Liberal Democrat Leader on Hampshire County Council, Councillor Adrian Collett, is calling on Hampshire’s Tory MPs to explain why they all sat on the fence when the cash settlement for Hampshire County Council, which is well below the average rise given to other councils, was agreed by the House of Commons.
Every Hampshire Tory MP abstained rather than vote against the proposal for Hampshire to have a rise of only 2.0%, which is far less than the average increase of 3.6%.
“The low rise in the amount of money from central government to help pay towards council costs in Hampshire will mean a tight year ahead for local services,” said Cllr Collett. “The rise barely takes into account inflation and the additional costs of services the government requires councils to provide.
“The end result is that councils are being forced to increase council tax above inflation and cut services. It is a case of pay more and get less under Labour. Already it is clear that Hampshire Tories are planning yet another wave of bus service cuts, and £1m reduction in the Causalty Reduction Programme and the Library Book Fund will almost certainly be raided again.
“So I find it remarkable that not a single Conservative MP in Hampshire bothered to oppose this poor deal when the vote was taken and make a stand for our area. Local residents and council tax payers are owed an explanation.
“It seems that the Conservatives are failing to mount a strong challenge to the Labour government and are content to sit back and let Gordon Brown’s Labour government get on with things. The only party to vote against the council cash plans in Parliament and stand up for local residents were the Liberal Democrats.”
Test Valley’s Tory controlled council has approved a 4.5% increase in council tax for the year 2008/2009. When added to similar increases approved by the county council, this will result in a total council tax for a band D property in Andover of £1330.61.
In a last minute change of policy funding was found for voluntary car schemes, but only for cars carrying patients to and from hospital. The funding is worth £15,000 in Andover with similar amounts allocated to Romsey, Baddesley and Wellow.An attempt by Liberal Democrats to allocate extra funding to rat catching was rejected. “I am asking Test Valley to continue free rat clearance and to provide the Environment and Health Department with sufficient resources to meet this plague of rats head on”, said Cllr Mark Cooper.
Speaking on the budget I said “The main problem facing this council is the outdated council tax structure and insufficient government funding. Until this is replaced by a fair system of local income tax we will continue to struggle to balance our books and provide the level of services our electorate expect of us.” I queried whether the council could continue to find cost savings of £300,000 every year without threatening services and called for a review of the council’s publicity budget, currently over £400,000 per year, and the subsidised garden waste collection scheme. Also needing review is the Andover levy which should be accountable to the people of Andover through their own town council.
Free car parking will remain after 4:00pm. This was a Lib Dem initiative to encourage shoppers into our towns and any withdrawal of this could threaten the local economy. Other parking charges will increase and are expected to generate an extra £70,000 but this will only cover the £60,000 loss on the current charges. Could it be our charges are already at a level where resistance is such that we are driving customers to shop in other towns?
If rising electricity, gas and oil prices to heat our homes, increased rail and petrol prices, higher interest rates Tory led Test Valley and Hampshire County Councils are going to inflict more pain on the residents of the Parish for the same level of shoddy service.
Conservative Councillors have agreed a whopping Council Tax increase of nearly 4.5%. That’s more than twice the rate of inflation, adding nearly £50 to every Council Tax bill in our Parish, but what for more of the same poor service? As if a £50 Council Tax increase was not enough County Councillors added insult to injury by attending a lavish drinks reception for top Tory councillors and their friends just three hours before they voted for a record high Council Tax. The drinks party cost several thousand pounds…paid by YOU, the Council Taxpayer! Add in the £141000 Hampshire County Council spent on bottle water last year as highlighted by the BBC its “trebles all round” at County Hall.
Test Valley borough council has withdrawn its free rat clearance service on the ground that there are too many rats.Due to the unusually warm winter there has been a dramatic increase in the number of rodents to the level where the council’s three Pest Control Officers can no longer respond to all public requests for rat clearance. “But if the rat numbers are going up then the Council should resource and fund the pest Control service adequately” said Romsey councillor Mark Cooper.“I was given firm assurances by the Leader of TVBC that rat clearance would continue to be a freeservice for all Test Valley residents“, yet the very next day The Head of Environment and Health announced to councillors a reduction in the rat clearance service for a period of three months, telling them that people who called in would be advised to refer to Yellow Pages, for details of private pest control companies” he said. TVBC will continue to treat for rodents where the householder has a disability, has pre-school children or is over 60 and in receipt of benefit. The Council will also answer a call out where the source of the rats is open land such as a railway or river.
The borough council voted on Wednesday not to allocate more resources to rat clearance…the vote was on party lines. However, Conservative Portfolio holder Peter Boulton did concede that “he wanted to deal with the rat problem.” The issue will be discussed at the council’s next Executive meeting.
Hampshire Highways have recently installed safety railings in the underpass under the railway line between Cricketers Way and River Way. The north (Cricketers Way) side of the underpass has a steep slope and right angle bend meaning pedestrians cannot see bicycles approaching them. The new railings were installed on the Cricketers Way side at my request after local residents raised concerns about safety in the tunnel. I am pleased to report that Hampshire Highways dealt with this problem quickly and efficiently making the underpass safer particularly for the elderly and those with young children. The drains in the underpass have also been unblocked and grafitti removed from the tunnel walls.
Liberal Democrats in the parish of Smannell have launched their own web blog to record and debate matters of local interest. Smannell is a Parish in Hampshire, North of Andover and encompasses the communities of Little London, Smannell, Woodhouse and Finkley. This site updates residents of the work of the Liberal Democrat Focus Team which includes Councillors Robin Hughes, Len Gates and Nigel Gooding. Residents, businesses are welcome to pose questions, and raise issues online which councillors can act or comment upon. The address of the blog is http://smannelllibdems.blogspot.com.
North West Hampshire Liberal Democrats are celebrating another by-election victory following their success in Baughurst on Thursday. The by-election for a seat on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council previously held by the Tories was won by local Lib Dem candidate Michael Bound. The result means Basingstoke Conservatives have lost overall control of the borough council and survive in power only on the vote of one independant councillor. This the third election in as many months when local Tories have failed to make any impact despite heavy campaigning. The previous elections were in Whitchurch (Basingstoke and Deane BC) and Romsey (Test Valley BC). Full results from Baughurst are as follows.
Michael Bound (Liberal Democrat) 428
Zoe Wheddon (Conservative) 368
The debate over the future of Andover’s Guildhall took a fresh turn this weekend when Andover Lib Dem councillors announced they would pay for using the Guildhall for councillors’ surgeries. Councillors’ surgeries, once held monthly, are now held fortnightly in the Upper Guildhall. The additional meetings were introduced at the request of Sir George Young MP who attends all the surgeries.
The Lib Dems have long argued that the surgeries promoted and organised by Sir George’s office and North West Hants Tories are political and as such councillors should pay for the use of the room. Local Tories have refused to pay and even threatened to open a school as an alternative if forced to do so.
Recognising the need for residents to have somewhere to meet their councillors and MP, Lib Dem councillors have agreed to attend the surgeries but will make a donation to charity in lieu of payment for the room. I have written to the organisers of the surgeries advising of this. I am also requesting co-operation from the organisers to ensure a local councillor is available to meet residents whenever possible.
MPs and councillors, both borough and county, receive a communications allowance to cover costs of meeting constituents. It is unreasonable for us to also expect free use of council buildings. The surgeries are organised by North West Hants Tories primarily for the benefit of the local MP and county councillors. We can all afford to pay and should do so. Test Valley council taxpayers should not be expected to foot the bill.
Test Valley Tory leader Ian Carr has refused to allow borough councillors the right to debate and decide on the future of Farepass funding for hospital cars. “No, no. How many times to I have to say no” he said describing the scheme which pays for the elderly and infirm to travel to hospital as a “drain on resources.”
Successive Lib Dem councillors, led by Romsey mayor Mark Cooper, argued the policy which cuts funding for community car services to pay for free bus travel was flawed and should be debated and decided by full council but Carr refused to budge. The scheme will be reviewed by the council Scrutiny Committee during the coming year.
Test Valley Tories have refused to back the campaign for and Andover Town Council. Andover Lib Dems sought council approval for a petition on favour of the council arguing the decision should be made by the people of Andover not the borough council. (See news of 17 December for the full motion). “The petition and campaign should be non-political and if demand were proven the borough should fully support the campaign” we argued.
Lead by council leader Ian Carr successive Tories rubbished the campaign and denigrated its organisers. They claimed to have no opinion either way themselves but refused to accept that Andoverians could and should make the decision.
We offered the Tories the opportunity to take the debate out of the political arena and recognise the democratic rights of the people to make the decision. Sadly they were too arrogant to accept the offer.