Monday, 28 June 2010

No more handouts in the East Riding

Last Wednesday, the Hull & East Riding TPA protested again outside County Hall in Beverley. For the reasons why we were protesting, click HERE. The protest was also covered by the Politics Show. To see the footage, click HERE, and scroll in 54 minutes.

I am pleased to report three Conservative councillors voted to disagree with the decision to award Ms Lockwood her discretionary payment, and three others abstained. If a few others had the guts to stand up to the leadership, rather than be bullied, the vote could easily have gone against Cllr Parnaby and his cabinet.

I would urge all members and supporters who are tired of seeing their money thrown down the drain, to stand up and be counted. Ms Lockwood may have her money, but payments like this will not take place again, and this is largely through the pressure we have put on the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. In this respect we have won a major victory, and the council knows the TPA will be looking over its shoulder, scrutinising the decisions it makes.

Many thanks to all our supporters who have sent me messages of support. They are appreciated. I cannot do my work representing the TPA without you.

Friday, 18 June 2010

New TPA Video: £20.8 million paid to the EU every day

Yorkshire Forward

Last week I wrote about the abolition of one of the  local regeneration quangos, Hull Forward.  Since then, Hull Forward has been winning the PR war, and there is a popular misconception  in the city that regeneration work will now stop.  It wasn’t helped by Cllr Rick Welton, the cabinet portfolio holder responsible for regeneration, who was interviewed by Peter Levy on BBC Look North. He stated Hull City Council would not be able to do as good a job as Hull Forward, which is complete nonsense, and thankfully his views are not shared by all of his colleagues.

Today, Yorkshire Forward is in the spotlight as it battles for its own survival. The TPA has long campaigned for the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAS). To read a report we published in 2008, click here. There are two main reasons why I would like to see Yorkshire Forward abolished. It is unaccountable to the people it is supposed to serve and it has not been a driver for economic change, and has therefore been a waste of money.

Yorkshire Forward – in common with all RDAs – is only accountable to ministers who fund it. Getting a grant approved involves a hugely burdonsome bureaucratic process and if you look at the accounts of, for example, Hull Forward and the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership, you will find out huge sums of money are paid to those unelected and largely unaccountable local quangos. From what people tell me, the partnership is far from popular in Bridlington. Local small businesses are unhappy that our money is being spent on consultants and architects telling them what is good for them. If they want to complain, their councillors cannot help them in any way, as the ‘renaissance’ is not under local authority control. This has to stop and any future regeneration projects must become fully accountable.

The UK’s recovery must be lead by the private sector. One thing we have learned over the past decade is we cannot afford a huge public sector. Small businesses are the life-blood of the British economy, and it is essential they get the support they need. A reduction in the rate of corporation tax small businesses pay will allow them to invest in their companies. An increase in the threshold small businesses have to pay corporation tax would also help them enormously. This can be achieved if RDAs are abolished, and the money saved put in this area.

We can no longer afford to pump money into ineffective quangos, and handing control of the regeneration purse strings to local authorities will allow you and I to question how our money is being spent. The more accountability there is, the less scope there is to waste our taxes.

I will discussing Yorkshire Forward with Peter Levy tonight on BBC Look North in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire at 6.30pm.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Hull Forward to be abolished

The news buzzing around Hull today is one of the local Quangos, Hull Forward, will close-down in September. I naturally feel for the 34 staff who will lose their jobs, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't happy Hull Forward is going to be abolished.

Some local businesses are expressing regret over the decision, however it is important to note regeneration work in the city will still continue. It can be done by existing staff in Hull City Council, and if the council wishes to employ more people, no doubt some of those who are losing their jobs will be under consideration. It simply doesn't need an additional Quango to do this work. It is an expense the taxpayer can do without, along with another chief executive on a six-figure salary, and after September money spent on attracting businesses and on regeneration projects will become fully accountable. This is a positive move.  
Now that Hull Forward has been despatched, how about some of the other non-accountable bodies such as the Bridlington Renaissance Partnership? More about this local Quango later this week. 

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Protest Rally, 23 June

The Yorkshire Post reports today that many voluntary and community groups in the East Riding of Yorkshire will miss out on grants awarded by the council which has received applications totalling £134,445. Only £73,000 is in the pot, which the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) cabinet is unlikely to change.

Money is tight and it is the responsibility of councillors to spend our money wisely and I am sure many voluntary groups will be disappointed. I’m sure though those groups will look at some of the recent decisions of ERYC and feel they are being short changed. In 2008, councillors approved large inflation busting pay rises to retain the services of senior staff. Any responsible authority would have attached strings to these deals; such as not allowing them to leave their jobs for 5 years. It didn’t and as a result three senior officers have left (with an enhanced final salary pension) and large discretionary payments have been made to their pension funds. The most recent – and arguably the most notorious – has been the discretionary payment of £364,205 made to Sue Lockwood.

At the beginning of May we protested outside County Hall in Beverley, and on 23 June – the day after the emergency budget – a meeting of the full council will take place. We will be there again on a day when councillors will be able to ‘note with regret’ that the payment to Ms Lockwood has been authorised. We will be also be protesting against the removal of Cllr Gary Shores from two scrutiny committees. Cllr Shores joined us at the last rally, and the leadership has shown if you are a Conservative councillor, you cannot publicly disagree with them without consequences. What is the point of having a scrutiny process if anyone who disagrees with the cabinet is barred from serving on a scrutiny committee? What’s the point of having scrutiny committees? This proves once again that democracy is dead in County Hall.

We British are notoriously bad at complaining and protesting. We tend to accept our lot and moan to friends and family privately. Unless we publicly protest and make our views known, nothing will change. We protested in May, and we need to keep on protesting until they realise we are not going away. Please join us on 23 June, at 1.00pm. The full council meets at 2.00pm, so if you want to, you can sit in the public viewing area and watch your elected representatives in action.

Thank you.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Promote tourism and don’t waste our money on gimmicks

Back in February, I campaigned for lower car parking charges in Beverley. Traders were complaining high parking charges were spoiling the cafe culture in the town, as shoppers were thinking about getting back to their cars, rather than relaxing with some coffee and cake. Thankfully, some parking charges have been reduced. This is a way of attracting visitors and not rushing them out of the town as quickly as they came in.

Last week, the cost of the Beverley Town trail was revealed, thanks to a Freedom of Information request from the Hull Daily Mail. Here is a picture of one of the sculptures that some people say will attract visitors.

There are 39 sculptures, and they range in cost from £1,500 to £43,500. The estimated cost in 2002 was £110,000. The actual cost is £350,000. More than half of this has been met with public money.

Beverley is a beautiful town, attracting many visitors. Making the town look clean and tidy is the right thing to do. Expensive gimmicks are not needed, and although this trail was planned during the years of plenty, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire (VHEY) are planning to waste more of our cash, this time installing sculptures along the Wolds Way. From the Hull Daily Mail:

Regional tourist board Visit Hull and East Yorkshire (VHEY) plans to install ten sculptures and six benches along the 79-mile route to attract tourists.

Despite being one of the country's most charming landscapes, the Wolds Way is the most under-walked national trail in England.

The "landmark" artworks will appear at locations including the Humber Bridge, Fridaythorpe, Millington and the dramatic Filey Brigg headland.

So far, £150,000 of funding has been secured from Leader, a European Community scheme managed by regional development agency Yorkshire Forward.

VHEY says it is hoping to secure money from the Arts Council England, local authorities, grant-giving trusts and private sponsorship.

It is a very beautiful part of Yorkshire, and once again doesn’t need any gimmicks. It’s needs better promotion. I want as many visitors as possible to experience what we have to offer. Promote what we have, and don’t waste our money in the process.

LibDem councillor in Hull defects to Labour

On a personal note, I have always thought a by-election should be automatically triggered when an MP or councillor defects to another party in between elections. Voters have elected a candidate under a party manifesto, and are clearly not getting what they thought when they placed their ‘X’ on the ballot paper. It’s not a common event, but it did happen in Hull last week.

Cllr Maureen Bristow, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Hull, defected to the Labour Party. This does not change the overall balance of the council, as the Liberal Democrats still hold an overall majority. Cllr Bristow is up for re-election next year.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

£600K wasted by Doncaster Council

A quick factoid for you: If I was to stand up and talk about each Quango for just one minute, I would sit down after a marathon speech of 19 hours and 8 minutes. With over a thousand Quangos in the UK, I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not remembering all of them, although occasionally some of the more obscure ones raise their ugly heads above the parapet. This week it is the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), and taxpayers have certainly paid a price for its ideas.

Like many of you, the Internet is my first port of call when I need some information. It doesn’t seem to matter what information you need, somewhere, somehow you will find it on the web. Thanks to advances in technology, I can also access anything I want on my mobile phone. I can send e-mails, check the latest news reports and access information about council services. If I’m having problems, instead of using my phone as a computer, I can dial a number and speak to someone. This is what the majority of people do, and those who do not have access to the Internet can pop down to their local library or use a friend’s computer. In short, it has never been easier for us to get the information we need.

In 2005 – with the encouragement of IDeA -  Doncaster Council announced it would be installing 38 public information kiosks in public buildings and on street corners. It is only five years ago and at the time many people were using computers with Internet connections at home, and the next generation of mobile phones were about to be launched. Why then would you find the need to access information about council services on a street corner? The people of Doncaster answered the question very well; they didn’t and unsurprisingly many of these kiosks were vandalised. There was also - unsurprisingly when it comes to government IT projects – a series of technical problems which added to the costs. Now, five years later, the scheme is being quietly scrapped, with the taxpayer picking up a bill of over £600,000.

There are two morals to this story. When too many people think it isn’t their money, they will waste it,  and when our money is spent in a largely unaccountable way, more will be wasted in hair-brained schemes like this one. Doncaster Council should have known better, although IDeA, in an attempt to justify its existence, pushed council officers in this direction. How many other councils around the country fell for it and how much of our money has been wasted on similar schemes? When the Bonfire of the Quangos starts to burn, I will happily place IDeA on it.