Action not words

Before         After

On Saturday I was contacted by a resident of The Oval, Cricketers Way who was very concerned about the heavy deposit of fallen leaves outside the flats. On investigating I found that there were leaves 1 – 2 inches deep. These were not only unsightly but also dangerous because they were wet and slippery. Several residents and visitors to the block commented on the need to clear the leaves as soon as possible.

 I contacted Test Valley’s Environmental Services and they arranged to inspect the problem and resolve it. The leaves were cleared and the whole area swept on Monday morning. My congratultions to all the staff in Environmental Services who responded promptly and effectively to sort this problem.

Rendezvous to be investigated

The Rendezvous

After the Tory controlled council’s vote to let out the lower Guildhall to a pizza restaurant it was agreed that the council would supply suitable alternative premises for the local groups who used the lower Guildhall. This alternative is the Rendezvous in Union Street.

Up till now the Rendezvous has been plagued with problems. Considerably more money was spent on converting the premises for use than had been planned. Usage is poor with only two of the organisations previously using the Guiildhall now using the Rendezvous. Attendance at events held there is much less than in the Guildhall with both PHAB and Mencap reporting considerably reduced takings since being forced to move there.

 All these points were raised at the recent planning meeting when the application  to convert the Guildhall was discussed and no clear response given. I have therefore asked that the council’s Scrutiny Committee look, as a matter of urgency,  at all aspects of the funding and usage of the Rendezvous.

The committee will at its next November meeting be getting a report on usage over the past year, costs incurred, revenue received and plans to improve the usage and facilities at the Rendezvous. We will then be in a position to decide whether a more detailed investigation is appropriate. My own view is that this will be necessary because the venue as it stands is totally inadequate and a drain on council resources.

Askalot celebrates first birthday


Askalot Community Shop on King Arthurs Way  will be celebrating its first birthday on 18th October. To celebrate the success of its first year, Askalot will be hosting an afternoon of activities which includes face painting, balloon sculpting, book stall and more. A number of agency staff will also be on hand to provide advice on a wide range of topics Activities will be held at the shop from  12:00-3:00pm.

It will also be an opportunity for members of the public to meet Petra, the new Askalot Project Co-ordinator, who is based in the shop Monday to Thursday 9.30 -2:00pm.

For more information, please contact Petra on 01264 358443.

Daily Mail condemns Tory waste of taxpayers money

Zip hydrotap

The Daily Mail has recently identified Hampshire as one of the most wasteful local authorities. Among some of the more wasteful items are £12,000 on new taps and £1.25 million on new furniture. The following article recently appeared in the Daily Mail (July 4th 2008); highlighting some of the ways that Hampshire County Council are spending your money.

Council in hot water over £12,000 taps:

 A council criticised for spending thousands of pounds on bottled water has brought six designer taps costing £2,000 each. Hampshire County Council bought the Zip Hydrotaps as part of a £40million taxpayer-funded renovation of its HQ in Winchester. Some £1.25million was spent on furniture alone, including designer desks and chairs. Earlier this year residents were furious after it was revealed that the council was spending £141,000 every year on bottled water for staff. Hampshire County Council claimed it got a discount when ordering the taps, which are said to ‘dispense freshly filtered, chilled and boiling water with an impressive flow rate’. But Lib Dem opposition leader Adrian Collett yesterday described the purchase as ‘extraordinarily extravagant’. Meanwhile the Tory run council continues to cut bus services, close care homes and schools, and reduce investment in libraries, roads and other facilities.

A community centre for Roman Way?

Residents have no doubt seen Friday’s Andover Advertiser. I am grateful to the paper for giving me the opportunity to talk about some of the plans your local Liberal Democrats have for improving Andover. I would welcome comments from residents on these or any other Lib Dem proposals for Andover

 I must, however, correct one small error in the reports. When discussing the need for improved community facilities I highlighted the fact that there is no community centre on Roman Way not River Way as reported. I am currently discussing this with a number of local residents and interested parties and would be pleased to hear from anyone interested in getting involved in this project.

River Way, of course has the Phoenix centre and I see no reason why a similar centre couldn’t work on Roman Way if there was sufficient local demand.

Beware this Scam

I have received the following from Hampshire Trading Standards.

Congratulations Mrs X, you are the guaranteed winner of a cheque for £10,000

Although not scams in the normal sense of the word, these mailings have caused problems for several people.  They are the type of promotions you will find enclosed with  mini catalogues, usually  unsolicited. They come in many formats with each envelope stating that ‘important documents’ are enclosed. This is a ‘Special Priority Letter’, ‘The super cheque you have already won’ and ‘your prompt reply is essential’ clearly written on the front.  All gimmicks to wet your appetite.

The whole purpose of the mailings is to encourage you to place and order with the company,  but all too often the way they are written leads you to believe  you have won thousands of pounds, and in order to get your ‘winnings’ have to place an order.  Most people don’t want the goods at all but feel that they can’t miss the opportunity of winning this ‘guaranteed’ reward

The small print – often called Rules of Game, Terms, etc, will tell you the truth.  You will know them when you find them –  either on the inside of the envelope you throw away, or in a single paragraph of pale grey block capitals on the back of an insignificant slip of paper, or tucked away under a fold of paper well away from the main marketing ‘puff’.    Quite off-putting, but puts the company in a legally safe position. 

Usually the title of the draw will be along the lines of  ‘Winner of a £10,000 cheque” so that every time they use it, they are not telling saying you are a winner, they are quoting the name of the game.   Yes, you will win a cheque, as will everyone else who sends back their form, but it will only be for £1 – £1.50 and can only be used on their products – and you don’t have to place an order, you can enter the draw separately

These sales gimmicks are used very successfully  by many companies, these are often foreign companies often using a British P.O. box

Trading Standards and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) receives hundreds of complaints about this type of advertising, and  are looking into taking action against several companies.

My advice – ignore the offers and report them to Trading Standards.

Housing benefit debate


Questions have been asked recently concerning Test Valley’s Housing Benefit payments. The matter was discussed at this evening’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee where I am the Economic Portfolio lead member. Debate centred around the report to OSCOM on the economic portfolio review.

Particular points of concern were the level of Housing Benefit overpayment (£773,000), the time taken to process claims (29 days), and a number of cases where large amounts of money had been paid to residents with substantial amounts of cash in the bank. The level of overpayment is worrying but is small compared to the total amount paid out (£17,500,000).

Every effort is being made to reclaim that money. Delays in action are a result of staff shortages. I was assured staffing problems have now been resolved and the problem is being addressed. Staff shortages also meant the time taken in dealing with cases, currently 29 days, is worse than the council’s target of less than 22 days. Again the performance is improving.

Every effort is being made to recover money and take action against fraudsters and money has been recovered in several high profile cases.

I am concerned that where claimants with large amounts of money in the bank defraud the council of thousands of pounds they appear to get away with paying a fine whereas those claimants with no resources face legal action for relatively small over-claims. I have been assured by officers that every case is considered in detail and action taken is the most appropriate and effective in each case.

I and my colleagues will continue to monitor the performance of the revenues service.

Massive response to residents survey

It is now just over a year since the borough council elections and Alamein Liberal Democrats have been surveying local residents to see whether they are satisfied with the pepformance of their local council.

The surveys have been distributed to households in Roman Way, Viking Way and Lilywhite Crescent and dozens of replies have already been received.

Residents have raised concerns about antisocial behaviour, poor maintenance of roads and footpaths, traffic problems and bus services. Thank you to all those who have replied. I will be personally replying to all correspondants over the next few weeks.

Anyone who has still to return their survey please do so. All responses will be answered and forwarded to the appropriate departments for action. Further surveys will be delivered to residents in other parts of Alamein ward over the next month.

If you didn’t receive a survey and would like one please email me on [email protected] and we will deliver one to you.

Residents condemn green waste charges

Garden Waste bag

Local residents complained angrily this evening at the Andover Forum about charges for green waste collection in the borough. The current bag system was introduced after Test Valley decided the previously used wheely bins were not suitable for green waste.

When the bags were introduced the new system was intended to be self funding and assurances were given to the public that no costs would fall on non-participating residents. However the new system proved to be more expensive than expected and the annual cost for 2006/2007 was £3.99 for every household in the borough. The issue has been debated at the council’s scrutiny committee when I argued strongly that those residents using the green waste scheme should pay the full cost of the scheme. The majority group disagreed but did agree to increase charges by £1 per bag for the following year. It is expected that the scheme will cost £2.75 per household over the coming (2008/2009) year.

Defenders of the scheme argue that it makes a significant contribution of 5% to our overall recycling rate. While I accept that our recycling has improved I would prefer the council to spend money on real recycling and reducing the amount of waste sent to land fill rather than paying residents to collect grass cuttings to artificially massage recycling rates.

I and my Lib Dem colleagues will be raising the matter again next year when budgets are set and pushing strongly for a self financing scheme and a real increase of recycling of household waste.

Hampshire Tory Budget Panic

Hampshire Conservatives over-charged council tax payers this year so they could bribe the voters with a lower increase next year – County election year. They denied it at the time, but now the truth is out. They have also announced some modest improvements to services to try to distract people from the major service cuts they are making. After increasing the council tax by 4.5% this year, when it was not  necessary to do so, they have now announced that the increase in election year will be 3.0%.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader on the County Council, Cllr Adrian Collett, said: “People are currently feeling the pain of the massive £43.38 Hampshire council tax hike this year – the last thing they needed when fuel prices are shooting up and the economy is struggling. This is having a particularly harsh impact on people on fixed  incomes, such as pensioners, who can do little about it but pay up and cut back on other things such as heating and food. Yet the Tories  think they can con people by having a lower increase during election year. People are not stupid and will see through this Con-trick.”

 “The truth is that council tax didn’t need to go up so much this year, but the Tories wanted to get the money into the bank. In fact Hampshire has over £120 million of council tax payers money stashed away, much of which is only there due to over-charging now so that  future increases can be lower. How very cynical! The modest improvements to services are dressed up to sound good but while of course they are welcome, they don’t make up for the major cuts.”

“£1 million extra for pot holes sounds good, but until this year the County Council had been putting £3 million extra per year into highway  maintenance, so this really means that the cut is only £2 million  instead of £3 million. £400,000 for carpets and double glazing in residential homes is also  welcome as far as it goes, but Hampshire should be properly refurbishing all its care homes to bring them up to proper modern  standards. Instead of that seven homes have been closed down due to  lack of money to refurbish them, while the Conservatives allocate 100  times this £400,000 (over £40 million) on modernising their Winchester ivory tower. Comfortable offices in Winchester are more important to them than modernising our care homes.”

“Is there any proposal here to reopen any of the closed care homes? No! Or to reinstate the £1 million cut in the Casualty Reduction Programme? No! Or to prevent this summer’s major round of bus service cuts (the fourth major round of bus cuts)? No. Any improvements to much-needed services are to be welcomed, but this is just a pre-election Con-trick!” he concluded.

Story supplied by Cllr Adrian Collett – Liberal Democrat Group Leader on Hampshire County Council