Friday, May 28, 2004

Council House Modernisation Problems 

Council houses in Stafford Borough are being modernised on a rolling programme. In general this has gone well with the majority of tenants being satisfied with what has been done to their homes. However in a few cases there have been problems. Tonight I went to visit one local resident who had written to me to tell me that he had been refused a new kitchen as part of the modernisation scheme although this had been provided to his neighbours.

I had to tell him that this was not uncommon as I’d already dealt with a number of similar cases. It appears that a standard modernisation package was not available to all tenants. Each was asked early in the process to say what they would like done to their homes. Some asked for new garden fences or drive ways as well as a new kitchen and bathroom. Inspectors then called on each home to check the condition of the property and to look for other items that might need replacing such as roofs and doors. Following this an individual list of modifications was drawn up for each house. This has resulted in each tenant being treated differently.

Having looked at the kitchen I cannot understand why it was not replaced but like any other Council project this one seems driven more by saving money than by providing a decent service to the tenants. I had to break the bad news to the gentleman in question that I thought it very unlikely that the Council would respond positively to his request, as from experience I was always met with the same answer – “We don’t have any money”. Even so I will be taking up the issue with the Council’s housing department!

Meet The Public Cancelled 

This mornings “Meet the Public” meeting as again been cancelled! The meeting were started some years ago by the Borough Council so that members of the public could meet with the Chief Executive, and the 3 Party Group Leaders. They’ve never been that well attended, but in the past, if no members of the public turned up the time was used by the Group Leaders and the Chief Executive to discuss items of common interest. However since the Conservatives took control of the Council last year things have changed and very few meetings have been held. I remember well, prior to the Tories coming to power, Judith Delgarno – their leader – always raising the issue that she did not know what was going on and that she was being kept in the dark about what was happening. Funny how things change! Now that she has such a large majority and knows exactly what is happening it appears these meetings between the Group Leaders are not important as is the exchange of information they sometimes did allow!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Seighford TB Tests 

This afternoon I spent an interesting couple of hours on a farm in Seighford watching a local vet carry out TB tests on some of the cows. It was clear from my conversation with the vet that TB is certainly spreading in parts of Staffordshire and for many farmers it was a problem. Luckily the tests this afternoon showed the farm I was on was clear of the disease.

If any of the cows had reacted it would have meant difficulties for the farmer. As the farm is beef enterprise he would, after disposing of the infected cow, have been forced either to send the rest of his cows for slaughter or would have been made to keep them on the farm until the tests showed the farm was clear. Either of these options would have affected the farmers income drastically and at a time when the whole agricultural industry is struggling to survive this could have spelt disaster for the whole business.

What is clear is that the Government have no real policy on Bovine TB and far more research must be carried out into its cause and how it should be dealt with. While badgers certainly seem to be in the firing line as the carriers of the disease this has not be scientifically proved beyond doubt and pressure groups on both side of the argument are arguing their cause extremely vocally. The look of relief on the farmers face was clear when he heard the results and Government owes it to him and his fellow farmers to take this matter seriously and make more funds available so the underlying science is discovered and then acted on.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Planning Training Workshop 

Tonight I attended a workshop designed to introduce Councillors to how the Borough Council carries out it’s planning function. Believe me this workshop is not before time as I’ve become more and more despondent with planning and the way some decisions are made.

Given the importance of the Council’s planning function I was disappointed that to-nights meeting was attended by less than half the Council and even some of these left before the end! However I suppose I should be the last to complain about the few who left early as I was about 30 minutes late arriving as I’d been held up by a telephone call from a local resident who had a pressing housing problem.

In the end I think the event got across some messages. In fact the 15 minutes left for questions at the end was perhaps the most enlightening, as quite a few new Councillors asked some quite searching questions. It was interesting to watch the faces of some of them as the penny began to drop and I’m quite sure they will approach future planning meetings in a different way.

However I even more convinced that some of the decisions taken by the Council over the past few months are questionable and that some Councillors have sailed very close to the wind or indeed have crossed the line when they voted on some applications. I’ve already raised the matter with the Chief Executive and are now more determined than ever to take the matter further. The Borough Solicitor, who presented part of the evening suggested that the Council could be left open to judicial review or an investigation by the ombudsman if the Councillors did not follow the rules. It looks as if this is the route I now need to follow!

Monday, May 24, 2004

Well tonight’s meeting of Haughton Parish Council went with a bang.

Towards the end of the meeting the position of the Village handyman was discussed. At the last meeting the Council appointed the Chairman and Vice Chairman to form a panel to interview applicants for the vacant handyman post. Well tonight they reported on the outcome of those interviews, which was perhaps a bit late as the new handyman was cutting the grass outside the Village Hall while the meeting was taking place.

The agenda item made it clear the two members were to make a recommendation to the rest of the Council. However during their introduction the bomb shell was dropped. They had offered the job to one of the applicants and had offered him a pay rise over what the last handyman was being paid. You could have heard a pin drop when this announcement was made, as at no time were they given the delegated power to up the pay on offer. Once the news was announced all hell broke loose, as the previous handyman had been refused a rise just before he resigned!

The two panel members tried to say they were only making this recommendation to the Council, but it was pointed out that as the new handyman had started work there was little the Council could do but agree. After about an three quarter of an hours heated debate the Treasurer sided with the Chairman and Vice Chairman to vote to employ the new handyman on the terms the panel had agreed. Three Councillors abstained on the principle that the position was a fait-accompli and I vote again the plan.

This move has soured relationships within the Council which I'm sure will never heal. Perhaps the two Councillors in question should think long and hard about their position!

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