Friday, June 25, 2004

100 Posters Missing!  

Who would want to take down over 100 Liberal Democrat posters that don’t belong to them? That’s the question David Seary and myself were asking each other when we went to take down the remaining poster left up after last weeks Euro election. They had gone! David had seen them yesterday but by this lunch time they had all been taken down. It’s usual for a handful of posters to disappear during an election campaign, but I’ve never heard of 100+ going. One I’ve established that no other part members has them I intend to contact both the County Council and the Borough Council’s to see if they’ve been quick off the mark and removed them, but as posters belonging to other parties are still on the lamp posts I don’t think that is very likely. If I do draw a blank the only other course of action is to inform the police, but I don’t imagine a fully manned incident room being set-up in Stafford to help get the crime solved!

Driveway Planning Problem 

On Friday Afternoon I visited a rather splendid farm house just outside Bradley. The owners of the house have done a marvellous job in restoring it. However they have also installed a new drive, which one has to say is also of a very high standard. Under normal circumstances no-one would have know this drive existed, but the owners have now applied for planning permission to convert some old barns. This was their downfall as an eagle eyed planning officer at the Borough Council noticed the new drive on the plan. She suggested the applicant make a retrospective planning application – which they did. Quite rightly in my opinion the planning officer recommended the development of the new drive be approved, but this stance was overturned by one of her superiors.

As the local Councillor the householder asked for my advice. I suggested he resubmit his plans and I would “call in” the application so the Planning Committee could have the final say. Hopefully, given the recommendation of the planning officer I might be able to get the Committee to agree to the drive. When one sees some of the terrible developments the planners allow I cannot understand why they should turn this driveway down. The quality of the work is exceptional and I would think, given a few years for the new gravel to weather, it will look as if it was installed at the same time as the farmhouse, which incidentally is thought to date back to Tudor times!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Council Services Face More Cuts 

The Conservatives are again facing some difficult decisions over next years budget. Tonight’s meeting of the Borough Council’s Resources Scrutiny Committee was told that an expected shortfall of just over £1Million could be expected. Cllr Mike Heenan – the Cabinet Member for Resources – said that it was too early to say how this deficit was to be met. He did however restate the Conservatives commitment not to up Council Tax by more than the headline rate of inflation. Cllr Andrew Compton and myself led the opposition scrutiny, and tried to get Mike to agree that the only way to make up any shortfall was to either cut service and jobs or put up prices. However all he would say was "it's too early to say" and "nothing is ruled out or ruled in"!

One strategy the Conservatives have is to make 2% cuts in the base budget of each Council department. I pointed out to the committee that this would only provide around £300,000 and that still left around £750,000 to find!

It was interesting that during the debate the Conservative members on the scrutiny committee said very little. Only a couple of their members spoke, and one said he was sure Cllr Heenan could find ways of bridging the gap while still retain services and charges at their current level. He did say something about pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but that total confused me and the rest of the committee so I for one switched off at that point!

I’m more concerned that local residents are going to suffer. This year we’ve seen travel tokens being scrapped for the elderly who live in Stafford and Stone; car-park charges have gone up, and rent collectors and local housing offices are being closed. I am worried that next year it will take more than a trick with a rabbit and hat to get the books to balance and that the only real way is to make even more cuts or raise prices even higher!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Gnosall Community Forum Told Of Youth Service Changes 

Tonight I attended a meeting of the Gnosall Community Forum. This group is made up of representatives of different organisations along with anyone else who is interested in improving the well being of the community in the Village. As Sue Green the usual Chairman was unable to attend through illness Sheila Buckley stepped into the breach and chaired the meeting. Shelia is employed by the County Council Youth and Community Service and is involved in many Village organisations as part of her work. However the County council are now changing how they provide youth and community services. This will mean that the rural youth clubs that rely on volunteer staff and are coordinated by Shelia will no longer be supported by the County Council. This is causing major unrest and uncertainty amongst the volunteers and I am extremely worried that clubs might close as a result. I’ve had a number of meetings with Shelia to discuss how the situation could be improved and have raised the issue at County Council meetings only to be told that I’m exaggerating and there are no problems and the staff are happy. I’ve certainly seen moral dip with all those involved with youth clubs in this area so I know that is not the case. In rural areas there is little enough for children to do with their youth club being forced to close through lack of support.

To make matters worse we were told tonight that Staffordshire Youth Service are now looking at new “opening hours” for their youth clubs which will include weekends and most holidays. While on paper this seems a reasonable idea I do think it is fundamentally flawed. As most of paid youth workers only work part-time and in the evenings I don’t see where the County Council expect to get the staff from to make these changes! I know how difficult it is to get people to work in youth clubs at the best of times so this change could be the final straw for some clubs!

Monday, June 21, 2004

A518 Route Strategy - A Long Road Ahead 

I’ve spent a couple of hours tonight at Gnosall Parish Council. Once again much of the meeting passed me by as the Council kept referring to minutes of various sub-committees that had only been distributed to the Parish Councillors. The new Chairman Tony Innamorati controlled the meeting with great skill and finished almost dead on 9.30pm – not at all bad when you consider the length of the agenda. My only real input of the whole 2 hours was to give the Council some details of the contents of the draft A518 Route Strategy. This document has been long awaited, as it is seen as holding the key to future improvements along the road which runs through the middle of the Village. I’m pleased the County Highways Department has recognised that the dangerous junction and bridge at Coley Mill should be given the number one spot in the priority list and that the narrowness of the road at the west end of Gnosall should be placed second. I assured the meeting that once the final document was published they would receive a copy after which public meeting could be arranged to see what everyone thought. The Strategy is only the next step along a very long road, and I do fear it will be sometime before the road is made completely safe for both motorists and pedestrians alike. While I’m convinced the County Council and Gnosall and Haughton Parish Council’s have the willing to see improvements made, I’m more worried about where the money is going to come from to do the work. It would be a grave mistake to waste money doing only half a job, but in the end this might be all the County council can afford!

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sunday Afternoon Fun 

This afternoon was rather pleasant. It was the Stone Liberal Democrats Annual garden Party held at the home of Richard and Jan Stevens. The weather was quite pleasant but even so most of the gather throng sat round under the shelter of a couple of gazebos and enjoyed an afternoon centred on cups of tea and cream and jam scones. Of course politics was never far from the agenda and I think every aspect of last weeks Euro elections was picked over and dissected. The usual Lib Dem tombola took pride of place in the garden along with a well stocked produce stall – Richard and Jan are keen organic gardeners. All in all the afternoon was a good way to relax in good company and also a way of raising much needed party funds.

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