Labour plan to abolish Gloucester City Council killed off

The county council’s local government structure task and finish group met yesterday to review evidence it has received from the district councils. The group was set up following a Labour motion. Labour are obsessed with creating unitary councils. This could mean reducing both Gloucester and Cheltenham councils to town council status – a ridiculous idea. Anyway the evidence received by the task and finish group proved conclusively that there are loads of problems to be faced if unitary local government were to be imposed in Gloucestershire.

I am a member of this committee and I argued strongly yesterday to kill off Labour’s plans for unitary government in the county. I did the same when we debated the issue at full council. We don’t want to spend 5 years arguing about a new local government structure in Gloucestershire and where the new offices will be etc. We should just get on with the job of running council services under the system we currently have.

The good news is that all members of the task group, including Labour members, agreed to scrap any plans to consider creating monolithic unitary local government in Gloucestershire. This will now be reported to Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee and then to full council.

Kwik Save – a ‘no go’ regeneration project!

Sebastian Field & Jeremy Hilton discuss the regeneration of the former Kwik Save site, which is in the background

Sebastian Field & Jeremy Hilton discuss the regeneration of the former Kwik Save site, which is in the background

Planning permission to build 119 flats with four ground floor retail units on the former Kwik Save site along Northgate Street and Black Dog Way was agreed three years ago. In the last three years no work has taken place to start construction of this regeneration project.

Leading Liberal Democrat city councillors Sebastian Field and Jeremy Hilton have written to the leader of Gloucester City Council seeking a meeting with the developers about why this crucial city centre new homes project has not started.

Deputy Leader Sebastian Field said: “We need new homes in Gloucester and this is a brown field site with permission for 119 residential apartments. I urge the developers to start construction work.”

Leader Jeremy Hilton agreed: “It is now three years since planning permission for 119 apartments was granted and eight years since a previous permission for 88 units was approved. This site is an eyesore in the centre of Gloucester. Construction must start soon before the planning permission expires.”

Ends…

Note

The planning committee approved planning permission (10/00769/FUL) on 7th September 2010. This is just over three years ago and construction work has not started. Permission runs out on the 15th October 2015. In 2005, permission was given for 88 apartments on this site. The site has remained an eyesore for eight years despite planning permission for being granted several times for apartments on the site.

 

Liberal Democrats attempt to save protective covenants held by city council on Llanthony Secunda Priory

The Liberal Democrat councillors Jeremy Hilton, Declan Wilson, Phil McLellan, David Brown, Sebastian Field & Chris Witts have called in the cabinet decision to release protective covenants held by the council on Llanthony Secunda Priory.

Statement by Jeremy Hilton: “We have called in the decision of the Tory cabinet to release covenants that the city council holds on Llanthony Secunda Priory.

The covenants were put in place to protect the future of the historic priory, should the management trust fail. The council would buy back the ownership of Llanthony Secunda Priory for just one pound. This is a better solution than handing the priory over to the Official Receiver should the Llanthony Secunda Priory Trust become insolvent.”

A successful trust today is not necessarily a successful trust tomorrow. We must protect the future of one of Gloucester’s most historic assets. The cabinet decision must be reconsidered and that is why Liberal Democrat councillors have called-in the decision so that it can be reconsidered.”

 Call-in notice

“This is a request to call-in the cabinet decision made on the 11th of September, in relation to agenda item 12 – Llanthony Secunda Priory. The call-in is supported by members of the council who have acknowledged their support for this particular call-in via email.

The decision of cabinet was as follows:

  1. That the restrictive covenants be removed in accordance with the request from LSPT.
  2. That Planning Committee be requested to vary the S106 agreement relating to the property. 
  3. That the above are subject to agreeing a provision for continuing public access to the property and that the City Council shall have the continued right to nominate a Trustee.

Ahead of the cabinet decision Cllr. Jeremy Hilton did raise his concerns, at group leaders meeting (2nd September) about the proposal to remove covenants the council holds on Llanthony Secunda Priory and also to waive the original Section 106 Agreement.

On the 9th of September Cllr. Hilton wrote to the leader of the council asking him to withdraw the cabinet paper so that further discussion could take place. The leader responded negatively to Cllr. Hilton’s request and did not withdraw the cabinet paper. He suggested that if Cllr Hilton was not happy with his decision then Cllr Hilton should call-in the decision.

The original decision to sell Llanthony Secunda Priory to a management trust was made at full council on the 15th of February 2007.

In making the decision council agreed to the following clause:-

‘To covenant the site so that should the Management Trust fail, ownership of the monument and its grounds would revert to the Council.’

The matter of whether council should remove the covenants it holds on Llanthony Secunda Priory is therefore a matter for full council and not cabinet.

  • The covenants were put there for the benefit of the city
  • The possibility of the trust failing was in the original risk assessment. This was mitigated by the covenant relating to the transfer of the land back to the council should the management trust fail.
  • The decision to go ahead with the trust was done on the understanding that this safeguard would remain.
  • A successful trust today is not necessarily a successful trust tomorrow.
  • To remove the covenant now would not therefore be in the best interests of the city as it could potentially put the future of one of Gloucester’s most important historical assets at risk.

The signatories to the call-in request that the decision of cabinet is reviewed in particular the resolution to remove the covenants that this council holds on Llanthony Secunda Priory.”

Introduce a Local Levy on large superstores trading outside Gloucester’s city centre – say Lib Dems

Gloucester city councillors are due to debate a Liberal Democrat motion to give the council powers to introduce a local levy on large superstores outside the city centre.

The local levy would be rated at 8.5% on all large retail units trading outside Gloucester’s historic city centre, with rateable value of £500,000 or more.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton who will propose the motion said: “Our aim is to help Gloucester city centre traders recover from damage done to it by large superstores trading outside the city centre. The large out of centre stores already benefit from free customer parking, whilst customers visiting city centre stores have to pay to park in city centre car parks. If approved we will use the extra £1.260 million income to improve the city centre, reduce vacant retail units and encouraging small independent traders.”

Cllr. Declan Wilson who will second the motion said: “The local levy would only be charged on superstores that are trading outside the city centre, so Debenhams would not be subject to this levy. A levy of 8.5% on all large out of city centre stores in Gloucester should raise an additional £1.260 million per annum for the council. We would want to invest this sum of money in the economic and environmental wellbeing of the city centre.”

The Liberal Democrat proposal to introduce this local levy will need to be approved by the Secretary of State under the Sustainable Communities Act 2007. The council would work closely with Local Works and other councils to get the Secretary of State’s approval.

Ends…

Motion – Gloucester City Council 12th September

This Council notes the request from ‘Local Works’ to consider submitting the following proposal to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act:

‘That the Secretary of State gives Local Authorities the power to introduce a local levy of 8.5% of the rate on large retail outlets in their area with a rateable annual value not less that £500,000 and requires that the revenue from this levy be retained by the Local Authority in order to be used to improve local communities in their areas by promoting local economic activity, local services and facilities, social and community wellbeing and environmental protection.’

This Council notes that if this power was acquired it would present the opportunity to raise further revenue for the benefit of local communities, should the Council wish to use it and that this Council would only levy an 8.5% charge on large retail units based outside the city centre

This Council resolves to prepare a proposal to submit to the government under the Sustainable Communities Act and to work together with Local Works to gain support for the proposal from other councils in the region and across the country.

Proposed Jeremy Hilton

Seconded Declan Wilson

Labour keep Tories in Office

Jeremy Hilton repports

“Last night’s meeting at Gloucester City Council was interesting. Our no confidence motion in the Tory administration was defeated by a combined vote of Tory and Labour councillors.

Gloucester is one of two councils that haven’t filed audited accounts for 2011/12. The detail presented in the Tory draft budget for next year is also palpable. The council is facing a financial tsunami.

When it came to it, Labour bottled it, and saved the Tory leader’s neck.

Later the Tories voted against a Lib Dem amendment praising the coalition government for raising the income tax threshold to £9,440 from April this year, saving the average earner £600 per year, compared to income tax bills under Labour.

Looks like Labour and the Tories have a grubby deal on the city council to keep the Tory leader in office and principles can go out of the window.”

Halting the financial tsunami – Liberal Democrats demand answers!

A high level meeting has been held between the leadership of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives on Gloucester City Council, to try and resolve the financial crisis engulfing the council.

 Currently, the Tories are in charge of the council, but are facing a vote of no confidence on the 24th January because of the council’s failure to complete audited accounts for 2011/12. The no confidence voted is being proposed by the Liberal Democrats.

 Liberal Democrat group leader, Jeremy Hilton has described the council as facing a financial tsunami because of its failure to complete audited accounts for 2011/12.  The accounts should be used as a base to predict income and spending for the forthcoming financial year and in helping to set the council tax.

 The Liberal Democrats have issued the leader of the council Paul James with a ten-point demand (see below) for information covering every aspect of the council’s finances in order that a sound budget can be set for 2013/14.

 Jeremy Hilton said: “I am demanding that Tories complete the accounts for 2011/12, provide full disclosure of the additional auditor’s costs, provide an estimated outturn for this year and supply a detailed explanation on how they plan to make £2.4m cuts. Financial control under the Tories is a disaster; we must sort out the finances of the city council for the sake of the council’s reputation.”

 “The Tories are proposing £2.4 million worth of cuts with just 75 words of explanation across sixteen budget headings. Information on the proposed budget is palpable. The announcement of the capital programme for next year is delayed and money in reserves is not being made public.”

 Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Sebastian Field confirmed that his party would work with other councillors to sort out the council’s financial affairs, he said: “The financial situation on Gloucester City Council is dire. We must do what is best for Gloucester, we must stabilise the council’s finances.”

 Ends…

 Notes

 Liberal Democrat information requirements – City Council budget 2013/14 – handed to Paul James 17/01/2013

 1.    The projected outturn against the 2012/13 budget against all budget headings

2.    Full details of the reserves as they stood at 31st March 2012 and the projected reserves at 31st March 2013, including full explanation of each reserve

3.    Completed audited accounts for the 2011/12 financial year

4.    The extra cost of the late completion of the audited accounts for 2011/12 in both staff time and fees to be paid to external auditors

5.    Full list of virements between budget heads made in the current financial year over £5,000.

6.    Full list of each council direct services charge (inc fee value) and the income per charge in financial years 2011/12 and 201213 (estimate)

7.    The capital programme for 2013/14

8.    Full analysis of the £2.435 million worth of savings proposed, giving clear details of how the savings are going to be achieved and how the service spending compares to the financial years 2011/12 and 2012/13

9.    High Level report into the current contract with Enterprise including the expected outcomes for each service within the contract; include staff profile

10.  Copy of all documentation presented to the cabinet briefing held on the 16th January related to the 2013/14 budget proposals

Financial Tsunami at Gloucester City Council The Tories should go!

The Conservatives who run a minority administration on Gloucester City Council face a vote of no confidence on the 24th January, which if passed, would see the sacking of Paul James as leader of the council and his cabinet.

The no confidence motion will be moved by the Liberal Democrat group. Gloucester City Council is only one of two councils in the country that has failed to sign off its 2011/12 accounts, the other is Birmingham. Both councils have been named and shamed by the Audit Commission. Audited accounts should have been completed by the 30th September 2012. They are used as a base to predict income and spending for 2013/14.

Liberal Democrat leader, Jeremy Hilton who will propose the vote of no-confidence said: “The city council is facing a financial tsunami that is all of the making of Paul James and his Tory cabinet. Last year’s accounts haven’t been completed and now the council has to set the council tax for the coming year. We cannot rely on the accuracy of the council’s financial accounts. The complacency of the Tory administration is unbelievable.”

Deputy Leader Sebastian Field said: “The financial situation on Gloucester City Council is dire. The Tories are proposing £2.4 million worth of cuts and we still don’t have an accurate base to predict spending in the future. The Tories cannot cope and they should go. We can win the vote of no confidence if Labour councillors vote with us.”

It is understood that independent auditors KPMG are investigating the council’s books but still cannot get the figures to add up.

Liberal Democrat leader, Jeremy Hilton confirmed that his party would work with other councillors in a new administration to sort out the council’s financial affairs, he said: “We must do what is best for Gloucester and working with councillors from other parties to stabilise the council’s finances is on our agenda.”

Ends… Notes

1. No Confidence Motion

“That this council notes that the Conservative administration has failed to present, on time, audited accounts for the financial year 2011/12. This should have been done by the 30th September 2012 deadline.

This council notes it has been named and shamed by the Audit Commission (15th Dec 2012) as only one of two councils in the entire country to fail to complete its 2011/12 accounts.

This council agrees that it has no confidence in the leader of the council and his cabinet, and requests that they resign immediately, so that a new administration can be formed to sort out the financial mess that the council is now in.”

Proposed: Jeremy Hilton

Seconded: Sebastian Field

2. Audit Commission Report http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Downloads/ata1112.pdf