Spalding Western Relief Road

Promoted by R Gambba-Jones & C Lawton on behalf of South Holland and The Deepings Conservative Association all of Office 1 10 Broad St Spalding PE11 1TB. Original printed by Welland Print Limited of West Marsh Road Spalding PE11 2BB  

Bandstand argument now off track

I see the Graham Dark fan club is continuing to leap to his defence, although today’s letter is from the original writer so that’s hardly a surprise. As I’ve said previously, it’s amazing how quickly letters in the press drift away from the initial issue. This lady has now gone down the route of how wonderful the music events are and that she has never seen me at one! And your point is madam?
In retrospect, it probably was a bit too blunt to write that it was the only good idea he’d ever brought to the Spalding Town Forum, even if it is close to the truth.
What I should have said, was that a band stand in Ayscoughfee Gardens, was a suggestion made and promoted more than once by Graham Dark’s and that he had actually brought detailed plans for one to a previous Spalding Town Forum meeting. On that basis, why was this lady attacking me for making a passing comment, about something her hero is supporting and promoting?
Even his idea for a bandstand on the cheap, is ill conceived given his proposed location. The roofed enclosure behind the now disused paddling pool, is too small in length, or depth for a start. Suggesting that it can be made fit for purpose using local trades people, at a lower cost that building a bandstand from scratch, may be true, but it won’t be as cheap as suggested and is not backup with any figures.

As an aside, the original, original idea for a band stand in Aycoughfee Gardens, came from a previous councillor colleague of mine, Paul Walls. Paul’s other more ‘madcap’ idea, that I would really love to see happen, is a glass sided restaurant and viewing deck on top of the Spalding water tower. With that view, it could be our equivalent of Tattershall Castle!

David Cameron advises us to use local policies to fill NPPF gaps

David Cameron so obviously doesn’t understand the way the planning system works and has not read the NPPF. He appears on the Andrew Marr show this morning, trotting out the propaganda fed to him by those who have been promoting wholesale changes to the planning system.

More interestingly, he suggested that, just because something isn’t ‘specified’ at the national level, such as the control of roadside advertising hoardings, this doesn’t mean it can’t done at the local level. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, this could see the thousands of pages that will been thrown on the bonfire, by the introduction of the 50 odd pages of the NPPF at the national level, replaced by thousands of pages of planning legislation being created at the local level – some improvement to an over complex system that will be!

I hope all of those involved in the producing planning policies at the local level take note of this steer from the Prime Minister. I read this as: Where the National Planning Policy Framework is, out of date, indeterminate or silent on a subject, a local policy is to be used to fill the gap.

Same old game with a different name

I see from today’s Sunday Telegraph that parish and town councils are going to be encouraged to take on more local services as a way of forcing sorry, encouraging, the cause of Localism and the ‘Big Society’.

No problem with that as a concept, given that the cost of running many of the basic services that people value, is often inflated by the management structure of the organisation that runs the service, but without adding any real value to it.

Unfortunately, what is likely to happen is that, as these grassroots organisations gain more and more power, they are going to turn in to the ‘bureacratic monsters’ they were supposed to be replacing. Those little parish councils currently run by a part time clerk, who probably works for one or even two other parish councils, will suddenly find there’s a need for both a full time clerk, a book keeper or accountant, somebody who has some legal training, an HR expert just in case they get problems with employment law, an elf and safety expert, etc, etc.

Parish and town councils at present are not answerable to anybody, other than their voters, for excessive increases in their precept (their version of the council tax) unlike district councils, that can be capped and forced to re-bill by central government. So the next stage in this charade will be the need to introduce legislation requiring parish and town councils to submit balanced budgets and within government limits – how long before the first parish or town council kicks out their parish clerk and appoints a high paid chief executive? Before you know it you’ll be back where we are today, just using different names for it!

I’d like to be in America!

I’d like to be in America, everything’s ‘private’ in America……..

Excuse my shameless abuse of the words of the song, but it seems to be appropriate to the thinking of Bury Borough Council.  See Independent article link below.  It makes very interesting reading for all of us in local government, as do some of the readers’ comments below it.

Hiving everything public off to the private sector and repatriating the business rates to ‘free’ local government from the central grant system, has a very American feel to it – and not in a good way.

I continue to be disappointed that the existing local government machine cannot figure out how to more closely align itself to the way the private sector does business, so as to survive the turmoil that is being imposed on it by central government cuts.

Obviously part of it will be about the terms and conditions that have become so favourable in local government in recent years, compared to the private sector.  It may be that we need to go through this ‘destructive’ phase in local government, in order for those who continue to defend this model to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ as they say. 

However, we also need to consider if it might only possible to recruit people with a public service ethic, when you make the pay and conditions more favourable that they are in the private sector.  I suppose the Holy Grail for this aspect is the volunteer, that extraordinary person who is not only driven by a need to help others, but is also willing to do it for nothing!  The alternative to this ideal, is that you accept the profit driven model and along with it the potential for a somewhat different attitude to public/customer service.  

The problem with culling from local government all those who joined because they saw public service as a noble cause and replacing them with those whose only gaol is the bottom line, is that it is then almost impossible to go back to the good old days.  There has been some talk of the John Lewis model working in local government, but this still requires employee buy-in based on profit sharing and would still need those currently in local government to accept, initially at least, reduced pay and conditions of service.

Even more worrying for local taxpayers, is the spectre of continued and increasing conflict between central and local government, as more councils change colour from blue (and the occasional yellow) to outraged red.

More like the Marx Brothers than Laurel & Hardy

Richard Kemp – a LibDem councillor at the Local Government Assoc, but I try not to hold that against him – has described Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps as Laurel and Hardy and Bob Neil as Minime.  Not to be outdone, I’ve been trying to think of a famous foursome in order to include Gregg Clark, the Decentralisation Minister, as he is helping, if only by default, to kick the stuffing out of local government.

Gregg Clark is not as guilty as the others of banging the Localism drum with one hand, whilst waving the latest ministerial directive to local government with the other, but if you lay down with dogs you are bound to catch fleas.

I suppose if you leave out Gregg for the time being the other three could be collectively grouped as the 3 Stooges, which wouldn’t be a bad description, given their bumbling, slapstick approach to the job. 

However, I also think the Marx Brothers could be quite an accurate description for this government quartet.  They, the Brothers, also seemed particularly good at leaving a trail of chaos in their wake and they had a smart mouth called Groucho, who puts down anybody who challenges his view of the world, with a sarcastic and witty remark (Pickles can manage the sarcasm, but humour seems beyond him). 

I think Gregg Clark would probably be the one who doesn’t speak, in the quartet, because although he does have quite a lot to say, unlike the others, what he says tends to be focussed on his role as a minister and not on taking a swipe at local government whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Pickles’ hypocricy continues

Local government continues to be criticised from various quarters, whilst at the same time battling the worst grant settlement in recent history.  Media criticism is a given these days – there’s no news in good news when it comes to the press.  The other, and more damaging criticism, comes from a man who is now clearly demonstrating a pathological hatred of the institution that gave him his start in politics, but appears to have cause him some form of psychological damage in the process, Eric Pickles.

Although given the job of minister for local government and therefore supposedly an advocate for it within central government, this man appears to be on a one-man crusade, but enthusiastically aided and abetted by Shapps, Clark and Neill at various stages, to undermine his area of responsibility to the point of extinction.

The hypocritical utterances of Pickles since taking office just keep flowing, with his latest referring to senior officers’ salaries.  In keeping with his two-faced approach to the Localism agenda, he has now decreed that all councils will publish details of staff earning over £58,000 a year.  Not a big deal in itself, why shouldn’t the local taxpayer know what those running their local councils are earning.  However, at the same time, this ignores completely the government’s cave-in on a similar proposal for civil servants earning ‘fat cat salaries’ – his words not mine – and the subsequent pathetic requirements for them to publicise details of all those earning more than £150,000 a year.  One rule for them and another for the rest of the pond life, as the lower ranks were sometimes called when I was in the military.

The attack from the media comes in the form of an investigation by the BBC Breakfast News show.  It must have been extremely challenging making all those telephone calls to councils – worthy of a bonus, a party paid for from expenses and at least two self-congratulatory award ceremonies.

Apparently, councils are preying on the vulnerable by increasing the charges made for services such as meals on wheels, burials and cremations.  No councillor gets elected on the promise of cutting services, or of screwing the taxpayer for as much money as possible and given the choice, most of us would prefer to reduce the cost of any service the public values.  However, when confronted with a mad fat man in a hurry, whose only priority is to punish local government and grab media headlines whilst doing so, council’s are left with little choice.

Those with access to any of the local government range of publications and in particular the Local Government Chronicle (LCG), would have read numerous articles, written by all manner of so-called experts and informed commentators, some of them from within the government, encouraging councils to be more innovative in the way they raise revenue, with trading and charges being at the top of the list of must do’s.  Trading takes time and money to set up, but increasing charges for services doesn’t.  Desperate people do desperate things and so do desperate councils.

No shortage of experts on the unknown

Just before Christmas I got caught out by what must be the public sector equivalent of the time share scam.

You know the sort of thing, shiny brochure lands on the doorstep, or in this case, in the Inbox and before you know it, you’ve parted with your cash and your eagerly awaiting the opportunity to sample what you’ve bought.  Then you actually get there and very quickly realise that you’ve been had, it was all BS and bling and all you’ve got is a fancy venue and a shiny folder with next to nothing worth having in it.

My somewhat ham-fisted analogy, refers to a must attend seminar in London, offering to give me the inside story on the Localism Bill and how it would affect the way councils do planning.  This should have been just the job, after all it was scheduled to take place only a couple of weeks after the Localism Bill was published and one of the speakers was to be somebody involved in the whole process, the Chief Planning Officer.  One small problem; the bill was delayed, so what should have been a major piece of information transfer turned out to be various speakers waffling their way around a subject they either couldn’t talk about in any detail or didn’t know about because it hadn’t been published.

Since the end of the recent festivities, I must have had at least another half a dozen invitations to attend other ‘must attend’ events.

Apart from the fact that many of these events have a starting price of at least £299 (plus VAT of course) and some much higher, what really gets to me is their claims to be offering some really expert and invaluable insight in to the latest government thinking.  Trouble is, the government doesn’t actually seem to know what it’s thinking itself, especially when it comes to local government and the planning system, so what gives these so-called experts a view in to the unknown – psychic powers?

The 200+ clauses in the Localism Bill are still just that from what I’ve seen – clauses.  No meat on the bones yet; in fact hardly any bones!

The people churning out all this cyber trash must have missed the bit about 20%+ cuts in local government grant funding and therefore think that the local government cash cow is still ripe for milking.

The lesson to be learned from this? Save the taxpayer some money and don’t attend anything claiming to give you a head start on government policy until at least 6 months after it has been published.  In fact maybe don’t bother at all, after all localism is supposed to be about making up as you go along; just as long as you do it locally!