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 »

A Tory ‘Independent’ and an ‘Independent’ Tory

The election for a Police and Crime Commissioner isn’t supposed to be particularly controversial. In Warwickhire we have three candidates at the moment  - Ron Ball, Fraser Pithie and James Plaskitt.

Ron Ball is standing as an Independent. He was recently making noises to the local press about how it was wrong that the other candidates were political, representing political parties, and that he was untainted by such associations.

Turns out that he’s been a member of the Conservative Party for years, and tried to get them to nominate him as their candidate. Instead they chose Fraser Pithie.

Fraser Pithie claims also to be not ‘political’, despite the fact that he’s been an elected councillor in the past, and also having recently said that the PCC elections could be used to boost the fortunes of local Conservative MPs and candidates.

There was another Independent candidate, Andrew Moss. Moss is the only candidate to have been a full time serving police officer (Pithie has been a ‘Special’), and recently withdrew in favour of Ron Ball to avoid splitting the independent vote. I wonder how he feels now, knowing what has been revealed about the political past of Mr Ball?

In the meantime, James Plaskitt is the only other  choice, and the only one of the current candidates who is not a Tory. He’s not hiding his political past – he was MP for Leamington & Warwick for 13 years, so it’s pretty obvious. He is also clearly against the current government policies of cuts and increased private involvement in policing.

Turning the lights out

In my last post about Fraser Pithie’s bid to be elected as Police and Crime Commissioner, I mentioned street lighting plans.

What is happening is that the County Council has announced that they intend to switch off 80% of their street lights in the hours between midnight and 5:30am from April next year.

While there is an ‘engagement’ exercise requesting feedback, that decision has already been made – the question is which ones are affected (or rather, which ones are left on). There are criteria set out, but the real problem is that these are based on a need to move the vast majority of lights to part time.

So, for example under the current plans the Southfields estate in Rugby, where I used to live, will have no street lights on at all after midnight.

The County Council pages going into the detail are here, and there’s a google map showing all of the County Council lights that are covered that will show you how your street is affected.

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?

Birch Ward

But, seeing as I’m back, here’s my thoughts on the recent announcement that one of the wards at St Cross Hospital is about to close:

Birch Ward’s shut down at the end of the month is appalling for the town. There hasn’t been any real consultation. It seems that some people heard about it before others – Jerry Roodhouse and Mark Pawsey were quick to comment, but the local PCT – who commission medical procedures at St Cross for the people of the town were not (so I am told) asked for their opinion.

The Tories will blame the last government, and their pals in the Lib Dems will play the same card. However, the pressures on hospital trusts are being imposed by this government despite promises to ‘ringfence’ the NHS. On top of taking a hard line on budgets – causing one hospital to have been transferred to the private sector where the company itself has suggested that care may suffer – they are pressing ahead with the plan to impose a massive restructure. even though the Health Bill has not been passed yet, they have closed agencies and started to spend some of the £3billion that the reorganisation will cost.

Still, the local Tories and Lib Dems can do something. They can work with the Rugby Labour councillors who have called for UHCW to reconsider the decision, and they can join the calls for a Judicial Review.

Tories at play

Last night, the Tories of Rugby had a little shindig at the Grosvenor. Black tie (a few spivvy types had come in lounge jackets, standards have slipped), evening dresses and lots of jolly fun. Unfortunately for them it was at the Grosvenor Hotel in Rugby (recently featured in ‘The Hotel Inspector’) rather than the one on Park Lane. Not only is the former a far cry from the elegance and opulence (and quality) of the latter, but I suspect that they would have found the food a little sub-par. Oh, and it’s the kind of place will let the likes of me into. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Politics. Tags: . 3 Comments »

Dan Byles MP – did he benefit from Lobbett’s claims?

When I looked up the Tory candidate in the 2010 General Election, the one who won by a margin of 54 votes and who was being backed by Barry Lobbett, who was getting Warwickshire council tax payers to subsidise his campaigning, I found that he was being highlighted for his election spending last year.

Then, it was a question over whether buying a new hoarding with his name, face and the 2010 election slogan should be fully charged to his 2010 election campaign or (as he actually did) only a third of it need be – with the remainder to be charged to future campaigns we assume. The difference was between £1600 and about £500, and had the larger figure been used, he would have been in excess of his allowed spending.

In the end, there was no action taken against Dan Byles on the basis that it is ok to shift the cost over future campaigns, and he remains the MP for Warwickshire North and Bedworth.

However, we now know that during the same ‘short campaign’ period, claims were being made to Warwickshire CC for a councillor to drive to events in support of the election campaigns for that councillor and for Dan Byles. Given that Cllr Lobbett feels he should be recompensed, what would be the effect if Byles’ campaign paid the costs? Would it tip the amounts over the legal limit?

At the very least, Byles could do worse than distance himself from the penny-pinching councillor.

Two kinds of fraud?

Keen Green activist Keith Kondakor has for the second year running pulled his fine-tooth comb through the County Council’s member expenses. Last year he doggedly pursued Martin Heatley over the irregularities in his very large expenses claims (first class travel, curiously long journeys between home and Shire Hall, double claimed journeys). This year he’s obtained via a FOI request another year’s worth of claims by Warwickshire County Councillors.

Along with a very expensive hotel break (£2,500 for five councillors to spend three days in Bournemouth!) and I’m sure a few other inconsistencies, there’s one particular scandal.

It seems that Cllr Barry Lobbett is being told to repay over £600 he claimed for travelling around to do election campaigning. This is clearly a breach of the rules of councillors’ expenses, because election campaigns are not council business. I expect Keith Kondakor will be pressing for more action than just getting the money back and a symbolic rap on the knuckles, as happened with Heatley.

However, there emerges another question. What about Cllr Lobbett’s notification for election expenses? By law all candidates have to declare how much has been spent on their campaigns. So did he include this cost? Because if he didn’t, that would be another matter. If it puts the total over the allowed limit, then he’s in a serious breach of the rules.

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).

Tories caught out in hypocrisy

Tonight there was a local forum held at Rugby College, at which a presentation was made by people who are unhappy at the cuts to Youth Services that threaten Hill Street and other centres around the time.

After the heartfelt presentations, the three county councillors present applauded the efforts of the youth. So good it was to see local politicians supporting the causes of the young.

However, a sour note was raised when someone had the temerity to ask how the councillors concerned (all Tories) voted when cuts to youth services in Warwickshire were slashed by millions. Apparently, this was not a time for ‘politics’ said the politicians, before they had to admit that they had actually voted in favour.

Serve them right for trying to pretend that they supported the groups that they only weeks ago agreed to cut.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 198 other followers