Not All News is Bad

This week’s local government elections in Babergh and Mid-Suffolk are not all bad news. Katherine Grandon was re-elected with only two votes less than 2015 but this time with a much reduced turnout.
Katherine ran as an Independent after quite surprisingly having found herself unadopted for a ward which she had loyally served for eight years as their Councillor.
So, definitely a case of rejoicing and champagne all round.
John Hinton was once a senior member of Babergh’s higher echelons until he fell out with the Council’s future direction. He also stood as an Independent and was resoundingly re-elected.
Elsewhere the Conservatives in East Cornard swept their board with three seats defeating two prominent Labour councillors.
The results for Babergh are not all milk and honey. The Conservatives have dropped from being the majority party to being merely the largest. Some decent people are no longer on the Council, but as always, some people will be gladly missed and hopefully soon forgotten.
It’s easy to blame Brexit for changes in fortune, but local personality and local loyalties also played a part. My friends who got re-elected understood that you must get out the votes if you want to be elected. Others, who rely upon the tides to lift them up, often find themselves beached when the tides go out.

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – East House

BureaucracyThe Hadleigh Community News in April contained the report of the Meeting of Hadleigh Town Council held on the 18th February 2016 which included the following gem: “The Clerk reported that an e-mail had been received from Babergh District Council asking who owned East House. The Officer was, of course, advised that they own it.”
The history of East House is simple: According to the Hadleigh Chamber of Commerce web site of 17th June 2013 East House and the Meadows were bought by the former Hadleigh Urban Council from the Styles family in 1960 for about £15,500. It was a straightforward sale with nothing to specify the building should be used for the benefit of Hadleigh people or anyone else. When local government was reorganised in 1974, council held assets had to be reallocated to the new bodies. To begin with the new councils agreed that the town council should take on ownership of East House. It was a town asset and would stay in the hands of the town’s administrators. However, when, under the rules of reorganisation, the district auditor investigated the division of assets it was discovered that because East House had been bought by the former urban council under Housing Act powers it would therefore have to be allocated to the new district council (Babergh) which was responsible for housing. It was thus transferred to ownership of Babergh.
In 1975 Babergh offered to sell East House (though not the meadows) to Hadleigh Town Council at market value. Hadleigh Town Council unanimously decided not to buy the property as they were already financing loans relating to Hadleigh’s Guildhall and was therefore unable to take on another financial commitment of that size.
East House was leased to Suffolk County Council who (in 2006) discovered that it was the second least efficient property on its books. Not surprising then that Suffolk didn’t renew its lease and handed the building back to Babergh paying for the assessed dilapidations. I campaigned in 2007 citing the emptiness of East House and blaming the Lib Dems for their lack of action.
East House was subsequently placed with Strutt Parker for them to market the property. Depending on whom you speak to market conditions were the reason for the lack of progress with potential buyers. So, ten years on it seems that Babergh would like someone else to be responsible for East House – possibly so that the blame game can be renewed! Why is it that the words “Twinings, a tea party, couldn’t organise at” come to mind.
And for this they raise Council Taxes!

Fuller details can be found on: http://www.hadleighcommunitynews.co.uk/content_hcn/town_council.aspx http://www.hadleighchamber.co.uk/our_town/community/east_house_what_really_happened

Meanwhile on Planet Babergh – Angel Court

BureaucracyI recently had a call from a constituent asking what was happening to Angel Court in Hadleigh. Angel Court was formerly a residential care home and subsequently became a temporary housing unit and more recently Suffolk County Council sold it to Babergh District Council. My usual sources at Babergh tell me that they are unable to throw any light on the situation – so the question remains why and what do Babergh intend to do with the property? I have looked over the agendas and minutes of Babergh’s Strategy Committee and I can only surmise that the authority to acquire the property was contained in their meeting of  4th February. The minutes record that The Committee  noted the action taken by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee, as set out in Paper R95. Paper R95 was discussed without the public being present as it was  likely that there would be the disclosure of exempt information. Moreover the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed  the public interest in disclosing the information.
So what are the options for the property?

  • Turn it into a hotel? (After all Babergh is accruing an investment fund of £25 million – Paper R83)
  • Turn it into housing – since there is a constant demand for commercial or social housing.
  • Turn it into a state of the art e-commerce entrepreneurial centre.
  • Turn it into a new set of offices, thereby vacating Corks Lane and possibly leading to the consolidation of yet more services into Mid Suffolk’s offices at Needham Market.

You can guess where my suspicions lie. If it was good news why the secrecy. Once again the disinfectant of transparency is needed to dispel suspicions that the people of Hadleigh are to receive an unpleasant surprise. Meanwhile I have lodged a Freedom of Information Request to see if we can get some light on the subject.

Information is not Knowledge

BureaucracyOne of my favourite Babergh District Council committees is the Joint Audit & Standards. It last met on the 22nd January and paper JAC68 tells us of the current state of play with complaints against councillors.
We are told that since the last meeting there have been 11 new complaints. There are four complaints outstanding against District Councillors and 42 against Parish Councillors. No complaint investigation resulted in action being taken and seven complaints were deemed either not to have breached the Code of Conduct or required no action. Thirty-nine complaints were carried forward and are still outstanding.
This is just Information – not Knowledge and only hides what should be known. There was no update in October to the August 2015 report (JAC 59) which told us about three Mid-Suffolk District Councillors and various Parish Councillors in Stoke by Nayland, Felsham, Elmswell, Beyton (& Tostock), Bentley, Stradbroke and Long Melford who were the subject of complaints.
Why does it matter – well for one thing the disinfectant of transparency is a powerful boost for government to be answerable to and controlled by the people.
I would like to know whether the complaints against the three Mid- Suffolk Councillors were resolved. Have there have been four new complaints and if the three Mid Suffolk Councillors are still hanging around awaiting findings, what is holding matters up?  Who is the fourth Councillor to be the subject of a current complaint and what have they done?
Hopefully we might find out about all these things at the next meeting of the next Joint & Audit & Standards Committee.

Hadleigh Market

Hadleigh Market ConsultationThere are times when you see things that you wish you hadn’t. You dismiss them from your mind and then they come back in the early hours of the morning, when you should be dreaming of nice things.
I was visiting Hadleigh last month and noticed a poster in the Co-op inviting comments and suggestions on the future of Hadleigh Town Market. As a market town we have a long tradition of markets and fairs. Within recent years we have seen the market shrink from two days a week to one (Friday) and recently the key anchor merchandiser (the greengrocer) announced that he was retiring.
I’m all for consultation and accessing the community of knowledge and so I welcomed the outreach initiative. And then I saw what I rank as five of the worst words in the English language ever strung together. There at the bottom of the poster is the strap line “Managed by Babergh District Council”.
The disconnect between the reality and the ability to organise tea parties at Twinings is historical and self evident. Babergh are the Council who insisted on trying to foist a Tesco supermarket on Hadleigh despite the overwhelming evidence that it would be an economic disaster and destroy the High Street and the town. These are the people who have sat on East House leaving it empty since 2006 when it could have continued as a community asset. These are the people who gave us car parking charges in the face of overwhelming evidence that small towns need the support that free car parking gives them to continue their vibrancy and to enable small businesses to compete against supermarkets.
Babergh, for as long as I have known it, thinks of itself as the inheritor of the view that ‘the man in Whitehall knows best’. This socialist statist view came from Baron Jay who in 1937 wrote: “In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves.” Babergh self inherited this arrogance which continues to manifest itself in their actions.
And what of Hadleigh Market. The Town already hosts monthly Farmers’ Markets and there is scope for people to enjoy more artisanal as well as more exotic products (I particularly liked the Nile Perch available from Crystal Waters). However at the risk of being a Cassandra, I can’t see the helping hand of Babergh being a significant plus factor in the Market’s future.

Going Native

Henry_M_Stanley_-I often hesitate to pick on another politician based upon a single article in a newspaper, but the Daily Telegraph of 20th November reported on an interview given by Lord Porter of Spalding wherein he stated that whilst he is not happy with the six figure salaries enjoyed by council chief executives there is little that can be done…because that is the way the world is! Gary Porter is Baron Porter of Spalding CBE, a British Conservative politician, local government leader and member of the House of Lords.
He is also a South Holland District Councillor and most importantly Chairman of the Local Government Association. He was created Baron Porter of Spalding, of Spalding in the County of Lincolnshire on 15th October 2015.
In the article he draws the comparison with top footballers with whom he is also “not happy” about their being paid a lot of money. But as a person in a leadership position he does have choices. He can choose not to support a football team if he thinks they are over promising and under delivering. A top footballer is expected to thrill millions across the globe and has a limited performing lifetime. And for many people the purpose of top footballers is to be the recipient of gratuitous abuse whether it is appropriate or otherwise. A top footballer is always at risk of career terminating injury. I have yet to see a Council Executive whose brain was overworked in the performance of their duties.
The real test of a Council Executive’s pay is whether the recipient provides added value. I have known a few Council Executives directly and I have yet to discern added value. For the most part they are administrators who do not provide leadership but manage to convince senior elected officials that they have to pay the most to get the best. But we do not always need the best. I would like a Rolls or a Bentley but I happily settle for a VW.
When Babergh was enjoying its executive leadership challenges I suggested that we could emulate the Roman Empire and split the job between the three (at most) next senior executives. They would have to work together towards common goals. They would not need a fourth person to coordinate their actions and give them direction as if they were teenagers. They would however need political direction.
Equally I suggested that they should advertise the post at £80,000 instead of  £100,000+ and see what they got. They might have got ambitious candidates with acceptable capabilities, qualifications, experience and vision. Instead the senior councillors (i.e. the political leadership) outsourced their problems to an Executive Search Consultant and the rest is history. There was no challenge and consequently I feel that they ended up overpaying.
And what of Lord Porter? Where is his challenge and leadership? What happened to the man I once met and admired? Has he succumbed to the Sir Humphreys of the Local Government Association?
The evidence is clear enough. One does not need to be in the Third World in order to go native!

Cock Up, Conspiracy or just Business as Usual?

EaCoxs Park 120915 rlier this month the enquiry into the status of Cox’s Park in Hadleigh was adjourned on its first day after additional evidence was submitted by Babergh District Council. Babergh wishes to build housing on the parkland and since 2013 residents have been trying to have the park designated as a town green.
The inspector quite rightly adjourned the enquiry for four weeks to allow the residents to inspect the 60 pages of new evidence presented by Babergh and this evening (Thursday 25th) there is a meeting of Hadleigh Town Council to review the situation. The meeting is open to the public.
This is all very well, but what were Babergh thinking of dumping over 60 pages of evidence on the enquiry on its first day. Did they think they could disrupt the decision process by denying the residents the chance to review the evidence? Did they think that such a manoeuvre would work in their favour?
No explanation has been made as to why this stratagem was adopted by Babergh. The quotation from Babergh’s Strategic Director (People) merely refers to their awareness “of the strength of local feeling for East House and the surrounding land.” This of course begs the question why did they use this tactic. Was it deliberate? Was it happenstance? Or is it an example of what they usually do –  blunder onwards? Is this Tesco all over again – blindly going forward when the evidence indicates that the well being of the town and the wishes of the people demand otherwise?