Porter about to bow out of LGA? But his one liners will live on it seems

Local Government Chronicle online
Friday 06 May 2016
LGC briefing: Local elections analysed
Commentary on the local election results

Political earthquake of the day: Breaking: Porter predicts Tories have lost control of LGA

Under chaos theory a hurricane can ensue in China as a result of something as minor and apparently unrelated as a butterfly flapping its wings over New Mexico.

On a similar principle, something as insignificant as a set of local elections in which virtually no seats changed control is on the cusp of causing a political earthquake in Westminster.

The political earthquake takes the form of a change in power at the Local Government Association but the butterfly may be composed of slightly more than a set of only moderately compelling electoral contests. As will be explained below, political skulduggery lurked behind its local democracy wings.

To understand this chaos we need to cast our minds back a year when the results of the local elections left the LGA on a political knife-edge. The Conservative group came out slightly above Labour after all of the calculations were undertaken to determine which party was in the ascendancy.

Within the past 24 hours it seemed likely the Tories would retain LGA control. Few people believed Jeremy Corbyn’s prediction that he would gain seats and the first results last night showed the Conservatives doing better than Labour. All seemed set for another year of Gary Porter leading the LGA.

Cllr Porter – a rare politician, noticeable for his plain speaking – has won plaudits for his honesty and, should his term of office come to an end, he may well leave us with as many memorable quotes as his predecessors managed since the LGA came into being. This is no disrespect to the LGA’s former chairs, more a compliment to Cllr Porter’s outspokenness. His putting the District Councils Network “on the naughty step” for arguing its members should retain their current portion of business rates will live long in the memory.

Cllr Porter’s demise has not been caused by the electorate turning against the Tories – the parties have at the time of writing lost an almost identical (but fairly negligible) number of seats – but the arithmetic turning against them.

The earthquake has been the result of Sheffield City Council unexpectedly deciding to re-join the LGA, just before the deadline to do so last night. With the LGA’s power balance determined by the number of councillors each party holds and the population they serve, the readmission of a city with a population in excess of half a million people could be crucial.

Sheffield had previously been one of a small number of councils, including Barnet, Wandsworth and Bromley LBCs, which decided against LGA membership. Its decision to re-join the association shortly before a final deadline of 10pm seemed to catch most off guard.

The complex calculations that determine who wins LGA control have yet to be determined but Cllr Porter thought Sheffield would be the deciding factor. He told LGC’s David Paine: “I will be surprised if the LGA is still Conservative controlled by the time the final count is done.”

He may also consider it unfortunate that the remaining councils which are not LGA members are Conservative strongholds. None of the three Tory-dominated London boroughs had the political cunning – or the financial commitment – to opt to pay to join the LGA at the last minute. Even if they decide to join today, their membership will not be considered in the calculations until after next year’s election.

In the past 24 hours, announcements that have been timed to coincide with the polls have proved more significant than the polls themselves.

Of the 124 councils with elections, just four have so far changed political control.

But we have seen a new frontrunner emerge in the race to be Greater Manchester’s elected mayor in the form of Andy Burnham. The shadow home secretary let it be known that he was considering swapping national politics for local politics at 10pm, as the polls were closing.

While his move is being analysed by the national media for indicating frontbench despair with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, it also signifies a sea change: suddenly local politics offer prominent politicians an alternative career path to Westminster.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, it emerged that the government is to U-turn on its plan to force all schools to become academies. Many councils feared the move would result in them being unable to meet their duty to ensure all children had a school place.

This is one set of elections in which the burying of bad news (Mr Burnham’s possible departure from the frontbench is clearly bad for Mr Corbyn and the announcement had to be timed to minimise the damage) and political opportunism has triumphed over the ballot box.

Should Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes emerge as the new Labour LGA chair he will be hoping that Barnet, Bromley or Wandsworth do not attempt the same trick as Sheffield in a year’s time.

Timely and welcome support from my fellow ward member

This is the text of a letter submitted by my fellow ward member, councillor Christine Lawton, to our local press.

“I am pleased that something amuses Mr Cronin, although I did not find his unhelpful attitude at the steering group which looked at the possibilities of building a community centre for Wygate at all funny. On the question of delay perhaps he should consider “motes and beams”.   

As to his central question “Why are the residents being restricted to a building?”, the simple answer is that the 106 money from developer was for a community building.  Like my predecessor (before your time Mr Cronin) I too am a simple soul – I believe that a facility which could accommodate such excellent groups as cubs, WI, dancing classes for children, a meeting place for the retired would be in principle a fine idea.  That is why the Wygate community is being surveyed  (by an independent charity) to ascertain the wishes and desires of the local residents.  That sounds pretty democratic to me!

I value team-work and loyalty and wish to associate myself with the efforts of Cllr Gambba-Jones and others in this attempt to discover the appetite for a centre for Wygate residents.  Let the people decide – it works for me.”

I’ve taken the liberty of adding the link to Wikipedia for those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the parable, or just read the panel below.  I couldn’t have said it better myself – no actually, my education doesn’t stretch that far, so I couldn’t have said it at all; thank heavens for Christine!

As well as firing blanks this time, he’s also got his eyes shut!

 

Independent election candidate, had his eyes closed when he came up with this.

Independent election candidate, had his eyes closed when he came up with this.

Below is the text of a letter I have sent to The Lincs Freepress / Spalding Guardian, in response to an extraordinary letter sent by one of my independent opponents.  You can take a look at what he’s got to say for himself here:  http://www.spaldingtoday.co.uk/news/latest-news/politics-a-community-is-built-by-giving-people-choices-1-6696891

I have to say, I couldn’t buy this sort of publicity, well I could, but the price would be a bit steep and probably break the rules on election expenses!   As mentioned in my previous post about the independents election leaflets, this candidate has a personal axe to grind with me on this issue.

Looking at the impressive list of things he’s inserted himself into within the district, he clearly feels robbed of the opportunity to add management of the Wygate Park community centre to it.  Far be it from me to suggest that he was angling for the job of centre manager, given his current employment status, but there must be more to his anger, than a simple difference of opinion with me.

 

Choice – exactly what’s on the table

In response to the letter about the community survey currently underway in Wygate Park, Spalding.  Clearly, the writer has allowed emotion to cloud his ‘view’ and has failed to read the covering flyer, or even the survey form itself.

Both of these documents refer to ‘a community facility’ not a building, although that is indeed an option.  The documents were drafted and approved by Community Lincs and South Holland District Council respectively, not by me.  As a courtesy, I was supplied with a draft copy of these documents, but I had no involvement in their drafting.  I also supplied maps of the area and lists of roads within a 10 minute walk time of the potential site for any facility.  On behalf of the highly professional officers from both organisations, I believe the writer owes them a public apology, for questioning their integrity, impartiality and professionalism.

Despite his previous profession, the writer continues to ignore the legal framework that made both the land and the financial contribution available in the first place.  A legal agreement, a section 106, was signed between South Holland DC and Allison Homes, the original developer.  Allison Homes agreed to build a community centre, on part of the public open space, adjacent to what is now the Wygate Academy School – nothing else. A new legal agreement would be needed to use the actual money for anything else; something that Kier, the new developer, can choose not to do.

The steering group was formed in the hope that the community would, either agree to seeing the proposed building managed by South Holland Community Church, for and on behalf of the community, or decide to form their own community group, to take on the task.

For various reasons, the first option is now off of the table, in part at least, because of the written hostility of the letter writer in emails he circulated.  I also believe that this aggression played a significant role in reducing the group’s membership.

The second option is still available to anybody, including the writer, wishing to take up the challenge.  The results of the community survey will become valuable evidence for any group when bidding for the additional grant funding, essential to making the project a success.

Finally, if you live in Wygate Park and are one of the 1435 households to receive a survey, please take the time to read it carefully and make up your own mind as to whether, or not a building is the only choice available.

Once you’ve seen for yourself that it isn’t – so there’s no need to spoil your ballot paper on the 7th May  – please do complete the survey and leave it outside your front door for collection on 9th May.  There are also details about how to complete the survey online.

Flyer delivered to 1435 properties by Community Lincs.

Flyer delivered to 1435 properties by Community Lincs.

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.

Comedy, irony, or just childish spite against Michael Fish?

From: j b [mailto:j.bex@hotmail.co.uk

Sent: 27 February 2015 12:44

To: Customer Services SHDC
Subject: Recycling

 

Dear sirs,

 

I thought I would bring to your attention a blatant disregard for recycling policy I came across the other day.

 

 

Any reasonable person knows it’s imperative to remove all screw tops from bottles to be recycled, however the perpetrator carried on regardless and also the person involved was ,oddly, happy to pose for a photo almost proud to be flying in the face of council policy.

 

I’ve attached a photo of said perpetrator ( who could possibly be a relation of tv weatherman Michael Fish) and trust you will investigate this matter with all means at your disposal.

 

Kind Regards

 

Concerned recycler.

 

View album

This album has 1 photo and will be available on SkyDrive until 28/05/2015.

 

Exorbitant spending on Overseas Aid hasn’t made us any safer

One of the reasons given by David Cameron for his year on year increases in the Overseas Development budget since 2010 – well beyond that of any other European country – is that it will make our country a safer place, by helping those in foreign countries, improve their lot and become less radicalized by political extremists.  It has in fact, done nothing of the sort and will never do so, as long as we give the extremists reason, in their eyes, to see our country as their enemy and oppressor.

Some might suggest that our history as a colonial power, exploring and exploiting the world over many centuries,  had already done the damage, but I don’t believe that, given that many of our previous colonial conquests, remain members of the Commonwealth.  What has done the real damage and made us especially vulnerable, is our much cherished special relationship with the USA and our willingness to march shoulder to shoulder with them, into recent middle eastern conflicts.

Whilst successive Westminster leaders of all political persuasions, have viewed this relationship as the Holy Grail of international politics, giving the UK much great influence and kudos than it might otherwise have, I see it more as putting a target on the backs of every British citizen living and working in some of the most volatile areas of Africa and the Middle East.

Multiculturalism, a legacy of the Blair years, but again eagerly pursued by virtually all administrations, has opened our doors and left us vulnerable within our own boarders, something the Americans have bent over backwards to eliminate, post September 2001.  Live and let live, when those you are letting live in their own extremist ways – Sharia law is a very good example of this, along with female genital mutilation, is an irresponsible and ultimately dangerous political doctrine to pursue.

The upshot of this government’s single minder pursuit of international glory, often described as, ‘punching above our weight’ – a rather unfortunate term to use when you are supposedly trying to be everybody’s friend – is that an increase in spending in one area, has to be matched by a decrease elsewhere.  This applies even more so, when you are in the middle of a global financial crisis, but still determined to spend, spend, spend!  Which brings me to my point and the reason I have borrowed the article below.

Before anybody starts telling me that, despite all the cuts in local government funding, taxpayers haven’t noticed any reduction in services, I’d like to put that in some context.

Yes, most, if not all the essential services have been maintained to a good standard and residents won’t have seen their bins left un-emptied, streets knee deep in litter, or grass too long see over, let alone walk through.  Council houses are still being allocated and maintained and benefits are still being paid out on time.

However, what is suffering and will be cut even further in years to come, are those things we call discretionary – the things councils do because they believe their residents would like that service to be provided, even though the law doesn’t require it.  Leisure centres, youth clubs, play equipment, sports pitches, libraries, public toilets and maybe even usable, or at least affordable, burial grounds, could all disappear from localities, as cuts in local government funding continue for years to come.  Remember, all this is being done under the banner of deficit reduction, whilst the overseas aid budget continues to grow and grow, year on year.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle – 23 August 2014

Author – Tony Travers, director. Greater London Group, London School of Economics

The government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as councils can on highways

Under cover of mid-summer, the government has published two sets of figures about public expenditure.

The Department for Communities and Local Government revealed local authority revenue spending and income totals for 2014-15, while at the start of this month the Treasury belatedly released the annual Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses volume. Together these publications show how the years of austerity have affected individual services.

Although some parts of central government, notably the Home Office, defence and transport, have seen reductions of 100/o or more in their cash budgets, all the biggest programmes have been protected.  Council spending, by contrast, has been forced down at a remarkable pace.  The UK government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as English councils can afford to spend on highways and transport. Housing, roads, environment and planning have seen their cash expenditure fall by almost 30% in four years. In real terms, the cut is over 40%.

Council productivity increases must be among the greatest ever achieved by the public sector.  Planners appear to be processing as many applications in 2014 as in 2010 with barely half the resources. [What the planners are probably doing, is giving up the fight to maintain standards, given that the NPPF was written by developers, for developers and just passing applications to meet the targets set by Whitehall]. 

The government and opposition have no choice but to find additional money for the NHS: fear of public opinion will open the Treasury’s vaults. Pensions, as the biggest part of social security, are triple-locked into inflationary increases. Schools cannot be denied cash.

By 2020, many council spending programmes will have been halved within a decade.

 

CENTRAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING CHANGES

  2010-11  £millions 2014-15  £millions Change %
Local government
Housing

2,733

1,945

-28.8

Highways & transport

6,661

4,814

-27.8

Environment, planning, culture

10,959

9,029

-17.6

Social care

20,851

22,090

+5.9

Central government
International development

5,930

7,870

+32.7

Social security

164,512

184,380

+12.8

NHS

97,469 109,650

+12.5

Education

50,387 54,500

+8.2

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?