Rugby BC Cabinet – 22 June 2009

Seeing as I went to the last one, I thought I’d pop along to another meeting of the Borough Council’s Cabinet.

Now that I recognise a couple of people from sight, and I know where people sit, it’s easier to work out what’s going on. Of course, because the Council is under the majority control of a single party the Cabinet is all from that party (Conservatives) and so there is less likely to be debate – they’ll already have had any discussions at their group meetings and the opposition can call decisions in for debate at Full Council (which is next Monday evening).

But there were a few interesting items. This time, the press were not around as far as I could see, but there were more backbench councillors in attendance (these can speak, but not vote). The leaders of the two opposition groups were there, Jim Shera for Labour and Jerry Roodhouse for the Lib Dems. Anyway, to the reports:

5. Finance and Performance Monitoring 2008/9 Outturn

Quite important this one – it’s how well the Council did at spending compared to the Budget it set last year. There was an overspend of about £225,000, on a budget that was already looking to be in deficit of £1,260,000 (based on the amount being taken from balances in the budget).

There are various reasons for the deficit. Some areas have done rather better than predicted (fees from Planning, Parking charges) and there was a positive adjustment to the money for Housing Benefit. However, Land Charges and Building control fees were lower due to a reduction in property buying and development which is clearly related to the credit crunch, house-price slump and recession.

The main areas of concern to me, however, were the £258,000 spend on Agency Staff, offset by only an £82,000 saving on other staffing costs, and the at least £200,000 in interest assumed to be lost because of the £3,000,000 that is frozen in Icelandic bank accoounts.

The latter may not be a result of bad decisions – I don’t know when Rugby BC last put money into an Icelandic bank, so it could have been before there were warnings about their state but not early enough to be able to draw down the investment. However, the large overspend on agency staff should be a concern. Some of these were explained, and some were offset against staffing vacancies or other cost savings, or supplied from grants.

Also in the report was a tally of the Key Performance Indicators for the last quarter, and while Cllr Humphreys said that “most were met, and more were very close to being met”, the case is that 33 out of 77 (43%) had failed, of which 20 (26%) were more than a 5% margin out.

Jerry Roodhouse asked if the Cabinet concerned about any of the failing indicators, to which the first answer was essentially ‘not really’. The Lib Dem leader pressed again “even the Customer Contact Center?”. Turns out that this is being looked at, and they think they will sort it out with a review. The first answer did come across as a little complacent.

6. Update of the Corporate Strategy key aims and targets

Not much to this one really that would be of immediate public concern, but it was interesting to note that Jim Shera asked why this report – and others – had not been sent to the opposition leaders and those councillors who led Scrutiny panels. This is actually fairly important, because it gives them as much information as possible so that they can consider the implications of policy changes before the Cabinet have pretty much decided what they want to do.

7. Joint Local Transport Review

Joint as in ‘along with Warwickshire County Council’, who are the lead authority on transport, particularly in terms of the road infrastructure (not the motorways and major trunks, which are under a national body). It was noted that improvements to Avon Mill Roundabout – a source of contention in one of the local paper letter pages recently – are being pressed for. No guarantees that WCC will make such improvements in the immediate short term though, but the Borough Council is lobbying for them.

11. Housing Inspection

It seems that a while ago, the Housing Service was in receipt of a critical report from the Audit Office. And it appears from this that another inspection soon afterwards has shown that while the service is still rated as ‘Fair’ (which is below target), the prospects for improvement were much greater. There has been a change in personnel at the top, which may well be making the difference. I remember at Crawley BC we had an entrenched chief officer who ran the Housing Department like a personal fiefdom, and when he was replaced it seemed to just coast. It’s really hard to turn around these departments, which often have low staff morale and a declining stock. I hope that they can do it.

13. Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)  – Project Transform

Project Transform is an innocuous name for a major piece of work. Warwickshire CC, Coventry City Council and Solihull Borough are collaborating on a joint approach to waste disposal, with a view to massively increasing recycling and building a new plant to ‘turn waste into energy’. Of course, one way to turn waste into energy is to burn it, meaning a waste incinerator. Not that that’s the only way, but there are concerns that it will end up being the approach taken.

The other concern, voiced by Cllr Roodhouse, is that this would also involve a 25 year PFI deal, and with the change in economic circumstances since the project was started, it may be that any such deal is not set up in the best way for local authorities (and their taxpayers).

As it is, Rugby is the last local authority to sign a MoU, and it’s not a full legal contract, so we were assured that such concerns were being maintained.

Additional Item 1 – Concessionary Travel

Bus Passes in other words. This is not about changes to the scheme in place for Rubgy residents who qualify, it’s really about where it should be administered. Currently it is supposed to be at district level (Rugby BC). It could be at County level (and in practical terms many bus card schemes already operate across a county, even though the districts are responsible and pay for it), or perhaps regional or national. The report seems to lean towards wanting it to be transferred to the county. This would make sense in an area where the scheme is county-wide, simply by not having to have chunks of money keep moving about between town halls and county hall.

Rugby BC Cabinet – 1 June 09

Being a bit of a political geek, and having little to do in the evenings while Jas is living back down South, I wandered along to the Cabinet meeting of Rugby Borough Council this evening. Other than reporters, I think I was the only ‘civilian’ in the council chamber.

The meeting was a little confusing for anyone not already involved in the local politics. None of the councillors had name-plates that I could see, so I couldn’t tell at first who the Cabinet members were, who the opposition councillors were or who the council officers were.

Turns out that the cabinet sat around a table in the middle of the chamber, apart from the leader Cllr Humprey, so I could only see a few of their faces from my seat to one side.The Labour leader (Jim Shera) and Lib Dem leader (Jerry Roodhouse) had sent apologies for absense. All items that I saw were passed without any dissension (which is to be expected with a single-party cabinet). The only councillor who spoke who isn’t in the cabinet was (I think) Neil Sandison of the Lib Dems, who is from Eastlands, which is just over the road from where I live.

The main items (agenda items as numbered) that were discussed were:

5) Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) Playbuilder Funding

Seems that the government has given Rugby £200,000 to spend on play equipment. Five sites have been identified, with two as backups (because the funding is time-limited so if any projects fail over a year the money can’t be used). Cllr Sandison asked about he level of public consultation so far and whether the opportunity had been taken to get some money out of developers using a S106 agreement to augment the package – especially as one site was apparently right by a new development. In both cases the answers seem to be ‘not yet’.

7) Tenant Incentive Scheme

Like many councils, it seems Rugby has tried to encourage people who are in council-rented accomodation that is quite large to transfer into something smaller. Obviously, the main candidates are elderly people or couples in 3-4 bed houses who could go to a 1-2 bed bungalow or flat. The current scheme means that if they apply to transfer and are on benefits, they get £300. The scheme has been in place for 16 years without much change  – and perhaps crucially, little publicity. The newly agreed scheme will be open to people not on benefits and will pay £500. It will also be monitored over the next six months, and presumably will get at least some publicity.Cllr Sandison’s questions included whether the Housing Department had conferred with the Housing Association.

9) Review of the Performance of the Council’s Preferred Partner Housing Associations

I thought that these were all called ‘Registered Social Landlords’ (RSL’s), but anyway. The report itself wasn’t really mentioned – basically it seemed that due to the problems of private developers at the present time, any RSLs which were not quite up to it would get a pass as new housing is still a priority. They also added Affinity Sutton which seems to be quite a large group (with a private company backing it) but which can use PFI to leverage funding for new development.

10-12) Sustainable Design and Construction Supplementary Planning Document; Affordable Housing Supplementary Planning Planning Document; Members Allowances 2008/09 – Amounts Claimed

For some reason, these were all taken together. The first two are at least similar (both about adoping new policies on planning, to encourage environmentally friendly development and housing that people on lower than average incomes can afford to buy/rent/part-buy). The third is arguably just a little topical at the moment, and concerns a totally different area.

Looking through the report, the actual allowances look reasonable (about £6,000 pa for a normal councillor, less than £10,000 for the Leader, £4-5,000 for the Cabinet member, less for committee chairs). Obviously of interest is the expenses.

The councillor with the highest claim is Neil Campbell (Con, Fosse) with £1460 in travel and petrol expenses. Fosse is a large sprawling rural area to the north west of Rugby, and he lives a little way away – on the other side of the M1 from the borough. He’s also on the Cabinet, which while it also gives him an extra £5138 a year, would also mean a good few more meetings than normal. Still, it’s more than twice the amount claimed by any other Borough Councillor.

Anyway, it’s hard to know whether it was more arcane than the meetings that I used to see at Crawley – a bit of clarity in labelling the actual cabinet would have helped, and a less, umm, relaxed and jovial, start might have made it look a bit more business-like.

Another poor day at the polls

Given the results in the previous two years, and the national political picture after the debacle of the 10% tax band, there was no real surprise at the outcome of yesterday’s Crawley Borough Council elections.

Last year I looked at the trends in each ward and for each party, and I thought I’d do the same thing. We have now had a full cycle since the 2004 boundary changes and all-out-elections, so we can compare over the past 4 years and see the overall trends. In each seat this year, the person who was in position before May had been the most popular candidate of those elected in 2004.

Bewbush
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 193/216/275
2006 – Labour, maj 192
2007 – Labour, maj 374
2008 – Labour, maj 281
Again the largest Labour majority in Crawley. The incumbent had stood down due to ill health, and may have had some personal vote, but it does seem that there was a slip in support. The Tory got a similar percentage of the vote to last year, and Arshad Khan managed over 100 votes. The main difference to previous years was that the Lib Dems put no-one up and the BNP had a candidate. As is usual, the BNP took about 15% of the vote at the first attempt (they tend to slip back in later years).

Broadfield N
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 99/261
2006 – Tory, maj 0
2008 – Labour, maj 150
A popular local incumbent was re-elected here, and the Tories got fewer votes than in 2006. The Lib Dems lost about a third of their vote. Now the only ward with councillors from more than one party.

Broadfield S
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 22/52
2006 – Tory, maj 112
2008 – Tory, maj 165
The incumbent was Marcella Head, elected as a Conservative and who defected to the Lib Dems in 2006 over the Council Housing issue. She apparently endorsed Ian Irvine the Labour candidate this time, but in the end the Tories extended their lead in a two-horse race.

Furnace Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 155/318
2006 – Tory, maj 547
2007 – 2 Tory, maj 524/568
Tory ward, although was Labour until the late 1990s. No election this year.

Gossops Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 33/47
2007 – Tory, maj 150
2008 – Tory, maj 281
The Tory vote was about the same as last year, with Labour down and a BNP candidate in third. The Lib Dems lost half of their vote.

Ifield
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 96/100/191
2006 – Tory, maj 21
2007 – Tory, maj 59
2008 – Tory, maj 236
Last year I had this as marginal. The BNP have stood here several times and for the first time increased their vote, getting back some of the losses since 2004. The Tory vote went up by 100, and Labour lost about 80. The Lib Dems vote pretty much held. Where we had two independents last year, none stood this time.

Langley Green
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 268/303/352
2006 – Labour, maj 406
2007 – Labour, maj 148
2008 – Labour, maj 232
Safe Labour seat, although one of the councillors is always convinced that it is dead close. The Labour and Tory votes both went up, with the Lib Dems losing half of theirs (the normal candidate stood in Maidenbower instead, perhaps there’s some personal vote there).

Maidenbower
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 682/744/779
2006 – Tory, maj 1132
2007 – Tory, maj 1215
2008 – Tory, maj 1386
Safe Tory seat. The Tory vote leapt up in 2006, and has been creeping higher since then. The Lib Dems and Labour tied for second place (and last place).

Northgate
2004 – 2 LibDem, maj 292/334
2006 – LibDem, maj 276
2007 – LibDem, maj 250
Liberal Democrat haven. No election this year.

Pound Hill N
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 778/795/831
2006 – Tory, maj 1280
2007 – Tory, maj 1001
2008 – Tory, maj 1082
Safe Tory. The Lib Dems overtook Labour to come second (the only ward in 2008 where the Lib Dem vote was more than the Labour total), and the only reason that I can see for the slip in the Tory majority is lower turnout, which is natural such a safe seat.

Pound Hill S and Worth
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 707/760/828
2006 – Tory, maj 1210
2007 – Tory, maj 1072
2008 – Tory, maj 1189
Safe Tory. The Lib Dems were in second in 2006, but Labour overtook them last year and maintained second place. The BNP stood here for the first time and came last – the only place where the Lib Dems beat them.

Southgate
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 3/50/51
2006 – Tory, maj 198
2007 – Tory, maj 179
2007 – Tory, maj 254
Marginal but getting safer for the Tories. The Tories won this seat in 2003 by 3 votes, probably helped by the Greens standing. The BNP and Greens used to stand here but didn’t this time. The Labour vote went up, but the Tory vote went up faster. The Lib Dems gained votes (probably from ex-Green voters).

Three Bridges
2004 – 1 Labour , 1 Tory
2007 – Tory, maj 356
2008 – Tory, maj 297
The Tory vote did fall slightly, and the Labour vote went up slightly, but from being a knife-edge seat is firmly Tory for now. Last year there was an English Democrat and a Green, but they were absent this time. The Lib Dems did pick up votes (from the Greens again?)

Tilgate
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 84/87
2007 – Tory, maj 355
2008 – Tory, maj 97
Like Three Bridges, a major gain for the Tories last year. However, unlike Three Bridges, Labour came much closer to holding a seat as the Tories dropped 180 votes. The BNP beat the Lib Dems to third, both gaining a few votes.

West Green
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 147/274
2006 – Labour, maj 117
2008 – Labour, maj 180
Usually safe Labour. The winner this year was Bert Crane, who must be in contention for the longest serving councillor in the country (over 50 years). The Tory vote did go up slightly, the BNP shed votes and unlike previous years, no others stood.

Tories
Overall, a fairly stable set of results. Where they have made gains in recent years these have been consolidated (except for Broadfield North which was unusual). The only bad spot was Tilgate, which was won with a very large swing in 2007 and was much closer this time around. Now have a majority of 15 on the Council.

Labour
Another bad year. Some glimmers of hope where the vote went up (despite the national trend), but could not hold on to the remaining seats in Tilgate, Southgate or Ifield.

Lib Dems
Overall, the trend is down again. Back down to two seats after Marcella Head (who was elected as a Tory) stood down and no replacement candidate was put up in Broadfield South. In some wards shed a third of even a half of their vote, and did well in few wards where they couldn’t pick up Green votes.

Greens
First making an impact in 2003 (after a Labour Councillor defected in protest at the Iraq war), they tried to expand with several candidates across the town in later years. This time no Green candidates stood at all, apparently to avoid splitting the non-Tory vote.

BNP
Stood in six wards this year, more than ever before. In most places where they stand for the first time, they get between 10% and 20% of the vote, and thereafter the trend is slowly downwards. Ifield is their best ward, where they picked up some votes this year, but not as many as in 2004/5.

English Democrats
Came in last year, stood in two seats, did pretty badly and not a word of them since.

Far Left
No candidates from any of the left-of-Labour parties this year, as was the case last year.

Independents
After last year when several independent candidates stood, only Arshad Khan with his self-styled ‘Justice Party’ remained. He did actually pick up some votes this time.

Inheriting the wind

Inheritance tax. Apparently, it’s a bigger issue for voters than any other political subject.

Why would this be? After all, currently less than 10% of estates are liable to the tax. When it comes to tax, it’s far less widely felt than VAT, National Insurance, Income Tax, or duties on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes. Of course, everybody who owns a newspaper is likely to be affected. Many of the senior journalists on national newspapers and on the TV could potentially be. I’d be surprised if most of the Tory front bench are not likely to need to pay some death duties.

However, the vast majority of people will be totally unaffected by increases to thresholds for Inheritance Tax. So why are people so worked up? Of course, everybody hopes (can I use the Brownite word ‘aspires’) to be rich enough by the time they die to leave a substantial amount. More to the point, everybody secretly hopes that aunty Mabel is sitting on a pile of cash and that she’s put it aside for us. However, the reality is that the average person is unlikely to be so fortunate. Even if you are lucky enough to inherit, say, a 1 million pound estate, the current taxes would still leave you with over £700,000. If aunty Mabel was only worth half a million, you’d get 84% of the value.

The Tories may have wanted to get rid of it completely, but have come up with a new threshold of £1 million. Given that it’s the super-rich who are likely to be able to spend a bit of time and money on tax planning away much of their obligations, and they’d be getting a cut of £280,000 anyway, this would be a long way towards removing the tax completely. Given that the Tories are not telling us that we can cut overall taxes, that means that billions would have to be found somehow.

Alistair Darling has announced changes, which effectively mean that the £300,000 allowance is transferred to a widow(er). As no inheritance tax is liable on estates passed between husband and wife (or, I believe, civil partners), it means that when the remaining partner dies, the estate gets an allowance of £600,000. Fine if you’re married, a but annoying if you aren’t.

Skuds has an idea – rather than tax the estate, why not tax each inheritor according to how much they get? Lateral thinking there.

My feeling is that Inheritance Tax is fair – it’s no more unfair than any other taxation at least – although the quick increase in property values has caused people to worry that the middle classes might come under the cosh (and we can’t have that now, can we?). I think that it would make sense for either the main home to be exempt, or for the average house price to be a factor in determining the allowance (I quite like the idea of a formula rather than the Treasury every now and again picking an arbitrary number for allowances on tax).

Mind you, on a related note, it’s quite odd to hear the Tories complain about their policies being stolen. They nicked the idea of a flat rate for non-domiciles from the Lib Dems (and they attacked it as unworkable at the time).

Psephology

It’s been nearly a week, and I thought that I would look at the election results in Crawley in more detail, comparing with 2006 and 2004 (all out).

I am particularly interested in the overall trends, and I won’t produce the results for all 39 instances.

I’ll start Ward by Ward, and then go over the parties at the end.

Bewbush
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 193/216/275
2006 – Labour, maj 192
2007 – Labour, maj 374
A Safe Labour ward. The Labour vote is holding up or increasing. The Tories are slipping back a little. The Lib Dems are slipping back, and our Mr Khan is plugging away in last place

Broadfield N
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 99/261
2006 – Tory, maj 0
No elections in 2007. New ward in 2004. In theory a safe Labour area, was lost last year after a dead heat and drawing of lots

Broadfield S
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 22/52
2006 – Tory, maj 112
No elections in 2007 New ward in 2004. Surprisingly went Tory in 2004, and they strengthened their position last year, although the main losers in that were the Greens.

Furnace Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 155/318
2006 – Tory, maj 547
2007 – 2 Tory, maj 524/568
Tory ward, although was Labour until the late 1990s. Becoming much safer for the Tories now, although the Labour vote is holding, and the others are slipping back. The resignation of Mike Weatherley resulted in an extra seat coming up this year.

Gossops Green
2004 – 2 Tory, maj 33/47
2007 – Tory, maj 150
Marginal in 2004, when the Tories gained it. No real change in positions, Labour slightly down, Tories up a little since 2004, Lib Dems on pretty much the same.

Ifield
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 96/100/191
2006 – Tory, maj 21
2007 – Tory, maj 59
Marginal. Labour in 2004 by about 100 votes. Last year Tory gain by 21 votes. This year the Tories led by 59 votes. The only real noticeable trend other than that is that the BNP vote is going down

Langley Green
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 268/303/352
2006 – Labour, maj 406
2007 – Labour, maj 148
Safe Labour seat. Bucked the trend last year with an increased majority, only to become much closer this year. The Conservative candidate this year was a Sikh, and reportedly turnout among this group was high.

Maidenbower
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 682/744/779
2006 – Tory, maj 1132
2007 – Tory, maj 1215
Safe Tory seat. The Tory vote leapt up last year, and the Lib Dems overtook Labour. This year, Labour beat the Lib Dems to second place.

Northgate
2004 – 2 LibDem, maj 292/334
2006 – LibDem, maj 276
2007 – LibDem, maj 250
Liberal Democrat haven. Becoming less secure. Labour second, Tories third. The main trends are for the Lib Dems to bleed a few votes, the Tories challenged for second last year (14 votes behind), but have slipped back again. In 2006 a Socialist Labour candidate may have split the Labour vote. Turnout dipped overall this year.

Pound Hill N
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 778/795/831
2006 – Tory, maj 1280
2007 – Tory, maj 1001
Safe Tory. Labour second, and unusually the Lib Dems gained votes this year (perhaps because this time they had a local candidate, not a Seekings standing). The rest of the drop in Tory majority seems to be down to turnout, which makes sense as this was hardly a seat in question.

Pound Hill S and Worth
2004 – 3 Tory, maj 707/760/828
2006 – Tory, maj 1210
2007 – Tory, maj 1072
Safe Tory. Like PH North, the Tories walked it with a slight fall in turnout. The Lib Dems came second in 2006, but this year lost votes. Labour regained second place and were the only gainers.

Southgate
2004 – 3 Labour, maj 3/50/51
2006 – Tory, maj 198
2007 – Tory, maj 179
Marginal. The Tories won this seat in 2003 by 3 votes, probably helped by the Greens standing. Since 2004, the BNP have overtaken the Greens (but both of their votes are down quite a bit), with the Lib Dems in third. The Labour vote is consistently around 725. The Tories gained about 250 votes in 2006, and slipped back slightly this year.

Three Bridges
2004 – 1 Labour , 1 Tory
2007 – Tory, maj 356
A major Tory gain here. The Labour vote did not fall much, but the smaller parties lost more votes, with the Tories the only gainers. In 2004 the BNP stood and came 6th out of 8 (beating a Green and a Lib Dem). This year the English Democrats stood and narrowly beat the Green.

Tilgate
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 84/87
2007 – Tory, maj 355
Like Three Bridges, a major gain for the Tories. In fact, not only is the majority almost the same, but the Labour vote were exactly the same in both wards this year (549). However, unlike Three Bridges, Labour lost votes and the swing was much greater. In 2004 only the two main parties stood. In 2007 the Greens, Lib Dems and BNP put up candidates. The BNP came third here.

West Green
2004 – 2 Labour, maj 147/274
2006 – Labour, maj 117
Usually safe Labour. Turnout was low last year, and the Tory vote held up. The BNP came third, beating the Lib Dems and an Independent. No election this year.

Tories
A mixed year. In the core seats (those to the East of the London-Brighton line), they slipped back, but that is likely to be down to the inevitability of the results. In the seats they won last year, they pretty much held up. In what were thought to be the new ‘marginal’ seats, they achieved large swings. Whether they would have had the same if the seats had been contested last year, or whether the campaigning of this year also made a difference I can’t tell. The only odd trend was the boost to the vote in Langley Green, where I think communal voting came into play.

Labour
A bad year, but looking at it, not worse than last year. I am sure that there will be recriminations about Ifield, but there always are (even if they win). In the safe Tory and Labour wards, the general trend was up. In many places the vote held up, but needed to go up to win or hold seats. The main point of collapse was Tilgate. There, the vote was possibly split by other parties. Also, the Tory candidate was a prominent local church member, and had a lot of support from there. Our candidate was not local, and the branch lost key members in the past year (to old age).

Lib Dems
Overall, the trend is down. If it continues, Northgate could possibly come into play in future years. The only place where the vote increased was Pound Hill North, where the candidate was the only local standing.

Greens
In 2003 they arrived in force for the first time. The catalyst was the defection of Councillor Malcolm Liles from Labour, in protest at the Iraq war. In 2004 they put up quite a few candidates and achieved reasonably high votes. However, now they can’t beat the BNP or the English Democrats, let alone get close to any of the main parties. Most of their candidates are members of Malcolm’s family. Lowest poll was 35 in Northgate, highest was 185 in Furnace Green.

BNP
Still not to be discounted, their popularity is waning. Where they once got 400 votes, they get 300 or less. Where they stand for the first time, they do better (I think it’s the novelty factor), but they aren’t getting the over 15% share that they achieved last year. Ifield is their strongest ward, with 309 votes and 3rd place.

English Democrats
Brand new, arrived out of nowhere (or Harrow, it seems), and merely seem to have split the vote. They are made up of ex-UKIPers, which may mean that they stick around, but around here many of the UKIP members either drifted to the BNP or appear to have gone back to they Tory party. Beat the Greens, which seems to be no great challenge.

Far Left
No candidates from the Socialist Labour Party or Respect or any ‘Independant Socialists’ this year. Their absence may explain better results for Labour in Northgate and Bewbush.

Independents
Arshad Khan (officially of the ‘Justice Party’, but in no way connected to the Brum based party of that name, and a one-man-band in reality) wins the battle of the also-rans, beating Richard Symonds by 5 votes. Daniel Capstick-Bedson got 30 votes, the least of any candidate across the town. I think that Richard Symonds can take comfort from the splitting effect in Ifield, but overall the Independent vote is going down since 2004. I suspect that Khan’s increased vote in Bewbush may be a result of absence of Robin Burnham, or the presence of the Lib Dem candidate – who I hear is not a particularly popular gentleman.

Housing update

In the end, the Council decision went like this:

The Tories wanted to defer a ballot, but keep the process going (and this would mean starting the process of working out the costs again and hoping that they were right this time).

Labour wanted to stop the process, and not simply keep trying, as it is clear that tenants will not vote in favour. The Lib Dems supported this, and so the policy went through 18-16.

Afterwards, Labour leader Brenda Smith asked for a cross-party group which could really look at the Housing Department and look for areas where it could make savings without affecting service levels or the cost to the tenant. The Tories refused. I suspect that the Lib Dems would have agreed, especially as this mirrors comments made by Marcella Head.

Ignorant and Misinformed?

Duncan Crow (who you know I love dearly) today responded to a report in the local press that he had called tenants ‘ignorant and misinformed’. Apparently that was the last thing in his mind.

The question that immediately came to mind was whether anyone else is ‘ignorant and misinformed’ about the Housing issue.

For example, the Audit Commission, the TPAS (tenant’s panel) and now the Government Office of the South East have refused to endorse the transfer documentation. Why? Well, it seems that when they said in June that the finances were critical and we needed to get shot of council houses, they overstated the facts a little. The costs have gone up to £60M and now back down to £25M. The ‘deficit’ of £11M that they claimed would force lots of service cuts and increased charges/rents would then turn into a cushion of about £24M.

Back in June, the Tories chose to restart the process and try to shoe-horn it into 9 months with a new set of figures. In November they were warned that this might fail but plowed on regardless. The Lib Dems swallowed the propaganda and concentrated on the finer detail, and so the process rolled on, in the face of opposition from tenants and the Labour group.

A DVD costing £30,000 was sent out, which only 24% of tenants watched and was rendered innacurate one week before it was posted by the U-Turn on increased charges for ‘Lifeline’. More time and money will have to be spent on tidying up the mess and starting yet again and the Tories can only bleat about how it’s not their fault and answer direct questions with tedious waffle or ‘we will get back to you’ (which was the answer they gave to the same question in November).

‘Ignorant and Misinformed’? Duncan is right, it isn’t the tenants is it? Perhaps it’s the Tory Executive, including one Cllr Crow of Furnace Green.

Oh, and on another topic, Duncan Crow has been accused of being a’roundabout robber‘ and the Observer helpfully depicted him as he’d look in a stripey jersey and black mask. Tsk Tsk, naughty Observer.