Half a million streetcare contract mystery

money-drainThe Liberal Democrats are demanding answers from city council leaders over a mystery £500,000 paid to its streetcare contractor for “bins”.

The Lib Dems have discovered that Tory-led Gloucester City Council has been paying £53,824 annually to Amey – the council’s streetcare contractor.

The contract with Amey’s predecessor was signed by the Conservative administration in 2007 and since then more than £500,000 has been paid.

The council or the contractors have been unable provide an accurate explanation of the payments.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, leader of Gloucester Liberal Democrats, questioned Councillor Richard Cook, the cabinet member for the environment, over the contract. He explained the contract looked like it was written by the supplier and had no exit clause.

“I was shocked to hear that so much money has been paid over to the contractor with no-one in the Tory administration having the faintest idea what the payments were used for,” Councillor Hilton said.

“The new cabinet member Richard Cook has described the contract as the worst he has ever seen.

“He was unable to tell me what the payments were for when I questioned him at council.

“The Tories were in charge when the contract was signed. This incompetence is unbelievable.”

Councillor Hilton added: “Gloucester is suffering from Tory austerity with important local services under threat from budget cuts, rising Council Tax bills and hard working council officers losing their jobs.

“Yet the Tory administration has given Amey more than £500,000 and cannot explain what Council Tax payers in Gloucester have got back in return, beyond ‘bins’.”

Councillor Declan Wilson, deputy leader of Gloucester Lib Dems, added: “The problem of the mystery payments first came to light at the Audit Committee on January 23.

“Every year £53,824 has been paid over for ‘bins’, but no-one is able to confirm what this annual sum as been used for.

“This is incredible. For the Tory administration to hand over half a million pounds without fully understanding what it is for is astonishing.”

Blogg: The Vanishing Council by Jeremy Hilton

An empty desk at the city council offices, HKP Warehouses

An empty desk at the city council offices, HKP Warehouses

More jobs are to go on Gloucester City Council. This time the Tory run council plans to axe a further 60 jobs. At this rate, the council will cease to exist in future – its vanishing before us. The council is already running a skeleton service compared to eight years ago.

In 2009 the council employed 432 members of staff providing much needed service to the people of Gloucester. With this round of job losses, the number employed will be just 187.

Already services are suffering with projects being delayed or not done at all. The delayed work on the bus station and failure to deliver the Kings Quarter project are two high profile examples of projects suffering from overburdened staff.
The annual hours lost from the proposed job cuts will be 102,000 per year. The total loss of annual hours will be 417,000 compared to 2009. You can imagine a lot of additional work could be done if we reinstated the lost hours.

The council’s project to cut these 60 jobs is called ‘Together Gloucester’. A more appropriate name might have been ‘Goodbye Gloucester’. Certainly, many loyal members of staff will be reluctantly saying goodbye to the council fairly soon.

To cut these jobs, there will be major restructuring of the council and staff will have to apply for new generic jobs where they will have to double up on their responsibilities. Specialist technical work could be carried out by less experienced staff. Everyone will become a ‘jack of all trades’.

Liberal Democrats are concerned about the council’s ability to run important services in future. The council collects our bins, has responsibility to find homes for the homeless, it protects our built environment, manages our parks and opens spaces, approves planning applications and ensures that taxis are properly licensed.

There comes a point where there just won’t be enough people employed for the council to carry out its statutory duties.

The blame for this situation we are now in must lie 100% with the Conservatives who run the council and their government who both seem wedded to perpetual austerity.

Government funding this next year is being cut by £1.755m. This is totally unfair, but our Tory council just take the grant cuts on the chin and we all suffer and good staff become unemployed.

I believe the leader of the council needs to get on the train to London and lobby hard for a better funding deal for Gloucester City Council. He hasn’t in the past. Is it because he is too timid to fight for Gloucester?

The cuts must stop. If we carry on with job losses year after year as we have done, no one will be working for the council in six years. Our historic city will no longer have a council of its own.

‘Don’t cut the grant to the Citizens Advice Bureau’ say Lib Dems

dont-cut-cab-grant

Liberal Democrats on Gloucester City Council are to oppose plans by the Tory administration to cut the grant to the Gloucester & District Citizens Advice Bureau by half. The have demanded that the grant of £62,000 is retained.

The Lib Dems point out that the grant is already £48,000 smaller that it was in 2011 when the annual funding the CAB received was £110,000. If the grant reduction goes ahead the Gloucester CAB will only get £31,000 from the city council next year. This could mean the Bureau closing one to one and half days a week.

Lib Dem leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said: “The proposal to cut the CAB grant again is mean spirited. The CAB does a brilliant job. It helps people in need. Last year the Bureau dealt with 8,138 clients. That is incredibly good value at £7.62 per client. Reducing the grant to £31,000 will severely harm the effectiveness of the service the CAB provides in Gloucester. It could mean the Bureau closing for one day a week. I say enough is enough, don’t cut the grant to the CAB. It must be kept at £62,000.”

Lib Dem spokesperson for Communities & Neighbourhoods, Cllr. Howard Hyman said: “The proposed cuts to the funding of the CAB are a false economy. For every pound spent many more pounds are saved in the costs to the council, the NHS and other agencies in dealing with the effects of people having nowhere else to turn. The CAB is more than a place to seek comfort. It is a vital lifeline to many people in Gloucester. Every day desperate people walk through the doors of the CAB and are helped by highly trained and caring volunteers with many kinds of concerns such as effects of welfare reforms, rent arrears, debt advice, domestic violence and helping those who are now being denied justice because of the changes to legal aid.”

Lib Dems condemn the loss of sixty jobs at Gloucester City Council

Jeremy Hilton & Declan Wilson give thumbs down to 60 job losses at GCC

Jeremy Hilton & Declan Wilson give thumbs down to 60 job losses at GCC

Liberal Democrats have announced their opposition to the loss of 60 jobs at Gloucester City Council. They have condemned the move which sees the number of staff employed dropping by 24% from the current establishment. The proposal to axe 60 job comes from the Conservatives who control the council.

Gloucester City Council is to see its funding from the Conservative government cut by £1.755m. Already the council has failed to fill 30 vacancies and another 30 jobs will be lost next year. Liberal Democrat councillors have said the staff shortages have led to delays and non-delivery of vital improvement projects.

Lib Dem leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said: “The loss of so many jobs will have a major impact on council services. Sixty fulltime jobs going equates to 102,120 hours of support for key projects being lost forever. Already we are suffering from a diminished service from the council and it is going to get worse. Important improvement projects will not get done or will be delayed. It’s depressing. The Tories seem hooked on perpetual austerity.”

Lib Dem Deputy leader, Cllr. Declan Wilson said: “The blame for the loss of so many jobs must be shared between the Conservatives on the council and at Westminster. Budget cuts go on forever. This year the funding from Whitehall is being slashed by 18%. This is grossly unfair. On top of that we have had mismanagement of the council’s finances by the Tories leading to extra avoidable costs. The leader should apologise personally to the staff that will lose their jobs.”

County Council Press Team issue misleading report on Budget

The county council press team have issued a misleading press release that gives the impression that Lib Dem amendments to the Tory budget, were UKIP or Tory ideas. This is untrue.

Lib Dem leader Jeremy Hilton said:

“The government cut the core funding to Gloucestershire by £18 million. Despite the 3.99% Council Tax rise there will be no additional spending for Gloucestershire County Council. The revenue budget will be £420m next year as it this year. Liberal Democrats are pleased that we pushed the Tory administration into reversing the £2m cut in highway spending and that we have prevented cuts to adult social care. We are also pleased that a number of Lib Dem amendments were accepted as these will improve the budget for 2016/17”

Lib Dem budget successes are as follows:-

1) Increasing Highways Local to £30k per member and £7,500 per member for additional road maintenance in their area, £400K taken from the £2.075million extra to be spent on roads.

2) £150k to invest in new cycling schemes from the Barriers to Cycling report

3) £100k investment to pay for a designated Traffic Regulation Order officer and resources to speed up the processes

4) £50k to be match-funded with the district councils to look into air quality and pollution

5) £50k to continue the free visits for all five year olds at SkillZone

6) £25k investment into mental health support for children and young people

7) £20k into support to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

8) 5k to provide free residents parking for all Band A electric vehicles for the first permit only

Cllr. Jeremy Hilton

Statement by Cllr. Jeremy Hilton on Gloucestershire County Council budget

Liberal Democrat leader Cllr. Jeremy Hilton ahead of Conservative cabinet decision to approve their budget has issued the following statement. Total revenue spending for the council will drop by £2m to £417.98m despite an increase of 3.99% in the council tax.

Jeremy Hilton said:

“The Tories plan to increase the council tax by 3.99%, the first rise in 5 years. Looking at the council’s finances it seems inevitable that the bill to local taxpayers will go up. It is clear the Conservatives are 100% culpable for the financial position the council is in. Despite this tax rise, spending will still drop by £2m next year.

“The government has slashed the council’s core funding by £18m (9.5%), leaving the council short of funds to maintain services, whilst the Coalition’s ‘council tax freeze grant’ has also been scrapped. In order to make up shortfall in funding for adult care the government has introduced a social care levy, the “Osborne Tax”, which encourages a 2% increase in the council tax to prop up these important services. The Tories are placing the burden on local council taxpayers rather providing central government funding.

“Locally, the council finances have been damaged by reckless management of council’s finances by Cllr. Hawthorne’s administration. They have squandered £17m in bailing out UBB on the incinerator contract. They have failed to balance the books with a whopping £8.9m overspend in one department, which soaks up 94% of the extra revenue from the 3.99% council tax increase. There will be bigger bills to local people, but cuts in actual funding for county services.

“Liberal Democrats will be proposing some amendments to the budget, concentrating on roads, health and the environment, which we shall announce next week”

Cameron’s Government targets Gloucester for severe cuts

Gloucester city will be targeted for some of the most severe cuts in the country under the Conservatives plans to slash our council funding in the next five years.

Tories in Westminster will demand that Gloucester City Council cuts a full 14.7% from our local services – far above average savings of 6.7%.

Lib Dem leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said:

“We simply cannot trust the Tories on Gloucester City Council or Richard Graham MP to fight for our area. We are going to have make cuts greater than we thought and that cannot be fair.

“They have stood by while their friends in Westminster pass on devastating cuts to our council. The figures for 2016/17 for the Formula Grant/Settlement Funding Assessment (SFA) are £452k worse than assumed in the Money Plan, which went to cabinet on 9thDecember.

“It is deeply concerning that the Tories locally and nationally are happy to threaten the future of vital local services. The city’s regeneration could be put at risk and vital services undermined. The city council recycling rate is the second worst in Gloucestershire and further cuts in funding for refuse collections could make matters worse.”

Allocating tax-payers money ‘by a nod and a wink’ is unacceptable say Lib Dems

The County Council have agreed at this week’s full council meeting to look at whether or not the shuffling of financial funds in council reserves should be approved not just by the Cabinet, but by all members of the Council.

The issue was raised by the Liberal Democrats who expressed deep concern over the Cabinet’s decision on 11 November 2015 to approve a £17million one-off financial contribution to Urbaser Balfour Beatty’s residual waste project at Javelin Park.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm and Wotton) who called for financial regulations to be tightened said:

“There has been a seemingly lack of financial propriety in that substantial sums of money have been moved around in this council’s reserves in order for the Conservative Cabinet to award Urbaser Balfour Beatty a further £17million for the waste incinerator project at Javelin Park that no one apart from them actually wants.

“The minority Conservative administration seems to have forgotten that we are a Council in no overall control. They must consult with all parties when making changes to the agreed budget.

“I was a Cabinet Member from 2001-2005 and I had to seek council’s approval to be awarded less than £1million for the Tri-Service workshop project.

“Awarding large sums of tax-payers money ‘by a nod and a wink’ is unacceptable and changes need to be made to stop this from happening again in the future. I’m concerned that new projects have been deleted and on-going projects will now no longer happen, because of the awarding this extra £17m to UBB.

“I’m pleased that this will be looked at by the council’s Constitution Committee of which I am a member. I hope to see vital changes to our constitution reported back to full council at the earliest opportunity in the new year.”

Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader, Cllr. Iain Dobie (LD: Leckhampton and Warden Hill) who supported calls for such changes to take place also said that:

“I was told, with authority, that an overspend of 1% of budget would be defined as a scrutiny-worthy “significant overspend” – Here, we are considering as exceptional shift of £17million, which is 4% of the county’s overall budget of this year. This is a highly significant budgetary reallocation.

“Early this year the budget for this council was brought for a vote by all councillors. So, surely, any such administration which plans, late in the financial year, to significantly shift county spending is a matter for all members of this council to approve.

“I believe that democracy is undermined if cabinet members are allowed to shift significant sums as they please without respecting what was voted on by all county councillors in the budget debate. If the precedent of £17 million is allowed to stand unchallenged this time then why not £70 million next time?”

The issue will be discussed at the next Constitution Committee meeting on Friday 8th January at 10am.

Tax-payers hit again by rising costs of Gloucestershire incinerator

A legal challenge has been today submitted by the Liberal Democrats under the council’s constitution over Cabinet’s approval of a £17 million contribution towards the Javelin Park incinerator.

Liberal Democrats are also questioning the lack of transparency with regards to the revised UBB contract that Cabinet has now authorised the Director of Communities and Infrastructure to agree and sign before negotiations have been completed.

The legal challenge known as a ‘call-in’ will halt the signing of the revised contract with Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB) until members of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee can meet to review the process.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm and Wotton) said:

“I am appalled that we’re in a situation where this council is giving a further £17million of tax-payers money to Urbaser Balfour Beatty for this project.

“The rising costs of the project have been down to Tory recklessness and incompetence and now they’re expecting county residents to pay.

“The Tory cabinet has pushed ahead with this project regardless of public opinion. I’ve asked a question about the cost of UBB’s gate fees, but Cabinet Member, Cllr. Ray Theodoulou has refused to give an answer.

“The blatant lack of transparency has led many to be suspicious of the true costs of building such a facility in Gloucestershire and Cllr. Theodoulou’s refusal to answer straight-forward questions has left us no choice, but to challenge this decision.”

Liberal Democrat County Councillor Chris Coleman (LD: St Marks and St Peters) who is also the Cabinet Member for Clean and Green Environment on Cheltenham Borough Council said:

“This council is taking a huge reputational and financial risk and it’ll be the tax-payers who will bear the brunt. The Conservatives have had plenty of opportunity to do the right thing and stop this unwanted and grossly expensive scheme.

“Across the county, residents know that there are other technologies that are better for the environment, health and the economy but time and again the Conservatives have ignored these alternative ways to deal with waste.

“It is a ludicrous and never ending saga that is seeing taxpayers money literally going up in smoke.”
ENDS…..

Notice of call-in
To Pete Bungard – Chief Executive

We, the undersigned six members give notice of which was published on 11 November 2015 (Agenda Item 8) –

Approval of a £17 million one-off financial contribution to the residual waste project, funded from revenue reserves to mitigate the cost of delay in the annual revenue budget for the project over 25 years.
Authorises the Director of Communities and infrastructure to agree and sign the deed of variation restatement of the residual waste contract.
The grounds for the call in are that the following conditions are satisfied for the reasons specified:

3. In making the decision, the Cabinet, Leader of the Council or Cabinet Lead Member took account of an irrelevant matter or failed to take account of a relevant matter –

The relevant matter[s] not taken into account by the Cabinet is [are]

Cabinet are being asked to authorise the Director of Communities and Infrastructure to agree and sign the deed of variation restatement of the residual waste contract even though negotiations still appear to be happening between the Council and UBB.
4. The Cabinet, Leader of the Council or Cabinet Lead Member acted contrary to the Cabinet Procedure Rules, the Access to Information about the County Council’s Formal Business and/or the principles of decision making set out in Part 2, Article 7.02 of the Constitution.

The matter contravened is –

7.02.3 – They should take proper consultation with others.

The above matter was contravened by the Cabinet in the following way:

The council continues to hide behind the protection of commercial confidentiality when members have asked questions about the project including the cost of gate fees, which presumably have now increased since the renegotiation of the contract and also in spite of the Information Commissioner’s order to release hidden details of the contract.
Although certain figures in terms of the costs involved as a consequence of planning delay or inability to obtain planning has featured on pink exempt paper; Cabinet has nevertheless failed to show ALL detailed costs involved to members of this council including the gate fees.
Members of this Council have not been properly briefed in terms of how the £17 million one-off financial contribution to the waste project paid now will actually provide any long-term savings to this council.
Cabinet have also failed to give members of this council any assurance that a £17 million one-off amount will not curtail and negatively impact other projects.
Dated – 11th November 2015

2. Call-in signed by the following Liberal Democrats: –

1. Cllr. Bernie Fisher
2. Cllr. Jeremy Hilton
3. Cllr. David Brown
4. Cllr. Simon Wheeler
5. Cllr. Chris Coleman

Lib Dems succeed in amending county council budget

Yesterday saw a tremendous breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats in securing nearly a full slate of budget proposals amounting to nearly £0.5million for 2015/2016.

This year’s county council budget setting meeting commenced after the morning’s extraordinary meeting over the incinerator. The Liberal Democrats presented a comprehensive package of recommendations over a range of different service areas including cycling schemes, health, fire emergency support, Wi-fi, adoption and road safety.

The Liberal Democrat proposals agreed included:

1) A £100K investment to undertake the necessary feasibility and advance design work in preparation for delivering cycling schemes in future years.

2) A £10K investment funded from the Sexual Health part of the Public Health ring fenced Grant to carry-out a study into Chlamydia/STI screening and the role of GPs across the county in encouraging more opportunistic screening.

3) That approximately £100K be invested to provide free Wi-Fi in every county and community library.

4) That every elected county councillor in 2015/2016 receives an additional £2.5k (53 x £2.5K = £132.5K as part of a one-off increase to their ‘Highways Local’ money, which may be used for tree maintenance and/or tree planting in their division.

5) That a £10K one-off investment is given to the Red Cross Fire Emergency Support Service in order to double the number of volunteers from 12 to 24. The Red Cross Fire Emergency Support Service provides invaluable support to Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

6) A £10K pot of money to provide support in the form of courses for those approved adopters who adopt older children and teenagers where risk of disruption is recognised to be high. The aim is to further support these placements and reduce the chance of the placement breaking down.

7) £50K one-off investment package into a number of Road Safety Programmes including a repeat of all Year 5 pupils at Gloucestershire’s primary schools being given the opportunity to have a session at Gloucester’s SkillZone.

8) That a £20K one-off investment is given to the Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Team to work towards doubling the number of children who receive e-Safety in 2015/2016.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm and Wotton) said:

“We are delighted in securing these proposals, which are now a part of the 2015/2016 budget. We are hopeful that our recommendations will go some way to making a real difference to the lives of Gloucestershire resident’s in 2015/2016.

“I am especially pleased that support was given for repeating our proposal last year for all Year 5 primary school pupils to undertake a session at SkillZone. Teachers have overwhelmingly reported that their children will be safer after a session.

“I am also excited by the one-off investment that is to be given to the Red Cross Emergency Support Service. They play a pivotal role in providing the basic amenities and emotional support to those going through the horrific experience of an emergency situation such as a house fire, flood or even road traffic accident.

“Users of our public libraries will be delighted that free WiFi will be available in all libraries.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how small pots of money can make a big difference in Gloucestershire.”

Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Iain Dobie (LD: Leckhampton and Warden Hill) also said: “We welcome the £100K investment to undertake the necessary feasibility and advance design work in preparation for delivering cycling schemes.

“Cycling should be for everyone, not just the speedsters in Lycra. We want to break down the barriers to cycling to school or the shops, to work or for leisure.

“The rewards could be massive: millions of pounds in savings for the NHS, less pollution and congestion, and greater safety and happiness.”
ENDS