‘Suspend city council office move’ say Liberal Democrats

 

Jeremy Hilton & Declan Wilson with 92-96 Westgate Street in the background. This would be the new, much smaller customer advice centre for the city council. Drop in appointments to be ended.

Gloucester City Council should suspend its planned move of its offices to Shire Hall, say the Lib Dems. The current plan is for the city council to be based on the fifth floor at Shire Hall from 1st April 2019. Shire Hall is the headquarters of the county council.

The Liberal Democrat group says the business planning behind the project is ill thought out and the office accommodation will be temporary, too small and the financial savings unsound.

Lib Dem group leader, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said:

“Gloucester City Council under Conservative control really is becoming a ‘vanishing council’. The council lacks ambition and is unable to plan long term. The Conservative administration is exhausted and has run out of good ideas. Moving to Shire Hall is a desperate stop gap position. It attempts to save money but doesn’t. The move should be suspended to allow for a full reappraisal.

“The accommodation at Shire Hall and 92-96 Westgate Street amounts to just 1,175 sqm. This is 78% smaller in size compared to the 5,290 sqm at Herbert, Kimberley and Phillpotts warehouses at the Docks. The Tory cabinet has still not provided opposition councillors with the plans on how it will all be squeezed into such a small space. The public reception advice centre on Westgate Street will be tiny, just 123 sqm compared to current 377 sqm.

“The council has yet to secure an agreement with the Canals & River Trust about altering the covenant on Herbert, Kimberley and Phillpotts warehouses. Until this is sorted, the buildings cannot be put up for sale. We must not leave these grade II listed buildings empty whilst we find a buyer. In the past, two empty warehouses in the Docks have been destroyed by arson. This could happen again. We should not move out until we have sold the buildings to new owners who have obtained planning permission.

“The city council needs to acquire new accommodation for the long term. It requires space to grow, especially if the council ends the Amey streetcare contract and brings the service back in house. We should build new offices in the Kings Quarter next to the new bus station. This would help kickstart the regeneration of the immediate area. It would be a bold move repeating the success of the council’s move to the Docks in the 1980’s.

Lib Dem deputy leader, Declan Wilson agreed:

“The move to Shire Hall is poorly thought out. The financial savings are unsound. The council will still have to pay business rates, the Docks service charge, insurance and security amounting to well over £250,000 per year on HKP warehouses until they have been sold. This is more than double the £102,000 savings suggested in the cabinet report. The council must reassess. The business plan is flawed.”

Lib Dems demand action over bins fiasco in Gloucester

Gloucester Liberal Democrats are demanding the Conservative-run city council takes action over persistent poor performance by waste collection contractors Amey.

Lib Dem councillors have tabled a motion for debate at a meeting of the city council on July 12, which calls on the Conservative cabinet to sort out the recent problems that have hit Amey.

Around 2,000 tonnes of recycled waste – collected from outside residents’ homes – has disappeared amid allegations from a whistleblower that some has been sent to landfill.

The Lib Dems have previously described both Amey and the Conservative cabinet as “utterly useless” in their management of the waste collection service.

Councillor Richard Cook, the cabinet member for the environment, recently told the scrutiny committee that just over 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste had gone missing with a market value of £246,000.

The controversy comes just months after a string of cancelled collections over the Christmas and New Year break.

Households saw recycling build up for days over the end-of-year period when civic chiefs and Amey decided the icy road conditions with snow were too risky for crews.

Lib Dem group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton, who represents Kingsholm & Wotton, is moving the motion.

“The council has a multi-million pound streetcare contract with Amey PLC,” he said.

“It is unbelievable that 2,000 tonnes of household waste has just disappeared. The contractor Amey and the cabinet who oversee the contract need to sort out this problem.

“We are demanding that the cabinet member ups his game. He should be meeting Amey once a month rather than quarterly.”

Lib Dem deputy group leader Councillor Declan Wilson, who will second the motion, added:

“The loss of £246,000, which is the value of the lost 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste, will have a negative impact on the council’s balance sheet.

“There is so much we could do to improve council services with a quarter of a million pounds. The Tory cabinet must do better.”

Ends…

Motion for debate

“This council records its dissatisfaction with the household waste collection services operated by the council’s contractor Amey PLC.

This council notes that 2,000 tonnes of recyclable waste is unaccounted for with a market value of £246,000 and that there are stories of recyclable household waste being inappropriately sent to landfill.

This council also raises concerns about the quality of the client side management of the streetcare contract overseen by the cabinet.

This council, therefore, calls upon the cabinet member for the environment to up his game and increase the frequency of meetings he holds with Amey PLC from current quarterly meetings to monthly meetings until the matter of poor performance by Amey PLC is resolved.”

Proposed by Jeremy Hilton
Seconded by Declan Wilson

 

Empty offices leave public services £700,000 short in lost business rates

Isabel Brazil & Jeremy Hilton chat with 69 London Road in background

Gloucester City Council has been unable to collect nearly £700,000 in business rates because two office blocks in Gloucester have been laid empty for years.

The HM Revenue & Customs reduced the rateable value on 67 and 69 London Road to zero meaning the owners, Pall Mall Estates, do not have to pay business rates on either property.

It is understood that HMRC reduced the valuation to zero on the August 29, 2011.

Before the reduction the rateable value of both properties stood at £269,500 and meant that business rates were worth £118,732 per year to Gloucester City Council.

The properties were subject to a debate at the city council in May led by Liberal Democrat councillors Jeremy Hilton and Isabel Brazil, who represent Kingsholm Ward.

Their motion was passed unanimously calling for the buildings to be acquired for residential redevelopment, with a Compulsory Purchase Order being used if a reasonable purchase terms could not be agreed.

Councillor Hilton said: “The owners stripped out the services within the buildings a few years ago. This probably helped them secure a zero rating on their business rates.

“The loss of £700,000 in business rates since 2011 is scandalous. I understand the owners have had offers from potential buyers but turned them down.

“If they had to pay business rates on the office blocks they may have sold them by now.

“Private householders aren’t allowed to hang on to empty properties for year after year and not pay any council tax.

“Why should wealthy corporations get away with not paying their fair share of taxes? The system is corrupt.

Councillor Isabel Brazil said: “The buildings are run down and can no longer be easily let.

“The owners shouldn’t be allowed to sit on a property asset for year after year and not pay tax on them.

“The £700,000 lost in business rates could of been spent on supporting public services.”

Business rates windfall to support cultural and community projects – Lib Dem’s

Liberal Democrats on the city council will propose amendments to the council budget on Thursday (22nd Feb) concentrating on cultural and community activities.

They will use a third of the unallocated £800,000 expected windfall from the 100% business rates retention pilot to fund five key projects.

In total the Lib Dems will suggest additional spending of £270,000. This will not require a further increase in the council tax above the 3% rise set by the Tory cabinet.

Among the proposals from the Lib Dems is to hold a Gloucester Narrow Boat Festival at the Docks, spending £10,000 installing drinking water fountains in public areas and doubling the amount of money city councillors allocate to community projects in their wards.

The Lib Dems also plan to tackle the backlog of cataloguing artefacts held by the museum service and start a fund to invest in new public art for Gloucester.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton, Lib Dem group leader, said:

“We are concentrating our amendments on community and cultural projects. We plan to wisely use part of the expected windfall from the business rates retention pilot to deal with the 16,000 historic artefacts that have not received basic cataloguing by the museums service. We will also allocate £100,000 for new public art. Something about the Siege of Gloucester or Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians would be top of my list. Liberal Democrat plans would not increase the council tax further.

Councillor Declan Wilson, Lib Dem deputy group leader and finance spokesman, added:

“The Lib Dem proposals will see a real investment in Gloucester’s arts and heritage. A new narrow boat festival at the Docks is in our plans as is the installation of drinking water fountains in public spaces. We also plan to boost grants for community activities around the city over the next two years by £40,000. We hope that both Tory and Labour councillors will support us.”

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”