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

Jeremy Hilton backs Lib Dem Plans For Fair Deficit Cut

Liberal Democrats in Gloucester have welcomed plans announced by Party Leader Nick Clegg to cut the deficit without putting an unfair burden on the poorest. Whilst the Conservatives have announced that they want to balance the nation’s books entirely by cuts to benefits of the working age poor, Liberal Democrats say they will increase taxes on the wealthiest and cut tax avoidance.
Jeremy Hilton, Parliamentary Candidate for Gloucester, said:
“We have all had to make sacrifices over the past few years to clear up the financial mess left by Labour.  Since the Coalition was formed, we have had to cut spending on benefits and some services though we have protected schools and the NHS.
“As a local councillor in Gloucester it has been hard for me and my colleagues to make savings in the council budget whilst maintaining the services people pay for.
“But Lib Dems in Government have also increased taxes on the wealthiest whilst cutting income tax for people on low and middle incomes. This would not have happened if the Conservatives had won a majority at the last General Election and formed a single party Government.
“Now the Conservatives have announced if they win the election, they will complete the job of balancing the books entirely on the backs of the working age poor. They have revealed their true approach to austerity and public services.
“Meanwhile Labour appear to have learnt nothing over the past five years. They opposed every cut that needed to be made. If they form a single party Government after the election, they will put back the date when the books are balanced, leaving Britain in more unnecessary debt.
“Liberal Democrats have announced that we will take a fairer, balanced approach to wiping out the deficit. There will need to be further cuts, including £4 billion on benefits, but we will be raising £6 billion by tackling tax avoidance and £8 billion in increased taxes on the wealthiest and big business. By 2017/18, the books should be balanced and under the Liberal Democrats we will be able to invest again in public services.”