Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I am sorry if anyone is inconvenienced by the closure of the road through Newmans Green on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
It is, I am afraid, all our fault. The other half of our house, Studio Cottage, is having its own water supply installed and Anglian Water need to dig up the road to connect it. Until now the residents of the cottage have received their water courtesy of us! We only discovered this when a workman cut off our water a few years ago and cut Studio Cottage off at the same time.
We now want to instal a water meter, and don't really want to pay for someone else's water!
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
At today's Council Meeting Babergh councillors resolved in principle to press ahead with a full merger with Mid Suffolk District Council. If achieved the new council will serve over 180,000 people.
Originally the paper envisaged that the new council would start in 2012, just one year after the elections in 2011. This was too speedy for some Members however, and it was decided that there should be a two year period of preparation. Work on the merger of management teams and services will start straight away, but the appointment of a new Chief Executive is likely to be postponed until after May 2011.
Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, wants to see evidence that the community as a whole is in favour of a merger. It is thought likely therefore that a referendum will have to take place at the time of the elections next year. What with voting for what could be the last Babergh councillors, deciding on AV (no!), and also on the future of the District, the South Suffolk electorate will certainly have a lot to think about as it chews its pencil in early May 2011.
The decision to go ahead with a full merger was not unanimous. 2 Liberal Democrats and our new Labour Member voted against the motion. There was also one abstention. The Conservative Group all voted in favour, despite the fact that there was no whip, showing commendable singularity of purpose.
I really would like to know how those who voted against the merger think that Babergh can both make the significant spending cuts likely to be required by Government, and avoid cutting services to the public and our community grants. According to the business case, even after the savings resulting from the combination have been realised, further economies may well be necessary.
Two Members felt that Babergh should merge with ‘someone’, but not with Mid Suffolk. The problem is that there is no other option available just now and the wolf is approaching the door. It would be sad to see Babergh get into trouble while unable to make up its mind what to do, like Balaam’s ass starving to death between two succulent bales of hay.
As one Member aptly put it ‘When a Tsunami is coming, you don’t wait to ask how big it is!’
This is the 400th post on this blog since inception in early 2007!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
To a meeting at the CAB this morning, which was held for the first time in the new meeting room.
Recent expansion into what was the old folks lunch club at Belle Vue House has meant that the CAB has doubled its capacity and now has six meeting rooms to accommodate advisers helping people with their problems. This is just as well because, thanks to the recession, the people seeking assistance is rising exponentially. Until now we have had to cope in something a little larger than a broom cupboard!
Photos of two of the new rooms, the advisers’ room and the training/meeting room are shown above.
It is a little worrying, as a trustee, that expansion has taken place at the very time that we are concerned about the security of our funding from local authorities. This type of contribution makes up by far the largest amount of our resources.
It would be an irony if, at the very time the Government is placing more emphasis on volunteers and the ‘Big Society’ to deliver services, we see a cut in our grants from Babergh and Suffolk County Council. I do hope that this will not happen. In Babergh’s case I know that councillors are very aware of the amount of support that the bureau gives to the residents of the District, rich and poor.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
Thursday’s Strategy Committee at Babergh voted to recommend to council on 28th September that the principle of the creation of a new single council be endorsed as the preferred way forward.
A timetable was also agreed and at present the paper assumes that, subject to government approval and a referendum, the new council will be created from April 2012. However the vote at the Strategy Committee was not unanimous and it is clear that there are some who believe that moving to merge the councils so quickly is in some way ‘rushing things’ and that a later date should be agreed.
I do not think that this is a sensible idea. The main aim of the exercise is to save money and the sooner that costs can be reduced the quicker these savings will be realised. For every day that passes the council’s services, particularly those that we are not required by law to carry out, are put at risk. Things that could be further cut , or even eliminated, include, for example community grants, which currently amount to around £300,000 per annum.
In addition is it really fair for us councillors to hang onto our jobs for an extended period when we are seeking immediate redundancies among the staff? I don’t think so.
In my opinion if we are going to merge with Mid Suffolk it would be better to get on with it as quickly as possible.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
The weather was very good and I understand that a good time was had by all. Fourteen or so people went in all, and three of them can be seen here enjoying their fish and chips in the sunshine. (I understand that there were not enough tables in the cafe accommodate everyone at once.) The group also had time to sit on the front and do a bit of shopping.
The Drop in happens every Monday morning in the room at the back of Mike Stone's office (next to the shop). The sessions start at 10 and finish at 12. Look out for the big sign and you will find your way in.
If you have time to spare at that time it is a good way to have a nice cup of coffee, a biscuit and some high quality conversation. One also gets to hear some interesting news about what is going on in the village.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
On holiday last week I was amused to see this recycling bin, which has been hastily re-labelled to indicate that Alnwick District Council is no more.
Indeed signs of the demised body are still visible in many public places. The ghost of the late District Council lives on.
The new unitary Northumberland County Council was formed in the spring of 2009, and so has only been running for a little over a year. It has to be said however it has done little to rebrand itself! Even its name implies that this is simply an expanded version of the previous county council. In a recent article in the local authority press the Chief Executive continues to grumble about ‘District Council resistance’ to abolition, which doesn’t seem a very positive approach to me.
The new council is run by a Liberal Democrat minority cabinet and has only 67 members to cover the whole, huge, county. There are around 300,000 people in Northumberland.
A quick look at the website shows that arrangements to put community engagement structures in place have barely got off the ground, which must disappoint residents who have lost one whole layer of representation.
According to the Chief Executive’s article, the Northumberland unitary arrangements were supposed to achieve annual savings amounting to around £17 million. If that really is all that will be achieved, given the size of the council’s budget, the exercise hardly seems worth the biscuit.
At Babergh from time to time we claim to be sorry that unitary arrangements in Suffolk did not go ahead. However the Northumberland experience gives me pause for thought. It may well be that the half-way house offered by the merger with another District Council, turns out to be the better way forward.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Because we have been away on holiday I have not been able to visit the annual art exhibition at Acton Church before today. The show closes tomorrow afternoon.
As usual there is a wide range of art on sale with something for everyone. I was particularly impressed by some little prints of churches and also some accomplished botanical painting. These were to be found among the works propped up in the pews, rather than hanging on the walls, and so were not included in the catalogue. I was very tempted, because the prices were very reasonable, but unfortunately I simply don’t have enough wall space these days to accommodate more pictures.
The youngest exhibitor, a local student aged 17, who is off to art school in Chelmsford shortly, had sold one of her works, an impressive portrait of a girl. It is an achievement to go off to art school being able to say that one has already sold something from an exhibition!
Not for sale, unfortunately, were some ingenious creations by the local group Creative Stitch. This group regularly meets at Acton village hall on a Friday. The hangings, pictures and other items on show were all inspired by a visit to Acton church that the group made earlier in the year and it was interesting to try to spot the sources of their inspiration.
Hard at work when I visited was the airbrush portrait painter, Simon Bayes, who lives locally. He is pictured below at work on a picture of an Alsatian dog. The airbrush technique gives pictures a very soft effect which is particularly appropriate for images of animals. Airbrush portraitists are not very common and if you would like Simon to have a go at reproducing you, or your pet, you can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org. To see examples of his work go to www.bayesy.com.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
We now have a rough idea of the timetable that will be applied to the Core Strategy of the new Babergh Development Framework.
This is the policy document that will address the council's expectations for projected growth in housing and employment in the District, together with a broad idea as to where future development, resulting from this growth, will take place. The projections will be made for a 20 year period to 2031. Further, more detailed documents, relating, for example, to actual land allocations for development and the management of the development process, will follow in due course.
One major difference in the process this time is that there is no need to produce a framework that covers everything at once, and different papers on different subjects can be adopted sequentially.
The process has been held up somewhat due to the change of Government in May, but sufficient guidelines have now been received from Whitehall to allow it to get under way again. There is no doubt that the ‘tone’ of the process has now changed, with less emphasis on top down diktat and more on trying to shape the District in accordance with the preferences of the community. This means, as I have mentioned before on the blog, that the community needs to get involved with the process!
District councillors are being asked to ‘support’ the consultation process and try to help residents to formulate their views. Workshops and information packs are being provided for Parish Councils. It is probable that public meetings will be held, but it is always possible for residents to attend Parish Council meetings and make their views clear there.
It seems that there will be not one, but two, consultation periods and the first one commences in October 2010(not September as previously stated).The final consultation will take place in late summer 2011 (provided the rules do not change once again!)
It should be emphasised that what is being agreed is a long term strategy. It is unlikely that we will see unexpected new development on new sites in the near future. Babergh, at present, has enough land earmarked to satisfy demand for homes over at least the next five years.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Last week we spent a few days in the Yorkshire dales. We were very lucky with the weather and had a great time. It is a wonderful and unique area. No amount of watching Emmerdale and back programmes of All Creatures Great and Small prepare one for the beauty and variety of the place itself.
Rendle the Lurcher accompanied us and we were very struck by the genuinely dog friendly character of the area. On more than one occasion the request to bring in the dog was met with the response ‘We like dogs here’. The pub in which we stayed, the George and Dragon at Aysgarth, made him particularly welcome. The only place from which he was banned, in common with the pub’s own dog, Duke the Alsatian, was the dining room. On the first night we were able to eat in the bar while Rendle slept under the table. The policy was attracting plenty of customers and there were no fights or other problems (at least as far as the dogs were concerned). Apart from food shops, it turned out that Rendle was very welcome in the local shops too. Nick bought a new shirt from an establishment with a large ‘Dog’s Welcome’ sign in the window.
We shall certainly return to the Dales and the dog friendly attitude doubles our resolve. So often in Suffolk these days dogs are banned entirely from pubs and other places. This seems counter-productive when more people are taking their holidays at home and more people than ever, apparently, keep dogs. Weak excuses about ‘health and safety’ are, for once, quite misguided. The rules about dogs are not as strict as some landlords would like you to believe. It is also true to say that a socialised dog that is used to going out and about tends to be a better behaved and socially acceptable one.
I am pleased to say that at Gainsborough’s House dogs are always welcome to wait in the garden while their owners view the collection and a water bowl is available for canine refreshment.
I personally don’t think an establishment deserves to survive if it cannot accommodate man’s best friend!