Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quotes on the ECC

As the Conservatives keep bring up the cost of the Eatons Community Centre I thought I would republish an old blog of mine with some small alterations:

To coincide with the ECC Open Day, I thought it would be a bit of fun to see what our local politicians and others have said about the ECC.

Start date for work on community centre - Huntspost - 11/07/2007
It is hoped the new facilities will be open to the public in September 2008.

Paul Phelps, architect for FrankShaw Associates, said he was confident he could meet the key dates set and that “things were moving forward”.

Former town mayor, councillor Paul Ursell said he was disappointed that a kitchen/bar are not a separate bar was incorporated in to the designs. “It is one thing building it, but a project like this has to be sustainable and that is why it needs a dedicated bar.”

snrednek says: Bars used to be the money earner for a centre like this. But there is no real need for a dedicated bar. Times have changed. If I can get passed the secrecy which surrounds this council then we will have to see whether this bar will make any money in the future.

Go-ahead for £1m community centre - Huntspost - 30/04/2008
Conservative Councillor Paul Ursell, vice chairman of the development control panel, said St Neots Town Council can now progress this important project. This much needed community centre will be a tremendous asset for the residents of the Eaton Ford and Eaton Socon communities who will undoubtedly make full use of its facilities.”

snrednek says: If the Conservatives become suddenly in opposition to the ECC remember the above quote. Cllr Ursell along with Cllr Harty are on the ECC Committee. The other two are the usual suspects: Cllrs Giles and Thorpe.

The going gets turf ... - Huntspost - 20/08/2008
A turf-cutting ceremony was held at the Maltings in Eaton Socon on Friday to mark the start of work on the Eatons Community Centre.
Philip Devonald, clerk to St Neots Town Council, said: “The idea for a community centre for the Eatons was first aired four years ago. “We have had a lot of interest from local organisations and community groups keen to use the centre and we have no doubt that we will be able to fill it. It is much-needed and it will be a well used multi purpose community centre.”
Building work is due to start on September 1 and is estimated to take about 35 weeks.

snrednek says: From this article I get the very strong impression that building work was to start on 01/09/2008. 35 weeks in the middle of May 2009. Also there is lots of interest from local groups to use this centre.
But just one month later......

£100k budget blow-out for community centre - Weekly News (now News and Crier) - 18/09/2008
Cllr Gordon Thorpe said: “The original money allocated is now insufficient due to increased costs such as the cost of steel and the cost of copper for electrical goods going up all the time.”
Cllr Thorpe said: "the district council also required CCTV and a holding tank for rainwater be installed, which added to the cost of the project."
Philip Devonald, town clerk, said: “It is a combination of increased construction costs and increases in the requirements imposed by the district council. “Also, members decided to go from a gas boiler to a biofuel boiler, which is more expensive but also more environmentally friendly.”

snrednek says: I can find no requirement for CCTV. I can find a planning condition which means any CCTV erected would have to be approved by HDC Planning.

I also cannot find anything about a requirement for a holding tank for rainwater. Maybe I missed this but I don’t think so!

So Councillor Thorpe is blaming HDC Planning for imposing conditions which HDC didn’t.

The killers of this centre are the restrictions placed on it because of the housing abutting the centre. The open hours are restricted and noise is limited. Building this centre next to housing is the basic problem behind the restrictions. Right from the start the Town Council seems to have been blinkered about the what they could do with this centre with housing right next to it.

Council loan may rise to fund new centre - Huntspost - 08/10/2008
Mayor of St Neots, Cllr Bob Eaton, said that despite the funding shortfall, the centre was still on track to open early next year. He said: “The costs have increased because we want to use green fuel in the centre and because of the rising costs of building materials because of the state the economy is in at the moment. Despite this, the project is still on schedule.

snrednek says: So the previous Town Mayor Bob Eaton declared the centre was still on track and on schedule. Work was supposed to start on 1 September 2008. He dug the turf at the ceremony. It didn’t start. Despite what this Town Mayor was quoted as saying at the time the project was not going anywhere. It didn’t until January 2009.

Book the hall that has yet to be built - St Neots News and Crier - 19/02/2009
The Council is looking for St Neots based businesses willing to sponsor some of the equipment required for the facility.
Work by Deejak building contractors has commenced and St Neots Town Council is inviting anyone interested in hiring the centre's facilities to get in touch with them.

snrednek says: So this centre, in which lots of local groups were interested in using, is now looking for anyone interested in hiring this hall

Bar open at new centre - Huntspost - 16/09/2009
Cllr Gordon Thorpe, town mayor, said: “The licence is good news otherwise it would have limited what we could use the centre for. We do not intend to use the alcohol license every day and night but just for functions such as weddings receptions.”

snrednek says: Wedding receptions at this hall? Parking problems and the noise will cause neighbour disputes. Rather than have the River Church on the committee, local residents should be strongly represented.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who I'm voting for at the elections in May

As someone who normally votes Conservative I still find myself in a quandary on how to vote in May. I have voted Conservative at all the General Elections -1983, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2001, 2005 - and a multitude of local elections. It is only since I moved to St Neots that my voting habit has changed, but not my views. So why has the way I voted changed?

On one level it is the realisation of the mess Conservative run HDC is in. Running a massive budget deficit and blaming everyone else for this hasn't enamoured me to the local Conservatives. With massive investment in Council leisure I view Conservative run HDC not as a forward thinking Council, but as one stuck in the socialist past. Conservative run HDC is doing what I would expect an old Labour run Council to do rather than a Conservative run Council.

Djanogly is an absent MP living much of his life in London, where his main home is, who got into a mess over his expenses. He didn't even deem the electorate worthy of allowing us to ask questions at a public meeting. All slight of hand. But he did get re-elected!

The St Neots Conservative Councillors group seems very rudderless. A good pantomime over the closure of the public toilets, eventually blaming the Liberal Democrat run St Neots Town Council for not taking them over.

Blaming the Liberal Democrats seems to be the Conservatives way. The annexation of the old Town Ward of Eynesbury Hardwicke Parish Council is another case in point. The former EHPC ran nothing and provided nothing apart for a few grants. Some Conservatives felt it was right to put the old Town Ward into St Neots Town Council. Conservative HDC even endorsed these proposals. When it came to the General Election/Local Elections it was the Conservatives who blamed the Liberal Democrats.

On another level it is the sheer incompetence of the local Conservatives. Not being even able to call a by-election in Eaton Socon. Not going to town over the "Shambles" the Liberal Democrats made of the Town Council. Promoting was is still being used as a Church Car Park as a "Community Car Park". These are but a few examples of what annoys me about the local Conservatives.

On yet another level it is the sheer disappointment with the Conservatives, whom I normally vote for, at their lack of campaigning. As M. Stephenson put it in the 2009 accounts:
May I suggest this problem results from the Conservatives not campaigning enough! It is a vicious circle of the Conservatives not having enough volunteers. Therefore less campaigning takes place. Therefore you don't attract members. And so it goes on with fewer members meaning less campaigning and so on and so on.

So who will I be voting for?

Labour is out of the question. The Liberal Democrats are the only alternative. Whilst at District level I will vote for the Liberal Democrats in Eynesbury, when it comes to the Town Council I'm still in a quandary and I have yet to decide.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Notice of Elections published

HDC has published the notice of elections for District and Town Council.

District will mean at least one seat is up in each ward.
At the Town Council elections all seats are up for election.
If you want to stand you need to get the correctly filled out nomination papers by NOON 4th April 2011.
On the HDC website it also says:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Will the HDC Planning Department accede to political demands?

The titchy cinema project will eventually hit the Planning Department. As the plans presented by Turnstone Estates are at significant variance to those laid out in the development brief will planning come under pressure from other parts of the District and Town Councils to get this development through. The District Council is going to make some money from selling the land to Turnstone Estates. One estimate has the amount at £2 million. I feel the Planning Officer who turns this development down will not be the best person around. Especially as many St Neots Councillors have staked so much on the outcome.

This is the problem. Whilst it is unethical and wrong for the rest of the Council to influence the decision of the Planning Officer there is nothing to stop words being said passing in corridors. Of course the other way is to find a Planning Officer that doesn't need to be leant on.

Having a go at the Planning Officer is only shooting the messenger. Planning were very insistent over the development brief. A cinema was only one idea and not the only idea. It was the Cabinet who decided on a cinema project not Planning.

But it would be very funny if the District Council cabinet wants a cinema and the Planning department turns it down.

I've said all along this is the wrong place for the cinema. Much better to put this scheme on the East of St Neots development rather than squeeze this into a small site.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Conservative In Touch - Nothing about the future

I thought I would review the Conservative intouch which came through my door recently. Apart from the lie over the toilets what else has this got to say?

Well the Conservatives want a chance.
And they also want to look after all your money. - Are they setting up a bank? Or will this be the result of the tax increases that may happen.
Joking apart the swimming pool seems to take prominence on the front page. I have to wonder whether the fact that Cllr Ursell (Conservative) is chairman of the Trust has anything to do with this.
As far as I can ascertain the land has yet to be sold.

On the bottom of the front page is an advert for Conservative Councillors. Since the candidates for the District Council have already been selected it is pretty pointless. The Conservatives may be still looking for candidates for Town Council. This is my take on the question posed:
On the inside we have a piece about the car parking charges. Nothing about their petition. Nor the fact that Conservative run HDC imposed these charges. Just shows how ineffective these councillors are!
Also on the inside is a piece on the Church Car park. Good that the Conservatives have finally gotten around to calling it what it is and not a community car park. Just because the Town Council has maintained this for 60 years doesn't make this right. Why should the council taxpayer subsidise this car park when the church had enough money to pay for it in the first place.
Hmm...On the last page Mandy Thomas still pops up as a Conservative Councillor. I supposed this leaflet was put to bed before Mandy resigned.
Finally I see this headline and I have to wonder.
Looking through this leaflet I see no pledges. No cuts in Council tax. No funds exclusively for Eynesbury Hardwicke. Nothing. So the message here is the Conservatives having made no pledges and going to deliver these non-existent pledges to the people of St Neots.

What of the flagship national policy of the New Homes Bonus? Utter silence. It is a though St Neots won't be seeing any of this money.

What sets out to be a good leaflet has, in fact, no specific content on what the Conservatives intend to pledge/promise to do for St Neots in the next 4 years. That is a pity and a missed opportunity by the St Neots Conservatives.

The Conservatives are devoid of anything to say about how they would take St Neots forward. The New Homes Bonus is missing. From this leaflet giving the Conservatives a chance will do little for St Neots.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mandy's in Jamaica

In the News and Crier it says:

She was unavailable for comment but Simon Burton, constituency organiser for the Huntingdon Conservative Association, released a statement on her behalf.

Of course Mandy Thomas was unavailable for comment. Mandy is on holiday again. According to a source Mandy has gone to Jamaica.

A little confusion....

I always wondered in which District ward Love's Farm was in. Looking at the Election Maps website I found this:
This had the Love's Farm in Gransden and The Offords Ward. I therefore wrote to the Electoral Services Department at HDC and received this reply:

"This development does fall with Gransden and the Offords Ward not Priory Park.  I will check with our web people as to the state of the maps."

Having been informed by HDC that Love's Farm development was in the Gransden and The Offords ward. Then there was a bit of a spat on the St Neots Forum which said Love's Farm was in the Priory Park ward.

Later I found the following changes on the Election Maps website:
So the Election Maps website has changed its website to show Love's Farm in the Priory Park ward.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Another Conservative leaflet. Another Conservative lie

On the front of the new leaflet from the Conservatives there is the following statement:

"St Neots Town Council allowed our public conveniences to fall into a bad state of repair, allowed HDC to fix them and refused to take responsibility for the upgraded facilities."

That is a downright lie!

The first fact is that these public conveniences are owned by HDC.

The second fact is that before 2006, St Neots Town Council ran these toilets under an agency agreement for cleaning and minor repairs. HDC paid £33,825 a year to the Town Council under this agency agreement.

The third fact is that as owner HDC had sole responsibility to maintain these public facilities and therefore had the responsibility to upgrade them.

The fourth fact is in 2006 HDC decided to take all the public conveniences back under its control to save money and have a consistent service level across the District.

The fifth fact is the all public conveniences were upgraded across the district unless they were earmarked for closure.

The sixth fact is HDC decided to end this service in 2009 having spent £573,000 upgrading this service. Unlike the previous agency agreement that provided HDC money to the Town Council, St Neots Town Council (therefore the St Neots council taxpayer) was expected to pick up £30,000 of cost.

The seventh fact is St Neots Town Council has picked up the cost of £30,000 a year (Conservative Stealth Tax) whilst the HDC Conservatives boasted keeping the tax rise down to 2.5%.

So the lie is:

As owner HDC has responsibility for the major maintenance and a responsibility to ensure the agreement was being carried out. If toilets were in a bad state of repair that is down to Conservative run HDC. HDC then decided to run these toilets themselves. Having upgraded these toilets, which it owned, HDC then decided to end the service and close the toilets. Unlike the agency agreement the cost of running the toilets eventually fell on St Neots Town Council.

The statement on the front of the leaflet should have read:

Conservative run HDC allowed our public conveniences, it owns, to fall into disrepair. It ended the agency agreement with the Town Council and decided to run the service itself. Conservative run HDC spent loads of money upgrading these facilities only then deciding to scrap this service. St Neots Town Council eventually submitted to the Conservative bullying and took on two public conveniences at a cost of £30,000 a year to the St Neots council taxpayer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Meeting of the Town Council finally appears on the website

The meeting of St Neots Town Council has finally been published on the website.
This was posted on Thursday 17th March 2011outside the Town Council Offices. Yet it took until 21st March to get it on the website. This meeting isn't due as the next Town Council meeting is due on 14th April 2011. This is therefore a special meeting of the Town Council for one purpose. Turnstone Estates must be putting pressure on the Town Council to get a move on as they still have yet to put a planning application in.
What is this meeting about? There is only one real item on the agenda and that is giving up Shady Walk for car parking. Not that I would know that from the agenda. It says: " at Shady Walk to be used for cinema provision..". Sounds like the cinema is going on Shady Walk. Yet the plans from Turnstone Estates had the entire land used as car parking.
Of course, the press and the public are not welcome!

Can I believe what the Conservatives tell us?

On the News and Crier website there is a piece on the resignation of Mandy Thomas. Conservative Agent Simon Burton (a Djanogly placeman) said:

"Sadly, Mandy Thomas has encountered horrendous personal difficulties since 2008."

Err what? Horrendous personal difficulties! Looking at Mandy's Facebook wall this doesn't seem consistent with:
Nor with:
Nor with:
So what did Mandy have to do as a District Councillor. Basically turn up to 7 council meetings and 10 committee meetings. Mandy had such a "horrendous" time that Mandy made a St Neots Town Centre Initiative meeting to evade the 6 months rule and continue with the allowance money rolling in.

This "horrendous" story is a cover for the resignation of a District Councillor who fell out of love with the Conservatives. This "horrendous" line is a pure invention by the Conservatives so electors will not be able to question why Mandy actually resigned.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Secret Meeting of the Town Council?

Well not so secret, though you would have to go down to the Town Council offices to find out about this because it isn't on the website.  The press and public are excluded from part of the meeting as it is to discuss the proposal to tarmac over Shady Walk Open Space for a cinema car park.

So what is so secret? The terms of sale/lease of the land of course and the amount of the land which the Town Council gives away to the developer. All this will be able to be kept secret until the developer puts in the planning application. So much for transparency.

As it says on the Forward Plan version 3 on the website:
Maintain and protect green space provision is not turning any of the green space at Shady Lane into a car park!

The meeting is on Thursday 24th March at 7pm. As with all Town Council meetings the residents are given 10 minutes to have their say on any matter under the Town Council at the start of the meeting. Then the press and public are excluded from the bit that matters.

We all know the Town Council is going to give away this piece of land. So why make this secret?

Is this how a "Quality Town Council" is supposed to work? Meetings added to the noticeboard but not added to the website! Obviously those at CPALC including Ian Dewar and Steve Wilkinson and his Accreditation Committee think this is how a Quality Town Council should operate as they bunged the Town Council the Quality Status. A meeting that is virtually kept secret from the people in the hope this goes through without as much as a mutter from those affected by this decision by the Town Council. Quality Town Council indeed. CPALC should reconsider their verdict that St Neots Town Council is a Quality Council.

Friday, March 18, 2011

So Mandy has gone!

In a statement in the Hunts Post, Simon Burton says:

Conservative Party agent Simon Burton said Ms Thomas had had “tremendous personal difficulties over the past three years”. In spite of her attendance record, she had kept on top of her constituency workload, he added.

Hmm... tremendous personal difficulties. I don't know what that means. Mandy set up a Facebook Group against the Coalition imposition of Tuition Fees. Mandy was able to go on holiday to Mauritius and New York and various other holidays.

On one hand I feel sorry that someone has found being a Councillor, representing the people of her ward at Council, difficult and probably not what she thought it would be. On the other hand if Mandy had known this a long time ago Mandy should have taken the right course of action and resigned rather than hang this out.

The Huntingdon Conservatives website says nothing about this - so far.

Town Council ups it game a bit

Not liking the constant criticism from this blog, the Town Council has slightly upped its game a bit with the publication of an Accounts and Budget section on its website. This gives details of the current budget, the final accounts and the budget for 2011/12. This is a start. Some bits are missing.

Like where is the Annual Report? This is what Steve Wilkinson and his Accreditation committee at CPALC missed. (Still no answer from Ian Dewar at CPALC). The final accounts are dated the 30th September 2010. This contains all the information which is required to be published at 30th June 2010 and wasn't. The Mandatory Test says:
To pass this Test the Town Council is required to publish an Annual Report by 30th June 2010. It simply didn't. So a thumbs up to the Town Council for getting some financial information on the website. But a thumbs down for CPALC for not getting the mandatory section correct.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mandy doesn't do it again!

As ever the elusive Mandy Thomas has missed yet another meeting at HDC and continues to pick up her pay cheque for doing nothing. Mandy was supposed to be at HDC's Economic Well-being OSP on Thursday 10th March 2011. This time Mandy sent her apologies for not attending. Fine but that doesn't mean much. Mandy hasn't attended a Council or Committee meeting since 15th July 2010. Is this a record for not attending? If Mandy isn't going to turn up to Council meetings then what is the point of her continuing on the District Council. Oh yes the pay cheque and the free computer. The Conservatives are quick to jump on those who live off the state. When it is one of their own they keep very, very quiet. The time has gone when Mandy should have resigned. Mandy is elected until May 2012. It looks as though the Council taxpayer is going to keep Mandy to the life she has become accustomed to for another 14 months!

I just don't understand why the Conservatives let her stay in the party. Mandy is hardly contributing yet the Conservatives let here hang on. Time they got rid of Mandy from the Conservative Group for starters.

Remember what Mandy said:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Useless Town Council Planning Committee being useless again - Part 4

In my series of on the useless Town Council Planning Committee I thought I would highlight a couple of more decisions by the Town Council Planning Committee and how these are disregarded by the District Council Planning Department. At the Development Management Panel meeting 21st March 2011 two "refusals" have been disregarded by the District. These are:
The Town Council said:
What did CCC Highways say:
The Town Council Planning Committee recommends refusal because of traffic but CCC Highways say OK.

Another traffic objection was used on 1100025FUL:
The Town Council said:
The District Council said:
If 2 spaces are created then where is the loss of parking amenity? As for County Highways they say:
Time and again the Town Council Planning Committee shows it doesn't know much about Planning. So why continue with this pantomime. Cut this committee and all the Officer time that goes into producing these reports, meetings and minutes. It is a sheer waste of time and effort. Yet the Town Council clings to this like it is the rasion d'etre of the Town Council.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Liberal Democrats asking what St Neots wants?

On their webpage St Neots Liberal Democrats have put up a survey. In the preamble it says this:

"Four years ago we asked residents what they wanted for our town. We prepared our manifesto accordingly. It's not been easy, but we've achieved a great deal, despite endless attempts to obstruct us and the actions of the District Council, such as doing away with free parking and closing toilets. We've built the new £1.2m Eatons Community Centre, refurbished the Priory Centre and all our playgrounds. Put in new Christmas Lights and bus shelters are made real progress towards a new pool and a cinema. This survey is designed to ask you what our priorities should be if you re-elect a Lib Dem Town Council in May.

The phrase: "despite endless attempts to obstruct us...." needs examination. The only people obstructing the Liberal Democrats have been the Liberal Democrats. With a majority of 8 (Liberal Democrats 13 - Conservatives 5) on the Town Council the Liberal Democrats should have been able to push through their programme without any opposition. They didn't and therefore the Liberal Democrats can only blame themselves for 4 wasted years.

The main problem has been finance and the inability of the Liberal Democrats to balance the budget for much of their term in office. So who was obstructing from within the Liberal Democrats? Cllrs Giles and Thorpe are prime candidates. The idea of setting up a Policy and Resources Committee was a good idea, but badly carried out. The idea of having a Council Leader was a good idea but was also badly carried out. The Town Council descended into financial crisis which was covered up for a time with not holding Policy and Resource Committee meetings and when they did eventually hold a meeting it was not to discuss finance. The only obstructions the Liberal Democrats encountered were their own.

Another phrase the needs examination is: "..the actions of the District Council, such as doing away with free parking and closing toilets." What has car parking to do with the Town Council? Now closing the toilets did put extra spending on the Town Council of £30,000 pa but shouldn't have deflected the Town Council from its course. The Town Council didn't have to takeover these toilets. Again deflecting the blame for the Liberal Democrats own problems.

Also: "refurbished... all our playgrounds.What about Shady Walk/Lane? This hasn't been refurbished. Turnstone Estates are looking to turn the whole area into a car park! Hardly refurbishment! This statement is saying something that hasn't happened.

Lastly: "This survey is designed...".There is something the Town Council produces which is called the Forward Plan. This plan says where the Town Council is going for the next 4 years. Were the public consulted over the formulation of this plan? Of course not. The Liberal Democrats put this through Town Council without asking what the public thinks of the future. Also when the Town Council was in financial crisis Cllrs Giles and Thorpe dumped the essential Town Plan, something which could have been used to point the way.

The preamble is about shifting the blame from the Liberal Democrats to somebody else. This is a classic tactic.

Whilst having a blast at the Liberal Democrats it should be noted the St Neots Conservatives have done nothing yet. At least the Liberal Democrats have done something. The Conservatives have closed their local website and the Huntingdon one doesn't have much to say about say about St Neots.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When will the Town Council have one policy?

I was amused by the latest utterances from the St Neots Town Council (useless) Planning Committee. Under planning item 4 the planning committee went back to their old ways of using the traffic congestion objection without any evidence. They don't like the proposed development behind 7 Eaton Socon Green. What the useless planning committee went onto say is:
The useless planning committee objects to this application because of a reduction of green space and trees. Yet the Town Council is quite happy to give up 40% to 100% of the land it owns at Shady Walk Open Space for a car park!

If the Town Council was being consistent it wouldn't be using the "reduction of green space" reason for objecting to this planning application. The Town Council is all for the cinema project which will increase traffic movements on the site and reduced green space but on non Town Council land it objects!

Friday, March 11, 2011

No balls for a referendum

The Conservative run HDC has been running high quality services at low cost because they have demolished reserves to prop up the budget. This has to end because reserves are running out and the Conservatives are going to problems over the New Homes Bonus they have nicked from the areas that are taking development.

I have calculated underlying Council tax rate needed to fund services after cuts taken from the summary provided to District Councillors.
I have added up the amount from the "Shortfall met from reserves" - £3.6 million, "New Homes Bonus" - £0.9 million which come to £4.5 million shortfall. This make a total of an extra £75.50 rise in Band D Council Tax if neither was used. Stopping the proposed savings of £3 million would increase the Council Tax an extra £50.34 on top of the £75.50. This makes a total of £125.84 extra or just over a 100% increase in Council Tax.

In year 2012/13 the situation gets even worse. Including the savings still required the total would be before proposed savings a total £5 million. An increase of £87.73. If the proposed savings were added in this would mean a total of £9.3 million. An increase of £155.73.

This just get worse year after year. If HDC wants to get the finances back in order it needs to up Council Tax to achieve this. By 2015/16 HDC will need an extra £5.7 million to properly balance its budget. A massive £12.6 million if cuts (£6.6 million) are to be avoided. On the £137.06 council tax figure this would add an extra £93.01. If cuts are to be avoided that would add an extra £107.69. Making a total Council tax rate of £337.76.

This sounds alarmist. It is not meant to be. But taking the figures the rate of Council Tax should be at £250 per Band D property and we are paying at £124.17. That is the fundamental problem. HDC is not charging enough for services it provides and not by a small amount. All the talk about saving by shared services isn't going to make that much of a dent in the problems faced by the Conservatives and HDC. Charging the proper amount for services via the Council Tax is the only way to go if you want these services to continue. Have the Conservatives got the balls to tell the truth and push for a referendum after years claiming they are the low tax party. With David Monks (payoff £139,000) and Ian Bates going I feel any new Conservative leader has to talk frankly with the Huntingdonshire Council taxpayers and inform them of this problem and how they are going to get out of this mess

The same goes for the Liberal Democrats to an extent. They also need to be more forthcoming on how they would raise council tax to pay for these services. But the ball is in the Conservatives court. They got HDC into this mess with council tax that was just too low. The Conservatives need to be able to lead us out of this mess. The only way I can see is for a referendum on increasing council tax. It is just whether the Conservatives have the balls to go to the people on this issue.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is Eric Pickles having a go at HDC?

I was looking on the website and I found something from Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary (Conservative). He said:

"In their approach to budget setting, the best councils are showing that they understand that a strong, thriving voluntary sector is more important now than ever and could be the key to providing high quality, good value services to their residents. But this is not the case everywhere. Councils that are failing to recognise the importance of the sector are being short sighted in their approach.

HDC is looking to cut funding to the voluntary sector by 85% in 2013/14. Even Eric Pickles says HDC is wrong!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This is what HDC informed me on 25th February 2011

I asked a question of both the CEO David Monks (payoff £139,000) and Councillor Leader Ian Bates (stepping down in May 2011) about the position of HDC over claiming half the money from the sale of land by St Neots swimming pool trust. The duty of replying was delegated to Colin Meadowcroft. I received this reply as outlined in a blog on 25th February 2011.

Dear Mr Gadenne,

I refer to your email below and understand that you sent a similar query to Mr Bates, the Leader of the Council. They have asked me to send a response on behalf of the Council.

There are no redevelopment proposals for the site currently before the Council and in such circumstances it is not possible to provide a definitive answer to what is, at the present time, a hypothetical  question. It would not be appropriate for the Council to purport to bind or pre-empt a decision of the Council in the future. If and when a request is received by the Council regarding the Agreement, it will be considered on its merits and the Council’s course of action will depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time.

I trust you understand why it is not possible to be more definitive at this time.

Yours sincerely,

Colin Meadowcroft
Monitoring Officer and
Head of Law Property and Governance
Huntingdonshire District Council
01480 388021

When looking back this answer is strange to say the least. Because HDC does have a definitive answer. The report to the secret part of the Cabinet meeting on 31st January 2008. This report was by....Colin Meadowcroft!
In his reply Colin Meadowcroft says:
" such circumstances it is not possible to provide a definitive answer to what is, at the present time, a hypothetical  question"

Not so hypothetical now. The council does have a position and that position was not to take half the proceeds. Why can't HDC actually say this?

Colin further replies:
"It would not be appropriate for the Council to purport to bind or pre-empt a decision of the Council in the future"

Yet a report was produced which does exactly this. The District Council position is clear. They don't intend to take half the money.

Colin Meadowcroft was authorised to reply by Cllr Ian Bates and CEO David Monks. He even copied them in on the reply:
I just don't understand all this. The only reason for not stating the position of the Council is to take more money from the Swimming Pool Trust. This is good news for St Neots and good news for the Conservatives. But it has been kept under wraps.

All this shows is when asking HDC a question don't trust the reply!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Freedom of Information and HDC

I've been pursing HDC over a secret report over the Outdoor Swimming Pool land which the trust deed said HDC was entitled to half the proceeds. Eventually this has been mainly successful. Not without a few refusals along the way.

The initial request was just blocked. The HDC reply to my request is below:

3rd December 2009

Your request for information has been considered and I am not obliged to supply the information you have requested.

The report was submitted to Cabinet as "exempt information" under paragraphs 3 and 5 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972, and as such is not in the public domain.
Paragraph 3 relates to "Information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)" and paragraph 5 to "Information in respect of which a claim to legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings".

This report is exempt under Section 42 (1) and Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act.

This exemption applies because releasing this report would damage the commercial interests of the Council as there is still a possibility of the disposal going ahead in the future.

This letter acts as a Refusal Notice under Section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act.

I then appealed and received a redacted report. This can be found here.

After the revelation that St Neots Swimming Pool Trust was liable to give HDC half the proceeds I proceeded with another Freedom of Information request. The new version of the report is here with less redactions.

So what are the differences?
Version 1
Version 2
All this is informing me what was reported in the Annual Accounts of the Swimming Pool Trust. What was so secret about all this even before the latest accounts were published?
Version 1

Version 2
Now this is the really secret part of the report. But I don't see why any of this needs to be kept secret? It is good news for St Neots and the Conservatives. HDC is doing something good for the people of St Neots and yet HDC hides this information! Why?
Version 1

Version 2

This entire minute was redacted by the Freedom of Information team. Why? It seems former decisions back in 1993 are now to be redacted in full. Is this because I could put a FOI request in for this report!

The only losers in this could be the people of St Neots. All kept secret until after the event.

What was kept redacted?
The reason for this being kept redacted is:
Please find attached the report within which sections 2.5 and 2.6 have been redacted (i.e. blanked out). This request is exempt under Section 42 (1) of FOI act. The Council does not consider it in the public’s interest to release thisinformation.

Section 42 (1) is about legal privilege. It is an exemption that has to be measured against public's interest. What Huntingdonshire District Council is saying is it isn't in the public's interest to know what the legal advice is. But if we don't know what the advice is how are we supposed to have a debate about it!

The only reason for maintaining this exemption is the District Council intends to pursue the Town Council/Swimming Pool Trust. Then again why would they do so?

Secrecy in Huntingdonshire District Council is just so ingrained. What has to be so secret about dealings with a Town Council administered Swimming Pool Trust which has members who are also District Councillors. Only the public is being excluded from something that the public has and will pay for in one way or another.

Go on HDC publish the whole report!