Islington Council will have to repay motorists a huge amount in compensation over a bungled road layout scheme. It has apparently caused a number of accidents, including three in which vehicles over-turned while trying to negotiate it.
The scheme has attracted a large number of complaints from local residents, and has already cost local taxpayers some £110,000 including revisions. Apart from the accident toll, it seems that technical failures by Islington Council will also lead to over 10,000 traffic fines illegally issued between November last year and February having to be repaid at a cost of up to £1 million. Opposition councillors have called for the scheme to be scrapped.
The road width restriction in Drayton Park, near where I live in Highbury, first came to my notice early last year while it was being built. Not long after I saw that it had been comprehensively demolished and rebuilt with a different layout a short while later. Residents suspected that this indecision and inconvenience must have wasted taxpayers’ money.
Islington Council released two internal reports after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, but they seemed to raise more questions than they answered.
Apparently, the cost of the initial construction had been estimated at £80,000. But strangely, the cost of revision, which involved both the demolition and reconstruction of the restriction according to a new design, was estimated in the second report at only £29,000. It’s hard to decipher how something which requires a great deal more work can cost only just over a third of the original estimate.
The second report showed that the design revision had taken place at the instigation of two groups, the Islington Cyclists’ Action Group (ICAG) and SusTrans, with the latter apparently threatening to withdraw its funding of the Connect2 cycle route scheme unless the design was changed.
A second FOI request was sent to the Council asking for details of how much SusTrans had pledged to the Council for this particular Connect2 route and/or any other route in the borough. The reply from the Council’s Finance Department was that SusTrans had granted the Islington Connect2 scheme £600,000 for 2012-13, but that this came with a proviso that funding could be withdrawn if SusTrans disapproved of any aspect of a particular scheme delivered by the Council. In this case, that is exactly what happened.
So, who did actually pay for the ‘revision’ of this costly and wasteful scheme? SusTrans, which in part is funded by significant amounts of taxpayers’ money from the Department of Transport and the European Union? Or did the money come directly from Islington Council Tax payers? Either way, one can’t help but question the propriety of the Council’s relationship with the groups in question. They seem able to effectively hold the Council to ransom to get their way. It’s Islington’s taxpayers and motorists who suffer as a result.
Islington TaxPayers’ Alliance
“If you want an example of how not to regenerate a town, Bridlington in a prime example”. I wrote those words in September 2010, and yesterday it was revealed in the Yorkshire Post that the regeneration plan in the seaside town was on the brink of collapse
The £200 million scheme to rejuvenate Bridlington has been unpopular with local people from the start. It involves buying up and demolishing existing properties to make way for Burlington Parade: a retail, small business and residential development. The reason why it was and is unpopular is because this new development is essentially an out of town shopping centre. Many properties already bought are vacant and boarded up. This grandiose plan will suck-out trade from existing shops, and attempt to redirect it to the new retail area, and in the process, keep more trade in the town and attract new visitors.
The whole scheme hinges on Tesco relocating from their existing site to a coach park next door. The supermarket has confirmed it no longer plans to move due to an unexpected reduction in profits. For those who think there must be a Plan B, you are going to be disappointed. A source tells me that around £25 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on this proposed development. This figure includes consultancy costs, staffing costs, exhibition costs, and land acquisition and demolition costs. Despite all the money spent, those in charge at East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) did not get Tesco to sign on the dotted line.
Former ERYC councillor, Geoff Pickering commented:
I think they need to explain why they have gone for a plan that is so prescriptive rather than normal planning documents that are flexible and robust enough to take this. Why didn’t they take notice of stakeholders when they sat at the opposite side of the table to them in the inquiry? They decided to ignore them and all the checks and balances that would normally be put into this kind of project are not in place because they disregarded other opinions
Mr Pickering is correct. To spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on something so inflexible is madness. Despite being told this on many occasions, the council’s response was to collectively put their fingers in their ears, and dismiss those appealing for them to see sense.
The council though was trying to put on a brave face as officers scurried around in a desperate attempt to salvage the scheme. Initially they refused to talk to the media, and put out a statement regretting Tesco’s decision. The council said it needed more time before it could make a full statement. It was then thought Alan Menzies, ERYC’s Corporate Director of Planning and Economic Regeneration, was going to talk to BBC Look North. This didn’t happen, and instead the council issued another holding statement. Here’s part of it:
However, the Council respect the current decision, and will continue to progress the developments that Bridlington Area Action Plan provides for, initially, with the consultation on the design guidance, the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which will run from 22nd April to 2nd June so that the Council can listen to public opinion on quality of design, and develop deliverable plans for the town.
Whilst the Tesco proposal was one possible element of the development, it was not necessarily the first, and certainly not the only site within the Bridlington AAP area for development. Public opinion from the SPD consultation may help to shape the future approach.
If you go back far enough, the Tesco proposal was not necessarily the first option, but as there is no Plan B, it’s clear all the council is doing is playing for time.
This whole mess needs to be fully investigated. Those responsible for it need to be held to account. If council officers were experts in property development, they wouldn’t be working for the council, they would be in business themselves. Instead they have marched on into the abyss ignoring every sane voice that told them their plans were flawed. Heads should roll, but we know this is unlikely. The standard reward for failure seems to be either a move sideways or a large compensation package for leaving quietly.
More updates to follow when the council eventually decides on its full and frank response.
With Cardiff City getting promoted into top flight football this week, some could be excused for missing another damning blow for the Welsh Government in its attempt to save ailing Cardiff International Airport. Figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority show a decline of 15% in passenger numbers last year, taking the total number of passengers using the airport to under 1 million (994,885).
The airport, which was purchased by the Welsh Government at a cost of £52 million to Welsh taxpayers, has been labelled as being vital to the Welsh economy. However Tuesday was the first time Assembly Members had met since its purchase last month, with those in opposition expressing dismay at the little to no progress thus far made on the venture.
This inactivity could be a sign of things to come, as the Welsh Liberal Democrat business spokesperson Eluned Parrott highlighted. She pointed out that the Welsh Government announced four years ago that it intended to introduce a bus link from Cardiff to the airport, which it is still yet to do.
This soap opera, which is being financed by Welsh taxpayers, is being played out when Bristol Airport has seen steady increases in passenger numbers and will shortly have a direct bus link with Swansea, via Cardiff. Unlike its potential Cardiff counterpart, this bus link has not received taxpayer funding.
With passenger numbers declining further and no progress in the weeks since the purchase, will Welsh taxpayers be left again with another white elephant?
Usually seen as a profitable money-spinner, council parking fines are not such good news for Devon’s district councils. A recent report reveals it is costing them much more money to collect than the fines are generating—nearly £800,000—and that’s all taxpayers’ money being wasted.
Devon County Councillors are due to debate the report that shows how their decision to take over parking enforcement duties from the police was a failure from its beginning in 2008. Although its on-street parking fines are making a profit, it is their collecting of Penalty Charge Notices that has made a loss for the last five years, culminating in the £800,000 in 2011/2012. Each district council operates its own team of traffic wardens and it was suggested savings could be made if the operation was centralised.
So, in Devon you not only have the negative impact of high street parking fines on local trades-people and businesses, but Devon County Council is actually managing to lose taxpayers’ money in the process. The irony of this seemed to be lost on the head of the council’s scrutiny committee. ‘I want to make progress towards a healthier turnover, without exploiting car drivers,’ he said, ‘but helping the local economy because that is vital to all our futures.’ Well, yes!
Salt was rubbed into the humiliating wound when it was revealed that the parking fines report itself has cost £22,000 of taxpayers’ money. Just a big hole getting bigger…
In the meantime it has been reported that European car owners are just not paying their parking fines. Just over half a million pounds is owed councils from Portsmouth to Southampton. Some Europeans have cottoned on to the local failure and one foreign car owner has racked up 46 unpaid parking tickets.
To combat this, councils are now employing a Euro Parking Collection company, but this firm is finding European Union co-operation sadly lacking when its comes to collecting fines. The French Vehicle Licensing Authority, for instance, has refused to pass on any car owner details—so for the French it’s free parking in England! At least, it should encourage local tourism…
It has been finally announced that a failing £36m back-to-work scheme is to be wound up. The under-performing ‘Genesis Cymru Wales 2’ which was launched at the beginning of the financial crisis was supposed to help 20,000 individuals get back into work or gain the qualifications needed.
The programme run by local councils and funded by the EU was supposed to help those who had difficulty finding work, but as the BBC highlighted in February, only around half of the initial target of 20,000 participated in the scheme, and only 789 people found jobs where they were working for at least sixteen hours a week.
The fund which initially had £67 million set aside was intended to run until 2014 but after five years, a review, and £36m spent, it was thought that it should be concluded early with a phased closure starting from July. What is truly shocking about this waste and poor governance is that each job created cost a total of £44,735 instead of the intended £13,000 per job.
Jeff Cuthbert, the Deputy Skills Minster in the Welsh Government, said that lessons will be learnt from this and will inform the way they deliver future adult employment and skills programmes in Wales. From a business owners point of view though, this £36m could have been better invested in creating a positive business environment such as a freeze on business rates, or grants for start-up businesses that would have really helped boost employment.
More money wasted in an ill thought out scheme
When Ann Barnes, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Kent, announced last week she had appointed a Youth Commissioner, she would never have thought the wheels would come off in such a spectacular way. Despite the events of the last few days, Ms Barnes still intends to press ahead and find a replacement for Paris Brown, the Youth Commissioner she has just lost.
Of course we want to see young people getting involved in the fight against crime in their communities. It’s what all public-spirited citizens should be doing. Many Police officers build-up valuable trust among younger people by regularly visiting youth clubs and schools. Teachers and volunteer youth club workers play an important part in assisting too. Paying a Youth PCC a salary of £15K a year though, and giving her expenses, is a ridiculous waste of money and nothing more than expensive tokenism.
Too many PCCs have fallen into this trap. They have failed to grasp the purpose of their job which is to hold the Police to account on behalf of the public. Police authorities failed to do this properly. With a democratically elected commissioner, we know who to approach when things go wrong. It is not the role of a PCC to get themselves in the newspapers every other day, which is what many of them seem to be doing.
I have already commented on Adam Simmonds, PCC for Northamptonshire, who immediately after being elected appointed four assistants, including an Assistant Commissioner for Drugs Eradication. Of course we want to see drugs taken away from our streets. They blight our communities and are a major cause of crime in some areas, but this is the operational responsibility of the Police. The Police are experienced in this area and what they do not need is a bureaucrat on an inflated salary standing over them, micro managing their every move. Judge them on results. If drug related crime is rising, ask them why, and make sure they come up with a plan that works. That is what Adam Simmonds should be doing instead of creating more jobs for the boys.
Despite the debacle in Kent, Matthew Grove, PCC for Humberside, felt the need to issue a press release about his intentions. When it arrived in my inbox barely an hour and a half after the sad news that Baroness Thatcher had passed away, my initial reaction was to wonder what bad news they were trying to bury. After reading the release, I released it didn’t really say much at all.
Mr Grove would like to create the post of Youth Ambassador, although ideally he would like four ambassadors – one for every council that makes up the Humberside Police area. Although a salary will not be paid, we don’t know how much travel will be involved; nor do we know if the Youth Ambassador(s) will be someone of Paris Brown’s age, or someone much older – a youth worker, for example. Just by looking at the press release, it doesn’t seem to be a well thought out plan. On face value, it looks like it’s just another gimmick to make us think Mr Grove is doing something. Like many PCCs across the country, Mr Grove wants to be seen as active. What he and they do not seem to understand is if they are doing their job properly, they don’t need to issue constant press releases and pose on street corners for photographs. The results will speak for themselves.
So please PCCs, cut out the gimmicks. Just get on with doing the job we have elected you to do and hold the Police to account on our behalf. No-one expected you to be perfect, however some of you are making a much better fist of the job than others.
Cardiff City Council has announced a proposal that would see all households throughout the city being forced to use clear bin bags in an attempt to boost recycling. Like other Welsh councils, Cardiff has seen a massive increases in recycling rates, and currently 52 per cent of waste generated does not go to landfill. This is above the EU’s 50 per cent target which was due to be accomplished by 2020, however the Welsh Government has decided that the target of 50 per cent is too low, and has set its own target of 58 per cent. Cardiff Council is concerned it is not going to reach this target in two years time, hence this latest plan.
The plan is flawed though in many ways. There is the potential for nosey neighbours to visually rummage through their neighbours’ rubbish. As Emma Carr of Big Brother Watch, states:
There is a clear danger that personal documents, like bank statements that haven’t been shredded, will be on show, meaning there is a concern this could aid identity theft.
It could have a significant impact on some of the most vulnerable in society. There are many who struggle to keep up-to-date with the latest changes the council makes. What’s going to happen to them?
Bureaucrats will also be inspecting rubbish. Anyone seen to be offending may receive a visit from the ominously named “waste awareness team”. Persistent offenders will be issued a fine for failing to sort their rubbish properly. How many times you have to “offend” is not made clear.
By all means encourage more people to recycle, but this is not encouraging more people to recycle. It is, as Jane Cowan, Independent councillor for Rhiwbina said, a step too far. It is forcing people to leave their rubbish on their doorsteps for everyone to see, and is an attempt to shame those the council sees as not doing the right thing, even though they may have made an honest mistake.
It’s time for a rethink.
Last week saw the nationalising of Cardiff International Airport at a cost of £52m to Welsh taxpayers. Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales – who had only a few days earlier cried foul learning that Wales was only getting an extra £161m from the Treasury – made the announcement with glee.
It has been claimed that Cardiff Airport is a major gateway for Welsh business, but it has seen a steady decline in passenger numbers since 2007, from a peak of two million passengers annually.
The state-funded intervention is also inevitably going to have an impact on Cardiff’s closest rival airport based in Bristol. Indeed, Bristol Airport’s Chief Executive, Robert Sinclair, has been quick to raise concerns about the cost of the purchase,pointing out that:
‘the purchase price of £52m paid by the Welsh government… is well above market value when compared to recent transactions involving UK airports’
The idea of state intervention was dealt another blow when Swiss carrier Helvetic announced earlier this year that it was pulling out of Cardiff Airport, just two years after the Welsh Government spent £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on its Wales in Switzerland initiative.
The next step, as outlined by the Welsh Government, is to improve the overall ambience of the airport with suggestions of further major capital spending on its appearance.
In January the Welsh Government claimed that any such purchase of Cardiff Airport would not burden the taxpayer. Yet given the £52m price tag it’s clear the cost of the airport is already being footed by the taxpayer, with that bill set to rise further as more money is pumped into it.
In 2011, the leader of Hull City Council, Cllr Steve Brady, said sick absences at the council must be reduced. A year ago I wrote that the average number of sick absences per staff member (excluding teachers) was 13.1 days. One year on it has been revealed sick absences remain at 13 days per staff member. Nothing has changed. In a cabinet meeting, the portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and communities, Cllr John Hewitt, had this to say:
The amount of money we are spending on sickness absence does worry me because having £4m in our coffers to spend on something else would be absolutely tremendous. The fact is, we have got agency workers on overtime covering for absent staff, which only makes it worse. I know some of our staff feel people are taking the proverbial by going on sick for the slightest excuse. I really believe we should be tackling this issue once and for all to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Fine words, and nothing you can disagree with, but isn’t that more or less exactly what was said this time last year, and the year before? Cllr Brady said a year and a half ago he was going to negotiate with the unions over changes to staff terms and conditions. He wants to reduce staff mileage rates from 65p per mile to 45p. Again fine words and nothing I disagree with, but what’s happened since? Negotiations are ongoing and we are still waiting for an announcement. In the meantime taxpayers have to pick up the bill for this expensive inertia.
If this was a private business, measures would have been taken to reduce costs. Those members of staff who are regularly taking sick leave would be monitored more closely. Cllr Brady said last year, “I have worked in the private sector and there is a different attitude to getting people back to work after being off sick.” He went on to say, “I’m not saying rush everyone back but something is not right when the sickness rates are still way above what they are in the private sector. There shouldn’t be a difference at all.”
Indeed there shouldn’t be, and now Brendan Arnold, director of resources, said the council was reviewing its sick absence policies. I wonder how long we have to wait for that review to be completed?
I am sure some readers will remember the story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
Rather sums it up, I think!
If you are a business in Nottingham, and provide 11 or more car parking spaces for your employees, your existing Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) licence will expire on 31 March. This means you are legally required to obtain a new licence covering the period 1 April 2013 – 31 March 2014. At a time when businesses are struggling, the council will also increase the cost of permits from the current £288 a year for every workplace parking space provided, to £334 – an increase of around 16 per cent.
Businesses of course can pass on the WPL costs, but as I have previously reported, this has not always gone down well. Many businesses therefore pay the levy themselves, and others have decided to no longer provide workplace parking spaces. For many people, driving to work is the only viable option, and neither them nor their employers are willing to hand over extra cash to the council for the ‘privilege’ of parking in a private car park.
So, one year on, here are a few examples of knock-on effects this misguided policy has created:
Six examples of the many problems the WPL has created, and just recently, council leader, Cllr John Collins, falsely accused the city’s largest employer, Alliance Boots, of aggressive tax avoidance. For some bizarre reason he decided to join the Corporation Tax debate and anger a company that could easily move its operation anywhere in the world. It’s as if he’s determined to destroy the local economy.
Businesses can’t pay tax – only people can pay tax, and by introducing a WPL, and dramatically increasing the fees from April, Nottingham City Council is responsible for fewer job opportunities, fewer apprenticeships, and lower wages in the city. It could also be responsible for smaller businesses closing if larger firms relocate to other areas of the country or overseas.
It’s time for the council to see sense and accept the damage this is doing to the reputation of Nottingham as a place to do business and the damage it is doing to the local economy.
Cornwall Council was caught hopping by the surprise freeze in Council Tax forced on them by opposition councillors, says Cornish MP George Eustice. The Conservative run council had planned to raise its Council Tax by 1.97% just below the threshold needed to trigger a local referendum. But the opposition Lib Dems were joined by some backbench Tories to pass the freeze in the budget by 52 votes to 49.
Cornwall’s cabinet had argued that a rise in Council Tax was needed to protect frontline services but the opposition said their budget could freeze the tax and make savings of £4.6m by giving local residents exactly what they wanted rather than wasting money on unwanted council expenditure. ‘What I hope will happen,’ says MP Eustice, ‘is that, after council elections in May, the new regime will be able to have an emergency budget and have a proper look at how to deliver these savings but do it in the most sensitive way.’
According to the winning budget proposal, first to go will be the £310,000 councillors had awarded themselves in increased allowances in the previous month. Half of this will then be spent on filling in potholes and repairing children’s playgrounds. The major saving, however, will be a 25% reduction in taxpayers’ money spent on agency and consultancy staff over the next four years. There will also be a cut of £400,000 in the council’s communication budget.
The surprise success of the tax-freezing budget caused one senior Conservative councillor to quit the cabinet. ‘I think that asking for the price of a Mars bar each,’ he claimed in defence of the proposed tax rise, ‘on top of what they already pay, so they can have the dignity they need, is not a lot to ask for.’
Having been politically outplayed by the Lib Dems in the run up to the council elections in May, the local party leader has since claimed they were against any tax rise! ‘The Conservative group’s plan,’ she insisted, ‘was for the necessary savings to come from the chief executive’s department and not from front line services, but the Liberal Democrats would not support our plan.’ Well, obviously not, they preferred their own vote-winning strategy. Let’s hope whoever triumphs in May in Cornwall sticks to their tax-freezing budget.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance was joined by local businesspeople in Southend on Thursday to campaign for a freeze in Business Rates this week’s budget.
Business rates increased by 4.5 per cent in 2011, 5.6 per cent the year after, and are due to increase by a further 2.6 per cent in April. High rates are already crippling high streets and businesses, but the government’s plans for a third consecutive big rate hike will only lead to more empty shops and fewer work opportunities.
What’s more, the end of relief on empty properties is hurting property owners, many of whom invested in properties to provide income for their retirement. Empty commercial and industrial properties are now subject to full business rates, even if owners are not making any money from them. This has to end.
Here are few things you can do to help us win this campaign:
· Write to your MP. We’ve made it quick and easy for you. Just visit freezebusinessrates.org
· Write to your local newspaper to raise awareness of the campaign. Make sure you mention freezebusinessrates.org
· Post a link to freezebusinessrates.org on Facebook and Twitter