Saturday, 28 February 2009

Stagnant? Unproductive? All but dead?

There are some unfortunate claims in the BFP this week about the Town Council (click here for story) which will be addressed in a letter to the paper from a number of councillors who feel they have been very let down. In particular the "leadership" is criticised. The facts are that under Richard Rout’s leadership as chairman since last May, the Council has:

replaced the Town Clerk and reduced the staff, saving many thousands of pounds of council tax payers’ money;

reduced other costs to a minimum in order to rationalise its operations;

pegged its part of the council tax to a token amount below the 2004 level;

at the same time increased planned spending on the community by 77% (e.g., Christmas lights and Town Centre Management);

made allotments self-financing by 2012 but still only £33 per plot per year;

decided to negotiate the purchase of more land, to reduce the allotment waiting lists;

formulated a variety of long-overdue policies, including one of engagement with the community which will, among other things, allow it to consult on future levels of spending and council tax;

set up links with dozens of local organisations, gone out to meet local groups and decided to hold an open day.

If this is ‘stagnant’, ‘unproductive’ and ‘all but dead’, then why have we bothered attending so many meetings since last August, with no payment whatsoever for our time, effort or expenses?


Anonymous said...

Not sure but you've obviously been wasting your time

Paul F said...

Please explain, anon.

Clearwater said...

I too was astounded by Chris Turners claims in the Bury Free Press last week and totally agree with your comments . He is the last person who is qualified to discuss the current state of the council due to his lack of participation since he was re-elected in 2007. I just wish he would do likewise and also resign from the borough council because of the disdain he has shown the Risbygate residents with his continuous absenteeism from meetings. How on earth can we as residents expect to have a voice when one of our councillors attends fewer than half of the borough meetings, yet still picks up the £5000 a year allowance. The excuse of business commitments is no excuse and shouldn’t be treated as such because nothing has changed in the councils set-up since he first sought his party’s nomination to get elected. It appears it is just one large ego trip for him and unfortunately it is us, the residents, at not being represented, who are left having to pay the costly price.

Paul F said...

You said it Clearwater. I couldn't possibly comment!

Bury Boy said...

Ah I think you praise your friend RR just a little to much. Maybe more than he deserves. Some credit must be given to the Abolish campaign, otherwise you would still be a old boys network, wasting all our money, to no ones advantage.As for Mr Turner, he has exercised his right to speak out, some may not like it, some will not agree, how ever there will be some truth some where. Maybe Risbygate should elect a councillor or Hoffys standard, the only meeting he misses are the tory club pre voting, lets decide between us now ( the unelected ones) and tell the elected ones how to vote. You dont need to comment Paul, Is does happen and you know who does it. The unelected Mr F( deleted) has too much influence....on local conserative policy. About time he and the grandees stood for election.

Paul F said...

BB - Thanks for that!

ABC set out to abolish, but didn't succeed. Since then they have more often than not voted with the Conservative members because none of us likes to waste public money.

Old boys network? Almost all of us were elected, I most recently as March 2008 - though I grant you I'm getting on in years!

When you find the truth in CT's statement please let me know.

On a serious note, the only people who decide how the Conservative town councillors vote are the elected Conservative town councillors.

Anonymous said...

A search through the SCC website indicates that Paul Hopfensperger missed two council meetings out of a possible six. It also indicates that he is not on any main committee. SCC cllrs are paid more than £9,000.

Town cllrs are paid nothing.

Paul F said...

Definitely no comment!

Richard Rout said...

Entertaining though your conspiracy theories are Bury Boy, I’m afraid you’re someway wide of the mark.

I don’t know how you would like to see political parties selecting their candidates – drawing straws perhaps? As it stands, a selection committee is put together who interview and then vote on who the candidate should be. This committee invariably includes party officers who are democratically elected by the local party membership. It is then down to the local electorate to decide who to vote for. As far as I am aware, this is the same across the country.

I’m not sure where you, or your doubtless impartial source, got your rather outdated information but the aforementioned Mr F has not wielded any influence for some time. Furthermore, the last time I checked all of the officers within the local party, the President (an ex Councillor) aside, were serving Councillors.

I can honestly say I’ve never been to a meeting related to the local association where any member of the officer team attempted to influence local council policy.

I do agree, however, that the ABC group should be given some credit for helping to get the Town Council back on a firm footing. Although I never agreed that the Town Council should be abolished, I have always recognised their contribution and the apparent dissatisfaction with the Council that their electoral success in 2007 reflected. This is why we have worked tirelessly to introduce the recommendations from the Peer Review they instigated.

The above attendance figures are interesting. If correct, they equate to roughly the average attendance of the Conservative councillors on the Town Council. Although some of us attend upwards of 30 meetings a year, rather than the alleged 4, and receive no allowance.

If you’re desperate to satisfy your appetite for stories of conspiracy and subversion, I always enjoyed the X-Files…I can assure you it’s far more entertaining than the innermost workings of the local Conservative Party.

Paul F said...

Can I make it clear that the 'Mr F' referred to by BB and RR is NOT me!

Anonymous said...

Well, i would like to make one comment in reference to Mr Clearwaters remarks. Local goverment is is broken, and the reason, too many Elected Councillors who have no experiance of running a business. In fact i would go further and say that busnessmen/women are penalised for being involved in Local govermnet.

Who else other than retired people, rich people and stay at home mums have the time to attend three meetings a week, all of which are between 5 and 7.

I know i would rather have a business savy go-getta rather than this miserable lot we have now

St Emunds Blogger said...

Clearwater is quoted as saying "He is the last person who is qualified to discuss the current state of the council due to his lack of participation since he was re-elected in 2007"

His excuses of “Business commitments” are more than valid and indeed not his fault. I think it sad that it is only possible to be involved in local government if you are retired, stay at home individual or if you can afford not to work. These are the wrong people to run what is a multi million pound business. I would rather have a bunch of business savvy individuals than the existing councillors we have.

Bury Boy said...

Nice to see you have stired Richard, and good to see you enter the debate / discussion, Pauls not had a real debate of his blog since Ruby, and Mark left town. All credit to you for acknowledging the actions of some of the Abolish group, and those who voted for them ( be it the person or the agenda) even so I think there are still a few stories of current day conspiracy and subversion in bury to keep us all on our toes, lets just call it conjecture. I have not lit the fire, I am just blowing on the ashes to see what flame appears.

I have heard a few stories of selection within the local tory party which may shock your innocent view of local political life, It would be fair to say the lowest ranks of town council seem untouched, maybe because these good honest folk can not influence events, higher up the feeding chain. Dont kid yourself Mr F no longer has influence, he does, as do a few others.

Maybe this discussion is for another place, and not linked to this subject.

Bury has always had groups of well meaning profesional and business people who yeild influence, while remaining unelected by the public at large, even since the fall of the abbey to the present day. Lets ensure this influence is used to and for the commom benefit of Bury people.

I am more a Stephen Donaldson reader than x files, but thanks for the tip.

Richard Rout said...

I agree, to an extent, that being a local councillor is geared towards the retired or those who do not work.

I’m fortunate to be largely self employed which means I can balance my day around meetings. I certainly can’t afford not to work. Whenever meetings are arranged at St Edmundsbury, I try to make the point that meetings during the day are not suited to those in full time employment. The response that I get, which has some merit, is that meetings during the evening would not be geared to those with children or families – whenever a meeting takes place it will not suit somebody.

I would prefer to have meetings at 7pm or 8pm but there are others, with young families, who would prefer a daytime meeting. I think that a reasonable balance is struck but it isn’t perfect for me – nor would it be entirely fair if it was. We need a balance of different people on the council and, invariably, people at different stages in their life prefer meetings at different times of day.

Town Council meetings, interestingly, are far more suited to those with work commitments during the day – the earliest meeting on the Town Council (excluding the ‘working lunch’ Christmas Lights meeting) takes place at 6pm compared with the Borough Council where meetings can take place as early as 10am (the majority take place at 4pm onwards). Full Council meetings, on both councils, do not start until 7pm.

Some may find it interesting that the TCM board (the membership of which is, in the main, professional business people) and the Christmas Lights Committee (ditto – 3 Councillors aside) prefer to meet at 12noon. I assumed, when first becoming involved in both of these roles, that given the composition of the bodies they would prefer late evening meetings – this is far from the case.

Bury Boy, perhaps as you say this discussion is for another place – I can only go by personal experience; I have never seen anything bordering on the conduct you describe. As for contributing – I like to do so when I see something of note and, like you, have been missing Ruby. My own website is currently being rebuilt, hopefully with an integrated blog, the difficulty doing this was one of my main complaints with the blogger setup.

Paul F said...

Many thanks all for your comments. I am not particularly looking for more traffic on the blogging part of this website, so the disappearance of some expert bloggers has meant less time spent replying. But you are all welcome.

However, there is no place for outrageous personal attacks that are untrue, and these will not be posted - such as one that arrived this morning. I may not be able to trace you, but I can exercise reasonable editorial control. Apart from anything, if I repeat a libel then I too could be sued.

As for business savvy - or savy, depending on which anon you are (or maybe you're all the same?) it is interesting to note that of the eight town councillors who I have a political connection with, all have other occupations of varying time commitment, five have experience of the business world and two currently run their own successful companies.

And by the way these were all elected democratically.

BeccyH said...

I don’t believe that being a good councillor is all about the amount of meetings you attend, although it is expected of you when you are elected. It is about being seen out and about in the area you represent listening to people and getting things done for the residents.

Although attendance is recorded at official council meetings, attendance records do not take into account the amount of outside bodies a councillor sits on or indeed the amount of parish/town council meetings they attend. I represent 12 parish councils in my division and on Monday night attend three in one evening. As with any walk of life sometimes family and business commitments have to take priority.

It is interesting to note that committee membership is usually politically balanced according to the political balance of the whole council, with the political party who is in administration at the time having the final say. When you are an independent councillor you are definitely in the minority and membership to committees is limited. PJH before he became independent was Vice Chairman of the Roads & Transport Scrutiny Committee, Chairman of the Shared Space Working Party plus a member on other committees. The two full council meetings he missed was due to the fact he was swimming the Channel raising over £16,000 for local charities.

Clearwater said...

I am sorry Anonymous and St Emunds (why no d?) Blogger but due to business commitments I have been unable to respond earlier.
I too agree that a council needs a cross section of people on board and every effort should be made so that this is possible. I do not understand, however, when you say “that businessmen/women are penalised for being involved in Local government” or that the only people who could serve as councillors are the “retired, stay at home individual or if you can afford not to work”. Looking at the borough members attendance for 2007/8 the average possible attended meetings for the councillors was 30. Of course many councillors attended far more than this and credit must be given to them for doing so. This is hardly a figure that should discourage local people from all walks of life from becoming a councillor. With a yearly allowance of £5000 this works out around £165 per meeting. This should easily compensate costs involved for babysitters and through rearranging work commitments. Notice is always given for these meetings so that it is possible for this to be done. There will always be some instances when last minute work or family issues prevent you attending and absenteeism will then not be an issue. But it was with the continual absence of Chris Turner at both the Borough and Town Councils that I, and many people, had an issue with. I may have made a mistake with my initial comment and omitted continual but, apart from exceptional circumstances, there is no excuse to attend fewer than half of all borough meetings and only 18% of Town meetings and then have the gall to say the council is “stagnant”, “unproductive” and “all but dead”. If you are not prepared to do the work, get out and let somebody else have a go.
On the Town Council, a certain councillor on his election platform last year said that he would campaign for “scrapping unnecessary meetings”, where quality overrides quantity. With a resolution already in place for all meetings, excluding Christmas Lights, to be held during the evening and now with the fewer meetings being achieved thanks in part to this councillor, this should help alleviate Anonymous and St Emunds Blogger’s concerns that becoming a councillor is only for a select few and is in fact available to the majority who wish to stand. I hope also that this makes St E B a little less sad.
To BB, What have Risbygate ward done to you by suggesting that they could elect Hoffy as their next councillor? Is this the same person who was rejected convincingly by the Abbeygate residents last year and could only convince less than 5% of the electorate to vote for him. I cannot recall who won that by-election, could anyone enlighten us. Surely if he wasn’t good enough for the Abbeygate residents, what makes you think he’s good enough for Risbygate. Or am I mistaken on identity and that you are talking about somebody else? Also you mention some credit must go to…, why only some?

Anonymous said...

well the 18% attendance at the Town Council, is certainly more than i would have gone too. Paul seems to think that it is the best council in the world, the truth is that it does nothing.

Bury Boy said...

Good point Clearwater. I think maybe Hoffy should fight his own corner. However I do recall that Abbeygate ward was subject to a certain amount of "underhand politics at that election", The ruling group deciding not to issue polling cards ( which I see as a serious challenge to local democracy) and the local party deciding to "elect" another councillor as the party repesentitive, ( thats a internal party problem).
As a community we need "Hoffyies" or "Hoffiesses", those willing to standup and state their views, weather we agree with them or not, those with a business background, and youth on their side. oh and who like to turn up to meetings. I would like to say local but we cant have every thing can we...

Fair dues to those who stood and were elected. Abbeygate ward along with Northgate seems well repesented. As no doubt are others.

Paul F said...

Beccy, you make some fair points, but 18% from the person who triggered my original post is pretty low. I do not know whether he was out and about doing things in his ward, though I do know his fellow town councillor is very active. The same could be said for his Borough partner.

Clearwater, I obviously sympathise with your comments - let's leave it at that!

Anon, come along to our open day on 25th March, 11am-2pm at the Guildhall Stret offices. We'll show you what 'nothing' is - but it may take some time.

BB, I suppose 'seems well represented' from you is such a glowing accolade that I shall refrain from responding to your earlier points, other than to say that polling cards have not been issued for TC elections since 2005.

St Emunds Blogger said...

How are people expected to know that there is an election, if polling cards are not sent out?

Paul F said...

er...let me see...could it be that all candidates tend to put bits of paper through their doors?

St Emunds Blogger said...

if that is the case Paul, surly the political party that can print the most leaflets, who has the largest workforce or who has the most money, wins. This isn't good for local democracy because it prevents independents and small political parties from challenging the ruling parties.

Paul F said...

That does not follow. What I said was that residents know there's an election (apart from reading the BFP and notice boards) because all will be leafleted by someone and many by several candidates.

Your argument that the most leaflets wins is quite another thing. Anyone standing for election can print their own leaflets and do, within the limit that is allowed by law.

In the last Abbeygate botough election there were independent and green candidates. They delivered leaflets everywhere but still lost. My fellow candidate and I (who won) did all the delivering ourselves.

Bury Boy said...

I think we miss the point, Leftlets fall on our door step every day, some councillors even communicate outside of an election. The point is that most people and the more senior amoung us are used to receiving an official polling document, this states the time date, and place for voting ( the place can vary between elections). This simple document gives the process its "official" and some will say "legal standing". This one official document confirms our personal right, and resposibility to vote. Chossing NOT to issue them drags the process into question. It also as Abbeygate has shown gives the oppitunity to distrust the motives of some, and removes the platform of fairness. so critical to free elections.

St Emunds Blogger said...

I think it follows fairly clearly. You said that people will be made aware of the election by candidates producing leaflets, which means that you can only win an election if you produce leaflets, this will be a massive cost to any individual or small party. Which means you have to have lots of money or a big political machine behind you I you are to be a contender.

Polling cards level the playing field and ensure that every person knows there is an election, regardless of whether they read the BFP, notice boards or party political literature.

Paul F said...

BB - I completely understand your point. Unfortunately the Borough Council have to charge the Town Council for arranging all elections, and the cost of the cards, admin and postage is considerable.

All I can say is that this was first decided by the Town Council before my political colleagues were in the ascendancy, and on cost grounds.

For the record Richard Rout won his by-election in 2005 when cards were still issued, but with a lower turnout than when I did last March without cards. So whether cards are worthwhile is a moot point - and you are of course perfectly entitled to come down on the side you do.

SEB - Polling cards may have their worth (but see above). However, your argument about 'the richest/biggest machine wins' (which I dispute) must still apply with cards.

ALL - If some others don't join this debate I think this correspondence will have to close.