Thursday, 21 November 2013

Scrutiny... Breckland style!

Today saw the monthly gathering of the Breckland Overview & Scrutiny Commission. We normally have several agenda items of relative interest, but today there was only one - a decision by the Cabinet not to allocate funding to parish & town councils that had seen reductions in their income thanks to Government benefit changes. A complicated situation, but in short, last year it resulted in Thetford Town Council receiving £85,000 less in funding through no fault of its own. Last year, the Government gave District Councils a pot of money which they could pass on to parish and town councils to mitigate the loss. At a recent Breckland Cabinet meeting, members chose not to undertake the same approach this year meaning parishes would be hit with that financial blow. 

I 'called that decision in' with the support of other Labour Group members, I stated:

"I wish to write and request that the decision taken by Cabinet on Tuesday (29th October) i.e. ‘Town/Parish Council localised Council Tax Grant’ - is ‘called-in’ to be discussed by the Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Commission. I do this on the basis that I do not feel that the Cabinet adequately assessed the impact that this decision would have, particularly given the additional costs that parish and town councils are facing given Breckland’s continued transfer of services and responsibilities to them. It is particularly disappointing that parish and town councils were not consulted about this decision in advance to ascertain the implications to them and I feel that the Council has a responsibility to do this.

Imagine my surprise when several Tory District Councillors also 'called in' this decision, albeit for different reasons. I'd imagine that parishes in their divisions had been on to them quite a bit about the decision and therefore they needed to do something.  I did find it amusing that the Chairman had to point out to them however that their reasons for 'calling in' the decision were not valid reasons for a 'call-in' and that mine was - awkward!

At the meeting today I said something along the lines of;

Mr Chairman, I am pleased that this item has been called in. As a Town Councillor myself I am aware of the concern that this issue has caused across the district. This one matter is fairly significant on its own, a loss of £85,000 for my town of Thetford, or put a different way, the need to increase the Thetford share of the Council Tax by 10% for this one issue alone. An unwelcome position given other budgetary pressures. But for many areas, the real significance of this matter is the cumulative effect and the continued trend for services and responsibilities to be passed to parishes and towns. It feels very much like the straw that broke the camels back.

In Thetford, like in many areas, we have seen the responsibility for both play areas and toilets passed onto the Town Council in recent years. These added responsibilities have inevitably led to previous increases in the towns’ share of the Council Tax, now it looks as if street lights will be next. With other changes instigated by Breckland added into the mix, we are now having to charge residents more than £100 per band D property, a much greater amount than what is being charged by the district. Our town councils do not get the direct funding from the Government that Breckland does, towns are not able to benefit from the economies of scale that the district can and there is not an income from fixed assets, assets that were purchased in the main, from using funding obtained from the sale of council houses, a significant number of which were situated in towns.

Mr Chairman, this transfer of responsibilities has a fancy new title – localism. For most people, they will see it for what it is, passing the buck. If it were localism in a true sense, it wouldn't just be all these liabilities that were being transferred by Breckland, other aspects would be shifted over as well.

My Chairman, I want our district to be in a position where we charge the lowest possible Council Tax, but get the highest possible quality of service. Not just for the Breckland share, but for the total amount that residents pay per month for their Council Tax. Residents frankly do not care if their Breckland share of what they pay is lower than perhaps other areas, particularly if it means that they are having to pay a disproportionately higher amount to their town or parish council.

The most frustrating aspect of this specific reduction in funding, is the scant regard given to the impact. There was very little, if any consultation with parish’s and towns to ascertain the effect of this being removed and whilst some may say that this might only be for one year, there was no certainty of this.  Cabinet members did indeed have a choice, they could have passed on the money, in full or part. It would have been far more sensible, and fairer, to gradually reduce the funding, rather than remove it completely.

We have got to get this decision looked at again and I would urge members to do just that".

How incredibly peculiar that several Tory Breckland Councillors, including some of those that called in the decision (!!) then voted to refer the matter back to Cabinet, supporting their decision to remove the grant completely - utterly ridiculous.

Myself and an Independent Councillor were the only two Councillors that voted not to support this, and voted instead to refer the matter to Full Council for wider consideration.

The scrutiny process in Breckland is rotten, but that's what you get when you have one political party having such a massive majority, the lesson is quite clear - if you want democracy in Breckland, and a Council more able to represent it's people - do not vote Conservative at the next elections in May 2015.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Councillor log of activities for October 2013

Councillor Terry Jermy; Log of activities undertaken

A round-up of activities undertaken as the Norfolk County Councillor
for the Thetford-West Division and Thetford Town and District Councillor for the Thetford Saxon Ward

Telephone: 01842 750722 (Home) / 07742157967 (Mobile)
Twitter: @CllrTerryJermy

October 2013

Thursday 3rd October: Breckland Council, Full Council meeting in Dereham at 10am. It was the last Full Council meeting for Mark Stokes, the current Deputy Chief Executive. Tributes were paid to Mark by Councillors. On behalf of the Breckland Labour Group I said that we were very sad to see Mark leave the authority. I said that Mark had actually worked for Breckland for longer than I had been alive! He first started working for the authority for a YTS training scheme in 1985. I said that his hard work and dedication should serve as an example for other young people. Later in the meeting, myself and other Labour group members supported proposals to make better use of some of Breckland’s assets by supporting a local asset backed vehicle (LABV).  

Saturday 5th October: I travelled to Wiggenhall St Mary with Thelma and Albert Paines and Brenda Canham for a meeting of the Norfolk Labour Local Campaign Forum. We discussed, amongst other things, the Norfolk County Council budget consultation and the importance of encouraging people to participate with this process.

Monday 7th November: I attended the Norfolk County Council Cabinet meeting. I noticed that NCC is due to receive some funding to assist with the creation of social enterprises. I am keen to access some of this money to support local initiatives so I will be talking further with the Cabinet member for Finance. In the evening, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Croxton Road Community Association. It was encouraging to see several members of the public present and they had a number of interesting speakers.

Tuesday 8th November: I attended the Norfolk County Council Community Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel. The Agenda included the need to elect a Vice Chairman. I supported Labour Cllr Emma Corlett for this role as she has over 20 years of experience working in the social care sector. The Conservative members voted for a UKIP Councillor with no apparent knowledge in this field. Another example of how Norfolk Conservatives are trying to appease UKIP and get them on their side. Also on the Agenda was a discussion about Adult Education. Conservative members were very, very critical of the service and I would imagine that they are keen to progress their previous intention which was to reduce adult education completely and make it a service not provided by Norfolk County Council. This was immediately halted when Labour took over the Leadership of the Council. I spoke in support of Adult Education. I think it is a very worthwhile service and the report before the committee clearly demonstrated this with the service being ranked as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. I’m sure this will be an issue that comes up again soon.

Later on Tuesday I met with representatives from Thetford Tennis Club and the Thetford Town Clerk. The Club are working on improving the tennis courts within the Kings House gardens and I have volunteered to assist them with applying for funding. Following this I attended a very quick Town Council Planning Committee – lasted for approx. 30 minutes, but I was pleased to see that Lidl had submitted a request to slightly alter their proposals for the London Road site which clearly confirms that they are intending to progress with their new store – good news!

Following this, there was a Special Full Council meeting to discuss the heating system in the Carnegie Rooms & Guildhall. The boiler had recently been condemned and Councillors were asked to vote to spend approx £11,000 on fixing it. I voted against this proposal and spoke out strongly against it. I did not think it was appropriate that only one quotation for the work had been obtained, despite knowledge of the fault for several weeks and furthermore, there was no guarantee that the work would be effective, i.e. the boiler may still not work after the repairs. This did not seem to be a prudent use of tax-payers money in my opinion.

Thursday 10th October: I attended the Norfolk Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting from 10am – 1pm. This is one of the committees that I serve on as a Norfolk County Councillor. Wheelchair provision in Norfolk plus the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings Lynn was dscussed. I am keen to discuss health provision in Thetford as well as sexual health related services for young people – drawing on my past experiences as a youth worker. These are pertinent issues given the withdrawal of both the Youth Service and the Connexions service. Following this I attended a specially arranged meeting with the Chief Executive of Norfolk County Council to discuss future management proposals for the Council. That evening, I attended the public meeting of the Safer Thetford Action Group. I made the point on Twitter that of the 17 elected representatives for Thetford, only three were present at the meeting – myself included. Following this, I attended a meeting of the South West Norfolk Constituency Labour Party that heard a European report from Sandy Martin, number 3 candidate for the Eastern region Labour team.

Friday 11th October: I attended a meeting of the Moving Thetford Forward Board. I spoke against the plans for the temporary bus station and was pleased that representatives from Breckland Council were prepared to consider allowing the bus station to remain where it was and then move straight to the new site, thus minimising inconvenience to the public and saving approx. £50,000! I also queried how the £600,000 spent on the King Street square could be justified – there wasn’t even an attempt made to try and justify the expenditure, which seems incredibly wasteful to me!

Monday 14th October: I completed a funding application to the Breckland YAB on behalf of the TCA, working with other staff and volunteers. In the evening, I attended the Town Council Amenities Committee. Much discussed as ever.

Tuesday 15th October: I gave Robert Ashton a tour of the Charles Burrell site and then Robert came along to the Town Council’s Charles Burrell Committee meeting. Robert is a social entrepreneur who has volunteered his services to help get Charles Burrell re-opened – check out his website, He agreed to work on an initial business plan for the project that can be presented to a Special Town Council meeting sometime in November. Following this, I went along to the Brecklad YAB board meeting to review funding bids for projects across the Breckland area.

Thursday 17th October: I met with representatives from Flagship housing association today. It was a very encouraging meeting. They outlined things from an organisational point of view and I highlighted frustrations on behalf of Councillors and residents. Various matters were discussed and actions agreed.

Monday 21st October: Special Town Council Planning Committee to discuss minor amendments to the proposals for the Thetford North application. It was very encouraging that the hour before the meeting was set aside for members of the public to attend and give their views about the changes.

Tuesday 22nd October: Town Council Finance Committee this evening. We are beginning to look at budget options for the next financial year. Much depends on whether Breckland Council keep in place a grant to make up the loss of income that we normally receive through Council Tax.

Thursday 24th October: I was in Norwich this morning to attend a training course on community asset management. This highlighted some fantastic funding sources that we could potentially access to support Charles Burrell. I then went along to North Walsham to help Labour colleagues contesting a Norfolk County Council by-election for the seat of North Walsham East, this was won by a Lib Dem.

Friday 25th October: I went to Great Yarmouth in the evening for a reunion of Norfolk Labour Councillors from the 1993-2011 period. The reunion was held at the Great Yarmouth town hall which is a very impressive building.

Monday 28th October: Special Council meeting to discuss the incinerator at Norfolk County Council. I was pleased to be able to speak during the debate, my speech can be found here, which explains my reasons for voting against the incinerator:
However, a majority of Councillor’s supported the incinerator progressing, the vote was 40-38.

In the evening, I attend the monthly meeting of the Redcastle Action Group.

Tuesday 29th October: Full Council, at Thetford Town Council. A very packed agenda with some very good things agreed to. I was very pleased that Thetford TC has agreed to take on the 11 play areas in Thetford that Breckland Council does not want and has neglected for so many years.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance Day 2013

A fantastic turnout at the Thetford Remembrance Parade - as ever! Our town always turns out to support community events and supports our military personnel, past and present. The fantastic turnout was remarked upon as usual by guests visiting from other areas. The market square is a really striking setting for these events, particularly on a November morning with barely a cloud in the sky - the magnificent buildings e.g. Guildhall, Post Office building and adjacent buildings really do stand out and look magnificent. Also great to see the newly re-formed Police cadets attending, in their bright yellow jackets as well as seeing so many children attending as part of either the Scouts, Brownies or St John Ambulance.