colleagues: “The coalition government is faced with the worst economic inheritance ever and we have to play our part and identify savings that can be met from within our own organisation. - Above the £6.2 million already pencilled in?

“Our capital spending over the last few years has been remarkable and has benefited this district greatly. But we are now in a position whereby we will have to make tough decisions, although it is our aim to continue to provide good quality services for our district.”

Tough times: Tough decisions

Budget Proposals


Huntingdonshire District Council has an enviable record of delivering high quality services while achieving value for money for its residents. A number of factors contribute to this success, including:-

Sound Leadership

Good financial management

Dedicated staff who want to give the best possible service

Partnership working for what is best for our community

Propping up a deficit budget by squandering reserves

Because of these and other good practices, we have been able to maintain a low level of Council Tax.

However we are not immune from the national pressures and, as I am sure that you are all well aware, the country is facing tremendously difficult financial decisions.

The Coalition Government is faced with the worst economic inheritance ever and £6.2 billion of cuts have been found immediately, £1.66 billion has to come from local government. Yesterday the government signalled its intention to make further significant cuts in government expenditure amounting to 73% of their deficit reductions. We will learn more about these on 20th October, but we are told to expect a real cut of 35% in our grant. On top of the £6.2 million cuts already pencilled in.

Signals from Whitehall tell us that grants and subsidies will feel the brunt of the first cuts.

It should be noted here that, at present, less than 10% of our funding is raised from council tax receipts.

We have already identified and implemented cost improvements in areas such as refuse collection and recycling (£381k), public conveniences, planning (£148k), community services (£219k), leisure services, Community Safety (£397k), and back office costs (£506k), amongst other savings.

So all these savings have been made! What is left to cut?

But prudence tells us to plan for the worst case and identify savings that can be made within our own organisation. So that is £6.2 million + £4.5 million = £10.7 million of cuts.

Before we proceed with our proposed plans we would like to address one issue: our capital spending over the last few years for the benefit of Huntingdonshire has been remarkable. In total we have invested £143m over the last 11 years. This includes - £36m in housing; £18m in the environment, including refuse collection; £16m in health facilities; £12m in highways and transport; £13m in leisure centres; £5m in parks; and £5m in economic development projects. Which brings us on to the question of our Headquarters building ..

As you are aware, the old Pathfinder House didn’t have good facilities for customers – not DDA compliant - and would have been in a state of critical decay by 2010. A refurbishment programme would have cost in the region of £17m.

The new build has cost £18.375m and has a long lifespan. It provides top class customer facilities, excellent environmental standards, a flexible and marketable building, and a better working environment.
Why not sell or rent out Pathfinder House?
This was a sound financial and operational decision to spend in order to save in the longer term.

And so to our proposals: while our objectives are demanding, we believe we can achieve them and provide a successful outcome – continuing to provide good quality services for our District.

To help achieve our objectives we will undertake a broad and in-depth consultation exercise over the next 3 months with residents and employees of where they believe the areas for potential savings could be found.

The need for cuts has been around for years. HDC didn't consult with the Town Council over cuts. I doubt very much this consultation will be in-depth or meaningful.

And so on to our objectives

Our 3 year Objective is to achieve £5 million savings, to protect front line services wherever possible and to maintain statutory services with a level of commitment that is within our budgetary constraints.

These include -

Council Tax - To help achieve our three year objective, we will seek to increase Council Tax, currently the 20th lowest of 201 Districts in the country, to the national average. The current Government proposals are for a one year freeze with an option for year 2. Therefore, this revenue stream may be available in years 2 and/or year 3.

Potential New Income - £2.6 million

I hope the Coalition brings in the need for a referendum before this sort of increase is introduced. No way is our Council Tax going up by more than 2.5%.

Capital Programmes – These, after a review, have been halted. We will consider reinstatement and new schemes as soon as possible when we are prudently able to do so. Capital schemes may be largely dependent upon government grant and, where self funding, an assessment of their likely economic viability.

Potential Saving £1 – 3m

Rationalisation of Chief Officers and Senior Management – We would seek to achieve this by even more efficiencies. 

Potential Saving £350,000

In 2008/09 there were 29 officers paid over 50k. In 2009/10 there were 37. An increase in 8. Hardly a cut!

Rationalisation of staff – A reduction of posts over 3 years by staff rationalisation on a voluntary basis. Most of this will be through natural wastage, such as a freeze on recruitment, early retirements and voluntary redundancies, but it may be necessary to make posts redundant at the end of the day.

Potential saving £1.5 million

Why hasn't this happened before?

Remuneration - A comprehensive review of the Council’s pay system will be undertaken as soon as possible.

Potential Saving £250,000

Will this saving be made.

Shared Services – We want to build on recent successes in a number of areas of sharing services and costs with other Authorities.

Potential Saving £250,000

Good idea, so why hasn't this happened?

Leisure – Leisure Centres in particular have made a significant contribution recently to our savings targets. We will look to achieve further savings in this area by improving attendances at Centres alongside establishing greater efficiencies and a realignment of services and facilities.

Potential Saving £500,000

Why not close down some Leisure Centres? And/or put them in a trust?

Sundry Efficiency Ideas – Council Officers already have a proven track record in bringing forward savings and efficiency ideas, and we are confident they can bring forward further savings.

Potential Saving £150,000

With all the other cuts going on this is another amount that needs justification.

Government Grants – We as an authority have been successful in obtaining reward grant funding in the past. We will look to continue with this. However, we anticipate that pot being significantly reduced.

Potential Income £200,000

Not very potential.

Increased charges – After public consultation on the level and type of services our residents require, charges will have to be reviewed. If by year 3 we are unable to gain further funding via Council Tax, these may be affected further.

Potential Income £250,000

Sounds good. But will increasing charges actually bring in the money needed? Upping service charges may well cut the use and income. May not work!

Reshaping of services – We have identified already a number of areas where reshaping of the services may result in savings. These are being worked on and will form part of our consultation

Potential Saving £950,000

What does "reshaping" mean?

Consultancy – Will be reviewed to ensure best value for money. In the past we have recruited specialist expertise where this has been in the best interests of the District. We will continue to do so, where justified, and particularly where these are under threat from development proposals, or to influence projects (such as the A14). Further, we now expect major projects to reduce substantially and therefore lessen the need for outside help.

Potential Saving £200,000

Localism – We share the view of the Coalition Government that working with service users and communities will provide better, and in many cases, cheaper services. We will seek dialogue with Town and Parish Councils, the voluntary sector and other groups and communities so as to extend partnership working and to transfer services that are best served at a more local level.

Potential Saving £50,000

The District Council rubbished the Parish Charter that would have introduced "Localism". Instead HDC just dumped services on the Town Councils. Now it is in a bigger mess HDC turns to this policy to save itself money. The reality of the public toilets is, for all this talk, HDC dumped the service onto the Town Councils. It was the Council taxpayer that picked up the bill for this service.

In conclusion, as said previously, these objectives are challenging, but they are realistic and achievable. In common with all Councils in the country, reshaping, reorganisation and smarter ways of working will be necessary in these demanding financial times. These proposals will form the basis of an extensive consultation process. We are in a better position than many Councils, and have always provided value for money. The challenges will be tough, but we will rise to them and continue to provide good quality public services.

Err...How many district or borough councils have a deficit budget of £4.7 and a MTP with savings of £6.2 million to be made. Not many. HDC is not in a good position. 

Monday, June 28, 2010

HDC is £1.9 million under budget for 2009/10

According to the annual accounts in a Report to the Corporate Governance Panel HDC underspent the 2009/10 budget by £1.9 million. Good News? If the underspends are sustainable this is good news. If these savings are "one off" then not so much good news.

In the report is says:
The £1.9 million underspend has been put into a special reserve to pave the way for future changes in services. The Town and Parish Councils should remember this money is available when HDC starts getting rid of services.

But that isn't the only piece of information in the accounts. Included are the pay and benefits of the most senior council officers.
That isn't the whole news. On the list of officers paid over £50,000 the number has increased by 8 from 29 to 37. As this Conservative administration has been telling us the need to make cuts more officers are earning more money. Who is running this Council? The Councillors or the Officers?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What this Budget could mean for Councils.

The Budget has set out a policy of a Council tax freeze. If a council has an increase in excess of 2.5% they don't get any money. Looking at authorities covering St Neots it doesn't look too bad. Though cuts will have to happen.

CCC - already looking at a 2.5% increase for 2011/12. To achieve this they still need to cut £22 million
HDC - already looking at a 2.5% increase for 2011/12. To achieve this they still need to cut £1 million
Police - already looking at a 2.4% increase for 2011/12. To achieve this they still need to cut £1.9 million
Fire - already looking at a 1.9% increase for 2011/12.

SNTC doesn't figure into this because it does not receive any government money and raises all its tax from the local tax base. We should find out soon if they could achieve a budget freeze.

What could be the real problem behind all this is what will happen over the grants received from central government.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

St Neots Does Pay More Tax - No it doesn't.

There is a letter in this week News and Crier, from Lorraine Hinds, defending Jon Mountford's original letter about the amount of Council Tax paid to HDC. Now as Jon was having a go at HDC I will take a look at the HDC element of the Council Tax bill. I've used the following information: Agenda for Corporate Governance Panel and from Fenland DC.

St Neots Council Tax base is: 10195 x £124.17 Band D = £1,265,913.15 the amount paid to HDC

I looked at Fenland District and found the following:

March: 7050 x £241.56 = £1,702,998.00
Whittlesey: 5377 x £241.56 = £1,298,868.12
Wisbech: 6898 x £241.56 = £1,666,280.88

So all these 3 towns pay more in council tax to Fenland District Council than we do in St. Neots to HDC. So Jon and Lorraine are wrong on this point. Wildly wrong.

Lorraine then goes on to tell us about the following:

Job Centre - Labour Government
Court - Government
registrar - County Council
No Cash Payment Office - District Council
Toilet closure - District Council
Free Parking - District Council
The Day Centre - County/NHS
Skill Campus - Government

"...but it seems we in St Neots just serve them with more and more revenue which they incompetently waste."

Lorraine goes onto have a go at Mr Jennings for highlighting what is here. But Jon Mountfort said there were no facilities!

Sorry, what is HDC wasting all this money on? The problem behind all this is the £6.1 million of cuts due because HDC has been providing services which it cannot actually afford. St Neots is not a cash cow. All in Huntingdonshire are living on diminishing reserves.

If we keep looking at Huntingdon as to what is going on we will miss out here in St Neots. I agree that bringing more services locally would be better. But it will be far more expensive to do.

Friday, June 25, 2010

As expected: HDC to charge for car parks.

As predicted, the Conservative run HDC Cabinet has gone ahead with the imposition of car parking charges. With a £4.7 million deficit and £6.1 million in cuts I didn't think they would do otherwise. As the main point, how would you replace the expected loss of income by not going ahead, wasn't answered by the protesters. Nor could it be as the Conservatives don't want to talk about the deficit.

HDC had earlier presented 2 petitions. Whatever happened to the Conservative petition? The 2 petitions contained 1,548 signatures and 645 were disregarded by HDC. Again these didn't argue where the axe could fall instead.

The Cabinet seemed to be a few short on the night. Three members abstained and four members voted it through.

What did the powerless St Neots Conservative Councillors Group do to stop this. Well, they helped by passing the budget in the first place. Essentially agreed with this at the start.

So how did the St Neots Conservative Councillors Group do?

Cllr Barry Chapman, new Conservative on the District Council says:

"The car park charges will damage St Neots." - See later.
Car Park would have an impact on local workers on the minimum wage. - Er..If they can run a car they can pay for car parking charges. Otherwise walk.
cause further pollution in the High Street - Like all the extra pollution at the Super Clinic?
lead to extra vehicles in the town centre. - Traffic jams outside the Super Clinic?
The car park was for a leisure facility, Riverside Park, has an impact on users. - Did Cllr Chapman oppose charging at Hinchingbrooke? No, he didn't.

Cllr Bob Farrer (said he would resign if all this went through - it has and he hasn't)

Informs us it is a leisure car park. - Hinchingbrooke will now be 50 pence an hour.
Charges will have an adverse effect on the Town Council. - See later.
Angry that local councillors were not involved from the beginning - except they were.

So what has the opposition Liberal Democrats got to say about all this.

Cllr Thorpe, Town Mayor, (also Deputy Leader of the HDC Liberal Democrat Group) was "appalled" and added "They don't care about the people of St Neots. They only car about getting extra money into their coffers." And where would you find the money?

The award for the Sound of sanity (also the see later part) goes to John Davies when he says: "But they (the retailers) were also realistic. I know the District Council has always been supportive of Town Centres and retail, which just shows how serious the current situation is...".

This rumpus is over:
None of the retailers have come forward to take this over an leave it as a free car park. Nor has SNTC or even some of the wealthy Conservative councillors come forward to keep this car park free. None have come forward with any real alternative cuts or funding.

All this just shows how powerless are the useless Overview and Scrutiny Panels are. Also shows just how powerless the St Neots Conservative Councillors Group actually are. No resignations over this issue and all those St Neots Councillors on Cabinet didn't resign from that body either. All this has been one big pantomime by the Conservatives.

Like the row over the Super Clinic, where loads of useless and wild objections were made, the argument of 20 pence an hour look ridiculous to the outside world.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Top Secret HDC

There is a public consultation about whether HDC should have an Elected Mayor or an Executive leader. Great, so I thought I would respond to this consultation. I asked for a reply to my e-mail submission and recently got one. The e-mail thanked me for my submission and this would be forwarded to the Strategic Review Working Group for consideration.

I therefore replied and asked for the date, agenda and minutes of the Strategic Review Working Group. In reply HDC informs me the Strategic Review Working Group is a private meeting and therefore I cannot have this information.

What is so SECRET about whether HDC should have an Elected Mayor or an Executive Leader? A PUBLIC consultation is being held but the results are being discussed in SECRET. From what I've read HDC wants an Executive Leader. Is this why the whole issue is being kept SECRET?

I know the Overview and Scrutiny Panels are pretty useless, but this is one of many issues which should be discussed in PUBLIC. Why doesn't the Cabinet use these Panels to do consultations. Maybe I've answered my own question here with the Panels being pretty useless. Easier to hide these discussions under the veil of SECRECY.

Eric Pickles has called for more transparency in local government. Obviously, the Conservatives at HDC disagree.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More on the Annual Town Meeting

I've finally gotten around to reviewing a bit more of the Annual Town Meeting. The Town Mayor gave a report on the Town Council for the previous year. A copy can be found here! So what was missing? In the year of 2 damning audit reports - not one mention. According to the Mayor's Report these damning reports simply didn't happen!

I did ask a couple of questions:
As you can read from the answers the Town Mayor didn't want to talk about the issues raised. Probably thinking about his new ceremonial robes!

Moving on!

The Town Mayor went on about the new Staff Structure. As ever, no diagram or hand out was given. The Town Mayor said:
The review removed to two part-time posts (though full-time according to the last published staff structure).
I just have to wonder what the Town Mayor is taking us for. The removal of the Finance Assistant post and the Town Centre Manager posts whilst welcome only takes a small step. As for the creation of the Deputy Town Clerk - it wasn't as there is no where that it was actually deleted! Thinking about this, I don't really understand what the Town Mayor was on about. Especially as I found this minute:
Having got rid of the Finance Assistant, the Town Council is going to employ an accountant. The Town Mayor didn't mention this!
To resolve this question I thought I would look up the current Forward Plan. There isn't one currently published. I looked back and found this:
Since this minute from a meeting of 16th December 2009, there hasn't been a whiff of a Forward Plan being agreed or even published! All this wrong and the Town Mayor get new robes. Then I wonder why the Town Council is in a constant mess.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mayors new robes

This has got a few people fired up. The anti-establishment Liberal Democrats have gone down the road of being part of the establishment by endorsing the tradition of the Town Mayor having mayoral robes and a hat. There is some law behind this. The Town Council was a Parish Council to start with. The law allowed the Parish Council to use the term Town Council as an alternative. With the change of name came one extra provision and that is a Town Council can decide to have a Mayor. There are a few Town Councils that don't have Mayors and are quite happy with a Chairman.

So the Town Council doesn't have to be called a Town Council. The Town Council doesn't have to have a Town Mayor and a Town Mayor doesn't need to have robes! So the question is why?

Town Mayors and other civics dignatories tend to meet at civic occasions. The other Town Mayors turn up in their finery and the one from St Neots turns up in his best suit. As a member of a crowd of Town Mayors our Mayor looks decidedly plain. Having these mayoral robes is part of keeping up with the other Town Councils and is the politics of envy. What St Neots Town Council should be doing is looking at the what St Neots needs and not keeping up other Town Councils.

If SNTC wants to promote civic pride why not start with regaining Quality Town status which the Town Council lost. If that is too hard why not just get the website up to date. Far easier to spend a bit of money on a bit of finery than do something to fix what is wrong with the Town Council.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ring Fencing the NHS

The Hunts Post St Neots - 09/06/2010 digital edition

In the Hunts Post leader there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the ring fenced NHS budget actually means. What the Coalition have promised is to ring fence the entire budget. This doesn't mean cuts aren't going to be made within the ring fencing and money diverted. What the Coalition realises is with an ageing population more health services need to be used. So the amount needed for the NHS will spiral upwards. The problems NHS Cambridgeshire faces are Labour made problems and something simply Labour didn't deal with. This seems to me to be the Hunts Post actually jumping the gun.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fathers to protest at MP's Home

I hope Djanogly is there! The protesters are more likely to find him at his London home than in Alconbury.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Love's Farm Community Building run by the residents

Community ownership of of the new building at Love's Farm is the conclusion that HDC has come too rather than giving it to the Town Council. The land and £310,000 for the build is enough. I suppose this depends on what is wanted. If community organisations are willing to come forward and run these facilities that is all for the good. I hope this is the way forward for future schemes.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My comments on letter to the St Neots News and Crier - 10/06/2010

St Neots News and Crier - 10/06/2010

Call for 'Pickles' to save town - Jon Mountfort is again missing the points in a fundamental way. (Must be a Labour supporter). In his open letter to Eric Pickles he states: "St Neots pays more in Council Tax than any other town in Cambridgeshire and yet has no facilities". No we don't. Fenland is an example of higher Council Tax. Huntingdon Town Council charges more per head than St Neots Town Council. This argument doesn't stand up. Nor does the ..yet has no facilities". St Neots has a Leisure Centre, parks and open spaces galore, children's play area, community halls, Priory Centre. So this argument doesn't stand up! Jon goes on further to say: "Such facilities we did posses have been taken away..". Jon then goes onto list the following:

Swimming pool. The open air one was shut by the Swimming Pool Trust/Town Council.
Public Toilets. 2 out of 3 have been passed to the Town Council to fund and run.
Band Concerts. Cut by HDC and taken up by the Town Council to fund and run.
2 Free Car parks. Well the ability to park for free is being taken away.

Again Jon's assertions don't stand up to scrutiny.

"HDC is attempting to make £3.5 million of cuts this year as it spent all our money on its new luxury HQ which cost £12 million". Err...wrong again. The main reason HDC is cutting is because it has been carrying a deficit for a number of years. The £3.5 million has to saved out of revenue. The £12 million is out of the capital budget.

He then lies on with: "The interest on this loan will be funded by making the Riverside car park in St Neots pay and display". What is with this continual lying. There is no relationship between the two.

He continues lying with: "The vote to impose parking charges on St Neots' two free car parks (another lie as there are other free car parks in St Neots) was not taken by full council (yes it was! The budget containing this item was passed by full council - no one tried to stop it!) but by a small clique on the cabinet (In passing the budget the Council gives authority to the Cabinet to decide).

Jon continues with "The casting vote fell to the Michael Simpson, member for Huntingdon East, who voted twice to impose car parking charges." This is a twisting of the truth. The cabinet voted and there was a tie. When there is a tie in votes then the Chairman has a second or casting vote to ensure a decision is made one way or another. This is perfectly legal and democratic and has been in local government since inception.Why Jon finds this not democratic or ethical I find hard to understand.

So what Jon implores Eric Pickles to do is investigate a load of allegations and lies made up by Jon Mountfort. Waste of time. I do have to wonder why the Editor allowed this twisted tissue of lies to be printed in his paper?

Will pool be a white elephant? Steve Searle of Little Paxton asks this question. My answer is the problem is not the running of the swimming pool which is the problem, it is the long term maintenance which will always be the problem. An open air swimming pool would need some subsidy from the taxpayer through the Town Council.

What is needed is to map out the long term funding and replacement of a future pool. It may be a better idea to build a new open air pool on the new development. There are plans afoot to use hot water from the power station to heat homes. May be a better idea to use the hot water to heat an open air swimming pool? 2004 and 2005 financial results here.

Would an open air swimming pool be an asset? I feel it would.

Please think of the carers - Angela Heading says decisions are always down to money. I can empathise with Angela's predicament as I nursed my mother who suffered from a series of illness with cancers. Sad as it is this will be the way of the world for the future. What we are seeing is the way spending cuts will happen and this is only the start!

Eric Pickles says:

The Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says:

"Getting council business out in the open will revolutionise local government. Local people should be able to hold politicians and public bodies to account over how their hard earned cash is being spent and decisions made on their behalf. They can only do that effectively if they have the information they need at their fingertips."

This is a profound statement and, I believe, we should be hold not only the Communities Secretary to his new standard AND local government to this new standard. All three levels of local Government, County, District and Town must be held to this standard. At the moment they are all woefully deficient. 
County Council: I find it very hard to find information on many of the activities of this monster. Too often the information is buried. I tried to find out the budget for 2010/11 but had trouble all the way through. Also there are cuts being made. Is there a section on the website on the options? Of course not. The County Council doesn't want to know our views on the cuts.
District Council: A very secretive organisation. The Working Group or Working Party is the secretive method the Council uses to keep information out of the public domain. Information that comes before these secret groups remains secret. Not what Eric Pickles wants! Agendas/Minutes and Reports for these secret meetings aren't published.
St Neots Town Council: In theory this Council shouldn't need to do much. Accounts payable are public documents and can be published with each agenda. There is the problem. The Town Council isn't very good at publishing information, like Agendas, Minutes and associated reports. The useless Planning Committee has agenda and minutes published very quickly. The Council and other committees are either not published or very late.

All these councils like their secrecy. There is a Government culture which puts secrecy first. These are bodies to which many of us don't have a choice over. All levels of Government need to embrace openness and change from the culture of secrecy. The example of local government compliance with Freedom of Information is not a good one. Local Government has blocked and blocked information it doesn't want to be published and there is no real way of making Councils do this. I feel local government will carry on this practice for a ever and a day because Councils are there for themselves and not their residents.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Your in Government!

I see Djanogly is asking FCC questions over the small rise in Car Park charges at St Neots Railway Station. Up from £6.50 to £6.75. I notice the rise in Car Park charges at Riverside or Cambridge Street imposed by Conservative controlled HDC hasn't been raised as an issue with HDC. Obviously, as FCC hasn't got anything to do with the Conservatives this causes Djanogly very few problems. On the other hand the car parks charges means he will have to talk with his Conservative colleagues.

The question behind all this is why Djanogly is only questioning FCC? Whether Djanogly likes it or not, he is in Government which is ultimately in charge of the railways. So whilst asking FCC, why isn't Djanogly phoning up his colleagues at the Ministry of Transport and ask them what they can do?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Will Scrutiny study the deficit?

At the next meeting of 10th June 2010, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee - Economic Wellbeing, has the opportunity to plan to scrutinise areas of the Council business. Here is a suggestion. The Council has to find cuts of £6.1 million. It would be of interest to the Councillors and the general public if this committee actually scrutinises the deficit, the options the council has to balance the budget and where the cuts will fall.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taxpayer back paying for Djanogly website?

I see the banner of Djanogly's website has changed. Does this mean the taxpayer is back paying for the website after the brief election campaign? I feel Djanogly should be more transparent about his expenses! Others have already posted their expenses on their webpage. Why is Djanogly so tardy?

Does Huntingdonshire District Council actually wants democracy?

On page 19 of their propaganda rag, HDC asks the question "Executive leader or elected mayor?". Reading the article I find there is a bias towards not having an elected Mayor and is in favour of having an Executive Leader. Fancy that! In the article it states:

"An elected mayor is directly elected by the voters in Huntingdonshire as a whole, but at the cost of a separate election."

Democracy costs. But elections can be held in tandem. There is nothing wrong with having the District and Mayoral elections on the same day and this won't cost that much more. I disagree with £125,000 extra cost the council has suddenly found that they say will be needed. I will put in a Freedom of Information request about all this. The Council is anti elected mayor.

There is a better piece on the HDC website.

This document argues against having an elected Mayor as there may be confusion over with the Town Mayors. This of course is an argument which needs a bit of exploration. Huntingdon is a shire. A Sheriff used to be in charge of the Shire as the term Sheriff comes from the term Shire - Reeve. Wouldn't an elected High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire actually make sense.

Another look at the Huntingdon General Election result

Party Candidate 2010 Vote
2005 Vote
2010 % Notional
2005 %
Conservative Jonathan Djanogly 26516 26646 -130 48.9 50.8 -1.9
Liberal Democrat Martin Land 15697 13799 +1898 28.9 26.3 +2.6
Labour Anthea Cox 5982 9821 -3839 11.0 18.7 -7.7
UKIP Ian Curtis 3258 2152 +1106 6.0 4.1 +1.9
Green John Clare 652 0 +652 0 +1.2
APP Carrie Holliman 181 0 +181 0 +0.3
Independent Jonathan Salt 1432 0 +1432 0 +2.6
OMRLP Lord Toby Jug 548 0 +548 0 +1.0
Turnout 54266 52418 65.1 62.5
Majority 10819 12847 -2028 24.5

I thought I would take another look at the final result of the General Election. I'll go through each of the top three parties.

The Conservatives: The Djanogly vote held up extremely well. Far better than I expected. His percentage dropped slightly by 1.9%. In comparison to other seats surrounding Huntingdon the Conservative increases are:
North West Cambridgeshire: +4.8% 
North East Cambridgeshire: +4.6%
South Cambridgeshire: +2.7%
North East Bedfordshire: +5.9%
Djanogly's -1.9% is not good, but not a killer. Having been returned this represents an end to his expenses' problems.

The Liberal Democrats: Martin Land made some progress but not that much. All the hype over the leadership debates didn't materialise. The 2.6% increase doesn't seem much. In comparison:
North West Cambridgeshire: -1.8% 
North East Cambridgeshire: +3.0%
South Cambridgeshire: +4.7%
North East Bedfordshire: +0.9%

The Martin Land campaign was mainly aimed at attracting Labour supporters. Obviously, from the result, this is what he achieved. Adding 2.6% to this total is minor and is mid-range of what was achieved from surrounding constituencies. 

Throughout this campaign I though Martin Land was aiming at the wrong people if he wanted to win! Martin Land had a go at me. He said:

"I’m told that somebody who knows far more about politics than me thinks that my being Agent for some of my colleagues and for our Disttrict Candidates compromises my ability to stand for Parliament. But, you see, it’s my job. And like most (though not all) candidates in this election, I have to earn my keep. Actually, when you have 37 years of campaigning behind you, these tasks are relatively routine and don’t prevent me from doing a very serious job as a parliamentary candidate as a some people will perhaps be surprised to see on May 7th."

At 2.6% this wasn't a very good job. The anti-conservative theme is something Martin Land has longed believed. In a blog Martin said:

"that the Tories remain a coalition between the blatantly self-interested, closet racists, and homophobes.."

I know Eynesbury was a local election campaign but Steve van de Kerkhove ran a pretty much non attack campaign which didn't call for Labour support. He did very well with an 8.7% increase.

Whilst bombarded with literature, the Liberal Democrats ran a lack lustre campaign and may very well have been campaigning elsewhere. 

Labour: This was always going to be a bad campaign for Labour. Anthea did quite well by only allowing the vote to drop by 7.7% instead of 11%. Not good, but could have been worse. 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

District Wide - another lost opportunity!

I recently received another propaganda magazine from Conservative run HDC. Reading through the good news magazine I would have problems finding anything wrong at HDC. No mention of the deficit or the £6.1 million of cuts to come. No mention of any strategy over how these cuts will be implemented.

Of course the Conservative run HDC wants its residents to live in a dreamworld where everything will be alright.  So only good news is in and all the bad news out is left out!

Bombing in the pool of despair

The SNSPT has finally gotten around to marketing the site. According to Cllr Ursell 3 unsolicited offers have been made for the site. I don't see why not. As I've pointed out before this was Leisure land. With the planning brief for the site both housing and a medical centre are both allowed.

There seems to be some back peddling of where the new swimming pool would be built! Cllr Ursell says there is land identified but wouldn't let on where this land is. This is strange. I read elsewhere the identified land was at Riversmead. The local residents are probably up in arms over the changing of this little green space into an open air swimming pool.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Car Parking consultation up before OSC

The Car Park Orders consultation (including Riverside) is coming up before OSC - Environmental Well-being before going onto the Cabinet for approval. The report basically does a good job of representing both views.

There are some glaring omissions. Where is the Conservative petition? This is still missing! I wonder when this is going to be handed into the District Council? The St Neots Conservative Councillors Group is also missing from all this. Cllr Harty and Cllr Bird did put in comments but all the others stayed silent. The Liberal Democrats relied on their 1548 named petition. Otherwise they were quiet. St Ives Town Council commented about Hinchingbrooke but SNTC didn't comment about Riverside. So why are they being so quiet?

One person did both. Matt Cornish, Editor of the News and Crier, not only got a petition in, he also made a personal representation. Pity many of our local councillors and political groups couldn't even achieve this.

As ever the main problem is finance. The main reason is the deficit. Just attacking the car park charging decision will not work as decision is the symptom and not the cause. This is where Conservative run HDC has got us. By not informing the public about the options over cuts, HDC will win everytime as they hold all the information.

One representation is worthy of note.
When can an absolute promise can be made? Well only if this was put into the deeds. I believe politicians can only be held to account for their own promises and cannot make successors follow these promises.

Just rewards for expenses claim?

Just reward for expenses claim? - Mr P Duncan rants on about how the HCCA deemed him fit to represent us and then goes on about Djanoglys' expenses claims.

I feel this is wrong and misses the big point. The electors of the Huntingdon constituency returned Djanogly to Parliament. Fully knowing his problem with expenses. That is the result. The electors have spoken.

HCCA Membership

Since Conservatives keep giving different figure for their membership it can be hard to come to a real conclusion on how badly the Conservative under Djanogly are doing. Below are some examples:

Highest was 1436 (2003) to the lowest 686 (2009) is a loss of 750.
2001 figures was 888 to the 2009 figures was 686. So a loss of 202.
Including unpaid members 1,544 (2008) to 778 (2009). This is a loss of 766 members in just one year!

snrednek says: The Conservatives have been caught out with not being consistent with their membership figures. What is obvious is the fall in the Conservative membership at HCCA is large and not being addressed. The Conservatives need to arrest this downward spiral in membership and finances. HCCA has an MP and controls most councils. There must be something turning people becoming members? I feel the answer is Djanogly. Get rid of him and get a proper MP willing to make this constituency his home will change the HCCA.

In the 2009 accounts there is a statement on membership which just doesn't tally with previous figures.
The 2008 figures are:
2008 to 2009.
Full Members -58
Out of Constituency +15
Club -193 (though the figures have changed)
Total -236
Actual Membership -766

The 2007 figures are:
The 2006 figures are:
2006 to 2007. The membership numbers for paid up members is 1021 in 2006 and fell 200 to 821 in 2007.

The 2005 figures are:
2005 to 2006. The overall paid membership rose by 36.

The 2004 figure are: 

2004 to 2005. The figures don't match. The 2004 figures say 933 Full members. In the 2005 figures the 2004 numbers are changed from 933 to 860. The other memberships don't match either!

The 2003 figures are:
The 2003 to 2004 figures don't match.

The 2002 figures are:
The 2002 to 2003 figures don't match.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Djanogly is still bad for HCCA!

With the recent publication of the local accounting units of the Conservative Party, I thought I would look to see how badly HCCA was damaged by Djanogly.

Starting with Membership. This was down by 58 full members. There was an increase of Out of Constituency members. This rose by 15 and for all we may know this could have been previous members or friends of Djanogly. 

The is a large discrepancy over Club members. In the 2008 accounts this was shown as 195 up from 52. In the 2009 accounts this number has changed from 195 to just 4 and this has fallen to just 2. Something wrong here! I'll blog on this later.

Income and Expenditure.
The net loss was £8,086. In the previous year there was a £2,085 surplus. The is a downward movement of £10,171. The main reason for this fall was a dramatic loss of income of £19,825.

Subscriptions were down by just £1,238. As most of these are taken at the beginning of the year this is expected. 2010 accounts will be more reflective of what happened. Fundraising is a massive £13,911 down. Branches were down by £1,894. Donations were down by £2,752.

What helped is a cut back on expenditure. With a drop of fundraising, this led to less cost of £9,311. Less political activity meant a cut of £2,789. Staff expenditure increased by £1,178. Photocopying increased by £3,552. Other cuts in expenditure saved £3,500.

Comparing with other Conservative Associations I find:

North East Cambridgeshire: No real loss year on year. -12 members.
North West Cambridgeshire: Down by £2,000 year on year. -82 members.
South Cambridgeshire: Upped their Subs and donations by £13,000. -2 members.
Peterborough: Donations slightly up. -98 members.

I conclude the Conservative Association is doing badly with Djanogly as MP. A Conservative MP does need a strong Conservative Association behind him. HCCA is year on year is getting weaker and weaker.
I will point out these are the only accounts published by any local party. I would like to see Labour, Liberal Democrats and other local party accounts publish their account. These are kept secret.