Ellie Chowns says:
I’ve been asking some pointed questions about the council’s recent budget consultation. In particular, I’m frustrated that there was no consultation on the capital budget. This is where Hfds Council currently has quite a lot of ‘wiggle room’, given that it recently made nearly £50m from selling off the farms. Only half that money has so far been allocated, so what is the Cabinet planning to do with the rest? I believe local residents should have a real say in this decision. This is a once-in-a-generation windfall, so we should think REALLY CAREFULLY about how to spend it, and the Cabinet should consult local people on what the priorities should be. I don’t think enough people understand the opportunities and risks here – the council has not communicated openly about this at all.
You can read my full response to the budget consultation process here.
I’ve also asked the Council Leader, (Jonathan Lester) and the Cabinet Member for Finance (Nigel Shaw) for answers to five questions I asked them at the full council meeting a couple of weeks ago:
1. Why was virtually no information given to residents about the capital budget in the recent consultation process?
2. When will residents (and councillors) be consulted on the capital budget?
3. Why were councillors’ suggestions for improvements to the consultation design (such as the inclusion of open-ended questions), made at the budget consultation briefing in July, ignored – even though assurance was given to us at the time that they would be acted upon?
4. Will the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance commit to giving councillors much more opportunity to feed into consultation design in future?
5. Will the Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance commit to giving residents much more opportunity to participate in the budgeting process in future?
Trish appeared on the BBC Sunday Politics Midlands TV programme, on 7 October – watch here on BBC iPlayer.
(available until 3 November)
Council house building – “make all new houses affordable to run by building to high energy efficiency standards”
Hospital services, A&E restricted opening hours – “Tory announcement that community hospitals are secure and should play a bigger role is great, but we need to have more integration between NHS and Social Services to reduce A&E attendances.”
Structure of Local Government – “whether we have a two-tier or a unitary structure as Herefordshire does, the main issue is the reduced funding available to local councils to deliver services”
My first full Council meeting was last Friday, and it had a full agenda: setting the 2018/19 budget (including the proposed 4.9% rise in Council Tax) and approving the Capital Programme, as well as approving the continuation of the Council Tax reduction scheme. I voted for the latter, but did not feel able to support the budget or the capital programme. On the budget, I appreciate that the Council is working within very tight financial constraints, and that officers are doing the best they can to ensure vital services are protected. But I just don’t believe that this Conservative council has fought hard enough against the swingeing cuts imposed by Conservatives in Westminster. The simple fact is that Council Tax is going up and up – even though wages are low and stagnating – because local authorities have been starved of funds by central government.
Regarding the capital investment programme, I have two major concerns. The first is that about £2.5m is being borrowed for initial work on building a bypass to the West of the city (I understand the full bypass scheme will cost much much more than this in total, potentially well over £100 million). Yes, Hereford has congestion problems – but in my view they are mainly due to people like me driving into town and trying to get from one side to the other to get to work, school, the shops, the hospital etc. A bypass won’t address this – and it especially won’t do anything to help those of us living to the East of the city. Instead, I feel the council should be investing much more money right now in sustainable transport, both a) within the city (e.g park and ride/bike/car-share) and b) in rural areas (e.g. using mobile tech to support community transport). That sort of thing will be cheaper and more effective, and I’m hoping to make links with people who can help make detailed proposals along these lines. By the way, the council will next week launch a consultation on the bypass plans. I’ll be going along and I encourage you to do so too, and have your say before it’s too late! (BTW, I’m not simply ‘anti-bypass’ – I think each case should be assessed on its own merits. My key objection here is that I haven’t seen any actual evidence making the case for a Western bypass).
My second major concern is the proposed £20 million earmarked this year for the Development Partnership. This is by far the largest chunk of the capital programme – a hell of a lot of money. Half of it will come from the sell-off of the council farms, and half from borrowing (but I have no idea why the council plans to borrow even more, when we’re due to get about £42 million from the farm sales…). I have lots and lots of questions about these plans, so I’ll be meeting some of the key officers this week to get more info. Investment in infrastructure and economic development is a good idea in principle, but the devil is in the detail. The recent Blueschool House fiasco highlights what can go wrong if contracts aren’t properly supervised. So, we need much more detail about the ‘Development Partnership’ will involve, proper analysis of the potential social, economic and environmental impacts, and assurance about financial safeguards. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this going forward.
Speak for all?
JESSE Norman has announced that he wants to represent the people of Hereford & South Herefordshire again.
But does he actually want to speak for all of the people in our community, or just the better off?
Does he actually care about those of us who are less well off?
In the last few years, Mr Norman has consistently voted in favour of policies that would restrict the income of people who are already struggling to make ends meet.
In 2013 he voted on numerous occasions to cap increases in benefits and tax credits at 1%, well below the RPI, which was running at over 2%.
In 2016 he voted in favour of cuts in housing benefits and support allowances.
While supporting these kinds of cuts, he also regularly voted against increases in taxation on incomes over £150,000, and voted against taxing the bonuses of bankers.
Child poverty rates are worse now than when the conservatives took power in 2010, hospital waiting times are longer, and social care services are in crisis, yet over the last seven years Mr Norman and his colleagues have consistently sought ways to look after their friends at the expense of those who really need help.
Surely it is time for a fresh voice at Westminster, who will speak for the majority and support those who most need it?
You might have thought that there was no one left on a trolley in a hospital corridor. That our social care system wasn’t on its knees. That climate change wasn’t a crisis that threatens our very future or that there was no air pollution epidemic linked to the deaths of tens of thousands.
This budget should have been an emergency intervention to end the chaos in health and social care and address the air pollution emergency, but instead it’s another resounding failure from a Government that’s got no ideas beyond an obsession with scaling back the state. With our NHS in peril and social care in crisis, this Budget was a chance for the Government to take a stand for the public services upon which we all rely. Instead they continue to push ahead with planned corporation tax cuts, and their handout to high earners, while unveiling woefully inadequate funding changes for the NHS and social care.
This budget is another climate failure – with the Chancellor failing to mention climate change even once in his speech. Rather than reversing the solar tax hike or ploughing money into renewables, the Government seems hell bent on drilling for more gas and oil in the North Sea, and handing further cash to the motor lobby with the fuel duty freeze. Britain should be leading the world in climate change technology and green jobs, but instead we’re lagging behind and laying the foundations for another dash for gas.
The time is now. Join us to stand for the Common Good.
Come along for an upbeat evening workshop exploring the realities behind austerity on Wednesday 18th January at 7.30pm.
This session will be presented by Charles Grimes of Positive Money, and is the first of the new year’s Politics & Ethics evenings at De Koffie Pot from our friends at Herefordshire Green Network.
Every Wednesday evening you will find sociable, participatory workshops going on upstairs at De Koffie Pot. There’s a chance to develop your political understanding with Talk Shop (first Wednesday), a challenge to political assumptions with Momentum (second Wednesday), a growing movement for social and environmental justice through political processes with the Green Party (fourth Wednesdays). And on the third Wednesday of every month Herefordshire Green Network will offer inspiration via practical and issue based workshops on a range of local and national environmental concerns.
Come along for 7.30, bring friends, network, find out more… everyone welcome
THE HEREFORD TIMES has recently been filled with reports about valuable services and projects that help the vulnerable: Citizens Advice Bureau, the Marches Access Point, and the Barnabas Deaf and Community Support Service. All reports had one common and dispiriting theme – because of funding cuts, the organisations are struggling to stay open or are to close.
Herefordshire Council itself has cut hundreds of jobs since 2010, reduced library and customer service opening hours and has had to trim its budget again this year to cope with another ‘tough’ central government settlement. Bus services and tourism support which are vital for our rural economy are losing financial support.
The prospect of Hereford CAB closing ought to be a wake-up call to local and Westminster politicians that cuts have gone too far. Instead the response has been a defensive letter from Councillor Johnson praising the council’s financial management and claiming that it “sticks to its priorities of protecting the vulnerable” (28 May 2015). The Herefordshire Green Party calls upon HCC to honour that pledge by committing to future funding for the CAB.
Mr Johnson also claims his earlier comments after the election, in “Council says Enough is Enough with Austerity” of 21 May, have been misinterpreted and weren’t a call for Jesse Norman and Bill Wiggin to moderate austerity. We think the CAB problems mean he should re-double his efforts rather then retracting his request for help.
Current policies are evidently damaging the vulnerable in society. I hope that our newly elected MPs will heed Tony Johnson’s original plea and not just direct a bit more money to Herefordshire but will try to get their government to reverse the austerity programme and truly ‘protect’ our services.
In the general election campaign, all the major parties claimed they would be best at managing the economy. In reality voters were being asked to choose one of three variants of austerity. My message was different – greater investment in public services, not more cuts and service restrictions. The Green Party is committed to building a society which supports everyone’s needs and to reversing the growing inequality of wealth. And that includes support for vital services like the CAB.
More about the CAB:
- HCC grant to CAB last year was £117,000. In 2013/14 CAB helped over 5,000 individuals – 62% with a household income of less that £1,000 per month. The most common issues were around benefits (36%) and debt (29%). The main purpose of providing advice is to make a positive difference to people’s lives. But where outcomes can be quantified in monetary terms the CAB managed to deliver £4.4m to clients (enabling them to claim benefits they are entitled to & managing debts) – the vast majority of this would have been spent in the local economy.
- Services have been withdrawn from Ross-on-Wye, Ledbury, Bromyard & Leominster. Without long term funding the service in Hereford will also have to close.
- CAB helps Herefordshire’s most vulnerable people, many of whom will not have access to online services or even have money to make a phone call.
The Conservatives say we must race to ‘balance the books’, and cut even more, but the Green party believes a better way of rebalancing the economy is to invest in public services and in protecting the environment, also the mark of a caring, civilised society.
I don’t want ‘the job finished’ if that means more of the precious assets we own in common will pass into private hands, leaving us mourning our libraries, care homes, public forests and post offices. Or that public-sector workers become ever more stressed and demoralised.
Herefordshire Council has cut hundreds of jobs since 2010, reduced library and customer service opening hours and has had to trim its budget again this year to cope with another ‘tough’ central government settlement. Bus services and tourism support which are vital for our rural economy are losing financial support.
Britain’s wealth is now concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. This is unhealthy, and I don’t accept that we must grow the economy before we can share it out more fairly. Over 5 million people currently earn less than the living wage – the Green Party would raise the statutory minimum wage to a living wage and increase it to £10 per hour by 2020, alongside practical measures to support small businesses.
We will change the tax system so that the really wealthy pay more, and will make it far more difficult for individuals and corporations to avoid paying what they owe.
In thinking about the economy, we can’t sidestep another crucial question – our one planet cannot support continual material and economic growth. Sound economic planning must take this into account, and facilitate a transition to a society that lives within its means
Voting Green will say you want a secure, resilient economy that works for the common good.