Labour Group censored?

A debate on tax avoidance at the next meeting of Scarborough Borough Council has been prevented on the grounds that a Labour Group motion was allegedly not submitted in time and besides did not deal with something to do with the budget or was within the council’s ‘policy framework.’ This is despite the motion calling for a fairer funding regime for local government.  More

Spin and delusion – making the figures add up

colinThe Government is ecstatic. Employment figures are high, unemployment is decreasing. Economists have been scratching their heads, seeking an explanation as to how this can possibly be the case when we are still suffering the after- effects of a bad recession. For the Government, there is no question that things are ticketyboo, and so concern about employment may be assigned to the back burner.

I don’t go along with this complacent attitude. More

Q: Fracking? A: No-one knows enough

Scarborough and Whitby Labour Party has called for a moratorium on fracking – the highly controversial method of extracting gas from shale deposits. Scarborough and large swathes of North Yorkshire sit on such a deposit known as the Bowland, which some believe contains massive gas reserves.

The Party wants a much deeper factual analysis of what fracking risks in terms of pollution, the environment, earthquakes and climate change. Colin Challen, who proposed the moratorium, said “The Tory-led government has announced it is offering various financial inducements to speed up fracking, and so has decided that the debate is over – or more precisely that there is not a debate to be had about this technology in the place. But there needs to be a full assessment of it before we could possibly accept it locally. I am also not convinced that it would not impact on climate change, since if it is true that fracking would lower energy costs then investment in clean energy sources will be much more difficult to sustain. It will put a brake on tackling climate change even if gas has lower carbon emissions than coal, but that would only be a temporary advantage.” More

Counting the carbon and the cash

 I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner, but I have now told my gas supplier to stick their bill up their ****, and have set in motion a switch to another supplier who is not only cheaper, but does much more to protect the environment.

Their name is Good Energy, and their electricity is generated entirely from renewable sources. Obviously gas isn’t renewable, but profits they make from selling gas helps make more money for renewables.

The public’s disgust with energy companies is now on a par with bankers, and I am pleased that this is making people think more about how much we pay for energy and where it comes from. This has meant that my initiative in calling for an energy advice centre in Scarborough, now established as Choices4Energy in Hanover Road, has seen a growing footfall of consumers looking for ways out of the energy price spiral. The shop has been very fruitful, in only six months it has helped people save £thousands and advised on insulation, saving tonnes of CO2. More

Scarborough Borough Council and the waterpark – splash or drip?

The developer behind a £100m regeneration project in Scarborough threatened that it could be the “end of the dream” if the council refused to stump up the cash towards a multi-million pound waterpark.

waterparkA crunch meeting was held at the town hall on Monday (9 Sept) to see councillors decide whether to put forward roughly £10m towards the £15m scheme – the equivalent of around 66 per cent. More

Future tense, past perfect?

In steamy, downtown Scarborough a drama unfolds:

The case for the prosecution was made (twice) but the dock was vacant for the first case of the day, as the witnesses came to the stand in the grand chamber of the court of sessions (or to be more precise the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee of Scarborough Borough Council held on the 31st July – but that title doesn’t sound so interesting).

The first case?

20793666-female-doctor-wearing-stethoscope-vectorThe snatch by a ‘Jeremy Hunt’ (aka The Secretary of State for Health) of Egton’s pig – or more precisely MPIG. MPIG stands for ‘Minimum Practice Income Guarantee,’ a source of government funding for local doctors’ surgeries. Surgeries in the Esk Valley area are set to lose hundreds of thousands of pounds starting next April. The government has decided that the people of Egton and Sleights and other places see their doctors too often. From next April they will have to heal themselves it seems – or change their MP perhaps.

futuristThe second case

The alleged deliberate misuse and neglect of a once(?)  popular theatre known as ‘The Futurist.’ How a popular venue ended up in a seaside resort is anybody’s guess, but by a 7-2 vote the jury of the grand committee found the villains, known as the Cabinet Gang, innocent of all charges and passed a judicial sentence of death on the pleasure palace. The public gallery was outraged. An attempt to free The Futurist may yet be made. More

The wrong cuts for the wrong reason?

County Hall, Northallerton

County Hall, Northallerton

Given that so few people vote in local elections, one would probably be correct in assuming that many people don’t really care all that much about councillors. So when a proposal is made to reduce the number of councillors – as it was in our manifesto for the county council elections in May – the idea should be based on the notion of re-engagement with the electorate and of creating a structure which is transparent, accountable and responsive.
Sadly, in this Conservative dominated area, Labour did not secure enough support for our candidates for us to be in a strong position to push through our proposals, which were based on getting rid of the wasteful two-tier system of local government in North Yorkshire, and thus removing 72 councillors at the county level. Instead, what we face now is a purely cost cutting exercise in reducing the number of councillors at the district level. Some district councils in the region have already embarked on this course, and now Scarborough Borough Council is joining the club. A review has been set in motion to see whether the council really needs 50 members.
Like so much of the cost cutting agenda, this review is unlikely to look at the systemic waste of the two tier system, but will take a purely parochial path. I predict it will recommend a council size of about 40, if what has happened in other authorities is anything to go by. Any proposals will have to be approved by the Boundary Commission, so the outcome may not be known for a year or two.
Is this cost cutting agenda an attack on local democracy? Are we actually over represented now? The fact that these changes are being proposed purely to save money makes me suspicious – when the Conservatives have agreed amongst themselves to leave the two tier system alone. They are not looking at making a better system, but instead have chosen to accept the Coalition Government’s line that local councils are bloated, bureaucratic and inefficient. They talk of ‘localism’ but at the same time engender a view of local democracy which seeks to diminish it. This is in sync with the Government’s capping of council tax and the ‘localisation’ of government funding (e.g. for council tax benefits) when what is really delivered is another mechanism for cuts.
Will there be a proper debate about this? Or is it in effect an already done deal? Who will be consulted? What is the case?

Tackling the energy crunch – help is on the way

Once again news has emerged of how big energy companies have been working together to fix prices. This time it is big oil, in the recent past it has been big energy utility companies seeking to maintain high prices. The poor consumer has to pay the price.  Many more people now face fuel poverty.

That’s why I am pleased that the Borough Council has taken up my proposal for an energy advice shop, which will be run initially for a trial period of one year. It will be based in Hanover Road, near Scarborough rail station and opens on Saturday, 18th May. The object of the shop is to provide an independent focal point for residents to learn more about energy efficiency in the home, renewable energy, energy ‘switching’ (where consumers can pool together to bulk buy energy at lower cost) and other money saving devices like water meters. More

No censorship at SBC?

A full meeting of Scarborough Borough Council took place on Monday (13th May) and I was a little nonplussed to be at the receiving end of a sustained attack from another member – and member of the Cabinet to boot – about a piece I had written on this website about the new standards regime. The new regime seems pretty toothless, and part of the problem is that it doesn’t seem to be benchmarked against the seven ‘Nolan’ principles of public life, rather it takes a very narrow view of what may constitute improper behaviour. I cited the MPs’ expenses scandal having raised the public’s scepticism about the handling of allowances and expenses, etc. as a reason for taking a broader view of what is acceptable and what is not.

This does not seem to have gone down well with some members, not least the Cabinet member who at the full council meeting suggested I should no longer have a place on the Standards Committee. More

That was the campaign that was

With a few moments to spare from a hectic round of county council electioneering, I thought for purely philanthropic reasons I would analyse some of the campaign ‘literature’ (as we prefer to call it) or ‘junk mail’ (as unattached readers may wish to call it) that has plopped through people’s letterboxes the last few weeks. This service is brought to you in the interests of truth and transparency – of course.

challenI was inspired to read an independent leaflet for a candidate in Northstead Division, which was generously delivered to electors in Castle Division. This says “Independents have to work three times harder than Labour, Conservative or LibDems to get elected and retain office.” I wonder how many LibDems would agree with that statement this year – they may have to work 10 times harder than the ‘Independent’ and still not get elected. It may not have occurred to the writer of this particular leaflet that where there are three candidates standing for one seat, they may all have to work three times harder to get elected – but two never will! The leaflet goes on to make a number of claims, none of which stand up to much logical scrutiny either. Take my word for it. More