Friday, April 16, 2004

Mayor's Parlour Visit 

Tonight Liberal Democrat members from the Stone Constituency were entertained by John Russell – Mayor of Stafford – in Mayor’s Parlour in the Civic Offices. John, who is the Liberal Democrat Councillor for Barlaston is just coming to the end of his year in office. In the past twelve months he has been an excellent ambassador not only for the Borough but also for the Liberal Democrat Party.

In fact John was not going to be Mayor until forty-eight hours before the last election, when it became clear that our nominated person – Frank James – was likely to loose his seat. As the Mayor is sworn into office just a couple of days after the election it was necessary to have a fall back position so as Group Leader I’d asked John if he would step into the role if needed. Luckily for Stafford and for the Lib Dems he agreed. Considering the lack of notice he’s done a great job.

Tonight’ even was also great. John gave us all a talk on the history of the Mayorality and them there was time for a bite to eat and an informal chat. Needless to say local issues were never far from the centre of any conversation!

Concessionary Fares Handout 

I did have an interesting visit this morning when I took my father to collect his and my mothers concessionary fare passes from Rising Brook Church Centre. These passes are provided by the Borough Council to all residents of the Borough aged 60 or above and provide half price bus travel for the holders. In the rural areas, and for those residents aged 70 or above who live in the town, these passes can be exchanged for bus tokens which many residents prefer.

I’d never been to one of these distribution events before and it certainly was an eye opener. It was obvious there were plenty of people there as soon as we arrived as the street outside the church was packed with cars. Inside the queue snaked around the church hall and almost reached the door. It reminded me of the queue for a Russian supermarket. As it was raining hard everyone was dressed in some sort of coat and many wore hats and scarves which added to the scene of desolation. The queue shuffled forward towards a row of tables from which the passes and tokens were being doled out. It took my father just over 15 minutes of shuffling to reach the table. As he’s 85 I was quite concerned, but when you looked round the room he looked one of the more able! The church had tried to add a bit of comfort, by providing chairs around the walls of the hall, but the queue was no where near them and if anyone had sat down they would have needed to get up again almost at once so they could move one step nearer the tables. One good thing was that the church has also provided free cups of tea and coffee and this was going down well with the wet and dripping crowd!

I came away wondering what the Council was doing. Surely in this day and age we shouldn’t be making the elderly queue for their free handouts. I am going to raise this issue with the Council. Perhaps we could distribute tokens via the rent collection system for our tenants or use the network of local post offices or paypoint shops, or if this is not possible use some form of ticketing system similar to that used in many government benefit and tax offices. At least then the elderly residents could sit down while they are waiting to be served!

Thursday, April 15, 2004

No More Facts 

I came away from today’s meeting with the Borough Council’s Chief Executive David Rawlings with no more information about the future of the houses in South Walls than I had before I went! In fact I not sure the time was well spent! Its clear he knows more than he is prepared to say. Chris Baron and David Seary the two ward Councillors certainly asked the right questions but kept getting the standard answer “I’ll need prior notification of that to give you an answer”. This either means David is not on top of his job or he needs time to decide how to give the answers! As I’m always impressed with the way David masters every subject that is before the Council it doesn’t take a mastermind to work out which of the options to choose!

Chris and David asked questions that I’m sure are on the mind of most of the tenants. They included “What would the compensation package will be?”, “Will the tenants be forced to take accommodation that is small than they currently have?”, and “What was the time scale for purchasing the houses back that have already been sold?”.

After 45 minutes I was more convinced than ever that the proposal was nothing to do with giving the tenants better homes, but was just a cynical way of getting the land back so it could be sold. What is becoming clear is that this Tory run Council puts the well being of local residents low down on its list of priorities. At the top is the need to make as much money as possible.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Decorating Grant 

Tonight I made a call on a young couple who live in a ground Council floor flat. They have for sometime been trying to get a move. The area they live in is not too bad, but their neighbours are a bit on the noisy side. I most circumstances this would not have been enough to warrant a move, but in this instance personal circumstances does mean they need a quieter environment.

Over the last few months I have been pressing the Council to get them move and did have some success a few weeks ago when they finally agreed this was possible. The only thing standing in the way was the lack of suitable accommodation. However this has now been sorted out and the couple are thrilled with the new flat that has been offered to them. However there is one problem – hence my visit to see them. The flat is in a poor state and needs decorating throughout before they can move in. The Council does help new tenants with a grant of nearly £200 towards decorating costs, but because this couple is transferring between two properties the grant is cut to a mere £30. I was able to tell them that as long as their existing flat is in good decorating order and the incoming tenant will not need to do any work the Council will look to increasing the £30 grant they have been offered on their new home. However it does worry me that I, as a Councillor, had to get involved before they agreed to this increase. I do wonder how many other young couples in the same situation have been left struggling to find the money need to decorate their new home?

Housing Demolition Shock 

Well today certainly started with a bang. I called into the Borough Council Offices to be met with the news that Dave Pinnock – one of the Council’s Strategic Directors was about to phone me and as I was in the building could I pop in and have a word. Dave told me that the Cabinet Member for Housing was putting forward a plan to demolish 29 houses in South Walls and that as we spoke the news was being broken to the householders. It appears that they were being given a letter to say that their homes did not meet the Governments Homes Standard and that it was unlikely they could be brought up to standard by the 2010 deadline. For this reason the Council felt they had no alternative by to re-house the tenants and demolish the houses. The council would also offer to buy the three homes that had been sold to private individuals so they would not be left isolated when the other houses were removed. This is all very well but when you consider that within days of taking control of the Council last May the Tories were pressing to sell off all the Council owned houses because “most would not meet the Governments target by 2010” alarm bells began to ring. Surely the great rush to demolish these houses has nothing to do with the fact they back onto the Council owned Riverside Recreation Centre which needs replacing. Ever since the Tories took control rumours have circulated that they want to sell the present site and build a new smaller centre else where. Of course if they do that they do stand to make a profit on the deal – money which they desperately need to balance the books!

The one thing I must say about the whole sorry story is that residents will come off worse. Although the scheme has still to be official approved by Cabinet and will then have to go through the scrutiny process the large majority the Conservatives have on the Council will ensure it goes ahead. There are still dozens of questions left unanswered!

Monday, April 12, 2004

Easter Monday Picture Shoot 

It might be Easter Monday but it’s certainly not a rest day for the local press. I was asked to meet a photographer from the Stafford Post in Gnosall at 11.00am so the paper could get a picture to illustrate the story about the poor footpaths. I must say I’m not sure you can make a brilliant image from me and a length of tarmac, but the young lady seemed to know what she was doing and took a handful of shoots. Trying to look intelligently at a crack in newly laid tarmac is not easy at the best of times, but on a Bank Holiday it’s even more difficult. However I do hope the effort was worth it and the increased pressure will have some positive results with the County Council’s Highways Department. Unfortunately all the staff who cover the Gnosall area are now on leave for a week so nothing will happen till then!

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