Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The ticking time bomb under Frodsham Town Council

We had something of a row at FTC last night about the Council's budget and the ticking time-bomb beneath the Council.  So what is the issue:

Spending Plans - £157,000       Income from Council Tax £114,700
                                                 Other Income                   £   8,000
                                                 Total                                £122,700

Shortfall to be met by around £34,400 of reserves.

Clearly no Council, no business and no household can continue to run itself dipping into its reserves - it is unsustainable.  Most Councils and businesses seek to run themselves with spending plans running beneath income - and that is the model we will have to move to at Frodsham Town Council.

Now when a Council has 'excess reserves' it is right that they are paid back to Council Tax payers by way of a reduction in the Council Tax and that is the position FTC is in right now.  The old Town Council through budgeting errors, through a failure of ambition and through a failure to identify projects and proposals until almost the last moment of its existence had not earmarked its existing reserves for anything - hence having 'excess reserves.'

The new Council is different - it wants to see things change and wants FTC to be active and engaging.  It wants to invest in Frodsham - it wants to see the reserves used for things of benefit for the community - not just for paying the running costs.

So what is the ticking time bomb.
Well lets pretend the reserves weren't being used this year.  Assuming the same spending plans the Council Tax would have to rise from £30.77 per band D property to something closer to £39 or £40.  For every £10,000 in income you have to raise the precept by around £2.88.  So a £34,400 lift in income raised entirely by the Council Tax would add about £9.90 to the Council Tax.  Any additional resources required on top of the existing plans would require additional rises in the Council Tax.

This is the legacy we have been left - the sure knowledge that even to stand still we are faced with Council Tax rises.  It also shows you just how bad the old Council was and the false position we have now with a Council Tax as low as £30.77 per band D.

Now the average Council Tax for parish councils in England is around £42.  That's where Helsby Parish Council have their Council Tax.  They are a quality council ... if only FTC was too... but that is another story.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The Rumour Mill

Frodsham is a wonderful efficient place.  The speed it takes a rumour to spread around seems at time to threaten the space-time continuum.  One minute you find yourself discussing the possibilities, what could be done - and the next moment you hear that decisions have been made ... and the funny thing is that decisions haven't been made.

Now I guess part of this is that the community is unused to having conversations and consultations about things - and realising that Frodsham Town Council is genuinely listening.

So far I've heard that it is a done deal that:
  • the Frodsham Post is going;
  • that the Friends of Castle Park is going; and
  • that the Over 70s Xmas dinner in October is vanishing.
And all this in the short space since our new Council got elected in May.

So - the Frodsham Post - the new Council has committed itself to obtaining Quality Council status.  Part of that process requires the Council to have a regular publication.  This means in simple terms we are committed to continuing publication.  How that is done and the resources it consumes are being considered.  No decisions have been made as yet and none are scheduled to be made in June 2011.

The Friends of Castle Park - well there have been at least 2 groups of this name working in Frodsham - one under the auspices of CWaC, and the other under FTC.  I'm now Chairman of the Castle Park Executive Trust and we've decided already through that body to open up those meetings - allowing full public access and rights to speak coupled with a push to expand the associated 'Friends of Castle Park.'  With that done and with a desire to see FTC keep its position and perhaps enhance its position on the Trust we don't need another Friends of Castle Park run by FTC.  So the Friends continue and will have direct input into the Castle Park Trust.

And now the latest bandwagon regarding the Over 70s dinner.  I was away on business on Thursday and received an email suggesting I was going to abolish Christmas - this was a 'tongue in cheek' email set to me by a colleague teasing me about the Chronicle's article which I hadn't read.  The truth of the matter is that we are debating and consulting - no decisions have been made.  There appears to be a very strong consensus around doing something for the over 70s and making sure that more than just 15% of the over 70s benefit.  However whether anything changes or not remains to be seen.

Incidentally FTC is running a number of informal consultations - make sure you have your say on this and other issues - come and see us at Festival in the Park on 3 July. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Executive Meeting CWaC - goodbye Overview & Scrutiny Committee

It was CWaC's Executive today.  I had several reports from my former Overview & Scrutiny Committee to present.  I was delighted to see that the Executive accepted each of the reports unanimously.  This was really the final act of the old O&S Committee.   There had been much hard work from a small number of Councillors and an even smaller number of officers and it is testament to these colleagues that such excellent work has been produced with such scant resources.

In relation to these reports CWaC now has a commitment to engaging young people in its decision making processes.  It supports them being closely involved in scrutiny going forward and it also means that our Youth Parliament representatives will have a £10k pot to allocate to schemes of importance to them.

The decisions taken today also means that CWaC is serious about closer, more effective relations with our Town and Parish Councils and for them to be more effective.   There is much work to be done to make this a reality - but at least we have put a marker down for the future.

So what for the future for O&S at CWaC?   Well there are new structures, and a commitment (at long last) for there to be more officer support and of course new Councillors and Chairmen.  The new arrangements don't involve me directly and I wish them luck and every success.  Interestingly I hear from a number of sources murmurings of potential discontent with what is happening.  Probably this is just teething trouble - at least I hope that is what it is.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

First day on the Police Authority

Today was my first day on the new police authority.  I attended the Finance Committee meeting.
Now the Sword of Damocles is hanging over all police authorities with the impending reforms and the proposals for elected police Commissioners so what did I make of it?

Well it is early days so any views are inevitably informed only by first impressions with all the risks of being found to be wrong with hindsight and deeper knowledge.  However it was interesting to be met with what one could describe as an 'old style' local authority type committee.  Councils have long since moved to be run by Executives or Cabinets - in other words by a small group of elected members drawn from the larger Council. 

As a 'back-bench' Councillor on CWaC to be seen to have 'some real power' as a member of the police authority is an interesting departure but it has set me thinking about efficient use of time and resources - but it is far too early to have any sort of view about that.

I made a small contribution to the meeting discussing PCSOs and their funding - and more particularly the importance of the police authority and constabulary selling the concept of PCSOs to Town and Parish Councils and their populations.  My impression is that there is a perceptions and knowledge gap here.  At our Annual Town Meeting at FTC a member of the public questioned whether it was appropriate for FTC to continue funding its 1/3rd share of a PCSO.  If that is happening here - that should perhaps serve as a warning sign!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Happy Birthday Barnardos in Frodsham

So Barnardos in Frodsham is two years old - and they celebrated by having a birthday party.  Graham Evans MP and I were invited.  Certificates were handed out to the volunteers who had worked with Barnardos for a year or more.

I got delayed - but popped in to see Llinos and Megan and they were kind enough to give me a piece of cake to enjoy!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Halton Curve

Well Cllr Lynn Riley and I went on a train journey this morning.  Nothing special perhaps - except it was.  We boarded a train at Frodsham and travelled the short journey to Liverpool South Parkway - going around the Halton Curve - a short stretch of track that has been all but effectively closed to passenger trains.  But this was a special train - seeking to persuade Network Rail that the curve should be 're-opened' for regular passenger traffic.  And I gather that this special stopping train only runs once a year.

However once a week - and I gather it is on a Saturday morning - a 'Parliamentary Train' runs non stop from Chester to Runcorn around the curve proving it remains open.  Few people, if any are on board.  The whole point of running this one train at a pointless hour is to maintain the fiction that the curve remains open.

It would make a massive difference to those of us in North Cheshire to be able to link into the main Liverpool-London main line just 'round the corner'.  A whole raft of speedier trips to London and beyond would be readily available.  We'd also be able to get to Liverpool more swiftly and getting to Liverpool Airport by public transport would be a real possibility.

So come on Network Rail - invest in the curve.  Put this missing crossings and points back in so the line can operate both to and from Runcorn - rather than one way.  The ultimate irony is that Network Rail took out the two-way working so the Runcorn-Crewe line could operate at faster speed.

As you can't travel south from Liverpool to Frodsham on the curve we all travelled back to Frodsham by a 1961 single decker Crossville bus!