A Town Council with an unfortunate penchant for hoarding
Jul 2014 29

It’s slightly unusual for a council at the parish level to feature on this blog, but Dover Town Council has surpassed itself in costing the taxpayer dear and not spending wisely. In the last few months they have reached new heights of unpopularity.

The Council has listened to locals on occasion – in one recent year, they bowed to pressure and froze their council tax take, but the norm has been for above-inflation increases. Their precept – the amount the Council wishes to collect in tax revenue – was £633,150 in 2012, rising to £764,474 in 2013 and £885,977 in 2014. Public disapproval has been aroused several times over what has been both spent and not spent. They refused grants to the local carnival procession, while happily spending on regalia for the mayor and town clerk, and lavish ceremonies. Staff received above-inflation salary increases and a generous Christmas dinner bonus. Also purchased: a new car for the mayor and a 4×4 for official use – the official reason being the need to access their allotments. Two vehicles in a smallish town? No War on Waste there!

They managed to put a picture on their website purporting to be Dover’s white cliffs that turned out to be somewhere else. They made national news when, without any consultation, they put benches in the town’s main pedestrian precinct that were “deliberately designed” to be uncomfortable so as to discourage people sitting on them too long (the intended target being people with drink, though it ended up hitting everybody else just wanting a rest with their shopping). There was also a matter of franchising out a reopening public toilet on the seafront as a combined toilet and shop. This was delayed for a year by their not following correct procedure and a bid being put in by a councillor without declaring their interest. There are other issues, from the lack of a World War I ceremony to the memorial benches dedicated to loved ones were found dumped behind their offices. I could go on, but will concentrate on the matter of our money.

It has now come to light via the Dover Express that Dover Town Council reserves are quite considerable, bearing in mind the council’s size: £764,474 in 2012, £885,977 in 2013 rising to £1,148,938 in 2014. This prompted the rather blunt headline – “Town council is hoarding £1 million of your money”. It is difficult to justify why that money is being held in reserve, rather on essential services or being used to reduce people’s tax bill.

Unsurprisingly, a petition is being started calling for the abolition of the town council. Before we had a town council, after district councils were set up (replacing the old borough council) Dover had Charter Trustees. They too proved very good at spending and losing money. Something, clearly, has to change.

Can the road to Kansas deliver economic results?
Jul 2014 25

The Daily Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner says that Britain should follow Kansas and dramatically reduce taxes, citing the economic benefits that the state is starting to enjoy. Mr Warner highlights evidence that:

both private-sector growth and job creation have improved sharply relative to national averages. Rates of private-sector job growth are virtually back up to the national average, having significantly lagged behind them in the past. Kansas is also experiencing record levels of company registrations. Many of these will eventually lead to start-ups and extra jobs. Continue Reading

Avon and Somerset need bobbies on the beat, not flower power
Jul 2014 25

Avon and Somerset Police have spent £5,000 on a flower garden, in an effort to reduce local crime rates. The idea is that a communal area will reduce anti-social behaviour. As a result, the regenerated part of St. Andrew’s Park becomes another area of questionable policies in Bristol, after the mayor’s proposal of “Residents’ Parking Zones”  . While the new garden is no doubt pleasant, it’s effectiveness in cutting down on crime is clearly an area of doubt. This sort of item is for local councils, not police budgets. Continue Reading

Stockton Council’s expensive property grab
Jul 2014 24

Stockton Borough Council has been buying up large, high end houses at above market rates, with seemingly little concern for getting good value for taxpayers’ money. The Council is working with a private contractor, Spark of Genius, with the aim of bringing 20 looked after children back into the community, and claim this will save between £400,000 and £500,000 a year. Though certainly a laudable aim, there have been a number of questions raised about how they are actually going about it. Continue Reading

Bristol’s unwanted parking zones come under attack
Jul 2014 23

Local residents and traders opposed to elected Bristol Mayor George Ferguson’s costly Residents’ Parking Zones (RPZ) gathered outside City Hall on College Green—and they brought along a WW2 Sherman tank to make their point!

On the same day, Bristol City Council debated a petition of ‘No Confidence’ in Mayor Ferguson’s efforts to severely restrict the use of cars in Bristol with his parking zones.

“RPZ are forcing businesses to close already from lack of customers, companies to relocate because they are unable to get their staff into work and communities are isolated from lack of visitors,” says campaigner Robert Duxbury, Chair of Ashley Ward RPZ action group. “Even Blue Badge holders are being prevented from parking close to their intended destinations because Bristol’s RPZ prohibits their free unrestricted use of resident only parking bays.”

“Mayor Ferguson has said “I’m not going to react to any demonstration – I will react to normal discussion.” But when a normal discussion involving a Cross Party Working Group of Councillors, with input from residents and traders, submitted their recommendations on RPZ he completely ignored them,” says Duxbury.

The ‘No Confidence’ petition has attracted over 5,000 signatures and is the sixth most popular out of 428 petitions submitted to Bristol City Council’s website. In the last year, two anti-RPZ petitions gathered more than 11,000 signatures and hundreds of residents have demonstrated on Bristol streets. Mayor Ferguson has ignored them all.

“That’s the problem,” said one protestor outside City Hall, “the Mayor has too much power and can just dismiss our petitions without properly considering them—the councillors around him seem toothless.”

As I discovered in Islington, when I contested that council’s Controlled Parking Zones, residents’ parking schemes can initially seem appealing but end up being a tax on visiting family and friends and discourage passers-by from popping into local shopping streets, with a subsequent loss in trade for independent shops and restaurants. Of course, councils love the extra revenue from parking permits and fines, but is it really any good for the community?

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