Lib Dems secure funding for third year for visits to SkillZone

John Cordwell and Jeremy Hilton experience - the danger in the alley scenario at the SkillZone

John Cordwell and Jeremy Hilton experience – the danger in the alley scenario at the SkillZone

The Liberal Democrats have for the third financial year running secured safety sessions at Gloucester’s SkillZone for all Year 5 school pupils across the county.

Opened in September 2012, SkillZone is a state-of-the-art life size village. There are sixteen interactive zones, which cover a range of scenarios including road, rail, water, home and personal safety. Those pupils going up into Year 5 this September will be able to take advantage of the zones and all what the facility offers.

The Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Fire, Planning and Infrastructure, Cllr. John Cordwell (LD: Wotton-under-Edge) who is also Chair of the Stroud Road Safety Liaison Group said:

“I’m pleased that for the third year running children from schools across Gloucestershire will have the opportunity to visit Gloucester’s SkillZone. It is a great fully interactive facility that is certainly worth a visit.

“The take up over the past couple of years have been good and now it is running into a third year where more Year 5 groups will be able to come and learn how to recognise dangerous situations and stay safe.

“I quote Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) who said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, I’m confident that investment in children’s safety now will help reduce safety incidences in the future”.

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

“For three years running, the Liberal Democrats have proposed for all Year 5 pupils to visit this facility and evaluations from the last two years have shown the programme to be a huge success.

“Since April 2014, a total of 13,844 children have visited SkillZone and of these 5,598 Year 5 pupils have attended as part of the Liberal Democrat scheme.

“The evaluations undertaken this year shows that 100% of teachers were satisfied (98% very satisfied) with the safety education, 100% of teachers state that they think their pupils’ safety has been increased after the visit (88.5% to a great extent) and 100% felt that the session had a good or very good impact on the children (92% very good).

“The Liberal Democrats have pushed for these visits to happen and I’m delighted that they will be continuing for another year. SkillZone is a fantastic and fun way of getting important safety messages across to our children.

“I’d encourage all schools to take up the opportunity of bringing their Year 5 groups to such a place.”

My statement on the unitary council bid from Cotswolds & West Oxon

“The proposal for a unitary council made up from Cotswold District Council and West Oxfordshire District Council has come out of the blue. There has been no consultation with Gloucestershire County Council on this matter. It looks like it is being done as a method to abolish Oxfordshire County Council, with our own county receiving collateral damage.

“For 1,000 years the Cotswolds has been part of Gloucestershire and it should stay that way. Public services in our county could be severely damaged. One example would be Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, which could be carved up by this plan.

“It is amazing to think that Lynden Stowe, the leader of Cotswold District, who is also a county councillor, could ambush his leader, Mark Hawthorne in such a way. Not only are the Tories fighting over Europe they now are arguing over the integrity of our wonderful county of Gloucestershire.”

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

Objections pile in on Allstone’s planning application

The county council has received forty individual objections opposing the planning application by Allstone to carry on stone crushing for three more years at its Myers Road site.

Receiving petition from local residents

Receiving petition from local residents

Lib Dem county councillor, Jeremy Hilton has also received a petition with over 90 signatures from local residents opposing the plan. He handed the petition to the chair of the planning committee at the last county council meeting.

Jeremy Hilton said: “I have personally sent in my own objections to planning application and I have agreement that the planning committee will determine the application rather than being done under officer delegated powers.

“I have spoken to a number of local residents at Swallow Park who would like this application refused. They are concerned about the county council’s ability to enforce the planning permission if it were to be approved. They are fed up with the noise and dust that emanates from it.

“The people living nearby at Swallow Park and Armscroft Estate have already suffered from four years of noise and dust from the operation of the stone crushing. This application is the third to seek temporary permission. When does temporary use become semi permanent. Do residents deserve another three years of dust and noise? I believe it is now time to close down stone crushing so near to the homes of families in my division. This sort of business should not be operating in an urban environment. I urge the planning committee to refuse permission.”

The earliest the application could be heard is at the March committee. Officers have asked for additional information from Allstone in respect to noise, air quality and landscaping.”

The county council is still receiving written comments on the application. Go online to www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/planning – Ref No: 15/0077/GLMAJW

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”

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

Allstone’s apply to crush stone for three more years

Jeremy Hilton outside Allstone Sand & Gravel

Jeremy Hilton outside Allstone Sand & Gravel

Allstone Sand & Gravel have applied to Gloucestershire County Council for temporary planning permission to extend stone crushing and stockpiling at its Myers Road site. This will be the third application, following on from approval given by the county council in 2011 and 2013. This time the application is for three more years.

The application proposes to continue with the same operating hours, but permission is sought to increase the height of the stockpile from 4m to 6m. Twenty lorries a day are expected to make visits to the site, with a maximum of 20,000 tonnes of inert waste per annum.

Photo taken of crushed stone stockpile on 3rd Oct 2015.

Photo taken of crushed stone stockpile on 3rd Oct 2015.

Liberal Democrat county councillor for the area, Jeremy Hilton (Kingsholm & Wotton) will oppose the application. He said:  “I am not at all happy with this application that seeks to continue stone crushing for another three years. The county council has failed to enforce the condition limiting the stockpile height to just 4 metres.

“The dust and noise close to residential properties is unwanted. After four years, I had hoped that Allstone would have found a more acceptable site to carry out this sort of process. The site is close to homes at Swallow Park and Armscroft Estate. It is near St Peter’s Primary School and the hospital is also in the area. Horton Road is already heavily congested and does not need more lorries travelling along it.

“The proposal to increase the stockpile of stone from four to six metres will only exacerbate the risk of dust problems. The stockpile is just a few metres away from people’s homes.

Cllr Hilton has asked county planning officers to insist on an Environmental Impact Assessment, as the applicants think this is not required.

Residents can post comments online at: www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/planning – Ref No. 15/0077/GLMAJW

Government is putting at risk Council’s Solar PV Projects

On the day that the Gloucestershire County Council decided to build five solar photovoltaic generation sites on county council owned land, the government decided to consider changing the Feed-in Tariff rules. If the government are to reduce the Feed-in rates it could make this innovative renewable energy project unviable.

The Feed-in tariff (FIT) has been providing payments to owners of electricity-generating renewable energy technologies since 2010. The generous initial rates of the  Feed-in tariff (FIT) has meant that the uptake of solar panels has been faster than expected and the government is currently undertaking a review of implementing cost control measures, which will ultimately be damaging to new municipal Solar PV projects of 5MW and below.

A consultation published by the Department of Energy & Climate Change is currently being undertaken and closes next month. If following this consultation it is considered that the scheme is unaffordable, it may well spell the end to generation tariffs for new applicants from January 2016.  

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Jeremy Hilton will be calling for the Government to reconsider such changes at the next County Council meeting being held at Shire Hall on Friday 23rd October on the same day the consultation closes.

Cllr Jeremy Hilton said that “it is very much a double whammy in that not only is this Government reducing Council budgets, but they are also putting at risk Council’s own innovative projects.

“Ground-mounted solar PV has the potential to be an area of great investment for the Council. Helping to increase this Council’s revenue income will assist in reducing pressures on frontline services.

“This Council’s target is also to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2020/21.  The changes being proposed do not assist us in reaching such targets.

“Tens of thousands of pounds have already been spent on the pre-planning of this project – I am disappointed that the changes being proposed may mean that the economic case for each site could become unviable.   

“I am also calling on the Leader of this Council to write to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP requesting that any changes do not put at risk these and other public sector/community-led schemes”.

ENDS 

Notes:

The following motion is to be debated at Shire Hall on Friday 23rd October 2015:

Motion – Ground-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Renewable Energy Generation on the Council’s Estate

This Council welcomes the decision taken by Cabinet on 22nd July approving the award of contract(s) for the design, build and maintenance of ground-mounted photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy generation facilities on the Council’s Estate.

This Council notes that in light of the Council’s revenue budget pressures such a project would help increase the revenue income from the Council’s land assets, converting capital into revenue and thus reducing pressure on frontline Council services whilst at the same time reducing both energy costs and the carbon footprint of the Council.

This Council is however deeply concerned with the Government’s proposals for a fundamental review of the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariff Scheme (FITs), which could put at jeopardy this Council’s and other local authorities Solar PV projects.

This Council therefore resolves that the Leader of this Council writes to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP requesting that any intended changes do not put at risk those public sector/community-led schemes such as this project and any similar future projects, which require much longer to develop, but yet have a much greater social return.

“Let’s get devolution right for Gloucestershire” say Lib Dems

On the day Gloucestershire submits a detailed bid for more devolved powers and responsibilities, which means greater local control and influence over resources and priorities. The Liberal Democrats issue their own ‘Statement of Principles’, on which support for a devolution package will only then be determined.

The Liberal Democrat agreed principles are as follows:

1) Liberal Democrats believe that devolution needs to be created by locally led processes and are mindful that devolution as it currently stands to a model set out by Government is not real devolution at all.

2) Liberal Democrats will only support devolution if Government is genuinely interested in giving power back to local communities, but not if the intention of Government is simply to pass cost-cutting measures onto local authorities under the façade of devolution.

3) The new responsibilities handed down from Government to Gloucestershire must come with full powers to decide, manage and innovate at a local level.

4) The Government must ensure that adequate funding is guaranteed now and in the future to support good quality services for residents of the county.

5) The government must ensure that the new arrangements allow for additional funds to be raised locally or through other legitimate means to support enhanced service provision if that is decided by locally elected members.

6) The governance arrangements must be cross-party and fully reflect the political proportionality that exists on the councils that make up the new governing board that will oversee the new devolved services.

7) We will not support the establishment of a metro mayor. Governance of the new additional arrangements must not be handed over to a single person as we believe collective responsibility across all political parties, provides for better services.

8) If we want democracy alongside devolution, then, we ultimately need a fairer voting system for local government in the form of STV.

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

“We are very much in favour of devolving more powers and responsibilities to local areas, but the deal must be right and it must be in the interests of Gloucestershire as a whole.

“Our ‘Statement of Principles’ are more than just a wish list they are key to us supporting the ‘We are Gloucestershire’ bid, which I believe is being signed and submitted today.

“There are a number of factors to be considered and the last thing we should be doing is to look at devolution through rose-tinted spectacles. While devolution presents a number of exciting opportunities, it will not be easy to commit to achieving better outcomes at further reduced costs and this ought to be fully realised.

“Gloucestershire County Council is in no overall control and it is therefore vital that not only public sector partners are consulted, but that all political parties who are a part of the public sector have a say in what is being proposed and what will eventually be agreed.

“In any deal, the question is: who holds the cards? It is important that through the negotiation process of devolution we don’t allow Government to hold all the cards.

“I believe our ‘Statement of Principles’ goes some way to making sure that when we are in a position to agree a deal it will ultimately be the right one for Gloucestershire.”

ENDS

Notes:
1. Ten of Gloucestershire’s public sector partners have already come together including Gloucestershire Councils, the Police & Crime Commissioner, GFirst Local Enterprise Partnership and Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group to have one conversation with Government about how, through devolution, one can achieve better outcomes and reduced costs.