Monday, April 30, 2012

Sorry who is wasting their money?

In an article on the Hunts Post website about the St Ives West UDF and the Parish Council and SHED winning a judicial review there are choice comments by the Council.

The following is Council Speak:

HDC’s head of planning services, Steve Ingram, said: “The council contends that the status of, and prospective uses for, the St Ives West Urban Design Framework was appropriately clarified during its adoption process, and we will be maintaining that position in the event of any subsequent litigation.


Oh and Cllr Ablewhite has a go at the protesters:

“I think they are wasting their money,” the council’s executive leader, Cllr Jason Ablewhite told The Hunts Post. (and he should know) “The worst-case scenario is that the judge will tell us to re-look at this – which we shall already have done by then. And the final decision remains with HDC.”

At least they are spending their money on this rather than wasting Council taxpayers money as Cllr Ablewhite et al did over the St Ives Co-op Petrol Station.

Conservatives who broke the Council Tax Freeze promise 1

Which Conservatives broke their parties 2010 election promise to freeze Council Tax for 2 years. 
Even though the Conservatives didn't win, their promise morphed into the Coalition Agreement.
Liberal Democrat run Councils followed the agreement. The Conservatives in Cambridgeshire have broken this promise. The Police Authority has 17 members. 9 of these are Councillors nominated and a majority of these are needed to pass the Council Tax.
As no elected members said they voted differently they must have all voted for this rise. Ms Shona Johnstone has put her name forward as Conservative candidate for Police Commissioner up for election in November 2012. Ruth Rogers for Labour. Neither has stood up for the Council Taxpayer against the ever increasing Council Tax bill.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Reason to vote Conservative - No.3

The one thing I like to look at is how the respective campaigns can say different things in different areas. i used to experience this with the Liberal Democrats who could campaign in one town for one policy and then campaign in another town for an opposite policy in a town next door in the same authority.

Looking at how the Conservatives are fighting in St Ives I can see a difference. Despite the fact the HDC Conservatives have broken the national promise for a Freeze in Council Tax for 2 years, Cllr Ablewhite, HDC Council Leader, is out campaigning for a 4 year freeze on St Ives Council Tax.

There we have it. The Conservatives are quite happy to break a promise to freeze council tax for 2 years and then make another promise to freeze council tax for 4 years. This seems very wrong.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Reason to vote Conservative - No.2

The Conservatives upped their portion of the Council Tax by 3.5%.  Originally the rise was 2.5%. The Government was looking to give freeze money for 1 year of £191,000. By upping the Council Tax by 3.5% the Conservatives broke the national promise of a Council Tax FREEZE for 2 years. The local Conservatives argue that without this increase they cannot get back this money later on due to the need to get an increase approved by a referendum.

Yet this is the same argument for not freezing One Leisure charges. By holding down the charges, the Council will not be able to get this money back in the future. Because the argument will be the Council cannot raise charges because it would lose custom.

In a recent Insight column in the Hunts Post, Cllr Ablewhite says the following: "We have frozen charges
in our One Leisure Centres that are enjoyed by millions of users every year that is accessible to all."

Millions of users is Council speak for the number of times the facility is used by someone. When I think of a user I feel this is one person. This would mean that millions of people from outside HDC use these Leisure Centres. Obviously they don't. A user therefore must be everytime they use a Leisure Centre they are classed as a user. Someone goes for a swim once a year they are classed as one user. Someone who goes to the gym 4 times a week over 50 week equals 200 users.

This is a blatant misuse of statistics. And the Hunts Post should have pulled him up for that.

How much could come from a price rise at One Leisure. A simple 10 pence rise for each use of a Leisure Centre would bring in £200,000. To quote Cllr Ablewhite..."All this and more for a few coppers a
week more."

All Cllr Ablewhite needed to do was up One Leisure charges by 10 pence and he would have brought in enough money to freeze the Council Tax this year. All for a few copper more. He would rather keep Leisure than save £400,000 a year by putting out to a trust. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Reason to vote Conservative - No1

Each year Council must meet certain deadlines. The Accounts must be audited and approved by 30th September each year. The accounts for 2010/11 should have been approved by 30/9/2011. They weren't.
Another date was set and this was 2nd November 2011. This date passed and the accounts weren't passed. another date was set for 7th December 2011. The accounts weren't passed then.

With dates coming and going the council decided on a different rouse. That was to say the accounts would be ready "early in the new year". Well "early in the new year" has come and gone. The new "promise" is these accounts will be approved in May 2012. That is over 7 months on from the legal deadline.

One reason given for the delay in the approval these accounts was the redundancy of the capital accountant who went sick. Except having made this account redundant the Council has taken on a "Financial Accounts Specialist".

No heads have rolled. The date to approve the accounts continually moves. Not only did the Conservatives mess up the redundancy because they had got rid of the one person they needed but they have now employed another person. Trying to save money has cost the Council money. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

5 Reasons to vote Conservative (or not) on 3rd May 2012

Here are 5 reasons:

1. Low Council Tax - There is a myth that Conservatives keep Council Tax low. This is myth. Conservative run Fenland DC has the highest Council Tax in Cambridgeshire almost twice that of HDC. Depending on which set of stats HDC is either 180th oout of 201 District Councils or 94th of of 201 District Councils.

2. Law and Order - Conservative run Councils are tough on Law and Order. Yet Conservative run HDC keeps breaking the law. One major example of law breaking are the accounts. These are still not signed off by the auditors over 6 months after they were legally required to do so. There was also an issue over Housing and Council Tax benefit claims.

3. Conservatives promised a two year council tax freeze - Yes the Conservatives promised a 2 year Council Tax  freeze and provided the money to this to be implemented. Whilst Conservative run HDC took the cash for year one when it came to year 2 the HDC Conservatives dropped this promise and increased their portion of the Council Tax by 3.5%.

4. HDC Conservatives spend our money wisely - Except Cllr Ablewhite et al lost HDC, in a decision to oppose the Co-op in St Ives petrol station, £5000. This is because the Planning Inspector thought the decision was so wrong he took the extraordinary step of awarding costs against the council.

5. HDC Conservatives provide cost effective services - Unlike most Councils, HDC has gone down the road of retaining most of its services in-house. For example One Leisure could be turned into a trust. When this was mooted the saving was £400k a year. This has now been dropped because of the £200,000 cost of setting up a trust - though no paperwork on the £200,000 cost has surfaced. The Conservatives put money aside to "invest to save". Leisure looks a prime example to save the Council Taxpayer money £400,000 a year by spending money already put aside to set a trust up. Yet the Conservatives would rather keep running One Leisure and costing the Council Taxpayer £400k a year than reducing this cost.

I cannot find any reason to vote Conservative this year.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Demise of the Neighbourhood Forums

HDC is set to pull the plug on Neighbourhood Forums. As it turns out this will be generally a good thing. The problem with the Neighbourhood Forums was simple. They had no power and therefore people didn't attend. In the end these Forums were a show case for the District Council to bring forward bits and pieces on what they wanted to promote. That is what I felt attending the St Neots Forum.

All the Councils could have come forward with ideas. Some examples were: The Jubilee; The Cinema Project; Riverside Car Parking charges; Cuts to services; New Homes Bonus; The Portas Money bid; The Open Air Swimming Pool. None of these examples ever came forward for discussion.

This was the main downfall of the Neighbourhood Forums. They were crammed, short on time and didn't look at the real issues concerning the locals.

Should we shed a tear for their demise? Well no! I feel we should be angry at their demise. These had the potential of being good for the community to be informed of issues which effect the community. The feedback should have been looked at by all Councils yet it simply wasn't. No committee or panel had the notes of the meeting presented to them. In the end there was no way for feedback from any conclusions to be fed into each Councils committee system.

What is replacing the Neighbourhood Forums are two systems. The Local Joint Committees - which will be pretty useless they get large budgets to spend and Shape My Place forums which look interesting.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Should John Major be praised?

In a letter to the press Sir Peter Brown praises John Major and feels the passing of time will look kindly on the former Prime Minister. Indeed the economy did bounce back after the UK left the ERM in 1992 after John Major, as Chancellor, took us into the ERM in 1990.

The problem with praising John Major for his "achievements", is the everything else is dusted under the carpet. For me John Major was the worst Conservative Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party ever.

John Major's 1992 election win should be seen as a pyrrhic victory. In 1992 the Conservative Government was coming to the end. Having ousted Thatcher, the Conservatives looked for a new leader. John Major was 2 votes short of an outright victory. Heseltine and Hurd withdrew from the contest and John Major was announced as the new leader and therefore Prime Minister. In that internal election the seeds to Major's problems were sown. This was because any loss of MP's at the next election would be those supporting John major rather than those who opposed him.

When the 1992 General Election was announced, the Conservatives had a formidable election machine to get there message out and did so getting 14.1 million votes. Even though John major scored more votes than any other leader before or after this didn't translate into seats. John Major lost 40 seats and had 336 seats. This was 10 more seats than the 326 seats needed for a majority. This gave John Major little room for manoeuvre when it came to votes and appointments.

The first order of business for the reassembled Parliament was the election of Speaker. Major wanted Peter Brooke and the House of Commons wanted Betty Boothroyd. The House of Commons won out and Major was defeated. Yet this was a silly mistake and showed the ineffective nature of John Major.

The premiership of John Major has been very well documented. Whilst the political machinations surrounded John Major, the party machine was dying. Loss of Councillors, Councils and volunteers made the party machine not work. John Major could pull the levers but the machine just didn't work. The finances held up through large donations. The 1997 election showed no matter how much money is thrown at an election unless you have boots on the ground the money is wasted. During this time Labour went after seats during the Boundary Commission review. And Labour got the review in their favour.

At the 1997 John Major got 9.6 million votes. That is a loss of 4.5 million votes since 1992. That was a loss of 32% in the Conservative vote.

If John Major had lost in 1992, the Labour Government would have had a rough time. The Conservative Party election machine would have been intact. By John Major winning he effectively destroyed the machine that got him elected.

The same has gone on in the Labour Party under Blair and Brown. They have lost 5 million votes from the 13.5 million in 1997 to the loss in 2010 of 8.5 million.

John Major did in 5 short years what it took Labour 13 years to achieve. The Liberal Democrats are seeing the same now they are in a coalition.

In the end I still don't respect John Major and still think his premiership was a shoddy affair. The Conservatives should have lost the 1992 general election. In winning John Major wasted 5 years for the Conservatives and set about laying the foundations for New Labour.

Friday, April 20, 2012

When does a repair becomes a replacement

First St Mary's Eaton Socon Church wants a car park and gets one. Now they want a replacement boundary wall. And the Council Taxpayer will be forking out for this.

In the minutes for the Town Council Operations and Amenities Committee the following is minuted:

(ii) Repairs to the Church Wall at St Mary’s Church, Eaton Socon.
The Acting Town Clerk had spoken to Reverend Timothy Robb who had confirmed that the only option they would consider would be a replacement wall. A meeting had been arranged with a neighbouring resident and planning and conservation officers from HDC at the end of the month.

From what I have read, the Town Council has the responsibility to maintain and repair the boundary wall. There is nothing here about the replacement of the boundary wall which remains the property of the Church.

Maintain: Keep (something) at the same level or rate.
Repair:  Fix or mend (a thing suffering from damage or a fault).
Replacement: The action or process of replacing something.

I contend the Town Council has a duty to repair and maintain the boundary wall. I also contend it doesn't have a duty to replace the wall. That is the duty of the owner of the land. And the owner of the land is the Church.

In its 2010 accounts (the annual update was received 23 days late) shows the Church received £17,499 in recovered income tax. Whilst it lost just over £14,261 the church also spent £26,421 on re-building the pipe organ.

In the end it will be the Council taxpayer that picks up the bill for a wall that is owned by the church. If the Church wants a replacement wall then the church should pay for a replacement wall and let the Town Council Taxpayer stump up for maintaining and repairing the wall as required by law. 

Another Conservative leaflet delivered in Eynesbury

Another week - another Conservative leaflet. This one is is an A3 two sided colour glossy leaflet. Looks good and reads good. Let us take a look at the content. On the front page there are a couple of points I will take issue with. These are:
This sounds very good and is a promise kept by the Eynesbury Conservatives. On the other hand looking at the Eatons where the same promise was made there surgeries are posted on the Town Council website with dates and times. Also the phrase is used "throughout the year" but the only date I can find that a surgery was held was in February 2012.

Another point is:

This is a change. I thought the Conservatives were pushing for Bargroves as a community centre. I can find no budget for an Eynesbury Community Centre. Without the money to build one it is pretty useless to push for one. Maybe the illusive New Home Bonus could pay for one. The new development behind Tesco will bring  in roughly £1.2 million in New Homes Bonus.

The back page is a generic page for the whole of Huntingdonshire. Otherwise they wouldn't be talking about Broadband in St Neots.

On this side of the leaflet the following is said:
But all this was programmed in under the old leadership. The change of leadership has cost teh Council taxpayer more.
Also said is:
True. This was only achieved by the Town Council taxpayers picking up these costs instead.

This is something the Conservatives are proud of:
Yet by excluding the Leisure Trust option the Conservatives threw away a saving of £400,000 a year.

Spin alert:
So the Conservatives are going to encourage future growth in less developed areas such as Alconbury. This is to ensure that the character and history of the market towns is maintained. Sounds good and it should do because this is just pure spin. What it doesn't mean is all the development taking place around St Neots will stop. That will carry on.
Except with the new Homes Bonus, which according the Cllr Guyatt, will be spent on stairlifts. In 2011 the Conservatives informed us every penny due to St Neots in New Homes Bonus will come to St Neots. As yet not one penny.

Another Conservative leaflet that says little and doesn't inspire.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

District Councillor attendances for the last 6 months

I took a look at how our District Councillors for St Neots are attending Council and Committee Meetings. I last took a look back in November. These attendances are taken from the HDC website. Where there is a tie in percentages of meetings attended then the amount of meetings is taken into account. Novembers placings are in brackets ().

1st (2nd) - Cllr Barry Chapman - 100%
2nd (1st) - Cllr Andrew Hansard - 100%
3rd (3rd) - Cllr Longford - 100%
4th (6th) - Cllr Bob Farrer - 94%
5th (4th) - Cllr Roger Harrison - 
6th (7th) - David Harty - 80%
7th (8th) - Cllr Andrew Jennings - 70%
8th - (5th) Cllr Steve van de Kerkhove - 69%
And lagging behind the rest is:
9th - (9th) Cllr Paul Ursell - 50%

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

HDC and transparency

I asked for a copy of the lease between HDC and Turnstone Estates. Easy enough I would have thought. This was on 2nd March 2012. On 5th March I received the following reply:

Freedom of Information Group
Re: Freedom of Information Act Request No 2176.

Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act. We have received your request and it has been passed to the appropriate Officer for investigation.
As required by the Freedom of Information Act we will be responding to you within the next 20 working days. However, there may be some instances where it will not be possible to deal with such an application within 20 working days. If this is the case we will contact you to give an estimate of the date by which we expect to reach a decision.

I should have received something by the end of business on 30th March 2012. On 17th April 2012 I received the following:

Re: Freedom of Information Act– FOI Request No. 2176
I am writing in respect of your recent enquiry for information held by the Authority under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. We have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act.

You requested Closing Orders and Demolition orders made by the Huntingdon Rural District Council…. Minutes for the Council for the period 1957 - 1972?”  -  Err.. No I didn't

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

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

The exemption applied is Section 21: Information accessible by other means. These records are held at Huntingdonshire Archives, please request this information from them.

I apologise that your request will not be met but if you have any further information needs in the future then please contact me.

If you have a complaint about the handling of your enquiry then please contact Freedom of Information Officer in the first instance quoting “FOI Request No. 2176” at one of the following addresses:

Not only late but late with the wrong information. Under Cllr Abelwhite, HDC is going downhill rapidly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Conservative leaflet in Eynesbury

I thought I would look at the Conservative leaflet delivered when I was away the other week. This is for the election of Andrew Hansard who is standing for election in Eynesbury. The leaflet is a very well laid out A3 glossy leaflet with two sides. The leaflet can be found here. Now for the content!

Front Page
From the text Cllr Hansard is concerned over potential development over the railway line. Hold on though, isn't this what we are employing Cllr Hansard to do in the first place? What I want to know is what Cllr Hansard has been doing for the ward for the last 4 years as he was last elected in 2008.

Also Cllr Hansard bigs up his role in the Willow Bridge project which landed Eynesbury with this eyesore. I don't see why it had to be 390 metres long for a span of 39 metres. Why it had to be built so long no one has said. If it was to stop people not using the bridge because of potential flooding this seems to be wrong as there are barriers put in to close the pathways to the bridge in case of flooding.
 What I want to know is what has Cllr Hansard done in the last 4 years to inform me why he should be re-elected.

Under Action Around the Area I thought I would find this out. I didn't.

Apparently the local Conservative Councillors hold regular surgeries. This is strange as I have only found one which was mentioned on the Community Forums by Cllr Ursell. So where are these surgeries being held so I and the rest of the residents can drop to meet my councillor. Well I have to phone up and contact Andrew to arrange this. 
But what is a Councillors Surgery. I would put it thus:
"The period during which a Councillor consults with or helps electors in an office or specific venue."

When the Conservatives on the Eaton Socon side said they would hold a surgery they do so open to all. In Eynesbury the same promise was made and the Councillors haven't publicised where or when. That is not very good.

In the next section Cllr Hansard asks whether more could be done with open spaces.

In the last section there is a bit about potholes. The Conservative run County Council has made a pledge. Whilst Andrew has jumped on this bandwagon there is no reason to. If I found a pothole I would phone Andrew up with the location and he would therefore phone up the County Council to get this done. Whilst this sounds good, I would say leave Andrew out of this and phone or contact the County Council myself. If the pothole isn't filled I would get in contact with a County Councillor (that is what we pay them for) and get them to sort it out rather than a District Councillor. 

This is not a reason to vote for Andrew Hansard. It seems to me there is little for Andrew to do so he has to muscle in on another Council's service territory.

Action around the area seems to mean INACTION AROUND THE AREA. Not much to do so try and find something to do.

Back page
This is the common back for all three Conservative candidates standing in St Neots District Council seats. As such this side of the leaflet says nothing about the District Council and it is all about the Town Council. Why? My answer is simple. The Town Council has good news and the District Council is bad news. 

Yes the Town Council received £186,000 "gift" from budget underspending which has allowed the new Conservative administration to spend this money rather than give it as a tax rebate. Nor has the fact the Liberal Democrats froze the Council tax for the 2 previous years mentioned either.

Of course nothing is said about the increase in Council Tax by all the other authorities which charge us through Council Tax. All Conservative run. HDC, the Council these three candidates are running for, increased their part of the CT by 3.5%. No explanation by these candidates as to why!

In the end this leaflet says very little. With real no opposition the Conservatives have very little to worry about in Eynesbury. As a leaflet informing me why I should vote for Andrew Harsard, it is not inspiring. If I wasn't interested in politics I would let this election go by. Yet if that happens, Cllr Ablewhite will be on the front page informing the residents how wonderful his administration is. So I will be voting UKIP.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Which Party am I supporting?

At these elections things aren't so difficult. As a natural Conservative voter I will not be voting Labour. Nor will I be voting for the local Conservatives. As they seem to have more in common with the socialist than with
the Conservative led coalition Government which I still like. If only they kept to their manifestos.

Also the local Conservative broke a national promise and didn't take the Council Tax freeze money. They also have taken our New homes Bonus money and spent it on propping up HDC's failing budget. Plus in this time of recession the District Council is going on a spending spree to build a 5 land ten pin bowling alley in St Ives. How socialist.
These red flag Conservative won't be getting my vote this year.

What about the Liberal Democrats? You have supported them in the past! Yes I have and no I haven't. For the most part I don't support them and use them as a party of protest. With Doug Terry standing in Eynesbury and Gordon Thorpe in Eaton Socon I don't feel I could support the Liberal Democrats this time around as the party of protest against the local Conservatives.
By a process of elimination I therefore end up with UKIP as the party I will be voting for out of protest. I am not enamoured by their policies. As someone who is pro-europe, in a broad sense, I wouldn't be for blaming all our woes on Europe. As a party of protest I can certainly vote for UKIP and unless something suddenly happens I will do so for 3rd May 2012.