Sunday, October 31, 2010

Eversholt has an open air swimming pool. Why not St Neots?

Whilst researching the last article about the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust I came across another Swimming Pool Trust. This one is at the village of Eversholt - population 420. Like SNSPT this swimming pool is run by a charity. Unlike the SNSPT this is run by residents rather than Councillors.

The other major difference is: The Eversholt charity got their accounts/annual reports in on time. Unlike the SNSPT, where the Town Council runs the administration, and the accounts/annual reports are invariably late.

In the accounts the Eversholt pool doesn't rely on public subsidy. It relies on raising the money itself.

A basic outdoor swimming pool isn't out of reach of the SNSPT/Town Council. The best idea is to attach an open air swimming pool to a new community facility on the new development.

Is the Town Mayor opening the Town Council chequebook?

Lest we forget!
In the ever excellent News and Crier there is an article about the Tsunami of cuts at HDC. Our Town Mayor, Cllr Thorpe, dipped his oar into the subject with: "town and parish councils may have to take on extra services". That is a fair warning. But what about the costs? Cllr Thorpe continues: "St Neots Town Council is, through prudent financial management, in a fortunate situation of having a balanced account with good reserves." Another bit of fantasy politics. SNTC is in this position because the Liberal Democrats - Cllr Thorpe was Deputy Leader at the time - slashed their programme by shredding the Forward Plan as the Town Councils finances were out of control. Hardly prudent!

Cllr Thorpe rambles on with: "The transfer of public conveniences from District to Town Council is a perfect example of how we work to maintain facilities by cost sharing with higher authorities." Is it? HDC abandoned they facilities and SNTC took these on at a cost to the Council Taxpayer. So HDC got the kudos of keeping council tax down to 2.5% because the cost has been moved to the Town Council.

The Liberal Democrats are part of the Coalition. Eric Pickles says: "I also urge town and parish councils to exercise restraint and make sure no council tax payer faces an increased bill."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Are the Liberal Democrats about to break a promise?

The cinema project seems to be ploughing ahead ripping up many planning restrictions to get to a cinema in the wrong place. But what of the Town Council? They own land at Shady Walk Open Space. They have been pushing for the cinema project and this relies on covering with tarmac a large piece of Shady Walk Open Space.

In version 3 of the Forward Plan, published in March 2010, one of the performance indicators says:
"Maintain and PROTECT green space provisions for recreation and pleasant landscaping."
The Liberal Democrat run Town Council has a bit of a problem. They want a cinema but to achieve this they have to give up land it is a Key Objective to PROTECT.

I feel this is most apt.
If you want to sing along
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Hey farmer farmer
Put away the D.D.T. now
Give me spots on my apples
But leave me the birds and the bees
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Late last night
I heard my screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

I said don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is HSE prosecuting the Town Council?

Is the Christmas lights incident going to court? I see this from the latest release of documents on the updated Town Council website that there was a Council Meeting on 13th September 2010. This meeting was about one item.
This is not very informative. So I looked up Sally Roff and Ducan Reed. I couldn't find anything about on Ducan Reed. There is a Sally Roff at Beachcroft Solicitors. There is an interesting biography.
With two solicitors on the case, I just wonder how much this is going to cost the St Neots Council Taxpayer?

What is disturbing is I didn't see this meeting being advertised. The minutes weren't even on the Council Meeting on 30th September 2010.

The Town Council can produce the minutes from the useless Planning Committee on 23/9/10 but could not produce the minutes for the Council meeting on 16/9/10 that says it is taking legal advice.

Will our Councils do what the Coalition wants?

The big decision for Councils and other authorities is whether they will go to the public over Council Tax increases or decide to subvert what the Coalition wants them to do?

In a statement to the House of Commons, Eric Pickles - CLG Secretary of State -, said:
"I also urge town and parish councils to exercise restraint and make sure no council tax payer faces an increased bill."

The idea of HDC of abandoning services so SNTC will hopefully pick them up is a non-goer according to Eric Pickles. He wants all precepting authorities to make a nil increase in Council Tax. Do the Conservatives running HDC and the Liberal Democrats running SNTC agree with what the Coalition wants? If they don't they need to give an explanation as to why!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Funny Poll on Hunts Post website

Surely some mistake. Is it YES to paying more Council Tax and NO to service cuts? Doesn't make any sense. I know the Hunts Post is the cheerleader for the Conservatives, but fixing the Poll like this makes no sense.

Sometimes it is better to call a spade a spade

I see HDC have changed the Appointments and Dismissals Panel
to the Employee Selection Panel.

Why the change? The only idea I have is the name Appointments and Dismissals Panel was far too honest a description. Time for a bit of local government speak and the Appointments and Dismissal Panel turns into the Employee Selection Panel. I feel this new description isn't honest. It should be the Councillors Select Employees for Dismissal Panel. As ever the one thing that will stay the same is this Panel will be secretive. Where is the transparency?

What is local government devolution?

What is devolution in Local Government? It is when there is an agreement for services and budgets to be moved from a Council to a lower tier. In the case of Huntingdonshire devolution of services should mean that certain services and budgets of HDC are agreed to be run by the Town Councils. The important words in the last sentence are services, budget and agreed.

So how does HDC view devolution? The skewed idea that HDC calls devolution has everything to do with services and nothing to do with budgets and agreements. The withdrawal of public conveniences is a case in point. HDC abandoned these services and blamed the Town Councils for not picking this service up. The fact that HDC decided to abandoned this service before talking to the Town Councils is the basic flaw. In devolving services there should be an agreement in place between the Councils. The Conservative run HDC bullied the Town Councils into taking over these facilities. Some, like Huntingdon Town Council, have held out against the bully. Others, like St Neots Town Council, gave in to the bullying and took over the service themselves. The cost of the service is exclusively paid for by the St Neots Council Taxpayers. This is not devolving services this is bullying the Town Councils into covering the costs. A Conservative stealth tax on St Neots.

So why do I call this bullying? The answer goes back to 2006. This is when the Conservative run HDC decided to stop the agreement between HDC and SNTC over the Town Council running the public conveniences with HDC paying SNTC for this service. Instead HDC knew best and took this service in-house.
3 years later and HDC suddenly decided that SNTC knew best and decided to stop the service. This is NOT devolution of services because there was no finance nor any agreement

Huntingdonshire District Council self delusion
HDC continues to self delude itself that it is actually devolving services. At the Cabinet Meeting of 22nd July 2010 it was said: " a result of an acknowledgement that the service should be more appropriately dealt with by town and parish councils." Where did this acknowledgement came from? It wasn't forthcoming from Godmanchester, Huntingdon and St Ives. They have not kowtowed to HDC bullying and have refused to take on facilities abandoned by HDC.
At the Economic Well-being OSP on 9th September 2010, the members discussed the forthcoming cuts and the potential devolution of services. It was reported:

"Discussion then ensued on the possible devolution of services to towns, parishes or localities. With the recent decision on public conveniences in mind,(when HDC abandoned the service and bullied the Town Councils to taking on the service) the Panel recommended that if third tier organisations were to be invited to take on other additional responsibilities, (with the money to go with the service?) consultation should be undertaken with town and parish councils at the earliest opportunity to enable them to incorporate the need for any additional funding (so no money to go with these services then) into their budget setting processes. It was suggested that the District Council might also engage with towns and parishes about opportunities for other budgetary savings. (HDC saving - extra costs for the Town Council)"

The Economic Well-being OSP is looking to move services to Town/Parish Councils. This is because they aren't capped. So Conservative run HDC can keep its Council Tax level to zero whilst Liberal Democrat run SNTC has to hike its tax.

Further evidence as to HDC intentions is the following from the minutes of Cabinet meeting on 22nd July 2010.
HDC is looking to circumvent any capping by abandoning service in the hope the Town Councils take these services up and hike their Council Tax. Note Parish Councils were not included in this idea. Just hammer the Council Taxpayers in the Towns with Council Tax hikes and leave the Parishes free.

This isn't devolution. This is a way to circumvent the Coalitions zero Council Tax rise. 

What Conservative run HDC should do instead?
This answer is simple but goes against the grain. There does need to be an acceptance, by all concerned, that HDC does face serious cuts to its services mainly by its own actions. HDC does need to negotiate with the Town and Parish Councils on taking over services. Money does need to be put into the negotiations. There is a £1.9 million set aside for the purpose of "invest to save".
The Town and Parishes should look at this as an opportunity to allow HDC to "invest and save" in services transferred to them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

And now the Community Centres Manager resigns

The trouble with Councillors is they want the impossible. Something has always got to give and that is usually the employee. With the Community Centre Manager gone there seems to be a high turnover of staff.
There have been quite a few managers leaving the Town Council. The RFO has gone. The Town Centre Manager went his own way.

Are the Town Councillors setting the bar too high?
This could be why the Town Council will have a problem over recruiting and retaining a person to hold this position. The problem with setting such objectives is they have little to do with reality.

New SNTC website is being uploaded

I'll need a few days to check out what is going on. Until then check it out at:

As HDC puts it: Blancing the budget – tough decisions ahead

In a statement on the Comprehensive Spending Review, which was announced last Wednesday, HDC has finally gotten around making a statement. These are my comments on this very late statement.

In the wake of the announcements contained in the coalition government’s spending review, the leader of Huntingdonshire District Council has warned that tough decisions would have to be made – but the forward planning the council had already embarked upon would help the process. HDC was looking at £6.1 million of cuts before the Comprehensive Spending Review was announced.

Even before last week’s announcement that local government resource grants will be reduced by some 26 per cent in real terms over the next four years, the council had already identified that significant savings needed to be made over the next few years. Because you had identified there was £6.1 million of cuts needed to balance the deficit. Over the summer a public consultation exercise to find out people’s preferences for a balance between service reductions and council tax increases, and identify where savings would gain the most support or cause greatest dissatisfaction. The results of this exercise haven't been published - yet!

The council’s leader, Councillor Ian Bates, said this week: “Savings on the scale announced last week are bound to hit services --- and it’s not just us. Other public service providers are in the same position. Some tough decisions will have to be made. Again what about the £6.1 million of cuts?

“We have already started the process of making economies, such as sharing services with partners and reducing staffing levels, and the information gained from our recent public consultation exercise will be of value as we go through the process of formulating our budget for the coming year. One heartening factor to have emerged is that the results showed an encouragingly high level of satisfaction with the current level of council services. The percentage of residents who expressed dissatisfaction was just 8 per cent – one of the lowest of 130 similar consultations carried out over the last seven years.” A high level of satisfaction bought with the money HDC got from transferring the management of Council Housing to Luminus. Now the money is running out and services are cut I wonder whether residents will look at the few services left in the same light.

Councillor Terry Rogers, executive councillor for finance, said more detailed information was still awaited. “We are still awaiting clarification on a number of matters, and of course we do not know what our settlement will be, and won’t know that until the beginning of December. So you know nothing new!

“We have a background of being good at managing our finances efficiently and a long record of being a low taxing authority.” But the Council now complains the Government didn't allow the Council to hike Council Tax. How can you be a low taxing authority and complain that Council Tax is too low? Yes, we are in self delusional land.

The full council received a report setting out financial options prior to setting its budget and spending programme at its meeting in September.

The Conservatives have been running HDC for decades. They have had at least 6 years to rectify the deficit and yet the Conservatives have not come up with any real strategy for the future of HDC.

Ignorance is bliss for St Neots Conservatives

In a letter from Conservative Cllr Mandy Thomas, in the every excellent News and Crier, the District Councillor shows her ignorance in both politics and maths. I'm no fan of the Liberal Democrat run St Neots Town Council. There is plenty to attack the Liberal Democrat over their running of the Town Council. Mandy misses these issues.

Mandy writes: "..would rather commission reports and steering groups to investigate ideas and possibilities". Where is the evidence? Mandy is not a Town Councillor so how does she know what is going on? The charge of commissioning reports and steering groups (read working groups) is something that should be levelled at Conservative run HDC rather than SNTC.

Mandy rants on: "The Liberal Democrats seem more interested in raising tax - Conservative run HDC has looked at an increase of over 100% - spending thousands of pounds of public money on town plans - much to my dismay the Liberal Democrats cut funding to the Town Plan, so spent nothing - and establishing champions over which the Town has no jurisdiction - This is wrong. The Town Council has a Transport Champion. The Town Council has the power to:

Transport*establishment of car-sharing and taxi fare concession schemes; making grants for community bus services and bus services for the elderly or disabled; investigation of public transport, road and traffic provision and needs; provision of information about public transport services.

So Mandy, the Town Council has a champion over a policy area it has jurisdiction.

Mandy lies on with: "The electorate of St Neots were promised so much last May." Well Mandy, there were no Town Council election last May. I didn't see any promises about the Town Council at the General and District elections last May, nearly 6 months ago. "and nearly 10 months on" Mandy needs help with her maths "there has been absolutely no progress made." There wouldn't be Mandy, as no promises were made.

Mandy writes as part of the St Neots and District Conservative Forum. This seems to be yet another new grouping within HCCA. The previous group was the St Neots Conservative Councillors Group which made a splash and a mess. The Conservatives should be looking at their own local website which still headlines "Vote Conservative on 4th June 2009".

This is the first shot of the Conservative campaign for the Town Council as elections are due in May 2011. Where are the Conservative leaflets, up to date website and canvassing? This seems to be a Conservative campaign that will rely on writing letters to the newspapers rather than actual campaigning. Next time get your facts right!

This is a dismal start to the Conservative campaign. Pity, the Liberal Democrats really need to be dumped from the Town Council. If this is the level of Conservative candidates this may be out of the frying pan into this fire.

Does HDC have any idea on what it should be doing?

At times the secretive HDC drops its guard and reveals what is going on inside. At the meeting of the Economic Well-being OSP, the Committee was informed that:
Why? There should be no difficulties in producing a list of what the Council has a statutory duty to provide. That is how a Council is supposed to work. The national government has the ability, with the permission of Parliament, to do what it wants. Before a Council can provide a service it must establish in law that it has the power to provide the service. Otherwise the Council is acting ultra vires - beyond the law - and Councillors can be surcharged if this is found to be the case.

The officers of HDC should know what services are being provided and what laws are being used to provide these services. They should know which services are statutory duties and which they have power. This is important. Act of Parliament give powers and statutory duties for Councils to perform. Two examples:

1) Parliament give the power to District Council to provide and run Leisure Centres. There is not statutory duty to do so. HDC can therefore run Leisure Centres but doesn't have to do so.

2) Parliament made it a statutory duty for the District Council to have a domestic waste collection service. This means the District Council HAS to provide this service.

HDC Officers may not want to give a definitive list because it shows the areas which are vulnerable to cuts and closure. This is the Officers of the Council looking after their own. Of course no organisations want to see job losses. The problem for Councils is this is the wrong view. Councils are not here to keep people employed at the Council Taxpayers expense. Councils are here to look after the residents they are supposed to serve.

A long time ago I learnt a lesson. This is:

What is good for the Council isn't necessarily good for the Community. What is good for the Community isn't necessarily good for the Council.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Town Council website update

The Town Council has finally gotten around to informing users as to the state of their website.
No date is given as to when the updated will come on-line.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time for a swim?

The St Neots Swimming Pool Trust has put the old swimming pool site land up for sale. Residents will have to wait for the Trust to inform the people of St Neots the outcome.

With the land up for sale, the Secretive Swimming Pool Trust has some way to go to build an open air swimming pool. The object of the charity is to:
There have been a few ideas of what to do with the money. There was an idea to have a splash area for kids. But this isn't a swimming pool. There is an idea to have a gym next to the swimming pool. But there is a £2.9 million gym at the Leisure Centre. So why have another Council gym?

That is the problem. The Outdoor Swimming Pool will not run without public subsidy. The SNSPT/Town Council are looking at ways to make this swimming pool run at a "profit". What is this idea that these type of facilities should actually run at a "profit"? Parks don't. Children's Play Areas don't. Why should a swimming pool?

Sometimes Public facilities require public subsidy. There is nothing wrong in that. That is a function of local government.

There is always the question of who administers the Swimming Pool Trust. In an answer to a question I was informed by Cllr Thorpe, The Town Mayor, that:
But in the last accounts filed SNSPT says:
So I'm informed by the Town Mayor that the Town Council does NOT administer the Swimming Pool Trust but I'm informed by the Swimming Pool Trust that the administration is run by the Town Council. DOH! No wonder the Town Council is in a mess. The same people run the Town Council as run the SNSPT.

Why is this charity so secret? It is not as though the charity doesn't have any money. The charity could have a basic website. In 2008 it had £53,435 in the bank. Therefore there is no reason to withhold information as SNSPT has enough money to set a basic website.

The problem with all this is the Town Council and SNSPT are getting themselves into a right mess over what to do with the proceeds of the sale of land. This could end up with the money just sitting there or wasted on something the Town doesn't need. Councils are good at doing this. What is needed is a proper viable plan to provide a basic outdoor swimming pool for the summer months with no frills that the community can use.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

St Ives is organising a Town Plan - So why is St Neots left behind?

St Ives Town Council is looking to shape their community for the future through a Town Plan. So why hasn't St Neots got a Town Plan to shape the future of our Town? The simple answer is we could have had a proper Town Plan, but the Liberal Democrats dumped this Town Plan idea when their budget fell apart.
The Town Council even put money aside. £30,000 was put aside and another £30,000 was forecast to be used to produce a proper Town Plan.
The Liberal Democrats Forward Plan informed the public that this was "essential" and would be a "bottom up" community based Town Plan. So what did the Liberal Democrats do with this Town Plan. Well, when the budget fell apart the Liberal Democrats dumped this idea. So not as "essential" as the Liberal Democrats claimed.
This was decided at the fateful 21/01/2009 Council Meeting where the Liberal Democrats inability to manage the finances came home to roost.

The only reason the St Neots hasn't got an "essential" Town Plan is because Cllrs Giles and Thorpe dumped the plan to start to dig themselves out of the mess they found themselves in. This was done with no other announcement and has never been acknowledged in the future Forward Plans. This is Liberal Democrat run Government all over. Build us up with promises and then silence as the cuts rain down.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dismissals Panel set up

HDC has set up an Appointments and Dismissals Panel and the first meeting will be on 15th November 2010.
The membership of the panel is:
Will the public be able to see and read what is happening on this panel? Or will it be secretive? I bet it will be secretive.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Democracy Day Success?

Jeff Dutton, Chairman of HDC, writes in both local papers to inform the public of the success of "Democracy Day". We are informed by Jeff that The Rotary Club turned up and the charities that Jeff is supporting this year.

The main question for me is: "How many members of the public actually turned up?" That is the crux of Democracy Day. How many members of the public (not those officially invited or pressured to come along) turned up to Democracy Day to view Pathfinder House and take part. This was held between 10am and 3pm. Hardly conducive to the working population and seems aimed at the retired population than the population as a whole. The answer is not given!

Jeff Dutton's letter goes on about part of his role being to raise money for charity.
Except I looked up the Council Constitution to find out whether this is listed in the Council's Constitution I found something different.
Nowhere in the Constitution (can be checked here) does it say anything about "raising money for charity" as being part of the role for Chairman. I'm happy if the Chairman wants to put in hard work into organising the raising money for Charity. That is not the case. These amounts are being raised by Council employees organising these charity events as part of their jobs. It could very well be that it is costing the Council Taxpayer £20,000 - £30,000 to raise £10,000 for charity. Wouldn't it be cheaper for the Council to just donate money to charity rather than spending far more to raise such a small amount.
So the Chairman doesn't raise money for Charity. The vast majority of work is completed by paid employees of the District Council. In the times of austerity I wonder whether this costly service to the Chairman should carry on!

Town Council website down!

I see the Town Council website is down again. This happened last year at roughly the same time with the website reappearing in December. There was no notice of withdrawal of this service. Last time the site was down the Town Council actually put up a notice.

I wondered whether this was a result of not paying something. I looked up the owners of the domain and found the following:

Results for :
Registered For: St Neots Town Council
Domain Owner: St Neots Town Council
Registered By: GX Networks
Registrant Contact: Margaret Sharp Registrant Address: Council Offices St Neots Cambridgeshire PE19 2AB United Kingdom +44 148 038 8914 (Phone) +44 148 038 8914 (FAX)
Renewal date: Monday 17th Oct 2011  
Entry updated: Thursday 17th September 2009
Entry created: Monday 17th October 2005

The renewal date for the domain is in 2011. Another option is the fasthosts has dropped the site for one reason or another. The Town Council has said that it is changing the website soon. Maybe this is what is happening. So why no notice of this on the website?

Again the Liberal Democrat run Town Council falls short of basic expectations.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coalition stops excessive Council Tax increases

In a press release the Coalition outlines the way the Local Government will be allowed to increase Council Tax. This includes extra money to keep the Council Tax increases down to zero. In the case of HDC this could mean an extra £183,792.
That is the good news. What is good news for HDC council taxpayers and bad news for Conservative run HDC is the following from the press release:

"The news of funding for a council tax freeze comes ahead of Government plans to legislate in the next month's Localism Bill to give local residents new powers to veto excessive council tax rises that will replace Whitehall capping from 2012-13 onwards.  Until then the Secretary of State is clear he reserves the right to use capping powers against any individual authorities which ignore the freeze and set excessive council tax increases."

So the Coalition is carrying on the previous Governments capping regime until the referendum provisions come in. Yippee! 

The Conservative run HDC has got to get with it. Instead of moaning about the state it got itself in it should be planning, since the Coalition came to power, for the referendum it will need to up the Council Tax. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New Deputy Town Clerk appointed

After 1 year and 10 months the Town Council has finally appointed a Deputy Town Clerk. I understand this is a changed position from when the last Deputy Town Clerk was in place. This means that 2 years after the previous Town Clerk resigned the Town Council is getting the management it needs to get back on track.

That is 2 years the Liberal Democrats just simply wasted.

The Liberal Democrats seem more interested in having brand new robes for the robe-less Town Mayor than the management of the Town Council. There have been various excuses for not having a Deputy Town Clerk or even a Town Clerk (even on a temporary basis) but none of them really stand up to a bit of scrutiny.

Back to the new Deputy Town Clerk. I would like to know why the filling of this position has been so quiet? The name hasn't been publicised either in the press or on the Town Council website.
For all those interested the new Deputy Town Clerk is on about £25k per annum.