Thursday, 16 December 2010
Faced with a shortfall in resources, the ruling group on the District Council has made several unpopular proposals including a reduction of 81% in the funding for local voluntary bodies that provide much-needed services to the neediest people in the district.
Lib Dem Leader Peter Downes proposed an amendment that this cut be removed from the budget in order to give voluntary organisations funding stability so they could develop further in future. He offered a list of ways in which off-setting savings might be made.
The Tories rejected the amendment but said that the idea would be discussed further at the next meeting of the Economic Well-being Scrutiny Panel on Thursday, January 13th at 7 p.m. in Pathfinder House.
This decision followed an impressive presentation to the Council by representatives of the voluntary sector in Huntingdonshire. Julie Farrow of the Volunteer Forum explained how the small grant to the Forum enables it to help charities and voluntary organisations lever in grants for their work. Last year over £700,000 was generated in this way. Other speakers emphasised the value to the community of the voluntary sector. Mike Baker, LD Councillor for Ellington, said that doing voluntary work was satisfying to the volunteer as well as providing benefit to those in need. He highlighted the social car service as an example.
Huntingdon East Lib Dem councillor Ste Greenall pointed out that David Cameron himself had given his backing to supporting the voluntary sector as part of his vision of the ‘Big Society’.
Steve van de Kerkhove, LD councillor for Eynesbury East, said that St. Neots Town Council, which is controlled by the Lib Dems, would actually be increasing its grants to voluntary bodies in St. Neots next financial year.
Mike Shellens, LD Councillor for Huntingdon East, said that the Tory response was disappointing after the good words they had said about the work of volunteers. ‘The Tories in Huntingdonshire simply cannot bring themselves to accept that the Lib Dems might actually have some good ideas’.
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Members we find ourselves in unusually uncertain times:
Revenue from charges
This motion reflects concerns expressed by members of both parties as well as independent members on the Economic Panel that it is foolhardy to pin all our plans onto a single forecast outcome.
Instead, we should prepare, now, contingency plans against various outcomes identifying now what we would have to do when, to meet whatever the outcome is.
It may be that things get better:
Extra savings before we “Pass Go” next April, providing a buffer,
The government takes fright at the post VAT rise fall off in retailing
and the rise in the savings ratio heightened by the fear of unemployment
and starts old fashioned Keynsian pump-priming using Local Authorities to inject cash into the economy. Etc.
In that case, we do not want to be committed to the pain of putting into operation plans to yield savings of £9.5m by 2014/15 if all we need is £6m. We should not sell Pathfinder House and move to portacabins on Alconbury Airfield unless it is strictly necessary.
On the other hand a perfect storm of:
adverse floors and ceilings,
higher inflation driven by the falling £ and Vat,
resistance to increased charges,
a large number of Housing Benefit victims deciding to come and join relatives in Huntingdon,
and extra unfunded obligations passed down from central government
could lead to a much more serious situation requiring ever more drastic surgery.
In my experience drastic surgery needs time to be planned, a move to Alconbury would take at least two years to implement. So it would be no use ending up at the dawn of the last year thinking “If only we had started planning for this 3 years ago!”
We need to manage the situation rather than simply administer it. We need to be on the front foot.
During the course of this year we have heard numbers of £5m, £6m, £8m £9.6m and now £10m as the level of savings needed over the plan period to balance the books. What makes us think that the current figure is going to be the actual one? We need to provide for variations.
So we need a variety of plans now, keep them under review as life changes around us, but implement only as and when needed, but with plans already considered.
I have 10 quick suggestions as to what could go into this mix.
This afternoon’s presentation on Balancing the Budget included some suggestions as to areas for consideration. Some of them are duplicated in the following list. But as the copies were committed before that meeting I shall not try and edit out areas on both our lists.
1) Any future increase in members’ allowance should be restricted to the rate of inflation. So do away with the official arbiter to whom we pay I think £5k p.a.
2) Narrower margins and no space under paragraph headings on council papers – only £10k a year savings, but a visible sign that we are trying.
3) Last year we recommended that we councillors share in the pain and reduce all allowances by 10%. This was kicked into the long grass. I understand that Honourable Members opposite refused any increase this year. Many of the Lib Dems implemented a reduction of 10% in accordance with our previous budget proposals.
We should all be moved to that lower scale with effect from 1 April next year,
we should freeze Members’ Allowances until 2014 at the earliest,
we should cap travel expenses to 40p per mile.
4) Move from the Imbucon payroll system to the NJC scales. As I understand it, under the current regime, long lasting employees can migrate well outside the range for the job. What is done is done, but we should stop any more silliness.
5) Voluntary redundancy is a personal challenge both financially and emotionally. Compulsory redundancy can be much worse. Instead, give sections the choice of reduced hours until things get better, using compulsory redundancy only if there is insufficient take up. From the employer’s point of view, this has the merit of retaining the pool of expertise and can be selectively unwound as demand increases in specific areas. It would be necessary to protect pension entitlement and that may take some time to effect so a case for early exploration.
6) Look hard at ourselves. Cut the numbers of District Councillors to 35 from 52, probably not implementable until 2016, but cutting the Cabinet to 7 rather than 10, and 1 Scrutiny Committee rather than 3 could be done now and would bring with it savings on allowances, travel expenses, printing, and officer time.
7) Sub-let Pathfinder House as staff numbers decrease. We should invite other local authority bodies to make use of spare space in Pathfinder House. (e.g. Connexions and Locality Team).
8) Share council tax collection and other back office services with other District Councils. Surely we do not each need to maintain our own complex computer system. In many areas, like Call Centres, we have much to offer others.
10) Save huge amounts of back office costs by going unitary with the County.
On the other side, Lib Dems believe that we should not cut grants to voluntary organisations where there is a risk that this will cause more expenditure for us and the rest of the public sector if we take away the highly geared voluntary support that most of them provide.
My final suggestion is that we recognise that what we are about to receive will not make us truly thankful. Residents will suffer deterioration in the level of service that they receive from the Council.
We should therefore provide that little bit of sugar to help the medicine go down. For the towns, I would suggest reversing the decision on the toilets, deeply unpopular and, anecdotally for Huntingdon, diverting shoppers away from the Town Centre.
For the villages the retention of the Customer Service Centres is likely to be welcomed by those, often the most vulnerable and impecunious, who really need our services and would find the trip in from Farcet or the Gransdens both physically and financially daunting.
Members, we would be happy to discuss these suggestions further as long as the approach was not finding 57 reasons for not doing them but rather “What do we need to do to make them happen?”
Thursday, 1 July 2010
Well, it was hardly a surprise when I received a reply to my letter to Churchmanor that they aren't about to re-open the gate across St Germain Walk. Shame, but that's the way it goes. Churchmanor's view clearly differs from that of many people in Huntingdon, including many who voted for me, but what surprised me in the letter was Churchmanor's attitude to the Post Office (who currently rent a property of which Churchmanor hold the freehold (as stated in the letter). Some people might suggest that Churchmanor aren't too happy at losing a client, but I couldn't possibly comment.
Sunday, 20 June 2010
Mr H. K. White
The Churchmanor Estates Company plc
8th June 2010
Dear Mr White,
I was elected as Lib. Dem. District Councillor for Huntingdon East at the recent elections, having never before stood in an election of any kind. I have lived in the town since 1987, and seen many changes. Many of them, I am very pleased to say, for the better.
As a resident, I formerly used to use the passage which became closed off some years ago, by the so-called St. Germain Gate. This gate is notated as “controversial” not by me, but on www.huntingdontc.com – a website which can be found via a link from Churchmanor’s own website. Some years on, I was quite surprised, when asking residents of Huntingdon East ( I reckon on having canvassed over 1,800 this year ) what issues bothered them. Along with numerous topics, “that *****y gate” cropped up on many occasions.
It set me thinking, is there any reason, other than a pure commercial one of “forcing” footfall past some of the retail outlets redeveloped by Churchmanor, that the gate cannot be reopened, or better yet, removed? After all, most people who shop in town now are well aware of the shops such as Subway, Vision Express and Starbucks. Now, we hear the news that the Post Office is considering relocating from its present site, to “within WH Smiths”. Given that the opening hours may well be extended, that is good news. However, for those older folk who live in the area I represent, moving the Post Office to this proposed location will mean a walk of at least 800 yards or more, in addition to the distance they currently need to undertake. Unless of course, the gate is removed and they can enter the WH Smiths more readily.
I noted that one of your responses to past criticism of the gate was to cite that the area close to the passage constituted a “dangerous accident hotspot”. This might have led people to think that there had been a spate of accidents there. Was that ever the case? And is that area any more dangerous than the ring road, bus station, or any of the town centre car-parks? Surely the answer is to take measures to diminish the risk of accidents. Coupled with the publicity surrounding the re-opening of the gate, this could greatly enhance Churchmanor’s reputation in the town.
To quote from your website again “It is easy to rake over old coals on the rights and wrongs of any issue. However, to invest in a town centre that badly needs investment, decisions need to be taken which may not always be popular with some, but with future investment and planning they will lead to an improved town centre for all.” Forgive me if I am wrong, but I have found no mention anywhere on your website of Churchmanor’s position with regards the RESIDENTS of Huntingdon.
There are numerous web references to businesses, landowners, local authorities, institutions, but nowhere, the people without whom those organisations will thrive….council tax payers, customers…in short, the people of Huntingdon.
Churchmanor claims to "……care enough about Huntingdon to want to support local retail and to bring life back to this part of the town for future generations". But does Churchmanor care enough about the people who, if the Post Office is moved, will be inconvenienced?
The Post Office’s own consultation document talks of their possible relocation being 375 yards away. The buildings may be, but right now, the access, door to door, is NOT.
So, I write to you to ask for consideration, especially now the businesses that moved into the newly redeveloped area of
I have been writing a blog which is available for open reading, and isn’t subject to the whim of an editor of any area of the media, editing or ignoring it. That said, the Hunts Post did publish a letter from me on this subject. I intend to wait a week or so before uploading this letter to my blog, and of course, I shall give Churchmanor access too, by uploading any reply you may send to me.
I hope you will give this consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Cllr Ste Greenall
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Let me say, though, that I have written to one of the Directors, Howard White, to ask the company to reconsider their position, especially now that there is a strong possibility of the Post Office being relocated. In case you didn't know, the Post Office, currently next door to Sainsbury's, is looking to move into the WH Smith store in the High Street. This, in my view, changes "the goalposts" and lessens the argument for the gate being there. I wrote also that I intended to publish the letter I have sent, on this blog page, along with any reply I might receive, which is totally transparent, andf people can judge for themselves what they think.
Going back to when the gate was put up, one of the arguments was that with the number of delivery lorries turning, close to where the passageway runs, there was an accident waiting to happen. My argument in my letter was that that the chances of an accident caused between a behicle and a pedestrian is far greater on the Sainsbury's car-park, or even Huntingdon bus-station. If we are to worry about every vehicle on the road causing an accident, we had better all stay at home!
At the time of writing, I have not yet had a reply from Churchmanor, and it isn't quite a week since I sent my letter to Mr White, so I will hang on a few more days before I publish what I sent on this blog page. If Churchmanor reply, I shall publish what they say. If they don't then I shall say so.
I will leave it for the people of Huntingdon to draw their conclusions.
One thing I would say is that I spoke to two couples who were parking their car on the disabled car-park in town, which, if you want to visit Sainsbury's or the Post Office, is BEHIND the gate, thus requiring someone less able to get around, to make a long detour.
I can't promise that things will change, but I can promise to keep the pressure on. Because despite what Churchmanor would like it to be the case, many HUNTINGDON RESIDENTS are still unhappy about that gate.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Andrew Bish (Tory) 662
Bill Hemsley (Tory) 519
Patrick Kadawere (Labour) 155
Debbie Scales (Lib Dem ) 890
Kevin Sumner (Lib Dem) 860
In percentage terms, I make that Labour - 11.4% / Tory - 35.7% / Liberal Democrats - 52.9%!!
Us over 50%
Tories below 40!
Compared with the Hunts East District election at the same time as the General and where the Greens got 4%, we are up 7%, Labour is up 1%, and the Tories are down 4%.
At the time of the 2005 General Election Lib Dems had never won a seat in Huntingdon.
Now we have 5 Town Cllrs,
3 District Cllrs
1 County Cllr
.....and it is all because we have a class team that delivers the goods when it matters, which is both between elections and during them.
Sunday, 23 May 2010
Met up with Kevin Sumner today to knock on doors on the hottest day of the year so far. Not ideal canvassing conditions but the feedback we had was very good, and it looks like our vote is holding up, ahead of Thursday. The boards and diamonds are starting to appear around town, and we have finally seen signs of Tory activity, in the shape of a leaflet through the doors. One thing is very noticeable. Despite the leaflets saying "local conservatives", one of the chaps, Mr Bish, whilst living in Huntingdon, doesn't live in Huntingdon East. The other, Mr Hensley, lives a little further afield.....errrr....WARBOYS.
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Monday, 17 May 2010
Meanwhile, a few iussues are raising their heads, which I am getting involved in. The first one, which actually cropped up in the few weeks before the election, is the siting of a bus stop in Salpey Road, which directly overlooks houses in Barn close. This isn's a case of "not inmy back yard", as there is a perfectly good stopping space just 100 yards up the road, and which is offset from the road itself, and adjacent to a footpath. Why this wasn't used in the first place, I shall never know. What is more worrying, however, is that I have had sight of an e-mail which suggests residents were consulted.
Saturday, 15 May 2010
Friday, 14 May 2010
When I went to sign a declaration form last night, in order that I can be a fully fledged District Councillor, I discovered, in conversation with David Monks, the CEO of Huntingdonshire District Council, that he is a rugby league fan, and if truth be told, supports Wigan.
I heard an ice-cream van in Biggleswade playing “Liberty Bell” – the theme tune to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
I took Ben to the driving range and was hitting shots with my driver - straight and over 200 yards.
David Beckham addresses an audience of FIFA, without notes.
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
It's been a funny old week, but it began with the Brampton Spartans under 16s ending their season in the only way they knew how - a bucket of cold water over Manager Mick Forsdick's head!
Monday, 10 May 2010
Back to work after the campaign. Tiredness has kicked in, the adrenalin has died down, and having got home tonight, for the first Lib Dem group since the election I forgot my agenda!
"I have just looked on the Huntingdon District Council website and I see you got elected"
"WELL DONE YOU!!!"
"WELL DONE YOU!!!"
Saturday, 8 May 2010
Huntingdon East WardSaeed Akthar The Conservative Party 1766
Thursday, 6 May 2010
6.15 a.m. Early start, shower, shave, quick drink, and off to do some "telling" for two hours at the Polling Station. Out of the house at around 6.45 a.m., and the man who will be sitting opposite me for the next two hours is Saeed Akthar, who is the Tory candidate, and clearly, we are in a two-horse race. It's me or him, by the time the counting is done tomorrow. He's a really nice bloke, and we wished each other well.