Category Archives: Cambs County Council

3,2,1 … And They’re Off.

3,2,1 … And They’re Off.

Oh look.  It’s Election Year.  And the Election Year games have begun.

As part of a new series of blogs I’m going to look at the claims and counter-claims in news articles and try and help people make sense of them.  Obviously this will be from my perspective, which some would say is necessarily biased, but I will try and be completely honest in my views so people can take it or leave it.

The first article is in the Wisbech Standard (boo.)

Indented parts are taken from the article as linked above.

A budget amendment proposed by Steve Count, Conservative leader at Cambridgeshire County Council, says the “smoothing reserve”, introduced as part of last year’s budget, has formed a “cornerstone” of budget plans, and will contribute another £9.1million remaining towards next year’s budget. The council has already spent £3.4million on children’s services.

Translation: Smoothing reserve = savings.

The Conservatives also say they will use the Minimum Revenue Provision policy to “top up” the transformation budget by £4.764 million. They say this will help them “avoid the need to make unpalatable cuts” to services. It will also help add £1.336 million towards supporting essential front line services in next year’s budget.

Translation: Spend some savings to tide us over for the year.

The Conservatives say they will “utilise the freedom offered to us by Government” by raising general council tax by an additional one per cent this year, on top of the assumed increase of 1.99 per cent council tax and 2 per cent adult social care precept. This will contribute a further £2.758million to the budget.

Translation: Council tax is going up to as near as dammit the maximum amount allowed without a referendum.

Cllr Count said increasing council tax is not his preferred solution to balancing the budget, but noted that there needs to be more funding for the county from central government.

For somebody whose preferred solution is not to increase council tax, that’s a notable council tax increase.  But to be fair to him, while everybody continues to refuse to speak plainly about the costs of Adult Social Care and Child Social Care – a nationwide problems in my view – his choices are limited.

In the Conservative amendment, Cllr Count says the council will continue to “actively lobby” for a new funding formula from central government, which they say is “destined to come in for the following financial year”.

Central Government seem to be too busy arguing with one another about how best to not deliver the Brexit people voted for to listen to all the many Council Leaders asking for more money.

Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha said she “wished they didn’t need to put up council tax” but said the increase is “very much needed” to help make sure local services would continue to be delivered.

Liberal Democrats would probably love to say they wouldn’t do a Council Tax rise, but they can’t.  Because several of them have already publicly said the rises are not actually high enough (I kid you not) and they know they wouldn’t get away with it.  Mind you, that doesn’t usually stop them.

In a Lib Dem amendment to the budget, Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha calls for a simplification of local government in Cambridgeshire. Cllr Nethsingha said money could be saved on rationalising council staff and premises. She also said the council should stay in Shire Hall, rather than splashing out on new premises in Alconbury (where they are due to move in 2020).

Classic Lib Dem stuff here.  They know that people love to hate “councils moving to new headquarters.”  Note the words used “splashing out” to conjure an image of largesse and waste.   Of course they know that Shire Hall is an expensive building; expensive to heat, expensive to run, poorly-designed for the modern needs of a modern Council.”  They know that a new custom-built premises would be affordable and cost-effective and that the classic original building will sell for a good price as its in a desirable location.  They know, I feel sure, that its a decision that in all common sense has to be taken.  They’ve read the Officers Report which shows it to be a sensible cost-saving move in the longer term.  But the temptation to play on the idea of a Council “splashing out on swank and plush new premises” as though its some kind of ego trip is delightful for them.  Worth a few votes as an election leaflet, by playing upon common tropes.

The Lib Dem amendment reads: “With five layers of local government in parts of Cambridgeshire the time is right for moving to unitary councils (one authority which takes on all local government responsibilities rather than a raft of them), rather than building expensive new offices at Alconbury.

I don’t disagree.  We have too many layers of Government now.  I hope that the Greater Cambs Partnership is considered as one of the ones that goes, though.  Perhaps Cambridge City Council might be rolled into a larger area too?  The writing must surely be on the wall for County Council at this point, but Government (all parties) is too busy working out ways to sell out the referendum result to look at the ridiculous over-complexity that exists now.

Labour leader Joan Whitehead said the council is in “dire straits” with some core services desperately needing more funds. Cllr Whitehead said Labour would be tabling an amendment calling for “cuts” to education budgets and children and young people’s services to be “reversed”.

And here’s your classic Labour nonsense.  The Council is in “dire straits” they say.  Their solution?  Reverse the cuts that have already been made.  Nice one Councillor Whitehead.  What a beautiful example of socialist circular thinking.  We don’t have enough money – spend more money!  Good grief.

The Conservative amendment makes provision for extra spending on the county’s roads. Cllr Count said they had listened to the public, and that there were significant calls for the county’s road network to be improved.

Good news.  For years now we’ve spun around chasing our tails while trying to protect and manage Adult Social Care and the highways have played second fiddle.  The Adult Social Care situation is certainly a massive, massive challenge – but that doesn’t make it okay to let highways fall into disrepair.  Nice to see that recognised and begin to be addressed.  Its a shame that we can’t also completely change the way we decide which highways to do and when … but that’s an argument I’ve made for many years and gotten nowhere.

 The Lib Dem budget amendment also says the number of committees on the council should be reduced to five, and that committee chairs and vice-chairs should be remunerated at the level recommended by the Independent Remuneration Panel.  Cllr Nethsingha said these measures would save £102,000. Cllr Nethsingha said the Lib Dems would also remove the area champion allowance. The Lib Dems say they want to “focus on slimming down the costs of councillors”.

Oh you cheeky Lib Dems.  Absolute champions of the ridiculous Committee System that led us precisely to where we are.  It was always supposed to be cheaper and better, and its proven to be nothing of the sort.  As some of us warned would happen.  Now don’t get me wrong – I think that reducing the Committees to five and remuneration at the IRP level perfectly reasonable (and I said so and voted so at the time.)  But none of this is about fiscal good sense.  The Liberal Democrats, for whom no tax rise is a bad tax rise it seems, would not know fiscal good sense if it knocked on their front door and introduced itself with a gold-embossed business card.  It’s about elections.  They know that the public enjoy a bit of Councillor-bashing and saying you’re going to cut their allowances is a vote winner for anybody gullible enough to believe a word of what they say.  Still, simplifying and cutting the costs of the system – although  we are talking a drop in the ocean by County Council cost standards – would be no bad thing in my view.

The Lib Dems say the decision to withdraw therapy “is wrong for some of our most vulnerable children, but it is also deeply wrong in being another example of the administration failing to support council staff”.

According to their budget amendment, the team who provide MST were encouraged to set up a small company and to transfer council workers’ employment rights only a year ago.

The amendment reads: “They were promised the councils would maintain a contract with the new small business for three years. This council has now taken an opportunity to break that contract, and in effect break the promise they made to their own staff only a year ago.”

Cllr Count said the decision to stop MST had been made through the committee system, and that it had simply not presented the evidence it had been an effective use of council money.

I love it when any of the opposition Councillors cry about the consequences of the Committee System they voted for, they drove through and they implemented.   The Committee System where they play a part in every decision taken.  You wanted this, guys.  Sure, you only wanted it because it suited you at the time to try and grab the levers of power.  You saw an opportunity to overturn the applecart and you joined forces with UKIP, Labour and Independents to bring down the old system.  So now, you play a part in all the decisions, and find it much harder to argue with policies decided by the Committees you sit on.  You don’t seem to be having much fun, though?  “Be careful what you wish for,” they say.  True words.

One Year On

One Year On

It’s a year since I was elected as the County Councillor for Wisbech West.

A year which has been filled with a lot – and I do mean a lot – of people upset about the state of the roads in and around Wisbech.

I have spent the year working my socks off, pressing for funding and services and urgent work, alongside my colleagues.  And it’s been slowly paying off, with the work accumulating.

There are still too many potholes and poor roads and pathways.  But it feels like we’re on the mend now.  Lots of works are happening or are scheduled to happen very soon.  Even the faded and missing lines that have upset many people are being repainted.

The worst area by far is Waterlees, where the roads have been so very neglected.

These roads did not get into this state magically overnight.  They fell into that state under the previous County Councillor. Luckily, this is so patently obvious that even the opposition crew who would normally try and spin it another way would struggle to convince anybody that those roads supernaturally became pothole-ridden and crumbling last May.

The infrastructure was allowed to fall to pieces  and the previous County Councillor seems to have done basically nothing about it.  Nor did the Waterlees District Councillors seem to have any issue with this, or at least I never heard them criticising his performance or the awful state of the highways there?  Perhaps I missed that.   Perhaps, because the road they live on was resurfaced – an odd thing, since it was nowhere near as bad as many other roads in the area which were left to decline – this caused them not to notice the state of most of the other roads in the area?  Who knows?

So I’ve had a lot to pick up on in my first year.  Luckily I’ve had supportive Town Councillors who have communicated issues to me well, and local people who have helped by using the online reporting system or contacting myself or the Town Councillors.   It is beginning to work and I think people can see that.  But those four years of neglect are going to take a long time to catch up on.  I will continue to push for decent roads and pathways and I hope that when my four year term comes to an end, I can hand a decent slate on to the new Councillor.  I wouldn’t want to leave them, whoever they are, with the sort of situation I inherited.

 

Full Council Photo – Cambs County Council

Full Council Photo – Cambs County Council

Public consultation helps shape Wisbech transport schemes

Public consultation helps shape Wisbech transport schemes

Proposals for a new Wisbech access road have been amended following feedback from the public to ensure the scheme does not jeopardise prospects to re-open Wisbech Rail.

The Southern Access Road scheme, which would link New Bridge Lane and Boleness Road, is one of a number of transport improvement projects in the Wisbech Access Strategy, which was developed to address congestion and accident blackspots, while increasing road capacity and supporting much-needed housing and job growth.

A series of public consultation events last November showed support for the overall programme of schemes, but there was concern the Southern Access Road would negatively impact the railway project. Objectors and local representatives said the road would cut through the March to Wisbech railway line and prevent the re-opening of a railway station in Wisbech town centre.

Now Fenland District Council, Cambridgeshire County Council and Wisbech Town Council are proposing a phased approach to the road, to take the railway line into account and ensure any decisions taken now will not prevent any future delivery of rail.

The phased approach involves designing a new roundabout on the A47 to provide access into south Wisbech so that if railway studies conclude that the preferred location for the station is north of New Bridge Lane there will still be access into the South Wisbech Development area. If the preferred station location is determined to be south of New Bridge Lane, New Bridge Lane could be reconnected.

The amended approach would allow the Wisbech Rail study to conclude the station location without any impact from the Wisbech Access Strategy, and enable the plan to proceed within government-specified funding timescales.

Fenland District Council along with the County Council and the former Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (GCGP LEP), now The Business Board, successfully bid for funds from the Government’s Growth Fund to develop the transport schemes and £10.5 million to implement them – and the funding has to be spent implementing the first package of schemes by 2021.

The two councils are also proposing to amend the original short-term package of schemes, which, if approved by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, could secure an additional £10.5 million of funding from the Combined Authority.

A scheme to relocate the A47/Elm High Road roundabout further east has been brought forward from the medium-term package of schemes (being delivered by 2026) to the short-term package (to be delivered by 2021).

Although this part of the project will require more development and further public consultation with the affected communities of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, bringing it forward means the smaller improvement scheme at Elm High Road/A47 will no longer be required, resulting in money being saved. Completing the project sooner will also mean inflation savings and transport benefits will be felt more quickly.

 

The revised preferred package of short-term schemes now consists of (refer to attached map):

  • New Bridge Lane/Cromwell Road signals
  • Southern Access Road Phased Approach – development of new A47 roundabout
  • Elm High Road/Weasenham Lane roundabout
  • A47 / Broadend Road Roundabout
  • Relocation of A47/Elm High Road roundabout, with further development and delivery towards the end of the short term package (subject to funding approval)

The phased Southern Access Road approach, and the new package of short-term schemes, will now be taken to the County Council’s Economy and Environment Committee, Fenland District Council’s Cabinet and Wisbech Town Council later this month to seek approval to recommend these schemes to the CPCA and The Business Board.

These important transport enhancements are a partnership approach which has not only support from the Wisbech, Fenland and Cambridgeshire councils but also the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk along with Norfolk County Council due to the location of the town’s infrastructure and communities straddling the county border.

A Wisbech Access Strategy spokesperson said: “The local community feedback has helped shape the future of transport in Wisbech to ensure both road and rail proposals support each other and that the important government funding for the Wisbech Access Strategy is not jeopardised.

“These essential improvements to the infrastructure of Wisbech will enable the much needed housing and economic growth for this area of North Cambridgeshire. It also demonstrates the effective partnership approach across all tiers of Local Government and the important role the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority have played with funding support.”

The spokesperson added: “The Wisbech Access Strategy has been tested to make sure it offers the best solution to address existing transport problems in and around the town of Wisbech.  Local people were very clear about the need to protect the Wisbech Rail project, as a result the plans were amended after listening to the consultation responses.  The improvement schemes will encourage growth and regeneration, improve accessibility, and help support the delivery of more than 3,500 new homes and 2,500 new jobs for the Capital of the Fens.”

The outline scheme design drawings along with detailed reports for each location, and the process followed can be found on Fenland District Council website at: http://fenland.gov.uk/wisbechaccess

Area Champion Update

Area Champion Update

After some careful consideration, I have taken the decision to step down as Area Champion for Fenland and have emailed the decision to the relevant people this afternoon.

I will continue to do everything I can to be a champion and a Councillor for the areas I represent, just as I always do.

I wish my replacement, whoever they may be, all the best in the Area Champion role.

Number 46, Revisited

Number 46, Revisited

Good news!

I have just received confirmation that the County Council has agreed to fund a replacement service for the 46 bus route from 30th April, which is exactly what County Councillors have been calling for.

I will post the revised timetable shortly.

The service will continue to be operated by Stagecoach and the new contracts have been let until the 25 August 2018.

 

Number 46

Number 46

In regards to the possible loss of important bus services in Wisbech:

Although this is a private company, its important that the County Council challenge and try and work through damaging proposals to get the best for local people.

County Council officers have been working hard since the worrying announcement to find a suitable resolution to the issue.

Although its not 100% decided, the news so far seems to be positive.

A tender to ascertain the cost of replacing the 46 service, that will be withdrawn by Stagecoach from 28 April, has been issued this week. County Council are tendering for three potential options.

The first is based on the existing timetable, which operates on an hourly basis. The second is on a revised 90 minute timetable which has the benefit of protecting the service and being more affordable as it reduces the vehicle requirement from two buses to one and should therefore be more economical to provide.

The final option is for an operator devised timetable, where they can make their own proposal built around their availability of vehicles and drivers.

The company are engaging with the County Council to try and find a way forwards that doesn’t let local people down and leave them without an important service.

So there’s no need to panic at this stage and County Council are doing their best to negotiate something which will prevent the problems of losing the service.

Your County Councillors have pushed hard and will continue to press as best we can for a deal which gets a good resolution for our Town. I hope this update is useful to you.

Manic Thursday

Manic Thursday

I was off this morning delivering leaflets across North Ward / Waterlees to remind residents of our Councillor’s Coffee Morning at the Oasis Center.  I was joined by most of the Conservative North Ward team and a bunch of residents with issues they’d like resolved, and ideas they’d like to share.  We drank quite a lot of coffee and it was a useful way to meet with residents and get their views and concerns.

Then, on with my “Mayor hat.”

This afternoon I visited the St. Augustines Day Care Centre for their Christmas Carols and Afternoon Tea. We were entertained by some excellent singers from the Walsoken Church and a very nice time was had. I always enjoy spending time with the St Augustine’s gang, lots of laughs and merriment.

I had to leave before the end in order to make the Magdalene House Christmas Service at St. Peters’, where the children were responsible for most of the singing and bible readings. Proud parents watched on and, I am sure, had just as lovely a time as I did.

There is always so much happening in Wisbech, but never more so than Christmas!

A quick drive to March followed, where I switched hats again and attended the last FDC Full Council meeting of the year.  A fairly straightforward agenda was cleared in short order and that’s it for FDC for 2017!  Since CCC had its last Full Council meeting on Tuesday that means we only have next Monday’s Town Council meeting to go and then it’s holiday time!  For a few days anyway.

Wisbech rogue trader sentenced

News from Cambridgeshire County Council

Wisbech rogue trader sentenced

Christopher Ferreria, 42, of Poppy Mews, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire was given a financial penalty today (Wednesday 29 November) at Peterborough Magistrates Court.

Ferreria pleaded guilty to three charges under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations following an investigation by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards.

He repeatedly failed to attend the work, failed to complete the work, he took payment for work which was not delivered in the timescales agreed and failed to repay his victims for some or any of the deposit paid for the work with reasonable promptness.

Ferreria, as CB Property Maintenance, took £3,350 from three victims for home improvement work he promised. One victim was a single parent and wanted to make a small improvement to the family home by dividing a room with double doors, another cashed in their work pension for some sewer work and the final victim wanted to make improvements to their utility room.

During the hearing the magistrates took into account the compelling victims statements and felt Ferreria became ‘dishonest over a period of time’. He was ordered to pay £1,100 of compensation and £700 costs. The rest of the money has been promised to be paid back to the victims by Ferreria through outstanding civil court actions.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough’s Head of Trading Standards Peter Gell said: “In all of these cases the victims wanted to make home improvements and were lied to by Ferreria.

“The victims have had to find new traders not only to complete the work, but correct some of the work done and this has caused much embarrassment to them. In one case, the victims missed out on seeing their grandchildren in Cornwall as they didn’t have the money to get the work done and go on holiday.

“We will continue to work with our partners to keep the people of Cambridgeshire safe and we won’t tolerate rogue trading in our county.”

Work begins to identify targeted services aimed at children’s needs in Cambridgeshire

Press Release: Cambs County Council

Work begins to identify targeted services aimed at children’s needs in Cambridgeshire

Cambridgeshire Children’s Centre are to benefit from funding targeted to support more families   – following last week’s council decision to refocus the services to areas of highest need.

After Full Council reviewed the results of the council’s consultation –the largest response ever to a Cambridgeshire County Council consultation   – an originally planned £1m saving was reduced to £900k.

Of this additional £100k, 7% (£65,995) is going back into the pot for front line delivery.

The additional re investment, of more than £34k, which completes the £100k, will be used for management and business support, building and infrastructure costs of Children’s Centre service.

Work continues with communities to shape where this reinvestment will be made but initial plans allow for

  • the creation of 10 extra apprenticeship positions,  providing further services on the front line
  • more flexible use of existing staff within  a new  outreach approach.
  • more targeted support aimed at vulnerable families particularly in the north of the county.

“Over the coming weeks and months we will be able to firm up the ideas of how this re investment will be used – but currently our emphasis is working with communities to see what they need and where our more flexible approach will pay dividends” said Simon Bywater, Chairman of the Children’s and Young People’s committee.

A short film based on the Broadleas Children Centre in St Ives showing a possible blue print for this new service can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D8MccBNnd0