More Tax, More Money, Poorer Service

Hertfordshire Lib Dems learned today that the projected underspend at County Hall this financial year has topped £21m. Just £4.2m of this is needed to carry into next financial year, to finish off delayed projects.

Conservative-led County Hall still intend putting £7.7m into topping up reserves, and have now suggested paying off further debt with the extra £9.1m windfall, despite having the 2nd lowest debt of any comparable UK local authority.

This is all despite the Conservative Administration recently deciding to raise Council Tax, piling misery onto hard-pushed families, to raise just £4m extra.

Paul Zukowskyj, Lib Dem spokesperson on Resources commented “We suggested, as we have done so many times before, that squirreling money away in the bank while our roads start to resemble the lunar surface isn’t what residents want. They want roads and pavements and other services that are fit for purpose.

“The Tories at County Hall simply can’t see that they’re fiddling while roads break.”

What happened about the Clarence Park gate?

This is a brief summary of the proceedings last night, subject to formal minutes being issued:
1) Reject proposal to close the gate
2) Sub group consisting of Robert Donald (CNC Chair), ward councillors Chris White, Gerard McHale and Sheila Burton plus 3 reps from Clarence Park Residents’ Association to be set up to look at design and built of it to report back with a conclusion to the June CNC meeting.
3) There was a view that the road is not very safe at this point and that something should be done on a pedestrian crossing (Chris had already flagged this up again with the County Council).
4) The works need to be as cost effective and as aesthetically pleasing as possible

Court backs Conservatives over Helioslough application

“With the news that St Albans Council has lost its court case against Eric Pickles’s decision to approve the Park Street lorry terminal, it really has been Friday 13th for local residents,” said Sandy Walkington, Liberal Democrat candidate for St Albans. “All the judge could do was determine whether the Conservative Secretary of State had exercised his powers lawfully and sadly it seems that Mr Pickles did.

“With one stroke of the pen, Mr Pickles stabbed St Albans in the front, sides and back.

“Although the immediate impact if the scheme now goes ahead will be on the residents of Park Street, south St Albans and the villages, the ripples will go far wider,” Sandy said. “The setting of the city and Abbey will be irrevocably damaged. Increased traffic congestion will affect the far wider highway network and impact on the attractiveness of our community to other businesses and organisations. And there will be massive disruption to rail commuters.

“I will be working with county councillor colleagues to press the Conservative leadership of Hertfordshire County Council not to be Eric Pickles’s puppet and not sell its part of the land unless it is forced to do so by compulsory purchase. And we will also need to see what mitigation might be possible.

“It is truly depressing news. I am so desperately sorry that after all the hard work of residents, STRiFE, the council and politicians of all parties it should have come to this,” Sandy concluded.


Lib Dems call for improved maintenance inspections in council owned housing

The Lib Dems have called for an improvement in the maintenance regime in council owned or managed property after a spate of leakage problems across the estate.

Chris White, speaking after Wednesday’s council meeting where he asked a question specifically about Thirlestane, in Clarence Ward said: ‘I am coming across too many residents with drainage or flooding problems – and the council itself has admitted that there were 30 call outs in the past 12 months.

‘There is also a major problem with communications with elected councillors. Under the Liberal Democrat administration, councillors would visit the various council owned blocks with council officials and talk to local residents. This has now been abandoned and we often don’t find out how bad things are until we have knocked on doors ourselves – something I have recently done in Thirlestane.’

Chris welcomed oral assurances from the administration that communications would be looked at.

He also welcomed the fact that the council is increasing its maintenance inspections which in the latest survey had covered less that 20% of the council’s housing stock.

Time for St Albans council to get act together on street cleaning

Liberal Democrats are calling on the Conservative controlled District Council to improve the standard of street cleaning in the District.

“Last week I asked the Conservative administration to identify measures to improve the street cleaning in the city. However, I was shocked to be told that they could see no issue with the service currently being provided,” commented Councillor Gerard McHale.

“It is clear from speaking to residents across the district that this is clearly not the case, and that parked cars, reductions of frequency and a lack of adequate notification are reducing the effectiveness of street cleaning. Continue reading

County’s emails fail anxious parents

Angry parents are demanding to know why the vital Internet services telling them whether their children had gained their chosen secondary school failed for most of Monday. It was only in the late afternoon following the intervention of Lib Dem County Councillor Chris White that the problem was spotted and the service established.

Opposition Spokesperson Mark Watkin commented “This is unacceptable. The County Council should have had back-up services ready to meet this sort of emergency. Being allocated the school of your choice is second only to learning the results of the state’s exams in the significance it can make to a child’s life. I expect the Admissions Team to publish an apology on the County’s website and in future to take the necessary steps to ensure that this never happens again.”

But one part of Herts CC admits the bus cuts are a problem….

County council chiefs have been caught out on the real impact of the proposed bus cuts in one of their own policy papers.
A paper submitted by council officers to the Adult Care Panel stated, “HCC’s recent consultation on reducing bus services will have an impact on older people who are dependent on public transport accessing services, particularly in areas where older people live alone or where transport links are poor and therefore people will be at risk of being isolated from their communities’
County councillor,  Kareen Hastrick said, “Liberal Democrat councillors have been saying for the past nine months that the proposed cuts to our bus services would have a devastating impact on older people, but the Conservatives running the county council denied this.

Continue reading

Liberal Democrats call for local accountability over play areas

Liberal Democrats have called for local people and their councillors to have a much greater say across the district on how play areas are managed.

Liberal Democrat group leader Chris White said after Wednesday’s evening’s full council meeting: ‘It is clear that there is an appetite in the community to have a detailed say on how play and leisure areas are managed rather than having decisions made for them in the civic centre.

‘I am delighted that the City Neighbourhoods Committee will now be having a look at how small and effective local forums can be established for those parts of the city which currently don’t already have arrangements in place.

‘In due course, we will be seeking to spread the idea across the whole district.’

Hertfordshire Conservatives’ Council Tax Hike

Liberal Democrat County Councillors have been shocked by local Tories’ plans to hike council tax by 1.99% this year, the maximum they can without taking it to a county-wide referendum.

In a highly controversial budget Hertfordshire Conservatives have proposed swingeing cuts to buses and library services. Leader of the Opposition and the Liberal Democrat Group, Stephen Giles-Medhurst commented: “I am appalled. The County Council clearly has to be careful and look after taxpayers’ money properly, but right now putting up Council Tax by almost 2 percent and also hitting services to the elderly and vulnerable leave a bad taste in the mouth.  We all know times are tough, but the Liberal Democrat Group have looked long and hard at the options available to us and will be proposing an alternative budget that ring-fences essential services and freezes Council Tax”

Paul Zukowskyj, Liberal Democrat FInance and Regeneration spokesperson said “I am appalled that the Conservative administration is seeking to impose this on the people of Hertfordshire. There is Central Government funding available to help those Councils who seek to keep Council tax low to help local people. This year HCC Conservatives have decided they would rather raise the Council Tax by as much as they can while slashing services.”

Lib Dem amendments: BUDGET2015_FinalAmendment