Conservative administration in St Albans accept poor quality verge cutting

At yesterday’s meeting of the District Council, Conservative councillors opposed a Liberal Democrat motion expressing concern about the inadequacies in maintaining highway verges this year.

Lib Dem Group Leader Chris White said: “What was made clear during the course of the debate was that the Tory councillors are not happy to criticise their colleagues in County Hall, even when such an obviously abysmal job has been done.

“It has also been made clear over the course of this process that there has been a failure in handover and monitoring and this is something that the district council administration needs to take responsibility for.”

Chris added: “We will continue to speak up for local residents and hold the Conservative administrations both at District and County Hall to account, even if the local councillors are willing to accept the inadequacies in services being provided to local residents.”

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.”

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


County Bus cuts ‘driven by dogma, not funding’

Conservatives at County Hall have effectively confirmed today that the extensive bus cuts they are planning are driven by the Tory desire to slash and burn public services and not a need to find financial savings.

At today’s (Wednesday 10th Dec) Policy, Resources and Transformation Cabinet Panel, a paper on HCC’s finances reported an underspend of over £15m so far this financial year, a figure only likely to grow as the year progresses.

Included in the finance report was a ‘transport service’ underspend of £756,000, more than the originally intended cut. The very next item, from the same County department, reported another £650,000 saving (from a Waste Management Budget) , this one ‘ongoing’ so it would be expected every year going forward. (more…)

Tories refuse to discuss bus cuts with local people

Liberal Democrat Councillor Anthony Rowlands, Chair of the all party Local Services Scrutiny Committee, has strongly criticised the Conservative administration at County Hall for refusing to appear before the Committee to answer local residents’ concerns over planned cuts in bus subsidies and highways repairs.

Anthony said: ‘These are reasonable requests. There is no other public forum in which local concerns can be discussed in detail – not least because the County Council recently abolished the local highways joint committee with the District Council which could have dealt with such matters.

‘Both Council officers and myself, as Scrutiny Committee Chair, have written to Councillor Terry Douris, the Cabinet member at County in charge of highways and buses.  Councillor Douris has refused to speak to us and he won’t even instruct a senior officer to attend the Committee. He excuses himself by saying he is about to have a private meeting with his Cabinet counterpart at the District – another Conservative!

‘Local residents could be forgiven for assuming that the County Council was not interested in their views.  County claims it wants to work in partnership with the District Council. Responses such as this make that sound like total humbug.’

HCC flood performance not good enough

Liberal Democrats were celebrating that the ruling Tory group on Herts County Council has finally admitted the performance on flooding is not good enough. A motion criticising the continued failures and calling for action was modified by the Tories on Tues to make it clear they would not spend any more money, but did call for performance to be improved.

Cllr Malcolm Cowan. who proposed the motion, said: ‘Clearly the action needed has been watered down, but it is a start, and we will back again if it doesn’t improve. Herts residents are fed up with roads being under water every time it rains, and seeing no action week after week, month after month, and year after year.

‘In one case I did get fixed, some while back, residents told me they had had the problem for 35 years.’


The true cost of the bus consultation

Yesterday at County Hall in Hertfordshire Conservatives failed to listen to two motions asking them to call a halt to their planned£1.7m of cuts to bus services in the County.

After consulting with the public earlier this year and 13,000 people asking them to stop their planned cuts, they decided to ignore the resounding “No” they had received from the public, and start another round of consultation on more proposed cuts.

Stephen Giles-Medhurst, (LibDem), Leader of the opposition on HCC, commented, “The Conservatives at County Hall have admitted that the consultation they have chosen to ignore cost local taxpayers over £16,000 for printed materials.  What they haven’t disclosed is how much the Council Tax payers of Hertfordshire have paid for the salaries of the five staff who worked on this full-time for 4 months. Instead they could have been working with local bus operators, user groups, the NHS and local Councils to find ways of improving bus services and usage, as well as reducing costs.”


Following yesterday’s debate at cabinet panel on the Conservative plans to slash opening hours at the county’s Household Waste sites, Cllr Sandy Walkington, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the Environment said:

“Yesterday’s decision was a glass half full, a glass half empty.  The Conservatives caved in on shutting any of the sites completely and they recognised the common sense of moving to later opening hours on the days when the sites will be open.  Their minds were certainly concentrated by the thousands of petition signatures across much of the county.

“But they still need to show more flexibility even if they are determined to stick to a single shift operation.  It’s about serving local residents at the times they need, not just laying down a schedule to suit the operator.  The Liberal Democrat amendment to keep sites open every day even with shorter hours was defeated,  though this was clearly the most important factor in residents’ responses.  So lets now investigate whether there could be late opening on one day a week. (more…)

Secret plans exposed over waste sites

Secret plans to save over £1 million have finally been exposed by the Liberal Democrats on Hertfordshire County Council.  Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Stephen Giles-Medhurst, has now forced the county to make public that their plan to close two household waste sites and cut opening hours at others, including closing them for two days a week, will cut the budget not by the £750,000 reported to councillors back in early July but over £1m.

The Council had wanted this “saving” to be kept confidential despite having already awarded a contract to Amey Cespa.

Stephen said: “We always knew the supposed ‘consultation’ exercise and the planned closures were nothing to do with improving services for local residents.

“Finally we have the truth. This is a £1 million pound cut in services.

“The County Council consultation is a fraud. I wonder how many leading Tories knew that the saving was far more than was being let on and that both Elstree and Hoddesdon could be kept open and they could still save £750,000?

“This whole exercise stinks. They should be looking at each waste site to see what the needs of residents are. Why cut the opening hours at Waterdale in Watford by 44% when it is the most used site both with tonnage and visitors?

“Whilst savings could and need to be made, the Tory blanket cut across all opening hours, and the closure of two sites with no background as to usage and no local input, is just like the bus cuts, a ‘do not care’ approach.

Bus cuts to include bank holidays

Hertfordshire County Council’s plans to cut bus services on 39 routes after 6.30pm each evening and on Sundays has now been exposed to also include Bank Holidays.

Liberal Democrat Group Leader County Councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst has found this out by questioning officers.

“Yet again we have had to drag out of the ruling Conservatives what they are really planning: first they say the cuts will save £700,000, then after Lib Dem questioning it’s found it is a £887,000 cut! They told us it would ‘only’ affect 200,000 passenger trips; then we exposed it was 887,000 passenger trips. Now we are told that Sunday services also includes ‘all bank holidays’.  So that is at least another five days a year with no buses.

“I am outraged about the dishonest way the Conservatives have pushed ahead with this. They will not even call their consultation ‘bus cuts or reducing services’ instead calling it ‘more efficient bus service’. Since when has stopping 807,000 passenger trips been that? The consultation says nothing about Bank Holiday services being cut: it’s a farce!

“The Conservatives  are claiming to consult but are hiding the real facts.  The consultation says that the amount of support the County Council pays per passenger journey ranges from 10p to over £9 per individual journey. Yet on none of the routes being cut is the subsidy that high – the highest it is £4.19 and the lowest is 8 pence.  They are misleading the public and hiding the truth.” 

Stephen has called on the council to suspend the consultation and put the cuts on hold so that the true impact on the public can be assessed.

“The Tories have lost a grip on this and need to amend their mistakes. We do not support these bus cuts and I know the public do not either,” said Stephen Giles-Medhurst.