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Bridgnorth to have a poll on unitary council

Posted by Ken on January 5, 2007

The Shropshire Star reports that Bridgnorth district council is to hold a poll in order for the people across the Bridgnorth district to have their chance to have a say on plans for a single unitary council for Shropshire the poll will take place next week. Ballot papers for the unitary authority vote will be sent out to all eligible electors across the district and will be arriving through letter boxes on Monday and Tuesday.

The questions will be which of two options they prefer

continuing the current arrangements of county and district councils

or creating a single unitary council for Shropshire.

Voters are being urged to return their completed ballot paper immediately, in the pre-paid envelope provided, to the Independent Scrutineer at Electoral Reform Services.

The final date for receipt of ballot papers is noon on January 22.

Councillor Elizabeth Yeomans, leader of Bridgnorth District Council, said: “The implications of a major local government reorganisation for people who live and work in the district would be significant.

“Some of the concerns we have about One Council for Shropshire include the fact that local people need local services that are delivered and managed locally – the case produced by Shropshire County Council and its partners does not provide detailed evidence to show how services will get better.”

It is very nice to see that at least Bridgnorth council seems to belive in the democratic principal even as the rest of the Shropshire councils do not want the public to become involved in their plans.

I am however a little confused by the questions being asked, Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, Shropshire County Council told me that the government had made it clear that the Status quo is not an option before when Christmas I asked why it was not an option this was her reply on the Council Blog:

Dear Ken Adams,

The Government has made it very clear that they expect cost-effective services for local people – and have asked shire councils across the country to look at three ways of doing this. The first one is creating new all-purpose unitary councils that would deliver all the services in their area. The second option is for councils to pioneer highly innovative approaches to working together, for example by pooling senior management and support staff or delivering individual services seamlessly. The third is to look for savings and improved services by the district councils and county council working more closely together in partnership. The government has also told us all that, whatever happens, we cannot stay as we are – councils will have to find better ways of working in order to release the savings and service benefits you can get from coming together as One Council. We believe that it will be impossible to find the equivalent level of financial efficiencies from closer partnership working that you can achieve with one council.

Retaining six councils retains six lots of bureaucracy and overheads, and whilst efficiencies could be found they will not be anywhere near the £7.8 million from a unitary council. We have already worked hard as councils in Shropshire to make services more seamless. For example, the county and four of the five districts/boroughs have let a contract which combines the waste collection and waste disposal services. This has taken 8 years to achieve and still 30% of the county’s population is omitted from the contract because one district has chosen not to participate.

The government in its White Paper says that over two, four and six years it will monitor councils in two tier areas that do not become unitaries, to ensure that similar levels of efficiency are delivered from enhancing two tiers. If these efficiencies are not delivered it follows that they will be taken from the financial settlement as the only way the government can enforce their ruling. This is too great a risk and would jeopardise services in the county and is the reason why Shropshire County Council, Oswestry Borough Council and South Shropshire District Council are supporting the move to One Council for Shropshire.

The other point at issue is the excuses offered by Shropshire County council for not offering a referendum to the rest of us. Also on the Council Blog

 

Carolyn Downs, Chief Executive, Shropshire County Council 27/11/2006 16:14:33

Dear Meole Man

Thank you for your contribution to the Blog regarding a referendum. Forgive me for giving such a detailed response, but it is important that people understand the advice the County Council has received on this matter.

When Ministers visited Shropshire in February this year to discuss local government structures, they met with service users and residents, business representatives, Councillors (County, District and Borough, Town and Parish levels), Chief Executives and our major partners (police, health, Learning and Skills Council, voluntary sector etc). They heard a strong response that unitary local government was change worth consideration. As a result, David Miliband, MP, wrote to all participants saying that we should not wait for the publication of the White Paper to take our work forward.

We therefore immediately considered how to ascertain and involve the views of local people in taking this work forward. Our legal advice is that neither we, nor any other local government partner in Shropshire, have the powers to undertake a referendum. We do, however, have the legal powers to undertake a postal survey/ballot regarding the services we provide.

Accordingly, we took advice from MORI who are advisors to the Local Government Association and conduct such work for many local authorities. The advice from MORI’s Chairman was:

Consulting residents on such issues is immensely challenging. Residents generally know very little about the complexities of local government structure, nor do they normally see it as important as the quality of services. Deliberative workshops allow residents to develop an informed view, by giving them time to debate the issues as they learn more about them, and seeing how informed views differ from less informed ones. They provide greater insight into residents’ views than a questionnaire based survey, and let you understand the arguments for and against a particular option.

Accordingly the County Council undertook a survey regarding customer satisfaction levels with our services with over 1,000 residents. From the 1,000 residents they invited a completely representative sample of 44 residents from all parts of the County to focus group discussions. This work is really research and not consultation, but is entirely informative and statistically valid. The full results – not selective quotes – are included in our business case at Appendix One, pages 57-99. They include some very different views, both for and against changes in local government structures, though overwhelmingly, as the report says, most people do not claim to know a great deal about local government at all and are hazy about who does what in two tier local government in Shropshire.

We have addressed the issues raised by residents in our business case which are:-

(1) what will it cost;

(2) will services improve;

(3) will rural areas have a voice;

(4) will my community be represented;

(5) what has been the experience elsewhere;

(6) will the boundaries make sense.

Nevertheless, if a ballot is undertaken with a question which conforms to the law and which presents an alternative to unitary local government (the status quo is not an option), then the County Council will provide the information to enable the public to make an informed decision.

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Charles Clarke: Give power to regions of England or UK will not be stable

Posted by wonkotsane on January 1, 2007

Missed this nugget from the Scotsman in November …

Give power to regions of England or UK will not be stable – Clarke

JAMES KIRKUP AND HAMISH MACDONELL
ENGLAND must be given more political representation or the United Kingdom will be at risk of “constitutional instability”, Charles Clarke, the former home secretary, will warn today.

In a speech in Edinburgh, Mr Clarke will become the most senior Labour figure so far to make the argument that constitutional change in Britain should not stop with devolution for Scotland and Wales.

While he stops short of supporting a full English parliament, Mr Clarke insists that the UK government and parliament must do much more to recognise England’s regions.

“I am not certain that this range of reforms has yet taken us to a new and stable constitutional equilibrium and it is even possible that some of the changes could lead to future instability unless the appropriate action is taken,” Mr Clarke will tell an audience at Edinburgh University.

He enters the constitutional debate on the day that Tony Blair is in Scotland hoping to regain ground being lost to the SNP.

Constitutional issues are rising up the agenda: polls show increasing support for Scottish independence, and more and more MPs detect a growing sense of English nationhood.

A cross-party English Constitutional Convention was also launched last month.

Mr Clarke, who left the Cabinet in May, will argue that to reflect England’s identity, government departments in London should be restructured “in a way which respects regional boundaries” south of the Border.

He will also call for the creation of select committees in the House of Commons reflecting English regions’ interests.

“I think the current situation does not give sufficient priority to the needs of the English regions and so is potentially unstable,” Mr Clarke will say. “It needs to be addressed.”

Mr Clarke’s analysis echoes that of the Labour-majority Scottish affairs committee of MPs, which warned in June that an English backlash against devolution could undermine Labour’s constitutional framework.

Mr Clarke’s speech sets out a broad vision of constitutional change, including more reform of the House of Lords, stripping prime ministers of their power to nominate peers.

Mr Blair himself is also focusing on constitutional issues this week, and the question of Scottish independence.

Speaking to the Scottish Labour conference in Oban today, Mr Blair will continue the economic offensive against the SNP he launched with an article in The Scotsman yesterday.

The Oban conference will be dominated behind the scenes by the SNP threat, particularly following First Minister Jack McConnell’s admission on Wednesday night that there is “a real possibility” that the nationalists could win in May and “take Scotland to the brink of independence”.

A YouGov poll, for the Daily Telegraph, shows Labour and the SNP almost neck-and-neck in the battle for Holyrood, with 32 per cent each on the constituency vote and only 1 per cent between them on the regional vote.

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Councillor Stephen Bentley on City Region

Posted by wonkotsane on December 28, 2006

Thanks to our friends at Telford Council Watch and their anonymous whistleblower, The Insider, we have a rare insight into the workings of Telford & Wrekin Council including a frank exchange of views on the City Region.

Councillor Stephen Bentley sent the following email to Councillor Keith Austin (Leader of the council) and other councillors:

Colleagues

May I first extend my thanks to San on her efforts in the Dawley Magna election. Unfortunately, despite the hard work, she was not successful.
The result, however, was not unexpected as we are no longer seen, either Nationally or locally, as the peoples representatives.

Nationally we have no control! Locally, however we do!

We now need to unify and collectively establish a NOW strategy and focus.

Our electorate are just not interested in the city and major Town Centre redevelopment propaganda. Although there are views that we should listen to, we are continually preaching to them and at this time, their interests are more personal and parochial.

This bigger agenda can be for the time being confined to Group and Cabinet discussions.

As the elected leaders we now must take the initiative away from our opponents and begin addressing the overall concerns of the electorate — those whose quality of life is governed by our decision making.

Let us begin within the council. Our many employees are also our electorate yet within them we have disillusionment they are not seeing us as affecting change, and those who either challenge or try to include silenced or moved away.

Olive branches and admissions of error can be a hugely acceptable way of restoring confidence and moral.

May07 will soon be upon us but we still have time to reestablish the credibility of our party before that date. Within our ranks there is much untapped potential. I believe that Richard needs to be included — the parliamentary link is vital.

Why not let Phil Homer be our spokesperson on the hospital, linking essentially with Ute, Dave Morgan and Liz.

We should be commenting more frequently on the proposed changes as a group.

Why are we not talking more about the rail freight and the potential this provides the town ?

Woodside is another opportunity we are missing lets use the changes, more beneficially to our advantage.

Let us admit to ourselves we were exposed as weak when we rescinded our car parking charges when we should have thought more about implementation across the Borough, spending the money directly in each area. This brought about tawpa. Then came HOOP which is centred around the Town Park issues.

Now we need strength — let us seize the moment and regain control in May07 in the past we have given a commitment to parish/ town councils more recently we have not used to our benefit their useful links to the communities as the grass roots of local government.

We should be listening to the people, and serving the people taking account of their concerns/ comments making sure we take them with us by proper, honest consultation.

Steve

Councillor Keith Austin replies:

Dear Steve,

Whilst you are entitled to your views and opinions-I really don’t think that airing them on the e-mail system is a very good idea. They (your views) would be welcome within a private Group meeting.

I have agreed with Douglas Bridger from Regionai Office that he will join us next Tuesday afternoon at Prlorslee (after our away day session) when we can start to discuss (in private) some of the issues around why it happened and the way forward as well as preparing the draft manifesto for wider Party consultation via the LGC process.

Shallow hasty analysis will only serve to hinder the corporately responsible action that is required for as a united Group. To that end we must all exercise self discipline and Party loyalty!

In the meantime it’s business as usual we are still the largest single Party within the Council and it would take all of the others to take/support a bid for the administration which would be extremely difficult for them to achieve.

Best Wshes.

Keith Austin
Leader
Borough of Telford and Wrekin

Interesting.  The council knows and acknowledges that the electorate don’t want the City Region but the answer is to pull together and remain loyal to the party.  The council knows and acknowledges that the electorate should be consulted on issues of concern but the answer is to remain loyal to the party.

Lets see the Labour Party propaganda machine put a positive spin on this!

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People should have a say on how they are governed

Posted by Ken on December 19, 2006

Ludlow MP Phillip Dunne is also a district councillor in South Shropshire, along with all other Conservative MPs in Shropshire he is calling for a referendum on the Governments pans for a Unitary Authority.

It has been made clear by the government that the present local government system is not an option, however exactly why this is the case has not been made clear. It certainly cannot be to save money or to make the services more efficient because that cannot be proven, and rate payers in some areas like Bridgnorth will have an above average increase. Although it has been suggested by some councillors that there will dramatic savings they do not seem to be prepared to put our money where there mouth is, otherwise they would also be predicting equally dramatic cuts in the rates.   

Below are a short article from Mr Dunne’s web site and two letters from the Shropshire Star      

Give people a vote on town hall shake-up

They want to sweep away the district and borough councils in favour of a unitary authority based in Shrewsbury to run all our local services.

As a district councillor in South Shropshire, I was one of the few sufficiently worried about this reduction in local democracy that I voted against this Labour-inspired shake-up.

I have three main anxieties: we don’t know enough about what this reorganisation will cost taxpayers; we don’t know if the claimed savings through reducing bureaucracy will be achieved; and we must not forget that losing 150 councillors will leave small towns and villages without a voice.

I believe strongly in local democracy. Decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible. Unitary is a move to more central control with less local accountability and more decisions devolved to remote bureaucrats.

In an area as big as Shropshire, decisions affecting the Bridgnorth and South Shropshire districts would be dominated by Shrewsbury. Those campaigning for Ludlow Hospital recall that no-one from South Shropshire was on the County committee that approved the closure of Whitcliffe Ward. I fear this is an omen of what may follow with Unitary.

I joined with all other Conservative MPs in Shropshire last week in calling for a referendum to allow local people to make this decision. There have been 36 such referenda across Britain in recent years. People should have a say on how they are governed.

 

  We should get a vote on plans

The current question of whether we should stay with our present system of local government, or change it drastically to one where our representation is by one big unitary council could require the most important decision of our time.

Yet we can see and hear some of those who want to bring in the unitary council idea wanting the change to be imposed by their own decision, without our wishes even being ascertained by a referendum.

It’s a very good thing that Philip Dunne MP is so disinclined to allow this proposed insult to democracy.

As a confirmed conspiracy theorist I look for the gleam in the eyes of those small-time politicians who think they would be in line for big and well-paid jobs in a unitary set-up.

No wonder the question of costs is being skated over. All our experience shows the difficulty of accurately costing something new and untried

The amalgamation of The Princess Royal at Telford with Shrewsbury Royal Hospital is something we know a bit about.

The new Telford hospital was run by top doctors who knew what they were doing, highly valued and brilliantly supported by the community.

Amalgamation was imposed by politicians who thought they were thinking big. We now have bankruptcy, threats of dismissals and closures, and all the nightmare resulting from thinking too big.

Let’s have a referendum. Let us be the ones that make the decision, and I’ll be voting to keep local control.

David Lake Bridgnorth

Shake-up costs more than £20m

The price tag for abolishing the six councils of Shropshire to create one new one, and maybe one for the town of Shrewsbury is not just the £20m one-off cost for local taxpayers, or the potential ongoing costs of the change for Shrewsbury and Atcham taxpayers of possibly up to 15.5 per cent, but also the loss of our identity.

Shrewsbury has a history extending 1,000 years. We have managed our town, and since 1974 our borough, providing cost-effective services.

The county council has likewise provided excellent services. Why abolish them?

Is it to satisfy the political ambition of central government or the ambition of a few at Shirehall?

That is not what the public wants. We in Shrewsbury and Atcham have a track record of listening and we will seek views on this change.

I do not agree with the change, which will be costly and have decisions on Shrewsbury made by councillors from Ludlow, Market Drayton and other parts of the county.

The borough council has a proud record of achievements. We have ambitions to do more.

So what is the choice? Expensive change with no improvements and more tax for other parts of the county or continue to improve? The answer to me is clear – no change! Now I am getting back to representing the wishes of the public.

Judith Williams Shrewsbury

 

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Keith Austin

Posted by Ken on December 13, 2006

Decisions not always supported

With borough elections due in May, I ask Councillor Keith Austin, the leader of the council, to kindly reflect on his inability to listen to the electorate.

It would appear that his ego trip to gain City Status for the borough of Telford is not welcomed by the electorate, at any cost – joining the West Midland’s Regional Assembly is also not welcome by the electorate.

Car parking charges, which he agreed to, cost the ratepayer some £500,000 simply because he would not listen – and his bailing out of a private football club and his council’s maintenance of the ground, free of charge, without consulting the public, is scandalous.

He has now installed his two “magic roundabouts” with numerous traffic lights, which has caused anger at a further cost of £700,000.

In order to get elected in May, he is now endeavouring to save face with the electorate by donating or loaning £20 million to the hospital – where is this money coming from?

Whichever way, the taxpayer is paying twice for hospital services.

T R Kiernan, Telford                                                

Posted in Politicians, Shropshire | 2 Comments »

Birmingham Post

Posted by bigfred on December 4, 2006

From the Birmingham Post today:

West Midlands MEP Philip Bradbourn is adamant that one thing we don’t need is city regions.

The proposed Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region is giving me a sense of deja vu.

I seem to recall a very similar plan to implement a “strategic overview body” ending disastrously in 1986, after just 12 years in existence. This, for anyone fortunate enough not to remember it, was the West Midlands County Council. I do not wish to see a repeat of this unpleasant chapter of local government in the West Midlands.

From talking to my constituents, I have come to the firm conclusion that most local people do not want this added layer of government, especially as they will ultimately have to foot the bill. If the current system is not working then the problem needs to be addressed directly, not added too.

Even the name, ‘The Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region’ strikes me as ill-thought out and ridiculous.

If the aim of the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region is to re-brand the West Midlands as a national and global competitor for business and enterprise, we have failed at the starting block. How can people be expected to have faith in this idea if the people behind it cannot even get the name right?

One area of city regions of which many people are not aware is the change it could bring to how we operate within the EU. Essentially, city regions are another means of sneaking in the doomed EU Constitution by the back door. The EU Constitution proposed plans to bypass central Government and deal with member states through their regions, outlining a “Europe of the Regions”. Decisions would be made without the parliamentary scrutiny of Westminster when, for example, funds are distributed, opening the door to a further diminution of the nation state.

If the plan for the proposed city region in the West Midlands goes ahead, we will become one step closer to the break up of the United Kingdom into bite-sized chunks’. What, instead, is surely needed is for local government to be given back the powers and influence taken away from it by regional quangos and to focus on its core activity – that of providing services for people.

But the greatest worry with this proposal is what it does not reveal. It does not reveal the growing army of bureaucrats which recruited to staff the existing regional agencies…and for what purpose? n Philip Bradbourn is Conservative spokesman on local government in the European Parliament.

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Blair supporting regional government

Posted by wonkotsane on November 29, 2006

Tony Blair has told the Yorkshire Post that if the people of England were asked if they wanted an English Parliament then they would vote for one.  He denied that they would vote for the breakup of the union despite a Sunday Telegraph poll showing that 48% of English people support independence.

This is the first time that he has publically admitted that English people want their own government so he’s going to let us have one right?  Wrong.  He’s putting all his support into the regionalisation project – in particular, city regions – which will break England up into artificial regions.

How can he get away with it?  He was (dubiously) elected to represent the interest and wishes of the electorate, not his own English-hating eurofederalist personal agenda.

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Has Brown ordered a stop to the City Region?

Posted by wonkotsane on November 23, 2006

Prominent political blogger, Nigel Hastilow, appears to have information that Gordon Brown has ordered that efforts to establish the City Region be stopped.

The Chancellor is apparently keen to make sure there are no “unsellable” policies when he is installed as Tony Blair’s replacement.

Hastilow echoes the comments and opinions of most prominent business leaders in the euroregion over the naming of the Birmingham, Black Country and Coventry City Region.  The choice of name was immediately condemned by business leaders – and the West Midlands NO! Campaign – as wholly inappropriate.

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Letter to David Wright

Posted by wonkotsane on October 12, 2006

I wrote to David Wright MP (Labour, Telford) a few days ago and asked him to support the West Midlands NO! campaign.

Rather disappointingly he has written back declining to support the campaign because, despite admitting that his constituents don’t want regional government, he believes that Telford will be better off in the City Region.

It’s a good job we have people like David to save us from ourselves isn’t it?  Who knows what trouble we would get ourselves into if we were allowed to make our decisions.

The following is my response:

Dear David,

Thank you for your letter of 10th October, you have the privelege of being the only Labour MP in the West Midlands who even acknowledged any of my emails about the regions.

I must say I am disappointed that you are supporting the City Region, not only because of your enviable knack of getting your face in the papers on an almost daily basis but because you know that your constituents don’t want it.

Do you remember the following letter you sent to me over a year ago?

Dear Mr Parr

Thank you for your recent email relating to an English Parliament.

I have to say that I have little more to add to my previous comments. I do not think there is any desire at present for either a parliament for England or indeed regional assemblies.

Our country does extremely well within the United Kingdom and direct political representation is provided by MPs. I would have no problem passing powers to elected members of a regional assembly.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

David Wright

Do you think there is now a desire for regional government in your constituency? I have asked you about this conflict of interests before but you never seem to give me a direct answer on it. The situation is that your constituents don’t want regional government, you know they don’t want regional government but you still support it. Did you stand for election as an MP to serve your constituents or the Labour Party, the EU and Birmingham City Council? I think it should be the former but perhaps not.

Investment in transport will be improved links to the rest of the West Midlands. The small problem of Staffordshire being in the way aside, this will only bring limited benefits as most of the traffic between Telford and the West Midlands is passing through. In terms of regeneration, the City Region is to have Pathfinder status – a project that has decimated parts of the North East with perfectly servicable housing compulsary purchased (ie. stolen by the state) and replaced with rows of identical “social” housing. And economic development – there will be lots of that but how much will Telford get?

If the City Region is so great for Telford why was it done in secret, why has there been no public consultation and why will there be no referendum? You and I both know that there is no support for regional government in Telford and that, if asked, your constituents would reject yet another tier of unelected, unaccountable and undemocratic regional government. This is why there has been no consultation or referendum yet you stand idly by and actually endorse this undemocratic, secretive project to go ahead knowing that you are acting against the wishes of your constituents.

I am very, very disappointed and I hope that in time you will see the folly of your decision and do what your constituents want you to do rather than what your party tells you to do.

Stuart

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