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.

Labour trash chances of council incinerator vote

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Labour Councillor Brian Oosthuysen today used his casting vote as Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee to reject the Liberal Democrats challenge over Cabinet’s approval of an extra £17 million contribution towards the Javelin Park incinerator.

Gloucestershire County Council were already contributing £13 million as agreed by Cabinet in 2012. Now a further contribution of £17million will be injected from the capital fund reserve.

The Liberal Democrats were concerned about the further contribution and the impact that this would have on other capital projects in an age where significant cuts have been forecast for next year’s council budget.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm and Wotton) who proposed the call-in said:

“I am utterly appalled by the actions of the Labour Committee Chairman; his double standards over the incinerator are unbelievable. Cllr. Oosthuysen in voting to reject our call-in was a complete act of betrayal and tragedy in that now £17million cannot be spent on other vital council services. It will be the people of Gloucestershire that will suffer.

“Members of this council are still none the wiser to how the Conservative Cabinet have been able to manipulate the accounts in order to achieve this financial gift to Urbaser Balfour Beatty (UBB).

“Originally this project was supposed to be a design and build project in which UBB were to finance the whole capital investment now the council under the Tories are going to blow a total of £30million on bailing out UBB.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (LD: Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach) who proposed for the call-in to be taken to full council at today’s committee also said:

“Today members of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee found themselves in an exceptional situation that goes beyond process and procedures.

“There has been a democratic deficit during this whole process. The bottom-line is simply that our concerns should have been taken back to full council for proper discussion in the presence of all members.

“The Conservatives seem to continually forget we are a council in no overall control and that a further contribution of £17million to the incinerator project is a lot of money especially amidst forecast cuts to next year’s budget.

“I am also bitterly disappointed that the Labour Chairman used his casting vote to throw out our challenge”.

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 call for removal of “tacky’ adverts

Liberal Democrat councillors on Gloucester City Council are to call for the removal of all adverting boards on roundabouts within the city boundaries. Jeremy Hilton and David Brown will lead a debate at the city council, when it next meets on 19th November.

Liberal Democrats are critical that the decision to sanction the installation of advertising boards by the Tory Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr. Jim Porter was done without consultation with ward councillors and the local community.

Jeremy Hilton gives a thumbs down to advertising on Tewkesbury Road roundabout

Jeremy Hilton gives a thumbs down to advertising on Tewkesbury Road roundabout

Cllr. Jeremy Hilton (LD: Kingsholm & Wotton) said. “These advertising boards are blighting well kept roundabouts in Gloucester. They are visually intrusive and unnecessary. The council get a paltry £10,000 income per year from this advertising. We do not need our historic city cheapened in this way. Lib Dems are demanding that all advertising on roundabouts are removed immediately.”

Cllr. David Brown (LD: Hucclecote) who will be seconding the motion to remove the advert boards said: “A number of residents in Barnwood and Hucclecote have complained to me by email, telephone and in person.  Most point out that adverts are designed to attract our attention and that is the last thing a driver needs when negotiating a roundabout, and I agree.  Others say that the signs are tacky and people are concerned that even more will pop up around the area.”

Ends….

Notice of motion for full council

“This council notes with great disappointment the Cabinet Member for the Environment’s decision to sanction the installation of advertising boards on roundabouts across the city.

This council believes these advertising boards are tacky and unsightly; blighting some well kept roundabouts.

The council also believes these advertising boards could be a distraction to motorists and present an unnecessary hazard to motorcyclists.

This council, therefore, requests the Cabinet Member for the Environment to instruct officers of this council to have these advertising boards removed immediately from roundabouts within the city council boundaries.”

Proposed by Jeremy Hilton

Seconded by David Brown

 

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

Tory council blights roundabouts with advertising

Jeremy Hilton gives a thumbs down to advertising on Tewkesbury Road roundabout

Jeremy Hilton gives a thumbs down to advertising on Tewkesbury Road roundabout

The Tory controlled city council has erected advertising boards on the three roundabouts along Estcourt Road. They are also doing this across Gloucester.

The decision to install advertising boards has been questioned by Liberal Democrat councillors. It is understood that the council will get a paltry £10,000 from the advert boards across the city.

Planning approval was done, unusually, under officer-delegated powers. Normally planning applications by the council have to come to the planning committee.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Hilton (Kingsholm & Wotton) said: “The Tories have used stealth methods to get advertising boards installed. The scheme was developed with the cabinet member, who failed to take a written report to cabinet. Local councillors were not consulted by cabinet on this scheme ahead of decision to go ahead. Then planning permission was granted under officer-delegated powers.

“If the Tories get their way, the three roundabouts in question will be blighted for the next five years. They are an eyesore and a distraction for drivers. I shall be fighting to get these removed. We don’t need this tacky advertising blighting the roundabouts in Kingsholm & Wotton or the rest of Gloucester.”

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.

Time to end stone crushing at Myers Road

Liberal Democrat county councillor for Kingsholm & Wotton, Jeremy Hilton has today called for the county council enforcement team to close down the stone crushing operation off Myers Road when the two-year temporary permission ends in September.
Temporary planning permission was granted to Allstone Sand & Gravel by the county council in September 2013 for a two-year period despite opposition from local Lib Dem councillors.
Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said: “At the time of the application I did object to the renewal of the stone crushing permission, because of the negative impact this would have on neighbouring residential properties. There are many residents living at The Crescent, Swallow Park and Armscroft Estate who would like this process to end. People are getting fed up of the heavy lorries travelling up and down Horton Road and Myers Road, and the hazard this creates, especially close to St Peter’s Primary School in Horton Road. The stone crushing is a noise and dust nuisance to residents living nearby. We have the hospital in the neighbourhood. There must be a more suitable location in Gloucestershire for Allstone to carry out their stone crushing operation. I encourage them to look for one.”
Cllr. Hilton has asked the county enforcement team to act on clause 1 of the decision statement.
Clause 1 reads: “The development hereby permitted shall cease and the site be restored to permeable hard standing to the levels indicated on the Site Survey Plan ASG/001/2013 (dated Feb 2013), with all plant and machinery removed, no later than the expiration of two years from the date of this permission.”
Cllr. Hilton continued: “The decision notice is dated the 27th of September 2013 therefore I assume that permission ends on 27th of September this year. It is now time for the county council to get tough and implement its decision and to end stone crushing off Myers Road by end of September.”
Ends…

Notes

Link to 13/0021/GLMAJW decision notice http://caps.gloucestershire.gov.uk/gcc_images/13_0021_GLMAJW_DEC_NOT.pdf

Tory & UKIP councillors vote to scrap Human Rights Act

At today’s full county council meeting the Liberal Democrats urged fellow councillors across political parties to continue supporting the very act that safeguards the civil liberties of everyone in the UK. However, Conservative Councillors used their majority with the support of UKIP to defend the scrapping of the Human Rights Act.

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

“I was very disappointed and shocked by the titude of both the Conservative and UKIP Councillors who rubbished the Human Rights Act, based on total ignorance about what this piece of legislation does, to protect our civil liberties.

“I was amazed to hear so many Conservative Councillors arguing for us to also pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was advocated and supported by Winston Churchill just after the war.

“This shows the true colours behind the Conservative Party – Purple!

“The Liberal Democrats blocked David Cameron from scrapping the Human Rights Act in Government and we must stop him again.”

ENDS
Notes:
1. The following motion that was debated on Wednesday 8th July 2015: –
Motion – Human Rights Act

This Council notes that the Human Rights Act protects basic human rights regardless of gender, religion and background and ensures that everyone is treated equally and fairly.

This Council is aware and disappointed that the new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove has been assigned the task of abolishing the Human Rights Act.

This Council recognises that many oppose such a move including Senior Conservatives such as former Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke and former Attorney General Dominic Grieve who has described the proposals as a “recipe for chaos”.

This Council values the list of rights that the Act gives and opposes plans for this important piece of legislation to be repealed.

This Council requests that the Leader of this Council writes to the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon David Cameron MP, the Secretary of State for Justice, Rt. Hon Michael Gove MP and the six Gloucestershire MPs urging them not to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Proposed by – Cllr. Jeremy Hilton

Seconded by – Cllr. Simon Wheeler

2. The Human Rights Act gives us access to:

•the right to life;

•the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

•the prohibition of slavery and forced labour;

•the right to liberty and security of the person;

•the right to a fair trial;

•prohibition of punishment without law;

•the right to respect for private and family life;

•the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;

•the right to freedom of expression;

•the right to freedom of assembly and association;

•the right for men and women to marry and found a family;

•the right to peaceful enjoyment of personal property;

•the right to education;

•the right to free elections;

•and the prohibition of discrimination.