Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Ipswich Borough Full Council Meeting: 29th January 2014

Last Wednesday’s Full Council may well be the last I attend for quite sometime as I am moving out of the area so I thought I’d make an effort to witness the political shenanigans one last time.

I won’t give a verbatim report, as now you can watch and listen to the entire meeting of the councillors who bothered to turn up (the Mayor’s apology list was nearly as long as the attendance list!) courtesy of the Ipswich Spy parish (scroll down for video).

Even with the apologies from all parties, Labour still rule the roost in Ipswich with three long rows occupied by the socialists with the Liberal Democrats (all two of them!) and the Conservative Group shuffled off to the far side of the room. It will only get worse come the May local elections when, as I have predicted before, there will be another bloodbath of the blues. Thankfully, it will be the high water mark for Labour but the Tories will be out of power for up to 20 years (and that’s no exaggeration).

Council Questions covered a broad range of subjects and were kicked off by local Tory blogger, Kevin Algar, who asked questions on tourism and facilitating social media reporting. It was somewhat amusing to hear Mr Algar ask what the council were doing to facilitate filming of public meetings, whilst Ipswich Spy‘s Ben Redsell was filming to his right hand side. A case of being a bit late to the party!

Mr Algar also encouraged the ruling Labour group to have Ipswich Borough Council meetings in Suffolk County Council’s head office because it is set up for webcasting. Rightly, Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere slapped him down and pointed out Ipswich Borough should have their meetings in their Council chamber in the magnificent Town Hall not a corporate office block.

The questions on tourism from Kevin Algar were typically not answered by Labour’s Economic Development chief Cllr Carole Jones. She has a perfect ability to just waffle a reply to any question which – if you can hear her rather grating and whining voice at all – are couched in local government speak to the point of incomprehension. 

For some reason only known to Cllr Kym Stroet, he asked a question to Labour’s culture spokesman Cllr Bryony Rudkin which managed to reignite the Broomhill Pool row. “Does the portfolio holder believe that spending £1 million on a lido, likely to be used by very few people, is a wise use of taxpayers money?”, Cllr Stroet posed. This caused an uproar of heckling from the public gallery. Now, I’m not in a favour of any public money being given to starting up an outside pool business, which very few people want to pay to use, but there are a lot of people in North West Ipswich who are exercised by the Broomhill Pool nostalgia – and most of them vote in seats the Tories are trying to win or hold on to! Baffling.

Labour’s housing chief from the 1970s and also in the year 2014, Cllr John Mowles, was asked a question by former Tory group leader Cllr John Carnall about the decision by the Council to knock two homes together to house an unemployed couple and their (now) thirteen children and why he didn’t listen to the 84 petitioners who were against the move at a cost which is now almost three times the original budget. “I have no intention of discussing this and I am surprised this was raised and it disappointments me and demoralises councillors when such a question is asked – it should not be aired in public!”, Cllr Mowles replied. What on earth is he talking about? The council is spending a large chunk of taxpayer’s money commensurate with the Borough Council’s relatively small budget and Cllr Mowles has the audacity to say it is an issue which should not be raised in public. This smacks of Labour not wanting to discuss a subject they are ideologically influenced by and was boosted by Cllr Sandy Martin saying during the Council Rent Increase report later in the meeting he would prefer to see everybody in Ipswich live in a council house! Well, if he is that keen on living in a council-owned property, why doesn’t he move down the road from his privately rented cottage on Milton Street to the Priory Heath estate?

As was decided at last week’s Executive meeting (the real power-base of the Council), Full Council on Wednesday was asked to rubber-stamp a 5.5% increase in council house rent. Several Tory councillors asked how this policy ties in with Labour nationally always bleating on about the “cost of living crisis” – no answer did cometh from Cllr Mowles or Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere except to say they were “only following Government guidelines”. Conservative Cllr Carnall retorted the only reason rents were going up was to fund the new Council home building programme done to bolster Cllr Ellesmere’s Labour parliamentary campaign. There’s more than a grain of truth in that statement!

Later in the same meeting, there was a report discussing business rates and the Government’s plan to let Councils keep most of the money raised (before the Coalition came to power, all of the business rates were sent to Whitehall for re-distribution into Labour heartlands). Supposedly, there has been a few issues with the paperwork and Grafton House mandarins haven’t been able file their documentation to Whitehall yet.

The Labour group naturally blamed central Government and Cllr Ellesmere used the opportunity to let the Council know he was still waiting for Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, to tell him the council tax increase percentage threshold at which the Borough must ask permission of residents in a referendum – no doubt so he can lower it by 0.0.1% and then that will be this year’s council tax increase in Ipswich! Just for the record, Government guidelines stipulate council tax should be frozen but it seems the Labour-run council are ignoring the guidelines when it suits them.

There was an interesting report from Labour’s rising-star and Borough communities chief, Cllr Adam Leeder, where he told the meeting Area Committees were receiving new powers, mainly to do with being able to spend their budget as they see fit rather than always deferring back to the Executive. The points of interest weren’t in the detail of the report but in the debate amongst councillors. Cllr Sandy Martin made the most pertinent point when he told the meeting just one Area Committee represents a greater population size than any parish or town council in the rest of Suffolk, but still Conservative-run Suffolk County Council were not engaging with Ipswich’s Area Committees despite actively engaging with a Parish council in Lavenham or Bury St Edmunds Town Council. You just need to look at Suffolk County Council’s ‘Find your County Councillor’ site, where Ipswich is relegated to a ‘Parish’ to see the point!

This is one of the most powerful arguments for Ipswich being a Unitary Authority. Ipswich Borough Council has very little power, apart from planning application matters. All the roads, verges and any changes to traffic flow in the town are in the hands of Suffolk County Council; earlier in the meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Inga Lockington raised the condition of grass verges in the estates of Ipswich since the County Council took away the Highway Authority from Ipswich (meaning no decisions on anything to do with transport are now taken by the Borough Council) and low and behold it is nigh on impossible to get a verge repaired in Ipswich because it is like trying to climb Mount Everest to get it in the hands of a bureaucrat at Endeavour House, who has the whole of Suffolk to look after. Additionally, all the local authority schools are run from Endeavour House and as Cllr Martin made patently clear, the corporate structure at the County Council doesn’t even recognise the main conduit of communication between the electorate and their councillors. It is as if Ipswich is East Germany behind a modern day Berlin Wall, out of sight of County leader Mark Bee and his Cabinet in the “West”.

Despite Labour’s Cllr Martin articulating the raw deal Ipswich receives from Suffolk County Council, it was pointed out by Cllr Carnall that Ipswich has 11 Labour county councillors compared to just the one Tory in the Borough and perhaps they should get on with lobbying the County Council on behalf of Ipswich and its residents.

Another notable aspect of the Council meeting on Wednesday were the number of people in attendance to ask and support questions on the proposed Northern Fringe development. Questions on sewerage, traffic congestion and the New Homes Bonus were asked – all with an anti-development slant. Both Labour and the Conservatives (who cares what the Liberals think!) are in favour of building houses on the northern outskirts of Ipswich’s borough boundary; it was the Tories who approved it in the Local Development Framework when they were in power before 2011 and Labour are naturally in favour of upping the number of social houses built. So it really has become now a Town versus Country issue. As soon as the Council Questions were over, there was a mass exodus of rich baby boomers and their flat caps as they traipsed back to the 4X4s and their pretty villages. God forbid Ipswich will have more houses for their children to live in!

And this was the main thrust of the meeting, all two hours of it filmed below for your infotainment. Next time, Ipswich Spy won’t have to beg the Grafton House mandarins for permission, as the right for public meetings to be filmed by bloggers and the mainstream media is now enshrined in law, courtesy of Eric Pickles’ Local Audit and Accountability Bill which obtained Royal Assent the next day.


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Ipswich Borough Council cause chaos by failing to grit arterial route

Too late: Ipswich Borough Council needs to focus

Too late: Ipswich Borough Council needs to focus

Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council seem to have forgotten that since the Council made Back Hamlet a one-way road, drivers now use Devonshire Road to get into the south-side of Ipswich town centre from off Foxhall Road.

I say forget. I think they did remember: at 11pm last night if the flashing orange lights outside my house was anything to go by. But by then it was too late.

As a result of the Council’s nonchalance, this morning chaos ensued on Devonshire Road as cars slid all over the place with the infamous steep hill down on to Cavendish Street (and the main route now available from Foxhall Road down on to the Star Lane gyratory) being exceedingly dangerous with one car precariously perched side-on on the hill.

I tweeted the Council first thing this morning but their response was Devonshire Road was only a P2 route. I doubt this classification has changed despite Back Hamlet now being one-way forcing drivers to turn on to Devonshire Road to get to the town centre via Fore Hamlet instead.

I was speaking with a fellow motorist this morning who lives on Devonshire Road and she tells me Ipswich Borough Council had four gritters at ASDA in Whitehouse going round in circles for over an hour last night de-icing the supermarket car park. No wonder they couldn’t get to the public highways until nearly midnight!!

It begs the question what do we pay our council tax for? The same council tax which will go UP – thanks to the Labour Party – by 2% on 1st April!

The majority of council taxpayers only ever use the bin collection and road gritting service. Labour councillors and senior Council officers should spend less time feathering the nests of their union members and wasting money on ideological council house building projects and focus on delivering basic services to the people who pay their mortgages.

Disgraceful…


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Full Council report: Labour increase your council tax bill

Labour increase council tax

Labour increase council tax

As reported two weeks ago, last night Labour easily carried a vote to increase your council tax bill from 1st April.

The Labour Administration at Ipswich Borough Council used their massive majority to increase the borough’s part of the bill by 1.98% claiming the Coalition Government are “taking an axe” to the council’s funding. In fact, the Government had continued their scheme to offer a grant to pay for a council tax freeze – but Labour turned it down.

More please: Labour's Cllr David Ellesmere

More please: Labour’s Cllr David Ellesmere

Council leader Councillor David Ellesmere introduced the borough’s budget for the next financial year telling the chamber his party were forced to ask hard-pressed taxpayers to cough up more money – for no new or improved services –  because of the “gathering economic gloom” and as a result of Westminster treating local government as the “whipping boys again”.

In fact, the reason Cllr Ellsemere gave for needing the extra money was to meet Labour’s ideological goals. He will use the extra money from you to build new council houses and to increase pay for council staff, many who find it very difficult to hide their sympathies for the Labour Party. Gordon Brown’s client state is very much alive and kicking in the People’s Socialist Republic of Ipswich.

The Labour council leader foolishly tried to claim credit for the economic development which has taken place in the town over the last two years. This prompted former Conservative council leader Councillor Liz Harsant to respond with a tour de force of political rebuttals.

Former Council leader Cllr Liz Harsant

Attacking: Former Council leader Cllr Liz Harsant

The former Council leader tore apart Labour’s statements in the budget report where they claimed credit for Little Waitrose setting up shop in the Corn Exchange, despite opposing the planning application. Cllr Harsant pointed out there was no mention of the transformed Giles Circus in the report, which she was not surprised about as this expanded pedestrianised area using high-quality materials was driven through to completion by former Tory Transport portfolio holder, Tanya Maclure, against fierce opposition from the Labour group at the time. Little Waitrose sits on the corner of Giles Circus and undoubtedly the revamped area attracted this major retailer to the town centre.

Cllr Harsant went on remind the meeting what Conservative Cllr John Carnall said last month about Labour being against £70 Million of investment into Ipswich by Tesco through their development on Grafton Way. The new ruling Labour administration made their reluctance to take Tesco’s money so abundantly clear, the supermarket giant reduced their inward investment to £50 Million. Cllr Harsant echoed Cllr Carnall by saying Labour managed to lose £20 Million “in one fell swoop!”.

Labour were floored by Cllr Harsant by daring to suggest they attracted John Lewis Partnerships to open a John Lewis At Home store and Waitrose supermarket on the former Cranes site off Nacton Road. She reminded the Council this was achieved through the hard work of her former Administration, in particular the Economic Development portfolio holder at the time, Councillor Richard Atkins.

And the punches kept raining down: “The £6.6 Million flood defences weren’t achieved by your Party, they were secured as a result of lobbying by Ipswich MP Ben Gummer”. “The Regent was turned into one of the most successful publicly owned theatres in the region by the former Culture chief, Tory councillor Judy Terry”. “And the reason you can build council houses, is because of changes to the law made by the Tory-led Coalition Government!”.

Cllr Harsant rammed home her points: “Labour left this country bankrupt. This year they will rise council tax by 2%, next year they will raise it by 2%, the year after by 2% on so on.  I shall not be voting for this budget!”

This was undoubtedly the best speech of the evening and quite possibly Cllr Harsant’s best speech of her political career.

The soaring rhetoric was a needed boost to a flagging Conservative Group. Unfortunately, there was no alternative budget offered up from new Tory Group leader Cllr Chris Stewart. Firstly, let’s not forget Labour never put up an alternative budget in the seven years they were in opposition, displaying arrogance encapsulated by one Labour councillor who said the Tories “were just keeping our seats warm”.

But Cllr Stewart should have been better prepared for this budget as Labour announced in a press release on 12th February they would be increasing our bills by 2%. However, the Conservative group leader did not present an amendment to officers until 21st February, hours before the cut-off at noon on Friday 22nd February.

Sources tell Gavin Maclure’s Musings, the civil servants at Grafton House, for some reason, didn’t get round to viewing the Tory amendment. To compound matters, it has been alleged the S151 officer (the legally required local authority civil servant responsible for proper administration of the council’s financial affairs)  was off sick and the council had not made any provision to cover his role. This is potentially illegal under the Local Government Act 1972.

The upshot is the Conservatives did not get an approval for their alternative budget prior to the deadline and the start of the council papers print run. This gave plenty of ammunition to the Labour group with Cllr David Ellesmere branding the Tories “financially illiterate” and leaving the Conservative Group somewhat embarrassed they had not put aside enough time to navigate the civil service machine. I am sure lessons have been learnt.

Let’s just hope Ipswich residents learn quickly why their council tax is going up this year. Not because of Tory-run Suffolk County Council, who have frozen their precept and not because of the Police & Crime Commission, whose new Commissioner, Conservative Tim Passmore, has ensured their budget stays the same. The reason more of your income – in the worst economic climate since the 1930s –  will be spent on government is because Labour now run Ipswich Borough Council again. Get used to it. Until they leave office, it will go up every year, guaranteed.


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Labour hike up Council Tax in Ipswich

Labour increase council tax

Labour increase council tax

As Ipswich Spy reported last night and in doing so scooped the dead tree press, aka the Morning Ipswich Star, Labour run Ipswich Borough Council have decided in the worse economic times since the Great Depression to put up your Council Tax in April.

Cynically, Labour are increasing it by 1.98% because if the council increased the tax at 2% or above they are forced by legislation to hold a referendum of local taxpayers.

More money please: Labour council leader David Ellesmere

More money please: Labour council leader David Ellesmere

Labour Council Leader David Ellesmere said:

“Government funding cuts, which are far greater than originally expected, have forced us to bring in this increase to protect services for the residents who rely on them.”

What a load of rot. This is the second budget Labour have controlled since winning back power of the borough in May 2011. Last year they accepted the Coalition Government’s offer of a grant to cover a council tax freeze. The government announced in October last year they would be extending this offer for a third year but Labour would rather raid the pockets of hard-working Ipswich residents than find savings at Grafton House and decrease money given to their vested interests partners.

Good housekeeping: Tory group leader Chris Stewart

Good housekeeping: Tory group leader Chris Stewart

New Conservative group leader at the borough told Ipswich Spy:

“The net benefit of the proposed rise in council tax of 1.98% is less than 1% because of the rejection of the tax refund from the treasury. Even after the savings claimed by the administration this sort of money could be saved by some careful housekeeping. Sound management would do more to protect services and jobs in the long run.”

In short, Labour cost you more money. At least Labour council chairmen of Area Committees with their beefed up allowances won’t go without whilst low-paid local residents have to stump up more cash to fund them.

Disgraceful.