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Conservatives high risk library strategy to be funded by tax cuts

At Thursday’s meeting of the County Council’s Education, Localism and Libraries Panel, Liberal Democrats voted against the Conservative Group’s proposals to set up an independent charitable organisation to run its Library Service. This new service should be viable only because it will not have to pay £1/2 million business rates, which would otherwise have in part provided income to all the District Councils in the County.

Using a competitive tendering process, any organisation will be able to bid to run the service as a Public Service Mutual organisation, which unlike the present Library Service will obtain charitable status. The risk is that while one bid will be spun off the existing service, the others will come from outside organisations. This could result in an organisation like Carillion which recently collapsed being trusted to run the service. Even if the provider remains solvent, and in spite of assurances to the contrary, there is a real risk that smaller or unprofitable libraries might be closed or services cut.

“It was a strange meeting” commented County Councillor Mark Watkin, Liberal Democrat and Opposition Spokesman for Libraries, “we had one paper spelling out an excellent vision for what the library service could grow into, which was fine. Then the next paper explained that this would be delivered by an unknown third party whose funding depends on saving Business Rates being able to raise charges substantially. There is deep uncertainty about the Government’s plans for business rates. If these were to be changed, the whole economic model on which this scheme is built might look very different. Raising charges may well disadvantage the most needy in society who could benefit most from what libraries offer. Not surprisingly, and reflecting the 41% of voters who, in the recent consultation, rejected this very high risk approach, Liberal Democrats opposed it.”

Links to paper:

https://democracy.hertfordshire.gov.uk/documents/g1233/Public%20reports%20pack%20Thursday%2018-Oct2018%2010.00%20Education%20Libraries%20and%20Localism%20Cabinet%20Panel.pdf?T=10

 

 

Meetings to update on plans for developing hospital sites

Note from the local NHS bodies

A series of meetings are taking place during October and November to provide an update on plans for developing hospital sites in west Hertfordshire.

The meetings, led by West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group, are taking place in each locality. The details of the meetings are below:

St Albans & Harpenden

7-9pm

Wednesday, 24 October

Trinity Church Hall,  1 Beaconsfield Road, St Albans AL1 3RD

The meetings will highlight work that is taking place to progress our plans following meetings with national regulators, NHS England and NHS Improvement. There will be information on how we might organise future services, how we will involve local people and others in refreshing our plans and as well as an update on timescales.

There will also be an opportunity to put questions to executive officers and health professionals from the Trust and the CCG.

To help us cater for everyone who wants to attend, please email communications.hvccg@nhs.net to book onto this event.  Please state when booking if you have any particular accessibility needs.

Massive disruption in city centre in October

Note from county council

I am writing to notify you of the upcoming Major Utility works along the A1057 Hatfield Road, St Albans between the junctions of A1081 St Peters Street and Upper Marlborough Road.  Collaborative working has been arranged between Affinity Water and Fulcrum to connect their new services with the purpose of avoiding further disruption at a later date.

In order to create a safe working environment for the workforce and members of public alike, the works will be completed under a partial road closure.  A temporary one way restriction will be enforced in each direction (Eastbound/Westbound) consecutively in order to minimise disruption whilst maintaining traffic flows.

All Eastbound traffic will be diverted via: A1081 St Peters Street – B691 Victoria Street and Upper Lattimore Road and vice versa for Westbound traffic.

The works are due to commence from Monday 8th October  and programmed to take approximately 10 days to complete, weather permitting.

Some degree of disruption and delay can be expected as a result of these works and whilst we will make every effort to minimise these, please allow extra time for any journeys you have planned in the area whilst these works are in progress.

Liberal Democrats applaud PCC’s withdrawal of hostile takeover of Fire and Rescue Service

In a joint announcement issued today with Herts County Council, Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd agreed to abandon his proposal to take control of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, leaving the service under the governance of the County Council.
 
Responding to the news, Liberal Democrat Councillor and Opposition Spokesperson for Fire Service, Barbara Gibson said: “This is long overdue, but very good news. How much time and money has been wasted by the PCC trying to railroad through his empire-building plan in spite of unanimous opposition from every county councillor, including those in the PCC’s own party? In addition, most district councils have passed motions opposing the move.
 
“The takeover bid should never have been submitted. Our sustained campaigning on this issue has saved the Fire Service from being asset-stripped and weakened. Lib Dems will continue to fight to put community safety first.”

Herts Tories short-change schools

Lib Dems were disappointed, but not surprised, when Hertfordshire Tories voted to enhance property developer profits by reducing the amount they have to pay to provide school places.

The change in policy, from the upper end of the range allowed in the regulations to the bottom end, was proposed by officers because it was ‘too difficult to argue’ after neighbouring authorities and the Government’s own agency, the ESFA, allowed developers to contribute the lowest possible amount or are building schools to the lower specification.

Paul Zukowskyj, Shadow Cabinet Resources Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats commented: “I want the very best for our children. Officers should ask for the standard that the County set just two years ago, because if they ask for less they most certainly won’t get more.

“It would probably surprise no-one that some of the developers, and the major shareholders behind them, who stand to potentially benefit from this change are also major donors to the Conservative cause.”

Shameful that County Council has neglected its art collections

At a meeting on Tuesday 5 June, Members of the County Council’s Education, Libraries and Localism panel were faced with stark facts. Following years of neglect, the Council has apparently realised that it has two valuable art collections worth over £25M which nobody was looking after! Their solution: dispose of over 90% of the works, and just keep the most relevant to Hertfordshire.

Unsurprisingly those in the know had raised a petition from over 500 concerned Hertfordshire residents requesting that the Conservative-run County Council rethinks its plans and works considerably harder to ensure that the collection remains in public rather than private hands and seeks alternative management and funding options for the collection.

Panel members from all parties spoke mostly in support of the petitioners, whilst recognising that officers had at least begun to address the problem. Sadly a good and constructive debate was cut off by the Conservative chair who pushed through a recommendation to cabinet, backed by all Tory members, to just note the report and do nothing to address the concerns of petitioners – not good enough in the opinion of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors present!

County Councillor Mark Watkin, Liberal Democrat and Opposition Spokesperson for Education slammed the County’s approach. “The way this wonderful asset has been allowed to fall into decay is shameful.  It is all too reminiscent of the County’s gross mismanagement of Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre which had to be disposed of because of lack of investment and neglect. It is clear that there has been insufficient and inadequate consultation with bodies such as the University of Hertfordshire, local Museums and other interested bodies. Nothing should be done until all local avenues have been explored, and a coherent strategy developed.”