Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?




Ever wondered what a Borough Councillor's role entails?
I did! I was elected as a Councillor for the Lynn South & West ward of the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk on 5th May 2011.

A little bit about me:
I have lived in South Lynn for 7 years with my wife and work locally for the Norfolk Primary Care Trust as an IT Manager.

I am a Labour Councillor and whilst the local Labour group made some encouraging gains in the May elections (moving from 4 councillors to 13) we are still very much a minority opposition as the Tories hold 42 of the 64 council seats.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

An open letter to Oliver Letwin

Absolutely horrified this evening to read an article due to be published in tomorrow's Observer, as 'tweeted' by local reporter Chris Bishop (@chrismojo) the comments are very Tebbit-esque.

I set out my open letter to Letwin below....

Dear Mr Letwin

Having read your comments regarding the Public Sector in the Observer article of Sunday 31st August, I felt compelled to write to you to urge caution in what seems like a very cavalier attempt to drive up productivity in the Public Sector by increasing the fear factor.

As a dedicated Public Servant (with experience in Health, Education and Local Government) I have to tell you that age old adage about many public services being run on goodwill and sandwiches is true (or at least partly true - the hospitality budgets that paid for sandwiches for attendees at lunchtime meetings went long ago) and the effects of such a risky strategy might just be to destroy the last shreds of goodwill; when the Public Sector starts 'working to rule' it will quickly become apparent that productivity was never really the problem.

Successive re-organisations of Public Sector bodies have left morale in tatters and staff are never really given time to reach a normal level of productivity before the next re-organisation is announced and we all end up in a seemingly repetitive cycle. I can understand the rationale behind most of the re-organisations is to find better, more efficient, more productive ways of working and rightly so; after all we are all tax payers too and we should demand that our taxes are spent as wisely as possible, either to drive down the level of taxation or to drive up the level of service but I have to tell you that my experience is that services are not usually given enough time to produce the expected results before someone comes in and stomps all over the structures, frameworks, boundaries etc and kicks the whole cycle off again, the reason usually being given as the existing structure is not productive or efficient enough.

I am told anecdotally by a former colleague, an accomplished doctor at a large hospital trust, that his bigger fear for the future of the NHS is the attitude of junior doctors coming through the system when it comes to goodwill. Whereas when he was a junior doctor (within the last 15 years) it was the norm for his shift to finish when all the patients had been seen, today's juniors are showing signs of working to rule and, whilst not necessarily leaving patients to fend for themselves, are not as willing to put their personal lives on hold for the sake of 'the job'. I have to report that the same erosion of a sense of working for the 'public good' is happening in the other Public Service areas I come into contact with.

Perhaps this government could focus on helping the Public Sector realise its undoubted potential rather than completely dismantle it and try to drive up productivity in the remaining pieces with the kind of threats normally associated with feudal landowners.

Yours Faithfully

Gary

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Monday, July 25, 2011

£20m wind farm plans unveiled - Business - Lynn News

I attended an exhibition at Terrington St Clement this afternoon, held to give more information to local residents about the wind farm planned for Ongar Hill.

I am sure this will prove to be the next big contentious issue in West Norfolk (or perhaps the idea is to try and get it pushed through whilst the big bad spectre of an incinerator is taking up everyone's campaign energy) so wanted to find out more.

There were some very interesting mocked up photographs that showed how the wind farm would look from various aspects around the borough - though they all had the benefit of foliage on trees helping to obscure the view.

£20m wind farm plans unveiled - Business - Lynn News

Excellent left leaning column by right-thinking journalist

Hopefully this guy has got a hotline to George Osborn!

I'm starting to think that the Left might actually be right - Telegraph:

Norfolk County Council - Power and recycling centre consultation extended

News broke today of an extension in the consultation period for the Willows Power and Recycling Centre from 6 weeks to 8 weeks. The news came as the Borough Council of King's Lynn & West Norfolk's Development Control Board voted unanimously to object to the County Council's plans on 13 different points.

The Borough Council will not determine whether the plans will go ahead but as a statutory consultee of the County Council's proposal (the County Council's own equivalent planning committee will make this decision, that is unless it is 'called in' by the Secretary of State) the output of this morning's meeting will constitute its response to the consultation.

The extension to the consultation period gives a little extra time for local residents to object to the planning application. Those against the incinerator are also encouraged to write to Caroline Spelman MP to encourage her to withhold the PFI credits that the proposal relies on and Eric Pickles MP asking him to call in the planning application.

Further details on how to object and how to write to the relevant Ministers can be found at the Farmer's Campaign website www.farmerscampaign.org

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Should Secretary of State decide King’s Lynn incinerator plan, asks new report - Politics - Eastern Daily Press

Interesting piece in today's EDP about the incinerator, those opposed should be encouraged to select the Secretary of State option in the online poll.

Should Secretary of State decide King’s Lynn incinerator plan, asks new report - Politics - Eastern Daily Press

More case work - Fences and Sludge

Quite a busy week in terms of case work, I continue to deal with Council officers regarding the building of a public footpath over a resident's land and have been asked to look into the building of a fence around the border of the play area opened in South Lynn last week and yesterday attended a meeting at the Anglian Water Treatment Works in West Lynn to discuss options for the future of transportation of sludge to this facility.

It was fascinating to learn more about the treatment works and to get an understanding of some of the issues and forward thinking solutions being mooted.

The treatment plant itself is one of only 4 currently within the Anglian Water region that processes the sludge by-product created at smaller waste treatment facilities, converting it into methane gas (which is used to power the whole operation and feeds a surplus into the grid) and biosolids which can be used as an alternative to agrochemicals on local farms.

The main issue it seems to face is that the sludge needs to be transported to the facility from the smaller facilities and this currently happens by road transport, big blue tankers, arriving via the Pullover roundabout (A47/A17), through West Lynn (along Clenchwarton Road) to Millenium Way (a road that had been built specifically to keep the traffic off Jubilee Bank Road on the edge of Clenchwarton) to Clockcase Lane which leads to the treatment facility.

Currently, the route down Clockcase Lane takes the traffic past 2 farmhouses at the Ferry road end.

High level options shown to us by Anglian water include the following:


  • Creation of a link road closer to West Lynn which would divert the traffic away from Clockcase Lane for the first 200 yards or so which would bring it all a lot closer to properties on the edge of West Lynn
  • Creation of a transfer station somewhere close to the Pullover roundabout so that vehicles could be emptied without having to travel through the villages with the sludge then being pumped by underground pipe to the treatment works.
  • Removal of much (but not all) of the road traffic by a system of barges, transferring sludge from smaller facilities/transfer stations at Ely (down the river Great Ouse), Wisbech (via the River Nene and out through the Wash), Boston (from the port of Boston) and Spalding (via the River Welland)


Obviously each option has its own pros and cons, for example the underground transfer pipe would be relatively expensive to implement and maintain but would remove a huge proportion of the traffic from the roads through both West Lynn (where it currently travels past the Poppyfields development) and Clockcase Lane. The Barge option would be very expensive to implement but reduces operating costs through reduction in road miles as well as helping toward a commitment to reduce carbon emmissions overall (the company's social conscience when talking about this option was very evident, quite refreshingly so!) and the link road option appears to just move the 'problem' about 50 yards further East and very much into the line of sight of a number of West Lynn residents.

I have taken away an action to make contact with Henry Bellingham MP to represent the views of the West Lynn Residents, many of whom feel that they are not being represented as the Treatment works (which are situated within West Lynn) have expanded in recent years and all current traffic flows through the village - this has happened with little opposition from the West Lynn Residents whereas the Clenchwarton Parish Council appears to have commanded a costly options appraisal exercise because of the effects on a small number of residents. Indeed, one of the West Lynn Forum's recent campaign's, to have a pedestrian crossing installed to allow residents from the Poppyfields development to safely cross the road to reach local amenities was unsuccessful but appears not to have taken into account the 100+ vehicle movements per day generated by the transportation of sludge along this stretch of road.




Thursday, July 14, 2011

Election Swindle... Part 3

The agenda for the next cabinet meeting was published today and if any proof were needed that the Conservative group's opposition to the proposed incinerator at Saddlebow was waning, this appears to provide it in spades.

As explained in an earlier post the Labour Group put forward a motion at the last full council meeting for the current council to re-affirm its opposition to the incinerator, the Leader of the ruling Conservative group, Cllr Daubney, opted to refer the matter to Cabinet, later explaining that he "did not believe debating a position the authority already holds was necessary" - somewhat inexplicably.

The agenda for the next cabinet meeting to be held on 26th July shows that the matter will not be discussed by that meeting but has instead been deferred until the next cabinet meeting, due to be held on 6th September, more that a month after the planning consultation has closed.

These are hardly the actions of a group vehemently opposed to the proposals, at least not as vociferously as was the case during their election campaign.

Mayor launches new South Lynn play area - News - Eastern Daily Press

Press Coverage from the opening of a new play area on Wisbech Road that I attended last week

Mayor launches new South Lynn play area - News - Eastern Daily Press


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

PRESS RELEASE - Labour Councillors raise safety concerns over taxi driver points limits

The following press release was sent out after Labour Councillors proposed an amendment to a policy being pushed through at Thursday's full council meeting. The amendment was worked up by the Labour Group after I had raised concerns at my first Community & Culture panel meeting and following a lengthy email exchange with the relevant portfolio holder, Cllr Brian Long.







PRESS RELEASE

Labour Councillors in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk have opposed changes to new licensing conditions for the Borough’s Private Hire and Hackney Carriage vehicles.

Currently if a licensed driver accrues 7 DVLA points, this triggers an appearance before the Council’s Licensing Panel where the situation is discussed and sanctions can be applied. The new conditions would see the points total increase to 10 before the Panel considers the matter. The Labour Group are concerned that this could lead to drivers who have accrued almost as many points as to receive a DVLA ban (currently 12) continuing to drive without having to attend a Borough Council Licensing Panel.

Speaking at the Full Council Meeting on 30 June 2011, Labour Group Leader, Councillor David Collis, said, “As the licensing authority, the Borough Council has a duty of care to ensure the safety of all passengers using any taxi services in West Norfolk. By allowing drivers to accrue up to 10 points before even being given a warning we consider that the Borough Council is not fulfilling this obligation.”

“The vast majority of licensed drivers keep within the bounds of the law and we do not want their good reputation to suffer as a result of any adverse publicity if say, a driver with 9 DVLA points was involved in an accident whilst speeding and it was later revealed that the Borough Council had not even issued a formal warning. The present system works well and the only reasons we can see for change is one of cost savings.”

Cllr Collis formally proposed that the procedure remain as it is – accruing 7 points would require an appearance at the Panel. A recorded vote was held but the motion was defeated by 37 votes to 15.

After the Council meeting Cllr Collis said “It is a regrettable outcome but the Labour Group of Councillors will maintain a watching brief and re visit the matter if standards of safety appear to be declining.”

- ends -

Note to editors
In the past 2 years, 9 drivers (3% of the total number of licensed drivers) have appeared before the Licensing & Appeals Panel for having accrued 7 or more DVLA points.


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Great Election Swindle - Update

Further to my last post about the Tory administration's decision to refer a Labour motion to cabinet, it was reported in yesterday's Lynn News that Cllr Daubney referred the matter to cabinet because he "did not believe debating a position the authority already holds was necessary".

I couldn't agree more on the sentiment but would question the execution, surely the best way to curtail such a debate would have been through a simple agreement with the motion to re-affirm the authority's position, given the new make up of the council. Referring the matter to cabinet just gives the opportunity for further debate and it will likely have to come back to full council for a vote in any case.

Looks like an ill-conceived attempt at saving face to the casual observer.

I expect the cabinet meeting will be well attended - I shall certainly be making my best efforts to attend.


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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Great Local Election Swindle?

After an election in which all parties seemed to be in agreement that the proposed incinerator development at Saddlebow the first cracks in the Tory administration's commitment to opposition began to appear on Thursday after they were given the opportunity to re-affirm their opposition to the proposal and took the option to discuss the matter further at Cabinet level.

The opportunity came in the form of a motion put forward by Labour Councillor Charles Joyce at Thursday's Full Council Meeting:

"This Council welcomes its predecessor's decision to oppose an incinerator. This Council wishes to reaffirm its opposition to an incinerator."

Surely, there is nothing contentious in this motion to require a period of reflection and discussion at cabinet level? In itself, it does not even mention the location of the incinerator - the subject of some contention at the pre-election council meeting where another Labour Councillor, Margaret Wilkinson suggested an amendment  to the Council's opposition to "the construction of a Municipal Mass Burn Incinerator at Saddlebow, King’s Lynn." by expanding this to the whole of West Norfolk.

It struck me before the election that the previous Tory administration, which enjoyed a far larger majority than it does now, seemingly hopped on the anti-incinerator sentiment as soon as the results of the referendum were published but I never thought for one moment that they would begin to let their true colours shine through so soon after the elections (elections in which they fared better than should have been expected, particularly with some of the 'Twin-hatters' who failed to show at County Council meetings discussing the incinerator managing to keep their seats) and at a time when the planning application is out for public consultation.

Only time will tell whether the Tory Cabinet will eventually agree with the motion being put forward by the Labour Group; its just a shame that if their pre-election stance on the incinerator is not carried forward, the electorate will have to wait a further 4 years to let them know what they think. If the Tories believe the people can forget their election promises after just 2 months, they will surely be confident that it will be no problem after 4 years.

Note: I was not able to attend this Full Council Meeting because of a long-standing pre-election commitment.