Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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I am your father, Richard

Christmas spirit: Ipswich Town Hall

I attended the full meeting of Ipswich Borough Council, where all 48 councillors should (but rarely all do) turn up for a good old political ding-dong.

Local Government, and especially district councils like Ipswich, is terribly bloated with councils having probably double the number of staff they really need to do the basics: collect the rubbish from the kerbside and the litter from the street (although this is rarely done in residential areas if at all), tend to the parks, collect the business rates and do the only thing district councils have any real power over: processing planning applications. The rest of their activity on community cohesion, applying for Fairtrade town status, ensuring council house residents eat five pieces of fruit a day etc is merely done to keep people in non-jobs. When did government become a place for people who can’t get any meaningful productive work to spend their days?
Wannabe MP: Cllr David Ellesmere
Anyway, this is why full council meetings are 80% pointless. Motions are put forward which boil down to an hour of hot air which achieve a big fat zero. Take the motion proposed by wannabe Labour MP David Ellesmere, Labour council leader and part-time software engineer on the rumoured closure of the Royal Mail sorting office on Commercial Road. What power has Ipswich Borough Council got to stop it? That’s right, no power at all. Do you think Royal Mail even know a motion was proposed last night? Did they hear it? A few posties turned up but was anyone from Royal Mail management there taking note of this earnest motion. No. Most Royal Mail management wouldn’t even know when or where Ipswich Borough Council met or which political party was in charge.
On a political note, Cllr Ellesmere’s motion backfired on him. He was hoping the Tories would be in favour of the sorting office closure. Not so. The Tory amendment  presented by their leader Cllr John Carnall, went one further and said Ipswich should be the sorting office centre of East Anglia. The posties even clapped Tory John. When the motion ping-pong ball was batted back to the Labour leader he didn’t know what to do with himself. So he proceeded to tie himself in knots by saying he agreed with the Tory amendment but didn’t agree with it and he wanted Cllr Carnall to drop his amendment so Labour could adopt the Tory amendment and present it as their own amendment. Cllr Ellesmere made himself look like a little schoolboy who wanted to have the last word. The arithmetic at the council meant Cllr Carnall had little choice but to agree to Cllr Ellesmere’s childish plan.
Then the meeting moved on to Council Questions. This is probably the only part of the gathering which has any meaning and benefit to the democratic process. It’s just a pity no one hears the questions and answers other than the councillors and two or three members of the public who normally turn up. This is why Ipswich Borough Council’s communications officers should pull their finger out and get on with web-casting council meetings to the wider Ipswich community. 
I love wind farms: Cllr Sandy Martin
Questions about the height (they will each be 130 metres tall) of the proposed wind turbines at Thorington Hall were asked by A Riverside View blogger Kevin Algar to Cllr Sandy Martin, Portfolio Holder for Fairer and Greener Ipswich, who yet again dismissed the concerns of local residents over these monstrosities. Labour love wind farms so why bother standing up for the majority of residents who don’t: it is clear Labour will not represent local residents and in doing so are actively supporting the wind farm development by not standing in the way of energy firm Partnership for Renewables . 
There was also a question from Cllr Carnall on council tax for 2013/14 to finance chief Cllr Martin Cook. Cllr Cook refused to say whether council tax would increase. Labour have form in raising council tax rather than find savings so don’t be surprised if the Ipswich precept goes up in April.
We also learnt at the meeting through a question from Cllr Robin Vickery that emergency repairs to County Hall, the former home of Suffolk County Council, are taking place. The site has been stood derelict since 2005 and is in a bad state. Its listed status and current financial climate seems to be delaying any development. And Cllr Judy Terry got out of culture chief Cllr Bryony Rudkin that the number of performances at council-owned The Regent theatre dropped in 2011. This is typical of Labour: they inherit a revitalised Regent theatre – masterminded by former culture chief Cllr Terry when the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats ran the council – and they begin to run it down the moment they get their hands on it. Just like the economy.
Next up was a report on Council benefits and how from April 2013 local councils will be responsible for paying out discounts on council tax to those on low incomes from their own budgets as determined in the Welfare Reform Act 2012. The Coalition Government’s aim is to force councils to find savings in all that non-job stuff like five-a-day coordinators and segregating communities in the name of multiculturalism (didn’t they get the memo from David Cameron?) rather than see their low wage voters miss out on a council tax discount. This got socialist Cllr Keith Rawlingson very excited about people deserving hand-outs. He should try living in Eastern or Southern Europe where they wouldn’t know to laugh or cry if you told them how much taxpayer’s money was dished out to people to top up their salaries here in the UK. Despite all this fuming from Red Keith and for the record, Labour in Ipswich chose to hit people on low incomes rather than scrap pointless activity at Grafton House.
Paternity test: Cllr Richard Pope
The final business item was another motion, this time from Tory Cllr Richard Pope, the Shadow Housing Portfolio Holder. Cllr Pope proposed, in keeping with the Christmas spirit and saying thank you to Father Christmas for our presents, the council should ask the Chief Executive, Russell Williams, to write a thank you letter to the Government’s housing minister, Mark Prisk MP, congratulating the Government on their Housing Revenue Account reforms, which will allow local councils to keep more of the money they collect from council housing tenants. This money is being used by the current Labour administration in Ipswich to build new council houses. 
As amusing as the motion was it served no purpose other than a light political knock-about before the Christmas recess. Cllr Ellesmere questioned why Cllr Pope didn’t write his own thank you letter but instead wanted to get his “dad” to write it for him. A sound of bemusement spread through the council chamber. Was Russell Williams Cllr Pope’s father? 
This little quip from the Labour leader spoke volumes on how Labour councillors see officers as superior to them. Either that, or the chief executive is to tell Cllr Pope: “I am your father, Richard”.


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Sir Humphrey’s contempt for elected representatives: Part III

As Paul Norton of the Ipswich Spy parish advised, I attended the South East Area Committee last night.  The acronym for this Ipswich Borough Council committee is SEAC, which could have been devised by Armando Iannucci for the BBC’s The Thick of It. There was also a distinctive Orwellian feel to the meeting with one of the agenda items called ‘Community Intelligence’.

The reason for me attending SEAC was to raise the ongoing saga of the incomplete footpath between Gladstone Road and Foxhall Road, despite being approved by councillors (on my committee) in August 2009!

I won’t rehearse the story of council incompetence again, it can be read here. At SEAC, Cllr Liz Harsant raised the absent footpath under Agenda item ‘6. Responses to Public Questions Received and Open Discussion on Local Issues’ and explained that the footpath creation had been approved three times by councillors but still civil servants at the Borough Council are saying they need also to get Secretary of State approval.

After Cllr Harsant introduced the issue, I was given the opportunity to speak by Cllr Keith Rawlingson, who it has to be said did a very good job at chairing the meeting last night. I added meat to the bone by outlining the precise dates when councillors made a decision on the path and then asked two questions to officers present:

1. Is the Scheme with the IBC Legal department or not?

2. When will the Footpath Creation order be advertised at either end of the current dirt track?

Mr Mark Wedgwood from the Borough Council’s Highways department said the scheme is with the Legal department and that they are drawing up a Footpath Creation order. Mr Wedgwood then said the order will be advertised “shortly”. When pressed by me for a precise time scale he said he would provide it to Cllr Harsant and myself.

Lo and behold, this morning my wife in her capacity as a councillor received an email from Charlotte Meadows of the Council’s legal department stating the footpath creation order will advertised on 20th March, including at each end of the path. I am sure Cllr Harsant’s and my intervention at last night’s SEAC meeting was purely coincidental…

The following new time scale has also been released by Mr Wedgwood:

20 March 2012
·         Seal order
·         Post notice on site
·         Place notice and plan on deposit
·         Circulate notice to all consultees
·         Provide all adjoining owners with copy notice, plan and extract from Highways Act.

17 April – deadline expires.  (extended this by a couple of days to take account of Easter).

On the assumption that we do not receive any objections:

19 April 2012 – (allowed a couple of extra days to allow for late objections)
·         Advertise notice of confirmation
·         Circulate confirmation notice to all interested parties
·         Serve separate notice on adjoining owners referring to compensation
·         Send copy to Ordnance Survey

On the assumption that we do not receive any objections, the footpath creation order will come into full operation on 19 April.

Works can then be programmed. 

It is of some concern that during Mr Wedgwood’s answers to me at the meeting last night he said two things which could still scupper the whole process. Firstly, if there are objections by residents bordering the path, then the scheme will need to passed to the Secretary of State for Transport for a decision and, secondly, Suffolk County Council would still need to adopt the footpath before any works could take place. Why did officers not start the adoption process with the county council when the path was approved on 6th August 2009?

So we are not out of the woods yet. Could we reach the third year anniversary of the first approval by councillors before the first paving slab is laid?