With over 1,400 local business people and residents signing a petition calling on Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) Council to cut parking charges, the lead petitioners finally got their time before a full council meeting in Bath’s Guildhall — and the result they wanted.
As co-lead petitioner, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance grassroots co-ordinator Tim Newark presented the Independent Shops of Bath petition against the recent rise in parking fees in central Bath.
A full council debate was triggered by the petition and a motion was passed by a clear majority calling on B&NES Cabinet to ‘take into serious consideration the proposals of the petitioners, and in particular seek to reduce or remove the new “ultra-premium” on-street parking zone rates.’ In addition to this the Council is asked to ‘either reinstate a reduced evening parking charge from 6pm to 8pm, or alternatively amend the start time of free parking to 7pm rather than the current 8pm.’
The motion in support of the Independent Shops of Bath petition recognised that ‘recent significant increases in on-street parking charges in Bath could have a detrimental impact on economic activity in the city, and believes that the new “Ultra-Premium Zone” is particularly unfair and punitive.’
‘I’m delighted with the clear support of the council for our petition,’ says Tim Newark. ‘It is a victory for common sense and independent shops and restaurants in Bath. Obviously, these changes will not happen overnight and the cabinet has to approve them, but it is a big step in the right direction to make Bath attractive to shoppers who prefer to drive into the city—not everyone wants to use a bus or bicycle—it is not always practical.’
‘The curtailing of parking charges after 6pm will make a big difference to the evening economy, helping independent restaurants in particular, as well as enabling people to enjoy our city.’
‘Sadly, the motion did not embrace our boldest suggestion—a free first half hour of parking in the city centre. This would encourage customers to pop in and browse. It’s the idea of Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for High Streets, so I can’t see why B&NES can’t adopt it here.’
Many of the supporters of the petition are independent shopkeepers from some of Bath’s most attractive city centre locations, including Walcot Street, Broad Street, Milsom Place, Upper Borough Walls and Bartlett Street.
‘Since opening my contemporary art gallery a year ago,’ says Jenny Pollitt of Lane House Arts, ‘I have witnessed a downturn in trade leading to the closure of many local independent businesses in the Walcot Street/London Road area. The downturn started when parking charges were increased. This together with a lack of business parking and permits, and unhelpful traffic wardens are leading people to go elsewhere in the city to park and shop. Why would you park here for two hours when you can park elsewhere for four for the same amount?’
Paying more and more for less and less seems the mantra now for some local council services. South Gloucestershire MP Chris Skidmore took his campaign against a new ‘stealth tax’ launched by his local council to the Houses of Parliament. He spoke in the House of Commons against recent green refuse bin charges.
‘Hard working residents have had little say over the increase in the amount of money they’re having to pay for services that used to be included in their council tax,’ he told fellow MPs. Fortnightly collections of green waste have been scrapped and these residents now have to pay £36 to have their garden refuse removed—dubbed a ‘green bin tax’. Skidmore set up a petition signed by over 4,200 local people to trigger a local council debate about it. The charge has cost £650,000 to implement.
‘Fortnightly green waste collection is an optional service for residents, rather than a tax, and those who do not wish to pay are not obliged to do so,’ said a local council spokesman.
Skidmore took the petition to Parliament and the Secretary of Communities and Local Government responded by saying: ‘Ministers believe that councils should not be introducing stealth taxes by imposing new charges on local residents. Instead councils should be making sensible savings by better procurement, more joint working, and cutting fraud in order to protect frontline services.’
Skidmore also argued that the charge amounted to a total increase in council tax of over the 2% required to force a referendum and that the council was using the ‘stealth tax’ charge to get round this, so they could claim to have frozen council tax, but locals are not impressed.
‘I believe this should be part of our Council Tax as it always has been,’ said one. ‘I have seen more fly-tipping in the area although it is harder to spot now the council has stopped cutting our grass as well.’
As a result of the local debate triggered by the petition, South Gloucestershire councillors have now voted to review the impact of the green bin tax on local residents. Whether that will lead to anything concrete remains to be seen…
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance
West Country local supporters gathered for our latest War on Waste action day on historic Plymouth Hoe next to Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse. Famous Devon sea captain Sir Francis Drake set out from Plymouth to defeat the Spanish Armada and we only thought it appropriate to protest at the encroachment of another bloated vessel—big government—by posing beneath his fine bronze statue on the Hoe. We then headed towards the city’s council building and handed out our War on Waste booklets in the city centre.
‘I feel that in a time of bloated government, at both a national and local level, any campaign to cut public spending is to be encouraged,’ says local supporter Dylan Morris. ‘Looking around Plymouth at the masses of wasted money it’s hard to ignore the need for lower spending, and that’s why I believe that the TPA’s War on Waste campaign is something to be embraced and supported.’
Plymouth City Council recently paid out £669,000 of taxpayers’ money to top accountants Ernst and Young—to help save them money! ‘We have to spend money to save money,’ argued the Council’s Chief Executive.
But local MP Gary Streeter was far from impressed. ‘The council has some serious questions to answer from residents who are facing an increase in their council tax on why they spent this much,’ he told the Plymouth Herald. ‘We are paying senior officers a great deal of money. They work extremely hard for it, and I accept that sometimes it’s necessary to go outside of the organisation, but I wouldn’t expect a piece of work like this to cost anything near that much.’
Neither is the TPA impressed. ‘Taxpayers will be rightly outraged that the council has wasted their money on costly consultants to write a report on how to do its own job,’ says our political director Dia Chakravarty.
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance
Fury continues to grow at Salisbury Council’s lack of coordinated thinking when it comes to encouraging shoppers into the city centre. With occupancy rates of less than 25 per cent at its Culver Street car park, the council have been reduced to slashing the price of parking there and now is offering free parking after 3pm everyday. For some traders this is a welcome concession, but for others it is too little too late and involves yet more taxpayers’ money being spent on a forlorn attempt to make the council’s white elephant car park more attractive to drivers.
‘In addition to the parking initiatives, Wiltshire Council are also undertaking a refurbishment of the Culver Street Shoppers Car Park including re-branding as a Shoppers Car Park and working with the BID and the City Council to create a more welcoming environment,’ says the director of Salisbury Business Improvement District (BID). ‘This will include replanting and redecoration of some of the area.’ BIDs are funded by a levy on shopkeepers and generally use this money to paper over errors in council policy making.
In the meantime, Wiltshire Council is looking at turning the more popular city centre Brown Street car park into a coach park, having sold off another coach park for development.
‘Brown Street car park is highly valued by local shoppers because it is about as far as many people are prepared to walk carrying shopping,’ observes one local. ‘An end to Brown Street car parking would be another nail in the coffin of Salisbury as a shopping and market town. Salisbury Vision says there is plenty of space in Culver Street, but that is because people don’t want to use it. Take away Brown Street and more people will find Salisbury an unattractive proposition and will stay away.’
‘One suspects part of the motive to develop coach parking in Brown Street,’ says another local, ‘stems from the disastrous waste of money on Culver Street, which is rarely used even when it is free.’
Why is that local residents and trades people always seem to have a better idea of how a city centre actually works than council bureaucrats? Funny that. And yet in the meantime, we see a senior manager at Wiltshire Council justifying her sky-high wage package of between £134,000 and £148,000 to a Parliamentary committee. Maggie Rae, a director at the council, says her job is not comparable to that of the Prime Minister, who is paid less, but she does work the same hours.
‘We’re paying middle-range salaries,’ Rae argues, ‘while at the same time we have ambition to be the most excellent council, and we are struggling to get staff into jobs even at those salaries because people can earn much more money in the private sector. I think we’ve got to work very hard to make sure local government doesn’t fall behind.’
It is the same tired old argument used to justify excessive salaries for local council mangers. Certainly, a few local residents would quibble at the quality of council decision making when it comes to encouraging visitors into Salisbury and keeping it a viable shopping centre.
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance
Taxpayers’ anger at the wasteful ways of parish councils has reached a peak in West Yorkshire. ‘With a budget of £293,545 and 23 councillors to support,’ says a local TPA supporter, ‘Holme Valley Parish Council (HVPC) has been in the news for more than just wasting money, but for expropriating the land property of local taxpayers in order to sell it back to them for thousands of pounds.’
Holme Valley Land Charity—part of HVPC—was established in 2009 to sell old quarry sites in order to raise money for community projects, but of the £130,000 generated so far, only a fraction of it has been spent on erecting just one bench and providing a prize for a school writing competition. Most of that money has been spent on contesting legal cases involving land grabbed from local residents. One man was allegedly asked to pay £20,000 to buy his own garden back from the council charity.
‘What I want to know is when are the people who have lost out going to be properly compensated for the money they have lost and the distress they have undergone?’ says local campaigner Stephen Green. ‘Having been involved for over five years now I have absolutely no faith in this council to sort this matter out themselves after the shambles they have created.’
As a result of its misappropriation of land, the charity has lost three legal disputes and been forced to hand back seven plots of land. ‘Local taxpayer victims who have sued the council to get their property back have won in court,’ says a local supporter, ‘but at a significant cost in legal fees to themselves since the council is spending public money to defend its expropriation.’
For three years, Jacqui Duns had to fight the council charity in court over part of her family’s field taken by the charity, which then wanted to sell it back to her for £5,000—it’s actual value being more like £1,000. Mrs Duns produced family deeds showing the land belonged to them but then had to rack up £13,000 in legal fees over two years to win the case. She got £4,000 back, but is now pursuing the council charity for the remaining £8,500 in the small claims court—plus an apology.
‘There was no consultation, public or private, they simply tried to take this land in secret and behind our backs even though the documents they held show that our family had a clear interest in and occupancy of this land,’ Mrs Duns told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner. ‘The first we knew was when they put it up for auction and we had to step in to stop the sale.’
Earlier, the council charity had blundered when it sold land at auction that was Common Land and had to buy it back. The council charity has since been criticised by the Information Commissioner for not answering Freedom of Information requests.
‘I fully support Jason McCartney [MP for Colne Valley] in his call for the District Auditor to be brought in,’ says campaigner Stephen Green, ‘and for a full and public investigation into how this council is operating and I would be interested in what action he intends to take.’
Local supporters and our TPA action team gathered outside the historic Guildhall in Chard in southern Somerset for a War on Waste action day. We handed out leaflets and chatted to passers-by about cutting waste in local government expenditure.
‘My main concern is about the unfairness of the Council Tax and the sheer waste and huge salaries in local government,’ says Chard resident and TPA supporter Peter Yaxley.
Yaxley has been waging a long campaign against the local town council’s wasteful ways. And the Chard and Illminster News noted recently that the salaries of top council bosses making key decisions across Chard, Ilminster and Crewkerne have come under TPA scrutiny. ‘At a time when councils are finding necessary savings it’s absolutely right that senior officials recognise their part in delivering value for money to the taxpayer,’ said TPA spokesman Andy Silvester.
‘We re-structured our senior management team in 2010 when the council agreed to the sharing of a chief executive with East Devon District Council as a means of reducing costs,’ replied a spokesman for South Somerset District Council.
‘At the same time the number of directors was reduced from four to two. Additionally, the overall number of staff employed in the same period by the council has reduced by over 100, and again this was primarily to reduce costs and increase efficiency. We annually publish the pay information for our senior officers in our Senior Pay Policy Statement, which is available on our website.’
Tim Newark, South West TaxPayers’ Alliance
On Friday the TaxPayer’s Alliance was in Surrey Heath talking to residents about Council Tax, which has now risen for two years in a row there. In neighbouring Bracknell Forest, the average Band D household pays £250 less in Council Tax than Surrey Heath, despite no discernible difference in services according to locals. Meanwhile, allowances for the Surrey County Council leader will increase by an enormous 59 per cent this year alone. Understandably, this is an issue a lot of local people feel very strongly about.
So, with a team of local activists, we set up a stall on Camberley High Street, giving out leaflets and asking people to sign our petition calling for Council Tax cuts. Helped along by the sunshine, the street was bustling with people, many keen to stop and chat about their feelings on Council Tax. Many were pleased to know that the TPA is dedicated to fighting for them on local issues as well as national.
Alongside gathering signatures we were visited by Paul Deach, local councillor and founder of the Surrey Residents’ Network who broadcasts and blogs on local issues. Paul interviewed us about the work the TPA does and why we were out campaigning in Surrey Heath, for a podcast that’s up on the Surrey Residents’ Network website.
All in all, it was a very successful day. A lot of new people have signed up to be part of our Action Team and the amount of support gathered for our petition was really encouraging. Our next Action Day will be in Chard, Somerset on Wednesday and with the War on Waste Roadshow also about to commence very soon, it’s a good time for taxpayers to be fighting back.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance yesterday journeyed to Tatton, the constituency MP George Osborne yesterday to raise awareness of Tax Freedom Day, which is when the average Briton stops working for the taxman and starts working for themselves. It is calculated by the Adam Smith Institute and it’s a reminder of exactly how little of their money people actually keep.
Despite the grey weather many people were out and about on a high street filled with local businesses, and many were happy to take our leaflets or chat about local and national issues. A lot of people were concerned about business rates and the squeezing of disposable incomes because of high taxes.
Our local TPA activist David Hartley attended the action day and had this to say:
The TaxPayers’ Alliance speak on behalf of the much put upon taxpayer, who carries the burden for every ill conceived project, or every trouble or problem that beset their own local area and country.
Every time a new issue or crisis arises or faces us there only ever seems to be one solution and that solution is to spend more taxpayer’s money as if his or her pocket is a bottomless pit; nobody ever seems to have a solution that involves spending less taxpayers’ money.
The day also marked the beginnings of the War on Waste campaign which will take TPA activists across the country this summer to raise awareness of wasteful government spending.
The fiasco of Bath & North East Somerset (B&NES) council’s ill-advised bus lane has dominated the local news for the last couple of weeks, but now questions are being asked about the cost of it all. Public anger at the high level of fines charged on unsuspecting motorists as they drove past a camera meant to deter them from driving along a temporary bus lane has forced the council into a rapid u-turn.
Having raised over £250,000 in fines in just one month, B&NES was forced to admit its signage had been poor and would cancel immediately the experimental bus lane. One driver, going about his daily business, was fined ten times at a total cost of £650! B&NES then decided to reimburse everyone who had been fined.
‘It cost more than £200,000 to refund all the fines collected,’ said Cllr Anthony Clarke, ‘but it will cost many thousands more to rectify the mistake in admin and officer time to process the thousands of refunds, not to mention the cost of implementing the bus gate in the first place.’
Many of the drivers fined were visitors to the city and tourism officials are concerned at the negative impact this has had on their impression of Bath, discouraging them from coming back and creating bad word of mouth. That will be a further cost to Bath residents and traders.
‘The council’s mishandling of Dorchester Street bus gate is widely recognised as one of B&NES’s biggest shambles since the Spa,’ said Cllr Clarke. ‘But what makes it worse is that the Lib Dems were warned time and time again that they were heading for disaster. Yet they simply refused to listen.’
Now the local taxpayers will have to pick up the bill for this.
Tim Newark, South West TPA
In my new book, Protest Vote, I tell the story of how politicians have lost touch with their voters—lost the plot—and how protest vote parties and grassroots campaign groups have fought back. Ever since Matthew Elliott founded the TPA ten years ago, it has been at the forefront of a revolution in the way we express our view on government and the way our country is run. When I first joined the TPA, I was thoroughly fed up with conventional party politics. Politicians were turning their back on grassroots supporters, convinced they know better than the ordinary voter. The TPA has been part of a popular uprising giving power back to disenchanted voters, allowing them to have an impact on government policy and rein in out of control public expenditure.
Through candid interviews with key political figures from Nigel Farage of UKIP to Sara Parkin of the Green Party, in Protest Vote I tell for the first time the colourful story of the rise of Britain’s protest movements against the political establishment, and the maverick leaders that express this tide of discontent. My book pinpoints the moments—from mass immigration to the Europe Union—when the arrogance of mainstream politicians lost them voters—and how this has changed politics in Britain forever.
I interviewed Matthew Elliott for my book and he tells the fascinating story of the evolution of the TPA from its early days meeting in cafés.
‘Basically, the trend is that all political parties don’t want to give their activists much of a say,’ explains Elliott. ‘Frankly, they’re embarrassed by them. They don’t like debates at party conference because they can’t control what people are going to say. They would much rather activists pay their subs, give their donations, deliver their leaflets and have no opinions of their own. Which is why membership numbers for all political parties are going down. What people like about everything from Conservative Home to the TPA is that there is a vibrant debate there. If you’re just there as fodder for delivering leaflets, why do it?’
‘When parties started clamping down on dissent within parties, that’s when pressure groups became more appealing,’ he continues. ‘People would go for single-issue pressure groups. They could see how they make a difference in politics, they satisfy their interest in politics, and they don’t have to sign up to all the things they disagree with within a political party.’
Thanks to Matthew Elliott and a few other far-sighted political figures, the voter is getting back his and her voice. If you want to know more about this process, I tell the full story in Protest Vote.
Bath shopkeepers gathered outside the Guildhall in the centre of the city to hand in their petition to Bath & North East Somerset council (B&NES), with over 1400 signatures from shoppers and traders protesting at the recent rise in council parking charges. Since council parking fees in central Bath went up by 40 per cent at the start of the year, Bath Independent Shopkeepers have been fuming and have directed their anger towards gathering a petition of signatures from shopkeepers and customers who all oppose Bath council’s high parking fees—and the TPA has been side by side with them helping their campaign. With over 1,400 signatures now, their petition will trigger a full council debate about parking charges.
‘We want to see a cut in the parking fees in Laura Place and other city centre shopping streets,’ says lead petitioner Jo Davies of shop Grasse. ‘B&NES made a mistake raising the parking fees in Victoria Park and have now been forced to cut them. We want to see the same here in the centre of the city where it can help shoppers and Bath’s independent shopkeepers.’
‘I’ve been helping Jo gather signatures for this petition,’ says Tim Newark of Bath Taxpayers’ Alliance. ‘It’s the independent shops and restaurants in Bath that make this city special. I’d like to see B&NES introduce a free half hour of parking in the city centre. This would encourage customers to pop in and browse. It’s the idea of Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for High Streets, so I can’t see why B&NES can’t adopt it here.’
Many of the signatories of the petition are independent shopkeepers from some of Bath’s most attractive city centre locations, including Walcot Street, Broad Street, Milsom Place, Upper Borough Walls and Bartlett Street, and some of them joined the protest outside the Guildhall.
B&NES have also hit the headlines recently with more ill-judged revenue raising. Their trial bus gate has raised £270,000 in just one month from drivers being fined for going the wrong way along Dorchester Street. So many people have complained about the poor signage leading to the bus gate, that the Council is being forced to investigate the whole matter. Bath shopkeepers fear this is yet another discouragement for visitors to come to Bath.
Islwyn Assembly Member Gwyn Price, who was only elected in 2011, has spoken less in the Chamber than any other speaker, totting up 2,269 words in one year. He represents one of the most deprived regions of the UK and his word count is even shorter than the Welsh Secretary, David Jones, who only made one annual appearance.
As reported in the South Wales Echo, Mr Price’s inaction was raised during a radio question and answer session with the First Minister Carwyn Jones. A contributor claimed Mr Price “never contributes” to debates, and cited an example where Mr Price was tabled to lead a short debate in the Assembly in November, but failed to lodge a motion for it. To rebut claims of total inactivity, the First Minister claimed that Mr Price did in fact ask questions, and was a part of an important committee.
Mr Price, who was a keen former Union Leader and who grew up in the South Wales Valleys, announced in February he was to stand down from his seat at the next election, which prompted sarcastic amendments to his Wikipedia page suggesting he was stepping down to concentrate on an autobiography called “Code of Silence”.
The latest revelation came to light after research from Welsh language campaign group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, which collated the number of words spoken in Welsh during plenary sessions, as well as the total number of words, to gauge the use of Welsh in the Assembly.
The Welsh Liberal Democrats have claimed that:
The primary role of an Assembly Member is to represent their constituents in the National Assembly. Yet week in, and week out, Gwyn Price fails to utter a single word in Assembly debates on behalf of his constituents.
The research conducted by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and other bodies is very revealing. Politicians are paid to represent their area, so inactivity harms not only democracy, but also taxpayers. Constituents are should have a right to recall their representatives if they feel they aren’t getting value for money.