A Letter & £1.50

CoinsRobert Lindsay (the new Green member for South Cosford) proposed the following motion at the Babergh District Council meeting on Friday 26th September as follows:  “That a letter be sent to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government requesting that local authorities be given the power to introduce a levy of up to 8.5% of the rateable value on supermarkets or large retail outlets in their area with a rateable annual value not less than £500,000 and for the revenue to be retained by local authorities in order to be used to help improve their local communities.” It was seconded by (Conservative) Councillor Jenny Antill. It is nice to see conviction politicians crossing divides and supporting each other. Lindsay (unsuccessfully) fought Antill in 2013 for the position of County Councillor for Cosford. I could not support the motion. It is too woolly as to its effects on business (which ones will be affected – probably Tesco in Sudbury & Copdock and possibly Toys R Us) and it is seriously weak as to what “improve their local communities” means. Some people think it means supporting small shops in our High Streets but it could equally apply to street lighting or employing high cost temporary consultants to fill staffing gaps.
And then again there is the question of sending the letter.
Well, all a letter and £1.50 will get you is a cup of coffee.
The motion was shunted off to the Strategy Committee where it will take its turn to be researched and considered.

South Cosford and Beyond

Babergh Wards Political 2011
Babergh’s Wards – 2011 – Political

Last week saw a by election in the South Cosford ward of Babergh District. The ward covers 4,311 hectares and holds 2,139 residents in 905 houses. The average age is 41 y.o. Hadleigh North (which is represented by two District Councillors) contains 3,417 residents in 1,510 dwellings. The average age of the residents is 42.5 years.
The seat was previously held by Dawn Kendall (Conservative).
The results were as follows: Robert Lindsay, (G) 346, David Talbot Clarke (C) 330, Stephen Laing (UKIP) 219, Angela Wiltshire (L) 72. Majority 16. Turnout 54.7%.
The turnout was quite high for a local election – so full marks to all the workers who knocked on doors and delivered leaflets.
Mr Lindsay will be the only Green on Babergh and the question is will he sit on his own (unattached from any political grouping) or will he align himself to one of the groups – Conservative (unlikely), Labour, Liberal Democrats or Independents? Perhaps the key question is what sort of Green is he – a mango or a melon? Mangos are yellow on the inside and are therefore closet Liberal Democrats. The melons are red on the inside and therefore closet Socialists. One spends money without policies whilst the other spends money with abandon.
There are enough questions here to keep a psephologist happy for days. Why did UKIP come third and did he take votes away from the Conservatives. And what was the effect of the Liberal Democrats not having a candidate?
Nationally the conservatives have managed expectations and have done better than expected – especially in East Anglia where we retained three seats in Brussels. Yesterday’s Spectator web site suggested that there is a sense that the national results have given critics in each party the opportunity to say what they’ve been planning to say all along, but possibly without the impact they’d hoped for.
Meanwhile the economy is picking up and this may be affecting the voting.
The number of young people not in education, work or training (Neets) in eastern England has fallen to a pre-recession low. In a fresh boost to the local economic outlook, there were 79,000 16 to 24-year-olds considered Neet in the first quarter of 2014, the lowest figure since 74,000 in the second quarter of 2008. At its peak, the number of young people in the region classed as Neet was 121,000 in the third quarter of 2011. Nationally, the percentage of teenagers in Neet is at its lowest since records began. The news comes after it emerged last week that total unemployment in Suffolk fell by almost a third in a year. The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in the county reached pre-recession levels when falling to 8,592 in April, a 32.3% drop from 12,607 in April last year and the lowest since 8,486 in October 2008.

Lady Lane Property

Hadleigh TH Pump 120916 abOn March 31st I wrote how Babergh had approved the transfer of land on Lady Lane to a Registered (Social Housing) Provider for the provision of a four bedroom house. At the time I mentioned that I did not like proposals whereby I didn’t see a price tag nor was I happy that we were approving in principle a four bedroom house when the greatest need in the housing market is for small (one and two bedroom) houses. I made the (unappreciated) point that we should put two two bedroom residences on the site and thus release two four bedroom houses from those families whose children have permanently moved away.
Orwell Housing have now submitted an application (B/13/01087/FUL) to develop the site with a three bedroom house!
I have written to the Planning Control suggesting that the application should be returned to applicant for further work.
Primarily, because there is a minimal amount of information. There is no design statement, nor is there a history of the site. In particular no reference is made to Council Paper No M148 which authorised a single four bedroom scheme on this property.
Consequently the basis on which this application has been allowed to come forward is flawed.
I wonder if this is a case of casting pearls before swine insofar as you should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject that which has value and furthermore who will diminish or destroy your gifts.
Should it come forward to the Planning Committee for discussion, I will speak against any recommendation for approval since the application is contrary to the authorised use of the Council’s assets.

Non-Salary Expenses

CoinsThe readers of this blog  will recall that since July I have been endeavouring to ascertain the level of the  non salary expenses of Babergh’s  &  Mid Suffolk’s senior managers.
The details are published on Babergh’s report No. JAC15 to the Joint Audit
& Standards Committee. See: http://bdcdocuments.onesuffolk.net/assets/Uploads/Committees/Committee-Reports/Reports-2013-14/JAC15.pdf
The details are quite interesting. There is a one off charge of £10,467 for
relocation and removal expenses. Details of the expense are to be provided
Apart from this figure the expenses are £22,073 spread across 13 posts. The
chunkiest category was £3,573 for attending conferences. Conferences are
attended to keep up to date with what is happening in the public sector as a
whole and also in specialist areas and hopefully ensure that the councils are reflecting  current and best practice. Training and course fees came in at £400.
Overall I am quite happy with the outcome of my enquiries. My colleagues
enjoyed themselves pursuing detail which had hitherto remained unreported. More details will come out in future reports and each officer now knows that their actions are subject to more detailed scrutiny than hitherto.

Hands off Hadleigh

Hands off HadleighToday Tesco’s application to develop the Brett Works site in Hadleigh was defeated by seven votes to six. Bearing in mind that four votes were predictable the result was absolutely first class focusing on the economic impact of our town.
My address to the committee received a heart-warming round of applause from the Hadleigh supporters –  and is enclosed).
Floreat Hadleigh

Address to the Planning Committee 130918

Visions & Priorities

Corks La FoyerIt is generally accepted that organisations which have a clear vision and values have greater chances of success than those whose vision and values are unclear and blurred.
One of Babergh’s Strategic Priorities is to shape, influence and provide the leadership to enable growth whilst protecting and enhancing our environment. One of the outcomes flowing from this priority is that Babergh is open for business and a champion of the local economy.
So it was with some surprise that when visiting the Council’s office foyer in Corks Lane I saw “Take One” boxes advertising theatre and amusements in Norfolk.
I’m always irked when I see pamphlets in Hadleigh promoting Lavenham and yet I never see any leaflets in Lavenham promoting Hadleigh despite Hadleigh Town Council offering to supply as  much literature as needed.
Babergh has spent considerable time formulating its vision and priorities. If you want to bring the vision and values to life we all have to “live the brand”. It’s part of the why and how you work. You can  see living the brand in any High Street bank where all staff conform to the dress code. It reinforces the values represented by the brand.
So why aren’t Babergh staff living the brand and sharing the values? Why do we promote activities outside of Babergh and even outside Suffolk? Babergh has plenty of attractions and if you are so minded go to http://hadleigh.onesuffolk.net/assets/Tourism/Town-Guide-2011.pdf for a copy of Hadleigh’s Town Guide.
Perhaps running Babergh is like running a cemetery: you’ve got a lot of people under you but nobody listens.



Quis Custodiet

YThe Watch Dogesterday I attended the inaugural meeting of the Babergh & Mid Suffolk Joint Audit & Standards Committee. The first substantive item of business was to approve the Committee’s Terms of Reference (TOR). The TOR is nice document, well written, reasonably unambiguous and for the most part fit for purpose. It is however written by officers and lacks sensitivity to the needs of the tax payers’ and residents.
Readers of this blog will be aware that I often feel that the information and opinions given to us at Babergh are often not as robust as I would like. I’m also conscious that some of my Councillor colleagues are reluctant to challenge and hold the executive to account.
So in a cross group collaboration I suggested that the TOR should be invigorated with the following additional duty:
To peruse, review and comment upon the non-salary expenses of the officers of the joint councils.
You would think that this was a no brainer – but no – the Chairman dithered and at one point suggested that such oversight could be unnecessary. None the less the item was put to the vote and approved (but not unanimously).
Already I can hear the Sir Humphreys in Corks Lane telling me that the new requirements will be too complicated, too expensive, and (I expect) too controversial to implement..
But the outcome will be that our employees will be fully accountable for their travel expenses etc., and we will enjoy a greater degree of transparency.
There’s nothing like the disinfectant of sunlight to force out sloppy practices.

Pay Policy at Babergh

Flag by BaberghMeanwhile on Planet Babergh, the District Councillors are being asked on Tuesday 25th June to approve the Collective Agreement on Employment Terms, Conditions and Policies.
The statement about financial implications of the new agreement is weak and flabby. Not for the first time do we have a lack of detail in this area. I have previously expressed my reluctance to sign blank cheques or to trust bland opinions.
It should be case of running the spreadsheets to get the opinion that that new arrangements will either mean more money in the staff pockets or not. Telling us that the savings targets as set out in the Business Case will be met, has nothing to do with salaries. Meeting the business case is a sine qua non. We expect nothing less!
What we do expect is hard robust opinions from the officers. How else can we have confidence in their assessments.
Towards the end of the summary of staff benefits we find that parking available to staff at the Council office car parks will be free of charge. The residents and visitors to Hadleigh pay for their parking, whether they are in employment or not. The same should apply to the employees at Babergh.
Free parking is not a perquisite to be enshrined in the Collective Agreement!
It would seem that the staff anticipate further charging for car parking and wish to be exempt from the realities of the people who pay their wages.
The full paper may be read on http://bdcdocuments.onesuffolk.net/council/ see paper N26.

Pay Policy Statement 2013/2014

 Flag bTuesday’s  Babergh District Council Meeting was a quiet affair being mainly concerned with formalities of approving matters already agreed upon elsewhere. For example who sits on and who leads the various sub committees.
However at the back of the morning we got around to looking at paper “N9 Pay Policy Statement 2013/14”. It was introduced in a gentle way. We were reminded that our approval was required in accordance with Section 38(1) of the Localism Act 2011.
However, under Financial Implications, we were informed that “The pay policy has been produced within existing resources and there are no financial implications”
I interpreted this statement to mean that Babergh produced the policy without chopping down any more trees than had already been killed in manufacturing the paper and that (perhaps) more importantly we had not used any external consultants.
This was not the information I would have liked. As always the key to analysis is not only to examine what is in front of you but what you are not seeing and what I was not seeing was an indication of how much this policy was costing us on a year on year basis.
After much standing up and sitting down the Chief Executive affirmed that there would  be no increase in the payroll as a result of the policy. I was grateful for the unequivocal statement along these lines and thanked the Chairman, the Chief Executive and the Head of Corporate Organisation.
It was like pulling teeth without anaesthetic .
Whilst I was congratulating myself of achieving unexpected reactions it did occur to me that perhaps there will be increases in the overall payroll but they won’t be due to the policy but to something else.
I’ll ponder on this when the time comes, probably in the small hours of a morning.

The Nature of Politics

It is rare that I can agree with David Blunkett.
But the following appeared in today’s Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2210945/British-politicians-rarely-ridiculed-despised-worry-all.html#ixzz28ARK0hWB):
“This sense of decay at the heart of democracy is profoundly troubling to me, since I have always had a powerful belief in the political process. … It is 50 years since Professor Bernard Crick’s classic work, In Defence Of Politics, was published. One of his central arguments was that the political process is bound to be messy, full of setbacks, compromises and failures precisely because it is trying to reconcile different opinions and the contradictions of human nature.
That messiness was often the cause for frustration, even despair, Crick admitted, but we should never abandon democracy as a result of it.
His other main argument was that democracy serves as a vital check on the power of market and vested interests. Engagement in politics, he said, was essential to ensure commerce and organisations served the public rather than achieving dominance. Half-a-century later, in our age of mass globalisation, as capital can be shifted across the world at a touch of a button, it’s an argument that’s more relevant than ever.
It is a fallacy to think we could run our society successfully without elected politicians. How would competing claims for money be reconciled without them? How would tax rates be decided or budgets settled? How would major services be reformed?
The political process provides the only credible, fair way of making such decisions.
The governance of a nation has to take account of myriad other factors, like fairness, compassion, resources, history, timing and public support.
Civic society cannot live by managerialism alone. As the great Welsh Labour politician Aneurin Bevan once said: ‘Politics is the language of priorities.’
And at least politicians are accountable for their actions and can be chucked out if the public does not like them. Yet according to opinion polls, there is a growing belief that our country could do without politicians and could be run by technocrats”.
And perhaps this explains why some of us believe that running a council on the basis of “no overall control” means that someone else or some other people are in control but they are not elected nor are they directly accountable to the electorate.