Tuesday, 24 August 2010

East Riding councillors’ allowances rise by 25% in four years

This is the time of year when we learn how much councillors have been paid in allowances and expenses. It was reported in the Hull Daily Mail that a total of £1.2 million was paid to East Riding councillors for 2009/10; an increase of £100,000 on the previous year. Although the council leader, Stephen Parnaby has said  there will be a freeze on allowances next year (an election year), this compares very badly to Hull City Council where councillors have been on a pay freeze for the last four years.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In 2005/6, at total of £946, 208 was paid to Hull City councillors. In 2009/10, this increased to £955,409; a rise of 1%. In the East Riding, councillors were paid £906,000 in 2005/6. In just four years, councillors have seen their allowances and expenses rise by almost 25%. In the past year, when the rest of us have been struggling to make ends meet, East Riding councillors have enjoyed an increase of almost 10%.

The usual excuses will no doubt be reeled out, saying that councillors give excellent value for money, and they are only implementing the decisions of the Independent Review Panel. This is cold comfort for taxpayers who have seen their council tax bills rise, and have had to pay huge sums of money into the pension funds of senior staff who have applied for early retirement.

The gravy train has not hit the buffers, but perhaps, if we are lucky, we can say it has hit an uphill gradient. Time will tell.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Local Enterprise Partnerships

When the government announced the abolition of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) I was asked by a local journalist if I was already dancing on the bonfire. It was a little premature as, unfortunately, RDAs will still be with us until April 2012. I had hoped they were going to be abolished next year, as leaving them there until 2012 is rather like letting an animal die a slow death, but at least they are on the way out. Three cheers to that!

When the government then announced RDAs would be replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), my heart sank. This sounded like another excuse to form many local quangos around the country. Unfortunately, this is still a possibility, and it all depends on who is your local council leader.

It was reported in the Hull Daily Mail yesterday, Hull City Council and East Riding of Yorkshire Council are going to form a LEP, rather than have a body covering both banks of the Humber. After speaking to the leader of Hull City Council, Carl Minns, I am reassured to hear the proposed LEP will not have a set budget, will not have additional staff, will not have new offices (existing space will be utilised), and above all will be fully accountable to both councils. He reminded me, as if I didn’t need reminding,  there was no money for all of these ‘extras’, although it is good to have these assurances on the record.

This is the good news, but unfortunately not all council leaders believe in prudence and accountability. The following is from the official news feed of Leeds City Council, and you will see how the Leeds City Region LEP is going to take shape:


Leeds City Region Partnership brings together the 11 local authorities of Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire to work across administrative boundaries to promote economic growth and a better quality of life for our communities. With close to 3m people, a resident workforce of 1.3m, over 100,000 businesses and an economy worth over £50bn each year, Leeds City Region is the largest city region outside London.


Isn’t the point of LEPs in the title; local? Doesn’t this rather sound like an RDA with a different source for funding it? It does to me, and I have heard on the grapevine it will have its own staff and offices, and I would bet the shirt off my back that accountability to local businesses and residents will take a back seat to the bureaucracy this LEP will create. When it comes to attracting investment to the area, how will smaller council areas fare, compared to places like Leeds and Bradford? Those two councils will no doubt contribute larger amounts of cash than their smaller partners.

Two of the biggest criticisms I have heard about Yorkshire Forward is its bureaucracy and its failings in helping small businesses.  How is this going to change? It’s not, and that is the problem. At least with the proposed LEP in East Yorkshire, there is a chance of bringing inward investment benefitting Hull and surrounding areas, with the minimum of red tape. This is a model I had hoped other councils would take a lead from, rather than more grandiose schemes, which we thought were going to be a thing of the past.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Proposed Academies in Hull – Update

On Saturday 7 August, I had the following letter published in the Hull Daily Mail:

Dear Editor,

The news that Hull City Council intends to go ahead and attempt to build a new school academy in West Hull, defies all logic. Although Endeavour High School has been beset with problems almost from the start, its buildings are only a few years old and could easily accommodate a new academy. Instead, the council - through the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme - is intent on getting its hands on millions of pounds of our money to build a new school when other services will be facing cuts.

Elsewhere in the city, despite huge public opposition, BSF intends to rob residents of the Princess Elizabeth Playing Fields by building the new Northern Academy. Other sites were available, but thanks to bureaucratic red tape and sheer belligerence, they have been bypassed. It does make you wonder when our elected representatives will listen to the people who elect them? We all want the best education possible for our children, but this does not necessarily mean we need new buildings. It is what goes on in the classroom that matters. Instead of throwing money at the problem, why don't we start getting the basics right? Angering the public and building schools that aren't needed is not the way forward.

A fresh campaign has already started in North Hull.  Residents are once again collecting signatures and writing letters in an attempt to get the council and the government to see sense, and build the academy in a better location. If you agree with them, please write to the press and voice your concerns. Outline planning permission has already been granted, but a strong campaign can still halt the building work.

The same goes for the building of the proposed new academy in West Hull. Write to the Hull Daily Mail or the Yorkshire Post, and voice your concerns. You can also write to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, and tell him what you think. If the government really does believe in listening to us, this is a good way to test the water.

The West Hull Academy can easily be housed in existing buildings. The Northern Academy can easily be built in places other than playing fields that are well used by local people. We can’t do it alone. Please help in the campaign.