Councillors Voting to Destroy Northamptonshire

Angel SquareCouncillors will this week be voting at Borough, District and County level on proposals for reforming local government in Northamptonshire. The outcome is predictable: the county will be split into two ‘unitary’ authorities. Will their decision ultimately be financially disastrous for residents and businesses across the region?

For whatever cause, austerity, ineptitude or sheer bad luck, Northamptonshire, like many other councils in the country, is failing its people. This is not political failure, though politics is in play, it is an altogether bigger thing where the dynamics of an ever changing population meet an absence of planning foresight and where scarcity of funds combine with a local government generally lacking the ability and agility to respond to rapidly evolving circumstances.

Local government is responsible for delivering the essentials for the wellbeing of their community; responsive and trustworthy emergency services, good health and welfare, high quality education, safe roads with reliable public transport and, above all, positive civic vision and leadership. In the face of the county’s catastrophic financial failure Northamptonshire’s elected representatives are now having to decide how these public services are to be provided in the future.

The Secretary of State imposed strict conditions when he ordered the reorganization of Northamptonshire’s councils. As Councillors prepare to vote it is essential to review those conditions starting with the unjustified instruction to sever the county into two simply because the new authority areas must contain at least 300,000 resident. In fact only eleven of UK’s 55 unitary authorities have a population over 300,000. Though population size probably does matter it need not be the sole deciding factor. Slicing the county into two ignores the precise needs of the differing communities that will find themselves in the care of a new single authority. The councillors will stand up and say no to this split when they vote?

Condition number two is the requirement to reorganise and reform on the basis of a police authority area. But police authority areas are irrelevant to those communities on the county’s fringes. Whether it is access to shops, hospitals, workplaces or schools it is people and places that matter not the jurisdiction of a Chief Constable or Police and Crime Commissioner. Will Councillors agree that today’s bobby’s beats should shape tomorrow’s?

Third is the requirement that the proposal should have solid public support. The recent consultation exercise clearly failed in that respect. Fewer than 1% of all residents responded. To put it differently, just about 2% of Northamptonshire households gave an opinion. Will the councilors claim to have solid public backing for their decision?

More generally, and barely mentioned other than in the context of the potential for increased tax income, is the planned developments that swing through Northamptonshire following an arc stretching from Oxford to Cambridge. This proposed major infrastructure project involves new rail and road links servicing a corridor of interconnected new and expanded villages loosely associated with our existing towns. This is development on a vast scale with tens of thousands of new homes sprawling across virgin countryside. The new authorities are going to have to cope with implementing that ambition but there’s no mention in the proposal of any strategy or tactic to handle the social and community planning needs of such a major undertaking. What will voting councilors have to say on this?

It is current thinking that Town and Parish Councils could deliver more of the truly local services. Expanding this tier of government is at odds with the aim of achieving economies of scale through bringing all services under one organisational umbrella. Is that going to be approved by the elected representatives?

Last but not least is the proposal’s preoccupation with cash. It obsesses about paying for the reforms, about starting with a clean slate or not, and about the financial benefits of reorganisation. What is never mentioned is the quite evident dearth of talent able to drive through reform. Today’s council leadership teams are valued and rewarded as if they were captains of industry. But we have seen that high salaries do not equate to visionary and inspiring leaders. Where in the next few months, whether from the ashes of existing councils or elsewhere, are the leadership teams able to design, manage and deliver a democratic process of change, teams with vision capable of driving through the reforms necessary for building a solid foundation for a sustainable financial future? Will today’s voting councillors know the answer to this fundamental human resources question?

It is said that people get the government they deserve. One thing is for sure; the people of Northamptonshire will soon know what they are going to get. For what the people of Northamptonshire are about to receive, should they be truly thankful?

Written by Harry Mellor originally for the Northamptonshire Green Party

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What Future Northants?

20180626_152452What ‘Future Northants,’ divided into two with more and more cuts to services!  Little has been done by the local councils to consult with local people about their future governance; it seams that local councillors see two unitaries as a done deal.  The criteria the government has set has meant that the consultation, that ends today, is a farce and the questionnaire at www.futurenorthants.co.uk  forces people to back this madness!

Central Government’s criteria for all new unitary authorities to have a population greater than 300,000 is not a fair requirement. What evidence does the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government have to say that the dozen or so English  unitary authorities with over 300,000 population are performing so much better than the 43 others? Northampton alone as a unitary, with a population of 228000, would rank 22/55 and West Northamptonshire without Northampton would still rank 35/55. If size truly mattered, Northamptonshire County Council, population of 745,000 and receiving 70% of our Council Tax, wouldn’t have any financial problems. It’s clearly not size that ensures the success of a Unitary Authority, more likely almost entirely dependent on the change management expertise of a Chief executive and the top management team.  I don’t really think change of structures is the issue; cuts in funding and bad management is.

Making a 300,000 figure up is a politically motivated statistic to ensure that all councils in Northamptonshire are governed by the Conservatives; the same party that has caused the crisis that the proposed solution is trying to fix.  This figure means that a 2 unitary council solution is the only option that fits the criteria leaving no choices for the people of Northants and thus leaving this consultation a farse.  The unitiaries are doomed to failure if they are to be run by the same councillors and party as before.  It will not change anything but structures; where better management solutions are required.

Decent services are what we want from our councils, not cuts to valuable essential services.  I took part in a protest with a group called ‘Action 34’ on Friday, who have been campaigning for weeks to stop the withdrawal due to funding cuts from Northamptonshire County Council.  Around 40 of us in Wellingborough brought the town to a standstill and several police officers turned out too.  We were on Look East that evening and on Northampton Radio throughout the day!  This was organised by a group of pensioners protesting about cuts to their bus service; why aren’t more people out on the streets standing up against the nasty political choices made by councillors at Northamptonshire County Council.  Decent services are what we expect from any current or changed type of council.  The good news is that group haven’t finished protesting yet!

I don’t really think we need to change what councils we have; but if change of structure is needed, it would be better to utilise the comparatively strong borough and district councils and just combine those who share so much already.  I see no reason why smaller unitary councils can’t be set up; these could be one for Northampton, one for Daventry and South Northants, one for Wellingborough and East Northants, and one for Kettering and Corby.  These areas already work closely together, the councils already collaborate and these unitaries would widely share the same demographics.  Councils are there to serve us, the people; not greedy politicians.  The proposed two unitaries are being set up for political reasons to ensure Conservative dominance continues – we deserve better.

Find out more at https://northamptonshire.communityvoices.org.uk/

Clean Air Bill Launched Today

Jenny Jones.Green Party peer, Jenny Jones, was delighted to launch her new Clean Air Bill today. If it passes through Parliament, it will be great news for us all: it will make clean air a human right in law.

July 5th is the 62nd anniversary of the first Clean Air Act becoming law

Today is also the 62nd anniversary of the Clean Air Act – the Act that helped tackle the smog and smoke suffocating our cities. But air pollution nowadays is different. It’s an invisible killer mainly emitted by fossil fuel-powered transport. This is why we need a new Clean Air Act that’s fit for the 21st century.

The government has been taken to court three times in the last three years because their clean air strategy is so weak it’s illegal. These failed legal battles have cost taxpayers £500,000. We must step up the fight!

Local people and communities around the country would be able to take legal action to defend their right to clean air if the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, introduced today, became law. This week’s air pollution episode throughout England and Wales illustrates how widespread the legal actions could become, as people seek to get corporations to change their behaviour and to force councils and government bodies to reduce pollution.

Photo0271A Citizens Commission would be set up as part of the Clean Air Bill to help parents and others take action. Yesterday, the BBC reported that a 9 year old girl’s fatal asthma attack has been linked to illegally high levels of air pollution. The Attorney General is looking at the case, as this is the first time that an individual death has been attributed to breathing bad air.

Speaking about the bill, Jenny Jones said “Given the premature deaths from air pollution and the complacency of successive governments, I think that making clean air a human right is the quickest way of getting the problem sorted. I think that giving parents and communities the ability to take legal action would focus the minds of the car manufacturers, the civil servants and local authorities. We should all enjoy clean air even when we are working in a busy city or living under an airport flight path.  This is detailed legislation that is ready to go, and I would be more than happy for the government to adopt the Bill wholesale.!

The ‘Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill 2018’ would enshrine the right to clean air in UK law across all forms of air pollution: indoor and outdoor; health and the environment; and, for the first time, require joined up thinking on climate change and local air pollution. It proposes a ‘top-down’ approach that would be based on the highest global standards and the best available science

 

Tabling her Clean Air Bill today has given Jenny hope that we can create a country that we can breathe in.  By joining the Green Party or registering you support; you can help Jenny and all Greens to fight this invisible killer – https://register.greenparty.org.uk/

GREAT FIRST FORUM IS JUST THE START!

We had a great turnout of 40 for our first forum in Wellingborough, so we are not stopping there! A report will be published soon on our blog. If you were there, I trust that you found it as empowering and as energising as I did to have your voice heard!

Glamis Hall have kindly offered to continue hosting our forums, and have suggested the stage them on Mondays to avoid noise from the main hall. I am proposing therefore that our next forum could take place on Monday the 25th June and that we hold them on every last Monday of the month from there.

This does of course come very quickly after our workshop and is only 2 and a half weeks away, but I feel that we need to have another quickly to respond to the proposed ‘New Town Council’ and ‘Two Unitary Councils’ as deadlines to respond are coming up fast! It is vital that the Borough Council of Wellingborugh hears our voices about this and the sale of the Jacksons Lane Car Park so please do continue add your view on our online forum.

Don’t forget to also get your self nominations in to help manage this group, you can Self Nominate here. I hope to announce our group management team at our next forum, so please do get your name in by Wednesday the 20th June to allow for a discussion at the workshop that is taking place on the 21st.

For further details about the workshop and to book a ticket (as spaces are limited) see our Workshop page.

Community Voices

Wellingborough Forum 1If you want to share your opinions about Wellingborough
and Northamptonshire, join us! We are holding our first open forum next week in Wellingborough on the 6th June at 7pm in Glamis Hall. Entry is free, there is car parking and refreshments are available.

The format is going to be a very simple, ‘topic proposed and debated’, topics will include the proposed Town Council, Jackson’s Lane Car Park and Potholes.  The purpose is to inform local councilors/councils of the communities views. We will also deciding the format and function of future forums and our organisation.

Community Voices is being set up across Northants as an independent, non-party political, community forum that will constructively enable residents, communities and businesses to fully take part and contribute to the decisions councils are making in Northamptonshire, particularly in reference to the transition to unitary councils.

To gather as many views as possible, we have on-line forums too and these have ‘gone live’ today!   Join in at wellingborough.communityvoices.org.uk

Yes Facebook groups are very popular and a great way to share issues; but topics are often lost because of the shear amount of posts and comments are often not constructive or polite.  We believe that people (including councillors) want to read about other people’s views and opinions; and want to comment without the risk of being abused.  We also feel that people need space, free from commercial or party political propaganda, to truly express themselves.

So to make this happen we have decided on three simple rules when posting on the online forums and speaking at one of our open public forums; the rules are – no rudeness, no party politics and no advertising.

It will be great to see a broad selection of people from the community on Wednesday, hopefully you! If you would like to add an item to the agenda please email admin@communityvoices.org.uk or message us from our Facebook page at facebook.com/communityvoicesforum

Cluck Off – We Say No To The Chicken ‘Factory Farm’ in Rushden.

Cluck OffWe are supporting the campaign to stop the intensive poultry plant being built in Rushden.  Bedfordia Farms Ltd plan to build a poultry farm with the capacity for up to 540,000 birds.  They have applied to build 10 poultry buildings and associated infrastructure on land north east of the Westwood AD Plant in Bedford Road.  The American style chicken farm is a factory farm that will have 22 chickens in a 1 square meter cage – 540,000 chickens will suffer these conditions if the proposed  development in Rushden goes ahead.

We believe this hugely unpopular development is bad for the environment and for animal welfare.  The campaign has been lead by Roger Barnes, head of the ‘Cluck Off’ protest group, which has been fighting the plans since they were first submitted.  The plans have been met with vigorous opposition locally, with Peter Bone MP and Tom Pursglove MP joining protesters this week.

Simon TurnerSimon Turner, the Green Party Candidate who is standing on Thursday in Higham Ferrers for East Northamptonshire District Council, said: “We are objecting to the planning application both in terms of it being detrimental to the environment locally, and because it is cruel to animals.  This is a factory farm that is terribly bad for animal welfare; and potentially the pollution from bird waste and increase in lorry movements locally is totally unacceptable.”

Objections from local people need to be submitted to East Northamptonshire District Council, Cedar Drive, Thrapston NN14 4LZ.  Their Planning Committee is expected to be meeting to consider the application on February 28th at 19:00 in the Council Chamber, there are currently 1265 objections to the Poultry plant.

8th Wellingborough Diggers’ Festival and Fringe Programme

Diggers LogoWednesday 21st March – Thursday 29th March 2018

Event: Display about the Diggers

Venue: Wellingborough Museum, 12 Castle Way, Wellingborough, NN8 1XB

Time: 10am – 4:30pm

Fee: Free Entry

Friday 23rd March 2018

Event: Guest Speaker – Andrew Bibby is a freelance writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Observer, The Independent, The Guardian and other national papers. He has written widely on the countryside and the outdoors. Andrew’s latest book Back Roads Through Middle England, includes a chapter on Wellingborough and The Diggers both past and present. Book signing opportunity.

Venue:  Wellingborough Museum, 12 Castle Way, Wellingborough, NN8 1XB

Time: 7:30pm

Fee: £4.00 on the door

Saturday 24th March 2018

Event: Commemorative Event – A short service to remember the Wellingborough Diggers.  Please bring with you one item of non perishable goods to this event which will be collected and distributed to the local foodbank. This supports Winstanley’s letter which was found on 4 Surrey Diggers who were arrested in Wellingborough during April 1650.

Venue: Diggers’ Information Board, Prologis Park, Wellingborough West off Sywell Road, Wellingborough.  Once on Sywell Road turn off at roundabout for Park Farm South. (depending on which way you approach the area you may approach more than one roundabout) Access is along the footpath near Dunkleys and Dana.  The footpath is lined by trees on the right. It is less than a 5 minute walk along the footpath.

Time: 12noon

Event: Live Entertainment

Plumhall – Folk/Americana  – Nick Hall (Hall Brothers, Magna Carta). Due to unforeseen circumstances we have just found out (today) that Michelle Plum will be replaced by Bella Gaffney who has appeared with Nick many times including last year’s Beverley Folk Festival. Bella has also appeared at Hebden Bridge Folk Roots.  Folk/Americana.

Will Kaufman – recognised as the world’s leading authority on Woody Guthrie. Hard Times and Hard Travelin’ show followed by Q&A.

Mick Panter – Northamptonshire’s local retro blues guitarist.

Venue: The Horseshoe Inn, 36 Sheep Street, Wellingborough, NN8 1BS

Time: Doors 7pm First Act 7:15pm

Fee: £10 or £8 concessions on the door

Please note that if on the Friday evening you purchase both tickets for Friday and Saturday there is a discount. Both tickets will cost £12. Concessions for Saturday evening only, £8 on the door.

Find us on Facebook for Digger news and Festival updates.

https://en-gb.facebook.com/Wellingborough-Diggers-Festival-480408602099413/

We look forward to welcoming you all next month!

Best wishes

Jacqui (o.b.o. Wellingborough Diggers)