Fourth Option for Council Housing Petition

This petition on the PM’s website calls on the government to provide the “Fourth Option”:

Petition to: provide the Fourth Option of direct investment in council housing as an alternative to privatisation by stock transfer, PFI or ALMO, to enable local authorities to respect the choice of their tenants and bring all homes up to at least the governments Decent Homes Standard by 2010 and also build a new generation of decent, affordable and secure council homes for rent, accountable to an elected local authority landlord, and to give a clear commitment to defend the lifelong secure tenancy that council tenants enjoy and uphold the right of everyone who needs or wants to rent public housing to do so without time limit or means testing so that council housing can again become a tenure of choice and council estates can once again be a place that people are proud to live in.

During the stock transfer vote in West Lancs we argued that the fourth option would be a better way forward for the local housing than the wholesale transfer to the private sector that the Tories wanted. Hopefully this petition will attract the signatures of all those who believe in good quality social housing, and that council stock is an important part of the social housing mix.

Parish Councils – “not just for the bad things in life”

Nice to see this article in the “Battle for West Lancashire” blog about the Up Holland Parish Council meeting last Tuesday: Parish Power (The Battle for West Lancashire).

The evening was a lovely occasion and celebrated Arthur Tennant’s very many contributions to life in Up Holland. Arthur was one of the first people Jude and I got to know in the village and he was extremely welcoming.

I hope that in the future, the parish will be able to honour other people in the village in the same way that they have Arthur. If Parish Councils are to succeed, they should be at the heart of the community – dealing with both the mundane and joyful things in the community. They should be leading the celebration when people like Arthur are being recognised, but also sharing in the success of individuals across the villages and towns. I’m sure that, in that way, they would gain a lot more respect and recognition in themselves for being an active part of the community.

It also touches on the proposals for the Skelmersdale and Ormskirk Town Councils. The main arguments in favour have been that people should have a greater say in what goes on locally. Having been a parish councillor once, I don’t think they would have the power that they think they would have, but if they avoid irrelevance and are seen to be at the centre of the community, then there is a chance that they will build more influence and good will than any government bill could provide.  

Election leaflets

I’m quite pleased with our election leaflets this year. Printed by Flexipress in Ormskirk who did a brilliant job, it’s the first time that we’ve printed colour on non-glossy paper. They have a lovely tactile feel to them and the content isn’t bad either!

When I was little, growing up in Abram, there was a printers down the road in Platt Bridge – just between the post office and a electrical shop (I think). A tiny place, where you went through a narrow front door, stood behind the tiny counter and would be overwhelmed by the smell of ink and cleaning fluids.

We used to buy scraps of paper for a few pence – great for drawing and notes. My Uncle Alec used worked as a printer too, and I grew up thinking that printers were magical places. I still think so.

Regardless of what the public in West Lancs think… I think that this years leaflets get our message across, and do it well.

They say that leaflets are only contemplated for 10 seconds between being picked up and thrown in the bin. I suppose it’s true, but those 10 seconds are important, and we should try our best to make a good impression in that time. I hope we have done that.

Full Council last Wednesday

A messy, chaotic meeting the other night. All the way through it seemed like there was no sense of control over the agenda. No criticism of May Blake, the current chair of the council, it was the usual pre-election meeting and it’s a difficult one to chair.

There were many kind words said about the councillors who will be retiring – all of whom have done a lot for the district. We were presented with a completely new set of recommendations on the staff redeployment and redundancy policy, bounced on us at the last minute by Cllr Bailey. I almost felt sorry for him. He was clearly struggling to explain his proposals as the rest of the Council – rightly – were trying to grapple with the detail and trying to understand why this had to be a last minute change.

It was probably the most animated part of the meeting (except moving standing orders… ooh, exciting!). Cllr Bailey had been trying to explain his changes, and had run out of time – at this point the chair asked if he should carry on, which led to a longer discussion about whether he should be doing it in the first place. Bailey looked like he just wanted to get it over with.

Tory Geoff Roberts had put on a motion about the Army not sending packages for free – which was blatant politicking. The motion, which had come from Conservative Campaign Headquarters, apparently, was wrong in it’s premise, wrong in fact and wrong for wasting everyone’s time. I’m guessing that the speech that was put by the Leader could well have been written by Conservative Campaign Headquarters too – lots of “boo hiss” bad Labour Government, letting down the troops, etc. etc.

I’m not happy with the situation that our troops are in. I’m not happy with the decisions that have led to the position. But to make cheap political stunts like this, just because there is an election coming, is crass.

Other daft political posturing included the green agenda. We pushed a load of green issues at budget time – we thought that it was the way that the council should move, and we tried to convince the Tories – who wouldn’t have it. So it was natural for us to follow it up with a motion about the “Nottingham declaration” on climate change. We think that the council should sign up for it, and as a natural follow-on from the budget, we placed it as a motion at council.

We were criticised for being “political” and of course it’s political – we put it forward because we believe it’s right.

Turned out that there was a report (a rather weak report) about climate change on the agenda which commits us to nothing. It was one of those reports where it would do nothing. Cllr Baldock accused us of being political in having a motion that would actually commit us to do something, and wouldn’t accept out motion as an amendment (to save a lot of hot air later).

After what seemed like an age (but was probably half an hour), the Tories voted against the Nottingham agreement, and instead backed their “do very little” strategy. This was 10pm and there was still a lot left on the agenda.

Time creeped on, and we got to 11pm, at which point someone is supposed to “move standing orders” to keep the meeting going until everything has been discussed. When it came to a vote to see if we should continue the meeting – there was a fair proportion of people who just wanted to go home. It had been that kind of meeting. Regardless of the fact that there was a vitally important (part 2, therefore non-public) item on the agenda.

Common sense prevailed, we got through the rest of the agenda in record time (10 minutes) and the meeting was over shortly afterwards.

No press or public at the meeting, and probably a good thing.

I wonder sometimes if the April meeting is worth being held at all. It always ends up as a bun-fight, and neither side comes out of it with any dignity. They could arrange for a meeting at the beginning of March and that could be the end of it. It was only because some decisions had been left until the statutory “last minute” that we had to meet and decide some points.

District Council Budget Book 2007/08

The “budget book” for the council has been published on their website. It can be found here. As the foreward says:

This Budget Book explains how the Council will raise and use the resources needed to achieve this vision. It provides details about the scale and scope of the Council’s activities and the sources of its funding. It also sets out the financial implications of the Council’s policies and plans for the coming years.

Basically, it’s the full detail of the budget as proposed by Adrian Owens in February. No comment from me at the moment (because I’ve not had a chance to read it!)

Election candidates

The council has published the list of candidates for this year’s elections. I’ve attached a copy of the file here in case the council’s copy disappears off their site in the future.

For me, the interesting things to note are:

  • Margaret Edwards standing as an independent in Tarleton after many years service as a Conservative councillor. Something bad must be happening up there – the last time a councillor stood against their party was six years ago after the Labour split.
  • Greens standing in Derby, Knowsley, Scarisbrick, Scott and Tanhouse – I think the only addition is Scarisbrick. The first seat that they’ve stood in where Labour doesn’t traditionally put up much of a fight. I guess this means that they’re expanding from their original campaign of spiting Labour in Ormskirk. Not that that campaign has stopped… Maurice George, their leader, left Labour a couple of years ago in a huff to stand against the party.
  • English Democrats in Newburgh! This is the election that really shouldn’t have happened because of the small change in the boundaries, but given that an election was called, Jacky Citarella – who is a great, hard working, Newburgh resident is standing for us. However, had we not put anyone up there would still have been an election between the “English Democrats” of all people and the Tories. Steve Garrett lives in Burscough on Liverpool Road, so it will be interesting to see how many in Newburgh turn out to vote for him.
  • Less surprising is Ken Walters standing as an English Democrat in Scott Ward. Although, like in Newburgh, it’ll be interesting to see how many votes they take from both Labour and Conservative.
  • UKIP standing in Up Holland. I haven’t heard of the chap who is standing – Alan Freeman – and I notice that he comes from Newtown in Wigan, which isn’t even in the District. I can’t see how he is able to stand, unless he works in the district somewhere. Still, I think he’ll split both Labour and Conservative votes, but will split Tories more – making it much easier for Terry Rice.
  • Oh, and Lib Dems standing in North Meols and Tarleton. I don’t rate their chances, but I’m guessing it’s the South Ribble party building up their support in the run-up to the general election in 2009. I expect we’ll see more of them up there in the next couple of years.

Despite all these other parties and independents running, I expect that it will still be a Labour / Conservative council after all the votes have been counted on May 4th.

Street surgery feedback

Interesting session in Colinton this morning. Mainly complaints about the paths and alleyways, some of which have clearly not been touched for years. It’s depressing to have to keep banging on at the council, and for nothing to be done.

I delivered my surgery flyers with Lily, our three year old daughter. It was good fun and when we had finished she wanted to play on the playground at the bottom of Colinton near the school.

I must say that I was disgusted by the state of the playground. There grass was strewn with broken glass. There was evidence of drug taking (thankfully no needles around). Litter and old papers which had clearly been there for months.

It’s a disgrace that the playgrounds are left in this state. We also go to the Scott estate playground in Ormskirk because it’s close to where we now live – and the council keeps that one clean. I wonder why… Perhaps it’s because it’s one law for Skelmersdale and another for Ormskirk.

When we ask the question, what could a Town Council in Skelmersdale do? this is one area that it could make a real difference. Up Holland Parish Council owns and maintains the playgrounds and keeps them in good working order. It gets some money from the District Council for this – not just from the parish precept. Skem could do the same and start making the towns playing areas a bit better.