Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Council Tax 2009/10

Today’s Council Meeting was interesting because it was the one at which the Members set the rate of Council Tax for Babergh for 2009/10.

As anticipated on the blog in ‘The Year Ahead’ post in January, the rate for Babergh's share of the tax will be a 2.9 percent increase on last year’s figure. This amounts to something like 7 pence per week for all of us. The increase for council tax as a whole will be around the same figure since a rise of almost 5% for the Police is offset by a rather lower rise from the County Council.

Babergh continues to charge the second lowest Council Tax in Suffolk, is in the bottom 25% of the Country as a whole, and has for a sixth year running managed to keep the rise at or close to the rate of inflation. This has been no mean feat, and means that residents receive all of Babergh’s services for a direct payment of around £2.70 a head which really isn’t bad value for money in my view.

Of course the services do cost a lot more than this to provide. Many people don’t realise that Council Tax is only a proportion of the income received by the Council which still relies heavily on funding from Central Government. This means that some of us are also paying indirectly through our income tax.

The meeting was enlivened by a certain amount of debate. I had suggested some time ago in open forum that the level of tax should be frozen bearing in mind the difficulties that many of our residents are suffering a drop in income due to the economic crisis. This was picked up by Councillor Arthey, who felt that this continued to be a good idea and explicitly wondered why I had changed my mind.

The truth is that I did think the initially suggested increase of 3.5% WAS too high, and was to some extent merely challenging my fellow Councillors to come in with something rather lower. Additionally, as the scrutiny of the budget continued over recent weeks, I became persuaded that an increase of zero would send out the wrong message. As I said at today’s meeting Babergh faces some extremely difficult challenges ahead, and the possible stalling of Local Government Review means that we cannot rely on the abolition of the council to resolve our financial difficulties. A zero percent rise might be seen to imply imply that the Council is flush with cash, and this is far from the truth.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two hundredth post!

I am astonished to write that this is the 200th post on this site!

When I started in February of 2007 I would never have thought that I would have found so much to write about, or enough energy to find time to write about it.

Anyway thanks to all of you who read the blog and send feedback. Some of you even seem to find it quite interesting. It has developed an international reach with readers coming from as far afield as the USA, Mozambique and Australia.

I hope to celebrate by (at some stage) linking my tweets from my Twitter account to the site, but at present feel a bit technologically challenged to achieve this.

Anyway, here's to the next 200!

More parking problems

More concern has been expressed by a number of people about the new parking arrangements in Sudbury.

What has now become very clear is that there is NOT ENOUGH LONG TERM CAR PARKING TO COPE WITH DEMAND.

Because parking arrangements in Sudbury were very imperfectly policed in the past people got used to overstaying in the short term car parks unchallenged and untroubled by fines. The recent arrival of the machines and the enforcer mean that this is no longer possible. Now all the long term spaces get completely filled by 9 a.m., and of course since they are 'long term', it is rare that they get unblocked much before the early afternoon.
This is of particular anxiety to those who take trains from Sudbury’s railway station at any time after 9 a.m. There have been examples of people having to pay £15 fines because they simply could not find a space and catch their train on time, making a trip to London or Colchester an expensive business. This does not seem right.
For those of us who engage in activities which involve spending more than three hours in Sudbury at a stretch the situation is also exasperating, but at least not expensive. When I work on editing On the House, the newsletter of Gainsborough’s House, I have to break off towards the end of a three hour period and then drive around the town looking for somewhere else to park (really good for the environment and for traffic flows!). Volunteer schedules at the House have had to be altered as well, making life much more complicated and resulting in a need for more precious ‘vols’.
Perhaps a four hour limit, as in Bury St Edmunds, would be a more appropriate time-limit for the short term car parks? Three hours is really not very long.
I know that a number of people have made representations to Babergh about these issues, and I have mentioned them myself both to officers and to fellow Conservatives. At present however there is little sign of any rapid response to what has emerged as a real inconvenience for many.
I notice in the budget for the coming year (which is to be finally agreed at the Council Meeting tomorrow) we have been very quick to work out how much revenue we will be receiving from parking fines in the year to come. We are not being very speedy however in addressing some of the unintended consequences that have resulted from more energetic policing of parking restrictions in the town.

Friday, February 20, 2009

All of a twitter

Babergh has started to twitter!

I had read about twittering on a number of websites and blogs, but had thought that the new fad was largely the territory of adolescents who spend all their time communicating with one another, and doing little else. But no! Yesterday councillors received a communication from Paul Simon, the Head of Communications at the Council, telling us that we could now find out what Babergh is doing from its ‘tweets’ on the Twitter website.

Nothing daunted I opened a Twitter account (easy), and then tried to puzzle out what was going on on the site (not immediately very easy). I found that I was already ‘following’ a rather strange assortment of individuals and organisations, including various minor celebrities, a soft drink company and Number 10 Downing Street. I was able to see messages from all these people telling me what they were doing, which ranged from the bizarre to the incomprehensible. The comments from No 10 Downing Street were particularly obscure until I remembered that Gordon Brown is in Rome at present, and the ‘tweets’ (which I assume are actually posted by some acolyte) related to the Pope.

Within moments of logging on I received the message that Number Ten and the soft drinks company were now ‘following' me. Goodness me! Talk about Big Brother! I don’t much want to be ‘followed’ by Gordon Brown, but to date I haven’t found how to turn him, or the drinks company, off. In any event I don’t think Gordon will be very interested in the lamb hotpot that I cooked yesterday evening, or in the fact that I was off to bed at 10 p.m. with a cup of cocoa and a copy of Twelfth Night.

Having started however I thought I had better finish. I found Babergh on the Twitter site and requested that I might become ‘a follower’. Lo and behold, when I logged on to the site this morning (to tell Gordon and my other ‘followers’ that I was just off to Sainsbury’s) a message was there telling me that Babergh has decided to give money to Sudbury Citizens Advice for outreach work. This is of course excellent news, but time will tell whether this new sort of electronic message board really works for me, or for Babergh.

In case you're interested, I'm now off to cook supper again. It's pork belly with apples this evening!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Support First Friends Pre School

I was sorry to hear about the threat to the future of the First Friends Pre School in Great Waldingfield. It is to lose its home at the primary school in July due to the fact that higher demand for school places means that the classroom currently used by the pre-school is needed for older children.

Great Waldingfield Primary School could simply be experiencing the nationwide trend of higher demand for state school places. The birth rate has risen somewhat apparently, and the credit crunch has resulted in fewer parents being able to afford private schooling.

I don't however believe that this is the full story in this instance however. It is probably true to say that the pre-school has been the victim of the primary school's success. The primary school has not only been able to attract new children from around the district but also the pre-school itself , which started some four years ago, has acted as a constant and reliable feeder into the reception class.

I know that meetings are being held with relevant officials from the County Council Education Department to try to secure a future home for the pre-school. I also know that County Councillor, Colin Spence, will do all he can to push things forward.

The loss of the pre-school would be a great blow for Great Waldingfield as a whole, and for the primary school. I will do all I can to support the pre-school's organisers in their efforts to keep the group alive.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Goodbye to John and Jill Fieldgate

Over one hundred parishioners from Great Waldingfield and Acton gathered today in Acton Village Hall to say farewell to the Vicar and his wife, John and Jill Fieldgate who are leaving the village for retirement by the sea in West Mersea.

I am certainly sorry to see John and Jill leave and I know that this sentiment is shared by all. I have met John quite often over the past two years in the course of my perambulations around the Ward and I know that the wellbeing of all of the people in both Parishes, whether churchgoers or not, has constantly been at the forefront of his mind. John always seemed to give people and situations the benefit of the doubt and this spirit of optimism was always very refreshing.

The lunch was a very happy occasion, brilliantly organised. A fantastic spread was provided and it was great to see so many familiar faces all together in Acton’s excellent (relatively) new village hall.

Many people had contributed towards a gift for John and Jill. In addition to some lovely flowers, and other gifts, they took delivery of a Jasper Conran Breakfast set which they had indicated would be useful in their new home.

There will now be an interregnum which could last some months until more permanent pastoral arrangements are made for Great Waldingfield and Acton.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Development decisions

I went this morning to the Development Committee, with Christine Johnson, Clerk of Acton Parish Council. I am pleased to say that once again we were able to persuade the Committee that it would be a bad idea to spoil a part of the village by the overdevelopment of a site within the built up area.
Like it or hate it the ‘mid twentieth century’ estate in Acton was carefully planned when it was built. It is therefore arguable that it would be wrong to allow piecemeal development that is out of keeping with the whole, particularly when the proposed houses have to be designed in a rather unattractive way to shoe-horn them into the limited space available. It is always a bit of a heart stopper as the debate about the merits of the case goes this way and that, but on this occasion the committee was clearly on our side from the start. Only Clive Arthey (a man who reputedly takes the Babergh Local Plan to bed with him every night) sounded a note of caution in saying that he felt that such developments could not be staved off forever. He is probably right, but we will continue to try.
Our turn was well down the list and so had the opportunity to listen to other cases as they came forward. One of the most exciting and interesting was an application for a 'low impact' dwelling on the old sewage works site in Holbrook. This is basically a property which has ‘net zero carbon emissions, demonstrates the optimal use of renewable non-carbon based energy sources and which provides the basis for a sustainable low energy lifestyle’; in other words a very ‘green’ property indeed.
What was amazing about this particular dwelling was that it looked just like an ordinary house...no large sheets of sun-attracting glass or windmills to be seen at all. In fact it looked rather old fashioned, and not at all like the ‘eco home’ pictured above. I think that the Committee were rather taken aback by this, and there was a certain amount of teeth sucking, since I am not sure that this was what they had in mind when the policy with regard to special, less onerous, conditions for low impact housing was developed. The applicant looked a bit depressed while these fears were expressed, but in the end a majority of the Members voted for the scheme and we were all able to break for coffee feeling that an exciting project will shortly be underway in Babergh!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Will the Local Government Review ever happen?

Uncertainty with regard to Babergh’s future continues. We learnt today that the Boundary Committee is once again postponing its report on Local Government Reorganisation in Suffolk, Norfolk and also in Devon where councils are suffering the same misery. Apparently not much information was given as to why this move has been made but it has something to do with the implications of the judicial review brought by a council in Devon which is opposed to the plans.

The judge who determined the review largely found in favour of the Committee but East Devon has been given leave to appeal which of course is likely to take time.

I feel sorry for the Babergh Councillors who do not know how long the council will survive, although it looks as though it will now be a full term and wind up in April 2011. Overseeing the activities of an organisation in such circumstances is very difficult and frustrating. I feel even more concerned however for the staff at Babergh whose future remains extremely uncertain. In such difficult economic times I feel that it is shameful to leave so many worried about whether they will have a job in the short to medium term.

The timetable ahead is very unclear, and one has to wonder whether the whole thing will in the end actually be scrapped. If so it will be a terrible waste of time and money.

What is clear is that the County Council elections, due in June 2009 will now go ahead, even though the County Council may not last more than a year (another shocking waste of money).