Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 19, 2018

Cllr Currie Questions Elected Member Council Tax Arrears

Aughton & Downholland Cllr Currie  has tweeted “West Lancs is one of the worst boroughs in the country for cllrs paying council tax late or being in arrears. What does everyone think: is it right that councillors who are in arrears (effectively in debt to the tax payer) can still claim allowances? Please vote and retweet”. We can but wonder why this “vote” doesn’t include another question “Is it right for Currie’s friend Cllr Moon to receive two allowances for part-time attendance in two boroughs?”  

Perhaps Cllr Currie should know without asking if it is right for councillors in arrears with their own council tax to still claim allowances? Currie receives the same member bumph they all receive. But why ask the public? He should have asked the Borough Solicitor, as I did, about voting on the budget, and he would have received the reply I did, which did not relate to members still claiming allowances because that is not an issue in such cases, presumably because it is despite ALL of the members’ income including allowances that a personal financial difficulty could or did arise. 

The Solicitor wrote “The relevant requirements of the legislation can be summarised as follows. Where members of a local authority have a sum falling due in respect of Council Tax (or Community Charge), which has become payable and has remained unpaid for at least two months, then that member is required to disclose that fact to the relevant meeting and is prevented from voting on any question in respect of the matter. This concerns specific categories of matters, and not all matters, the relevant ones are:–1 any calculation of Council Tax liability; 2. any recommendation, resolution or other decision which might affect the making of any such calculation; or 3. the excise of any function of like affect relating to Community Charge.

“Item 3 is included to fully reflect the statute – but is unlikely in practice to be relevant. As you will see this does not remove the right to speak at such meetings. Where relevant facts are established for breaching requirements then a “summary only” offence may be established and a level 3 fine (maximum of £1000) may be imposed.

“Relevant advice and reminders are provided to members in regard to the legislative requirements. It is a matter for the relevant member to take action in accordance with the legislation having regard to their own circumstances. The terms of the legislation set out when a member cannot vote (see above) which addresses the questions you have raised, i.e. when the bar to voting would apply and when it would end”.

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 19, 2018

Returning Officer Fees, A Legitimised Waste Of Public Money?

We are concerned about waste of public money. We see high salaries for senior officers. We see double pay for days of election work without any lessening of the usual bread and butter responsibility and work undertaken by the highest paid senior officer even despite her being an election acting returning officer. Why? Most of it is delegated.

It has long been a tradition that the government allows the most senior council officer to be an acting returning officer. Under section 29(3) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (c.2) a returning officer may recover their charges for services and expenses, provided they were necessarily rendered or incurred for the efficient and effective conduct of the parliamentary election and the total does not exceed the overall maximum recoverable amount specified by the Minister in an order. Section 29(3A) enables the Minister to specify by order a maximum recoverable amount for particular services or expenses.

Articles 3, 4(1) and 5(1) and the Schedule specify the maximum amounts recoverable by returning officers when a parliamentary election is a standalone poll. The table in the Schedule lists by constituency the maximum recoverable amount for specified services, the maximum recoverable amount for specified expenses, and the overall maximum recoverable amount.

For 2017 the most recent published fees and costs for elections in West Lancashire confirm a) the Returning Officer £3,427 b) the maximum recoverable amount for specified expenses, £161,752 c) the overall maximum recoverable amount (a+b) £165,179. 

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 18, 2018

Are The Pothole Patchers Incompetent?

Has anyone seen a pothole patcher at work? It seems not to be a highly skilled job, as this recent picture  reveals the recent Scarth Hill Lane pothole patch empty again, road debris scattered around, and an additional yellow cone added to the “street scene” as it is called on the grass verge.

Elsewhere, the Granville Park/Delph Lane pothole is filled in , but the gulley is still filled with road debris , and further down what is believed to be another gulley is buried under mounds of leaves leaving the probability of flooding during heavy rain. Perhaps this  is how not to do it?

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 17, 2018

I’m A British Deplorable

Did you read about Frau Merkel saying Germany ‘deplores’ Brexit? I bet she does, as she reflects on the German balance of trade that gives her a £26billion surplus from the UK, now at risk .

Chancellor Angela Merkel made a dig at Brexit during a press conference with Britain’s Theresa May in Berlin, saying she “deplores” it. “We basically have not changed our stance on Britain leaving the European Union,” she told the assembled journalists. “In fact, we deplore it”. Frau Merkel added, however, that she wanted to establish a “constructive position” in the Brexit negotiations, “because we want to have as close as possible partnership with Britain after they have left the European Union. Both economically and politically”.

The leaders of the EU’s national governments have begun to panic about the consequences if Britain walks away from the negotiations, abandons its plans for a so-called ‘transition’ period, and makes a clean Brexit, depriving the bloc of a British financial settlement and leaving it insolvent.

For example, a proposed ‘punishment clause’ proposed by the European Commission which would have allowed the EU to impose sanctions and trade restrictions on the United Kingdom if Brussels decided it had broken the terms of the ‘transition’ agreement has been dropped, after leading Brexiteers such as Jacob Rees-Mogg came out and said Britain would not “roll over”.

While Central European EU members such as Poland and Hungary have been the most pragmatic is thought they are concerned about establishing a constructive relationship with Britain, recognising Britain’s economic importance as the EU’s number one export market, Western countries like Germany are being brought round by the dawning realisation of the black hole which Brexit will leave in the bloc’s finances, and which they will be expected to make up.

No problem, just ask Frau Merkel to sort it, we “British Deplorables” are not willing to.

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 16, 2018

“Pendexit” Is Mooted For Pendle Council

“It’s Goodbye From Us, Says Pendle Borough Council” as its borough councillors have threatened to break from Lancashire County Council because the authority “thinks the world doesn’t extend” to their area. Pendle Borough Council  states “We have 49 Councillors as follows: 23 Conservative; 15 Labour; 9 Liberal Democrats; 1 British National Party; 1 Independent. Currently we have a shared executive between Labour and the Liberal Democrats”. It has a population of 90,111. Council tax for Band D is £1,698.07.

Its Corporate Director is the Council’s Returning Officer for elections for which a payment of £2,800 per annum is made. This is included in the post-holder’s salary of £108,117 and indicates double funding for the post and days of election work, as in West Lancashire and other authorities. Senior Officer “Benefits in Kind” are a contribution towards a leased car based on 10% of the post holder’s salary. Elected members receive £3,000 basic, and the Leader receives an additional £4,000 while executive members and some committee chairs receive an additional £1,200.

Conservatives want Pendle Borough Council to become a unitary authority, giving it added education, transport and social care powers. Supporting the plan, Labour’s Mohammed Iqbal said Lancashire County Council think the area “is on another planet”. But County council deputy leader Albert Atkinson said the idea was “rubbish”.

Pendle Borough Council currently organises services such as bins, recycling, parks, tourism and burials. It collects council tax, but only keeps a portion and hands the rest to Lancashire County Council. Recognising the size of the borough, councillors propose that as a unitary authority, they would partner with another Lancashire or North Yorkshire council to provide some services.

Pendle’s deputy Conservative leader Paul White said he was “hopeful the government will allow us to do it. Obviously we would have to present a case to the secretary of state, [but] there is clearly a need for local government reform in Lancashire – we have a fragmented system at the moment.” He added that he was “hopeful the government will see it as a positive step”, particularly if they were able to show they could “make savings without having to cut front-line services”.

Mr Iqbal said the move was “a warning shot across their bows”, because Pendle was “at breaking point” over cuts made by the county council. “Unless there are drastic changes, we will not be the only one lining up to say ‘It’s goodbye from us’,” he added.

Dismissing the idea, LCC Atkinson said it would “cost a fortune as Pendle is just too small”. Quite frankly, I would be very surprised if the government give it much credence” he said. On the other hand, some might say “Pendexit, here we come!”

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 16, 2018

Your Bus, If You Have One, Use It Or Lose It?

Or, under the LCC administration, you could have cause for optimism, they say! We West Lancastrians have heard it all before, as their party colleagues invented local social exclusion in 2011. Seven years have not dulled the memories of the despicable treatment of elderly and disabled people.

Who can forget this minuted response to the savage dismissal of discretionary options to the cancellation of the travel concession “Midstream  said community transport was the only suitable, affordable option for their members. If there were no concessionary fares from Dial-a-ride, it would have a devastating effect on individuals, whose only other option would be taxis, which are unaffordable. It would also have a devastating effect on Midstream”.

And how did Dial-A-Ride  react? “West Lancashire Dial-a-Ride said that removing them from concessionary arrangements would be very serious. Dial-a-Ride is used by 1,000+ residents who cannot access public transport and do not use a car. 97% of journeys are provided under the scheme (i.e. free or 50p) and without the concession, a significant number of residents would be unable to pay the fares. Dial-a-Ride would not be able to absorb the loss of revenue and the service would terminate; without inclusion in the NowCard scheme it would be unable to provide any services”.

So, being disabled and given a NowCard Bus Pass in 2011, there was barely a single bus running anywhere in West Lancashire that could take on board a wheelchair, and the WLBC social exclusion policy came into being. To deliver that policy of social exclusion they had ignored their own Equality Impact Assessment that stated “8.1 The Council has completed an EIA, which is attached as Appendix D to this Report. The EIA indicates that, were the discretionary elements currently offered to eligible residents not available in the future, there would be a differential adverse impact on elderly and disabled people within the Borough”. You might ask why WLBC ignored that phrase “there would be” leaving no doubt as to an “adverse impact on elderly and disabled people”. It was because that’s who they were and that’s what they did!

The result? “Resolved: That the Council cease all involvement in the area of travel concessions on the basis of the loss of funding for this function, the transfer of statutory responsibility to LCC and the wider impact of the challenging financial position the Council faces over the next few years, on the local community”.

The Lancashire Evening Post  “has highlighted an investigation into the nation’s shrinking bus services, the impact of budget cuts, and less funding to prop up non-profitable routes. Lancashire County Council’s lead for highways and transport Cllr Andrew Snowden said there should be a cause for optimism, however, with a number of services restored in December that will contribute to next year’s figures. Meanwhile, representatives have warned residents in rural areas whose services are under threat to “use it or lose it”, amid fears the falling levels of service will leave residents isolated. The figures reflect how funds for bus support services were cut from around £7m by Labour-run County Hall for 2016/17. The Conservative administration, voted in last year, has since upped the available budget from £2m to £3m. Cllr Snowden said “I’m confident the figures (of miles covered) will start to increase, testament to our election pledge that we have delivered on.

“It’s a big priority for this administration” said Cllr Snowden . I live in a rural area myself and I know how reliant communities can be on services, it may not be commercially viable because of the numbers using it or because of the distance the vehicle needs to travel, but it is still vitally important. “We are focused on tackling social isolation, improving connectivity and delivering value for money.” He added that County Hall continued to work alongside commercial providers to identify areas that have the most need for services. He said “We’re continuing discussions with bus operators in some areas of the county where we think value for money can best be achieved by extending an existing commercial service and hope to deliver a number of further improvements to the network.

“The providers are grateful we’ve put this money back in, they want to work with us to provide the best coverage.” The investigation, using Department for Transport information, found buses remain the most popular form of public transport. The total miles covered by both commercial and subsidised services in Lancashire has fallen by 17.6 per cent in the last four years. Subsidised services – those which require financial help from the local transport authority because they are not commercially viable – account for the vast majority of the 4.5m miles that have disappeared in the last four years, contributing 4.13m. In terms of passenger journeys, Lancashire has seen a decrease per head of population by 13 per cent since 2013, with the number of journeys reduced from 51.6m to 45.5m”.

The loss of decent transport has paled into insignificance by comparison with the flooding situation. It’s shameful, but not unexpected. In this borough, and this county, we have communities that flood, with raw sewage entering streets, gardens, and homes. And the people who complain are castigated as vexatious by the authorities. Well, if residents are habitually dealing with the effects of this filth in their homes surely senior and responsible management level officers can expect habitual and persistent complaints? Ah, they claim, complaints adversely affect our ability to do our job. One local authority not too far away has “a list of 15 matters that could cause offence to officers, and committing 2 of these criteria is vexatious. In such incidences, there may be a need to report this behaviour to the police”. That’s our “us and them” in a nutshell, “them management” enjoying salary packages of from £66,367 to £124,186 according to the last accounts, enough to sooth the rough days?

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 15, 2018

Brexit Voting Age Hysteria?

Every week brings another public claim, that “Older people have decided for younger people” for Brexit. And so it is again, as Stephen Henders of Barton writes to the Champion  that young people who will be most affected by Brexit didn’t have a say. Well, isn’t it lucky for these young adults that Brexit isn’t a matter of life or death for this country? But 100 years ago, when it was life or death military service that determined the future of this country, the voting age was 21.

Men in military service who turned 19 during the Great War, the First World War, were entitled to vote in 1918 irrespective of their age as part of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which also allowed some women over the age of 30 to vote. And the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 brought the voting age for women down to 21. It took us beyond the second world war before voting under that age of 21 was introduced, 1970 in the UK for votes at 18.

As I approach my 80th year, I hold no grudges that age deprived me of voting earlier than I did. 59 years of voting, regardless of the issues, enabled me to claim I was living in a democracy. Why should some of todays 23 and 24 year olds quoted in Mr Henders’ letter feel they have less democracy? At no time, so far as I can recall, has my continuous and unbroken payment of taxes for 63 years changed my voting rights.

Where we, many of us, DO differ is our belief that we voted for a “Common Market”. But lied to by Edward Heath we were delivered into a potential Federal EU, dominated by a former 18 year term prime minister of Luxembourg whose record on tax evasion even exceeds that of Al Capone .

Mr Henders implies that young people should be given the vote at 16 to take back control of their future. Votes at 16 wouldn’t do that, it would merely add another group to a democracy that controls the present and future of all of us by majority.

Another letter raises the concerns of Mr Burgess about the demand of the Police and Crime Commissioner for another 5% increase in the police precept. It’s now an annual event. Mr Burgess hasn’t “clapped eyes on a bobby for three years” and now he wants the PCC post to be scrapped and the money saved and used on real policing that the public pay for. He also wants councillors to take a pay cut of 15%, at both LCC and WLBC.

Mr Burgess is clearly unhappy with what we all might conclude, that austerity from central government forces has increased taxation while lowering services at local level. Not to mention the appearance of so many cobble stones on our roads as asphalt is gradually eroded. Burscough has Victorian sewage, at this rate the whole borough will soon have cobbled streets back again and all in the country with the fifth largest economy in the world. Where has it all gone wrong?

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 14, 2018

Tantrums At County Hall

Should the public, the taxpayers, of Lancashire be kept in ignorance of the salary of a senior manager? If you are the Tory leader, then yes, but if you are a Labour leader, then no? And should the public, the taxpayers of WLBC, be refused information that’s claimed to be exempt even under  Freedom of Information Act requests?

Burscough Flood Group, renowned for their unceasing fight against Victorian standards of sewage and drainage in their community and having asked for information about flooding and been declared vexatious by the council have had to request that Rosie Cooper MP  takes up the issue. She has been asked “Please may Burscough Flood Group have your offices help getting hold of the following information from WLBC through Freedom Of Information legislation?: 1. Copies of all legal and non-agreements and accommodations between WLBC and United Utilities made since 2005 concerning the local plans/local development frameworks. This would include the “partnership text” referenced in section 4.17 of West Lancashire Borough Council Infrastructure Delivery Plan Update 2016/17 (Part 1). 2. Copies of all communications, notes taken, meeting agendas and minutes meetings between UU and WLBC since January 2013 concerning flooding in Burscough and the local plans/local development frameworks (please don’t supply anything already supplied in 1 above). 3. Copies of all communications, notes taken, meeting agendas and minutes of meetings between WLBC and the environment agency concerning surface water flooding (including sewers) and water management in Burscough and its outlying areas of New Lane Crabtree Lane and Martin Mere. This would include the “Information from the environment agency” for West Lancashire Borough Council Infrastructure Delivery Plan Update 2016/17 (Part 1) and referenced in section 4.17 of it”. We in every community should all support BFG in this request, as we might be next to ask it. 

As for the issue of the salary, the Blackpool Gazette has reported that “A County Hall  row over leaked information on top salaries has escalated after leaders of the two biggest political parties lodged complaints about each other. The clash over just what and what is not in the public interest erupted after the opposition Labour group revealed Lancashire County Council’s new Interim Director of Children’s Services John Readman will be paid £1,125 a day.

“Outraged council leader Cllr Driver complained that Labour had breached the Code of Conduct for elected members. A council officer is now investigating to see whether a formal investigation should be launched. At last week’s council meeting Cllr Driver publicly accused Labour leader Cllr Azhar Ali and other Labour councillors of leaking confidential information. In turn Cllr Ali has now complained to the council’s Chief Executive about Cllr Driver’s comments. Meanwhile Deputy Labour group leader Cllr John Fillis admitted releasing the information about John Readman’s salary and accused Cllr Driver of trying to gag Labour over issues in the public interest.

“Cllr Fillis said “I recognise that this may result in disciplinary action against myself which I accept. I believe that the people of Lancashire have a right to know what this Conservative council is spending their money on. Especially now they have increased council tax by six per cent while cutting vital services. It does not surprise me that the leader of the council is attempting to gag those who would expose the Conservatives’ incompetence.”

“Cllr Driver said “They’ve been councillors long enough to know that it’s a breach of the councillors’ code of conduct if you leak information that has been classified as confidential. There can be no excuse. There is no doubt at all that the information is deemed in law to be confidential”. He said he could not reveal the salary but said “We are having to pay the market rate”. Cllr Driver added “The actual cost over the period of this interim directorship would be a fraction more than we would have paid if we had made the full appointment for the period. Labour are counting the gross costs. They are not taking account of the fact we would have had to pay a director anyway”. He said that despite interviewing for the post no suitable permanent candidate had been identified.

Cllr Ali challenged Cllr Driver to produce evidence of him or other councillors leaking information and said “There’s a difference between information marked confidential and reports or comments about issues. I’ve asked the Chief Executive to investigate it under the code of conduct”. Isn’t this the same issue that confronts Burscough Flood Group?

On the basis that Cllr Fillis  found it necessary to say “I believe that the people of Lancashire have a right to know what this Conservative council is spending their money on” would he also agree that the people of West Lancashire should know what the Labour WLBC keeps secret, and still does by not recording minutes of meetings, in respect of the Serco deal to take over the Beacon Park Golf Course and its “commercial in confidence” category that has led to the perceived landfill scandal there? Probably!

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 13, 2018

Another Shop Lost In Aughton?

As we suggested at the end of January, as Aughton lost its Spar shop, another small shop future was in doubt. Now that loss seems to have come about. The Aughton News shop at Parrs Lane/Long Lane has its steel shutters down  and a closure notice on the window . What does this mean for local elderly and disabled residents who by necessity relied on this shop for newspapers and some of their staple requirements? Dependency on a bus? They’ll be lucky!

Posted by: westlancashirerecord | February 13, 2018

Cone Crazy?

Yesterday the Independent County Councillor for West Lancashire (East) Paul Greenall reported on a pothole in his bailiwick and he tweeted “Spotted this tonight at the junction of Scarth Hill Lane and New Lane in Aughton. I’ve referred it to @LancashireCC as I believe it’s dangerous”. It’s shown here 

As it happened I was passing today and noted the cone on the grass verge while the road surface at the corner itself was flooded . I was informed locally that LCC attended the pothole and did some filling work. If that was the case why was the cone which I understand can cost circa £7 each left at the scene rather than be recycled to another pothole? And what was the cost of a repair that immediately flooded again?

Elsewhere in Aughton things are no better, as we noted a cone in a dangerous place on Parrs Lane . Is this a site that needs immediate repair rather than a cone that causes a vehicular change of direction just after a busy and dangerous bend possibly into oncoming traffic?

The junction of Whalley Drive with Town Green Lane was at its worst today as floods covered the pavement  and part of the road . Pedestrians needed to avoid the area and cross the road leading them into a possible traffic hazard

Also retaining its pothole but with a new cone was Bold Lane , at yet another dangerous bend on a bus route too. But no cone yet on the Granville Park pothole exposing the granite sets that formed the old road surface at its Delph Lane point.

The company manufacturing cones, Swintex Ltd, now Melba Swintex, is Bury based and has been a private company with one shareholder who must have been laughing all the way to the bank. The company’s turnover has risen from £12.6m in 2016 to £16m in 2017, with profits in the same period almost doubling to over £2.1m. In this time employment has increased to 161 employees on-site. Surely growth is bound to continue while LCC is buying cones?

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