The last four years

I dug out my old bills. The place we were renting from 2009 was Band D, so I have been able to find the correct figures for all of the years covering the Council Tax freeze. What I can see is that there has been a small variation each year

RBC base amount (charged to all households across the Borough)

2009/10: £128.772010/11: £128.59   -£0.18
2011/12: £128.94  +£0.35
2012/13: £128.94   no change
2013/14: £127.67  -£1.27

Net change after 4 years: -£1.10

Town Area precept (charged to households not in a Parish Council area)

2009/10: £64.72
2010/11: £64.58  -£0.14
2011/12: £63.42  -£1.16
2012/13: £63.14  -£0.28
2013/14: £66.27  +£3.13

Net change after 4 years: +£1.55

Total Council Tax for RBC in Town Area:

2009/10: £193.49
2010/11: £193.17  -£0.32
2011/12: £192.36  -£0.81
2012/13: £192.08  -£0.28
2013/14: £193.94  +£1.86

Net change after 4 years: +£0.45

Read the rest of this entry »

@RugbyBC replies…

Today I chased up the Rugby Borough Council twitter feed guy (as I write some of my tweets are to the right, but I suspect they won’t be there for long), and got a series of replies:

Now, there are two things here. The tweeter for RBC is apologising for answering my question (see previous post) incorrectly. I asked specifically if the Town precept would go up, they said it wouldn’t, but it has. That looks like being a simple error, and I accept the apology and understand how it happened.

However, I still believe that the RBC press release, which I also quoted before, was incorrect in that it put the average increase down to Parish Council precepts. Clearly the increase is down to the Town Area charge.

That it appeared in all three budgets is interesting. To explain, this means it featured in the Budget that was passed, based on the Conservative administration’s proposals, and also on the amended budgets put forward by the opposition Labour and Liberal Democrat groups. I suspect that it because what usually happens is that a draft budget is worked up by the council officers along with the Cabinet, and this is what leads to the Conservative group proposal. The opposition can move amendments to it, or create a whole budget from scratch. They usually do the former, picking up particular items to add or remove (or change/delay).

What this tells me is that it’s not necessarily a political decision how to set the Town Area Precept, but that it’s more likely to be part of the more detailed work done by the officers. Obviously it is still passed by the full council as part of the budget, but it seems to be regarded as not being a headline and more of a low level detail.

What concerns me is that this means there is less oversight and accountability about how it is set than there is for a Parish precept. Maybe in previous years it went the other way – the RBC base amount going up, the Town Area precept going down – but that still doesn’t make it right.

I checked last year’s bill. The RBC portion remained the same, and the Town Area precept went down by 0.4% (28p for a Band D). I didn’t notice that because it was so small, and there was a larger increase due to the Police Authority at the same time.

The point is, that the precept for ‘exclusive’ services in the town is determined by Rugby Borough Council, and forms a significant part of the Council Tax that is earmarked for RBC. I will see what I can find out concerning the history of the precept (and the base amount), and how it compares to a ‘four year freeze’

Addendum 19 March – the original text had the reduction for the previous year as ‘about 2p’, which was meant to be ‘about 25p’. The exact figure has now been put in – 28p for a Band D)

Pave the Earth?

At last month’s budget setting meeting, Rugby Borough Council decided (due to a Tory majority) to spend about £500,000 on getting designs for pedestrianising more of the town centre (basically along North Street where the bus stops and taxi rank currently sit) and consulting local people and businesses on them.

While town centre pedestrianisation schemes may not be the most controversial subject in the world, what I think should be addressed is the question of whether it is really a good idea to spend loads of money on this now. Read the rest of this entry »

When a Council Tax freeze is a 1% increase

The local Tories have been claiming that the Council Tax has been frozen by Rugby Borough Council for the fourth year in a row. For example, Cllr Michael Stokes  made the claim in a post attacking his former colleague Howard Roberts. Our MP Mark Pawsey wanted to use it to suck up to David Cameron, and tweeted this:

Regrettably not called at PMQs so unable to refer to Rugby’s Council Tax freeze for 4th yr in a row

— Mark Pawsey (@MarkPawsey) February 27, 2013

And the Borough Council’s press release is quite clear:

Rugby Borough Council’s share of residents’ council tax bills is to be frozen for the fourth year in a row, after councillors set the authority’s budget for 2013/14 on Tuesday (26 February).

The freeze means that the average charge for a Band D property will be £187.88 for the year – a small increase of 70p due to increases in parish council precepts.

The problem is that this is not true. For most of the Borough’s households the RBC part of the bill has risen by 1%

What has actually happened is the following: Read the rest of this entry »

Humphrey fined. Press ‘confused’

Last week, Craig Humphrey was fined £200 (plus having to pay another £95 in costs and charges) and given 6 points on his licence for the offence of driving without insurance. This was the allegation against him that was hidden for months before it emerged via rumour.

In the Coventry Telegraph there’s a report about it that is largely factual. But there’s one part that makes no sense whatsoever:

Driving with no insurance is a non-indictable offence and as such should not affect his position at the council.

The thing is that ‘non-indictable’ is contradicted by the facts. Humphrey was charged, and as a result the case taken to the Magistrates Court at Coventry. So he was ‘indicted’. What’s more, he was found guilty. I assume he pled ‘guilty’, which is to his credit, but that doesn’t affect the verdict. Chances are it was a ‘fixed penalty’ that was ratified by the magistrates, but the point is that driving without insurance is an offence.

This article on the government department’s website does not mention anywhere that driving without insurance is ‘non-indictable’ in any situation. On the contrary, it seems to be about how potentially serious it is.

The other thing is that the last part ‘should not affect his position at the council’ is actually word for word part of a response that was given some time ago – when this first came out – but is frankly opinion rather than fact.

I think we will find that there are quite a few people for whom being found guilty of driving without insurance and/or getting 6 points will result in them losing their jobs. Not that this should be automatic for Humphrey, but it seems a little premature to say that it ‘should not’ affect his position.

Why should it not potentially affect his position? He is leader of a council (with some additional responsibilities usually held by Chief Executives), in a position of responsibility affecting tens of thousands of people and with a budget of £millions. As a public servant, it is incumbent upon him to uphold the law. As a councillor, he is bound by Codes of Conduct that deal not just with how someone acts in their role as a councillor, but how they behave generally – particularly in public.

And why is a local newspaper parroting a defence of him as if it’s part of the factual report, especially when the next lines are:

Neither the council nor Mr Humphrey were available for comment.

???

Another week, another Craig Humphrey scandal

Last week, Craig Humphrey featured in the Private Eye ‘Rotten Boroughs’ section. The article featured allegations of conflict of interest. This stems from the fact that he works at Horts estate agents in Rugby as a sales consultant (he stresses that he doesn’t work ‘for’ Horts, but he clearly is working at the firm based on their website’s Sales Team page (Craig is at the foot of the page).

In the latest council budget passed in February, Humphrey and the Tories approved the £1M ‘Local Authority Mortgage Scheme’ which helps reduce rates for first time buyers. At that time, he did not declare any interest in the item, which would usually be expected given that encouraging mortgages encourages sales of houses, and his job is to… sell houses.

What’s more, when the scheme was publicised in March, the local paper featured quotes from a local estate agency… Horts.

Despite what looks like at the very least a case of mutual backslapping, if not a conflict of interest, Humphrey insists that he’s done ‘nothing wrong’.

This week, it emerged that he had been caught driving his car without valid insurance. Some kind of ‘administrative error’ or something. It’s a good job he doesn’t have a position of responsibility with that level of competence, eh?

Oh. He’s still leader of the council, and a couple of years ago took over some of the work usually undertaken by the Chief Executive.

What will he be up to for next week’s papers?

Rugby Town Centre – missing out

80m a year going out of Town Centre

I saw this headline when I walked past a copy of the Rugby Advertiser at the weekend, and now that they have put the report up on their website I had a chance to read it properly.

Essentially, the suggestion is that ‘more affluent shoppers’ are not catered for. I’m not sure what that means, really. Yes there are a number of cheap shops, a growing number of charity shops, and the main in-town supermarkets are Asda and Morrisons, which compete on price rather than quality.

What I find, however, is that Rugby lacks mid-market shops and certain sectors. We have one independent bookshop, Hunts. Read the rest of this entry »

Mast Site plans

Last night I went to the Eastlands & Hillmorton Community Forum meeting at the Hillmorton school. These are organised to bring together the County Council, Borough Council and Police to discuss issues with local people. Every three months, for example, the local beat officers present updates on their work and there’s a discussion about the three areas they should prioritise for the next three months.

There were a lot of people there who wanted to talk about the proposals for development to the East of the town, on the old radio mast sites. Read the rest of this entry »

Buses, carers, libraries, youth centres… cut cut cut

The Tories around here really are getting into their stride:

Rural and evening bus services are going to be slashed, thanks to the County Council halving the money they provide. All kinds of people will be affected all over Rugby and the surrounding villages.

At the setting of the Council budget last month, the Tories at Rugby Town Hall claimed that services would be protected and the impact of their changes would be very low. Tell that to the people reliant on Crossroads, which provides respite care for the elderly – the couple in that linked story are also going to lose out with the closure of Abbotsbury care home in Hillmorton.

Consultations are ongoing over which small libraries are going to be closed, and whether to reduce hours at others.

I am also finding out that the County Council is opening consultations on the closure and transfer of many of the county’s youth centres. Hill Street, Fareham Road, Brownsover, Dunchurch and Binley Woods Youth Centres are all under review. Wolston is recommended for closure.

I can see that these cuts are likely to disproportionally affect the most vulnerable – the young, the old, the ill, the poor.

The Tories gleefully wield the knife, and the Lib Dems are backing them (while at the same time crying tears over each local cut in case it costs them votes).

Where did that £50K go?

Back in Spring, the Borough Council agreed their new budget. Having rejected several ways to try and help local businesses in the recession (and so ending successful schemes), the council decided to allocate £50,000 to renew the Christmas lights in the Town Centre.

This evening I walked around the town centre, and couldn’t see much difference between this year and last year. The Clock Tower still has its lame strips of lights about half-way up.

So did the money get spent? And on what? Was it more worthwhile than grants to help shops improve their frontage, or rate rebates to incentivise new business?

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