My position on Brexit

I posted a Facebook comment somewhere, which, in retrospect, succinctly sums up my position in the Brexit debate. So I’m going to stick it here so I can find it again when asked my opinion. 😉

AFAIC, the referendum was advisory and not binding; that was explicit. The government should use the popular opinion as expressed in that referendum in making their decisions. 

But parliament is still sovereign; we in the UK are not a direct democracy. The decision about whether to leave the EU is parliament’s, and also the terms under which we should or should not. 

That’s my opinion. I think that agrees with Lib Dem position.

Personally, I still want us to remain in the EU.

Botley leisure provision

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to provide for leisure facilities for children and teens in Botley. Since I was first elected in 2011, I’ve been trying to improve the provision of leisure facilities in Botley and the north east area of the Vale. It’s been a saga. Various consultations have overlooked this area, and recent years’ investments in leisure facilities have gone to other areas of Vale. Attempts to jump start this effort by motions to full council have also failed.

This proposal is to fund the collaborative programme between Vale and North Hinksey Parish Council and Louie Memorial Pavilion Trust and the Scouts (and any other interested party) to replace the Louie Memorial Pavilion and Scouts’ hut with a new shared facility, and to provide a replacement skate park and other recreational facilities for older children and teens.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

Botley Leisure Provision

Purpose of Report

  1. Provide background information about leisure provision in Botley
  2. Propose some solutions to remedy current lack of provision

Background (all of the stated written evidence is available unless stated otherwise)

There is no Vale-provided leisure or sport facility in Botley. The past reliance on provision by the Brookes University and Matthew Arnold School may have gone some way to meeting need, but those facilities are no longer freely available for public use. In recent years the Louie Memorial Pavilion has undergone transformation from a neglected empty building to a valued community resource used by youth groups, football teams and community groups, and which has money in the bank. But the LM Pavilion requires ongoing expensive maintenance and has reached the end of its useful life. Parish council support has grown to the point where it seems a good time now for a collaborative and positive contribution to local leisure and sport facilities.

We can explore the history of recent efforts to get leisure and sport provision for Botley in terms of:

  • Strategy Consultations
  • Questions and Motions to Council
  • Budgets: Money promised for sport & leisure facility provision

In Sept 2009 the Botley skate bowl, built in 1991, was destroyed by thieves ramming a stolen car into it and setting it on fire. In Feb 2010 the North Hinksey Parish Council decided it was too expensive to repair or replace and so permanently closed the skate bowl.

Strategy Consultations

  1. In 2007 or thereabouts (we can’t find the report, but only references to it) an assessment report by Sport England declared that Botley was under provided with sport facilities, especially for older children and teens. ‘Deprived’ was the word they used. (Note please this was during the time when the skate bowl was still there.)
  2. In 2009, Vale’s Open Space, Sport and Recreation Provision Strategy found a gap in sport provision in the northeast area of Vale, and noted particularly that teen facilities were poor. (Note please this was during the time when the skate bowl was still there.)
  3. In Dec 2012, Vale’s Leisure & Sports facility public consultation defined 4 main settlement areas in the Vale: Abingdon, Botley, Faringdon, Wantage & Grove. The consultation questionnaire asked questions about every area except for Botley. There were no questions about provision in Botley. We raised the shortcoming at the time but no action was taken.
  4. In May 2013, Cllr Debby Hallett’s letter to Cllr Elaine Ware outlined concerns of residents in Botley about the Leisure & Sport Facilities Strategy. The lack of any recent needs assessment in Botley meant there was no negotiating power for s106 obligations from the three main housing developments (Timbmet, Lime Rd and Tilbury Lane), and hence, no money from those developers for leisure or sport needs. On request from the Scrutiny Chairman and Anna Robinson, Cllr Debby Hallett outlined her concerns about quality of this consultation and failure to survey for needs in Botley. The consultation shortcoming meant no new provision in the area for the next generation, and no leverage for negotiating s106 and CIL money for local infrastructure.
  5. On 23 May 2013, Vale Scrutiny Committee reviewed an executive summary of Vale’s Leisure and Sports Facilities Strategy (the full report was not provided). The strategy’s stated intention was to provide council with the data it needed to meet needs of the whole district. Scrutiny Committee made the following recommendations.
  • The study must provide evidence of deficiencies of leisure facilities, not just in the towns. This evidence must lever in funding from housing developers. The officers pointed out that the council sought funding from developments of over fifty houses in accordance with planning policies
  • The study should not just concentrate on sports facilities. With an aging population, the study should look at facilities for walking and enjoying the countryside, and indoor facilities such as short mat bowls
  • The strategy should make use of village or community halls and school halls
  • The council should provide support for club facilities through grants
  • At every opportunity, the council should seek grants from other funding bodies to help provide and sustain facilities
  • The study should assess the needs of future residents of new housing developments
  • Estimates of the cost of new facilities should include land purchase or rental costs
  • Planned facility construction dates should be included in any public document
  • In paragraph 12 of the officer’s covering report, the introductory text and the table headings should match (deficiencies in leisure provision that could lead to new leisure facilities)
  • With many schools converting to academy status, the council must continue to monitor joint use agreements for some of its leisure facilities. The officers reported that there had been no changes to the joint use agreements but the council was in on-going dialogue with the county council over this
  • As there were only 34 responses to the consultation, should the council carry out further consultation to determine need? The officers reported that they were willing to receive suggestions at any time
  • The action plan from the leisure participation strategy should inform the leisure and sports study. The officers confirmed that where there had been overlaps between the two consultations, this has been the case
  • The council must take into account the parking demand for new and existing leisure facilities and plan for these.
  • The committee considered the parking at the existing leisure centres was insufficient
  • There should be a clear definition of acronyms used
  1. On 7 June 2013, Cabinet accepted the leisure and sports facilities study. The Cabinet report only included 1 of the Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations, that acronyms should be defined. It’s clear that Scrutiny Committee’s recommendations were not incorporated into the final report nor brought to Cabinet for consideration.

“The Vale Council’s scrutiny committee reviewed the draft study at its meeting held on 24 May 2013. Below is a summary of the comments raised by scrutiny committee, and any actions that have been, or will be, taken in response to these comments:

  • agreement with officers’ proposal that the name of the document should be changed from the leisure and sports facilities strategy to the leisure and sports facilities study – the name of the document will be changed to reflect this
  • timescales for investment should be detailed in the table shown in figure two of the executive summary – timescales will be added to the table and will also be added in the study
  • explanation needed for acronyms within the study, particularly in the consultation response document – explanation will be added to clarify the acronyms used in the consultation response document
  • the study will need to be reviewed as changes are made to joint-use facilities as schools become academies – see paragraph 15 of this report, which will be reflected in the study
  • the study’s recommendations should be reviewed in the light of the Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan – see paragraph 15 of this report, which will be reflected in the study
  • local plan evidence in relation to leisure and sports facilities should be reviewed – see paragraph 15 of this report, which will be reflected in the study.”
  1. In June 2013, Cllr Ware in email explained that Community and Village halls were not included in this study and would ‘be covered in a follow up piece of work’. In order to complete the evidence base for a proposal for a proportionate leisure provision in the northeast area, we (local members and residents) looked forward to this study being published. We’ve been waiting now for three and a half years.
  2. Aug through Nov 2015. Consultants undertook a survey of village and community halls email halls managers for their feedback in a survey form. (It’s unclear how this timeline fits in with promised reports from Cabinet (see next section). Something is wrong.)
  3. Vale’s Corporate Plan 2016-2020 has nothing in it about sport and/or leisure provision in Botley.

Questions & Motions to Council

  1. Feb 2014: Liberal Democrats proposed budget growth item for a feasibility study and needs assessment to see what options there are for providing more leisure and sport facilities for Botley and Cumnor. It was voted down, along party lines.
  2. Dec 2014: Cllr Hallett asked Cllr Ware in full council when the report on village or community halls would be published. Cllr Ware said summer of 2015.
  3. Jul 2015: Cllr Hallett asked Cllr Dickson (recently assumed the responsibility for Leisure) when we could expect the report. Cllr Dickson said end of 2015.
  4. May 2016: Cllr Roberts asked Cllr Dickson to explain the delay of the long-awaited report, and when we could expect to see it. Cllr Dickson said the delay was due to ‘demands of the Local Plan examination’. It was ‘re-programmed’ for late spring/summer 2016. It’s now November 2016, and we’ve not yet seen it.

Budgets: Money promised for sport & leisure facility provision

  1. May 2014: approx £2,000,000 announced as part of the new leisure contract for White Horse Tennis and Leisure Centre in Abingdon for gym expansion and new equipment and energy improvements.
  2. May 2014: approx £1,000,000 announced as part of the new leisure contract for Faringdon for new pitches, squash court, gym equipment and energy improvements.
  3. Feb 2015: Capital growth item £500,000 for sport and leisure improvements in Abbey Meadow in Abingdon.
  4. Feb 2015: Capital growth item £12,000,000 over three years, for a new Wantage Grove Leisure Centre
  5. April 2016: Vale announced £415,623 to refurbish the swimming pool at White Horse Leisure and Tennis Centre in Abingdon.
  6. 11 Jul 2016: Abingdon outdoor pool to be replaced, the cost to be over and above the original £500,000. No precise costs announced.
  7. Remember there are four main settlements: Abingdon, Botley, Faringdon, Wantage & Grove.
  8. Oct 2016. Local members from Botley propose that council include capital growth item(s) for leisure facilities for Botley.

Conclusions

  1. One of Vale’s responsibilities is to provide sport and leisure facilities throughout the whole district, including Botley and the north east area.
  2. Botley and the north east area are underprovided with leisure and sport facilities.
  3. Botley and the north east area were left out of the leisure and sports facilities studies, which underpin the emerging Vale Local Plan.
  4. There is nothing about sport and leisure provision in Botley and the north east in the new Vale Corporate Plan.
  5. Without assessment of need, there is no evidence of need to support CIL or s106 negotiations.
  6. Because of these omissions, there is a likelihood of nothing for Botley and the north east area in the next generation unless extraordinary steps are taken.

Proposals

The time is right for Council to work with local people and parish councils to create a work plan and sources of funding to provide facilities, especially for older children and young people, such as a skate park, adventure playground, sport pavilion with community meeting space for clubs, scouts, and other leisure and sport uses. An appropriate site is available at Louie Memorial Fields; the Playing Fields Assn say it’s a big enough site. The scouts’ lease on their scout hut just next to the pavilion is up this year, so they are a partner in this. Some funding is available from North Hinksey Parish Council (see below) and we can explore other funding sources.

  1. Skate park or wheeled sports facility, some sort of adventure playground, walking/running track, other sport or fitness equipment, and landscaping to bring it all together: £150,000
  2. Replace pavilion and scout hut, with new facility to include showers, changing rooms, pubic toilets, secure storage, flexible meeting and activity space, kitchen: £600,000

There are several other sources of funding to be explored, with help from Vale officers and local experts.

Cllr Debby Hallett

Children’s centres grants

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to provide some help to the Vale’s Children’s Centres, which are at risk of losing most or all of their county council funding. Some centres are actively working toward self-management, where they will ensure their own long-term viability, and Lib Dems thought of a way Vale could help.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

Children’s Centre Grant Proposal

Proposal

To create a grant fund available to community groups whose aim is to keep their Children’s Centres viable so they can continue to provide open access children and family services formerly funded by Oxfordshire County Council.

Background

Children’s Centres provide a variety of advice and support for children under 5, their parents and carers. Chirldren’s Center services are available to families from pregnancy right through to when children go into reception class at primary school.

There are a core set of services they must provide:

  • Child and family health services, ranging from child health clinics to breastfeeding support
  • Some  centres offer high quality childcare and early learning – those that don’t can help advise on local childcare options
  • Advice on parenting, local childcare options and access to specialist services for families like speech therapy, healthy eating advice or help with managing money
  • Help for you to find work, training or volunteering opportunities, using links to local Jobcentre Plus offices and training providers

Some centres may also offer a dentist, dietician or physiotherapist, or help people visit the stop smoking clinic, get faster access to expert advice, support and short-term breaks if a  child has learning difficulties or disabilities, talk to Citizens’ Advice, take parenting classes and ‘improve your English if it is not your first language’.

Most of these centres were funded through government initiatives such as Sure Start; over the past few years these grants have been discontinued.

From April 2017, Oxfordshire County Council is reorganising these services by replacing 44 Children’s Centres and 7 Early Intervention Hubs with 8 intervention hubs in the most socially disadvantaged areas of the county.  The County Council has made available a £1.2million Transition Fund as one-off start-up help for Community Groups interested in taking on these services. The money is subject to a bidding process and groups are expected to prepare a business plan, demonstrating financial sustainability within a short period.

There are 9 Children’s Centres in the Vale district:

  • Elms Road, North Hinksey
  • North Abingdon
  • Northeast Abingdon
  • South Abingdon
  • Faringdon
  • Grove & the Hanneys
  • Southmoor
  • Wantage
  • Wootton

Eight of the nine centres have some form of community group that recognises the well-documented benefits of these early help resources, knows how highly valued they are by the families who use them, and is working to retain these services for future generations in their area. (Northeast Abingdon does not have such a group currently.)

The Vale’s Corporate Plan for 2016 – 2020 outlines council’s aims including:

  • Supporting community groups and community events through our grant scheme.
  • Assisting voluntary and community groups that provide important services to residents, to attract volunteers.
  • Working with partners as part of the South and Vale Community Safety Partnership to deliver the annual plan aimed at reducing crime, tackling antisocial behaviour and supporting vulnerable people.

All these objectives are met by the successful early help services that Children’s Centres provide.

The Need for Funding

Examples of the sort of applications this grant would be able to fund are:

  • £5,000 capital that is required to be able to register with Companies House. This is necessary if they wish to become a charity which would enable them to apply for Gift Aid and other grant funding
  • Revenue costs for staff. Within the Vale’s grants programme, most of the funding available is for capital costs. There are hardly any grants available for revenue costs. The current staff in the Children Centres are highly qualified with specialised skills for working with Early Years children and struggling families; many may well become unemployed. This fund would enable the community groups to offer future employment without losing valued staff to the employment market.
  • The government Childcare funding for 2-year olds from low income households doesn’t cover all the costs of providing that childcare because of the expense of qualified staff needed and the required ratio of staff to children. These grants could bridge that gap so that the community groups could still offer this service to low income households and also offer paid childcare places to enable them to become financially sustainable.

Funding Process

  • These grants would be administered using the same IT systems and similar processes used for the New Homes Bonus and Community Capital grants.
  • There would be a cost associated with staff resource to evaluate the grants and prepare reports for either the Joint Area Committees or Cabinet. These costs could be minimised if only one or two dates were offered as application deadlines to encourage the eight community groups to apply at the same time. The grant department estimate these costs at £3,000 to operate the system which would cover one round only and include the following:
  1. Approval of a grant policy by the council
  2. Create a new online grant scheme
  3. Invite applications from children’s centres
  4. Advise applicants about how to apply
  5. Evaluate applications and prepare reports
  6. Decision process (cabinet or area committee)
  7. Prepare grant agreements
  8. Organise grant payments
  9. Grant monitoring
  • A grant pot of £100,000, for the various community groups to apply to for funds would equate to approximately £12,500 each. This fund would operate alongside OCC’s Transition Fund to help these community groups become viable in the short-term and giving them the opportunity to sustain these services in the long-term.

Cllr Judy Roberts

Cllr Emily Smith

 

 

Air quality measurement improvement

For the 2017/18 budget, the Lib Dems have proposed a growth item to improve the way we measure air quality. The Tory administration will determine if they want to include this in the budget they bring to full council in Feb 2017.

I previously posted about Air Quality in the Vale here.

Here’s the proposal we’ve submitted for this budget:

A proposal to monitor air quality in the Vale

Purpose of the report

  1. Provide background information on air quality and air quality monitoring in the Vale.
  2. Propose means to improve the same and to put in place links and processes whereby by co-operating with the Oxford City and Oxfordshire County Councils remedial action might ultimately be achieved. A link to the Vale’s corporate objectives is provided.
  3. Propose a capital growth bid of £25,000 for air quality monitoring equipment and systems, and a £12,500 revenue growth bid for managing it.

Background

There are a number of air pollution hot spots where excessive levels of oxides of nitrogen have been identified. These are associated with emissions from vehicles, especially diesels. In all probability other atmospheric pollutants such as carbon monoxide and ozone are very likely also to be at excessive levels. These proposals will quantify any such excesses.

The identified hot spots in the Vale are at Botley (53 microgrammes per cubic metre), Marcham (50mc), and Abingdon on Thames town centre (45mc).  All three are well above the recommended World Health Organisation (WHO) maximum exposure of 40mc.

These levels are known to be variously life-threatening and life-shortening for people with lung conditions such as asthma and obstructive pulmonary disease. The most recent public health report indicates that some 52 people in the Vale die prematurely each year because of air pollution.

Currently people at risk have no means of knowing when it is safe for them to leave their houses. These levels are also known to be harmful to the very young and the very old. All of this has been recognised in the County Councils transport strategy’s latest iteration (LTP4) for the first time.

In December 2015 the Government published a paper “Improving Air Quality in the UK…”  This set out frameworks for local government to introduce clean air zones. This would be achieved by banning various classes of diesel powered vehicles from urban centres starting with pilots in places such as Derby and Leeds. Oxford City could be a future target, because air quality is known to be poor in the City centre.

Currently the City spends about £12,000 annually on monitoring air quality with programmes which link with other DEFRA programmes for monitoring pollutants such as PM 10’s. In the Vale the monitoring of air quality (with the exception of a monitor in Stert Street, Abingdon) is only done using nitrogen dioxide diffusion tubes. This is very old technology and if we are to get the detailed information we need to make progress, then a modern system is required.  No controls over vehicles such as diesel powered HGV’s are possible without detailed and current (and preferably real time information.

Proposals

That in accordance with the “Guide for Local Authorities Purchasing Air Quality Monitoring Equipment” produced by DEFRA the Vale should put in a capital growth bid to the capital programme for the purchase of single gas analyser and a particulate monitor at a cost of up to £25,000 plus a revenue bid of £12,000 for maintenance, data management  etc per annum to manage it.

The subsequent project should probably be based in Abingdon on Thames in the first instance, but subsequently could be based elsewhere in order to fully quantify atmospheric pollutant levels elsewhere. Initially it could provide continuous information on atmospheric pollution levels in hot spot(s) which could be made available on a regular basis on the Vale’s website and through local media. It should link to the work carried out in the City and provide information to back up the work of LTP4. The ultimate aim would be to provide sufficient information to enable Clean Air Zones to be established in the Vale where required.

It links to the Vale’s corporate objectives, especially in respect of Sustainable Communities and Wellbeing and the following bullet point:-

  • “where everyone can feel safe and enjoy life”

Currently as previously stated Vale residents in pollution hot spots with a range of pulmonary conditions have no idea when it is safe to go outside and when they should remain indoors.  The aim is to tackle current levels of atmospheric pollution in the same way that the 1956n Clean Air Act did for the “pea soupers”.

Cllr Bob Johnston 25/10/16

 

Lib Dem 2017/18 budget proposals

For the 2017/18 budget process, the Lib Dems have agreed with the ruling administration to try a new, more collaborative and cooperative approach to having some of our proposals considered for inclusion in the Vale budget.

In the past, the Liberal Democrats created an entire alternative budget. It was a LOT of work, and we were disappointed at the budget council meeting when it was just voted down along party lines.

So we changed our approach and last year submitted amendments to the main budget. We had the same result: all amendments voted down along party lines. But this time it had been a lot less work. I guess you could say we increased our efficiency but not our effectiveness; we still got nothing through.

So I had conversations with the leader of the Vale council, Matthew Barber, and we agreed a new way forward. If the matter is something we really, sincerely think is good for the people of the Vale and we genuinely want to be included in the budget, we will propose it to the ruling administration well in advance for it to be considered in the existing budget process. This year we have submitted three proposals:

  1. Air Quality Measurement improvement 
  2. Children‘s Centres Grants 
  3. Botley Leisure Provision

I’ll put up separate posts with more details about each of these proposals. You can access them via the hyperlinks in the numbered list above

 

 

Tilbury Lane Gate

I’m really pleased to report that Vale planners are exploring some permanent solutions to this intractable problem of the Tilbury Lane gate. 

I can’t really share details until they have more of it all worked out. But my optimistic fingers are deffo crossed. 

Here’s how it came about. 

In an attempt to resume normal life after elections of the past few months, I asked some senior Vale planners about the problem of road access in Tilbury Fields: the gate keeps malfunctioning (knocked down, usually, but currently locked open) and I think we need a different solution. 

Here’s my thinking on it. 

There are basically three approaches to problem solving. In order of sophistication, they are: 

1. Do more of the same. Fix the gate, break the gate, fix the gate, break the gate, get a new gate, gate doesn’t work, fix the gate … as nauseam. 

2. Do something different. Abandon the idea of a gate and try something else. Rising bollards? Manned security hut? 

3. Explore and discuss the idea that blocking the private, single track Tilbury Lane was never a solution to the problem at all. Instead, consider a new road to Tilbury Farm, a new access road to Tilbury Fields, some other clever way of preventing vehicles from taking the lane, or something like that. 

I’ve been trying to encourage exploration of possibilities in No 3. 

Scrutiny and the Five Councils Partnership

This past summer, Vale and South Oxfordshire were the first to roll out a massive outsourcing project. In the coming months, three other councils will be rolling out the same contract. This new model for joint outsourcing breaks new ground for councils as well as for the service providers, Capita and Vinci. 

Last night, the Joint Vale and South Scrutiny Committee decided they would to ask senior officers and cabinet holders to come along to a joint scrutiny committee meeting in January to report on progress of the 5 councils partnership, lessons learnt so far in the transition and roll-out and any issues arising from the terms of the contract. The committee feels this is one of the most important things (if not THE most important thing) the council is doing right now and would like to take a close look. 

We’re aiming for late January; Democratic Services officers will be setting it up. 

It will be an opportunity for all members of both councils to submit questions, come along and hear what’s happening. Even members of the public can participate, if they are interested. 

Air Quality in Vale

Three Vale areas suffer regular levels of NO2 levels in excess of EU thresholds: Botley along the A34, Marcham in Packhorse Lane, and the centre of Abingdon. 

Someone asked me today what I thought it meant to Vale that a court found (again) that the UK government isn’t doing enough to improve air quality. 

IMO, part of the problem is in the structure of responsibilities. I think someone in the Prime Minister’s Cabinet needs to have an overall responsibility for this, and to make clear what local government bodies can and should do. I think MPs should be doing more. Obv the courts agree. 🙂

Districts are tasked with monitoring and forming action plans. That’s where we (Lib Dems) have tried to apply pressure to the current administration. Today we have regular air quality measurements in the main problem areas, and under pressure from us, Tory Cabinet recently created action plans for those three areas too. 

But the measurement methods are a bit old fashioned and maybe not as thorough as they could be. And the action plans inevitably involve bodies other than the districts (county, highways, transport legislation etc) and we have not much clout in getting them to fund anything or do anything. 

Within the past year, we tabled a motion for council to write to the Government urging them to tighten up the requirements and testing for diesel engine emissions standards. It was voted down, but many Tories either supported us or abstained. We’ll try something like this again after the 6 months is up.

Just this week we submitted a budget proposal to the Tory administration for modernising our air quality monitoring equipment. We think Vale should be measuring particulates and providing real time information so vulnerable people can decide if they want to risk venturing outdoors on a given day. 

If we can be sure we are usefully measuring the most harmful of our air pollution problems, then when other bodies finally decide to do something, we’ll have the data. 

I don’t think it’s OK that nothing is happening, not at all. But I think that the FACT that nothing is happening points to a systemic problem that the lowest level of government (districts) is not equipped, nor expected, to handle. 
In all of this, I discovered that the most recent public health report on mortality estimates that 52 people in Vale die prematurely every year, due to air pollution. 

So it’s worth doing all we can. 

Treasury outturn report – investment properties

Last night at Vale full council meeting, in response to the Treasury Outturn Report, I asked the following questions:

Please can you explain the loss in investment property net book value of £12.4 million over the past year?  Can someone perhaps create a one paragraph plain English translation? 

  • Emcor house was sold; what was the net book value lost there? 
  • Land in Botley was reclassified, which led to a book value loss of how much? Why does reclassification result in a loss of value in 2015/16?

In section 14, how do the void periods in Old Abbey House affect net book value, or is it only income that’s affected?

Cllr Robert Sharp, Cabinet member for finance replied. I’ll post the exact reply once I have it from the officers, probably in form of minutes. But from my notes…

  • Emcor house had a net book value of £800k. It was sold for £1.495m
  • Land at Botley was reclassified. Loss for last year to net book value is £7m
  • Void periods at Old Abbey House don’t affect net book value, only income.

There was no place for me to ask a follow up, so I have done via email this morning. ”

“As I understood what you said, the net book value reduction was from Emcor House sale (£800k) and Botley land reclassification (£7m). But the total change reported was £12.4 million. What makes up the rest of the change please?”

My questions refer to Appendix D of the Treasury Outturn Report. See sections 12-15.

Unitaries – my motion 12 Oct 16

Last night at the Vale full council meeting, I tabled the following motion in support of one of my main objectives for this year (see my blog post about my objectives):

Council notes that government is still open to practical suggestions for devolved government.

Council notes that the benefits of devolution are far more likely to be achieved if council leaders in Oxfordshire are serious about reaching a consensus.

Council also notes that both of the recently-commissioned reports identified strengths and weaknesses in each proposal, and made recommendations for addressing them.

Council believes these recommendations are capable of forming the basis for further discussion.

Council therefore:

  • Calls on all council leaders in the county to resume talks about a workable model of local government re-organisation, with the express intention of reaching a workable consensus, and with the primary objective of achieving the best outcomes for the people of Oxfordshire in terms of service delivery and efficiencies 
  • Calls on the leader of Vale of white Horse District Council to play a full and constructive part in such talks

There was heartening debate where several councillors spoke. And then council unanimously agree to it. So, the motion carried.

My speech on this one: 

When this process first began, everybody agreed that the current two-tier system was not a sustainable solution for service delivery in Oxfordshire. No one could agree on the best solution, so the feuding local authorities commissioned two separate consultants to assess possible models of local government reorganisation. The studies were thorough and cost the taxpayers nearly £200,000. But they agreed on one thing: the savings from streamlining local government would be significant.

Our top priority should be to  preserve, and hopefully improve, delivery of services to residents of Oxfordshire. This of course includes residents of the Vale.

There’s no time for the councils’ leaders to argue amongst themselves. Time spent on defending their own power positions means time lost to find a workable solution to save vital services. Leaders appear to be unable, or unwilling, to compromise in order to find a workable way to transform local government from two tiers to one. The people don’t like to see their politicians bickering. Personally, I’ve even gone so far as to recommend they employ a facilitator experienced in conflict resolution.

Whatever the original intentions, now county, who are desperate for financial savings, continue to insist on one solution, and the leaders of city and the districts are wedded to another solution. The stand-off and the reputation smearing name calling simply must stop. We need our council leaders to work together to find a solution. I ask for council to support this motion that urges all our leaders to come together to work for a solution for the people of Oxfordshire.