Please Note: The views expressed below are mine and shouldn't be misinterpreted as being Party Policy (either at the City, County or National level) or representing anyone other than myself.
The Conservatives seem to have learnt from this mistake and have now appointed a panel following the "correct" process.
In my view the aim of this new panel is twofold; proposing a pay rise around the same 25% mark that Council voted through previously (thus validating the previous process and the previous result), and validating the Conservatives pay structure (i.e. Cabinets role - and therefore payment - is increased while opposition shadow cabinet payments - and therefore role - is correspondingly decreased).
It is incredibly frustrating for those of us who form the opposition on the County Council that the ruling Conservative group are once again trying to force-through a process which will give them a rise. If you look at the Conservative budget it clearly shows a line budgeting to raise Councillors allowances - before a single vote has even been cast, or before a single member of the "independent" review panel had been appointed.
Needless to say I will be voting against any such raise and I sincerely hope a clear majority of other Councillors (from all parties) will do the same.
Now here's the bit where you can help. The Independent Panel are looking to hear the views of Cambridgeshire residents, they have created an on-line survey for residents to complete;
https://www.snapsurveys.com/swh/surveylogin.asp?k=132863814662 (a short URL for printing is http://goo.gl/TgJ2e)
Once again it's a little frustrating to see the Council wasting it's time (and the time of people who complete this survey) by asking questions totally irrelevant to the matter at hand "Did you vote in the last election?", "Do you know who your County Councillor for your area is?", etc. If these unnecessary questions had been stripped from the survey how much quicker would it have been to fill out?
So I know it's frustrating, but if you passionately believe (as I do) that there should be no rise for County Councillors at a time when we're cutting headcount, and pay for County Council staff please take the time and trouble to register your opinion on the site.
Just a quick update on todays scrutiny meeting in which members of the Conservative group got to scrutinise the proposed Liberal Democrat budget ammendment Full Council will be asked to vote on at the meeting on the 21st Feburary (when we will also be voting on the Conservative Administrations Integrated Plan - or Budget - for the next year).
It was a little disappointing to see that there were no members of the public or press present to record the comments (and responses) to our alternative Budget.
Now the Chair of the Committee is the Conservative Fred Brown and the Conservatives do (of course) have a majority on the committee so as you can imagine it could, quite easily, have turned into a party political slanging match.
It didn't (which I know isn't very exciting, but it did mean we all got out of there only a little late)! It was actually, for my first Lib Dem Budget Scrutiny Meeting, a pleasant surprise.
Most of the Liberal Democrat cabinet were there, and Kilian Bourke opened the agenda item with a brief introduction to our budget focussing on priorities.
Now the next thing to say is that I didn't note down everything, I just made a few notes as things went on.
The first question came from Cllr Sir Peter Brown regarding the use (throughout the document) of "pay rise" rather than (I think you'll agree) the much more snappy "increase in members allowances". It's sematics but it really matters to some people; we don't get "paid" as Councillors, we get an "allowance". It's difficult to see the difference. We get money for being a Councillor, does it really matter to people how we're paid? Or is just the fact that we are?
Line 6: Cllr Shona Johnstone wondered about the inclusion of the LGA (Local Government Association) as an organisation that Liberal Democrats would stop affiliating with. Cllr Nethsingha pointed out that she had only just received the couple-of-pages list of organsiations the County Council is currently affilitated with and it was generally agreed that there was more than enough scope here to cut the 0.5m (over 5 years) that was in the Liberal Democrat budget but that LGA probably wouldn't be one of them (Cllr Johnstone seems to be the LGA rep for the County Council).
Line 12: After a long wait for comments (which certainly surprised Cllr van der Ven!) comparrisons were made between a scheme in Fenland which took a lot longer to get up and running than the Duxford scheme had been allowed. And it was pointed out that the name of the scheme has been shortened to just "Future Transport". There was agreement to differ on whether or not the scheme would eventually be a success.
Line 18: Ely underpass. Some doubt was expressed as to whether or not building an underpass in the ground under Ely wouldn't run into significant problems (a gas main for example). Officers had assured the Lib Dems that it was feasible, Conservatives disagreed.
Line 19: Northstow proved to be another contentious point with Cllr Johnstone rising to the defence of the new development. Cllr Wilkins agreed that while the Lib Dems weren't inherritently opposed (as it says in our Budget Ammendemnt) we don't believe this is a priority.
Another point was made that, given that this saving (25m) represents a substantual amount of the total savings the Conservatives were expecting slightly more than one line in our budget!
Now this was the end of the "savings" part of our budget ammendment. It was interesting to see the concerntration that was being paid to the savings we had identified, I'll be amazed if some of these don't find their way into future Conservative budgets (or just happen over the next few months).
There was far less focus on the spending part of the budget ammendment in fact lines 21 to 26 didn't merit a single comment.
Line 27: The Wisbech line. Several Conservatives were very dismissive of the idea of re-opening the line, they didn't see that it was practical.
Line 29: Bike banks came in for another bashing, for whatever reason people don't seem to be past the failure of the past scheme to something that might just work. Given the success of "Boris Bikes" in London I find it very difficult to believe it is *impossible* to emulate that up here.
Line 38: Pupile premium was mentioned as discriminating against schools that don't have a high level of Free School Meals.
I do remember at the end the comment being made by one of my Conservative colleages saying that while he'd personally never vote for it but he could see we were prioritising different things and while he'd like to make the savings he'd not want to spend the money in the same way.
Here's a picture of the Liberal Democrat cabinet just prior to the agenda item starting;
UPDATE: I've totally missed out "Wind Farms". This was a long discussion with Winds vs Solar being discussed and some issues were raised that I hadn't considered; how easy it is to revert to Farmland *after* a wind turbine is removed, and the fact that you can farm in a field with solar panels installed - but only sheep.
Needless to say rural Conservatives were dead against them, but it was pointed out that if there was enough local benefit then maybe local residents could be won over. The Lib Dem budget proposals assumed that only 50% of the eligible sites identified in the previous Cabinet paper would actually go ahead.
HMRC has released an interesting table of data showing how the burden of income tax has been spread across those in the UK paying it from 1999 to date. The raw tables are available here (also attached below).
The gist of this information is that the richest 25% are paying a higher percentage of their income in tax than they were under the last Labour Government whereas the poorest income tax-paying 25% are paying a lower percentage of their income in tax than they were under the last Labour Government.
In fact if you look at the tables the biggest percentage jump in taxes paid by the very poorest 10% of tax payers was in 2008-2009 when the tax rate *doubled* - also under a Labour Government.
Just a quick note to say that if you are interested in the County Councils budget (which was released yesterday) then an electronic version of the full 650+ page document (as provided to Councillors) is available here;
The document is a 35MB PDF so you'll need the appropriate software to view it but it is searchable (well, mostly!).
As a sitting County Councillor the only issue I am allowed a vote on at North Area is Policing - everything else falls within the domain of City Councillors. In fact the first part of the meeting is just devoted to Planning and this is a City Councillors-only affair and so County Councillors rarely (if ever) attend. The second part of the meeting is largely an update on progress from previous meetings followed by the Open Forum where members of the public can raise absolutely anything they would like Local Councillors to discuss/ comment on.
Richard Taylor, a very regular attendee, regularly blogs on events at North Area and I'd certainly recommend anyone who wants to find out what these meetings involve to read his (many) blog posts.
I would say that the number of people attending the Planning part of North Area varies depending on how contentious the planning applications are (as you'd expect!) but I would say rarely have we got over 30 members of the public in the room for planning and when we get onto the Open Forum (the second part of the meeting) I would say that we are down to around 10 members of the public (typically outnumbered by Councillors and Officers). There are a handful of people (of which Richard Taylor is one) who will attend every single meeting. Michael Bond (Chair of the East Chesterton Residents Association) is another and he sent me (and all Councillors) his comments on the process which I have attached below and prompted me to put down my thoughts.
The whole point of Localism is so that local people should be able to get involved in the decisions that affect them. in King's Hedges as your County Councillor I represent around 7,000 people, the same people are also represented by three City Councillors (Simon, Neil, and Kevin), our Cambridge MP Julian Huppert, and several "East of England" MEP's including Andrew Duff. I'd wager that very few of the 7,000 have met *all* their representatives - I certainly haven't met the (non-Liberal) MEP's who represent the East of England. I'd be surprised if 1% of people could name all their representatives (writing this down actually made me realise that I couldn't name the other 3 MEP's who represent me - I looked it up and the election results are here).
My point, I think, is that people will only want to be involved when something they care about is being decided. As interesting as it may be to turn up and hear discussions regarding on-street parking in a road you've never heard of in a neighbourhood you don't live in most people don't care, and after sitting through a few meetings where nothing of any real relevance to them has been discussed they will just stop coming.
It's worth also saying that there are people who care on behalf of everyone; people who come to every meeting and who want the right decisions to be made to make the entire area a better place to live in. And these people are the life-blood of North Area and, meeting after meeting, form the bulk of the audience for the open part of the meeting. I cannot praise these people highly enough. It's people like this that make the role of Councillor worth doing.
Now the flipside of the coin; when Arbury Library was being threatened with closure by the County Council after 2-3 days of organising a local resident (not a Councillor) managed to get 50/60 people into Arbury Community Centre to register their displeasure with the decision - when people really care about an issue they don't need any outside motivation they; they will sort it out themselves. This was a perfect example of Localism in action and led directly to the formation of the Friends of Arbury Library (which has it's AGM in February, but I digress!).
Michael, in the attachment, makes some good points about how some of the ways the City Council has tried to engage the public at North Area haven't quite worked - and don't get me wrong he's right in many of the points he makes. The question is; what do we do about it?
First of all here is the key point; when changes affect them (i.e. planning) they *will* turn up and fully engage in the process. They will not stay for the open forum. As soon as the bit that interests them is over they will leave.
This is *not* a bad thing, contrary to what some people think, there needs to be a forum where people can go and talk to their elected representatives and make their views know and it has to be a regularly scheduled meeting because, if it's not, people won't know about it. North Area Committee fulfils both of these functions.
Of course it could do better, I agree with Richard Taylor that some sort of mechanism (a mailbox, an email, a set of web forums, etc) for people to participate in the meetings *without* the chore of having to turn up in person is an absolute must and I would hope that this is something the City Council is working on.
So in summary (and apologies for this rather rambling post, you have done well to get this far!) I think that the North Area Committee, despite it's faults, is an excellent way for people to engage. We should (as Councillors) always be conscious that the vast majority of the public do not come to these meetings and we should endevour to expand public engagement but I think that it is never going to involve everyone on every issue; the key is that people can get involved as and when they want/ need to.
PS. Next drop-in session at the Arbury Community Centre to talk to your local Liberal Democrat Councillors is on the 11th February (10am - Midday). If you have a local issue you'd like us to address (or you'd just like to discuss this post!) please come along!
It's a little disappointing that this meeting has been Cancelled, especially as it's currently a "target" for the Conservative Administration who incorrectly perceive that it serves no useful purpose. I'm always a big fan of cock-up over conspiracy and it's likely that this is just being cancelled because of the relatively-light agenda but we have proceeded with light Agendas before.
Hopefully the administration, specifically Cllr Clarke, will eventually recognise the important role that this committee fulfils in the smooth running of Cambridge.
Cllr Shona Johnstone has recently reported back to all County Councillors that the Overview and Scrutiny Management Group has recently concluded it's review of public participation in the Overview and Scrutiny process and published a document regarding Public Speaking at Overview and Scrutiny meetings.
There is a lot in this document that's good. It does tend (slightly) towards the overly bureaucratic - I have yet to attend an Overview and Scrutiny meeting where a member of the public raising their hand in the public gallery and being called by the Chair wouldn't have been a sufficient notification for public speaking but this document is at least a step in the right direction.
I would have preferred there was an opportunity for written statements as well; once again the County Council seems to be working to actively discourage people who have a job from engaging in the political process. I mean it's pretty rare that people care enough about these meetings to attend in person but to expect people to take a day off work as well is just a non-starter.
The published guidelines are below.
So the next step is over to you ... Do you care enough about what's being done in your name to turn up and speak at these meetings?
Given the frequency of these Constitutional Changes lately (which are mostly delegated to the Monitoring Officer) you really do have to wonder what the point of having a written Constitution is if you are going to spend your entire life tweaking it.
I wonder how different the US would look if it's Government Officers could just tinker at the edges of the constitution every couple of months?! But then as only a simple majority is required to change our Counties' Constitution even if it was fixed whichever party was running the Council could just do a re-write at will!
"Question from Councillor A Pellew to the Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, Councillor S Count
How much money has been lost to fraud by Cambridgeshire County Council? I am particularly thinking of the figure published on the BBC Website - "The East of England managed to lose £21.5m (up 67% from the previous year)" - and would like to know what figure, if any, Cambridgeshire contributed to this figure. A comparison with previous years would also be helpful as would a commentary (if required).
What training do members of staff receive to help them identify attempts to defraud the Council? Is there an existing policy in place for staff to follow when they have identified fraud (and is this available to members)?
Response from the Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, Councillor S Count
As part of the reporting requirements for the production of the 2010/11 Statement of Accounts the County Council reported to the Audit Commission that the value of fraud identified and investigated within the Council was £202,900 of which £198,000 was immediately recovered.
The value reported for 2009/10 was £2,300.
In respect of specific policies and procedures, the following are in existence and are available on CAMWEB:
With regards to training and awareness, Internal Audit ran a fraud awareness week campaign in September 2010.
There is also an online e-training course in “Fraud Awareness” which is available and the Internal Audit Intranet pages also include pages on Fraud Awareness which can be found at: http://camweb/cd/fpp/arm/internal/fraud/fraud_awareness_week.htm"
The provided weblink is an internal link to the Counties system and so won't work externally (but I've included it here so Councillors or Council employees can access it).
Looking at the BBC figure and the "tiny" contribution Cambridgeshire made to the total (I mean zero is the target, but considering the budgets involved £2,300 is nothing) either another County had an absolute disaster and has managed to cover it up so it's not a news story (unlikely) or the BBC is reporting the fact that £202,900 has been lost to fraud but not the amount that was immediately recovered. The story, at best, was unclear on this point.
On to other Councillors Questions and answers;
Question from Councillor N Harrison to the Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, Councillor S Criswell
The 20mph speed limit in Mill Road, Cambridge has been given little promotion by the County Council and little or no enforcement by the police.
Reducing vehicle speeds is a high priority for the residents and users of this street and many others in Cambridgeshire. Will the Cabinet member therefore
a) seek a commitment from the police to increase their level of speed enforcement activity in Mill Road and elsewhere
b) instruct county council officers to conduct a publicity campaign to promote compliance with the speed limit in Mill Road and other roads with 20mph limits.
Response from the Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, Cllr S Criswell
As Councillor Harrison highlights, speeding is one of the most frequent traffic management and safety concerns raised across the county and it is one of the key areas for attention by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Road Safety Partnership. However, there is a need to ensure that the resources to tackle speeding are targeted in the most effective way.
The speed surveys undertaken after the introduction of the 20mph speed limit in the Mill Road area suggest a reasonable level of compliance during the day and evening periods but some evidence of higher speeds during early hours of the morning.
With regard to speed enforcement activity, through our Safety Camera Partnership with the police, priority is given to sites where excessive speed has resulted in serious or fatal road casualties. In the case of Mill Road, whilst there is a long history of high levels of injury accident, casualty severity is lower than the average for the city. There are also operational difficulties in deploying mobile safety camera units in areas like Mill Road. Therefore, any enforcement activity would be better provided by local policing teams rather than by mobile camera units.
There is an opportunity for local communities to influence and inform local policing priorities through the police liaison process undertaken at the City Council’s East Area Committee and I would recommend that the concerns over the lack of enforcement activity should be pursued through this route.
Given the long standing road accident problem in Mill Road, I understand the desire to see more attention given to raising the profile of the 20mph speed limit and I have asked the Head of Road Safety & Parking Services to meet with Councillor Harrison to consider practical ways in which this might be achieved, taking into account the results from the speed surveys. Whilst this approach may be appropriate in Mill Road and other streets with significant accident problems, I would not support it being a priority merely on the basis of a street or area having a 20mph limit. Our priority must be to focus on roads with frequent and high severity accident problems.
Question from Councillor S van de Ven to the Cabinet Member for Growth and Planning, Councillor I Bates
Cambridgeshire is now in a huge transitional time in terms of the future of public transport provision. Why has the county council not therefore undertaken systematic and comprehensive research on the transport needs and prospects of its residents, similar to that conducted elsewhere, for example by Hertfordshire County Council (Bus Strategy 2011-31 and Intalink Strategy 2011-2016), and Gloucestershire County Council and Fenland District Council (GIS mapping)?
Response from the Cabinet Member for Growth and Planning, Councillor I Bates
The County Council prides itself on its robust policies and it is therefore wrong to suggest that systematic research to inform its transport policies has not been undertaken. For example, over a number of years the County Council has undertaken a significant amount of research and study into the accessibility problems that face its residents. As part of the development of the second Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan 2006-11 (LTP2), comprehensive GIS mapping of accessibility issues was undertaken for the entire county, looking at a range of services including health care, employment, education and town / retail centres. This was part of a wider evidence base that informed the accessibility strategy in LTP2. This mapping assessment was updated to inform the development of the third Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan 2011-26 (LTP3), and remains relevant today.
It is easy to identify additional study work that could be undertaken out of general interest, but before this is done, it must be clear that this will have a useful purpose that is not duplicating current knowledge, which is the approach we take. In this context, in the last two years, the County Council has for example, provided targeted accessibility advice to:
• Assess the impact of proposed changes to the locations from which out of hours health care provision is provided, for NHS Cambridgeshire.
• Inform the development and review of Market Town Transport Strategies.
• Provide annual assessments of the accessibility of new development to key services for the District Councils.
• Provide accessibility mapping of access to key services to inform the Cambridgeshire Future Transport programme.
• Inform the NHS Cambridgeshire / County Council Joint Strategic Needs Assessment phase 5 (Prevention of Ill Health in Adults of Working Age).
The experience with LTP2 also showed that whilst the comprehensive evidence base is useful, the real value is added when work is undertaken at a local level to dig down into the issues and problems, and identify local solutions. So whilst we do have a wide scale evidence base, we are clear that it is the local knowledge that is far more likely to identify deliverable and sustainable solutions than further high level study work.
Question from Councillor S Whitebread to the Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, Councillor S Criswell
The council currently has a policy that in areas covered by residents parking schemes, residents can lose their right to permits by carrying out major building work on their property. An example of this would be someone entitled to a residents permit, who converts his house into one house and one basement flat. He could then not only be refused the right to a permit for the new flat, but also lose his right to a permit for his house.
There have been several incidents in my ward where this has happened. Does the cabinet member not think it unfair that someone could carry out work completely unrelated to parking (ie not creating any new parking space) and still lose their right to a residents permit?
Does the cabinet member agree with me that this approach is inconsistent with allowing residents of new developments in controlled parking areas to use visitors permits?
Response from the Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, Cllr S Criswell
The policy relating to new development in residents’ parking areas was reviewed in May 2010 as part of a wider review of parking policy. Local members in Cambridge were consulted via the Area Joint Committee, as part of this process.
The policy is as follows:
Within existing residents’ permit scheme areas, any new development within an established residents’ parking scheme will not qualify for the provision of residents’ parking permits. The redevelopment of an existing dwelling or dwellings that results in an increase in the number of dwellings will preclude the issuing of permits to any of the dwellings, including the existing dwelling or dwellings.
Where development takes place within the curtilage a property that does not involve any material change to the existing dwelling or dwellings but results in the provision of additional but separate dwellings, no permits will be issued to the new dwelling(s) but the existing dwelling(s) will retain the right to apply for residents’ permits.
All dwellings whether existing or newly developed will be eligible to apply for visitors’ permits.
In most residents’ parking schemes there is significant pressure on parking capacity as the number of permits issued often exceeds the number of parking spaces available. Therefore, the policy is necessary to mitigate the impact of new development on locals parking capacity and to ensure that new development does not exacerbate existing operational parking pressures. Anyone considering development plans will need to balance the benefits they receive as a result of the development with the potential loss of residents’ permit rights. Development proposals can include the provision of off-street parking to mitigate any loss of residents’ parking permits.
To provide a level of accessibility to residents parking areas for those visiting residents, the policy provides for the provision of visitor permits but, again, development proposals can provide alternative off-street parking for visitors. If, through the planning process, it is determined that development would have a significant detrimental impact on the operation of a residents parking scheme, it is possible, through a S106 agreement with the developer, to remove the right to acquire visitor parking permits for those living in the development.
Question from Councillor P Sales to the Cabinet Member for Adult Services, Councillor M Curtis
This year the total budgeted figure for domiciliary care across all client groups is approximately £35m. The Council pays care agencies an hourly rate of £15.75 for domiciliary care. Most care agencies pay their care staff only slightly more than the legal minimum wage of £6.08 per hour. Let’s be generous and say £6.20 on average.
This means that approximately £9.55 per hour is swallowed up in agency fees of one sort or another. Is it acceptable to the lead member that so much of this year’s domiciliary care budget will not be directly spent on the client?
Response from the Cabinet Member for Adult Services, Councillor M Curtis
The difference between the hourly rate paid to agencies and the amount paid to care staff has to cover a range of overheads including:-
• Premises (agencies are required to have registered premises in Cambridgeshire)
• Management costs (supervisors, care-co-ordinators, HR, Assessors, Trainers, phones for some carers)
• Recruitment (includes advertising, induction training, CRB checks)
• Care Quality Commission fees (registration fees, inspection fees)
• Insurance (including professional indemnity)
• Costs of temporary staff (used when permanent staff are off sick)
• Training (every worker is required to have completed the common standard training before they are allowed to start work)
• Travel costs (some agencies pay staff if they use their own cars, others provide fleet cars that drop staff off. Some agencies pay staff up to 25p per mile, this has to come out of the £15.75)
The Council does not pay any enhancements over and above the £15.75 for evening, weekend or Bank Holiday working as is the case in some councils. Staff working unsocial hours are paid enhancements for unsocial shifts and these costs will come out of the £15.75 the Council pays.
The rates paid to staff by agencies will vary depending on the seniority and experience of the worker, in some cases these rates will also increase where agencies have problems recruiting staff. The decision on how much to pay staff is a commercial decision for each provider and will be based on a number of factors, some of which are listed above. The tender process next year will test the competitiveness of the market to ensure that the Council is purchasing effective services that meet the needs of vulnerable people in the community.
Looking ahead, contracts are due to expire next year. The tendering process will test the market and the need to deliver effective services to vulnerable people. The process will require tenderers to provide a more detailed breakdown of costs.
This information will be used to evaluate further the overheads, including those relating to administration, property, etc. as well as those directly related to training, development, safeguarding and travel.
"A local resident in my division has raised the issue of the gritting of cycle routes. Given that a full 25% of all journeys to work in Cambridge are by bike and the benefits to local businesses of people travelling to work in a way other than by car are substantial can I ask for the priority of the gritting of cycle routes to be raised?"
The question was answered by Cllr Criswell who has responsibility for these things. His answer was that it was possible to add the suggested route onto the list of routes potentially to be gritted a view would then be taken of how well it fitted into the overall strategy for the city - this would determine whether or not the County would grit it themselves.
In addition they also have a quad bike for gritting of just Cycle Routes and they make grit available to the City Council so they can grit routes which the County is unwilling (or unable) to do. There was also mention of allowing residents to do some of the gritting themselves.
"Can I ask that gritting information for Cycle routes be published separately under the cycling section of the County Councils website to give a measure of certainty to cyclists regarding what to expect should gritting be necessary and that a guide be produced and kept updated showing the additional support available for parishes and districts to grit their own cycle routes?"
Cllr Criswell accepted the first point was a good idea and committed to making it happen. Apparently the second part is already on the website (though I couldn't find it), when he provides me with the link I'll take a view as to whether or not it needs its prominence raising.
Audio will be available over the next few days.
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