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.

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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