West Midlands NO!

Regional government: unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable and unwanted

Archive for the ‘Telford’ Category

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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Telford agrees to City Region funding

Posted by wonkotsane on December 12, 2006

Telford & Wrekin Council has agreed to spend £22.5k on funding the City Region.  This is the estimated annual contribution required as Telford’s “share” of the administration and management costs of the City Region.

The agreement came at yesterday’s cabinet meeting.

Leader of Telford & Wrekin Council, Keith Austin, who will automatically get a seat in the City Region cabinet (but can somehow vote on joining and financing the City Region without having a prejudicial interest) said the decision to join the city region was “singularly one of the most important propositions” for Telford & Wrekin.  So important, in fact, that they just couldn’t risk letting the people of Telford & Wrekin have a say in it.  He also said “There is no reason to believe that this authority would not benefit by being part of the city region”.  How does he know?  The proposal apparently hasn’t been finished yet so unless he and his fellow councillors has the gift of clairvoyancy, how can they possibly know whether the city region will benefit Telford?

Councillor Brenda Flowers said she thought the fees were “excellent value for money”.  Councillor Flowers has certainly warmed to the idea of the city region since we contacted her a couple of months ago.

Councillors Bill Tomlinson and Stephen Bentley also both heaped praise on the city region.

Interestingly, Bill Tomlinson is a Liberal Democrat and the other 3 are Labour councillors.  Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are pro-EU, pro-regional parties.

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The Shutters Come Down

Posted by wonkotsane on December 7, 2006

Telford & Wrekin Council are withdrawing what little co-operation they have so far extended on the subject of the city region.

Recent requests for information or comment have been met with increasing hostility and the only person at the council who knows anything about the council – Gerry Dawson – feels that answering questions on the city region is a poor use of his time.  His taxpayer-funded time to do his job as a public servant.

The City Region Growth and Prosperity Plan (the new name for the city region proposal) is apparently in draft form and won’t be published until after Christmas.  The city region is, of course, due to be brought into being early next year.  Will the plan be released in time for any objections to be lodged?  Doubtful.  And if the plan is still in draft form, why was it put before the cabinet – a fact that was deleted from the cabinet report we uploaded yesterday?  And how did the cabinet approve the city region project if the proposals for it are still in draft form months later?

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More city region lies from Telford

Posted by wonkotsane on December 5, 2006

On the front page of the Telford edition of today’s Shropshire Star is a story about the cost of the city region to the council taxpayers of Telford.

Taxpayers are likely to stump up more than £100,000 over the next few years to finance Telford’s new role in the West Midlands City Region, it was revealed today.

Borough councillors are being urged to spend £22,571 on “management and administration costs” in the current financial year. And this is likely to be an ongoing demand on the authority’s budget, says a report to Telford & Wrekin Council’s cabinet.

The decision to join forces with Birmingham, Coventry and the Black Country in a new role on the West Midlands City Region was made by the cabinet in April.

Gerry Dawson, the man in charge of Telford & Wrekin’s city region project, has told the cabinet to set aside £100k to cover their share of the administrative and managerial costs of the city region for the next 4 years.

What is interesting isn’t the fact that all this taxpayers money is going to be spent on an unelected quango without the electorate getting a say in it but the fact that Telford & Wrekin Council still claim not to have any idea of how much the city region or any of the other quango’s cost the taxpayers of Telford.  In fact, just yesterday Gerry Dawson claimed not to know how much membership of the West Midlands Regional Assembly costs.  Where does the money come from?  How does anyone know if it is cost effective for Telford to be a member of any of these quango’s if they don’t even know how much it costs?

Telford Council Watch have this to say:

Telford and Wrekin Council have recently issued a press release with regards a 3% increase in Council Tax and openly stated that they

“Operate with tight Financial Constraints”

But are still able to juggle budgets to finance schemes THEY WANT.

Initially it was £1.3 million into a private venture that was known as Telford First – now known as “Transforming Telford”.

Now

The Council are prepared to pay huge sums of Tax Payers Money into an unelected quango that is not needed, cumbersome and ineffective. Again this is a venture that has been shrouded in Secrecy and AGAIN the Residents of Telford and Wrekin are being forced to Finance an expensive Political Mechanism and not allowed to have a say.

£100,000 will, without a doubt be a minimum figure. There will be a huge amount of other costs associated with the City Region that the Council will hide.

It is clear, that Council Chiefs operate a Policy of Secrecy and even avoid answering questions that are asked under The Freedom of Information.

It is about time that all who oppose these Dirty Tricks carried out by the Council Unite as one voice, they cannot turn our Democracy into an autocracy.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Council Leader comments on City Region name

Posted by wonkotsane on December 4, 2006

The local authorities involved in the City Region project commissioned a company to come up with a name for their new quango.  The consultants came up with various names, all of which were rejected and the name “Birmingham, Black Country and Coventry City Region” was used instead.  The report cost £10k, was paid for by the taxpayer and then ignored.  The name was instantly set upon by business leaders in the West Midlands who claim that the name will be a liability for the city region as it is basically meaningless to people overseas.

We asked Telford & Wrekin Council what they thought and the Leader of the council, Councillor Keith Austin, has given us the following statement: 


Telford & Wrekin Council is proud to be part of the city region – we hope it will mean a great deal for the future of

Telford in terms of new investment and will give us an influential voice in the region.

 

The investment in the partnership’s name is an important step to creating a strong and cohesive brand which will help government to recognise the work of the partners, for local people to associate the work of all the council’s involved and to provide a distinct image for the partnership.

 

Behind every successful company and partnership is a strong brand – the investment in the branding was not a waste of money – it was an exercise in clearly identifying the Partnership and providing a channel to promote its aims and objectives.

Convinced?

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FOI: City Region

Posted by wonkotsane on November 16, 2006

Telford & Wrekin Council have responded to the following Freedom of Information Act request:

I would like to know the following in relation to the city region:

  1. How long has the borough been participating in the executive board of the city region?
  2. How much money has been spent on the city region?
  3. How many objections have been received to the city region and what were their nature?
  4. What promises or commitments have been made to the city region?
  5. What powers are expected to be delegated to the city region?
  6. What power will the council have to veto decisions made by the city region?

The response from Telford & Wrekin Council is below.  My comments are in red. 

I would respond to your six questions (received by the Council on 14th October), as follows:

  1. The City Region Board exists in shadow form only. It comprises the local authorities of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Telford, Walsall, Wolverhampton, the WM Regional Assembly, Advantage WM, the regional Learning & Skills Council and the business community. This will also be the composition of the Board when it moves out of its shadow form in April of next year.The role of the shadow Board is to create a draft Vision and an associated framework within which the Board proper will operate. Both the Vision and the associated framework will be subject to consultation before they are formally adopted.The Borough of Telford & Wrekin has participated in the Shadow Board since it was agreed that it should become a member of the partnership, in March 2006.
  2. To date, the Borough has made no monetary contribution to the City Region.  (The question was how much has been spent on the city region, not how much has been contributed –  what are the indirect costs?)
  3. I have written to BTW’s interim Chief Executive, the Leader of the Council, all Directors, Cabinet Members, Heads of Service and Business managers to ask them how many objections they have received to the city region.The answer is that (in addition to those received from you and recorded on the Telford Council Watch website which you are involved with), we have received three written objections and around three verbal ones (the latter is an estimate because one Cabinet Member told me that they had received one verbal enquiry. The other two ‘verbal objections’ arose from a debate between Shropshire Town and Parish Councillors attended by two Telford officers. I could record this ‘verbal objection’ as one or as four or so).The majority of comments received were based upon a simple misunderstanding of what the City Region is all about.

    Four of the six objectors expressed a concern that the City Region might dilute the Borough’s historic relationship with its Shropshire hinterland; one that it would lead to us creating a “Black Country within Shropshire”. None of these worries have any basis in reality. This was explained to the citizens we heard from, either in person or in writing.

    One person who wrote to us expressed the opinion that you have expressed, that the Council somehow requires a fresh democratic mandate before agreeing to become a member of the City Region. I have written to this citizen, explaining that this is not our view. However, the people of the Borough will have a chance to vote in the normal way in May, 2007.

    (Could this be as a result of the deliberate lack of publicity about the city region, what it will do and how much it will cost?)

  4. The draft City Region strategic framework has not yet been agreed. Nor has the precise nature of how we hope to work together. Any proposed specific commitments by the constituent Authorities to working through a City Region partnership will be clarified when these decisions have been taken.When a draft framework has been agreed, we will request comments from residents and businesses. The Shadow Board will consider these views before arriving at a final decision about the ‘rules’ that will govern the partnership.
  5. The City Region is envisaged to be a voluntary partnership. As such, it is not currently envisaged that powers will be delegated to it.(Powers are already delegated to the regional assembly and other regional quango’s and some of these powers are proposed to be transferred to the city region)
  6. The detailed ‘rules’ for decision-taking within the City Region Board have not yet been established. However, like all voluntary partnerships, it is anticipated that the vast majority of decisions will be arrived at through consensus. It is likely that a final agreement will include reference to the distribution of votes between partners on the Board. However, no draft decision has yet been taken about this, or about the power of veto.

I hope this is helpful.

Gerry Dawson
Head of Regeneration & Economic Development
Environment & Regeneration
Borough of Telford & Wrekin

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Blists Hill gets £10m regional grant

Posted by wonkotsane on November 6, 2006

Blists Hill museum, part of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site, has been given a £10m grant by Advantage West Midlands and the European Regional Development Fund to secure its future as a viable attraction.

This is good news for Blists Hill and I am personally very glad that the museum will continue to do the excellent work that it does and provide fantastic days out for families, my own included.

However, it is important to put this grant into perspective and to remember that the organisations controlling such vast sums of money are unelected and unaccountable to the public.  There are upwards of 5.3m people living in the West Midlands euroregion and the cost of EU membership is estimated at £873 for every man woman and child in the UK every year.  This means that the West Midlands alone has contributed in the region of £4.6bn to the EU which makes the £6.5m that the EU contributed via the West Midlands Government Office look positively puny in comparison (0.1% of our contribution to be exact).  The other £3.5m was donated by Advantage West Midlands.

So yes, it is fantastic that Blists Hill has been recognised as such a valuable site and been given a large grant but it isn’t new money, it is our taxes being handed over to unelected, unaccountable quango’s for distribution to whoever they decide is worthy.  The public aren’t involved in the decision making process, they are simply required to fund it.

Posted in EU/Europe, Press, Propaganda, Shropshire, Telford | Leave a Comment »

David Wright MP wants us to have say on local government

Posted by wonkotsane on November 6, 2006

Telford MP, David Wright, is urging his constituents to have their say on local government.

He can be contacted at info@davidwrightmp.org.uk

Might I suggest something like:

Dear David,

I saw your piece in the Shropshire Star inviting people to get in touch and have their say on local government. About time someone asked!

Giving more power to local authorities is a good idea. Great idea in fact. But it mustn’t be touted as the answer to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies. Devolving power to local authorities isn’t the same as having a national government and there is no way a local authority could ever hope to compete with the power and influence the devolved governments in the rest of the UK have.

Also, regional government has to be swept away. Completely. Devolving power to local authorities and then leaving a vast, unelected, unaccountable regional bureaucracy poking its nose into local affairs completely defeats the object. There’s no point devolving transport, environment, etc. to local authorities and then having a city region, regional assembly, regional government office, etc. having their own policies on the same subject which may or may not be of benefit or fit in with the local policies.

Regards,

Stuart

Posted in Press, Telford | 1 Comment »

Shropshire Star: £200,000 for new housing

Posted by wonkotsane on October 24, 2006

 The following story was on the front page of the Shropshire Star tonight:

£200,000 for new housing 

Telford & Wrekin has received a £200,000 cash boost to help build an extra 13,000 homes and create new jobs in the borough over the next 10 years. A further £200,000 has been put aside to help build 3,500 homes in Shrewsbury and Atcham. The government windfall has been hailed a “lifeline” by Telford & Wrekin Council’s leader, who said it would save Telford from having to fend for itself as a “half finished town” in the future. The funding is a share of a £40 million cashpot.

Councillor Keith Austin said councillors had been concerned that after 2011, current regional plans for Telford propose a decrease in housing and employment growth.

But the new plans, earmarked as part of a £40 million government initiative, mean that Telford can continue to develop for at least a further 15 years.

Telford has been unveiled as one of 45 New Growth Points – towns and cities across the country with the potential to deliver new housing and jobs.

The money will act as start-up funding to support infrastructure, unlock sites for new housing and to assess and mitigate the impact of proposed projects on the environment.

The Government hopes the moves in Telford and Shrewsbury will help attract business investment to the areas, and assist first-time buyers eager to get on to the property ladder.

Councillor Austin said the council hoped to create a master plan in the coming year and that councillors and officers would be working hard over the coming months to put together a project plan and timetable that would include a public consultation.

He said: “We are very pleased to be working with the Government on this initiative. It recognises that Telford – as part of the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region – has an important role to play in accommodating growth in the West Midlands region.

“The council has been promised funding which will enable us to carry out studies to determine what level of housing and employment growth is right for Telford.

“We will also be able to get a clearer picture of the economic benefits and the infrastructure and inward investment required to support a sustainable and prosperous community.”

The first thing that springs to mind is “Wow!  £200,000!  That’ll pay for what, 2 houses?”.  The second thing that springs to mind is “what has this got to do with the city region?”

Of course, there is a regional element to this.  West Midlands Regional Assembly currently has a regional policy that states how many houses will be built in different parts of the euroregion.  The City Region has its own ideas of course and Telford has been described as a “stop tap for developments” which means that if targets aren’t being met elsewhere, they’ll be built in Telford which is surrounded by prime green field development sites.

Telford & Wrekin Council has a plan to turn Telford into a “green city” by 2026.  The plan involves building thousands of houses on green field sites such as the town park which attracts visitors from all over the West Midlands (I know this from personal experience).  The City Region government has a plan to grow the urban areas of the West Midlands euroregion that makes up the City Region without a thought for what will happen to the rest of the euroregion as the divide between the urban and rural economy grows.

One of the most interesting things that Keith Austin says is that a public consultation will take place but what will be the point?  The City Region will decide how much housing is built, when and where.

Posted in Press, Propaganda, Telford | 2 Comments »

Regional Identity

Posted by wonkotsane on October 15, 2006

With all this regional government doing such wonderful work in the “region” for so many years, you’d think that there would be a pretty strong West Midlands regional identity.

I think local radio is a good indication of identity.  There are quite a few West Midlands radio stations – BBC Radio WM, BRMB, Heart FM, etc.  But what about Shropshire?  In a “region” comprising mostly of urban sprawl including England’s second city, who do Salopians identify with?

Whilst driving across Telford the other day I scanned through the available FM radio stations in search of a break from the irritating American DJ on my station of choice, Kerrang.  I picked up no less than 4 Welsh radio stations, 4 Shropshire radio stations and probably the same number of region-wide radio stations.

This is surely another example of the falicy of the “one size fits all” regional mentality?

Posted in General, Shropshire, Telford | Leave a Comment »

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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Why involve AWM?

Posted by wonkotsane on October 10, 2006

If the purpose of this “Telford First” organisation is to promote Telford & Wrekin borough and bring in funding and investment then why involve the unelected regional quango, Advantage West Midlands? And if the purpose of the Birmingham, Black Country and Coventry City Region is to bring investment and funding into Telford, why does “Telford First” need to be set up to do the same thing at a cost to Telford taxpayers of over £1.3m?

Regional government: unelected, undemocratic, unaccountable, and unwanted.

Town in new jobs drive bid

Telford’s business leaders hope to create more than 6,000 jobs over the next decade, attracting £884 million of new investment to the borough, it was revealed today. The hope is part of a grand plan which would see the public and private sectors working together in a drive to make Telford borough the economic powerhouse of the Midlands.

Borough council leader Keith Austin said he was confident that the go-ahead “city of the 21st century” would have all the attributes to make the ambition a reality.

He said he believed Telford would be able to create 1,000 jobs a year, helping the town bounce back from its latest round of job losses.

The proposals are outlined in a progress report on the Local Area Agreement, a national pilot scheme by the Borough of Telford & Wrekin to use Government funding in a flexible way, designed to meet the needs of the community.

This includes the setting up of Telford First, a stand-alone company founded by the borough council, Advantage West Midlands and English Partnerships to attract new investment.

Its 10-year programme estimates the public sector will stump up £172 million in “pump priming investment” for Telford, triggering a further £711 million investment by private companies.

The transformation of Telford’s lacklustre town centre into a vibrant shopping, leisure and cultural area is a priority as is the regeneration of older housing and industrial estates.

Added attractions will be the Donnington Rail Freight Terminal, the World Heritage Site at Ironbridge, Telford Sports and Enterprise Learning Village and revitalised district centres, the report says.

The aim is to create up to 6,600 new jobs and the creation of more than 165,000 sq ft of new employment floor space.

Councillor Austin said: “We are talking about creating 1,000 jobs a year to strengthen our economy and can ill afford to stand still. We have to spend in order to attract entrepreneurs here to Telford.”

The report also highlights the huge financial burden of unstable land in the Ironbridge Gorge which is at risk of a devastating landslide unless work costing at least £25 million is carried out.

Posted in Propaganda, Quango’s, Telford | 1 Comment »