Viability

You may be aware of developers bringing the ‘top trump’ word to planning negotiations – viability.  Used to negotiate down the aspirations of planning officers and the residents affected by the development.  An example is Wolsey Grange where Taylor Wimpey argued that the application in its original form was not ‘viable’ so they had to increase the number of houses from 350 to 475.

In the EADT on 2nd March was a summary of Taylor Wimpey’s latest financial results.  A brief summary is:

Pre-tax profits up 34.1% to £603.8million

Houses completed up 7.5% to 13,219

Ave. selling price up 8% to £230,000.

So an average of £45,676 profit per house or a return of 25% – which in any business is a pretty good rate.

If they achieve the same return on Wolsey Grange then they will ‘extract’ £21.7million of profit from the development – I think they must be working to a different definition of ‘unviable’ to the rest of us!

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LGA Conference

John Pienaar

John Pienaar

Attended my first Local Government Association Conference last week in Harrogate. As you can imagine there was a great deal of blah, blah, blah but a few interesting speakers. Jeremy Hunt, the Health minister, put forward his ideas on how they were going to reduce demand on the NHS. It appears as though it’s all my fault – overweight, a bit of a smoker and I live on my own. So if I give up drinking, smoking and eating the NHS should be safe. Then all of us retired people should move back in with our children to reduce care costs and free up some housing – great in theory but it presumes that you have to got rid of your kids in the first place!

John Pienaar gave us his views on the state of the parties after the election – it looks like we could be in for a long spell of Tory rule. Mind you it was interesting watching the ‘group’ of Tories from Suffolk County Council spend 3 days trying to avoid each other. It is a worry for the residents of Suffolk because I just don’t see the quality of Cabinet member required to deliver the services with reduced funds. In two years time, with the Tory Government delivering the peak level of austerity cuts, the County Council elections could deliver a mixed colour administration.

I hope that the many Council CEOs that were there spent more time talking with the many exhibitors who seem to have already come up with some innovative solutions – my favourite was the rubbish bin that has its own built-in compactor thus reducing the emptying frequency.

New Era at Babergh District Council

I guess it (a Tory majority) had to happen at some point, just a surprise that in Babergh it took as long as it did – 40 years or so. Working in a ‘hung’ council had its positive and negative points but all of those are preferable to being on the back benches. Time will tell whether a Tory administration is good for Babergh but if the experiences at County are anything to go by then hold on to your hat it could be a bumpy ride.

Leader Jennie Jenkins assured those councillors not in the administration (8 Independants, 3 LibDems and 1 Labour) that their views were important and would be sought out, then proceeded to fill all of the policy panels with Tories.  Talk is cheap!

A message that it would seem fails to reach Tories, both in the District and County, is that their residents would prefer to retain the fabric of their community rather than slavishly follow a zero tax increase and the resulting cuts necessary to balance the budget. Just look around you, in the winter the roads look like a rolling rubbish tip with the lack of greenery exposing huge amounts of litter. Then the growth comes in and covers it up, but this creates blind spots at every rural junction.

Now I agree that you shouldn’t have staff levels that are geared to peaks but if you have a rolling peak throughout the year then a bit of flexibility within the workforce could eliminate this perennial problem, that and not trimming contracts so that rubbish is only collected upto 2 metres from the curb when we can all see it up to and including the hedgerow.

Beginning to sound like a grumpy old man so I had better stop, but is it wrong to take a pride in our wonderful county?

The Fight Back

The election results were devastating, many a great MP and councilor lost their seat.  Certainly we made mistakes in 2010, both pre-election and post, but the country would have been in a far worse position without the Liberal Democrats helping to form a stable platform to enable recovery and to apply a brake on some of the more excessive Tory policies.  However, the British public chose the 2015 election to make a few messages:

>         Scottish voters wanted a greater influence over the decisions made in Westminster;

>         English voters do not want SNP to be the tail that wags the Labour party;

>         UKIP became the receptacle of the vote against the ‘mainstream’ parties;

>         Students, disillusioned after the tuition fees ‘debacle’, turned Green.

Strangely the policies of the parties seemed irrelevant, which could explain why, whatever the parties announced, the polls didn’t move.  The last minute swing to the Tories was driven by a fear of a Labour / SNP coalition.  None of the ‘messages’ were going to lead voters to select the Liberal Democrats.  Since the event most commentators have said that the results were extremely unfair on the Liberal Democrats who had been doing a good job in coalition.  Some went on to predict the end of the line for the party.  However, as usual, they have underestimated the strength of feeling that many people have towards the Liberal Democrats especially when it comes to policies.

Since polls closed last week, over 10,000 new members have joined the Liberal Democrats.

Last week’s elections hurt us all. Across the country our candidates and campaign teams worked so hard but did not get the results they deserved.   We have a long journey ahead to get our party back where it belongs, but we are starting that journey ten thousand people stronger than we were – people from all over the country, all sorts of backgrounds and ages.

>   Over half of our new members are aged under 35 and our oldest is 91 (welcome to the family Tily);

>   82% have not been a member before and 72% have not been involved in any sort of campaign;

>   They have highlighted a huge range of issues, like protecting Human Rights Act and blocking the Snoopers Charter.

>   Top locations are Sheffield, Bristol, Twickenham & Richmond, Cambridge, Islington, Battersea and Cardiff.

Would you like help the fight back by becoming a volunteer or by joining the party?     www.libdems.org.uk/join

Local Politics For the 21st Century

Time for a change? I believe so. Would someone please tell me what the benefits are of keeping politics in local government? Oh yes I know it helps to group people behind a decision but do we really want sheep leading us? If a decision or strategy is best for the people then won’t independent minds come to that conclusion without being ‘whipped’? Isn’t it more important to represent your constituents rather than comply with a group view? But how would people know who to vote for, I hear you ask? Do they now, or is that all  important cross placed in a box largely based on the political  party next to it? Does anyone know the difference in policies of the local parties? Many questions but what are the answers? Lets start with a clean sheet of paper.

Those standing would each produce a CV outlining their experience and qualities – this would need to be underwritten by a couple of guarantors. The other side of the A5 sheet would outline their aims and objectives (policies) for the district / county. Each candidates paper would be sent to every elector by the electoral body along with the voting card. On the ballot sheet everyone would just be listed by name, but a political allegiance could be stated in the CV if the candidate felt it important.

The leader of the council would be selected by the members who would then be selected to posts within the council, by the leader, presumably reflecting the members’ background, aims and objectives. More important than the political persuasion is the geographical split and groups could be formed around this – so for county their would be groups based on district. It would then make more sense if these county councillors were also the members on the district. This would work towards a more ‘joined up’ approach and save a heap of money. It must be better than the confusion that exists in the public’s mind now. To me it makes a sensible step towards a single tier local government. But what do you think?picture of suffolk

Regionalunitaridevolutionism

Predictable – when you promise one of your siblings a box of presents all of the others want to know what they are going to get. Its even trickled down to the nieces and nephews i.e the regions and counties. Of course what everyone conveniently overlooks is that, as the box of financial toys is fixed, for every winner there has to be a loser. Can power be passed down without money to go with it?

Despite recent cutbacks we are still spending far too much on the public sector. It is too stodgy and unresponsive – transformation programmes taking years and only delivering efficiency savings at best or a reduced service at worst. Is the unitary option the only logical way to go? Certainly from Joe Public’s point of view, the ‘Council’ is singular, but how do you divi up the area so that you can achieve maximum efficiency savings without losing touch with the parishes?

Can we learn from business where they periodically go through the centralise / decentralise cycle? Each change brings early benefits but are they sustainable – presumably not or the cycle would be broken at some point. Businesses have target customers and can design a delivery model to suit their demographic but councils have to reach everyone and each service we provide should be considered independently – education, health, adult care, housing, highways, businesses, etc.

Personally I think we should be seen as ‘the sail beneath the wings’, enabling communities to thrive and be largely self-sufficient but we are being driven by a ‘growth’ agenda from Central Government which is at odds with what many communities want or can cope with. Highway infrastructure has been inherited from a bygone age, narrow single carriageways, no cycle paths and a public transport system that allows massive over competition on certain lucrative routes and ignores others. I love Suffolk for what it is but are we in danger of morphing into an extension of Essex or losing our identity altogether?

So how would you vote – single unitary based on Suffolk as a whole; 2 or 3 unitaries (west, north, south-east) or to stay as we are and pull up the drawbridge?

picture - spaghetti junction

Burstall Show

Picture - Burstall Show

Having spent the morning at the Sudbury Rowing Regatta where better to go for lunch or afternoon tea than the 61st Burstall Show (Flower Show). They seem to have more stalls and activities than there are people in the village. Somethings are easier to resist than others – I had to have a go at the coconuts. First one to hurl a ball down and a hit with it – but the coconut just settled more into its base. That was the closest I got – onto the golf, surely I would succeed here, I play every week. Fortunately the greens at Purdis are nothing like the field in Burstall and I didn’t trouble the score board.

Time to tackle something I knew I could perform at ……. the cake stall!

Picture - Burstall Cakes  www.burstall.onesuffolk.net