Audit Commission report reveals Warwickshire County Council’s high central costs

A ‘value for money’ report from the Audit Commission dated 27th February
highlights that, ‘high central costs in some councils need greater
scrutiny,’ and identifies Warwickshire County Council as one of the worst
offenders.

Using the latest available data, from 2012/13, the Audit Commission
analyses and then compares data across all the country’s county councils.

Warwickshire’s spend on central costs is 11.2% of its total spending,
nearly double the national average of 6.1%, putting it in the worst 5% of
county councils in the country.

County Councillor Kate Rolfe (Lib Dem, Stratford South) will be asking the
following question at the county council meeting on March 25th:

‘In its latest value for money report the Audit Commission identifies
Warwickshire County Council as one of the highest spenders in the country
- in the worst 5% – in the proportion of spending that goes on management
and back office services.

Will the Leader please explain why Warwickshire’s costs in this area are
so high and what she intends to do to remedy the situation?’

Cllr Rolfe commented, ‘This is not what council taxpayers want their
money spent on. It should be going on front line services, not on
management. I’m determined to find out what’s behind this, but I suspect
part of the reason may be that Warwickshire is one of the smallest
counties, which means that its fixed central costs are relatively high.

If this is part of the reason then it’s all the more reason for the
Conservatives to start taking more seriously Lib Dem proposals about
sharing services with other councils and public bodies.

We’ve been saying for a long time that costs are too high. It looks as
though the Audit Commission agrees with us so I hope at long last we can
see some action from the Conservatives on this to deliver better value
for money for local residents’.

Notes:

To see the Audit Commission’s report and data, go to:

http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/information-and-analysis/value-for-mone
y-briefings-2/

and click on ‘value for money profiles’ (underlined in the main body of
the text).

Then go to ‘select a council’ on the left hand side of the page:
select Warwickshire County Council from the table and confirm the
selection in the top box.
Select ‘county councils’ and confirm in the box labelled ‘Find and
highlight a comparison group’.

This will produce a table called ‘overview’.

Then click on the box at the top of the page labelled ‘financial
resilience’.

This produces another analysis, included in which is ‘Spend on management
and support (back office) services as a proportion of total service spend’
and which shows that amongst the country’s county councils Warwickshire
is in the highest 5%.

Lib Dems Call for Transparency at LEP

cwlep

Liberal Democrats believe that transparency is the key to seeing  how public money is spent and how important decisions are made.

The Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) is the major organisation in the sub-region through which the Government is channeling large amounts pf public investment in order to deliver growth. Yet no minutes of CWLEP Board meetings are made available for public scrutiny..

Warwickshire Lib Dems leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse has called on the LEP to open up and become more transparent. He stated:

“In this day and age it is unacceptable for a body such as the LEP to keep its doors shut to the public and be secretive about how decisions are made. Transparency is important especially where public money is being spent. My hope now it that they will change and open up.”

Unhappy 4th Birthday, HS2!

hs2Today is the fourth anniversary of the fateful day in 2010 when, in the run-up to the General Election, the Labour government announced its plan to build the HS2 line between London and Birmingham. Many at the time saw it as a blatant election ploy by Labour to boost support in West Midlands marginal constituencies. Who would have thought that the incoming Coalition government would pick up and run with the project without subjecting it to the toughest critical scrutiny, and that now four years later this huge vanity project continues to rumble on, seemingly unstoppable by rational argument alone?

I make no secret of my total opposition to HS2. When it was first announced I was acting as agent in the parliamentary campaign in Kenilworth & Southam constituency, and it took my candidate and I a few days to read everything which the government published about the project and to decide to oppose it outright. Yes, the Lib Dems have a policy of supporting high speed rail, but we quickly decided that HS2 was the wrong scheme on the wrong route at the wrong (excessive) speed. Since then, of course, successive Secretaries of State for Transport have tried to shift the rationale for HS2 several times as each previous argument has been shot down in flames.

And yet, HS2 is still with us, and in fact the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill is in the House of Commons with its 2nd Reading expected some time after the Easter recess. Due to the ineptitude and failure of HS2 Ltd to engage fairly and effectively with individuals and communities affected by the scheme, the consultation on the Environmental Statement has attracted well over 20,000 responses. The petitioning stage of the Hybrid Bill, which will start some time after the 2nd Reading, will stretch at least until after the next General Election in May 2015. Even Patrick McLoughlin has now accepted this reality! HS2 will therefore be a major general election issue in 2015.

I’m very unhappy that the leadership of the Lib Dems, like that of the other two major parties, continues to be speak out in favour of HS2. However, there is mounting evidence that individual members and local parties are turning against HS2, as indeed is public opinion. The focus now needs to be on individual Lib Dem MPs, to persuade them to look hard at all the evidence against HS2 before the 2nd Reading of the Hybrid Bill and to vote against it.

If you are lucky enough to live in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP, please write to him/her and express your opposition to HS2. Even if you don’t, write anyway! I have, to a number of Lib Dem MPs in the South West and West – see http://johnwhitehouse.mycouncillor.org.uk/my-letter-to-lib-dem-mps-in-the-south-west-and-west-24th-february-2014/. So far two replies, both quite encouraging, so let’s hope for some more!

Congratulations to St John’s School, Kenilworth!

As a governor of St John’s Primary School, Kenilworth for over ten years, I’m absolutely delighted with the school’s latest Ofsted report which has been published today:  http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/130870

As most people know, the latest Ofsted inspection framework for schools has “set the bar” even higher than before, and there have been a number of high-profile examples of schools falling badly short of previous assessments.

St John’s has been assessed as GOOD overall, and in particular OUTSTANDING in terms of the behaviour and safety of its pupils.

My warmest congratulations to the head, Darren Barrow, and all the school staff and pupils, for this achievement.

Lib Dems Welcome Outcome of Unitary Debate

Liberal Democrats have welcomed the outcome of the public interest debate at yesterday’s County Council meeting, where councillors decided by an overwhelming margin to pursue further the opportunities for unitary local government across Warwickshire. All Lib Dem county councillors present voted for the motion, and also voted to defeat a Labour amendment which called for no further action to be taken.

The debate was initiated by the Lib Dems last October, when the County Group Leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse wrote to the other group leaders calling for an open and honest discussion of the matter.

Yesterday’s debate attracted a wide range of public speakers to participate, including business representatives and town and parish councillors, almost all of whom were in favour of the unitary idea being explored further. Regrettably, with one exception the leaders of the district and borough councils in Warwickshire chose not to attend.

As the review now moves forward, Lib Dems call on all parties to put aside tribal differences and vested interests, and to consider the evidence for and against unitary local government on its merits. We believe that the final decision must rest with the people of Warwickshire through a referendum.

I’ve submitted my response to the HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement

hs2Today I’ve sent off my response to the HS2 Phase1 Environmental Statement. The final deadline for this is 11:59pm on 27 February 2014.

The full text of my response is here: JW response to the HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement FINAL

As the county councillor representing the community of Burton Green, much of my response addresses the total inadequacy of the current HS2 proposals to mitigate the devastating impact which the current HS2 plan will have on this small, vibrant semi-rural community. The only mitigation option which would fully protect the village is a deep bore tunnel, something which HS2 Ltd accepts is technically feasible but which it will not accept on cost grounds. What price the life and well-being of a whole community?

Greenway-011-webI’ve also highlighted the major impacts of HS2 on the Kenilworth Greenway and the Connect2Kenilworth walking/cycling route linking the town of Kenilworth to the University of Warwick. The current HS2 proposals will make this route virtually unusable throughout the years of construction. Thousands of local people voted to win the funds to create this much-loved local amenity, and use it regularly throughout the year. If HS2 goes ahead, no efforts should be spared to keep the route fully open and viable throughout the years of construction, and to restore it to its former glory afterwards.

Warwickshire Lib Dems Win Major Budget Concessions

The Liberal Democrat Group on Warwickshire County Council has voted this evening to support a compromise budget put forward by the minority Conservative administration, after winning major concessions during  a nine hour meeting. This enabled the Council finally to set its four year budget, which was approved by 37 votes to 24.

Earlier in the day, separate budget resolutions from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrat Groups, and an amendment from the Greens, had all been defeated, meaning that at least two of the main groups would need to reach a compromise before the Council could set its budget. All parties’ proposals were based on a council tax increase of 1.99% a year, and all set out to achieve total savings of £92 million (26%) over a four year period. Where they differed was in the detailed proposals underneath the headline figures.

Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Lib Dem Group Leader, said:

“It was clear from the outset that Labour was not interested in reaching an agreement with us or the Conservatives. There were many aspects of the Labour budget that we found unacceptable, in particular their plan to close Household Waste Recycling Centres in the places like Kenilworth or Shipston, and the major cut they proposed in highway maintenance.

“We entered the negotiations with the Conservatives with some very clear ‘red line’ issues on the table, and were pleased that we were able to achieve over 90% of our proposals.

“In particular, we have protected school crossing patrols, secured a major new investment of £2.5 million in Safer Routes to School and School Safety Zones, and ensured that there will be no further library closures. We’ve removed any further cuts to children’s centre budgets for at least three years, and also removed a planned first year cut in the Supporting People programme. We’ve won a £1 million investment in energy efficient LED street lighting to accelerate the replacement programme. We’ve achieved greater ongoing capacity for the voluntary sector, and a £50,000 cut in members’ expenses and catering costs.

“Finally, we’ve secured binding commitments to restructure the senior management of the Council in the medium term, and to cut costs of member expenses and catering.

“These are major changes to the budget put forward by the Conservatives, which justified the Lib Dems giving the compromise budget our full support rather than voting against or abstaining. The final budget passed this evening is very different from the one originally put forward by the Conservatives, and much better for the people of Warwickshire.”

Notes:

The main changes between the agreed budget and the original Conservative proposal are:-

  • No cuts to the Supporting People Programme in 2014/15, allowing time for full planning and consultation of medium-term changes.
  • £2.5 million investment over three years in new Safer Routes to School and 20 mph School Safety Zone schemes, to ensure that children’s safety on their way to and from school is secured by road engineering solutions before cuts in school transport costs are implemented.
  • Retention of a £200,000 a year budget to support school crossing supervisors at those locations where children’s safety cannot be achieved by road engineering measures.
  • No further cuts to Children’s Centre budgets for at least three years, with a commitment for a full business case before any savings based on the development of multi-agency Family Centres are implemented.
  • No further planned library closures, compared with the original Conservative plan to close nine of the remaining seventeen council-run libraries.
  • No cuts in support to communities and community organisations in 2014/15, and a £300,000 a year reduction in the long terms savings target for this service.
  • A new £1 million investment programme in LED street lighting.
  • An agreed timetable for the restructuring of the senior management of the Council in the medium term, with specific savings objectives built in.
Lib Dems Want To Streamline County Council

The Liberal Democrat Group on Warwickshire County Council has released its budget proposals ahead of the Full Council meeting on Thursday 6th February. With the County Council under no overall control since the elections in May 2013, agreement will be needed between at least two of the party groups on the Council before a final budget can command a majority of votes.

The background to this budget and medium term financial plan, covering the four years from 2014/15 to 2017/18, could not have been more difficult, with further drastic cuts in central government funding leading to an overall savings target of £92 million over the four year period. After cuts of £66 million already made by the Conservative-led council over the last three years, there are no easy savings left to be made.

The Lib Dem budget addresses the financial challenge head on, while holding true to the manifesto priorities on which we fought the county elections last May. Our proposals are based on a modest rise of 1.99% over each of the next four years in the level of council tax, equivalent to a rise of 46p a week for a Band D property by 2017/18, to help to protect local public services from the full impact of central government funding cuts.

We plan to invest £2.5 million over two years to re-start the Safer Routes to School programme, and to develop 20 mph School Safety Zones. Lib Dems want to encourage as many children and parents as possible to walk or cycle to school, which is good for health and reduces congestion and air pollution. This will support the reduction in current home to school transport budgets without endangering children’s safety. Crucially, however, Lib Dems pledge to retain school crossing supervisors at all locations where it is not possible to create a safe crossing point by any other means.

We will retain the full current networks of libraries and children’s centres, which we consider vital community assets which should not suffer further cuts and closures. In conjunction with the voluntary sector we will develop a county-wide network of community hubs, to support access to the fullest range of services available and to address causes and effect of poverty in Warwickshire.

We want to accelerate the replacement of street lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs, and plan to invest £1 million in 2014/15 to pump prime an “invest to save” replacement programme, with the savings generated being reinvested back into the programme.
While some savings in the costs of running the county council’s household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) are inevitable, the carefully-costed Lib Dem proposals will retain free access to conveniently located sites for the great majority of residents. We challenge the other political groups to spell out to the public exactly how their much greater cuts will impact on the current nine HWRCs across the county – which will stay open, and which will remain free to use?

Our proposals will commit the council to achieving real savings of £500,000 a year from streamlining and de-layering of management structures.

Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Lib Dem Group Leader, said:

“The other political groups may talk about cutting management costs, but the Lib Dem budget is the only one which will commit the council to hard financial savings targets. When savings are being forced on vital front-line services for the public, it is essential that the council demonstrates its commitment to streamlining from the top to bottom of the organisation.”

Cllr John Whitehouse, Lib Dem spokesperson for Children & Schools, said:

“We are totally against the plans of the other groups to force further cuts to the county’s funding of children’s centres under the guise of ‘family centres’. While we encourage the use of the centres by health colleagues and other public agencies, this should not be used as an excuse to reduce funding further beyond the £2.3 million cut already in place for 2014/15.

“Massive savings are planned by all the groups in the spiralling costs of home to school transport, including for children with special educational needs, but this must be done sensitively and only after full consultation, and without putting children at risk on their way to and from school. In particular, we reject the plan supported by the other groups to stop funding the costs of school crossing supervisors completely. We have also committed £2.5 million to achieve a step change in safety for children on their way to and from school.”

Notes:
Highlights of the Lib Dem budget proposals are:-

  • Spending allocations of £2.5 million for Safer Routes to School/20 mph school safety zones, £1.0 million for LED streetlights, and £100,000 to set up a network of community hubs.
  • Reducing the planned cuts in funding to voluntary organisations.
  • Reducing the planned cuts in household waste recycling centres by 50% or more compared with the other groups.
  • No cuts in highways maintenance budgets.
  • A pledge for no further closures of county libraries. The plans supported by the other political groups will decimate the current network.
  • No further cuts to youth services.
  • No further cuts to children’s centres funding.
  • The funding to retain school crossing supervisors at all locations where it is not possible to create a safe crossing point by any other means.
  • Savings of £500,000 a year by streamlining management structures and reducing the size of the Cabinet.
If you love the Greenway, you need to OBJECT to the current HS2 plans

Greenway-011-webThe great majority of people in Kenilworth, when asked, are totally against the whole idea of HS2. They think it’s not needed, will be a huge waste of taxpayers’ money, and will do nothing for people in this area. However, unless you live on the Eastern side of Kenilworth, many residents may feel that it won’t really affect them personally if ultimately our national politicians persist with this white elephant of a project.

My message today is - IF YOU LOVE THE KENILWORTH GREENWAY, THEN YOU ARE AFFECTED PERSONALLY, AND YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

The current plans for HS2 in this area are set out in the HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement which is currently out for consultation. Although this document runs to a mind-blowing 55,000 pages, most of the information directly relevant to this area is contained in Volume 2: Community Forum Area Report CFA18 (http://goo.gl/3Aw0SF) and Volume 2: Map Book CFA18 (http://goo.gl/16Pdx7). I’ve provided shortened web links to the relevant documents on the HS2 Consultation web site if you copy and paste these.

On current plans, HS2 will slice through the Crackley gap between Kenilworth & Coventry, then gradually converge with the Kenilworth Greenway as it heads towards Burton Green. Just before Burton Green, the original Greenway will disappear, as HS2 goes through the village in a “cut and cover” tunnel roughly on the line of the current Greenway cutting. Beyond Burton Green the line of HS2 will gradually diverge slightly away from the line of the current Greenway, but essentially run virtually alongside it all the way to Berkswell Station. The cycle route and bridleway connecting the Greenway to the University of Warwick, usually called the Connect2 Kenilworth route, will be cut at roughly the point where the Portrait Bench is at the moment, with a big diversion loop planned to avoid the planned major diversion of the Canley Brook.

The HS2 plans for the long term diversion of the Greenway and Connect2 Kenilworth are disastrous, while their plans for “temporary” (up to 5 years) diversions during the construction of the railway are if anything even worse! The tranquility and beauty of the current routes will be lost forever if HS2 goes ahead, but the mitigation measures currently proposed are totally inadequate.

If you love the Kenilworth Greenway and the route to the University, if you are one of the many hundreds of people who use it every week, whether for commuting or leisure, then you need to RESPOND to the current HS2 Consultation and OBJECT to the current plans. The deadline for doing this has recently been extended to Monday 10 February, so there’s no excuse not to! Details of the consultation are at  https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/hs2-phase-one-environmental-statement

 

Automatic Flood Warning System for Kenilworth to go ahead

kenilworth fordFollowing a feasibility study last year, Warwickshire County Council has agreed today to go ahead with an automatic flood warning system for Kenilworth, at a cost of £52,000.

The system will comprise a flood detection sensor at the Ford in Castle Road, electronic warning signs on the approach roads to the Ford, and a new method of controlling the existing traffic signals at the junction of High Street and Bridge Street. When the sensor detects the water at the Ford starting to rise above a pre-determined level, it will activate both the warning signs and the traffic signals control system. The signs will warn motorists that the Ford is closed, and will direct them along the agreed diversion routes both for northbound and southbound traffic. The new traffic signals control system will help to optimise traffic flows through the High Street/Bridge Street junction, and reduce the congestion which the town suffers every time the Ford is flooded.

I’m extremely grateful to my fellow county councillors in Warwick District for agreeing to fund this project, which should bring considerable benefits to the whole town. Ideally we should go ahead with slightly more expensive scheme, at a total cost of £70,000, which would provide for additional electronic warning signs at key locations, but this will be dependent on finding other funding sources for the additional £18,000 it would require. Whether or not this is possible I don’t know at this point, but whatever happens today’s decision is a really good result for Kenilworth.

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