Letters to the Editor, April 10, 2014
- Credit: Getty Images/Hemera
THE financial trough attracts the snouts of many politicians, be they resident in Brussels, Westminster or the Town Hall.
Due reward for a job well done, or even for a job well attempted, is one thing but the lining of pockets through a process of obscurantist regulation and role-invention is something quite different.
Here in relatively insignificant North Somerset, where the council’s dominant Conservative administration trumpets sound financial house-keeping but where some employees are paid below the national living wage, where services have been decimated and jobs cut to the bone, all is bright and beautiful according to its glossy in-house back patting £1/4 million per annum North Somerset Life magazine. However, something truly unbelievable happened last week and not one member of the public was there to witness it.
Having created some new one-party political ‘jobs’ in the guise of assistant executive members (executive councillors Ashton, Ap Rees, Baker, Blatchford, Bryant and Lake being overburdened and in need of help - honestly) North Somerset Council invited an independent panel of local worthies to consider how best to reward these rising stars.
Evidence was taken from the very party hacks who stood to benefit and in a process of undisguised self-justification the council voted to pay them substantial extra allowances well above that which every district councillor already receives and to back-date it to last June.
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Worse still, those councillors who stood to gain financially actually voted for their own pay rise. Though a handful of uncomfortable Tory Councillors abstained not one had sufficient metal to vote against the party line. The wimps had been whipped.
The independent panel had assumed ‘the most suitable candidates from across the Council’s membership’ would be identified for promotion. How naïve. Every single post of responsibility in North Somerset Council is in Cllr Ashton’s gift and he ensures ‘tis only Tories who get anything.
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Even the scrutiny panels are chaired by Tories which makes mockery of anything approaching scrutiny. It’s patronage writ large.
In an era where making do with what we’ve got has been the wage norm it seems disgustingly unfair of small-time politicians to break rank and in such manner makes mockery of ‘we’re all in it together’.
CLLR JOHN CROCKFORD-HAWLEY
North Somerset Council
Gerard Road, Weston
I REFER to the news that more councillors have been given posts which carry massive increases in their allowances.
There was a time when being elected to serve as a councillor was considered an honour and a privilege and was considered an unpaid contribution to the welfare of your local community. Sadly those days are long gone apart from the parish and town councils where service as a councillor is totally without payment of any kind.
Parish and town councillors were given the chance, a few years ago, to opt for a system of allowances similar to district councillors but voted overwhelmingly against such a scheme preferring to remain as a purely voluntary role in their local communities.
In my view part of the problem lies in the political party involvement in district and county councils and, in some cases, town and parish councils. Party politics should have no place in local government. Councillors’ energies and efforts should be solely concerned with the welfare of their local communities.
To create these extra posts and pay these increased allowances when our district council is cutting back local services to the bone is nothing short of disgraceful. Drastic curtailment of services to the elderly, to the young people and to the maintenance of the roads and local environment is an ongoing concern. We are told that further severe cutbacks will continue to be made. In some areas of Weston particularly we are all driving on roads that continue to fall apart for want of maintenance. I have been told that North Somerset Council has classified some roads as ‘being beyond repair’. There will soon be many more qualifying for this classification.
The passengers presently on the North Somerset gravy train express all come up for re-election in a year’s time so perhaps we will see sense and elect councillors regardless of political persuasion who really care about this community of ours.
Willow Gardens, St Georges
I AM writing on behalf of North Somerset Unison, which represents council workers, and in response to your article on the increase in allowances for assistant executive members at North Somerset Council.
Since 2010 the council has made £50million of cuts to jobs and services, imposed a three year pay freeze on council staff, followed by last year’s below inflation one per cent pay increase (or pay cut as we like to call it), along with a recent refusal to bring 1,000 council and school staff up to the living on the grounds of affordability.
What makes the decision of the independent remuneration panel even more shocking is that the new posts of assistant executives are not prescribed by the council’s own constitution.
In addition it is my understanding that the proposed boundary changes and reduction in numbers of councillors by the time of next year’s 2015 election was supposed to make savings to the budget for councillors’ allowances.
As a result it seems a rather odd state of affairs that five assistant executive members will receive increases to their allowances of £6,400 each, and to add insult to injury those increases are backdated to June last year.
The report of the independent remuneration panel states that the assistant executive role involves between eight to 12 hours a week - as a result their new allowance equates to an hourly rate well above the living wage. As a trade union we are, of course, supportive of workers receiving fair pay, but councillors are volunteers, and their allowances are not wages for work undertaken.
I doubt many other North Somerset residents undertaking voluntary work are given such generous allowances, and we also need to remember that 20 per cent of North Somerset workers earn less than the living wage.
Readers of this newspaper may also want to bear in mind that North Somerset Council has another £50million of cuts planned up to 2018, which includes its recently announced Transformation Programme, involving more cuts to services, redundancies and privatisation of services, including the transfer of more jobs and services into its £10.6million a year support services contract with Agilisys and extending that contract to a 15 year term.
This is a contract which over the last three years has failed to make the savings promised - the cost of support services was supposed to reduce from £10.3million to £8.8million, rather than actually increase, as it has done.
North Somerset residents should be very concerned by any misuse of council taxpayers money - whether it be increasing councillors’ allowances while cutting staff and freezing their pay, or cutting services while transferring other services to a private company to help that company make a profit.
North Somerset residents may want to take this into account when they cast their votes at the election next year.
Unison, Town Hall, Weston
IN THE light of the current row at Westminster over how MPs are remunerated, the proposal by North Somerset Council politicians to share an extra £32,000 among five councillors does not look good.
Opposition councillor Mike Bell described the pay-out as indefensible.
Following the expenses scandal, Parliament has taken steps to introduce some external scrutiny. Given that North Somerset is virtually a one party state, there needs to be a system of checks and balances to avoid the suspicion of favouring cronies.
This pay-out provides a further reason for transferring more responsibility from North Somerset to Weston Town Council, whose members are not paid.
Priory Road, Weston
DOUBTLESS in common with many Westonians, I find myself disturbed to learn the elected members of North Somerset Council and Weston Town Council are about to lend support to the planning authority’s recommendation to grant planning consent for the development of a ‘pirate-themed golf course’ in Beach Road, which – if granted -will result in a further intrusion and loss of part of the Beach Lawns.
During the 1980s and 1990s the planning authority registered a number of Conservation areas in Weston, one of the last being that of the Beach Lawns in 1998, which resulted in the establishment of an unbroken series of Protected Areas extending from the old pier to Uphill, thereby embracing the entire length of the lawns.
Perhaps naively, many thought this would afford some protection to the standing and retention of the lawns, for a conservation area is well defined in planning law as one of “ ... special architectural or historic interest ... which it is desirable to preserve or enhance....”. Sadly, and not withstanding this planning limitation, the gradual and piecemeal intrusion into this lengthy greensward is self evident for all to see, and now once again we are faced with a further loss of greenery as a result of the current proposal.
Some may suggest the area involved is limited, but it is a further loss and as such depletes the lawns created by those concerned with the establishment of the seafront all those years ago, and whose foresight has given this town a feature which is unequalled throughout the South West.
The “fun of the fair feature” now present in the Pier Square location clearly conflicts with the definition of a Conservation Area, yet this very planning authority which proposed and created the Conservation Area in the first place, is now intent on approving this further “hotch potch of rope and timber”.
Uphill Road North, Weston
• Editor’s note: There already has been a vote and the mini golf attraction has been granted planning permission.
IN LAST weeks edition Mr A D Ellis who lives more than a mile from Sidcot School’s proposed all weather pitch claims to speak for the vast majority of reasonably minded residents of Winscombe in being saddened by the opposition to it.
Being a former Winscombe rugby front row forward, he ignores the fact that of the 150 objections received from residents, only the Longfield Group of four couples can be considered to be NIMBYs, leaving many ‘reasonably-minded residents’ who share their many objections on valid grounds; that the majority of supporters of the scheme are non-residents whose support was prompted by a letter to the sport clubs by the RFC chairman; and far from ‘benefiting the youth of the area for generations to come’, the school has admitted its existence is required for its hockey fixtures and its brochure.
Furthermore there can be no planning guarantee that will ensure use by the local youth of the area.
Fox Lane, Sidcot
I READ the comments of Adrian Ellis regarding the Sidcot School all-weather hockey pitch proposal with a certain amount of incredulity.
On what basis does he claim to know what “the vast majority of reasonably-minded residents of Winscombe” think? His baseless assertion is typical of the sweeping comments made by those who support this scheme, but it is not backed by any evidence whatsoever.
The public consultation on the planning application yielded about the same number of objections as expressions of support. However, Sidcot School and interested sports clubs solicited for support from far and wide, with comments supporting the application being posted from as far away as Russia and China! These comments are hardly representative of local opinion. Within the village itself the balance of opinion expressed was strongly against the proposal - almost 2.5 to one against.
Those who object to the proposed all-weather facility do not object to there being more opportunities for sport. They do not object to the historical use of the playing fields for that purpose, and they do not seek to curtail in any way the existing use of the sports facilities provided in the village, which are already more extensive than can be found in many other places. Sport is definitely to be encouraged, but that does not mean that the negative impact this proposal will have on the local community and the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) should be disregarded.
Masses of additional fencing, artificial playing surfaces and 15 metre high floodlight towers are not in any way compatible with an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Furthermore, the impact that this highly obtrusive facility will have on the immediate neighbours of the site cannot simply be ignored in favour of the handful of people who will benefit from using it. The extra noise, traffic congestion and light pollution that this proposed facility will cause cannot be dismissed out of hand just because sport is good and should be encouraged. This proposal will be disproportionately detrimental to the site and to the local community.
And on a final point - why does a school need a floodlit sports pitch anyway? Surely outdoor sports activities in schools normally take place during lesson times, i.e. during the day? Could it be that Sidcot School is seeking to turn its ‘educational’ facilities into a revenue-generating commercial enterprise? It seems to be heading in that direction to me.
DR GAVIN RIDER
Sandford Road, Winscombe
HAVING read about the problems of the neighbour of the Sugar Room premises in Regent Street and about the noise and problems she has experienced, unless the law has been changed I cannot see why this whole matter could not have been sorted out long ago.
I am speaking from personal experience. As about 60 years ago I owned the JL club in Wadham Street which was the only place in Weston where you could dance. It had a restaurant and casino, groups played every weekend and we had a jazz club on Thursdays.
However one of my neighbours was upset but never had complained to me, because members were not as quiet as she would like when they left the club, she also claimed that she could not sleep when there were groups playing.
She went to the police and complained about the noise even though the groups stopped playing at 11pm and the club closed about 11.30pm.
It was all different in those days now clubs are open till the early hours.
The police advised her go to the county court (I think it was) and get an injunction about the club and its noise.
She did and she actually persuaded the police to support her by giving evidence, they did and she won the day.
The judge in his wisdom made judgement against me personally. He ordered me to ensure that my club did not cause noise after 11pm and if it did I would be held in contempt of court.
And that meant under his ruling if I did not keep control and broke the injunction he would have the right to put me in prison.
This is now all water under the bridge as eventually the club closed but I am sure it is still remembered by old members. So you see unless the law is now different, something can be done.
Shrubbery Avenue, Weston
I PASS, what I call the Rose Garden on the corner of Milton Road and Grove Road, most days, and it upsets me to see it is being used as a dog toilet.
I have heard that this garden was a memorial to the dead of World War One, and as such, should be treated with respect. Even if this not the case, the person who lets their dog foul this garden should clear up said mess. ‘Poo’ bags, I know, are as cheap as chips.
Cedar Avenue, Weston
I READ with interest and a wry smile of John Penrose’s recent day with postal workers, and local delivery office manager Dan Riddle’s comments on how they were ‘modernising and transforming’ the postal service.
My brother posted my birthday card, with a first class stamp, on March 14 in Burnham. I received it on March 27 whilst one from Guernsey was delivered the day after posting.
When I queried this, the woman on the telephone could not have been less interested. I was told there is no guarantee of delivery at all.
The aim is to deliver 98 per cent of mail, but when is anyone’s guess.
If this is modernising and transforming, how did we manage in old times when we had two deliveries a day?
Elm Tree Road, Locking
THE owners of the Weston Grand Pier have every right to charge £1 for admission but is it a big mistake?
They say that it costs £20,000 a week just to open the pier but they fail, for business reasons, to give the weekly income.
I would imagine that they average 20,000+ visitors and at £1 a time this would cover the opening costs.
They also say that £1 is a nominal amount and this may be true but as there are no concessions for children or pensioners it would cost a family of four £4 just to step foot on the pier.
Then there is a trip on the little train and the amusements and refreshments at the end of the pier so the costs to visitors mount up.
As visitors are not encouraged to take their own food on the pier sometimes the elderly may visit in the morning, go into town for something to eat and then return to the pier for another breath of fresh air. Do they then have to pay again?
Of course it is vital that there is money available to maintain the structure but not enough thought has gone into the impact the new charge will have on visitors, only time will tell.
Clarence Grove Road, Weston
I AM outraged that the Grand Pier is now charging a £1 admission.
They make enough money with the price of these rides.
Think of the young families that come to Weston for the day.
The pier was the highlight of the day not any more. One word springs to mind ‘greed’’.
MRS M STANLEY
Constable Drive, Worle
I RECENTLY took a resident from a care home to the urology department for a minor procedure but in difficult circumstances.
The ambulance crew were brilliant as were the carers and doctor.
They were most compassionate and caring and even made us hot drinks afterwards.
Very well done to all concerned.
Windwhistle Circle, Weston
A VERY kind person handed in my purse at Tesco last Wednesday afternoon.
May I say thank you. It was a very honest and generous thing to do. Wonderful to know there are such honest people around.
Drove Road, Weston