Monday, March 15, 2010

Lib Dem Let Down (the story continues)

Liberal promises have a use-by date - 12 months at the outside.

Another matter raised at last week's Ward Committee meeting was the future of Acocks Green Library - a very busy library that is at the heart of the local community. Last March, the serving Liberal Democrat councillor promised those who attended the Constituency Committee meeting that money to be spent on that library would be spent on library facilities. No equivocation. It was rumoured at the time that the Neighbourhood Office was to be relocated within the library, but this was denied.

Last week, it was confirmed that the Neighbourhood Office is to be relocated from the current site in Botteville Road and into the library. At least six desks are to be sited in the library - probably in what is currently the children's section. Clearly, this will mean additional noise, a need for privacy for the users of the neighbourhood office function and will also place additional security considerations on the rest of the library, quite apart from the disruption caused by the required modifications.

Needless to say, the opposition has already kicked off - there's even a Facebook group dedicated to the campaign with well over 100 members. That's not bad for a community in just a few days and shows the depth of anger at the decision and the feelings that they have been let down.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lib Dem Let Down

Last Wednesday's ward committee meeting in Acocks Green was slated as a brief affair - only a single, substantive item on the agenda to pass the Community Chest funding for the year. I was running a little late and fully expected to find the meeting on the verge of breaking up when I arrived around ten past seven.

I was amazed to find that there was only one spare seat - a contingent of ladies who all attend the Fox Hollies Leisure Centre to use the pool had turned up to hector the three Liberal councillors about the closure of the small cafe at the centre. They were angry and had even provided a petition, but this was to no avail - the decision to close was already made.
The claim is that the cafe is losing £50,000 a year, but this has to be set against the fact that a number of groups and clubs that currently use the centre's facilities may decide to relocate somewhere with more attractive facilities. It was pointed out that this has already happened in at least one case. The cafe is also a community facility in its own right - providing a place for these ladies to meet after their swimming session and have a quick, warming cuppa. My comrade, Stewart Stacey, pointed out that this was rather similar to the status of the buffet cars on British Rail. The management in that industry wanted to get rid of them, because they consistently lost money, but when the cars were removed, they found that this cost more in lost ticket sales than it cost to maintain the service. It is a loss leader to encourage use of the centre - all the more important now that Sparkhill Baths are closed for the next two to three years and Fox Hollies should be well-placed to take advantage of that business.

Cllr Harmer said that there was no alternative - that the money had to be saved to allow the setting of a balanced budget (quite how the constituency will achieve that this year, given that they are well over £600,000 over budget at the end of the third quarter of 09/10, isn't clear). Perhaps if some £90,000 wasn't being spent on a former Sun hack to spin for the discredited management of the Children's department, there might be more cash to be spent. Or perhaps some of the millions spent on consultants by Birmingham City Council might have been better spent on services.

I fear that this will be death by a thousand cuts - that gradually, other items of the centre might be closed because of falling attendance, rather than attempts be made to run it properly, to advertise it and to generate business.

Liberal Democrat Lie

Accusing a party of telling a direct lie is not something I do easily or happily, but the Liberal Democrats in Yardley are distributing a full colour, A3 leaflet that includes a direct and demonstrable lie.

It may not mean much to them, but it is an absolute untruth to accuse the Labour Party of not campaigning in Acocks Green - for that is where this leaflet is being distributed, although I have no reason to believe that it is not being distributed elsewhere in the constituency.

We have campaigned since 2005 - I've run three campaigns myself since then. The councillor retiring in Acocks Green this year, Cllr Iain Bowen, will certainly recall the 2006 campaign when a small team helped me halve his majority. Much as I like Iain personally, we're putting up a fight to unseat him this year. We campaigned again in 2007 and 2008, campaigning also on behalf of Labour's team in the European parliament. A very successful campaign has been run to save the libraries in Yardley Constituency and we also fought to preserve the 41 bus route (John Hemming has copies of our leaflet, since he posted them on the Stirrer some weeks ago).

Sadly, we don't have the benefit of the £250k coming into the pockets of councillors, cabinet members and an MP, let alone Hemming's millions, so we have to find the money to fund our own campaigns and can't run to paid deliveries.

Perhaps the Liberal Democrats have spent too much time with their Conservative mates and are learning how to airbrush history, rather than just photographs.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Countdown and out

Those who can do, those who can't, teach and those who can't teach become Tory education ministers. Question Time this week saw a car crash of a performance from Carol Vorderman, when she was thoroughly outclassed by those around her and her 'independent' voice was exposed as a sham. Unqualified to serve as a teacher under a Tory government, she relied on reading her crib notes - wonder who briefed her? - and independently took shots only at Labour throughout the show.

Gaby Hinsliff watched the show as well
Chatty Carol, the lovable whizz with a whiteboard, metamorphasised before the Question Time audience into a malfunctioning robot apparently programmed by a shock jock. Smoke billowed from her wiring as she veered between shrill (on the public's apparent right to hunt down Jon Venables) and hesitant (whenever she lost her place in her cribnotes). By the time they got on to Iraq, the whiff of melting circuitry filled the studio.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

No Go to Conservation Area in Acocks Green

People in Acocks Green have been stunned and angered by a decision to delay plans to establish a conservation area to preserve the historic appearance of parts of Acocks Green.

Only a few months ago, the Liberal Democrat councillors promised that work to set this up would start within six months, but it has been revealed that it hasn't even been scheduled with the conservation team at the City Council, who currently have their work planned out for the next eighteen months.

It was further revealed that even this work is under threat as the conservation department's experienced manager is retiring and not being replaces and further job cuts are on the horizon.

So, as it stands, a promise made by the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Cllr Neville Summerfield, at a meeting with interested parties in Acocks Green, will not be delivered. Given that the Liberal Democrats are allied with the Conservatives to run the City Council, it is a measure of their unimportance that breaking a promise is taken so lightly.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Financial Woes

A very interesting meeting. So interesting that Cllr Paul Tilsley spent most of his time working through the emails on his Blackberry, although I'm sure that he was keeping an ear on the discussions.

First up was the financial situation across the constituency. The councillors sat there, impassive and silent, while an officer ran through the report, which was a pile of bad news. This bad news actually dates from last September, as the data has - apparently - not been available until now. Quite how anyone is supposed to manage the constituency without current financial data is entirely beyond me and I simply don't believe that these figures weren't available earlier. The quarter 2 data apparently indicates a forecast overspend at year end (that's the end of March 2010) of £564,000, but this seriously understates the position, because the budget reconciliation is based upon 'efficiencies' of £364,000 being delivered by the end of the year. Given that at the end of September, a grand total of £0 had been delivered and that the councillors failed to deliver £118,000 in 2008/09, the signs aren't good. This means that the true end of year position is likely to be somewhere north of £920,000 - an overspend against locally managed services of some 20%.

I did ask - just as I did at the last financial reporting session - for some details about how these savings are to be achieved, but no answer was forthcoming, either from the officer or his elected masters, who left him to struggle bravely, supporting him by remaining silent. Some of this overspend has been gifted to Yardley from the centre, as no allowance was made for the costs of retrospective appeals against the outcome of the Pay and Grading exercise. Cllr Whorwood tried to shift the blame for these costs by saying that it would have been cheaper if done earlier, but this ignores the simple facts that the process was flawed and some additional costs should have been factored in from the start. Basic business practice would dictate that, but such was the confidence in the process from the very top that it was thought unnecessary. In any case, only a small part of the overspend relates to Pay and Grading.

The only information available is that £177,000 has apparently been earmarked for recovery against 'general efficiencies.' However, only £52,000 has actually been saved and that is 'not fully in place.' The remaining £125,000 is classified as 'one off savings in place for 2009/10', but it is actually coming from the 'Constituency Investment Fund.' That sounds like a good idea - we need some investment in our constituency, but I suspect that this grand name is actually a cover for the use of central council reserves to try to cover up the failures of the Regressive Partnership. A similar funding solution has been employed in Hall Green, where the Liberal Democrats in charge face swingeing cuts to try and cover a deficit of £1.8 million - comprised of a history of years of overspending and failure to meet savings targets. The short version is that this £125k isn't an efficiency saving, but an additional chunk of funding from the centre that has been dressed up to look like efficiency.

There are also problems incurred through the 'Customer First' scheme, which is running late and has therefore failed to deliver the forecast savings within this year, so these will have to be found from somewhere else. It isn't clear who is to blame for this delay or whether any of those costs can be contractually recovered, but Yardley will pay the price in the immediate term.

And there is more. The officer presenting the budget tonight let slip that the figures for the third quarter actually show a further deterioration in performance.

According to Paul Dale, underperforming council officers can expect to face meetings with Cllr Tilsley which will be as painful as having teeth pulled without anaesthetic. Perhaps he should start closer to home.

Labour government supports expansion of Yardley schools

Tonight's constituency committee meeting was more revealing than I expected.

As part of a briefing on school place appeals, it was revealed that the government has agreed to pump £24 million into Birmingham's schools to fund additional places, money which has to be matched by Birmingham.

What does this mean for Yardley?

Currently, it is planned to have 60 additional places available by September this year by deploying mobile classrooms, with 1365 additional places promised by 2012 in Yardley alone.

That has to be good news and I hope that the City Council delivers, given the support that they have had from the Labour government.