Category Archives: Cambs County Council
This post has been submitted by a guest contributor. This particular Guest Post is written by Cllr Sam Hoy, Leader of Wisbech Town Council.
The Future Of Wisbech Castle
This morning I attended the assets committee at Cambridgeshire County Council with my colleague Steve Tierney to present the business case I had written for Wisbech Town Council. We both gave presentations, aware that the outcome of this committee would be vital to the future of this valuable community asset.
I am so pleased to say that the committee supported our bid in its entirety. Now we can go forward to protect and maintain the Castle as a community asset and as a vital part of the towns heritage for residents for many years to come.
Words (Almost) Fail Me
Alan Lay wishes to complain about the Highways Issues in Leverington. Apparently, the road surfaces there are poor and even dangerous.
It might have been better to write to the person who is elected to represent the people of Leverington at County Council and who is responsible for Highways Issues there.
But that would mean writing to HIMSELF, which would be crazy.
So instead he writes to the local newspaper, where he can read his complaint and hopefully take note of his own displeasure with his performance.
It’d be funny if it wasn’t so ridiculous.
I had to laugh at the ever-more-blatant bias of the Wisbech Standard today. In “Voice Of The Fens”, which I think would be better titled “Voice of John Elworthy on Behalf of the united opposition” we are assured that the reversal of the policy to turn off street lights and the reverse of the policy to cut gritting routes at County Council was all down to UKIP and the Lib Dems and the Conservatives should apparently be “ashamed” to “claim credit for it.”
What a crock.
What is on display is the ridiculous nature of the Committee System. And what we are seeing is exactly what I said would happen when the Committee System was introduced. A Committee System that John Elworthy was all in support of and has often crowed on behalf of.
In the Committee System nobody is in charge, the buck stops nowhere, and there is no possibility of any radical leadership by anybody. Each Committee is just a chance for the various political groups to stand in the limelight and crusade noisily. Any time something difficult is decided, everybody can avoid blame and point at everybody else. Then they can submit a motion to reverse the decision that was taken by the collective (but in reality, by faceless Officers) and pretend to be the “party of the people.”
They all do it. Because there’s really nothing else they CAN do.
Although Officers are making these decisions in the background I do feel sorry for them. In my experience Officers want a political lead. They don’t want to be making “political” decisions, they just want to be given a policy and allowed to deliver it as effectively as possible. With money severely cut there’s no way to make everything work without some radical thinking – and while the politicians are all jousting with one another and avoiding anything approaching a tough call that could later be pinned on them – there is nobody to do that radical thinking.
The Conservatives didn’t make this stupid Street Light Policy or the Gritting Cuts – nor did UKIP or the Lib Dems. And whoever put in whatever lip service motion to revoke it, no party is responsible for the reversal of those policies either. It’s all a huge, ridiculous and damaging mess and nobody is really in charge. It’s become a giant political charade and it will continue to be a giant political charade until this bonkers Committee System is put to bed, an actual party is back in charge again (whoever it is) or the new Devolution Mayor’s office replaces CCC once and for all.
Not A Good Look
Richard Taylor is a Cambridge blogger and amateur journalist who has been watching and documenting local politics for many years.
Now to be frank, he can be a pain in the bum. If he takes a dislike to somebody he can make their life hell, as he did to the previous Police & Crime Commissioner. But then again, some might say the previous Police & Crime Commissioner had it coming. Some might say. Not me. ;)
He does have a tendency to make a claim to neutrality while actually being quite political, and to sometimes be unfair in both his style and characterization.
But he does also cast a very useful eye over the goings-on of County Council, and other local Councils in Cambridge. He seems willing to take potshots at anybody and doesn’t have any “favourites” who he protects. And he gives a hell of a lot of his own time and energy to shine a light on some of the behind-the-scenes and lesser known working of local politics.
Here he is, managing to wangle his way into a private meeting. Now look, I don’t subscribe to this idea that every meeting must be “public.” There is value to private brainstorming sessions and private briefings. But we should certainly seek to make as many meetings public as we can.
In this instance, I don’t think the Officer handled the situation well at all. Like Sir Graham Bright, instead of engaging with the points Richard Taylor was making, this gentleman “Richard Preston” takes a rude and somewhat aggressive approach. Given that the issues at hand are issues of public interest, held in a public building and attended by public servants and elected Councillors, it is perfectly reasonable for Richard Taylor to ask why he cannot film it. It’s perfectly reasonable for all of us to ask that.
More surprising is seeing the lack of support he gets from the supposedly progressive “people’s champion” Councillors present, who all look either embarrassed or perhaps a little ashamed. (With the exception of Cllr Ian Manning, who makes a brave attempt to introduce some reason to the situation and is mocked for it.)
I was particularly surprised when Richard is told they may “get heavy” with him, like some bad scene out of a gangster movie. A threat made doubly ridiculous when there is clearly no “security” to actually be summoned. The fact that this Officer is able to act in this manner and Councillors do not question it is yet another example of what has gone wrong since authority was all but handed to Officers when the Committee System was introduced, in my opinion.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think its “okay” for Richard Taylor to creep into a meeting and then refuse to leave. Clearly he makes hay with the opportunity to film this behaviour. But nor do I think the way he is treated once he gets in there is right. I don’t think i’ve ever encountered this Richard Preston before, but he really does not shower himself in glory with this performance. The other attendees of the meeting are then also made complicit by their inaction. Handled better, this could have been an opportunity to look polite, open and publicly engaged. Instead, it ends up looking heavy-handed, rude and secretive. That’s not a good look for County Council at all.
Up and down the County people are suddenly finding their streetlights turned off. Some who knew it was coming but didn’t realise the implications. Some who hadn’t even heard about it. Lots of upset and anger. Lots of worry.
The County Council policy bearing fruit.
But not in Wisbech.
Because in Wisbech, the Town Council asked the people if they wanted them kept on, the people said “yes”, and Wisbech Town Council did as the majority requested.
It was in our power to save the lights from the County Council cuts, but it was going to cost some extra money. We asked for a steer from the public and got a strong one. We did as asked.
This is how local mature and responsive politics is supposed to work.
Return Of Twenty’s Plenty
The old “20 is Plenty” appears to be making a reappearance for 2016. I can only guess the delightful lady of Waterlees and her honourable and respectful husband have run out of ideas. But in a way I do feel for them. They can hardly complain about Constantine House anymore, the place they and their supporters didn’t believe would ever be repaired. Because it’s repaired.
They can’t go after Garry Tibbs and Rob McLaren about The Bell pub site and the Old Football Ground in Kirkgate given that those two have managed to get more movement on those issues in their first year as a team than the previous gentleman Councillor did in seven years.
They can’t change the name of their Ward again. Virginia Bucknor has previously said that changing the name “Waterlees” to “Waterlees Village” would “bring the community together.” You may or may not agree with that, dear reader, but the fact is they’ve already done it so they really can’t do it again. Unless they change the name to Waterlees World or something, but that sounds a little too much like a theme park.
They could add to their “Jobtrack” statistics if they wanted to, though I think that people have long since seen through the truth in those tiny tiny characters on their website.
No, they really want to make Highways their issue. They could volunteer for Speedwatch, but that would mean admitting that our new Speedwatch Committee was quite a good idea and I guess that just wouldn’t do, would it? So the old “20s Plenty” paperwork is taken from some rusty filing cabinet and the ropey statistics and weak arguments given a dust down.
As usual they attempt to claim that the opposition just said “no” for the sake of it. They do seem to enjoy playing the victim. In fact, as they well know, we debated, discussed and wrote extensively about their scheme and the opposition to it was logical and fairly considered. (Please see bottom for previous blog posts about the issue.)
But here’s where they fell down last time and where they will no doubt fall down again. At no time have any of the rest of us opposed their scheme for Waterlees. Although most people I know think it is a bonkers idea which will cost money and achieve next to nothing, it’s their ward. They are the elected Councillors. If they want to squander money on signs that everybody will ignore and the Police broadly will not enforce, that’s up to them.
But, and this can’t be said enough times, highways is a COUNTY COUNCIL function. The Bucknors need to stop trying to get money out of the Town Council for road signs and changes. They continually extol the virtues of Cllr Alan Lay and Cllr Paul Clapp, who are their friends and allies. These guys are County Councillors. All they have to do to implement their plan for Waterlees is to get their County Councillors to get them the cash and they can go right ahead. It’s very hard to see how this could be any more obvious. They and their County Council friends should just get on and do it and stop all the endless talking about it.
Consultation On Streetlighting
Cambridgeshire County Council wishes to achieve financial savings of approximately £272,000 by switching off street lights across Cambridgeshire between midnight and 6.00 am each day.
Under this proposal a total of 1,449 street lights would be affected in Wisbech; and Wisbech Town Council has been asked whether it would be prepared to contribute financially towards the cost of retaining streetlighting during those hours, on particular roads within the town, with effect from the financial year 2016/17.
The cost of retaining full operation of the 1,449 street lights would be £12 per light per annum (increasing by inflation and fuel costs each year), plus an annual administrative charge of £65. The total cost for 2016/17 would be £17,403.00.
In order for Wisbech Town Council to decide whether to meet this cost, they wish to know what the residents of Wisbech think about the proposal.
If the decision is made to fund full illumination, this would become part of the Wisbech Town Council budget proposals for 2016/2017. If an increase in the annual Parish Precept was required, this would be an increase of 8.4%
Please see the Council website for the figures for what this would cost your Band of household. http://www.wisbechtowncouncil.org.uk/streetlightssurvey.html
If you are a Wisbech Parish Council Tax payer you can make your views known by completing the survey below. For your vote to be counted, you must include your name, address and postcode – details will only be used to verify residency in Wisbech Parish.
The deadline for your views is 5pm on Friday 25 September.
The majority view will be a strong guide to the council’s decision, and the results of the survey will be published in the Minutes.
“I bet you won’t be blogging about Nick Clarke, Steve,” an opponent teased me on Social Media.
Well, no, I wasn’t going to. But not because I avoid blogging about things that aren’t “on message” – actually I’ve really never shied away from such things. More because my focus is on the national and the local and, since I left County Council, Nick Clarke falls somewhere between those two areas.
But, as the saying goes: “Challenge accepted!” You know me, Dear Reader. When somebody tells me I can’t or wont do something, it just makes me want to do it more. :)
My friends spotted this as being “a thing” some time ago, but I wasn’t ready to believe it. However, the proof is in the pudding and that pudding is presently being served in large portions at the other end of the County.
So, my position on Nick Clarke, former Conservative Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, who defected to UKIP this week to much local media fanfare and UKIP crowing:
I joined County Council at the same time as Nick Clarke. We were on our first Member-led review together. I was part of his team when he campaigned to be Leader of the Council and a strong supporter throughout. Later, I became a Member of his Cabinet and served under him as Leader. He was one of the finest Leaders i’ve ever met. He is capable, competent, very intelligent and a powerful personality capable of getting things done.
But Leaders don’t work alone. Nobody can. He was empowered by the support he had and by a strong team.
I am, consequently, extremely saddened by Nick’s departure. I won’t try and pretend otherwise. I hold him in high regard and great respect and I never imagined he would choose this road. But sh*t happens and life goes on.
I don’t like Nick any less because he has joined UKIP, and I don’t like UKIP any more because Nick has joined them. Frankly, I think that Nick Clarke is worth more than the entire rest of the Cambridgeshire UKIP team put together and I very much expect him to soar up their ranks as a rising purple star.
But I also think he will quickly find that the team he has joined is a very different sort of team. That when the media fanfare and spotlights fade, he is surrounded by a different calibre of people. And while he may well continue to shine brightly, it will be in a drab party landscape of peeling paint and angry faces. Perhaps he will visit Wisbech and stand alongside Alan Lay and Paul Clapp and David Patrick? I think that will be an eye-opener for him.
I genuinely wish Nick well in his ongoing career, on a personal level. I don’t wish UKIP well at all.. I bet that even if UKIP were to crash and burn in spectacular fashion, Nick Clarke would emerge just fine and prosperous from the ruins.
Fenland Learning Centres. £178,000 Cut?
Dear Reader, here is another of those stories that – if a Conservative had done it – would be all over the newspapers, would be eliciting catcalls to “resign immediately” and would engender colourful adjectives like “shameful” and “despicable” and “dereliction of duty.” But because it features local UKIP, any newspaper coverage will be spun in a positive way, local activists will leap up to tell us “it’s not fair to blame things on UKIP” (not even things that are directly their responsibility) or people just won’t care because they think “they are all the same” even when the evidence shows they patently are not.
The case I’d like to direct you to is the County Council Economy & Environment Committee Meeting of 21st October 2014. Bear in mind that County Council – like all Councils – have huge cuts to make and are beginning to run out of places to make them which won’t hurt somebody, somewhere. So, in this environment, you have to pay very close attention to the small print on Council papers, just in case one of those cuts is being targeted at something that is going to really, really stuff your area over. (If you will excuse my slang.) It’s not that cuts aren’t necessary – obviously they are. But the question is whether they are falling disproportionately on one side of the County over another? And whether it really is a sensible idea to cut a vast sum of money that is presently being used to help the most vulnerable people in the most deprived area – while simultaneously proposing luxurious new cycle paths in the leafy South of the County.
Economy and Environment committee 21/10/14
The budget line proposals were
B/R.6.209 Cut additional support for Fenland Learning Centres – -178K – – –
This budget tops up a grant targeted at learners who are hard to reach and unemployed and require a level of support to progress to gaining skills and qualifications. As well as providing skills through learning, we have started to provide staff to support Job Clubs running in March and Wisbech Learning Centres with this funding. The complexities and difficulties of delivery in Fenland mean that the hardest to reach are often only reached as individuals or in small numbers meaning that traditional delivery models do not work and so we have adopted a different model of delivery. Under this model of delivery, the Council funding complements Skills for Learning grant and if the Council funding were to be lost, then the grant would also be at risk as the service is not viable without the total funding package. Without this service, the training which consists of a range of employability skills undertaken in the County Council Learning Centres would be reduced and at least one Learning Centre would be likely to close. In 2013/14, 1,000 learners benefited from this training and therefore this number would be reduced. This training is in addition to the main Skills Funding Agency grant funded training in Fenland.
So let’s try and dig through the wordy description here. They are proposing cutting £178,000 pounds – One Hundred And Seventy-Eight Thousand Pounds – from the budget allocated to Fenland Learning Centres. This will specifically hit “the hardest to reach, and the unemployed.” They are quite clear that this cut will mean the complete loss of the Skills For Learning Grant as it wont be viable without the funding. They are also quite clear that this will affect primarily March – and Wisbech. The end result – vulnerable people in difficult situations in our poorest and most challenged areas will lose vital help they are getting to become employable and to have a chance to escape from their circumstances. A Learning Centre would be “likely to close.” Where’s the outrage? Where are the headlines? Where are the Bucknors with a petition?
NOW LOOK – I am not a deficit denier. I know we have to save money. But doesn’t it seem like we’re cutting possibly the most stupid thing there is to cut, here? Not moving the funding to a similar project, or changing the way it is used, but cancelling it entirely regardless of the cost to local people in March and Wisbech. We have a huge disparity of wealth in this County. I’m not arguing Fenland should get a load more than its fair share – only that dramatic and terrible cuts like this could surely come from the wealthy South, or even Cambridge – god forbid.
So at this point you are probably wondering what my beef with UKIP is, right? Let me tell you. At this meeting of the Economy & Environment Committee, with an item on the Agenda which would cut £178,000 from the poorest and most vulnerable people in Fenland, most specifically in Wisbech, you would expect our local County Councillors to be fighting our corner, wouldn’t you? Or, even if they weren’t brave enough to fight our corner, you’d expect them to at least turn up wouldn’t you?
The UKIP Member for Wisbech on that Committee was Cllr Alan Lay. He did not turn up. Okay, let’s be generous. Maybe something dramatic happened, or he had a vital and inescapable other obligation to attend to? In which case, given that we are talking about £178,000 of funding looking to be cut from our local services, he would surely have arranged for a substitute to take his place? So is there another Wisbech UKIP Councillor who is an official substitute and so could have attended on his behalf. Yes, there is! Cllr Gordon Gillick. Did he show up? No. No substitute came in place of Cllr. Alan Lay at all.
At this point, with nobody to argue Wisbech’s corner, you would expect the agenda item to be nodded through and for our town to be stripped of its funding once again because of the poor representation we are saddled with. Luckily for us, although Wisbech had no local UKIP Councillor to defend us, we did have Conservatives on the Committee. It was pointed out how utterly bonkers it was to cut money from this area and how the Members of the Committee should look to other areas of the County to make their cuts before dropping the axe on our Town. I am told that a sufficiently impassioned argument was made that the Committee did a shame-faced about turn and accepted another proposal.
The final proposal, accepted by the committee, was:
To ask officers to review the proposed cut in 2016-17 of £178k for additional support for Fenland Learning Centre in order to protect this expenditure and identify savings in other areas
If you think this sounds like we’re not quite out of the woods yet, you’re right. It’s a good suggestion that points in the right direction, but next time we might not have friends there. Without anybody standing up for Wisbech in Shire Hall, we will get trodden on again and again and again. Yet the people elected and paid to represent us at County Council can’t be bothered, apparently. What a sorry state of affairs.
Dyslexia & Paul Clapp
The Wisbech Standard has a report this week on the removal of UKIP Councillor Paul Clapp from his very senior post at Cambridgeshire County Council.
Now I must admit that I was never impressed by the choice of Cllr Clapp for his earlier Children & Young People Role, nor for his role as Chairman of one of the most senior Committees – and most challenging – in the entire County. But my reasons for that were more about his personality, affiliations, past comments and overall experience and ability.
So now it turns out that Paul Clapp has been diagnosed dyslexic and it appears this prompted a vote of “No Confidence” threat which has pushed him to quit his post. Or did it? Because the newspaper isn’t clear on the issue nor in the role the new diagnosis played in the group leaders decisions.
The newspaper says that the reason they wanted Cllr Clapp gone was:
•struggling to cope with the role
•forgetting to call for votes on committee items
•failing to realise when the next item should be introduced
•reading recommendations from different items to that being debated
•is generally failing to ensure the meeting follows due process
Now if this was happening because Paul Clapp is simply not very good at such a vital and serious role, then fair enough. But tying this to dyslexia is completely inappropriate. Dyslexia is certainly a major challenge for sufferers, but it does not in any way preclude a successful career, nor the holding of an important role. It certainly means that the individual has to work harder, but Paul Clapp doesn’t seem the sort of man to shirk at putting in some extra work.
Dyslexia didn’t stop Actor Anthony Andrews (Bodie, from the Professionals) from having a long and successful career. It didn’t stop United States Senator Michael Bennet. It didn’t stop Hugo & Nebula Award Winning Sci-Fi Writer Octavia Butler. It didn’t stop legal clerk and environmental activist Erin Brockovich, upon whose achievements a successful movie was based. It didn’t stop British Art Historian Timothy Clifford. It didn’t stop Tom Cruise, or Paloma Faith or Noel Gallagher or Steve McQueen or Ozzy Osbourne or Keanu Reeves. Galileo’s dyslexia doesn’t seem to have done too much harm to his historic career as a physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher – although it’s certainly true the world didn’t revolve around him. Director Guy Richie. Business tycoon and philanthropist David Rockefeller. Novelist John Irving, IKEA founder Ingar Kamprad, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Famous Dragon’s Den celebrity Theo Paphitis. Pablo Picasso. Steve Jobs, for goodness sake.
So let’s not pretend that the fact that somebody suffers from dyslexia should be a barrier to success. That’s demeaning to people who have the condition all over the world and it’s a crock. But again, it’s not entirely clear that this was actually any part of the reason why the group leaders removed Paul Clapp. Indeed, the only people who actually seem to mention his dyslexia in the article are the UKIP people.
Cllr Bullen said: “The swap is being recommended to help support Councillor Clapp who has had a recent diagnosis of severe dyslexia.
“While this means he finds it hard to cope with the amount of paperwork a chairman needs to deal with and read it also gives him vital insight for his new role on health. “Equally Councillor Rylance, with a background in caring, will be an ideal chairman for the adults committee. The council will be supporting Councillor Clapp following the recent diagnosis.”
This statement makes me angry, actually. Because it tries to push the idea that Cllr Clapp was threatened by a vote of no confidence because of his dyslexia, when closer reading reveals that it was actually his poor performance which led to the group leaders being uncomfortable with him continuing in the role.
If Cllr Clapp is actually being removed because he has dyslexia and it is causing him to struggle, then I think it’s absolutely the wrong reason to do it. UKIP’s Paul Bullen says “we want to support him.” By agreeing to move him to a lesser role? Don’t give me this “he’ll have vital insight for his new role in health” guff. Everybody has insights into the role of health, because we are all affected by health. That’s just flim flam to excuse pushing the bloke aside for the wrong reason. What would have been better – IF the reason for his problems as Chairman are due to his dyslexia – would have been to “support him” by giving him help in his role as Chairman. Not sacking him from it. Doesn’t he have a vice-chairman?
Because it really boils down to this. Do they think he is a bad Chairman? Or do they think he is a good Chairman who just needs some support because of a disability? If it’s the former, then stop blaming dyslexia. It’s a slap in the face for the many dyslexics who struggle heroically to beat the odds and succeed. If it’s the latter, then give him the support to be the great Chairman you believe he can be.
Cllr Paul Clapp being interviewed by the BBC film crew at the Waterlees Spinney
play area this week. Picture: Steve Williams. From Wisbech Standard.