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, March 2, 2014

Weekly Blog 17th - 23rd February:

No Weekly blog for the week commencing 10th February as there was not a great deal happening which gave me the opportunity to concentrate on the day job before a couple of pretty intensive weeks in terms of Council work as meetings are ramped up ahead of the Full Council Meeting at the end of the month.

Monday
Extra Meeting of the Labour Group 

The Labour Group held an extra meeting to discuss alternative budget proposals to be put forward at the Council's budget setting meeting on 27th February.

It was agreed that a proposal to re-introduce a pest control service would be suggested as an amendment, to be funded from part of a budget that has been set aside for 'Car Parking Promotions'. The Car Parking Promotions budget enables the Borough Council to run several different types of promotion throughout the year; in the last year there have been promotions such as free parking on a Wednesday during school holidays, Park for £1 from 3pm to midnight on Tuesdays etc. The idea is that the promotion will draw shoppers into the town centre to boost the town centre economy. Following a series of questions at Full Council and direct to Council Officers, it has become apparent that there is no qualitative or quantitative evidence to show whether the promotions have had the desired effect or not. Our proposal would use half of the £200,000 budget to provide a limited pest control service (dealing just with rats and mice), free to Borough residents (but with an abuse of service charge for 'repeat offenders'). The remainder of the budget would be left to use for car parking promotions over the next year.

Friday
Licensing Appeals Board

An uncomfortable morning as I sat on a 3 person Licensing and Appeals Board which was asked to decide whether a taxi driver's combined hackney carriage and private hire licence should be revoked. 

I will not go in to too much detail here but an appeals board is asked to judge whether they are satisfied that someone is a 'fit and proper' person to hold such a licence. There is no judicially approved test to make that judgement so we are asked to consider the following statement:
‘Would you (as a member of the Licensing & Appeals Board charged with the ability to authorise a combined driver’s licence) allow your son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or father, grandson or grand-daughter or any other person for whom you care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone?’ 

For me, this issue is linked back to one of the first meetings I attended as a Councillor and subsequent press release as the complaint that gave rise to the appeals board hearing might have been avoided if the rules around granting of licences were a little more rigorous. 


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekly Blog: 3rd - 9th February

Wednesday
North West Norfolk CLP AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the North West Norfolk Constutuency Labour Party was held at the community centre in South Lynn, very close to home for me.

We heard an interesting presentation from Chris Lindley of Churches Together about the effects of changes to the welfare system to people of King's Lynn & West Norfolk. Some interesting statistics about the use of food banks, homelessness and sanctions being imposed on benefit claimants by the Job Centre for seemingly unfair, often trivial reasons. Examples would be the withdrawal of benefit payments for 1 month because a claimant did not make an appointment when their bus had been cancelled, appointments being made deliberately early so as to prevent claimants from rural localities reaching town due to lack of public transport and in one instance, for failing to keep an appointment with a named advisor because that advisor was on sick leave at the time of the appointment (which the claimant turned up for and was see. By another advisor)

Thursday
Labour Group meeting with Finance Team

A delegation of Labour Group Councillors met with senior members of the Council's finance team to look at areas of the proposed budget for next year that could be changed and put forward by the  labour group as an alternative or as amendments at the Council's budget setting meeting.

It is thought that increasing Council tax would not be a popular move so it is difficult to find areas of the budget that could be changed to accommodate any alternative ideas as the Council's budget does not run at a surplus at the moment. Nonetheless, there are some areas of non-essential expenditure that could be looked at to suggest providing some alternatives that might be of more use to a greater number of people in the borough.

Much of the discussion centers around the council tax support scheme which will see many claimants of council tax benefit have to pay 25% of their council tax bill from April onwards. The Labour Group did not vote for this scheme at January's full council meeting but as it was voted through by the administration it is not possible to change this year's scheme, even if money were found in the budget. It would cost a relatively small amount (between £100k -£200k) for the Borough to remove this requirement for council tax claimants but as Council Tax is divided up between other agencies (County Council & Police Authority) it would have an impact on their income too - for the County Council, to the tune of around £1m, at a time when County services are being stripped bare.

Notwithstanding this, it appears that other authorities in the county, notably Great Yarmouth and Norwich have managed to keep their claimant contribution to less than 10% in their schemes which will also have had a significant impact on the County Council's budget.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Weekly Blog: 27th Jan - 2nd Feb

Tuesday

Cabinet Scrutiny Committee
I attended Cabinet Scrutiny Committee under Standing Order 34, a rule in the Council's Constitution that allows any member to attend any meeting and ask questions having previously notified the Chair of their intention to speak. I wanted to ask the portfolio holder (Cllr Alistair Beales)   and lead officer more questions about the proposed link road.

I asked questions about the impact of failing to secure further funding from LEPs, or obtaining planning permission, given that it will cost in excess of £300k to make the scheme 'shovel ready'. The Portfolio Holder explained that there was risk involved in this expenditure but that if successful the proposed housing developments would bring in capital receipts for the Borough Council. 

The proposed housing developments are much needed in the area and along with houses for sale should include social and affordable housing. I expressed concern that a cabinet report from October 2012 mentions that the council was seeking to go against its own policy by putting all of the social housing in a concentrated area off Columbia Way, and that this would not need the access road to open up the development land, as Cllr Beales had said that the additional social housing would be one of the benefits of the link road in an earlier answer. The Project Officer confirmed that the current proposal for housing developments retained the 'pepper-potting' model where the social and affordable housing required by policy (around 15% of any good sized development) is interspersed with the saleable properties.

Overall, the proposal will enable the opening up of development land which might otherwise remain unused at a time when there is a real housing need across West Norfolk and brings other benefits in terms of traffic and air quality management to the town centre and Gaywood so I am broadly supportive as long as the grant funding is forthcoming and social housing will be provided as promised.

Thursday

Full Council

At late notice before this month's Full Council meeting, I was asked to attend a work related meeting in London which prevented me from attending the Council meeting. Normally, I would not let such late changes to work schedules affect my attendance at council meetings, especially knowing that important issues such as council tax support were due to be debated but this came at a time when my organisation is making the first steps toward merging with a simulate organisation in London and it was important that I was involved in this process. 

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Weekly Blog: 20th-26th January

A relatively quiet week this week, perhaps the calm before the storm as next week sees both Cabinet Scrutiny Committee and Full Council. Unusually, because of scheduled Council meetings the following Monday, the Labour Group meeting was brought forward to Thursday.

Thursday

Labour Group Meeting. Discussions around what questions Group members will ask portfolio holders throws up some interesting questions about a recent tribunal that has ruled that someone who has been living in the same property since 1996, and always claimed housing benefit for that period, should be exempt from paying the bedroom tax. Is the administration aware and does it know the scale of financial implication for the Council. Also, some discussion about the Council Tax Support Scheme which had been deferred from last year and which will see some claimants having to pay sizeable chunks of Council Tax that was previously covered by Council Tax Benefit. This at a time when families are being hit hard by the bedroom tax, universal credit etc. means more misery for those claiming benefits, only in this case it is something the Council has some control over - i.e. not a Central Government edict. It is the Tory administration's choice to apply this charge to our most vulnerable residents.

Sunday

Holocaust Memorial Service
I had been due to attend this service as I am very keen to show support for this cause whenever I can - it is important that people are aware of the horrors of the holocaust to guard against a repeat in future - such events can only serve to keep the issue in the public conscience as the number of survivors and others who experienced the time period dwindles. Unfortunately, on this occasion, my 2 year old son was none too well and this prevented me from attending.


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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Weekly Blog: 13-19 January

First, a note about the timing of this blog post. It will be necessary, at times, to delay publication of a blog post where elements of it refer to meetings and questions that will not be attended or answered during that week - the example here being my intention to attend Cabinet Scrutiny Committee to ask questions on the link road proposal - earlier publication might prejudice others' views in advance of that meeting.

Monday


News emerging today that Material Works, the company contracted by BCKLWN to provide an alternative to incineration and landfill for 'black bag waste', have secured £100m of investment to bring the proposed facility in West Norfolk a step closer. Coupled with the news that the Secretary of State has delayed the decision on the incinerator, which had been expected to be announced by Wednesday, this seems to be a positive step for all those against the incinerator.

See Chris Bishop's EDP article for more info.

Wednesday

Discussions with the Chair of the Council's Cabinet Scrutiny Committee regarding the proposed link road from Edward Benefer Way to LynnSport. Bringing this item to Cabinet Scrutiny will provide another opportunity to ensure that this is a use of public money that will benefit the Borough Council and its residents, not just the profiteering developers who you would normally expect to contribute to the infrastructure required for any given development.



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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Weekly Blog, January 6th - 12th

Having made a resolution to try to blog more regularly this year, I have decided to try something I have seen done to great effect by a few other bloggers, namely a 'Weekly Blog'.

Monday
The week should have started with attendance at the South & West Lynn Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel (SNAP) but I was not available for this meeting and had previously resigned as Vice-Chair following the petty political gamesmanship demonstrated by the Council's administration at the last full council of 2013. I have included at the end of this post my speech at that meeting to help explain why I took the unusual step of resigning my outside body appointments. I will of course, still be regularly attending to hear the concerns of residents and will still be working with the neighbourhood teams for the benefit of the community.

Thursday
The second meeting of the King's Lynn Area Consultative Committee (KLACC) - a committee made up of Kings Lynn town councillors (in lieu of a Town or Parish Councils).

I had asked for an urgent item to be discussed at this meeting as I had discovered that a community group had submitted an application for the football ground at The Walks to be listed as an Asset of Community Value. This means that any future sale would have to be put on hold and the community group consulted about the potential sale. This is an important asset for the whole of King's Lynn and one that is currently owned by the Council so I felt it was important that the decision was given some consideration by a wider group than the standard policy requires.

The committee was addressed by the deputy chief executive who explained the process and confirmed that as the community group (The Blue and Gold Trust) had been validated as a qualifying community group and that the guidance around the process was fairly rigid, it was very likely that this application would be accepted and 'The Walks' entered on to the register.

The Committee also considered a report about a proposed link road between Edward Benefer Way and LynnSport, eventually recommending that the proposal be worked up and planning permission applied for. I am slightly concerned about this proposal as the justification for this expenditure is that the road is required to open up development land and it would be unlikely to obtain the required level of Community Infrastructure Levy from any developers interested in developing that land. In my view, this is nothing more than using public money to increase the profitability of private developers and would rather see other avenues, that do not require such heavy investment in infrastructure, explored to meet the area's very real housing needs.

The final item for discussion was 'Special Expenses' - this is the Town equivalent of a Parish 'Precept' on the Council Tax Bill. There was a presentation on what the Special Expenses cover - things like street lighting, allotments, parks and recreation areas etc. and an expressed
Intention to keep this as a live issue so that the Committee might have a realistic input in to how this money is raised and spent from 2015/16 (it being too late in the planning process to make any changes for this year).

The KLACC is a new initiative that has been fought for by King's Lynn councillors to ensure that there is some form of input to decisions about King's Lynn by elected representatives for the area. It is a public forum and it was encouraging that there were a couple of public attendees at this meeting.

Speech to Full Council, 28th November 2013 - Changes to Outside Bodies 


Thank you Madam Mayor

I do appreciate the opportunity to debate this motion, I believe this is only the third time since I was elected in 2011 that a motion has been debated and looking back at the minutes of previous council meetings it becomes clear that the key to having a motion debated in full council is to have it proposed by Cllr Daubney.

In terms of the content of this particular motion, I am minded to vote against it as I believe it represents nothing more than a tantrum on behalf of the ruling group. The positions being considered are not ‘political’ positions, they are not affected by the same proportionality rules that the council’s panels and committees, for example, are and, indeed, some of the incumbents have been appointed to these outside bodies on the basis of being able to lend skills, expertise and knowledge to those outside bodies – are we to believe that such qualities have now been lost purely because the incumbent no longer pays a subscription to the Conservative group?


If the ruling group is intent on controlling all of the appointments to outside bodies in this way then I for one will have to give serious consideration to my membership of outside bodies on behalf of this council. 

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