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