Saturday, 24 September 2011

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Last evening I attended a public meeting at the Bell Hotel Inn concerning a potential referendum on the working party for a new Civic Centre proposed by a slight majority of the Town Council.

Originally, this meeting was billed as a Town Meeting, with the aim of calling a Parish Poll (referendum), the organisers of the meeting had contacted Mendip District Council, the Chairman of the Town Council.

To call a Town Meeting you have to follow a series of actions;

Place advertisements of the meetings in a public place with an Agenda. Not less than seven clear days, or, in a case falling within sub-paragraph (3) below, not less than fourteen clear days, before a parish meeting, public notice of the meeting shall be given, specifying the time and place of the intended meeting and the business to be transacted at the meeting, and signed by the person or persons convening the meeting.

Public notice of a parish meeting shall be given—
(a)by posting a notice of the meeting in some conspicuous place or places in the parish, and
(b)in such other manner, if any, as appears to the person or persons convening the meeting to be desirable for giving publicity to the meeting

A parish meeting shall not be held in [F29premises which at the time of the meeting may, by virtue of a premises licence or temporary event notice under the Licensing Act 2003, be used for the supply of alcohol (within the meaning of section 14 of that Act)] , except in cases where no other suitable room is available for such a meeting either free of charge or at a reasonable cost.

I had some concerns that some of the criteria had not been followed and so I had as Chairman of the Town Council to challenge whether this was a Town Meeting.

If I had of been content that it was a Town Meeting, I as Chairman would have legally chaired the meeting and my clerk would have minuted the meeting.

The reason why these matters of procedure are so important is that an incorrect calling of a Parish Poll, would be challenged by the Town Council. Mendip District Council if they had organised incurring expense on an invalid Poll and would be challengeable by the Town Council as improper expenditure and not capable of being reimbursed by the Town Council; thus leaving the District with unlawful expenditure which would be open to highlight at Audit.

So, I was left between a rock and a hard place.

I had to decide whether I deemed it a legally organised Town meeting.

I also knew that they're were enough people to call a Parish Poll at the meeting and that those people attending would consider I was blocking their aspirations to show the new Civic Centre at Park Road was an expense people did not want to incur.

Fortunately, the people at the meeting decided to hold another meeting within fourteen days, I thanked them for their understanding and appreciated their frustrations but I had to conduct my role as Chairman, whatever my personal thoughts were.

As the Town Council had not voted any money to investigate the Civic Hall project and the Audit Commission had written a report as Guidance for Local Councils, I assured the meeting that there was no rush to proceed with the call for a Poll last evening and they're was sufficient time, if enough electors wanted to pursue a Parish Poll.

I cannot see any way the civic centre can be built without the electors of Shepton agreeing to the project, this through a poll, the only question is the best time to hold the poll.

Is the best time to hold a Poll now? The advantage of this if the poll was successful rejecting the Civic Hall would stop the Town Council spending money and effort, as the Town Council has the potential of affordable premises.

Or is it better to wait to see if a viable plan for a Civic Hall ever sees the light of day before holding a Poll?

This question is not in my gift, however I will conduct my role as Chairman and the Town Council within the law and uphold the best traditions of the Shepton Mallet Town Council.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Where is the leadership?

I cannot help but think, where are all the great heavyweight political leaders gone? Normally we need not worry, but over the previous weeks we have seen an avalanche of economic data that suggests the economy is heading for recession.

Likewise across the Channel, we see an Europe of centre right politicians in Sarkozy and Merkel who cannot offer any solution to the Euro Crisis, it is to big for them, they seem unable to believe capitalism is failing, unwilling to make the right decisions and reinstate confidence in the markets.

The Little Ingerlanders, namely the Conservatives believe if they cut spending increase taxes for individuals whilst rewarding the big corporations with corporation tax cuts this will stimulate growth, yet the engine of our economy are small and middle sized companies their problems are getting credit to innovate, expand and invest in new plant and product, the Conservatives and little Vince have not tackled this issue.

Neither does Cameron or Osbourne show international economic diplomacy, they believe their failed economic approach will keep the UK insulated against the EuroZone, this miscalculation is as daft as their austerity plan. The European Union greatest success over it's life has seen the integration of markets and businesses, so if Europe goes down, whether we are in the Euro or not, we'll go down with them.

The Americans also seem incapable of agreeing a coherent plan, the Republicans seem to want to bring Obama down and if the American economy goes with him, then their purity has been preserved.

In 2008 Gordon Brown convinced the countries around the world to take action to save the banking sector from meltdown, confidence was restored to the markets, but then it was business as usual, banks carried on, banks to big to fail.

The centre right politics has failed, we need desperately for the centre left Social Democrats to stand up, we need a fundamental review of banking

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Just a trim Mr Osbourne

George Osbourne's favorite group the IMF has downgraded the growth figure for the UK economy to just 1.1% for this year and only 1.7% for the next financial year.

The gloomy outlook should make Chancellor George Osborne rethink his tough programme of spending cuts and tax increases for the many and tax cuts for big corporations, even the IMF who had previously given full backing to his austerity measures are now calling for a softening of Osbournes approach.

The Chancellor's deficit reduction plans have been challenged by business leaders, economists and opposition politicians in recent months as the economic outlook for the UK deteriorates.

The IMF said the UK will continue to struggle and advised that a slower pace of deficit reduction would be necessary were the economy to continue to expand less rapidly than expected.

So, even George Osbourne favorite financial group now supports action to support growth. The coalition government despite huge public sector cuts and tax increases still has £12billion structural deficit higher then they predicted, this will worsen if growth stays low.

The real issue here is despite all the pain, the CONDEM government will borrow the same or slightly more than Labour and next year Labour's plan would have seen borrowing fall, but if the IMF claim the budget deficit will be 1.4% higher under the CONDEMs.

The CONDEMs medicine isn't working, in the IMFs own words we are now facing a “lost decade” (the IMF’s words) and growth is being serially downgraded, we need a change of course and we need it now.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Revisionism and the utter useless

When the Conservatives try to revise history you understand it, like they conveniently forget they argued before the financial crash in 2007/08 for even weaker regulation of the financial sector and criticized the previous government for not spending enough.

This when they were in there "hug a hoodie" and wrapping themselves in environmental issues, you know Cameron and the husky dog.

All this gone now, now Austerity, rip up policies to promote growth and improve education of our young people. Choke of demand by increasing tax especially VAT and destroy jobs by front loading the public sector redundancies and then frightening people to lose confidence, this undoubtedly has been clever politic (blame Labour for everything and deny what you were saying at the same time)but it is lousy economics.

The Lib Dems are at it now; you the know the party that said no increase in Tuition fees, support Educational Maintenance Allowance; the party of no slamming the brakes on the economy and VAT increases; the party of no intervention into foreign civil wars.

My constituency MP Tessa Munt, you know the MP who has only rebelled once against the government, this on select committees, so no revolt on the economy or VAT rises, no revolt on Education, no revolt on the NHS, etc etc.

Why should the people of the Wells constituency vote Lib Dem, if you have an MP would supports a Conservative government, then vote conservative, why would you vote anything else, if you want an alternative, then vote for one.

So this week the Lib Dems meet for their Annual Conference, Cutter in Chief, Danny Alexander says the coalition will target tax evaders, the annual dusting off a populist policy for public consumption, but government has to be more, talking is fine in opposition, stop the con job, just get on with the job of stopping tax evasion, stop demoralising tax staff, stop making tax officers redundant and create a framework that allows tax efficient collection.

So now we have Sarah Teather, you know the government minister in the Tuition debate wouldn't speak to Skynews on her door step, is at it, rubbishing the previous government.

From the Polly Toynbee piece from the Guardian

"It's time to challenge Labour's wasted years. " Says Ms Teather lays claim to things Labour did - three free hours a day nursery for all three and four year olds, and deprived two year olds. She boasts of her pupil premium for poor children - yet the sum is less than all the programmes for deprived children she axed. She says it covers remedial reading but with no ringfenced cash it's still less than Labour's Every Child a Reader. She promises out of school clubs - but everywhere they are closing. Labour almost completed its extended schools programme with breakfast and homework clubs for all - many now shutting. She promises fairer school admissions, but Gove has relaxed the code and banned lotteries for places in oversubscribed schools, the fairest of all. She announces voluntary parenting classes yet Labour had them in most sure start children's centres - many now stopped. Her parenting classes will be "piloted in three or four areas" as if she never knew how well they did or how popular they were.

Whatever Labour's other failings, young children got universal free nurseries, 3,500 Sure Starts, child care credits and much more. The Teather technique is echoed in other speeches here: are these ministers ignorant - or just hoping everyone else is?

So whilst ordinary Lib Dem members are decent people, their leadership are in denial, the cock has crowed thrice and they've denied their previous election programme, all they have left is to attack Labour, they're souls are naked in front of Toryism, in 2015 we can rid ourselves of these people.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The One Million Pound Question

Something very local to Shepton.

If you had (or borrowed), a million pounds, what are Shepton Mallet's priorities?

Please discuss, I look forward to comments. What your Town Council should do?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The Fruits of Osbourne

After weeks of saying Manufacturing was slowing, services were slowing and constructions orders were falling, today we saw the fruits of George Osbourne's Labour, Unemployment rose by 80,000.

These job loses have been predicted, there was never the slightest prospect of a expansionary fiscal contraction in the depths of a once in a hundred years financial crisis.

It is the Young and women are paying the highest price, with the Youth unemployment rate of 20.8 per cent, the highest since 1992. The 18-24 employment rate (57.3 per cent) is the lowest since 1992

Austerity and the global slowdown are now crimping private sector job creation; in the last quarter, net job creation there slipped to 41,000. But public sector cuts are now gaining momentum, with 111,000 jobs lost in the last quarter and probably more to come

The Office for Budget Responsibility said unemployment would peak at 8.2 per cent, was over-optimistic; their other unemployment forecast, that the claimant count would peak at 1.54 million, has already been overtaken.

The cycle continues downward, more unemployed, low growth, so what does George Osbourne do know?

He says more of the same, with that there is no chance of an upturn any time soon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Pain has just begun

Today the Institute of Fiscal Studies reported that household incomes has fallen sharply 2010-11 saw the biggest fall in net household income since 1981.

The impact of public spending cuts and tax rises on UK household incomes will be felt for up to 10 years, as the worst effects of the recession are yet to be felt.

In the most recent financial year, earnings, state benefits and tax credits all fell in real terms.

This is a direct impact of the governments Austerity packages, they have cut demand by cancelling government projects, they chose to increase VAT to 20%, and cut benefits to low income families, they chose to reduce the public sector.

They chose to reward big business with corporation tax cuts, yet small businesses claim the reason why they cannot expand is the banking system refusing to lend money for business investment. Corporation Tax cuts will benefit Banks by £20 billion in this parliament.

We see our fuel costs rising dramatically, this because of lack of competition, the fuel companies behave more like a cartel, increasing diversity would offer a better deal for the consumer.

Like wise the banking system, we need a much more diverse banking system, we need the government to establish investment funds and innovation funds and invest in the new green technologies, only by economic growth can living standards will increase.

My eleven year old nephew told me "you know it is a matter of tax and not spending", I thought he gets it, the reason for our deficit is the falling off a cliff in tax revenues, if we do not grow the economy, boost the new economy and new industries creating new jobs, then the circle of lower tax, more cuts meaning more and more of the same.

Now of course the deficit cannot be ignored, but under Osbourne's Austerity plan we could borrow as much this year as last, so the cuts and tax rises have made no difference, it is time for a change of policy or a change of government.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Crisis on Housing

The BBC are reporting that Homelessness has increased by 17% over the last twelve months.

In my town the Citizens Advice Bureau are saying housing is the fastest growing problem, all aspects of housing, whether mortgage difficulties, private landlords lettings or homelessness, this is a real cause for concern.

The CAB also say, the housing problem is growing and has the real likelihood of getting much worse, the housing market is so weak, it makes no sense for lenders to foreclose on mortgage defaulters or private landlords to cash in on their investments, their is also a fear that cuts to housing benefit and other benefits and a stagnant wage market will lead to further cuts in household budgets.

The government is about to further attack the under thirty five year olds currently 25-34 year-olds can claim housing benefit based on the cost of renting a one-bedroom flat. Under changes proposed by the Coalition, from 2012 they will only be able to claim enough for a room in a shared house. This is grossly unfair, if you are young and single, you've paid tax but fall on hard times you'll get less benefit than a thirty six year old that has never worked, for example.

If under thirty five year olds get less income, their risk of homelessness increases greatly.

Under section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act it is easy for a landlord to evict a tenant;

Section 8

Rent is unpaid when the notice seeking possession is served, and at the time of the hearing for a Possession Order:

Rent is paid weekly or fortnightly and at least eight weeks' rent is owed.

Rent is paid monthly and at least two months' rent is owed.

Rent is paid quarterly and at least one quarter's rent is more than three months overdue.

Rent is paid yearly and at least three months' rent is more than three months overdue.

Ground 10

Rent which is lawfully due to the landlord has not been paid by the time the possession proceedings are started and was owed at the time the Notice seeking possession was served.

If a landlord has been offered money for rent by the tenant but has refused to take it, the tenant will have a defence in the possession proceedings.

Ground 11

The tenant has failed repeatedly to pay rent on time. There don't have to be rent arrears at the time possession proceedings started.

If a tenant makes themselves homeless by whatever means then local authorities can/will not rehouse.

I have reported the weakness of the construction industry, we have builders unemployed, we have a housing problem, we have a stagnant economy, we need a stimulus, it makes perfect sense to bring forward a plan to build affordable homes for people who need them.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Services gloom

After reporting the slowdown in the manufacturing and construction industries today we have seen further evidence of the UKs faltering economy with the service sector reporting the biggest slowdown since 2001 when there was a outbreak of foot and mouth. "Allied with soft manufacturing data and a slowdown in construction growth, the overall picture provided by the latest PMI surveys is one of a stuttering UK private sector," said Markit's senior economist, Paul Smith.

Today service sector figures are the second worse ever, merely above contraction rate, David Noble, chief executive of CIPS, described the drop in the services purchasing managers' index as "eye-watering". It sent the pound falling to a six-week low of $1.6103 against the dollar.

The governments austerity measures are eating into economic demand, and could push us towards a double-dip recession.

"The PMI suggests that economic growth in the third quarter of 2011 is unlikely to improve on the 0.2% seen in the three months to June, and a contraction in the final quarter looks a distinct possibility unless business and consumer confidence improve noticeably in coming months," Chris Williamson of Markit warned.

Angela Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said in response to today’s services index showing the biggest monthly fall for a decade:

“These figures add to a bleak picture for the UK economy, which has flatlined since last autumn’s spending review and the VAT rise.

“It's no wonder that even the Chancellor's former supporters, from the head of the IMF to the founder of the world’s biggest bond fund, are now warning of the dangers of cutting too far and too fast and urging a change of course.

“Our complacent Chancellor needs to realise that carrying on regardless with a plan that isn’t working is not a credible policy. We need leadership on the world stage to agree a global plan for growth and a more balanced deficit plan that puts jobs and growth first. To kick-start the economy the Government should temporarily cut VAT and use the money raised from a tax on bank bonuses to build thousands of affordable homes and get people off the dole and into work."

Friday, 2 September 2011

Not Building on Osbournomics

The Office for National Statistics reported that orders for the construction industry was 23% down on the same quarter a year ago, this fall is the sharpest fall since 1980. This fall in orders is truly shocking.

Areas in the south and west were hardest hit – with north London, Bristol and the Medway in Kent suffering some of the largest falls.

Employment in the construction sector has fallen for the last three months. The Construction sector is working with increasingly lower margins and confidence at its lowest for eight months.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said "While the purchasing managers' survey does at least indicate that construction activity is still expanding, it shows output growth slowing, incoming new business at a seven-month low, employment in the sector contracting at an increased rate, squeezed margins and business expectations deteriorating. Meanwhile, the data from the ONS is horrible. This bodes ill for output prospects in the near term at least."

It is time for the government to act. This spiral of stagnant growth has to be broken, it is time for action.

The Labour party has called for short-term tax cuts to promote growth and prevent the economy slipping back into recession.

The government needs to revisit it's cuts to infrastructure projects, whilst private sector housebuilding remains muted the government could use a windfall tax on bankers to fund public sector housing and a VAT cut to boost consumption this would boost demand for building retail outlets and shopping centres as these have almost ground to a halt. These would raise tax revenues and lower the deficit.