Third successive year of Council Tax increases from RBC

Rugby Tories are celebrating what they claim is the sixth successive year of no increase of Council Tax. They are obfuscating the truth: most households in Rugby will be paying more in Council Tax than they were 6 years ago.

Now, because Warwickshire County Council, and the Police & Crime Commissioner have put their charges up by about 2%, household bills are still going up across the town. But RBC and Mark Pawsey are not counting those changes, just pointing at Rugby Borough Council’s portion.

But even so, residents of Rugby town are facing an increase in the Council Tax that they pay towards the Borough as well. To more than they did six years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

This is familiar (Tory fiddling expenses)

I saw this today – Tory MP Made 734 Wrong Expenses Claims

Bob Blackman reminds me of someone a little closer to home: Martin Heatley.

Neither is fit to wipe Bert Crane’s shoes.

Farewell, Bert

Yesterday one of the first things I saw was a status on facebook to tell me that Bert Crane had died on Tuesday.

Local paper reports are here – Crawley Observer and Crawley News

I knew Bert from when I was very little – he was a friend of the family and a constant presence during my life in Crawley. This is partly because we were very much a Labour family, and based in West Green. But also because we liked him immensely.

In the 1950s, when he was becoming about the first ever Labour councillor elected in Crawley, my grandparents on both sides moved down with young children (they didn’t know each other then). They, along with Bert and many other were part of the New Town expansion and the establishment of the Labour Party.

My paternal grandfather joined him as a councillor in the late 1950s, but died in 1961. My father joined him as a councillor in the 1970s, and after the transfer from the UDC to the Borough Council he stepped back after me and my sister came along. I joined Bert as a councillor in 2000 and stood down four years later due to work commitments and the possibility of having to relocate. So Bert was not only a councillor continuously for 58 years, but he outlasted three generations of Richards.

He is often referred to a “Young Bert”, which is not some ironic teasing, but because in the 1950s his father was very active politically and well know locally and was also called Albert Crane (the Albert Crane Court in Ifield was named after the senior Bert). However, it was appropriate even as Bert aged, as he always had a twinkle in his eyes.

Aside from politics, the main thing that my family shared with Bert was supporting Fulham. It was always, umm, interesting to watch a game with him. Relentlessly pessimistic about the outcome, even if we were winning, but unfailingly loyal to the club even as it plummeted down the divisions. When we went to games, he would insist on going to the Putney End, the crumbling stand next to Bishop’s Park which was supposed to be for away supporters, because that’s where he’d always stood. It was at least a test of keeping quiet surrounded by opposition supporters in the 1980s.

Over the next few weeks I expect a lot will be said about Bert’s political life over the next few weeks. His energy, his deep knowledge of the workings of the Town Hall, his successes like the Greenfields sheltered housing. But he had a full life outside politics.

He was a stalwart supporter of the Arctic Convoys veterans’ association. I believe that he had not spent much time on the British Navy escorts taking the dangerous trips around Scandinavia to protect ships carrying material to aid the Soviet war effort in WWII. He was in the navy but my recollection is that he spent more time in the Pacific. But after the war, he did spend time in the Baltic and got to know many of the men who had survived those terribly costly convoys. At the time, he was unknowingly at grave danger himself from TB – a mix-up in test results at the end of the war that took two years to sort out meant that the disease had progressed disastrously. After being discharged and admitted to treatment, he was given a year to live. However, the use of antibiotics to treat TB had been shown to work only a few year before, and thanks to streptomycin, care from his parents and the newly created NHS, he survived. I like to think a fair degree of stubbornness on Bert’s part made a major difference.

I didn’t always agree with Bert, but that never seemed to affect our friendship. One day he did shout at me in the Council Chamber after I rebelled on a vote, and I recognise that we were both wrong and right at the same time about that: I was right about the issue (whether the council should investigate the causes of flooding across the town in 2000 and 2001), but wrong in how I’d approached it (ambushing the Labour Group with an amendment to the Tory motion rather than pushing the issue earlier). In the end, I got a rap across the knuckles and we had a proper review of flooding (instead of one only looking at Maidenbower, and around the corner from where Henry Smith lived, which was the extent of the Tory proposal). And Bert forgave my transgression, as I forgave his outburst.

As I moved out of Crawley 6 years ago, I hadn’t seen Bert much in recent years. He was still a serving councillor then, but his health was starting to fail and he stood down in 2012. The last main memory I have of him was when we celebrated his 50 years of council service by having a dinner (pie and mash-based) and Dennis Skinner was invited down to speak. Bert looked so happy, and so honoured, to be spoken of in high terms by a political hero.

But to be honest, my abiding memories tend to involve Sundays in the Labour Club, after a branch meeting talking over some beers, with a man with good humour, strong opinions and a caring heart.

Rest in Peace, Bert. You deserve it, mate.

Vote counting…

Another year, another set of local elections and so another exciting* round-up of the local scene on this blog

(*warning: may not actually be very exciting)

The main headlines are that the Tories lost two seats, with the Liberal Democrats and Independents gained taking one each. Otherwise no seats changed hands. Now for the detail: Read the rest of this entry »

Paddox Lights

paddox lights advI got a mention in the Rugby Advertiser this week, on page 3. There was a picture, but it was not of me, so there is a relief for all…

What happened was that there were some works going on at the Paddox end of Ashlawn Road, and Severn Trent had needed to dig a hole. They also put in 3-way lights at the junction with Hillmorton Road.

I also spoke to a local resident, who had some pictures (including the one the paper used) to show the impact.

Basically, because the lights were right on the corner and there were no signs to say it was a 3-way control, some drivers were jumping the lights when coming in from Hillmorton.

Also, because of the queues, impatient drivers were using Elms Drive as a rat run, a road which is usually very quiet and has a fair number of pedestrians crossing and cyclists using it.

What is worse, some people were entering Elms Drive from the eastern end – which is a No Entry.

Luckily no-one was injured or hurt, but someone told me that there had been a couple of near-misses.

The hole has been filled and the lights went during the week. But Severn Trent will apparently have to come back soon as they could only do temporary fixes and the damaged sewer will need a permanent work done. On the positive side, they will at least have to go to Warwickshire County Council who will be able to set out how they can close lanes/roads and use controls.

Having spoken to the WCC Highways department about it, they are aware of the issues, and I know that local residents spoke to them as well. I was also worried about safety – especially for the Tuesday morning when schoolkids would be trying to cross roads in the area – so I called the police and asked them to take a look.

I think going forward this is a serious challenge to the proposal to put traffic lights there permanently (which is related to the Mast Site housing development). The junction certainly needs improvement – being near Ashlawn School and on the main route from Rugby to the DIRFT, it gets very busy at peak times. But if lights just encourage drivers to break the law, and create congestion, then they may not be the right answer.

Rugby BC elections rollcall

So, in less than 4 weeks’ time we will have another set of elections. The European Parliamentary ones (which I will vote in, and vote Labour, but are not the point of this post), and local ones. Here it is Rugby Borough Council up in thirds, with the first elections since the ‘all-out’ poll of 2012 when boundaries were last changed (the changes and the all-out nature mean that direct comparisons are not easy)

Anyway, ward by ward (* denotes an incumbent, bold is the Labour candidate)

Admirals & Cawston

Currently 3 Tories, Labour have been catching up over the years here – Mark Williams only held on by 44 votes in 2012. UKIP did not stand last time, so could make a difference. I predict Labour GAIN, but it will be close.

Gordon Davies (UKIP)
Gwen Hotton (Lib Dem)
Hamish Livingstone (Labour)
Peter Reynolds (Green)
Mark Williams* (Tory)

Benn

Solid Labour seat with over 50% of the vote most years. Labour HOLD

Lorna Lyttle (Tory)
Claire Sandison (Lib Dem)
James Shera* (Labour)
Bill Smith (TUSC)
Steve Wright (Green)

Bilton

The safest Tory seat in the town area. Martin Walton (Tory) is not standing – he only became councillor last year in the byelection caused when David Wright stood down. Despite the merry-go-round, a Tory HOLD.

Michael Avis (Labour)
Chris Cade (Tory)
Kate Crowley (Green)
Lesley George (Lib Dem)
Stephen Roberts (TUSC)

Coton & Boughton

This includes a lot of northern Brownsover, and looks like being a close finish. Another Tory incumbent not standing – David Cranham (about whom more later). I will go out on a limb for another Labour GAIN with a former Conservative standing for UKIP.

Fiona Barrington-Ward (UKIP)
Zoe Reeves (Green)
Jill Simpson-Vince (Tory)
John Slinger (Labour)

Dunsmore

Dunchurch and surroundings. In theory this is a solid Tory seat. But with a staunch anti-development Lib Dem and his wife holding it until he passed away a few years ago, and then a staunch anti-development Tory-turned-Independent winning one of the three seats last time, this could be an Independent GAIN. The Tory standing is the one who lost out in 2012, so Ian Lowe is not defending his place.

Kieren Brown (Labour)
Deepah Roberts (Ind)
Ian Spiers (Con)
David Wolskehl (Green)

Eastlands

My own stomping ground, but it will not be me standing here for Labour. I have decided to pioneer elsewhere, and let someone who really wants to win have a go. He has a chance, but the Lib Dems are putting all their resources in. David Cranham is standing for the Tories in a seat where they’ve been in 3rd for a while now. So clearly he’s out of favour. I’d say, unfortunately, a Lib Dem HOLD (but again a reduced majority over Labour).

David Cranham (Tory)
Phil Godden (Green)
Rob Jonson (TUSC)
Dale Keeling* (Lib Dem)
Steve Weston (Labour)

Hillmorton

All three main parties contend for this one (which makes me wonder why UKIP don’t chance their arm here), with the Tories usually ahead. Labour are the main challengers and caught up with the same candidate in a by-election last year. Too close to call, but if I have to I think a very close Tory HOLD

Nigel Allen* (Tory)
Barbara Brown (Labour)
Tim Douglas (Lib Dem)
Tim McKenzie (Green)

New Bilton

Labour held and again pretty safe. Steve Birkett won a byelection in late 2012 after another Labour councillor moved away for work. Should be a Labour HOLD with over half the vote.

Steve Birkett* (Labour)
Charlie Hull (Tory)
Roy Sandison (Green)

Newbold & Brownsover

The other safe Labour seat. Brownsover South alone used to be very close, but the new seat was pretty solid last time. Dunsmore’s current Tory councillor, Ian Lowe pops up here, not defending his Dunsmore seat. Labour HOLD

Lorna Dunleavy (Green)
Chris Holman (Lib Dem)
Ian Lowe (Tory)
Ramesh Srivastava* (Labour)

Paddox

As much as I would love to win, this is the safest Lib Dem seat in town. I do hope to reduce the majority a bit though, from second. Lib Dem HOLD

Greg Lyttle (Tory)
Amber Merrick-Potter (Green)
Noreen New* (Lib Dem)
Owen Richards (Labour)

Revel & Binley Woods

This contains some of the edges of Coventry (Hyacinth Bucket country), and like most areas outside the town of Rugby is pretty solid Tory. Of all of them, this is about the best chance for Labour, and it will be interesting to see if UKIP can pick up votes here too. Tory HOLD

John Birch (UKIP)
Doreen Cox (Labour)
Belinda Garcia* (Tory)
Roger Hill (Green)

Rokeby & Overslade

This is a true marginal – it is currently the only ‘split’ ward, returning 1 Labour (who topped the poll) and 2 Tories. The Lib Dems were not far behind. Kam Kaur is another Tory not defending her seat. Another close one. Would like to see a Labour GAIN

Julie A’Barrow (Tory)
Laurence Goodchild (Green)
Bill Lewis (Lib Dem)
Bill Scott (Labour)
Julie Weekes (TUSC)

Wolston & the Lawfords

Mainly rural and so likely to be Tory, even though yet again the incumbent, Claire Watson, is not standing. The UKIP candidate is a former Independent councillor and perennial campaigner, which may give them their best result in the Borough. Tory HOLD

David Ellis (Tory)
Pete McClaren (TUSC)
Emma Nuttall (Labour)
Ellie Roddick (Green)
Pat Wyatt (UKIP)

Wolvey & Shilton

Right in the northern corner of the Borough, this is the only single-member ward up this year. The incumbent is defending their seat for the Tories, despite a public spat with the Humph over planning last year. Tory HOLD

Rob Bevin (Labour)
Chris Pacey-Day* (Tory)
Louisa Taylor (Green)

SUMMARY

My predictions (which are to be taken with a large dose of salt) give 3 Labour Gains and 1 Ind Gain, would bring a Hung Council (with the Tories one short of a majority):

21 Tories
13 Labour
6 Lib Dems
2 Ind

What is interesting is that there are four Tory councillors who are not defending their seats. Two of those have popped up as candidates in seats they are not likely to win, so it’s not exactly a ‘chicken run’. None of them appear to be particularly old so I don’t think it’s retirement. Are these signs that the local party are not happy with some of their representatives, or that certain councillors are lacking confidence in themselves?

In terms of candidates, Labour and the Tories are both fielding full slates of 14, one in each ward. As are the Greens, but they are not really gaining popularity based on the last few years of results. The Lib Dems have 8, which is not a good sign for them. TUSC (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) have 5, UKIP have 4, and there is one Independent.

[edited on 28th April as I had David Wright as the Tory in Bilton not defending their seat, rather than Martin Walton]

Inconvenient Questions

Just before the local elections kicked off officially, Rugby had a Full Council meeting. It lasted about 10 minutes, and had little business in it, except for a question from councillor. This is the exact text from the minutes:

QUESTIONS PURSUANT TO STANDING ORDER 10.

Councillor Miss Lawrence asked the following question of the Leader of the Council, Councillor Humphrey:-

“Given the number and nature of questions that have been presented to Council and Cabinet by elected members and the public in the last year, does the Leader of the Council consider the amount of officer and member time spent on this process is justified ?”

Councillor Humphrey to reply as follows:-

“Our aim as a local authority is to be lean and efficient. That way we can provide the services that the people of Rugby want. Enquiries are dealt with, wherever possible, at the first point of contact, driving waste from the system.
We are open and transparent. It is therefore frustrating to note the volume of work created for officers from quarters within this Council. It often does little to help us deliver our corporate strategy, distracts us from being efficient and is often used to appease a different audience.”

I’m still trying understand what it means. I did ask the Rugby Tory party what their view was, as the question was from a Conservative councillor, and the answer from the Leader of their group (and of the council). The tweeted response was less than helpful:

@DanivonUK Questions aren’t asked as a political group, you would need to ask the councillor who asked the question.

— Rugby Conservatives (@RugbyTory) April 25, 2014

I am detecting a pattern here – Tories don’t like “questions”.

But to go back to the point of Cllr Lawrence’s question, and the answer…

What is interesting about it is that it does not tell us how many questions have been asked, or how much they ‘cost’ to answer. I can think of a way to save officer costs, though. Perhaps instead of insisting that the public (and councillors) present their questions in writing, days in advance to officers, and perhaps if the answers were not pre-arranged, officers would have less to do.

And perhaps the ‘value’ of allowing councillors to ask questions freely is that they get to do their job – holding the Council itself to account, overseeing the work of the officers, and representing their constituents.

And perhaps the ‘value’ of allowing the public to ask questions is to hold the councillors to account.

It seems to me that the only bit of democracy that Craig Humphrey and his cronies like is the elections bit (because they have been winning them). But the part where people have an open debate, oh no, that gets in the way, “distracts us from being efficient” etc.

It was asking awkward questions that helped to scupper the waste of money that was the “pedestrianisation” in the Town Centre.

And I am perhaps to blame in part for the idea that people are asking unfair questions of our ‘lords and masters’ at the Town Hall. Earlier in the month, this was my question to the Cabinet (I could not make the meeting myself as I had done my back in that day):

(i) The following question was received from Mr Owen Richards. Mr Richards did not attend the meeting.
“In recent media articles, it has been reported that the Borough Council has changed an aspect of housing policy, particularly affecting people who are homeless and going through local shelters. What was the basis for this change, and was it change determined by officers with or without reference to the Cabinet member responsible – was there any consultation with other councillors or the public?”
For reference, an excerpt from the Rugby Advertiser: http://www.rugbyadvertiser.co.uk/news/local-news/homeless-figures-reachcrisis-levels-in-rugby-1-5920881
“Senior support worker Pete Wayman said many winter shelter guests automatically qualified for council help under what is called ‘band one provision’.
He said: “This meant that some guests were helped to leave the shelter and find accommodation much more quickly.
Published 9th April 2104
“The council housing team remain very supportive of us and do what they can but their recent decision to make winter shelter guests ‘band two’ only this winter has only added to our pressures.
“We have asked the council housing team to urgently reconsider this decision.”
Councillor Humphrey, Leader of the Council, responded as follows:
“The council has a responsibility to allocate fairly the limited number of council homes to local people. Prior to the review of the allocations policy in May 2013, on which we consulted widely in line with the Warwickshire Compact, local homeless people were being given different priority for housing depending on whether or not they had approached the winter night shelter or not. Now homeless people living rough or sofa surfing are placed into Band One, a high priority for social housing, if they are so vulnerable that the council has a statutory responsibility to house them, regardless of whether they have visited the winter shelter or not. Homeless people who are less vulnerable are placed into Band Two, which still gives them a good chance of being offered a council home. The council continues to work closely with people allocated this lower priority to find them housing with other providers, such as housing associations or private landlords.
Most recently, the council has had a number of discussions with those managing the winter night shelter, HOPE4, on this issue since the opening of this year’s night shelter, in part to discuss with our community partners the reasons for the changed approach.
As we review the allocations policy later this year, we will again be consulting widely with local community groups in line with the Warwickshire Compact. We are happy to revisit this issue then, but I must be clear that fairness in letting scarce public housing will be at the centre of any changes”

First of all, I don’t understand why Craig Humphrey answered, rather than the Cabinet Member responsible for Housing. Secondly, this does not actually answer my question.

It really is simple – who changed the policy? Which councillors were involved or consulted? Why can’t you share with the public the ‘reasons for the changed approach’?

I tell you what, these question thingies may or may not be ‘value for money’, but perhaps if the leader of the council answered them (and truthfully), it would help a lot.

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