The Result of All That Hard Work

It’s finally election night. So here was my result (in a three-member Ward):

Adam Collyer (UKIP) – 245 (25.7%)
David Earles (Conservative) – 336 (35.3%)
Gloria Edwards-Davidson (Conservative) – 335 (35.2%)
David James (Labour) – 358 (37.6%)
Chris Long (Conservative) – 397 (41.7%)
Maureen Luke (Labour) – 379 (39.8%)
Andrew Piercy (Liberal Democrat) – 86 (9.0%)
Ken Ritchie (Labour) – 308 (32.3%)

Well done to the winners and commiserations to the losers. And many thanks to all who lent me their vote!

This Blog’s Political Hero in Action Again

Eric Pickles, British politician and Chairman ...
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Eric Pickles, a real Tory in a Government of Fakes

The government has announced that it is to allow local councils to keep the business rates they collect.

At the moment, councils have to hand the business rates over to the government, which then redistributes them to councils across the country as a grant, according to a funding formula.

This time Nick Clegg gets the glory for the announcement.

However, the BBC was reporting back in March that Eric Pickles, as Local Government Minister, was looking at the idea.

Never mind the Liberal Democrats with their alleged “localism”. In reality this is Mr Pickles again (who seems to be single-handedly carrying out almost everything useful that this government is doing).

It’s a good idea, of course, because it means that councils will have an incentive to welcome businesses into their area because then they get extra business rate income. (Before you ask, there will be transitional arrangements so that no council will get less money than it does already when the scheme is introduced.)

The idea, by the way, is also UKIP policy and featured in the UKIP Local Election Manifesto 2011.

Well done again, Mr Pickles.

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Eric Pickles Goes Down Fighting

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference
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Eric Pickles: Trust Matters Even More Than Winning

Eric Pickles has been battling to get weekly refuse collections restored.

Today the BBC reports that

The government has admitted it cannot force councils in England to provide weekly bin collections.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had hoped to include the measure in a new waste strategy but it was watered down following a row with officials at Defra, the BBC understands.

The BBC says that Labour branded the move a “personal humiliation for Mr Pickles”. It says:

Eric Pickles was pushing until the last minute to get a stronger commitment on weekly collections into the waste review.

It quotes the Labour spokesman thus:

But shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint, for Labour, said: “This latest evidence of the government in chaos is a personal humiliation for Eric Pickles.

He has spent years leading people on with overblown promises to restore weekly bin collections, despite Labour’s warnings that he would never be able to deliver.

The local government secretary should learn the lesson that chasing headlines is no substitute for properly worked out policies to make communities cleaner, greener and better places to live.

Well, she certainly knows how to talk rubbish. Far from “warning” Mr Picles that he would not be able to deliver weekly collections, Labour actually put pressure on local councils to go to fortnightly collections when they were in office. They are directly responsible for the current laws, which allow councils to fine people for minor infringements of the rules like putting the bin out on the wrong day.

Mr Pickles may have backed down on the idea of forcing councils to collect rubbish weekly. But he is at least pressing on with scrapping those laws about fining people. In future, councils will only be able to fine people for criminal offences like fly-tipping (which the BBC sees fit to describe as “the most serious rule-breaking”).

Mr Pickles may have been defeated on this occasion, but at least he was pushing hard to deliver the commitment he had made, to get weekly collections reintroduced.

Personally I am quite happy with fortnightly collections. However, Mr Pickles is open about what he believes, and fights hard for it, but is sometimes defeated. Give me a politician like that any day in preference to the New Labour spinmeisters. Or indeed in preference to his boss, who has the same tendency as they do.

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Local Council Shows Us How to Waste Money

The National Union of Teachers has called for a public sector strike to stop “the cuts” (sic).

As I’ve pointed out several times on this blog, public sector spending is going up every single year of this parliament – and with the cuts in benefits that the government has outlined, that means even more available for State services.

But here’s an example of why the cuts in services really are happening, even while the government is spending more.

Daventry Housing Needs Survey

On Friday we received in the post from our local council, Daventry District Council, a “Parish Housing Needs Survey”, complete with reply-paid return envelope. (The survey refers at one point to “the village”, but we live in a town of 22,000 people!)

Says the Council:

Households within your parish are being asked to take part in a survey that will give the Council up to date information about the Housing Circumstances and aspiration of local people. This information will be used to help the Council develop its housing and planning policies and decide how any need identified from the surveys will be best met.

A couple of weeks ago the central government carried out the census. One of the reasons given for performing that census was that it would be used to plan local services. But clearly the census information is not good enough for Daventry District Council, and they intend to ask all the same questions over again.

The survey is nine pages long. It asks whether we are owner-occupiers or renters, how many bedrooms we have, who lives in the house with their ages and occupations, and whether we would support a “small housing development within the Parish designed for local people with a proven need”.

It gives us a long list of issues and asks which are most important, and which need improving. It asks us how satisfied we are with the area we live in.

And then it asks whether we would be willing to join the local “People’s Panel”. This is apparently

made up of people from all over the District who are willing, from time to time, to give views on local public services, their neighbourhood and local issues. Panel members are invited to take part in postal and online surveys, telephone surveys or face-to-face focus groups.

Now forgive me, but I thought the local councillors were elected to represent local people. Obviously they are far too busy on … well, something or other.

The second part of the survey is the “Housing Needs Survey” itself, in which those who have “housing needs”, i.e. are in need of subsidised housing, can express their interest. Yes, the Council housing department is basically touting for business. Perhaps their waiting list is not long enough to justify the people they employ in the housing department.

And finally, there is the obligatory “Equality Monitoring” section, in which you tell them which race – woops, sorry, ethnic group – you belong to, and whether you are disabled.

This whole survey is really, completely, taking the Mickey. It is becoming increasingly clear that in a sense, the public sector is now in revolt against the people of our country and their elected representatives.

Our response should be to give them bigger cuts.

And yes, DAVENTRY DISTRICT COUNCIL, this means you.

Daventry District Council currently has 35 Conservatives, 2 Liberal Democrats and 1 Labour.

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Reforming Local Government is an Obvious Way to Save Money

Eric Pickles
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And Your Next Mission, Mr Pickles, Should You Choose to Accept It…

In the area in which I live, and in many parts of the country, there are three levels of local government.

We have a County Council, whose main responsibility is running the local schools, and also has a number of assorted other responsiblilities.

We have a District Council, which sorts out things like refuse collection (but not disposal – that’s the County Council), planning, housing and a few other assorted bits and pieces.

And we have a Town Council, which covers an area pretty much the same as the District Council, and is responsible for … hardly anything actually. (Maintenance of graveyards and swings seems to be about it.)

Do we really need all those three layers?

It is completely clear to me that the Town Council could be abolished tomorrow and all its few responsibilities transferred to the District Council, with no ill effects whatsoever, except to the staff at the Town Council who would lose their jobs. The Town Council serves absolutely no useful purpose, and the District could easily take on everything it does within a couple of weeks.

Any attempt to abolish these “Town Councils” seems to get bogged down in some irrelevant debate about parish councils, which are legally similar but in practice a very different animal. Parish councils in villages are arguably useful. Town Councils, which often simply duplicate their local District Council, are not.

And then we come to the District and the County. Do we really need both? I believe not not, actually.

This will become especially clear as the government continues steadily converting schools to Academies, which are centrally funded by Whitehall.

The case for merging County Councils and District Councils is not as clear-cut as the compelling case for abolishing Town Councils, but it is still rather hard to argue against.

Of course, the front line staff would all remain in place. But all those administrators, all those HR people, all those clerks and indeed all those unnecessary councillors, could go.

John Major’s government made a half-hearted attempt to carry out this reform. They succeeded in places like West Berkshire, which has been running quite happily with single tier local government for some time now. But in most places their review concluded that “no change” was the best policy. In other words, they bottled out.

In the area in which I lived at the time, two of the local District Councils came up with a plan to merge and take over the responsibilities of the County, but were overruled on the grounds that local people did not support the plan. (Needless to say, the truth is that hardly any local people expressed an opinion either way.)

This is an “easy win” for the government, as it tries to get its finances under control, and the man responsible for this area of policy is one of the government’s most robust and forceful operators, Eric Pickles.

How about it, Eric? Are you up for finishing the job Mr Major started but didn’t have the balls to finish?

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Local Council Settlement Isn’t Really Even a Cut

A percent sign.
Image via Wikipedia

Councils average 4.4 % spending power cut screams the BBC headline over today’s article explaining the local council grant settlement for next year.

It’s worth pointing out yet again that the figure of 4.4 percent is in real terms. In other words, it’s after inflation.

Now let’s see. What’s the current inflation rate?

The current retail prices index is 4.5 percent. RPIX (the rate excluding mortgage interest payments) is 4.6 percent.

All of which means that the 4.4 percent “cut” is actually an increase of 0.1 percent or 0.2 percent.

Caroline Flint, for Labour, said that the figure would mean “unprecedented” cuts in jobs and services.

Stuff and nonsense.

What it actually means is that if council workers want pay rises next year, then some of the posts that fall vacant naturally through retirement or people leaving will need not to be filled, to provide the money for the rises.

These aren’t cuts. They are restraint on increases. And if local councils cut services as a result of this settlement, then they are doing it because they want to.

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At Least Eric Pickles Gets It

Eric Pickles
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Eric Pickles, Local Government Secretary and Former Leader of Bradford Council

The BBC reports that local councils are just about to learn how the cuts will affect them.

The cuts overall are expected to be 15 percent over four years – in real terms.

In other words, their money will “only” increase by a few percent over that period. As I’ve said before on this blog, that kind of discipline is normal in the private sector. But to the public sector, it’s a bit of a shock.

The BBC quotes Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, with the usual doom-laden mutterings from the Left:

There’s been nothing like this in modern times … If you look at, for example, Denis Healey’s efforts in the late ’70s to cut public spending, it had a one or two year impact on public expenditure – including on councils – but nothing like this.

And he said there would be nasty impacts on local services “including social services for elderly and children”.

Eric Pickles, as ever, was robust in his response:

I believe it is possible to cut significant sums out of local authorities by simply improving the way local authorities operate … I’m expecting local authorities to be able to provide more for less, I’m expecting them to be able to provide a reasonable level of service and I think local authorities shouldn’t have some kind of alibi in feeling that these have been imposed from the centre and therefore they’ve got to provide every single cut on the front line.

Well said. The bloated public sector really needs to get its head around this. The words on every year’s council tax bill about how tax increases have been limited by “efficiency savings” need to stop being just words.

The private sector has to actually deliver on increased efficiency every year, or go out of business. The public sector needs to stop treating the private sector as a cash cow, and start treating efficiency as a serious issue.

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