Saturday, 27 February 2010

How would Ofsted rate the Town Council?

Now the dust has settled on the recent Ofsted report in the infants school, and having suffered another dreadful meeting on Tuesday,I thought what if the Town Council faced a Ofsted style inspection how would it rate?

Well, at the risk of being reported to the standards board, I will attempt to give a flavour of the performance of the Town Council.

Shepton Town Council have 16 elected members 7 conservatives 4 independents 3 lib dems and 2 labour councillors.

In the next financial year the Town Council will spend £158,000 at a cost of £41.69 to a band d tax payer. The Cost of admin of the council is £54,339 or £16.38 . The cost of council property will cost £11256 or £3.39. Collett Park will cost the tax payer £41696 or £12.57. The Council also has partnership funds from CCTV, THi, CAB, TIC etc this costs £27919 or £8.41 . leaving £7800 in community grants plus miscellaneous items.

Community Leadership

You would assume that the Town Council would be the force for improvements in the Town, being it's civic leadership.

So whilst setting the Town Council's tax rate, you would of thought the Council might of been interested in what Sheptonians thought when raising the cash to fund various schemes.

The Town Council failed to do this, they never even contemplated doing so.

Again, when setting the council tax rate, you would of thought the Town Council would of been interested in what the key stakeholders in the town thought were key spending priorities, despite the regeneration holder (me) talking to those stakeholders and despite the community group accepting those proposals, the Conservative group and two uber conservative independents voted to sink these spending priorities.

The Town Council failed on working with key stakeholders.

So I can only report that the majority of councillors are not much interested in Sheptonians views or key stakeholders, in doing so they fail on community leadership.

Use of Public Money

When setting the Town Council budget and after consultation with the community, the Council should have key objectives, that the Council wants to achieve for the Town.

I believe they also have to evaluate of needs within Shepton, this evaluation will lead to spending commitments.

Clearly stating what the money is taken for and what it wants to deliver for the Town, so the community can judge if it is getting value for money. They should also test against other authorities and the market to evaluate the price of the services provided.

The Majority of the Council decides not to do this, hence they have no measure for value for money, on this bases they have failed in the use of public money.

Communicating with Shepton

The first sign of the lack of communicating with the community of this Conservative/Independent administration was to stopping the production of the council's newsletter.

The Council has a Website.

The Council is heavily dependent on the local news media for reporting local council business.

The Town Council could do much better with Communicating with the community.

Unlike Ofsted, only the community can demand a better, and the community can elect better local councillors, but if the community is happy with the Council then nothing will change.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Going on a dig

I attended the monthly meeting of Shepton 21 tonight.

The Shepton Horticultural Society will hold it's next meeting next Wednesday, with the guest speaker will be Guy Braga giving a talk on growing olives in Somerset.

Shepton 21 continues to look for a venue to hold a regular car boot sale.

Alan Stone told the meeting of a couple of interesting historical stories, the Shepton Local History Group are holding a Somerset film - mid Somerset show archive in the Academy on the 18 March, tickets are £5 and can be bought at the TIC 70 High Street. Secondly there is a new book, Fosseway - Britain and the Romans, with Peter Leach - archaeologists, who lead the dig at Fosse Lane, it's 96 pages, Alan says it's a good read, it costs £9.99 and again purchased at the TIC.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

community matters

What a lovely half term, family visited, so I gave the blog a miss, but I back.

Jane Sharp from the Mendip Council's economic team came to the community working party, committee, she told us about the information boards to be bought and put around the Town Centre, the Town Council have previously offered advice, some clearly not taken, it seemed to be a confused picture, they are to be directional with lots of town trail stuff, they need to have a clear focus.

The Market re-relaunch to be now 14 May, I again asked about the focus of market, seems a little fuzzy, seems the District Council just want as many stalls as possible, rather than building a identity for the new market.

I'm afraid the divorce between reality and our elected representatives continues a pace, the offender this time is our County Councillor, she says it's imperative that a pedestrian crossing should be installed at the Infants school in Waterloo Road, you'll be pleased to know the leader of the County Council also agrees and you'll be even happier to know our MP also agrees, so you would think they would tell us the timetable for this becoming reality, but surprise surprise no! but it is imperative! The really funny/sad thing is they have no money to repair damage around the Victorian fountain costing very little. So the £100K plus for the crossing should be interesting.

More seasoned readers will remember the same Conservative Councillor promised a pedestrian crossing in Charlton Rd by Whitstone school, she promised this would be done in 90 days, this was 984 days ago!

The Conservatives are trying to sell 1200 parcels of land in Shepton Mallet, I would suggest no one stands still for too long on council owned land, you may be sold. But seriously the Town needs community amenity land, surely we can not annexe every piece of land to be owned by private individuals.

The Town Clock moved a step further to be electrified, the community working group recommended a contractor.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Getting more remote

I read that Mendip District Council have moved their/our Housing Benefit and Council Tax Queries function to Coventry 0845 300 3352, this is going to cause confusion for claimants, people who claim these benefits are on extremely low incomes, delay in paying usually leads to threatening letters from housing associations and private landlords.

It is my understanding these are cost saving measures.

As I reported earlier in the week, I had a meeting to discuss sporting facilities in the town, the leisure officer advised that the Mendips sports directory is online on their website, so when I searched the site, the search engine took me to a page with sports directory and no download, after many minutes of frustration I gave up, what a hopeless useless website.

Earlier, I have written of Mendip Council reducing their cutting of amenity grass to 10 cuts a year, then we have the Audit Commission says the District are slow in processing planning applications, and not doing enough help businesses in the recent recession.

Every week, or so it seems, Mendip Council performance is poor, it's information to the public is weak, the question I have, When is the District Council going to recognise they need to improve?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

All things education

Everyone is no doubt aware of the disappointing headlines in the Shepton Mallet Journal concerning the recent OFSTED report conducted at Infant School in Waterloo Road.

It is somewhat ironic that today I attended a meeting to select candidates for interview for the new Headteacher at Whitstone School. The previous Headteacher at Whitstone was an excellent leader of the school, so it is imperative we selected an exceptional replacement.

As readers of this site will remember, I had the greatest pleasure in addressing the most successful year group in Whistone's history last November at their presentation evening, these young people started school when I first became a governor at the Infants School. So being able to celebrate with them was special.

It is clearly very difficult to comment on the Infants School Ofsted report as I have no contact with the school, having finished my governorship seven years ago.

It goes without saying that education achievement play a critical role in shaping the life chances of our young people, it is the single most important element that allows social mobility and allows greater life choices.

More generally education relates to people intellectual, emotional and moral development, which has implications for all aspects of life, from a sense of self and relationships within families to community and to a sense of civil society.

For these reasons it is critical that the current problems at the Infant School are resolved.

It is absolutely imperative that high quality leadership is in place, with personalised learning plans for every student that challenges and stimulates, that records each child's achievement. With everyone celebrating every child's achievement openly.

Clearly the school does many things well and are rated as 'good', the Safeguarding of children is rated good with children feeling safe within the school as is the Special Educational Needs. The teaching assistants are credited with working exceptionally hard to allow pupils to learn.

I would hate to think that any section of our community is stigmatised by the reporting of the Ofsted report, for me every child matters, where ever they live, who ever there parents are.

I have for some time believed that Shepton would be better served if we had a Primary School, this to replace the two Infant Schools and the Junior School.

In terms of budgets, if the same amount was spent as is today, more money could be redirected to children's education. This would be allowed by reducing the three headteachers and there deputies to be replaced by a smaller management team, that would attract a high quality headteacher as the salary and post would more attractive.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Sports Ground

Last evening after six months of trying I managed to get Mendip's leisure officer to a meeting with the Cricket Club and Town and District councillors, to discuss the provision of a new cricket ground.

The Shepton Mallet Cricket Club (SMCC)play at Whitstone School, however, this has a small square, small boundaries, little opportunity to develop cricket in the town and many difficulties associated with managing a club at the same time as school use. Shepton Mallet Cricket Club are grateful for the schools support.

The District Council officer offered good contact details for SMCC, it was made clear that the club needed to construct a development plan, the club thought this agreeable, but felt there was a need for councils to give a committment for help.

The discussion widened to sports provision in the Town and the SMCC thought it may be acceptable to share a facility.

I offered to arrange a conference of local sports (shepton mallet), without raising expectations but to learn, and assess the need for future sports infastracture and capacity building to develop sports in Shepton.

This will help everyone to understand the need for extra provision and how sports clubs and local authorities can work together to make a wish become a reality.

It is incredible the lack of information local councils hold on the Towns sports clubs, so the first step is to gather information and contact details of individual sports clubs. So I would be grateful if you could post any Shepton sports club details on the comment section of this website.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Planning news

Tonight's planning committee had a couple of issues that may of be of interest;
  • The Shepton Mallet Conservative Club want to insert a new shop front in Paul's Street to create a new entrence to the club, replace the flat roof with a pitched roof, and form accommodation in the roof space. The new shop front is similar to the ones installed in Town Street albeit with more styling. The snooker tables are to be placed in roof space, with committee rooms for meetings. The Conservative club also want a banner outside. The proposal seemed reasonable to me, but I asked that the banner should be removed as there are no such banners in Paul's Street or Commercial Road.
  • We Discussed the footpath diversion in the field below Princes Lodge, the Town Council objected to this diversion on the 9 December 2009, but this was informal consultation, so tonight we had the formal consultation, the Town Council reaffirmed their decision. The rights of way officer attended and confirmed the procedure for closure/diversion of footpaths.
  1. The landowner would approach Mendip whom manage this service for Somerset County Council.
  2. The Council would offer advice to the landowner.
  3. If the Council was happy that the proposed diversion of the footpath was acceptable, they would then conduct a consultation with the public.
  4. Notices will then be erected along the diverted footpath.
  5. The Council will negotiate with any objectors, but if resolution of the public complaint cannot be resolved the matter will be resolved by a planning officer.

Anyone who wants to make an observation on the diversion of the footpath by princes lodge has until the 19 February 2010, to Rights of Way officer, Mendip Council, Shepton Mallet.

Monday, 8 February 2010

From the CAB

Just finished wading through the paperwork from the candidates for the new Headteacher at Whitstone School, it looks like a high calibre of candidates have applied.

It looks like there is a way for Shepton workers to get fit.

The Primary Care trust's Shepton Mallet Health Trainer is now based in the Shepton Mallet Citizens Advice Bureau's. There is information on this service in the CAB office.

This is a free service and six sessions can be had.

You must telephone 0800 412 5502, you will then be put through to the local trainer.

This help is on offer to people who live in Shepton.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

No updating until Monday

Due to reading and evaluating the candidates for the new head teacher at Whitstone, I will not be updating this blog until Monday evening.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Silage anyone

I see Mendip District Council are to reduce the number of mowing cuts around the amenity grass areas in the Town to 10 cuts in the season, roughly this will mean the amenity grass that Mendip cut will be done once every three weeks.

In Shepton we are trying to improve the floral displays, but this will be undermined by copious amounts of grass scattered like silage.

Again, the Audit Commission stated that Mendip does not meet minimum standards in working with their partners, Conservative controlled Mendip should have discussed the reduction in grounds maintenance first with the Town Council, but due to their arrogance or incompetence, the Town Council were unaware of any proposal and have no money budgeted to do extra.

Our only hope left is a scorching summer, leaving the grass baked up and no grass to cut, this a sorry state of local government.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Looking Blooming Good

Just a brief update on this years flower displays.

There was a meeting this evening to discuss the way forward, this years displays should be much different, with the planters being in different locations to try and maximise the floral impact.

Hopefully there will some exciting news about the stone planter in Town Street, something that will have real presence.

There is a hope to unclutter the Market Place and use a lot of hanging baskets to make a dramatic burst of colour, with mauve, purple, pinks and silvers to dominate the area.

The changing sites of the planters should help draw people eyes into Town centre.

The other major improvement should be the entrances to the Town with the removal of the wood tubs with larger planters installed to give a greater depth of colour.

So, in the coming couple of months there is a lot of work to do, but weather permitting this years flower display in the Town, should be blooming good.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Changes to the website

I have decided to change the content of my web page, I intend to keep this page for my councillor activity and Shepton Mallet community activity, I have created a new blog, for my more general political writing.

I hope will be agreeable for the people who read this page.

Shepton Mallet Horticultural Group

Tonight the monthly meeting of the Shepton Mallet Horticultural Group met, at Kilver Court, I had the dubious honour of speaking about my 27 years of work at the Kilver Court Gardens.

This Group was formed from the Shepton 21 initiative for the older persons.

The group are bursting with ideas, and have speakers lined up to talk about growing Olives, talking about carnivorous plants and bonsai's.

The group also are looking to go on visits.

The future is bright the future is gardening.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Another day another GAFFE

Boy Georgie Osbourne is at it again.

Today, he claimed support for the Conservatives by Lord Stern, but within minutes of George Osbourne making the claim, Lord Stern had stated that he had not agreed to be an adviser to any political party.

So that clear then!

Then we have William Haque claiming no international support for the Tobin Tax, but the French and German governments and the President of the European Commission have given strong support for such a transaction tax.

Good to see the Conservatives keeping up with events.

Are you being Served

This evenings Service Committee discussed a few items I would like to report.

In Collett Park it would appear one of the paths in the picnic area has become dangerous and will be temporarily closed, I asked the clerk to bring a report with costings to replace to the next council meeting for a decision.

The Collett Park festival will be held on Saturday 12 June 2010, the theme of this year festival will be the 40th anniversary of st Paul's School.

The Town Council will spend £324 on the Shepton Mallet Town flags, so we can fly them every day, I can think of better things to spend our money on, so I voted against!

I have asked for a report to be brought to the next Town Council meeting on the costings for a seat and rubbish bin for the bus shelter in Rectory Road, this is much needed.

Finally, the Town Council has not been a Quality Parish for three years, after not reapplying, not consulting with the people of Shepton. This Quality status was meant for Parish and Principal authorities, Mendip Council, to work together better, looking to develop services, Mendip failed to issue a Quality Charter, in fact they didn't even recognise the Town Council's achievement in the award.

This unsurprising as the Mendip Council did not meet a minimum standard working with partners, I reported this earlier, as judged by the Audit Commission.
So I asked for the Shepton Mallet Town Council not to use the Quality Status logo, the Council agreed, this a sad indictment of the failure of the current Conservative with support of two Independents Council.

Monday, 1 February 2010