Tag: parties

Secret manifesto: local elections 2010 round 3

I’d like to read the local red nest manifesto, which they launched today. However, in a wonderful bit of poor planning, their old website, www.swindonlabour.co.uk, had been taken offline, whilst their new website, www.swindon-labour.co.uk was, until ½ hour ago password protected. Even though the website is now accessible, the manifesto isn’t obvious as such. Even the ‘featured story’ about its launch doesn’t provide a link. It’s sort of there, as a series of stories, but not as a single document, and not clearly labelled as their manifesto. Seeing as the manifesto was completed by 18th February — going by the dates on the website — they’re not very quick out of the starting blocks. I’d also subscribe to the newsfeed from their website, but the most obvious link provided doesn’t work either.

If you want to see the Swindon Labour manifesto in the form it will be distributed, for the moment the only place to do so is on TalkSwindon.

Like a tory council: local elections 2010 round 2

Run like a Tory CouncilIf I were Mr Tomlinson or Mr Buckland I’d be worried. Not because of how their party’s lead has diminished in recent national opinion polls. Nor because of particular campaigning successes of their opponents, Mr Agarwal and the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, respectively. No, what would worry me would be the antics of the leadership of Swindon Borough Council. Mr Bluh through his arrogance and extravagant splurging of local taxpayers’ money on vanity projects, is giving the opponents of his party’s candidates in the national elections an easy target.

The leaflet dropped through my letterbox today by Mr Wright in the company of Mr Montaut is devious in its attempt to confuse national politics with local politics. Thus it compares recent expenditure by the blue nest controlled council with alleged ‘investment’ by national government — bragging about money spent by Mr Brown’s government without mentioning the record-breaking debt they’ve run-up is like praising a bullion robber for their money laundering skills. But all that is a side issue in comparison with the simple messages of Mr Bluh’s vanity projects — wifi, tabernacle stones, the Radio 1 Big Weekend — and a simple claim.

David Cameron has already said he would run the country like a Tory council – don’t give him the chance.

I can’t find the source of that claim. And if Mr Cameron were to run the country like most Conservative councils, I wouldn’t mind. But Swindon Borough Council isn’t like other Conservative councils — it’s one with a legacy of Mr Bluh’s failed vanity projects.

Monday night at the playpen

On Monday night, for the first time, I went to observe a meeting of Swindon Borough Council. This was the budget setting full council meeting. Even allowing for the poor reputation of politicians, one might expect that for an important issue like this the debate would be serious and behaviour respectable. Instead, there was a display of infantile posturing and bad temper.

The meeting started with a minute’s silence to mark the death of Ms Fowles, chief executive of the local NHS who died of cancer at the weekend. In tribute, Mr Bluh suggested that councillors should try and have a reasoned debate. It was advice that few — including Mr Bluh and his own cabinet — chose to follow.

During the first item on the agenda — confirmation of the minutes of the last meeting — Mr Perkins delivered the first of many ranting political lectures. Indeed, one of the three consistent features of the evening — the others being the number 21 bus and Mr Bluh’s now infamous smug arrogance — was Mr Perkins’ aggressive contempt for all those he disagreed with.

Next up were questions from the public. In response to one question Mr Young admitted that the £2M benefits to the local economy claimed for the Radio 1 Big Weekend were ‘partly speculative’. In response to another question, Mr Bluh claimed that ‘due process was followed’ when investing almost £½M in Digital City (UK) Ltd. He also said

As far as I am aware there is no Audit Commission investigation.

Awareness may not be one of Mr Bluh’s strong points.

Next were general questions from the councillors, during which Mr Wright got very hot and bothered over the matter of naming streets and announced he was referring the matter to the borough solicitor. The names of streets seemed to worry Mr Wright more than how the council spends our money.

After ¾ hour it was on to the main item for the evening: the council budget. According to Mr Edwards his budget was ‘brilliant’. Naturally, Mr Montaut disagreed and proposed an amended budget, for the same cost but different services. Much knockabout political squabbling then followed, with Mr Perkins and Ms Foley in rather a lot of words accusing the opposition of being stupid and Mr Bluh taking the ‘nice try but should have done better; much better’ approach, and the red nest trying to make up for lack of numbers by shouting all their speeches.

Most bizarre moments of the evening for me were Mr Bawden making a speech opposing a budget needing a higher council tax, even though that wasn’t what the opposition had proposed, and Mr Ali delivering a political speech that made almost no mention of budget plans but wouldn’t have been out of place in a general election hustings for his candidature in Devizes.

However, perhaps the most telling point was when Mr Wright observed that an essential element of civic pride is ensuring that basic things, like keeping the streets clean, are done and done well. To this Mr Bluh responded

The Tabernacle stones and canal are about the bigger picture and Swindon moving forward.

For Mr Bluh running a council during a financial crisis is clearly more about vain legacy projects than serving the basic needs of Swindon.

Lobbying

Is there an election coming? I ask because Mr Bluh — even though he comments similarly himself — is behaving as though there isn’t. Mr Montaut and Mr Wills have both expressed concern over the amount of money being spent by Swindon Borough Council on Westminster lobbyists: £129,400 over 18 months.

In a time of economic hardship, where council employees are experiencing real-terms pay cuts and day centres for the elderly are being shut down, Swindon can ill afford to pay for luxuries like a lobbying contract in London, when there are perfectly acceptable, cheaper alternatives to getting central Government funding – like using Swindon’s two MPs.

Now, leaving aside the distinct failure of said two MPs to do anything of use for Swindon in Westminster — Ms Snelgrove isn’t known as the government’s representative in South Swindon for nothing — and that it may well turn out to be money well spent, the council’s finances are in a dire state and every penny spent should be thoroughly justified.

Alas, it seems that Mr Bluh doesn’t believe in justifying how he spends our money.

This attack is the last gasp from two failed Members of Parliament who have not delivered for local people. Their comments are designed purely for the forthcoming election and have nothing to do with the future of the borough.

I’m sure Messrs Montaut and Wills made their comments with the elections in mind. That doesn’t mean they’re not legitimate concerns. And more importantly, concerns that the electorate of Swindon might wish to have answered.

With the council short of money, yet having spent almost £½M on the Radio 1 Big Weekend and almost another £½M on wifi, Mr Bluh needs to try far harder and actually justify the money his council administration takes from us, rather than just responding with arrogance and contempt.

If he doesn’t, the electorate may decide that Mr Bluh too will have nothing to do with the future of the borough.

Disappointed

Mr Hunt — talking about the wireless internet service being built by his company with a loan of almost £½M from the people of Swindon via Swindon Borough Council — says he’s

very very disappointing that it’s been politicised.

I too am disappointed. The attempt by Mr Wills to compare concerns over the wifi deal with the traditional and long-running political squabble about how much of our money Swindon receives from central government is blatant politicisation.

For years, Swindon borough councillors have misled residents about government funding but there is growing evidence that this forms part of a pattern…. I believe there is evidence of systemic secrecy in Swindon Borough Council about money and this represents a failure of governance. I call now on Swindon Borough Council to reveal the truth about Oakhurst School and the wi-fi scheme and do the survey on bus travel residents want.

The links between that little lot are tenuous to say the least.

However, if Mr Hunt is so concerned about politicisation, then why did he choose to be pictured at the launch of the wifi service in Highworth, alongside an all-blue line-up of Mr Bluh and parliamentary shadow cabinet member Ms Spelman? If Mr Hunt doesn’t like politicisation, he shouldn’t make such a habit of appearing with politicians.

For myself and seemingly for others, this is not a party political matter: it’s about whether due process was followed when spending local taxpayers’ money. The pursuit of the truth behind how and when the decision to spend almost £½M of local taxpayers’ money on this particular company would be just as determined, regardless of the party of the politicians involved.

A legacy of own goals: local elections 2010 round 1

It’s rare that I find myself in agreement, — even just partial agreement — with my local red nest councillors. But with the first election leaflet of the year to drop through my letterbox, they seem to have picked a topic which I suspect many in Central ward will see more than just a hint of truth amongst the political exaggeration.

Labour trying to matterFirst, they comment on residents’ parking permits. This is almost unadulterated political spin.

Residents parking is their second biggest revenue stream after Council tax. Every time they put up parking charges at car parks in town, drivers try to avoid the increased costs by parking in Central’s residential areas.

They’ve obviously forgotten that in the run-up to Christmas, charges for parking in town centre car parks were dropped.

If you think we are being unfair then question why the Tories closed the Northern Park and Ride, adding an estimated 250 week day cars looking for parking spaces in Central.

Perhaps because the economic disaster that the Labour government has presided over has reduced the number working in Central Swindon by far more than that.

The Tory Council have forgotten that this scheme is for you and your parking needs and not as their income generator.

Agreed, but the price of residents’ parking permits has nothing to do with visitor car parking charges.

So far, so much traditional party political drivel. But then they come to a topic where the current blue nest leadership are contentedly kicking own goals as fast as they can.

This Tory administration is more obsessed with itself and creating a legacy, than representing the people of the Borough… this Administration has an attitude of “it’s my way, or no way”…. They were planning to cut £50,000 from the Dial-a-Ride service at the same time they have shown misjudgment (sic) with priorities by the way they have gone about loaning £450,000 of Tax payers money to the Wi-Fi venture.

It seems the only legacy the local blue nest leadership have created is a massive stockpile of ammunition for their political opponents… and a bill for something many in Swindon will neither want nor need.

The slash and burn approach to council budgeting

I don’t wish to appear churlish about Swindon Borough Council achieving a low council tax increase for the coming year but… if they can achieve an increase of just 1.8% following a year when the council’s other revenues (such as planning application fees) have collapsed, just why haven’t they achieved it before? Or perhaps it would be more pertinent to ask why they haven’t felt it appropriate to achieve such a small increase before. In principle, it should have been possible for them to achieve this level of increase in previous years putting far less strain on service provision, as the council’s finances were in a better state.

To go for broke — possibly literally — this year looks like little more than reckless pre general election posturing rather than carefully thought out financial planning.

Spatial squabbling

Both the blue and red nests seem to be keen to blame t’other side for proposals to build 3000 houses to the west of Swindon. The government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, would have us believe that it’s all the fault of the blues.

Under current proposals Tory run Wiltshire County Council plan to build 3,000 new homes neighbouring West Swindon…. The Regional Spatial Strategy that sets out housing numbers for each local authority area was drafted by the Tory controlled Regional Assembly (now known as the South West Leaders Council).

Naturally, her opponent lays the blame on the reds.

Yesterday, Labour bizarrely criticised the Conservatives for the Regional Spatial Strategy, which has led to plans for 3,000 houses next to West Swindon. But only four months ago, Labour’s South Swindon MP strongly supported the RSS, saying, “it lays out important manageable growth figures for Swindon”.

As is so often the case in politics, all are suffering from selective memory loss.

The Regional Spatial Strategy is a consequence of the planning legislation introduced by the current government (red). The housing targets in it were set by the government (red). The strategy itself was produced by the South West Regional Assembly, now known as South West Councils (both blue). This is a document that seems to aim to solve the housing problems of rural Devon and Cornwall by building in the corner of the region that is furthest from those two counties — 34,000 houses were to be built in Swindon. Not satisfied with this distortion, the government (red) added another 2000 houses to Swindon’s allocation plus another 1000 in North Wiltshire in ‘urban extensions’ to Swindon.

Where to put those 37,000 houses? The Regional Spatial Strategy identified a large area to the east of Swindon, the Eastern Development Area. Swindon Borough Council (blue) in the first draft of their Core Strategy identified a number of other ‘areas of search’ where there could be significant development. One was at Tadpole lane. It also suggested where the urban extensions in North Wiltshire added by the government should be: near Ridgeway Farm and Moredon Bridge. Neighbouring North Wiltshire District Council (varying hues) objected to Swindon making plans beyond its border.

Now Wiltshire Council (blue, successor to North Wiltshire District and Wiltshire County Councils) is consulting on its own Core Strategy. It allocates land near Swindon’s western border for 3000 houses. In doing so it follows where the Government’s development strategy, the South West Regional Spatial Strategy and Swindon Core Strategy have lead.

With that provenance, neither main party is innocent in the conversion of Swindon into a suburban sprawl.

Building debt

Sometimes the government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, is so keen to slag off the blue nest controlled council that she ignores what she’s quoting her own ministers as saying. Take, for instance, today’s announcement that the government’s adding another £122.6M to the national debt to fund the building of more council houses. Ms Snelgrove would have us believe that the council needs to do more.

The Council’s housing waiting list is now over 10,000 which is completely unacceptable and they need to start matching the Government’s support to tackle this problem.

Err… matching the ‘Government’ support (i.e. taxpayer support) is a condition of the scheme, and as the council had to bid to government for the money, is something they’ve already committed to.

John Healey announced 73 councils covering every region of England will share an extra £122.6 million. Councils will match the Government’s grant, bringing total public investment in the programme to over £500m to build more than 4,000 new council homes

Oddly although Ms Snelgrove included that in her press release, she chose to ignore Mr Healey’s compliment to the winning councils.

Councils have shown they’re ready and willing to build new homes, so I’m ready to back them.

The government’s representative in South Swindon, Ms Snelgrove, is always quick to criticise the council when their bids to government are unsuccessful. In contrast, when the council is successful… she’s still full of criticism. I’m not daft enough to expect politicians to present an unbiased view; I do expect them to keep their political point scoring consistent with the facts.