Wednesday, 16 October 2013


I had the very real pleasure to talk to the Somerton and Frome Labour Party tonight about my role in the Mendip District Council.

It was a pleasure to follow the report from the Labour Conference. The representative gave an excellent report.

It is so obvious that housing is a key priority for local people, I outlined the changes in government policy and the housing strategy adopted by Mendip Council.

I really struggle to understand how this government's policy on housing is anything other than short-sighted ill thought out policy.

The affordability of housing is a key issue.

It is clear that housing is a key policy in family life, a public health policy and for safe secure communities.

So how can setting rates of social housing at 80% of market rents couple his with short term tenancies and with very few new new social homes being built, couple this with a housing boom that affects affordability then far from a rebalanced housing sector the government has failed to make housing affordable, a key cost of living cost.

There is a definite requirement to licence and has an accreditation scheme for private landlords.

Also councils should borrow money to build council houses once again, direct action to tackle the housing shortage.

I also detailed the social problems that the governments welfare reforms? I am seeing many issues presenting themselves to me as a councillor from the Bedroom tax through to indebtedness from increased costs of council tax increases.

Nationally we are seeing increasing numbers of people turning to food banks with 356,000 people receiving emergency food. Labour members are looking into he local situation.

It is good to see the Labour Party is looking at policies to tackle payday lenders and promoting credit unions.

I also advised the Labour Party that I have questioned the Conservative leader of Mendip Council about the lack of gender balance of the cabinet, can it be justifiable that in 2013 no female councillor is represented at the key board of he Council?

Also I told Labour Party members of my opinion that is was unacceptable to raise councillor allowances at a time of a cost of living crisis, I am even opposed to reviewing allowances. I personally give 14% of my allowance to community groups. I cannot think it acceptable not to do so.

I have agreed to visit the Somerton and Frome Labour Party at each of heir meeting to report MDC matters.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Choices choices

Monday evening we held the monthly Mendip Council scrutiny committee meeting.

The more I attend council meetings the more I fear councils are out of touch with the world I occupy.

We are told the county council will have to make £105 million of cuts over the next four years, this with the Tories promises of no council tax increases. One tory said there was more fat to be trimmed, but essentially they want to move services in the voluntary sector, they want to structure of local government as a funding centre to fund services run by others, this with the consequence of poor services for ordinary people and the wealthy can buy the services they need.

The county plan makes statements on improvements to education in the county yet the council wants to rationalise children's centres with likely voluntary input, Academies competing for students, so less collaboration, schools poaching children from school catchment areas and making it harder to plan decent education.

I asked about when contracts are to be awarded should they not insists that a living wage and decent contractual arrangements be made.

We know the vulnerable children services had a poor ofsted report outlining poor leadership.

The infrastructure of our county is poor, the roads are disintegrating, the bus services are poor and the digital broadband is also poor for too many communities. Yet the county say they want to create a strong economy, without the infrastructure building a strong economy will be difficult.

It is my belief the county council needs to honest about what they can achieve and this should be independently verifiable, too many reports have too many words and not enough progress to build better economies, deliver good public services and creating a more equal society.

Without a clear aim, any county plan is a report to sit on a shelf.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


With the District Council trying to submit it Local Plan, the issue of housing is at he top of local discussion.

Last month the District Council produced it's three year housing strategy document for the next here year.

I have very real concerns over this three year strategy, the document talks about the opportunity to have a decent home, yet, any strategy should be providing decent homes for all.

Mendip Council has plans to provide 120 socially rented units per year for he next three years.

I have real concerns that the Council is far to relaxed with their relationship to private landlords, I think it is interesting that MDC licences taxis, this includes regular inspections of cabs and drivers providing evidence of good health, yet the very basic need of private rented housing, they have vague standards, surely every private rented home should have as a minimum of double glazing with energy efficient homes, with listed standards of management and accreditation.

The provision of socially rented housing is insufficient to meet the need and insufficient protection for private tenants.

This in the context of low paid insecure work and high levels of personal debt.

It has been suggested as the economic will come at some point, the level of mortgage repossession are likely to increase, if his happens then there will be more pressure on a rented sector that is becoming more expensive.

The national governments policy's are also making the situation worse, charging 80% of the market rent and short term tenancies as the norm, this with the bedroom tax and a minimum of 20% payment of council tax, the District Council housing strategy looks increasingly complacent in the face of huge housing challenges.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

This weekend I did my sponsored bike ride in aid of Somerset Churches and Chapels and the Shepton Mallet Skate Park. I would like to thank for all the sponsorship that people gave this will add to the funds of the two groups.

I had the good fortune to ride with a group from Kilmerston, they are raising money for their church. I love looking at churches, they are oar inspiring buildings, the quality of the buildings and the features contained within them are magnificent. Although you do realise that the cost of maintenance is high and continuous.

The beauty of the landscape is breathtaking, with hills and fields, the reservoir with the boats and the magnificent houses in pretty villages, this a rural idyll.

Yet, this picture box scene, is this to lived in by those with deep pockets, large cars and the access to wealth to buy the services they need.?

Governments talk about a great deal about supporting rural Britain, yet the proposed sell off off of the Post Office is a classic anti rural community policy.

There is no doubt that the postal services within the urban areas is profitable and easy to provide, yet rural communities, little hamlets and villages in the middle of nowhere are more difficult and costly to provide for.

The universal  service will be secured no doubt, but what kind a service; once or twice a week deliveries?

These services are not nicety's they are services that make rural economies work, electronic media is fine, but how many rural communities have fibre fast telecommunications? So the cost will increase or the service will rationalise, either way not good for a rural community.

The loss of bus services again hinder rural communities, the notion that only profitable routes should be supported is anti to public service, in many places bus services can be called less than basic.

There is no doubt our rural settlements are increasingly becoming gentrified, with the wealthy buying their piece of paradise and where are the small housing schemes for the aspiring young who wish to stay in their own communities?

Under the beauty of our rural idyll, the hidden problems of urban Britain remain, maybe just a little better hidden.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Must do better

I have somewhat neglected this blog since the May elections, the simple message to myself is that, I must do better.

Since my election to MDC in May, I have been allowed to join the Scrutiny committee. This is a interesting committee and in the three months I have served, several interesting items have been discussed.

The District Council have set up a new licensing arrangement for taxis and the housing strategy for he next three years.

Last week I attended the planning meeting to speak against the proposed use of Hitchen Lane for access for 10 four bedroom development on the disused railway line, my objections were that Hitchen lane is an unsuitable access, this application would landlocked another development opportunity, the development would affect the strawberry way cycle track and there is a breeding colony of slow worms and I was not convinced they would be protected.

The MDC Planning board refused the application.

On Tuesday the Town council recommended refusal for the unwelcome Redrow planning application off the Old Wells Road, it is clear this is opportunistic and speculative.

MDC inability to support a sufficiently large planning application land bank has allowed speculative planning applications to be considered as if the land contained within the emerging local plan, this was used by the planning inspector who works for the Secretary of State, if you were cynical you might say the government wants more building as they have failed to rebalance the economy and the last chance for growth is housing. The government are offering councils little support.

The town council also supported a youth council and appointed Susan Gibbs as the link councillor.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Thanks everyone

I've just done my thank you letters to all the people that helped me, the Shepton Mallet Labour Party candidate, win the Shepton west District Council by-election and a very good showing in the county council elections.

Through my blog, I would like to thank all those people who voted for me, it is the first time in 10 years Labour will be represented at Mendip, this the first step in Labour's long haul back after the 2003 defeat.

Like I said in my campaign, my first duty will be to work hard and do my very best for this great town.

The campaign was extremely hard work, at the count most candidates looked very tired and physically lame.

It will take a couple of days to review the elections, so I do not intend to do more today then to say Thank You.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

What disarray

Tonight was the Annual Town Meeting this the meeting where the chairman of the Council reports to the community of the successes of the previous year.

What a wonderful start, we were locked out of the meeting for half an hour, what anecdote of the previous year. 

The meeting started with a report of the new Neighbourhood plan, this one of the positives of the Town council years, this opportunity to explain the plan was delivered in a rather defensive mode, with rather unpleasant discussions and when I tried to raise a point about the prioritisation from the public consultation and the community buy in from the consultation, the Chairman did not want to let me speak, in fact I was made to feel my presence was not required.

These discussions should not distract from the importance of the Neighbourhood plan and the councillors have distributed leaflets to townspeople to get involved.

Then we came to adopting the minutes of the previous meeting last year, members of the public did not have copies of the minutes, one member of the public told the annual meeting this was against standing orders, one councillor then tried to make the point about the previous clerk and the way he left the Council and then total pandemonium took place, the councillor jumped up and walked to the front of the meeting to make his speech, Conservative members walked out, the spouse of the clerk called the police, she then rejoined the meeting.

This led another member of the public to make a speech about the utter shambles the meeting had turned into, it was agreed that the clerk should read the minutes.

The meeting at that point regained a little dignity, with the Chairman leading thanks to those councillors who had worked for the Council, with my efforts on the Collett park contract was thanked, which I appreciated.

Then we moved to public forum, where further discussion of the ending of the previous clerk employment, the chairman made a long speech outlining how we had arrived at the current state of affairs, closure of the date for applications for the clerk and admin assistant close on Wednesday.

There was discussions about the hospital and I asked about the new NHS leader who said hospitals should shrink or close with community care in the community the best way forward and I asked if this was discussed in the working group, I'm not sure councillor Champion understood the point I was making, but he say the hospital was important to our Town, with hearty hear hear from the public.

Some discussion about a councillor who wrote a letter to the press about pot holes and grass cutting, the councillor did not respond.

As we were leaving on the pavement in Commercial road a policeman came towards us, I advised him that the meeting was over and the best thing he could do was have a cup of tea as the event was over, at this the Chairman and his wife stopped the policeman to tell of the councillors behaviour, a conversation between the Chairman and Policeman ensued with the councillor offered the chairman's job next year by another councillor at this the Chairman and the councillor was advised to go home by the policeman, I walked away feeling we had hit a new low, what disarray!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Campaign report two

The campaign continues a pace.

What is coming across from talking to people on the doorstep is that people are unhappy with their councils and they feel Shepton is neglected.

I never understand why Shepton has such poor public transport, why is it Shepton is the only Mendip Town not to have direct bus services to the northern cities of Bath and Bristol?  We have a population of 10,000 people, this neglect must stop. There is a solution of redirecting a bus service and this needs to be done.

It is also clear the neglect in our Town centre needs attention, action needs to be taken in the regard to the derelict buildings, the bags of rubbish, this made worse by poor planning decisions needs to be remedied, fly tipping is a real problem and needs urgent action. The Council spends thousands of pounds funding CCTV, it's time this system was used to catch the perpetrators.

Your Councils need to work to help develop business and help people to find employment, it is clear that all layers of government must help the growth in our economy, whether this is through business support or use of local companies or better bus services to access work.

Funnily I came across the latest Lib Dem leaflet, I see they are complaining about the increase in council tax because of the reclassification by government of the average band D grant. Two things to say about this; 1. The Lib Dems accepted the local government settlement, Tessa Munt has been loyal to the CONDEM government on 99% of the time she attends voting on every 4 out of 5 votes, 2. The Libs Dems supported a 2% increase at the Town Council which would of made the situation worse. I voted for a freeze in Council Tax.

The good old Lib Dems can't be honest about the length of time a candidate has lived in Shepton now being disingenuous about Tax, the same old Lib Dems say anyhing do anything for your vote and then support the Conservatives in Parliament.

The fable of the frog and the scorpion applies here, it's in their nature.

My focus is on better public transport, grow the economy and opportunity for all in Somerset

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Back to the future

It is quite fitting this week that George Osbourne should shed a tear, unemployment is up by 70,000, youth unemployment stands over a million and is higher than total unemployment when Mrs Thatcher came to power in 1979, sadly Osbournes tears were not for these millions of people, but one at her funeral.

It has become obvious to anyone that this governments economic policy now is in tatters. The OECD some time ago said Osbourne needed a plan B and now even the IMF has called for changes to the economic policies of her majesty's government. Although it must be said that the IMF has only recently changed it approach.

The Labour market continues to be more flexible, we are seeing the spread of zero hours contracts moving from the supermarkets into the service industries such as catering. There are also many people in part time work.

Osborne has lost his last piece of statistical safety as unemployment rises. Exports tumble, despite a 20% fall in sterling. RPI inflation runs at 3.2% while wages have fallen 10%, not back to pre-crash levels until 2020, according to the Resolution Foundation.
With all this poor economic news where is growth going to come from? The government has to breath life into the economy before the situation gets a whole lot worse.

We have also seen lower high street spending have underlined the fragility of the economy.

It is becoming obvious that Osbourne has no solutions to our economic wows, he has played his hand and he has failed, no one but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats believes in Osbournes plan.

All the old divisions of the 1980s are resurfacing, we live in a country that is economically failing and becoming increasingly socially divided, a more brutal country, where fear rules, I fear that as the general elections approaches the governing coalition will focus on social division as a way of diverting the focus from their economic failure.

Labours job must be to produce a genuine alternative, tinkering is not enough, neo liberal economics has failed, we need to rebuild the economy around production and skilling the workforce, the current policies are working, we need an alternative that grows the economy, that retrains the workforce and invests in new technology.

Frankly, It looks like history repeating, this time North Sea Oil will not pay for welfare.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Campaign report

So nearly a week into this election campaign and the weather is staying with us, (every Englishman likes to talk about the weather), and the campaign is going rather well.

In Shepton West the second leaflet delivery is going out and the first in Shepton East, the canvassing is well up on 2011.

Tonight I have come across  one and only one, the tactical voting bug, this put out by the rather threadbare lib Dems, now this all they have to say. Policy wise they have to ask the Tories what their policies are.

They claim to be the alternative to the Tories, yet the Lib Dem MP agreed the front loaded cuts to local government and this has led to cuts in vital services. But like Pontios Pilate, they wash their hands of responsibility for cuts to housing benefit, the bedroom tax, increases of Council tax to the poorest and real terms cuts to in work benefit, all they want is your vote. I had the first person in the week talk about the wasted vote, remember only Labour offer real change, with a different set of values, than the Lib Dem Conservative administration that taxes the people on ordinary income (in net terms) and allow bankers to carry on regardless.

I enjoyed seeing a lib Dem leaflet that talks about honesty and next to that headline is claiming the Lib Dem standing for the Mendip byelection is Born and Bread in Shepton, but on the same candidate says he moved to Shepton in 1962 and he is more than three years older than me. If you are not prepared to tell the truth about the little things then what are you going to say over the big things, oh yes, no VAT increases and they did, no increases in tuition fees and there were and no top down reorganisation to the NHS etc etc. 

And the Tory candidate posing outside the Treatment Centre provided for by labour and the community hospital beds that are under real threat from the Lib Dem and Tory alliance, this threat to the hospital beds are driven by the top down reorganisation of the NHS neither the Lib Dems or Tories promised, with the new head of the NHS wanting to close or shrink hospitals.

People think voting is not important need to stop and think, the only wasted vote is a vote not used, if your vote is not used then you may get a council like the national government that is governing on an agenda not put to the electorate.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

It's the economy stupid!

Having been out all day and turning the television on to listen to the news, it appears the debate about welfare hit new lows with George Osbourne using the tragic deaths of six children to score points on welfare.

With all this excitement by the chancellor it is worth noting who receives welfare according to the Department of Work and Pensions in 2011/12 : 42.3% elderly, 20.8% low income, 18.4% families, 15.5% sick/disabled & 2.6% unemployed

But the debate about welfare is a sideshow, the real focus has to be on the economy, about real productive jobs and how Britain pays for itself in the world.

The economy stagnates, the government fails to invest in infastructure that will allow the country to flourish once the economy starts to grow, we only have to look at communications.

The government like those before the birth of the welfare state wish to blame the poor for their own circumstance, the figures supplied by the DWP shows that it does not fund the feckless and under the last labour government unemployment was low, the governments narrative on welfare is based on the odd case and uses it for the majority, it is easy sloppy politics, it is understandable when the majority are struggling, low or no pay rises, with living cost escalating and living standards falling, that when these people are told by leading politicans of the excesses of the poor, you can understand the outrage, but this outrage is based on largely urban myths.

Why does Iain Duncan Smith suggest he could live on £53 a week, when asked by hundred of thousands to do so, he then calls it a stunt.

The Labour Party must of course expose the misinformation being peddled by the Conservative and supportive Lib Dems, but they must argue for jobs and opportunity and education and training and people fulfilling each and everyones potential, welfare should be about protecting the vunlerable and sick, but it must also be only about protecting people in times of unemployment, but this has to be linked with job seeking and retraining.

The (any)government has to offer retraining opportunities and support, people cannot rot, this government should do less condeming and offering more opportunity.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Starting my Campaign

4 weeks tomorrow will be polling day for the forthcoming Somerset County Council elections.

I will be standing for the Labour Party for my home Town, Shepton Mallet.

In these times of Austerity it would be easy to promise this or that, but what I can promise is that if elected i will work hard for Shepton and my fellow residents, my policy interests are education and the importance of early years intervention, if all children are exposed to language and literature in their early years those childrens educational achievement will be greater in later life.

There is no doubt Shepton is badly served by public transport and this needs urgent revision.

Young people have taken the brunt of the governments cuts, Shepton has no youth service provision and your county councillor needs to work to improve opportunities for young people.

Shepton needs to improve it's cultural services, sports, arts and community involvement.

It is an obvious statement to make but Shepton has been neglected by local government, this largely the way councils run their services, in the last 20 years or so, either Lib Dems or Conservatives have represented Shepton at County Hall.

In those 20 years public services has been lost from Shepton, too many to list but access to services are harder, contacting your local police is harder because the loss of the police office, poor bus services for employment or to access out of Town entertainment, the services people depend upon are going and going fast.

Is Shepton's voice being heard?

On Sunday I wrote of the years of neglect in regard to safety around Shepton schools.

If elected I will promise to make Shepton's voice heard!

There is also a District Council byelection in Shepton West, I will be standing for this also.

Mendip Council has failed Shepton in regard to housing, in getting enough affordable housing for rent and for sale. The need to strengthing Mendips policy on lettings and making sure only high quality housing is offered to people.

There are too many examples of poor planning in and around Shepton, there is a need to beef up Mendips policy on quality of design so that new development is compatible with a historic market town.

There is a need to protect our open spaces within Shepton, with the Mid Somerset Showfield and West Shepton playing fields being prime examples.

Council needs to do more to support business and business development to help create jobs.

I helped the Town Council and was involved in Mendip's selection of the new groundcare contractor, we now have to ensure the quality promised by the contractor.

I will be visiting many of Shepton's residents in the coming four weeks and I look forward to meeting and discussing Shepton and our Council futures.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

What happened to the crosssing?

Eight years ago, the Town Council supported a campaign by the Infants School in Waterloo Road to achieve a pedestrian crossing and a 20mph zone for children safety.

I wrote
"I would like to give my wholehearted support to the campaign to improve road safety in Waterloo road, led by the Shepton Mallet Infants School.

The Shepton Mallet Town Council pays for the lolly pop person to help mothers and children cross Waterloo Road, but is of great concern that the County Council has never installed yellow flashing lights to raise awareness of drivers of an imminent danger.

The Shepton Mallet Town Council also support the implementation of a 20mph speed limit to be introduced by the School, but only to be operational in the hours of school and supports a weight restriction keeping heavy lorries away from young children and their mothers. I also support the community speed watch, I was sorry I was away when the training day was conducted; I see this as a useful tool to control speed.

It is clear that the County Council allow pelican crossings near schools as many years ago one was sited at the Liberty in Wells for the Cathedral School.

This call for a pelican crossing has been made on and off for over twenty years and certainly all my adult life, in some way it was a pity the District Council could not have sought planning gain with the development next to the school, to pay for the pelican crossing as there will be more traffic movements at school times.

The real tragedy is that the County Council will do nothing at the crossing by the school, until there is a tragedy for a young child or family."

Since that letter, flashing lights have been installed and some paint has been applied to the road. This occurred when I chaired the PACT process and was achieved with the support of Police

I did a community speedwatch, but due to abuse by motorist and the perceived lack of action once data had been sent to the police, this speedwatch folded.

The then Conservative councillor and MP both said it was imperative that a crossing was installed, enough to get them through the County Council Election.

We still await the crossing.

A similar situation occurred outside Whitstone school, Eight years ago the pedestrian crossing was promised in 90 days, despite a legal agreement with McCarthy Stone, we still await the crossing.

I guess it is easy for people to feel contemptuous about local politics, why has these pedestrian crossing not been installed? They were imperative, answers please?

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Stalins in Frank Field

Frank Field MP, the governments Poverty adviser since 2010, has called the Bedroom Tax, 'The government is introducing social and physical engineering on a scale that Stalin would have been proud of.'

I suspect in the short term the government will save it's £500 million this change of charging social tenants 14% for one spare bedroom or 25% for two or more spare bedrooms.

An example why the Bedroom Tax is so flawed is socially rented properties cost around about £90 for a two bedded property, but in the private rented sector the cheapest properties cost around £450/500 per month, so in effect if someone moves from socially rented to private rented will cost more housing benefit. If there is a rush for private rented accommodation then it will cost more as people chase fewer properties.

Field believes the "bedroom tax"  is doomed to fail: "It is Treasury driven. There are always schemes in the department like this horrible one which civil servants take off the shelf."

The government whole approach to welfare reform is to tackle the symptoms of the disease, rather than the disease.

The governments approach is generally ideological, if it was to take a more practical approach, it may well ask, questions about the short term nature of investment within business, how to improve productivity and training and education within the workplace.

More generally questions should be asked about early interventions to help mothers in parenting skills, it is well reported that children of wealthy families are exposed to a broader and higher volume of vocabulary, this helps their educational development and access to greater opportunities.

It appears to me, that our Libraries could be better used to expose mothers and young children to the magic of literature, the Conservatives attempt to close Somerset libraries should be viewed in the same short term failure as the investment in business and the £200,000 wasted in the High Court would of been better spent on young families.

Under the previous Labour government they had a scheme called 'Every Child Matters' this was a scheme that identified young people that was causing concern, all agencies came together to plan to rectify the problem, the young person could get qualifications and be employable. Michael Gove cut this program.

Education plays a critical role in shaping the life chances of our young people, it is the single most important element that allows social mobility that allows greater life chances, in an age where knowledge is the main attribute that allows a decent standard of living and economic well-being.

Every child in Shepton matters, for every child to have the same opportunity, it is important that statutory agencies work together effectively, to offer help that can allow every child to flourish, this will challenge and require holistic solutions, if young people leave school motivated they will be in a better place to achieve economically.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Value for money @ Somerset

The day I started my local election campaign, news has come from Somerset County Council and the partnership with Southwest One.

The relationship between Somerset County Council and Southwest One has not been productive for the people of our County or our Town. There has been a continual running dispute between the council and the IBM backed Southwest One.

The deal between Somerset County Council and Southwest One was signed by the Liberal Democrat in their last term in charge of Somerset, the idea was to allow a multi national company running council services has proved to be a poor decision.

One of Southwest One's objective was to; improve and reduce the cost of corporate, transactional and support services, the Council has been in dispute because the partnership was failing to deliver on the promised savings,

The legal dispute between Somerset CC and Southwest One has now been settled, the cost to the Council tax payer is a cool £2million in legal fees and the Council has signed a confidentiality clause so we are not to be told what the financial settlement is, although the Conservative leader of the Council John Osman says the settlement sum is "lower than a fifth" of £25m.

The Liberal Democrats clearly failed to negotiate a good deal for the Council Tax payer, there have been very real problems with the contract since the agreement was signed, it was completely inflexibility and allowed the multi national company to make money and not pass sufficient savings to the Council.

This whole affair between South West One and Somerset County Council should be a warning that the drive towards privatisation and outsourcing is not the complete solution and should be viewed extremely closely or like this case, it will end badly for the Council Tax payer.

This sorry tale tells us that there is little difference between a Liberal Democrat Council and a Conservative Council, I want a Council that is driven by public service and not profit, the millions wasted on this affair could of been used for vital services that have been cut .

Thursday, 28 March 2013


In the all the excitement of seeing the Union yesterday, I nearly missed the trade figures reported on yesterday.

When Britain lost it's triple A rating it was because of the fear of the country inability to pay down the deficit.

Yesterday saw really poor balance of payments figures for 2012. They show that the UK ran a deficit of £57bn last year compared with just £20bn in 2011.

It is the final piece in the total failure of George Osbourne's plan. This year the government has failed in deficit reduction. Now we are importing more goods than we export. This despite sterling being devalued by 20+%, this making exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

If the economy was booming it would be forgivable for sucking in imports, but as our economy is at best flat, he cannot use this as an excuse.

It is true that the country is not benefiting from investment banking as we once did, but one of George Osbourne hopes was that he would rebalance the economy, that hope has not materialised.

The fact that we cannot pay are way in the world should be deeply concerning for all of us, especially the government, as their strategy of rebalancing the economy has beached.

It is obvious to anyone that George Osbourne is not going to move to far from his plan, largely because he ideologically wedded to it.

The alternative to the government's plan must be based on a productive economy, income generating, this will require government to undertake a root and branch investigation into all government funding.

Money has to be used for productive purposes, there are huge opportunities in the new industries, in science and technology.

It is clear that commercial banks have failed to increase borrowing to the real economy, it has chosen to play the investment banking game at the roulette table of sub prime I O Us, rather than production, good wages and improved living standards.

The British disease of short termism in finance has to be tackled, we need Investment banks to fund business and fund new innovative industry, that invests in their employees to develop the supply side, it is a cultural change, after the failure of the last few years, will government and business except the challenge?

Monday, 25 March 2013

If you play with fire, prepared to get burned

There is a saying that if you play with fire then you will get burned.

Today we saw our Prime Minister making a speech on immigration, this speech made in a populist manner, rather more important for shoring up his dwindling electoral base rather than concrete remedies.

So after blaming the poor for their prediciment, we now move on to the next ignorant attack on migrants.

The prime minister has consistantly stuck to his something for nothing theme, the same as the accusation of the poor scroungers. Yet the figures suggest that of the 2 million net migrants to the UK from the eight eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004, just 13,000 people have claimed jobseeker's allowance (JSA)

The real impact of Eastern European migrants is their affect on the labour market, how businesses have used these migrants to lower wages and conditions as the migrants are happy to work for less and do not assert to their rights. This has caused local people to lower wages and loss of benefits.

The Prime Minister wants to leave social europe because of the working time directive, of 47hours, the Prime Minister seems to want people to work longer with less rights, something the migrants have done.

The Prime Minister points to 40% increase in the number of social lettings taken up by migrants between 2007-08 and 2011-12. This appeared to gloss over the fact that it was an increase from 6.5% to 9% in the proportion of such lettings.

Mark Prisk, the housing minister, said in a parliamentary written answer in December: "Most foreign nationals who have recently come to England are not eligible for an allocation of social housing.

The population do see more migrants in areas of social housing, this could be the sale of council housing to private landlords, who are happy to take the migrants wages.

There is no doubt that local people should have favourtism in social housing, this based on an assessment of need, but the real problem with social housing is the lack of building of new homes, in 1979 for every Council property sold one was replaced but this year every one built five are lost to the sector. House building only achieved 100,000 units last year when it is said 250,000 are required. This is not the fault of the migrants but failure of government.

The Prime Minister says migrants cost the NHS £33million, This represents 0.06% of the £104bn NHS budget, again the Prime Minister does not say compared to the £20 billion of savings required in this parliament he has told the NHS to produce or the cost of the top down reorganisation, migrants are the least of the NHS problems.

The real effect of this speech will be to further increase the intolerance and the hostile reception that immigrants are facing from some sections of society.

The Prime Minister would well remember, playing to the gallery is a dangerous thing to do, blaming minorities for the countries woes is wrong and may unleash a very unpleasant response.

Let us concentrate on opportunity for all, yes quitely close loop holes and unfair practices, but don't start a fire you cannot control.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


Things we discovered today.

The government is going to borrow £245billion more than they said in 2010, the economy has grown by 0.7% since 2010 as opposed to George Osbourne's projection of 5.3%.

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has since it's inception by this government has repeatidly over stated the level of growth within our economy. It is now projecting growth of just 0.6% for this year.

The governments mantra is we cannot borrow our way out of this, is exposed by the £245billion figure, infact the reason given for our AAA rating was moody's could not see how we were going to generate wealth to pay the deficit down. This government is already borrowing more because of rising debt charges and – as the OBR says – tax receipts falling as a result of our weaker economic performance.

These falling tax take is due to stagnating wages and income, this looks like continuing for the two years, with businesses not being able to access finance or wish to lower risk this also is driving down living standards, with business contracting and individuals real incomes stagnating, then the government needs to invest. Instead of the extra £254 billion for funding failure, this should be used to allow the economy to grow through improvements in infastructure. The proposed extra £3billion today is less than 1% of GDP.

The red book issued alongside the budget reveals that the bottom 10th of households will be worse off by £200 overall in 2013-14, compared to 2010. The next 10th will be hit even harder, losing £250. Only the very highest 10% of earners lose more, around £1,600. The reality is that the cuts in direct taxes, such as the personal allowance, are entirely offset by rises in indirect taxes and the loss of tax credits and benefits.

The governments proposals on home ownership I hope offers those who wish to buy the opportunity to do so. However the government refuses to do anything on social housing, with the introduction of the Bedroom Tax and lack of alternative housing options will cause some hardship.

The government could have changed the borrowing rules for local councils to build affordable housing, but chose not to.

 Unemployment for the young is a real problem and we cannot afford a lost generation. Just this week youth unemployment was up by 48,000.

From where i stand in Shepton, this budget will not dramatically change the economic outlook, we face a lost decade, the next government will have the same outlook as this one, they have failed to tackle the deficit and grow the economy.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Cost of the Changes

When the government made the changes to housing benenefit now known as the Bedroom Tax and the government cut the funding to Councils so they could introduce the poorest (of working age)who used to enjoy 100% council tax relief, to the payment of a minimum of £20%, I wondered how many households would be affected in Shepton and Mendip areas.

So I thought, this is going to be a Freedom of Information request.

I would like to share with you the responses.

How many residents in the Mendip District will be effected by the Bedroom Tax, removal of housing benefit for social housing homes with spare rooms? How many will lose for one spare room and more than one spare room? 614 in total. 499 affected by being 1 room over-accommodated; 115 by 2 or more, this is for the whole of Mendip, they could not tell me the numbers for Shepton. 

How many families will be effected by the removal of 100% Council Tax benefit in Shepton Mallet and how many in the Mendip District? Not known for Shepton Mallet. 4350 for Mendip District

These changes to the benefit system are going to adveresly affect a large number of people.

I also wonder how much the District Council are hoping to collect of this tax, if the choice is between eating and paying the Council Tax, which are people going to choose? If they are planning to get 100% of this tax, this could cause some funding difficulties.

Then we have the looming introduction of the universal credit where people will receive payment monthly, this another untested plan.

With all these changes coming so close together, this is going to lead to some people facing very difficult choices, between food and tax, between tax and rent, the bill of misery will end up at the District Councils door, the District Council's costs will be higher due to homelessness.

This all seems rather unfair as in April millionaires will get large tax cuts at the same time the poorest will get tax increasing, the Conservative funder that owns Wonga must be rubbing his hands.

I would advise the West Mendip Credit Union to publicise their services.

Times are about to get worse for thousands of people in our area, these are people not statistics, I think politicians would well remember that and that a 800 majority could well be in trouble.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Getting on with it

Today I held a meeting with the Town Council's contractor, with regard to Collett Park.

We have drawn up this years tree work programme, it is unfortunate that it looks like there are a number of trees that will be removed due to disease.

The reassuring thing is that there is little difference in tree survey from last year, there are a couple of big trees that will be scanned to look at it's safety, I hope this proves that the large oak in particular will survive.

We have a new Town ranger, and we have asked him to draw up a report on the condition of the Park.

What is clear that the Park toilets need work, the plumbing needs investigation and sanitary issues. I have asked Landscape to give a report to give to Council, some of the issues raised have to be resolved.

The Park dog bins need replacing in the park and we have agreed this should proceed, this was the least enjoyable discussion of the day!

We have asked the Town ranger to bring forward designs for new planting in the Park, in the next few years the Park should become more interesting in terms of planting.

The floral displays in the town next year is going to be Blue, Yellow with White and Silver for the summer.

We have made good progress with the contract and the Park is looking good, but we want to improve the shrubberies and look to achieve Green Flag status, this is to say the Park is kept in good condition and has a management plan to improve the park, this in turn should lead to improved opportunities for external funding.

The final point is there is a need to make the play equipment better, but this will need external funding, but we are looking forward.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

In my Shepton home

Last weekend I was told by a resident that the Town was a mess and getting worse and why is nothing being done to improve it.

To be fair, her dissatisfaction was aimed at me because she thought I was still a District councillor. the tragedy is that there are no Labour councillors on Mendip Council nor any Mendip County Councillors.

She could not believe that "a Town like Shepton could elect three of the four district councillors being Conservative." I told her through gritted teeth that Shepton had been Conservative or Yellow Tory (Lib Dem) for the previous ten years and the reason I was talking to her was to try and regain Labour representation.

The public realm in Shepton High street/ Town Street is unacceptable whilst all other Mendip Towns have had schemes to improve there public realm. The Town Council has project managed a set of plans paid for out of Tesco legal agreement money for plans for improved to the public realm, we now await funding.

There was concerns about the quality of cleanliness in the Town Centre, whilst I was procuring the Town Council ground care contract I included additional cleansing in the contract, this should improve the situation.

Four years ago the Conservatives told us that "it was imperitive" that a pedestrian crossing was installed outside the Infants school in Waterloo Road, well we are still waiting. The pedestrian crossing the Conservatives promised outside Whitstone School that was to be delivered in 90 days 8 years ago well we are still waiting despite McCarthey Stone having a legal agreement with their planning application.

The Shepton Mallet Police station is now closed and the office no longer accessible to the public.

The Shepton Mallet Youth Club and youth work has been closed down by the Conservative County Clouncil.

Shepton Mallet has the poorest bus services of any Mendip Towns and even many villages have better bus services. Working the other side of Street, I watch the Bristol to Taunton, the Bristol to Yeovil and the Bristol to Bridgwater, surely it is not beyond the wit of man to divert one of these services through Shepton to give a service to our principal city to the north.

The young of our town would of lost the Educational Maintenance Allowance, so transport costs to colleges need to be found, so not only have the young lost funding, they do not have a decent bus service.

Shepton has little in the way of leisure and the Arts cuts made by the Conservatives has restricted the access to community arts, if people do not own a car then the poor bus services are a very real problem.

Residents complain about the speeding traffic in their roads, yet the County Council offer little support and the roads budget has been cut by the Conservative Council.

And Shepton still has fight on to save our hospital beds and this due to a funding shortfall in Somerset NHS and to pay for a top  down reorganisation.

The Conservatives have failed Shepton, both through local and national policy and what of the Liberal Democrats? The Liberal Democrats have supported the huge front loaded cuts from government to local councils.

Locally they have failed to articulate a different vision for the Town or district, surely their electoral appeal will sound more hollow then ever, we await their graph of only we can beat the conservatives here, conveniently forgetting their support of austerity when they promised not to; forgetting their objection to VAT increases; conveniently forgetting the no top down reorganisation of the NHS and then agreeing to it; conveniently forgetting their pledge on tuition fees; conveniently forgetting their support for EMA; conveniently support the Mansion Tax but supporting the Bedroom Tax and Council Tax reform; our Lib Dem has been 90% loyal to the Conservative Lib Dem alliance, from this we can say a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a coalition that cuts tax for millionaires on the backs of the millions.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

No room at the Inn

The hapless Work and Pensions secretary IDS next great welfare reform the Bedroom Tax appears to be disarray today as he announced a partial U turn of his failed policy, now foster parents and people who has service children will now be exempt.

The real problem with the Bedroom Tax is that is fundamentally floored, it is based on a theory that people with lots of spare rooms in the socially rented sector are blocking properties for others who need homes and those whom with spare rooms should move into smaller properties.

The reason why the Bedroom tax is floored is because, there are not enough smaller houses to fill those who have spare rooms and those in the private sector are more expensive then the larger socially rented homes and these houses are peoples homes. So effectively this will mean a living standard cut or rent arrears.

The amended proposals from the government for the Bedroom Tax does not applied to those people with disabled children, almost half a million households that are home to a disabled person who are set to lose over £700.

Tenants affected will face a 14% cut in housing benefit for the first "excess" bedroom, and 25% where two or more bedrooms are "under-occupied". The government, which estimates the average household affected will lose £14 a week, says the policy will save the exchequer £500m a year

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said: "The DWPs' continued claim that DHPs [additional funding to mitigate the worst effects] will protect all of the most vulnerable is simply not true. Even if DHP was divided equally only among those receiving disability living allowance, they would receive only £2.51 a week, compared to an average loss of £14 per week. It doesn't add up."

Chartered Institute of Housing chief executive Grainia Long said: "Other people are also unfairly affected, for instance, people who need a bigger home because of a disability should also be exempt.

"We know that the open market doesn't cater particularly well for these people, and they should not be penalised for living in social housing when in many cases there is nowhere else for them to go."

I take the view that this is a wrong headed policy, I hope MPs fund themselves at this level for their expenses for their homes. Because someone rents a social housing home, it is still your home, socially rented properties are cheaper than private rented sector and this government has done little to boost supply of affordable housing or to tackle high private rents.
This assault on low income families continues tax and welfare changes, including tax credit cuts, and the VAT rise to 20% would be compounded by wage freezes, and failure to tackle fast rising cost of living, pushing 500,000 more children into poverty.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "By the 2015 election, the majority of children in Britain will be living below the breadline. For any civilised society, that should be shaming."

This at a Time when the Conservative Liberal Democrat government are cutting tax to millionaires, it appears the wealthy can pay less and the poorest pay more, this is simply perverse.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Oh OBR ed

After accusing There Is No Alternative (TINA) of being pretty deaf, turns a blind eye and does do what she says she will do, today I must add misrepresentation.

The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) has written to the Prime Minister to tell him he has misrepresented the commentary offered in regard to the government policies on the economic handling of the economy.

The OBR was constituted by this government and has constantly over estimated the level of growth in the economy, so perhaps it is unusual for OBR to correct the impression made by the prime Minister.

It seems logical, that if you take money out of the economy, higher taxes and you cut spending by the government, removing wages and supply chain and you do nothing about rising food and utility costs, you end up with less spending and the economy slows, to quote Nick Clegg (1.5.2010), "his 8 year old son could be able to work this out -- you shouldn't start slamming on the brakes when the economy is barely growing. If you do that you create more joblessness, you create heavier costs on the state, the deficit goes up even further and the pain with dealing with it is even greater. So it is completely irrational."

Who says Nick Clegg always get it wrong, he was right then so why did the Lib Dems support a policy he knew would result in the current situation where the OBR rebuts the Prime Minister?

The OBR says “it is important to point out that every forecast published by the OBR since June 2010 has incorporated the widely held assumption that tax increases and spending cuts reduce economic growth in the short term”. We believe that fiscal consolidation measures have reduced economic growth over the past couple of years.”

It is worth noting that since the Conservative Lib Dem government first budget in June 2010 the countrys GDP has fallen by 6%, this due to the governments policy.

Some economists have argued the OBR underestimated the negative impact of the cuts, particularly its cuts to infrastructure spending, which has been slashed by 40 per cent over the past two years. Senior economists from the International Monetary Fund argue that many forecasters – including itself – misjudged the size of these so-called “fiscal multipliers” three years ago

We can only hope that David Cameron MP is spinning his own policy, if he actually believes that raising taxes, cutting spending and allowing inflation through a devalued currency will not adversly affect growth then we are really in trouble.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

I never fancied TINA

The Prime minister has once again said There Is No Alternative (TINA) to the Conservative Liberal Democrat government economic handling of the country.

I have never fancied TINA, she is pretty deaf, turns a blind eye and does do what she says she will do.

 Vince Cable today called for government investment in housing and infrastructure projects to allow the country to take advantage of any future recovery in our economy, the Prime minister says there is no "magic money tree", yet he like TINA forgets he will now borrow £212 Billion more than he said and more than Labour proposed to do.

Mr Cameron forgets that the reason for the downgrade from AAA was lack of growth in our economy and Moodys could not see how the country was going to generate income to pay down the deficit.

This judgement is stating the obvious, this week we have seen manufacturing in recession and construction continuing to struggle, there has to be an alternative to this.

The Prime minister sent his Chancellor to Europe to stop bank bonuses, the same institutions who played roulette with our economies, there has to be an alternative to this.

This week the parliamentary ending of the Agricultural wages Board (AWB) was debated, this giving agricultural workers minimum standards of pay and conditions, these workers earn between £14 and 18,000 a year, the AWB has been an effective mechanism for collective bargaining since 1948, has ensured the good industrial relations vital in an industry where employer and employee work side by side.

Like the Beecroft espisode this government tries to reduce workers rights, makes employment less secure, this cocktail leads to insecurity and less wages and this leads to low growth, there has to be an alternative to this.

TINA is not attractive, stagflation, high cost of living and falling income is not a policy of deficit reduction, a policy that does not engender hope or confidence, either in businesses or ordinary people, if there is no alternative to this, then please Mr Cameron exit stage left.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The March Council

Last evening we held the March Shepton Mallet Town Council meeting.

There were some issues of interest.

Mendip Council has set up a new schemes, the local legacy fund and community environment fund, one about £250,000 and the other giving district councillors £2000 to spend on local scheme. I said that although this was nice, this does not tackle the problem of affordable housing, as this money comes from central government from a new homes dividend, i suggested that this could build a few needed homes.

The policy is wrong headed as this coupled with mendip councils failure to achieve a high percentage of affordable housing in new housing development, local people are being let down by the Conservative dominated Mendip Council.

We debated the concerns of sheptonians concerns about building on the Mid Somerset showfield, i proposed although the proposal was not taken, that the council should readopt the position of no building on the showfield and I believe any new housing development should adjoin established housing to the south of Ridgeway and to the south west of St Peters estate. the Town Council missed an opportunity to show the community that we need to defend our green spaces such as the showfield and west shepton playing fields.

A couple of good community stories, cllr Champion is organising the competition for the new Town crier. We also awarded the bell ringers £500 for new equipment.,

The Council agreed the concept plan for new paving in the Town Centre, this will essentially be new paving on the current levels, the company doing this work will now bring forward more details plans.

That's about it for the march council meeting

Monday, 25 February 2013

The road to nowhere

The media has broken out in mass hysteria because of the loss of our AAA financial rating. Yet, I'm surprised anyone should be surprised by the decision.

The politics of the decision is more important than the economic.

Politically George Osbourne has staked his reputation on AAA status, he has claimed that his austerity policy would sustain AAA. But the economic realities of stagnant income, high inflation in food, fuel. utilities and cuts to capital projects and reductions in the public sector has been a cocktail that has delivered a double dip and on the way to a triple dip recession.

The Great Recession has seen incomes now at 2003 levels.

This is the government of nil action, banking reform put off to the next government. Businesses continue to suffer the lack finance to invest in their businesses.

Inequality continues to grow. The inequality is severely damaging the housing market, last year saw 100,000 homes built, this short of £240,000 needed.

This is hurting economically and in terms of tackling housing need.

The housing market is hamstrung, by overpriced housing, this because first time buyers cannot afford to buy, this does not allow for movement in the housing chain.

Government, central or local refuse to build housing, private landlords with high rents and high benefits are the unsustainable policy of this government.

So housing need continues to grow, the vice like grip will continue, high housing costs, high living costs, it is time for action, we need action on affordable housing.

Under Mr Osbourne we are on the road to nowhere.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Why it does not add up anymore

The Office of National Statistics today reported that the level of earnings had retreated to 2003 levels with 7% of people have had pay rises above their living costs since coalition

From 2010 to 2012, the decline in median real earnings averaged 2.1% per year for full-time male public sector workers in the UK compared with 3.1% per year for their private sector counterparts.

The self-employed were the worst hit of all, with a 16% drop in median real income between 2007/08 and 2010/11 for the UK

Official figures now confirm what everyone knows. Living standards have been falling for the vast majority, and there is no sign of change.

With unemployment figures being kept down by part time labour or by self employed this explains why jobseekers has not grown nor has the economy.

But on top of the wage squeeze, the government has been making it worse with cuts to tax credits, the freeze in child benefit and a VAT hike. Millions of low-income families - both in and out of work - are now threatened by the bedroom tax and the one per cent cap on benefits and the changes to council tax benefit, where everyone of working age will make a contribution. The cost of living goes ever upwards with the costs of essentials such as food, fuel, energy and rented accommodation continuing to increase.

There is a sharp contrast with the few at the top of the corporate ladder, where bonuses and huge salaries allow them to enjoy more than their fair share of the created wealth. They are now looking forward to the top-pay tax cut due in April.

With this wage disparity, with the many having pay freezes and the few milking the system, this will continue to have an impact on the wider economy.

The economy will not recover until people have money in their pockets to spend, and businesses can know that their customers feel confident. The challenge for the government is to reverse austerity and start boosting wages and incomes for the majority. That is the only route to growth.

Matthew Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation says "We now know that the squeeze on living standards will be longer and deeper than projected this time last year. Average wages are not expected to rise in real terms until late 2014 after a period of stagnation and decline. Despite stronger than expected job growth in the private sector, many people continue to work fewer hours than they would like, putting downward pressure on household incomes."

The unite union says "The challenge is how we ensure that the benefits of future growth are fairly shared."

"In the absence of wage rises, consumers must borrow to buy goods and services. If they don't borrow, they don't shop and if they don't shop, producers of goods and services shed jobs."

"Britain isn't just being squeezed, our country is going backwards under the Tory-led coalition. The nation is now characterised by falling wages, insecure employment and cuts to welfare.

Ed Balls the Shadow Chancellor says .“We have a chancellor who believes that he can slash public spending, raise VAT and cut benefits – he can take billions out of the economy and billions more out of people’s pockets, he can directly cut thousands of public sector jobs and private sector contracts, and none of this will have any impact on unemployment or growth.
Against all the evidence, both contemporary and historical, he argues the private sector will somehow rush to fill the void left by government and consumer spending, and become the driver of jobs and growth”

The Bank of England says today that Inflation will be running higher than wages this year.

The challenge for politicians is how to create increases in incomes, until the coalition invests in the infastructure, develop an industrial strategy, develop skills, investing in sciences and research and development, this country will be cut away from prosperity and human misery will grow.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Unfair and the second coming of Poll Tax

So the Conservatives with the lib Dem poodles are launching their next phase of punishing low paid people.

Poll Tax 2 is landing on many low paid people of working age door mats, in Mendip, will pay a minimum 20% of the Council Tax with the former exempt, will now pay a minimum £4 a week.

This on top of housing benefit changes and the 1% in work benefit rises amounting to a real terms cut in living standards.

I am pleased that the government has dropped the "we are all in this together" line, frankly it would be a sick joke if they continued. In the new tax year, millionaires will get a £40,000 tax cut, people who need it the less.

The Conservatives and Lib Dems have a perverse mentality, the millionaires need the tax cut because they will either avoid paying the 50% tax or it is a disincentive, yet for really low paid people need to be incentivesed by taking money away from this. This perversity must be taught in Eton.

Sadly the cover for these attacks are the basic attack on the scroungers, the retoric clearly resinates with some but the truth is the largest gainers from the welfare budget are pensioners and this group is exempt from cuts, 60% of those whom claim welfare support are in work, so the picture is painted to appeal to base elements in people.

The only way to attack poverty is creating jobs, well paid jobs, yet today we see finance to business fell by £18.6 billion in the last year, so businesses will not retool and businesses will not grow, this government have completely failed in getting banks to lend for business growth and in turn new jobs in new industries, whilst we stagnate, Germany and the USA grow.

This government are punishing the low paid, failing to create the opportunity for business to grow, they are also failing to reduce the deficit as fast as they said with £64 billion more borrowed by the general election.

The priority of government must be creating a productive economy.

If they want to attack the dodgers, lets tackle tax evasion it costs the economy more than benefit fraud. We need a government for the millions not just the millionaires.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Museum Society

Public Meeting
“Do we want a Museum for Shepton?”
Mendip District Council Chamber
Monday 4th February 2013
7.00 – 9.00pm

Friday, 18 January 2013


The Town council have two casual vacancies for the Shepton west ward of the Town Council.

Councillors Cook and Dunscombe have resigned.

If anyone wishes a byelection they have 14 days to submit 10 Shepton west electors to call such an election.

I would like to pay tribute to Will Dunscombe, he has resigned for personal reasons, I will not raise them here.

It is fair to say Wills time as a Town Councillor has not been easy. The investigation that resulted from complaints made by the majority of the Conservative group, undoubtedly left there mark on him. The independent investigation found that Will Dunscombe did not break the Code of Conduct, the only thing the investigation did was waste thousands of pounds of tax payers money.

Will Dunscombe was the driving force in shaping the Town Council policy in regard to the skate park, I think it is fair to say without his input there would not be a skate park or BMX track.

When Shepton had a youth centre, Will was the councils key supporter of youth work, he supported the Town Council spending money on youth, but never received majority support.

I believe Will offered an unique view on those sections of the community that does not engage  in civil society, the cases he fought around poor housing, this never gets headlines, but this makes a difference to peoples lives.

The Council will be a poorer without this experience, Councils needs a mixture of experience, a cross section of the community, the need for empathy for those in need.

Sadly the vast majority of Shepton Mallet Town Councillors could not see beyond Wills direct way of speaking, but in a sense, we all are concerned with our High Street, the Skate park is now Council Policy, Will was a powerful advocate for these issues and he will be a loss.

Knowing Will thou if something upsets him, he will be back.

In truth I knew Sue Cook less well.

But I know she gave the Council her time and the community should be grateful for that.


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

New Year - Same Old, Same old

The Shepton Mallet Town Council held the first meeting of 2013 last evening. The Council elected a new Chairman, with Terry Marsh being elected, the new vice Chairman is Bente Height, she was elected unopposed.

The Council also set the budget for 2013/14, the Council will not increase the Council Tax rate for the Parish of Shepton Mallet.

Essentially the Shepton Mallet Town Councils budget is unsustainable, the only way it is sustainable is for deliberate underspending, this causes money to be unused and goes into reserves, this is then used the following year, this little game has been going on for years.

Last evening, the choice was between putting up the Council Tax up by 67p a year or freezing the level.

In terms of aspiration there was no difference between those who supported a 67p increase and those who wanted not to put up the tax.

The two main aspirations are to fund the Neighbourhood plan and the Skate Park contribution, the Collett park maintenance and other grounds are covered and the cost of running the Council with a few grants to the likes of the CAB, CCTV etc.

In June 2011, I wrote a corporate plan, this outlined the need for a communication and public engagement strategy, this was accepted. The thinking was that the Council needed a mechanism to develop it's budget making process, for public and partners to develop policy to make Shepton better. Sadly the Council has never developed the idea.

Last evening a pretty drab and uninspiring budget was presented, the choice was whether you raised tax by 67p a year and raise £2000 or use the reserves.

I supported a nil increase in tax.

Last year the Council increased the budget for grounds by £4000, this equated to a 3% increase, I supported this as this was an increase in service, no such increase in service was proposed this year, so I could not offer my support for an increase. 

I do think the Town Council budget is something of the twilight zone, I am sure the Conservative Group was surprised by my support for a nil increase, but until the Council develop a budget making process that engages with the community and responds to their agenda, raising tax for the sake of it in the cold isolation of the Council chamber will not get my support.

This year I engaged with the Community over the hospital and the civic hall. The community were encouraged by this, the Council has to learn to become inclusive, in their budget making.

I simply refuse to increase tax for it to end up in reserves.

Those councillors who want to increase tax, needed to articulated the need for the increase, they needed to articulated what new service would be delivered. Times are very hard, the justification of any increase in tax has to be made, I took the view the ruling mind set of the Council is to underspend its budgets to subsidies  the coming year council tax, and those who wanted an increase the council tax the increase was so small it would make no difference to service.

At a time when the Conservative and Lib Dem government, supported by our MP Tessa Munt are effectively cutting in real terms in work benefits, that 67p may be needed more by the tax payer than our rather moribund council.