Another government minister playing mind games with local government

All junior pupils to be enrolled in a libraryEvery junior school student in the country will be enrolled in a local library, Nicky Morgan will pledge today. The Education Secretary said it is a “national mission” to improve literacy levels of young children. Officials in the education department hope that the drive could stop closures of libraries across the country. Local authorities often close libraries and justify their decision by saying that there are not enough members to warrant continued funding.

So, Nicky Morgan is going to make it a “national mission” is she?  Is she also going to make it a nationally funded mission, so that councils aren’t forced to cut other services just to satisfy yet another piece of government double speak?  I can answer that question, without even bothering to ask the minister.  There’ll be no financial support forthcoming, just more weasel words from ministers, when councils cry foul.

Is it that the public recycle more when they have no choice?

Well done to Bury MBC for having the courage to introduce 3 weekly waste collections.  I would however like to know what sort of figures they have for contamination of their recycling stream and how the public feel about recycling in principle?  Are residents recycling because they have no choice, or are they doing with enthusiasm, because they feel it’s the right thing to do?  

If the public are recycling more, because they have no choice – you can only get so much in a 140 litre wheelie bin – then it rather proves the theory that the carrot and stick approach works just as well when you only have the stick!

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Three weekly collection boosts recycling rates7 August, 2015 | By Jack Loughran

Bury MBC has announced a 10% jump in recycling rates following the introduction of three-weekly collections for non-recyclable waste.
Latest figures from October 2014 to May this year show that residual waste was down by almost 4,000 tonnes and the overall recycling rate had risen to 57.5%, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling World reports.

This led to an increase of around 1,500 tonnes of recyclates collected: paper and cardboard up by 454 tonnes; metal tins and plastic (466 tonnes) and organic material (644 tonnes).

Cllr Tony Isherwood, cabinet member for environment, said the figures showed that the new system had been successful.

“Residents should be proud of the part that they have played in improving Bury’s recycling rates,” he said. “The cost to dispose of one tonne of grey bin waste has risen by £24 to £308 per tonne, huge costs which we can avoid if we recycle all we can and put the right waste in the right bin.

“This is vital, when the council is facing yet another year of multi-million pound cuts. Every penny that we save through recycling is a penny less that we have to cut from other frontline services.”

In March, Falkirk Council became the first in the UK to fully switch to three-weekly residual collections.
As a result of the new regime, food waste collection increased by 75% with up to 9,000 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfill. It intends to introduce four-weekly collections in 2016.

Gary Porter wants to be a unifying force in local government

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LGA cannot afford to sit on the fence over distribution of funding

25 June, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

The incoming chair of the Local Government Association has pledged to avoid sitting “on the fence”, despite having to represent the interests of members from across the political spectrum

Gary Porter (Con) told LGC he would find ways for the association to present a united front on difficult issues, such as how funding should be distributed across local government.

Under the current finance regime, councils in the most deprived areas have suffered some of the largest cuts compared with authorities in relatively wealth areas.  “If anything happens in this year it won’t be because we’ve got splinters,” he said. “We cannot afford to sit on the fence because then we’ll have the whole world designed against us.”

Asked whether the LGA would advocate a return to a means of funding distribution which was more based on need, Cllr Porter said it was not the only valid way of distributing funding.  The funding regime should, however, become “more sophisticated”.  “Needs based on poverty alone generally miss some parts of the country where there is real poverty masked by a general economic wellbeing,” he said.

He added that Labour councils should be confident he would represent their interests as he was not “a tribal politician”.  “In some of the things I do I’m probably more left wing than some of the Labour councils: I bought the dustbins back in-house, grounds maintenance back in-house, kept my council houses.”

Gary Porter hits the ground running

Porter: Some councils need a ‘kick up the backside. 

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online 25 June, 2015 | By Sarah Calkin

LGC interviews the LGA’s chair elect as he prepares to take up the role next week.

Requiring poorly performing councils to be scrutinised by their stronger counterparts will help local government win extra powers through devolution, says the incoming chair of the Local Government Association.

In a wide-ranging interview with LGC, Gary Porter (Con), said it was essential that weaker councils improved if the sector was to win the turst of MPs and other parts of the public sector.
“Parliament judges us on our worst colleagues and we can’t afford in the next few years for that to be the case,” he said.  “We cannot deny that some of our colleagues in local government really could do with a kick up the backside. And if we try to deny that we will never be taken credibly.”

The LGA had to find a way to make councils that refused peer review “to have help” to improve, Cllr Porter added. Compulsory reviews have been previously proposed by the LGA, which is now seeking meetings with ministers to advance the idea.

According to Cllr Porter, the passing of power from Whitehall to local government through devolution is the “only way” ministers could cut spending while improving public services.
In a departure from the rhetoric of outgoing chair David Sparks (Lab) and his Conservative predecessor Sir Merrick Cockell (Con), Cllr Porter said the association would no longer be warning that councils risked bankruptcy.
The LGA, he added, had reached a “stronger” and “more mature place” after years of resisting budget cuts with dire warnings that services would deteriorate.
“In the past, we have said ‘this is outrageous, people can’t have less money spent because the outcomes will be a lot worse’ and we know that’s not the case for the past four to five years.”
He continued: “[Government has] a mandate to take out money. We’ve got some plans to help them do that in a much better way.”
The LGA is due to set out its ideas about how to manage this parliament’s spending cuts at its annual conference next week.
Cllr Porter said devolution and integration with other public services would be central to its proposals and believed ministers would be “receptive” to such proposals.
“I’m still confident that reductions in spending can be achieved at the level they need but not just by singling [local government] out as an easy target.”
He described the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill as “largely good” and was confident rural authorities could be extended the “same deal” as that won by Greater Manchester Combined Authority.
He urged authorities to start conversations with neighbouring authorities and “other bits of the state” when developing proposals for devolution.
“It could be a good thing for the health sector, it could be a good thing for rural police forces to be in that space,” he added.

South Holland to benefit from working with the big boys?

Clearly, the landscape for local government will continue to be very uncertain, no matter what combination of political parties make up the next government.  Much as I would hope to see certainty and a Conservative majority returned, the British public seem so confused by what’s being offered to them and have such a short memory when it comes to the damage done by Labour whilst in power, that anything could happen.

It’s worth remembering that Labour didn’t just drain the national bank account dry and borrow billions of pounds on our behalf,  they also spent their time in office, unravelling much of what we consider to be the British way of life.  As well as liberalising the gambling industry, that now sees us suffer non-stop bingo, casino and betting adverts on the television, it was Labour that liberalised the licensing laws, leading to the town centre, drink sodden no- go areas, our police have to combat every weekend.

Labour also failed to take up the option of limiting access to the UK, from countries joining the EU, claiming that only 20,000 would come, when in fact 1 million did, and then dismantled our boarder controls, because they would now no longer be needed.  There’s a whole swath of badly drafted, back of a fag-packet policy, dreamt up by Tony Blair and his sofa cabinet, that we are still suffering the consequences of, yet some 30%+ of the British public remain willing to forgive and forget.  Come on Labour supporters, even if you can’t bring yourselves to vote Conservative, don’t let Labour and the two Eds back in so that can screw things up all over again, vote LibDem, or the Greens, they’re both pretty harmless in small numbers.

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Proposal for Peterborough based combined authority 22 April, 2015 | By Mark Smulia

 The leader of the Local Government Association’s Conservative group is backing a proposed combined authority that could stretch across four counties and two unitaries.  Gary Porter is also leader of South Holland DC where the local Conservative party election manifesto said the council would work with “new partners from Peterborough, Cambridge, Leicestershire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire to create a combined authority”.
This would seek to improve local transport, increase economic development and drive regeneration, the proposal added.  Cllr Porter told LGC: “It would not cover all the counties mentioned just the economic area with Peterborough at its centre.  “We’ve had talks among leaders and chief executives are working on ideas to go to a roundtable discussion after the elections, but I can’t say now who would be in and out.”
A South Holland council report last month said that councils potentially interested in a combined authority were Fenland DC, Peterborough City Council, Kings Lynn & West Norfolk BC, Rutland CC and South Kesteven DC and that Boston BC formed part of a ‘functioning economic area’.  Peterborough leader Marco Cereste (Con) told LGC the idea was “most definitely something we’re exploring”.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has previously mooted a ‘Greater Cambridgeshire’ combined authority including Peterborough and Cambridgeshire CC. The two authorities are currently piloting a scheme allowing them to retain 100% of business rates growth.  Cllr Cereste said he did not see “any conflict between what Gary and I are doing and our work with Cambridgeshire”.  “If that works it could be extended across any new structure that is created,” he added.  “No matter who wins the election local authorities are going to have to look at new things as times will still be difficult.”
But Boston leader Peter Bedford (Con) said: “Boston hopes to end up in whatever arrangement the [Lincolnshire] county council does.”  Asked about the idea promoted by South Holland, he said: “That is Gary’s thinking, but ours is to be with Lincolnshire. We’re 35 miles from Lincoln and from Peterborough and we are a rural area.”
South Holland’s initiative is a further attempt to solve the vexed question of how to create combined authorities in East Anglia.  The council voted last month to join the Greater Cambridgeshire Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership in addition to its membership of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP.

Kings Lynn & West Norfolk leader Nick Daubeny (Con) last week said he’d spoken “in general terms” to Norfolk councils, Peterborough and Fenland about the combined authority idea, while South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller (Con) predicted councils would “cluster round Norwich, Ipswich, Peterborough and Cambridge”.

Cambridgeshire CC leader Steve Count said: “There are a lot of different ideas around at the moment and its right everyone puts theirs forward and see where we get to.”  Rutland leader Roger Begy (Con) said: “The council like many others is considering a number of possible options.”

Independent candidates fire blanks

bazookaThe two independents candidates, standing against myself and Christine Lawton on 7th May in the district council elections, have delivered their first election leaflets.

As always, leaflets from the opposition are essential reading, if only to understand where they are coming from campaign wise. In the case of these two, there are few if any surprises. There are however some clear misunderstandings when it comes to what can and cannot be achieved as a district councillor, but given that they are new at this, it’s understandable. I am however, not so understanding as to allow them to pass without comment, this is after all politics and there’s an election to win.

I’ll deal with their suggested policies first, before dealing with the ever present irony that is the ‘Independent Group’, to which they have attached themselves.

These are from the first ‘independent’ candidate’s leaflet.

1. A temporary cut in business rates to encourage small businesses.

Setting the business rates is not a district council function and cannot be done. The best we can do, is offer discretionary relief to a limited range of activities, such as the only pub in a village, a small village shop, or a non-profit making social club venue.

2. Waste and recycling collections to stay weekly

This has been the Conservative group’s position since it took control in 1999 and this has not changed.   Neither can it change in the near future, as we accepted grant funding from central government on the basis of retaining weekly collections for at least 5 years and we’ve no intention of giving back the £1.7m received!

3. A really good garden waste collection to serve gardeners in the town.

You wouldn’t intentionally offer a really bad garden waste collection, would you?

Only in the town, what about everybody else? What about every other town come to that?   This independent candidate is beginning to think and sound like a parish councillor already.

We are already working on a paid for green waste collection. This needs a significant outlay in capital and a more detailed survey, to identify potential users, will be carried out soon.

4. Make our environment as litter free as we can …….not just in run up to election…

Can you call a campaign that has been running for nearly 9 months, an election ploy? I think not. Had central government confirmed the local government finance settlement at the normal time and not the eleventh hour and 59th minute, as they did, we would have been able to start the South Holland Pride campaign some 12 months ago. This was the plan, but we could only find enough funding to appoint a part time enforcement officer at that time.

5. Better community policing

Yet another area over which the district council has no control. Lincolnshire Police raise their own precept via the council tax. This year that was increased by 1.9% to £197.64 SHDC’s council tax take was reduced by 0.5% to £154.84 for a band D property.

6. Better value for money when looking at provision of services….

I’d love to comment on this one, but I haven’t got a clue what its referring to!

7. More thought to planning applications, so that they benefit the town and not just the applicant…..

This is another one that’s got me guessing at to its meaning, let alone its ambition. The planning system isn’t there as a way of getting goodies, from the people who apply for planning permission, unless those ‘goodies’ are essential to making the application acceptable in planning terms.

Moving on to the second ‘independent’.

This one makes some pledges which reflect some double standards and a clear misunderstanding of what the overall role of a district councillor is.

1. I will not have any hidden agendas

My personal experience says otherwise.

2. I will work with any councillor…………..acting in the best interests of Wygate Park and Spalding!

Just because the ward is called Spalding Wygate, doesn’t mean it just covers the Wygate Park area, where this candidate happens to live.

As well as being limited to half the ward, the horizon of this independent only stretches as far as the boundaries of Spalding it seems.

As a district councillor, your role, first and foremost, is to represent the interests of all South Holland residents, not just those who voted for you, or happen to live in the ward you represent. This applies even when a decision might have a negative impact in your ward.

Some of the issues this candidate will support.

3. Pride in South Holland. My answer to this claim is the same as for the other independent and our manifesto actually contains a commitment to continue the campaign.

4. Highways – poor state of some pavements. This is a county council function. You don’t need to be a district councillor to get these fixed. Just report them on line, I do so regularly.

5. Road safety – road markings. Again, a county council function, not the district.

I submitted a defect report on these makings over 12 months ago. The answer from highways was very clear. It is not their policy to maintain any form of road markings within residential estates, when those roads only serve residents and have no other purpose, as this would not be a good use of their limited budgets. The road marking in question were put there by the developer, during initial build and were never a requirement of the detailed plans approval, or of the highways adoption process.

6. Community – Support for events…………Nothing new here, as all Spalding councillors have made financial contributions to such events.

7. Traffic – Stating the blindingly obvious here.  Again, something only the county council can rectify. Spalding Town Forum are already extremely active in pressing for a solution.

8. Planning – local services must keep pace.  Nothing offered here, other than a statement of wishful thinking. The planning system has no powers to require developers to provide funding for local services as a matter of law. Everything we achieve, outside of the planning policy requirements, is done by active negotiation and persuasion.

9. Licensing policy changes – another piece of wishful thinking, without any consideration of the reality. Like planning, the licensing system is controlled by national laws and policies, that offer the district council little leeway when it comes to resisting the granting of new licenses.

Now turning back to the various claims made about being unfettered and un-whipped independents.

The back of both very similar looking leaflets, has the same heading and the same piece of text, ‘A message from Angela Newton……..Independent Councillor and Leader of South Holland the Independent Group.’ ……………….

So, having declared themselves as intending to be, ‘Independent Councillors’ (sic) and not tied to any Political Party (sic) (they do like their capital letters don’t they!), they willingly attach themselves to somebody stating that, they are actually the leader of a group of independents. Using the word group and independent in the same sentence is an oxymoron isn’t it?

Splitting hairs, you could argue that Angela Newton is not leading a recognised political party, but it is very clearly a group involved in politics, making it, at the very least, a political group and therein lies the irony of the claims trotted out be these so called independents.

Just to add insult to injury. This non-group, group of independents, hold group meetings before full council meetings, in exactly the same way as the Conservative group do, but somehow they manage to make them last even longer than ours and there’s only twelve of them compared to 25 of us!

It must be all the effort required to be totally independent of each other, that makes their ‘group’ meetings last so long.

Criticising without a shred of evidence – it’s the UKIP way

A letter published on the SpaldingToday website and probably in next Tuesday’s Freepress, is so

 breathtaking in its hypocrisy, contradiction and nonsense, I am driven to challenge it.  This is the link to it.  ‘We could have a council non-political on local issues’ – http://goo.gl/alerts/S4Wl. 

Normally, I would ignore much of what a UKIP’er has to say, because once you scratch the surface, it’s either airy-fairy wishful thinking, have little grounding in reality, or simply makes no sense – this letter is no exception. 

 Paul Foyster of UKIP, writes claiming that his party’s way is the right way and the rest of us are wrong and failing to serve the taxpayers.  He claims that having a political group running the council, somehow inhibits good decision making on behalf of those taxpayers.   However, he fails to offer a single example of any such failings.   Perhaps he’s referring to the reduction in council tax we’ve made, for the fourth year running.  Or maybe it’s our policy of collecting household refuse and recycling every week – unlike many other councils – that’s providing poor service to South Holland’s taxpayers.

Having criticised political groupings, he goes on to suggest that a group of independent people working together, can make a difference!  What is it Mr Foyster – everybody independent and doing their own thing,  or everybody working together to make a difference?  You can’t have it both ways sir!

The fact that he even refers to a group of people ‘working together to make a difference’ is comical, given UKIP’s farcical performance at Lincolnshire County Council.   One minute the UKIP ‘group’ is holding the balance of power, as the largest minority grouping, giving them them the opportunity to influence the decision making process.  Next, they’re showing their inexperience and amateurishness, by having an internal cat fight, that sees their so called ‘group’ fragment into two ineffective and virtually pointless minority groups.  So that’s the UKIP version of people working together, for the benefit of the taxpayers is it Mr Foyster?

Finally, Mr Foyster suggests that the amount of publicity being put out by the Conservatives, is an indication of our concern about the threat posed by his political group.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  We don’t panic in elections, we just work at getting our message out, something that his party seem to think they don’t need to do, based on my own experience during the county council elections.  Is this arrogance on their part, or are they just too lazy to do the work and therefore leave it to a beer swilling, chain smoker, fag packet policy maker to do their publicity for them, via the tabloid press and TV ?

My message to the voters of South Holland is a simple one.  Look at the record of UKIP in South Holland to date and how they’ve been disfunctional and virtually invisible at the county council. Now decide if you want the same outcomes for South Holland District Council over the next four years.