Friday, 31 December 2010

1500 and not out

Photographs kindly supplied by Garfield Kennedy.

Your Town Councillors and district councillor Garfield Kennedy was out this morning collecting signatories to help save the Library, we collected a very good 1500 signatories, whilst people were extremely busy, they seemed extremely happy to stop and sign our petition.

The message is clear. People value our Libaries. It is also gratifying that people seemed pleased we were out collecting signatories. I would say New Years Eve is not the greatest time to be asking people for their time outside a supermarket, but Thank You for everyone who spared us the time, together we can make the case for a properly funded Library here in Shepton.

If you would like to sign the petition or want to help see link below.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

The end of the year

I began the year talking about the last Labour governments attempts to keep people in jobs with the various schemes and strategies.

This bore fruit in the middle to late part of the year, with unemployment falling, but since the general election and austerity measures biting there are signs of unemployment starting to rise again.

The Town Council has staggered on for another year, directionless alone, The Town Council surrendered the Quality Status standard as for the previous three years the council never produced newsletters or communicated with it's parish, a qualifying standard, but those cheeky Tories didn't remove it from our letterheads, until they were reminded that they haven't met the standard. In the last couple of months talking about our budget, it's seemed like living in a parallel universe, County and District Council slashing and burning services and from the Town Council ivory tower, were talking about yellow lining in West Shepton and Red telephone boxes. Sublime.

In March we planted a tree in remembrance of Brian White the former Town Clerk, a truly likable and knowledgeable man who is sadly missed.

I attended the interviews for a new headteacher at Whitstone. We had a number of talented applicants, but Gill Rennard had an exceptional presentation and interviewed very well and Shepton is lucky to have secured her services.

The General Election was a huge personal disappointment, the first I had not fought in the Wells Constituency, it was fought in the backdrop of the deepest recession for generations, for all Gordon Brown's failings, history will be kinder to him than popular opinion of today. I cannot conceive the damage that Osbourne would of done, no bailout of Northern Rock, austerity even earlier. OUCH.

In Shepton West we had elections in May, June and July, I stood for Labour in the Shepton West Mendip by election, Ashley Taylor the Conservatives expulsion for non attendance, The new politics has been exposed to the sweet mid somerset air, we have seen five months of barely covered anger between local Conservatives and Lib Dems, the new Lib Dem councillor seemingly able to wind up the local Tories at every post, why do the local cons have no sense perspective or of irony? Can this be because of their need to control every moment of council life. Tragic.

It's slightly ironic that the 30 year rule documents are released and Mrs T's economic experiment was running into trouble in 1980, the period of my political education, now tell me the importance of history.

The coming year will see the implementation of the cuts agenda, the cuts we know about and the cuts we are unaware, the privatisation agenda for the NHS, Councils given the freedom to slash and burn local services.

The interesting point is whether the private sector jobs promised by Osbourne materialise, whether you turn public sector jobs off to be replaced by turning private sector jobs on.

And whether you can take billions of pounds out of the economy through 300/400,000's of jobs, wages and cuts to benefits and increase VAT and this will lead to less or more spending.

I suspect good times might be rationed to those who have and those who haven't, well 2011 is going to be a very tough year.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Library meeting

I met with a number of Town Councillors today to discuss further our response to the County Council's proposal to close our Library here in Shepton.

We have decided to try and arrange a delegation of representatives from the Towns threatened by closure of libraries to Eric Pickles. We want to ask about the legality of these closures under The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, also about double taxation of those Towns asked to pay to keep their libraries open.

This Friday Town Councillors will be out in the Town collecting signatures on the petition to ask the County Council to review this decision to close our library.

The best solution will be for the County Council to reconsider their policy. The first step is for everyone who believes the closure of the library is wrong is to sign the petition and then get their loved ones and friends to do the same.

In the new year we will be organising meetings with stakeholders to try and discover further facts, we will then have a public meeting to look at the options open to Shepton.

It is so important that everyone who wants to get involved in the fight to save our Library is given the opportunity to do so, our library is worth fighting for!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone. I wish everyone a peaceful and happy Christmas.
The challenges for 2011 will be many, more of that later.
It is a great time to reflect on those who are much worse off than ourselves, whether our brave military personnel serving in foreign fields.
Those people whom are living in desperate situations.
Material things are not everything. we sometimes forget.
Seasonal greetings.
Hope to return in 2011.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lighting up the winter sky

Tuesday night and here in Shepton we were treated to the lantern parade from Collett Park to the Market Place, with the fantastic drumming band, electrifying the atmosphere, a real treat.
Well done to all those involved.

Monday, 20 December 2010


This evening I had a telephone call from the YES AV referendum campaign, asking me to take part in the campaign to change the electoral system.

A cheerful young lady, I told her at this point I could not support the campaign, why would I support an electoral system that is not proportional?

She told me this was the first stage in the process, I said it felt more like a grubby little deal for Lib Dems to get sell out in government!

She said the Yes campaign would contact me later in the new year.

After Fridays photo shoot with other councillors and public 'Save our Library', I awaited notification of change of agenda for the closed Community Development meeting tomorrow evening, to include the Shepton Library on the agenda, so after lunch I put in a request for the Library to be placed on for discussion as late business, I've yet to get a response.

The new year will see the cuts details become so much clearer, I for one believe some services are worth fighting for; services for young people, housing and educational achievement are very important, with so little time, my time will be placed defending public services rather than a none proportional voting system.

The next question how will I vote in the referendum? Good question!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Politics of cuts

Now the spectre of cuts has become reality here in Somerset, it is interesting to see how everyone reacts to these cuts.

Let's start with the Conservatives, Eric Pickles he changes the language and definition of the grants to local government, 'spending power' is the new language, a formula that has taken local councillors officers much time to unpick, this made up of the old rate support grant, reserves, council tax collection, NHS care budgets to name a few.

Even the local Conservatives are angry by sleight of hand of Eric Pickles. Local Conservatives have a choice they can disassociate themselves from their Conservative betters like Mr Shapps, housing minister who says there are 'no excuses to cuts to front line services' (BBC website) or they can agree up to them.

The Lib Dems coalition partners, we are seeing a real split between local activists and the leading Lib Dems, in the independent newspaper we are seeing Council leaders like Cllr Kemp of Liverpool calling for his leader Nick Clegg to 'rein in' Pickles and Shapps and calling them 'Laural and Hardy', but a spokesman for Nick Clegg has told the Independent these are NOT the views of the Liberal Democrats in government.

These cuts to local government are front loaded to take place in the first two years of the coalition government.

Cllr Kemp says the governments in general but specifically Pickles and Shapps 'Their behaviour is a disgrace, they don't know how serious the situation is they created by getting brownie points by front loading or deliberately trying to distract attention from the problems they have created'. The problem for Cllr Kemp is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Daniel Alexander is the holder of the purse, so all this would have been agreed with him.

Again it time for the Lib Dems to disassociate themselves with these large front loaded cuts to local authorities.

These are the choices made with cutting harder and faster than Labour had stated, and to be fair before the election the Lib Dems, the direct outcome of these front loaded cuts are loss of services, jobs and economic spending power in our local communities.

As a Labour councillor, I will work with everyone to campaign against these cuts or to mitigate the impact of these cuts.

For what it is worth I like Laurel and Hardy, Pickles and Shapps are more likely to cause indigestion.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Save our Services

Today the Town, showed that we want to save our library.
The level of cuts to our local services are extraordinary, they keep coming, like un-peeling an onion!
On another forum I have asked where is our County Councillor? This is the time we need their knowledge, there is no way we can save every service being cut, it's simply unreasonable to do so.
As a Town Councillor I have looked at the Town Council budget, I have earmarked savings that could be raised, this could help offset some cuts.
But the choices will be unpalatable, mitigating nothing more.
What is required is a comprehensive picture, but are Conservative councillors going to tell us all the cuts they are making to Shepton residents?
Unless they do, we are firefighting in the dark.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The blackening sky

Today we have received notice that the Shepton Mallet Library is under threat of closure from the County Council, the Library is a community resource that is used by young and old alike, my family use it for books and for computer skills, this giving confidence and improvements to our quality of life.

Libraries offer the joy of self learning, an invaluable community resource, that has been on Shepton's High Street for decades.

The County Council does not even intend to offer a consultation meeting in Shepton, the nearest meeting will be in Glastonbury, see details in the link to the consultation document link.

I attended the Mendip Council cabinet meeting this evening, this to discover the level of cuts required for Mendip to balance their books.

This year Mendip will have to cut more than 14.8% to balance their books for the next financial year, it looks like it is going to take up to February for the administration to set a balanced budget.

The Arts budget will be removed the voluntary sector grant will be halved, significant redundancies amongst the staff, next year will see no rest bite from these cuts as the cuts are to be front loaded into the first couple of years.

I genuinely cannot see the logic in three tier local government, how the Conservatives must regret their campaign to keep District and County Councils, both councils are now slicing services, still having senior and middle managers still having to many overheads.

These cuts in services are like an onion, they are continual evolving;
  • 10 PCSO being cut in Somerset
  • 75% cut to youth services
  • 50% cut to bus subsidy
  • £80 increase in the County bus ticket for 16-18yr olds
  • 100% cut in Arts budgets
  • there are other cuts that will become open in the coming period

The Mendip Council leader Harvey Siggs was not impressed with his Conservative Secretary of State Eric Pickles, and his sleight of hand when announcing the cuts to rate support grant to Mendip, other councillors said they were 'standing on the obis' others said 'the shelves are bare', Harvey Siggs said he was upset that neither Lib Dem MPs was there at the meeting to support his Conservative administration. Sadly Harvey I think you're on your own!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A quite planning meeting

Tonight the planning committee met, there were a few plans; a none controversial conservatory; the relocation of two bunded oil storage tanks on a concrete base, the only issue was making sure of odour protection.

There were two more controversial planning applications;

  1. 49 Compton Road - the demolition of existing dwelling and erection of 6 dwellings with access and parking. I was unhappy with this application, this application is over developing this site, I felt it was out of character with the location and far too much garden was taken by this development. The planning committee opposed this application on the grounds above, so over to Mendip Council.
  2. Domino's pizza - unit 7 Retail Park at Townsend - This was essentially a change of planning category - to permit food in this unit. I argued that do we need another pizza style shop in the Town, a national retailer that is ruthless in terms of advertising and promotion. Mendip did change away from food as this unit was used as the disabled shop, I argued this unit should be further advertised for none food use, sadly the planning committee did not support my proposal and are recommending approval, so over to Mendip Council.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Only one in four

There is a feeling that the coalition government is in to much of a hurry to make changes, with to many announcements uncosted or has insufficient detailed information attached.

In today's Independent on Sunday, there is a claim that only one in four students will pay off their tuition fees, with a best case scenario of half paying them off.

This must have very clear implications for the sustainability of this new scheme for students and universities alike.

It would appear that the coalition government are to borrow an additional £5.6 billion by 2015 to pay for the new tuition fees scheme, it is claimed high earning graduates will pay these loans, but the Independents accountant claims because of interest and inflation, groups such as teachers will never pay off the capital.

These new tuition fees, increasingly sees the state withdrawing it's financial support for tuition and placing it firmly on students, yet Employers benefit from educated students, Government benefit from educated students through higher taxes, communities benefit from degree educated students and of course the students benefit themselves, I'm not sure the coalition government has got the balance of payment for the cost of fees right.

The next debate is the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, this allows poorer young people to stay on to take A Levels, and to qualify for university, if we are genuinely interested in greater participation, cutting this allowance makes no sense.

Friday, 10 December 2010

A little tighter

The 2010 Annual survey of hours and earnings has been released by the Office for National Statistics, this shows that the median income has dropped by 0.4% this year from £21310 to £21221, if you consider the RPI is 5.4% from April 09 to April 10 then those people on average earners are being squeezed.

Inflation for low to middle earners has been particularly high this year with larger increases in the cost food and fuel which takes a higher proportional of their income, this with greater job insecurity and increasing part time working in this group.

There seems to little hope of an improved situation for the low to middle earners with the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) recent report where they have downgraded the levels of growth for the next three years.

The OBR says unemployment will continue to grow to 8% next year, this will mean more job insecurity and more downward pressure on wages with less money to spend in our local economy.

The OBR believes the economy in terms of employment will not be back to where it was in 2008 at the beginning of the recession until well beyond 2015.

The OBR have stated that their growth predictions are uncertain, only the Bank of England are offering higher growth predictions than the OBR, the OECD are much less optimistic about growth for next year.

In the new year we have the 2.5% increase in VAT to 20% to look forward to, with 3 to 400000 of job losses in the public services and we have local government cuts that will take well paid jobs out of our local communities.

The Austerity packages will take growth out of the economy, but "you shouldn't slam the brakes on when the economy is barely growing, if you do you create more joblessness you create higher costs onto the state, the deficit goes up even further and the pain of dealing with it is even greater. So it's completely irrational." (Nick Clegg 1.5.2010)

So 2011 will be a little tighter.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Tuition Fees

Today the coalition government won the vote in parliament to increase tuition fees to a maximum of £9000.
The Wells Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt abstained according to the Guardian newspaper
Nick Clegg voted in favour of the increase.
So much for a pledge!
The Education Maintenance Allowance is being cut, a multi union day of action is planned for the 13 December, this cut of the EMA is a further attack on young peoples opportunity.

Monday, 6 December 2010

And Justice for All

I attended the quarterly CAB management meeting this evening, this week being an exceptionally busy week.

The meeting was extremely interesting, with further evidence of the mirage of the Big Society and the real struggle people are living with here in rural Somerset.

The CAB in Shepton has seen a 10% increase in new clients in the previous eight months, this equates to 721 people/families. These increases about 60% (800 cases a yr)are increasing in debt problems and 35% (300 cases a yr)are employment problems. Shepton bureau are now receiving more enquires than Wells, this a fairly new phenomenon.

This year Shepton's CAB has received money for Additional Hours this to fund Wednesday opening, this will cease at the end of this financial year, due to the removal of this funding stream.

The funding for the Mendip Advocacy scheme that gives advice to those people with mental health issues will cease at the end of this financial yr, this due to the funding stream drying up, the CAB will try to find other funding streams, but if this unsuccessful, then these vulnerable people will have to come to the CABs or through other carers.

The CABs offer Community Legal Advice, this to offer people with legal advice on debt, welfare benefits and housing advice, this in partnership with BANES CAB and Will Rolt Solicitors, this took the Mendip CAB a lot of time and much hard work, for the benefit of local people who needs to access the law.

Sadly this service will be axed in the next 12 - 18 months, along with legal aid for family and domestic violence and homelessness, more cuts that hurt the most vulnerable people in our big society.

The CAB awaits the next three year funding from the County and District councils.

Despite all these cuts to various projects the CAB will continue to offer a tremendous service.

I would recommend any worker not in a trade union to join one, they offer legal support, even if your employer won't recognise them, they have solicitors to take an employer who over step the law to an employment tribunal.

Tomorrow, I have a Town Council meeting and a Whitstone governors meeting.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Santa came to Town

Yes, it is true father Christmas came to Shepton with his trusty companion for the Christmas light switching on and celebration of the BBCs Turn Back Time.

The chamber of commerce and the Town Council continue to fund the Christmas lights, I believe you have to go a long way to beat our Christmas lights.

The evening ceremony was children singing, speeches by the BBC and Simon the Ironmonger came to help the carnival queen switch the Christmas tree lights on.

The rain held off and the Market Place was full of Sheptonians, so three cheers to the Legacy group for the organisation of the event.

So the 1970s will be the next decade to be remembered on our High Street, what a decade that was!

I remember the High Street redevelopment, (just), there was a nice collection of photographs on display today.

The end of the decade was the end of the post war consensus on economic management, to more free markets and less welfare state.