Impeach Juncker and make Booker our chief negotiator

Once again, I’ve shamelessly borrowed from Christopher Booker’s writings in the Sunday Telegraph.  He seems to be one of the few, both inside and outside of the political arena, with any real grasp of the issues.

Juncker in breach of his own treaty

By nominating a chief negotiator for Brexit, Jean-Claude Juncker has acted in breach of treaties.
We may be getting used to the idea that senior Tory Eurosceptics seem to be woefully ignorant of all the legal complexities involved in extricating us from the EU. Rather more surprising, however, is the blatant disregard being shown for EU law by no less a figure than Jean‑Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission.
On July 27 Juncker announced he had appointed Michel Barnier, a former commissioner for the internal market, to be “Chief Negotiator in charge of the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU)”. They do like their initial capital letters in Brussels.
What no one seems to have picked up on, however, is that under Article 50 of the TEU and Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, Juncker had neither the right nor the power to do anything of the kind.
First, reading these two articles in conjunction, it is clear that the EU’s chief negotiator can only be appointed after a state wishing to leave the EU has invoked Article 50, thus setting the negotiating process in train.
Secondly, Article 218 makes it clear that the Commission can only make a recommendation as to who “the head of the Union’s negotiating team” should be. The appointment itself must be made through a formal decision of the European Council, consisting of the heads of state and government of the other EU members.
Thus, in personally nominating Barnier as chief negotiator, Juncker was not just jumping the gun, he was acting wholly ultra vires, in flagrant breach of the treaties he is sworn to uphold.
It might seem extraordinary that the EU’s most senior official should break the law like this. Perhaps when Theresa May next meets her fellow members of the European Council in September, she should ask them as politely as possible whether they are happy for the president of the Commission to usurp their authority in this way.

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Of course, this is why Juncker acts in this high handed and arrogant manner.  He clearly believes that the democratic element of the European model, is an inconvenient and frustrating obstruction to his vision of a European superstate.

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Seems I could become one of the last planning committee chairman under this government’s plans

Housing bill amendments branded ‘privatisation of planning’
5 JANUARY, 2016 BY DAVID PAINE

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Concerns have been raised that the government is privatising the planning service after it tabled a number of major last-minute changes to the Housing and Planning Bill.

Amendments put forward by the government this morning include plans to let developers choose who processes planning applications.

Also planned are changes to let local authorities set their own planning fees, a new section 106 dispute resolution process, and giving ministers the power to force councils to sell off land.

MPs are due to debate the bill, and 100 pages of proposed amendments, in the House of Commons this afternoon.

New clauses proposed by communities secretary Greg Clark will allow planning applications to be processed by an approved “designated person” if an applicant “so chooses”. While local authorities will still be responsible for the final decision on any planning application, regulations will in due course outline the circumstances under which an external recommendation by a “designated person” will be “binding” on a local authority.
Hugh Ellis, head of policy at the Town & Country Planning Association, called the amendments “extremely controversial”.

“It raises the prospect whereby the advice of a private consultant on a planning application could be more or less binding on a planning committee,” Mr Ellis told LGC. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that what’s happening here is a fundamental assault on the public interest objectives of planning.”

A part of the amendments will force local planning authorities to share relevant information, such as the planning history of the land to which an application relates, with the designated person as well as the communities secretary.

Mr Ellis called the amendments “very worrying” and added: “People have talked about the privatisation of planning services and I think that’s probably what this is.”

He added: “I do wonder if people, particularly local councillors, who haven’t got their heads stuck in the Housing and Planning Bill will wake up to a particularly nasty shock over what this legislation has resulted in overall.”

Another government-proposed amendment will let councils locally set planning fees. The District Councils Network has repeatedly called for that, and in a briefing document on the latest amendments the Local Government Association voiced its support.

However, the proposed wording of the legislation gives the communities secretary the power to “prevent the charging of fees that he or she considers excessive”.

Plans to amend the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and give the communities secretary the power to direct councils, and other public authorities, to dispose of the land they hold were condemned by the LGA.

“Councils are best able to manage locally their assets to meet the needs of communities and are on track to bring forward significant levels of development on their land up to 2020,” it said. “Local authorities should retain the flexibility to manage their own assets.”

Another proposed new clause would give the communities secretary the power to impose “restrictions or conditions on the enforceability” of how many affordable homes, including ‘starter homes’, local authorities want built on a site.

The LGA said that should be for councils to “determine locally”.

The LGA also expressed concern over government plans to introduce a new dispute resolution procedure in relation to section 106 negotiations. The amendments will allow for an appointed individual to oversee disputes.

“Strengthening requirements for the upfront negotiation of S106 agreements would be a more effective means of avoiding delays than offering an alternative route for resolution,” the LGA said.

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.

DCLG is local government’s version of Bird Flu

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
NAO report proves it’s time to axe the DCLG
19 November, 2014 | By Nick Golding

The National Audit Office’s report into the financial sustainability of local authorities is a suitably damning epitaph for the Department for Communities & Local Government’s stewardship of council finances this parliament.

It is packed full of nuggets which leave one questioning the competence of the DCLG to oversee a funding system which helps determine whether the vulnerable young and old receive adequate care, the economies of towns and cities grow and hundreds of thousands of local government workers receive fair reward for difficult jobs.

The DCLG “does not have an accurate measure of the cumulative financial challenge facing local authorities,” Sue Higgins, the NAO’s executive leader of local services, says.

It “does not have an accurate measure of the cumulative financial challenge facing local authorities” and is “unsighted” on the extent to which councils might financially fail.

The time has come to abolish the DCLG and invest the savings in efficient local services
The list of charges levied at the DCLG would be astonishing had the last four-and-a-half years not happened. As it is, councils are all too used to hearing Eric Pickles blustering on about flags or complaining about “spy cars” and avoiding proper debate about the central funding decisions which meant they were being forced into a position where they had to deny older people care or close flagship facilities.

Now we get confirmation that the department has not even had the curiosity to analyse the impact of a radical set of policies.

While the NAO says councils will see a 25% real-terms cut to their total income between 2010 and 2016, the DCLG has not even been able to produce a figure for spending pressure to be meaningfully calculated over the course of the parliament. Metropolitan authorities in particular are quaking under the burden of the cuts they are being forced to make and the DCLG’s response consists of little more than burying its head in the sand.

This is not to say that it is wrong to seek to balance the books. The deficit will hamper future generations and has to be tackled. It is right that the public sector should become more efficient and councils’ performance at retaining frontline services and rooting out unnecessary expenditure has been truly commendable.

However, we have long seen the DCLG’s political leadership fail to engage in a meaningful debate about where the burden of cuts is targeted. There has been no attempt to stand up for local services or to query whether certain parts of the country, namely the north, are being disproportionately affected.

If the department which is supposed to be local government’s gateway to the rest of Whitehall cannot successfully undertake its responsibilities then it should be axed.

We all too regularly see interaction with the Treasury or Department for Business, Innovation & Skills prove more fruitful for councils than that with the DCLG and it was no surprise when Greater Manchester’s mayoral deal was hatched with the Treasury, not Eric Pickles’ department. The time has come to abolish the DCLG and invest the savings in efficient local services.

Mr Brown uses old grievance to miss the point

At first, Mr Brown’s letter, in the recent edition of the Spalding Guardian, appeared to be in support of Chris Brewis and his ‘Crowland playhouse’ comments and my rebuttal letter regarding his totally artificial outrage.

However, upon further reading, Mr Brown is actually using his letter to revisit his dis-satisfaction with a complaint he made in May. At that time and in another letter, he complained about the response he received from a council officer, when he complained about a neighbour operating a hairdressing salon from home. Allegedly, the officer told him, ‘we don’t have the resources to investigate’. He also finished his complaint by referring to civil servants, an error he claims was him being flippant. I’m afraid I missed his flippancy in a Twitter response and assumed it to be his lack of understand that local government staff were not civil servants.

On the matter of the home based hairdressing salon, I’m pretty certain that what he claims to have been told, would not have been the whole story – our planning compliance officers are far more professional than that.

What the officer would have said was, that in principle, small businesses, operating from residential addresses, but not causing any issues for other residents, are viewed as acceptable. He would also have been told that it would require a certain level of evidence of actual disturbance to neighbours, before any investigation was carried out and that we did not have the resources to spend time collecting that evidence.

Finally, his letter in the Guardian was entitled, ‘This is why so many people are disillusioned’. I think it would have been far more accurate to say, ‘This is why Mr Brown is so disillusioned’, as his letter is clearly about him not getting his way, rather than anything to do with democratic representation.

Embarrassed? They should be bloody furious!

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online

Members ’embarrassed’ by minister’s Europe approach
13 June, 2014 | By David Paine

Ministers have been criticised for dismissing a critical European peer review of local democracy in the UK.

After two fact-finding visits last year, the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities expressed concern about the financial resources of English local authorities, as well as their limited tax-raising powers and their dependence on government grants.

Its review also highlighted concerns about the limitations placed on local authorities in managing local affairs, due to interventions from central government.

Local government minister Baroness Stowell (Con) forcefully rejected the review’s recommendations in a speech made to the congress in March.

“Our greatest disagreement with the report is the underlying theme that local government, particularly in England, has insufficient funding, with a suggestion that there should be more local revenues,” she said.

“That is saying, and let’s not be shy about this, there should be more local taxes.”

At a meeting of the LGA’s executive board yesterday, outgoing chair Sir Merrick Cockell (Con) expressed regret at the response and added he thought ministers should have “accepted there are some areas that need improvement and they are of a mind to move in that direction”.

He added: “I was bitterly disappointed by that approach.”

John Warmisham (Lab), lead member for children’s services at Salford City Council and head of the UK delegation to the congress, said: “Just to say outright ‘no’ was for me, as a UK delegate and a councillor, embarrassing.”

He added: “I find it appalling to be honest.”

Referring to Baroness Stowell’s speech, Sue Murphy (Lab), Manchester City Council’s deputy leader, said: “It was one of the worst ministerial performances I have seen in my entire career in politics. Really, I thought it was insulting.”

The executive was told that the UK was, in general, in compliance with the obligations taken under the Charter of Local Self-Government, to which the UK government is a signatory, and that compared with the last evaluation in 1998 the situation had improved, especially in relation to lifting audit and inspection burdens on councils.

However, Andreas Kiefer, secretary general of the congress, told councillors at the LGA executive meeting: “We consider the UK a model of democracy so to find the reluctance to give local democracy the status that it has in other countries was surprising.”

MPs and their Parties, don’t care about councillors

Another set of local elections out of the way and enough statistics to keep the pundits going until the General Election in May 2015. Who won, who lost and more importantly, who cares?

Obviously all those who actually gained, or lost a council seat, are very interested. Likewise, the remaining councillors, who may now find themselves in the controlling group, or now members of the opposition on their council.

However, beyond the councillors themselves and maybe to a lesser extent, the council officers who now have to deal with a new administration, neither the electorate and certainly not those in Westminster, will give a second thought to those affected.

Those fighting to either maintain control of Westminster, or wrestle control away from those in power, expend a lot of time talking about the results of local elections, when it suits them. Beyond the election period and it’s immediate aftermath, those of us in local government, are more likely to be viewed as an annoyance, rather than the backbone of public services and a conduit of how the public feels about government.

If you question this view, then why do all the main parties still insist on seeing the outcomes of local government elections, as no more than a protest vote and not a valid indication of what will happen at a general election?