Report on County Council Matters
to North Nibley Annual Assembly, 3rd April 2017
County Council Membership
During the year, Liberal Democrats retained a seat which became vacant when the member for Chuchdown died. UKIP membership of the council dropped from 3 to 1, with one joining the Conservatives and the other first sitting as an independent and then recently resigning.
It is still a minority Conservative administration with a political composition of:
25 Conservative; 14 Liberal Democrat; 9 Labour; 1 UKIP; 1 Green; I PAB; 1 Independent and 1 vacancy.
During the 2016/17 civic year, the council has had a Liberal Democrat chair and a Conservative vice-chair.
Meetings of the County Council are now video recorded and available on the council’s website.
My roles on the County Council
I relinquished my position as Shadow Cabinet member for Fire, Planning and Infrastructure when I was elected Chair of the Planning Committee. I continued as my group’s lead member on the Highways Contract Advisory Group and the Environment and Communities Scrutiny Committee. I also continued as a member of the Commons & Rights of Way Committee and the Traffic Regulation Orders Committee.
More widely, I remained a member of South West Councils and continued to also serve on its Resources and Management Committee.
County Council Budget 2017/18
At the County Council’s budget meeting in February the Conservative administration proposed a 2017/18 budget of £402.68M, as previously recommended by a Cabinet meeting two weeks’ before.
This figure represents a decrease in cash terms of £5.78M from the current year due to a significant reduction in Government grant funding (£17.28M or 14.5%). Overall, the budget will have absorbed £35.34M of “savings” to achieve this. Government grant funding will almost disappear over the next few years.
The Liberal Democrats put forward a series of amendments totalling an extra £6.09M by drawing down on various reserves held by the County Council. This was therefore achieved without any further increase in council tax over the original Conservative budget.
After a lengthy adjournment, the Conservatives proposed an amendment to their own budget incorporating very similar proposals to those put forward by the Liberal Democrats but with some differences in the way it would be allocated.
The resultant budget reinstates the present year’s Highways Local funding at £30k per councillor and the lengthsman funding at £0.5M for the county. The £100k to assist making Traffic Regulation Orders was reinstated. Both groups’ proposals added £4M to the highways’ budget. The Conservatives are also claiming a further £6M added to highways spending, but this comes from Government grants to the council, which no administration would have refused!
There were additions to the funding of services to children and young people and to adults.
These were £0.5M less than proposed by the Liberal Democrats and with important differences.
At the end of the meeting the increase in the council tax precept therefore remained as in the consultation draft as 1.99% plus an additional 2% adult social care levy permitted by the Government. This increases the county council share of council tax at Band D by £45.25 to £1179.26.
The Government would have allowed the council to increase the adult social care levy by 3%, and some councils have done this, but the Cabinet member responsible claimed this was not needed.
Since the County Council meeting, the Chancellor’s budget statement in March included additional funding for adult social care. For Gloucestershire, this will be £10.6M in 2017/18, £7.2M in 2018/19 and £3.6M in 2019/20. Whilst I very much doubt that Gloucestershire will be turning it down, the conditions attached to this funding are not yet known! The announcement followed a vote by Surrey County Council to call a referendum for a 15% council tax increase to meet adult social care needs which the Government is alleged to have headed off by a special deal. The announcement will still leave a national funding gap of £1 billion in the coming financial year.
Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC)
A few days before the budget meeting the Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) announced that he was withdrawing from the Road Safety Partnership because of year-on-year Conservative reductions in the County Council’s contribution towards running it. So, at the meeting, the Conservatives had to propose an increase in this contribution of £390k to address the gap the PCC’s withdrawal will create. In answer to a councillor’s question Cabinet Members said there was a “robust working relationship” with the PCC. The PCC’s contribution was not actually “hard cash” but arose from the loss of Gloucestershire Constabulary support.
The Government are encouraging PCCs to take over the Fire & Rescue Service. The Home Office has given Gloucestershire’s PCC £100k to consider the merits of this. County councillors are strongly of the view that the highly efficient Fire & Rescue service should remain with the County Council. The PCC would have to produce a business case for the change, as would the County Council for the service to remain with the council. The decision would be made by an independent person appointed by the Home Secretary…
The Chief Constable is retiring in April. The PCC has decided to leave the post vacant for the time being and nothing can be done about that. The Gloucestershire Police and Crime Panel in their scrutiny role will be seeking to understand the thinking behind this
National Funding Formula for schools
The Government undertook a major consultation on the introduction of a national funding formula for mainstream schools from 2018/19. This ended on 22nd March.
Overall, Gloucestershire schools would gain £2.1M but drop 10 places down the funding league table from 102nd to 112th place. The average funding per pupil in Gloucestershire would be £4344 compared to £6582 in Tower Hamlets.
The proposals favour smaller primary schools. In my Division, the Blue Coat C of E Primary School would lose 2.7%. All the other primary schools gain to varying extents. North Nibley C of E Primary School would gain £13k on its current funding of £403k.
Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School, which almost all pupils in my Division attend during their school career, would lose £117k, the second biggest loss in Gloucestershire.
There has been considerable opposition to the proposals, including from both MPs within my division, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
Highways Local Funding 2017/18
Because of the county elections in May, no funds will be committed to Highways Local until afterwards, meaning that it will not be possible to deliver all the projects by the end of the next financial year on 31st March 2018. The 2017/18 programme will therefore run until 30th June 2018. Existing members like me can identify potential projects ahead of the election.
The same principle will apply to the Children’s Activity Fund.
Amey Highways contract
Amey’s 5-year contract ends in April 2019. Given the complexity of retendering such a large contract a decision will be taken by the council’s new Cabinet in June/July this year, immediately after the elections, either to retender or to extend the current contract by two to three years.
The low satisfaction levels of the service were raised as an issue in a motion to the full council. The parish council satisfaction survey, originally due last December has now been delayed until after the elections. The previous parish council survey received a satisfaction level of just 2.41/5.00.
It was argued at a recent scrutiny committee meeting that this was a routine annual survey and would not form part of the consideration on whether to extend Amey’s contract. I disagreed and at the March county council meeting a Liberal Democrat motion requiring consultation with parish, town and district councils over the highways contract received unanimous support.
Children’s Activity Fund
This fund is continuing next year at the current £5k per county councillor. During the current year the County Council has been keen to invest in community activities that promote the wellbeing of children and young people 0 - 11 years old. This does not preclude activities that also benefit older children and teenagers up to 18 years.
This year, locally, I have been able to support taster badminton sessions at KLB school for primary school children.
Highlights from County Council Meetings
Apart from the budget, the full council has dealt with numerous matters, usually as a result of motions raised by councillors. These included:
- the slow issuing of death certificates, meaning many families were waiting beyond the statutory five-day period to receive them. This issue would not have come to light if it had not been raised by a councillor. As a result the situation has now much improved.
- waste recycling rates (below target and ways to improve them should be sought) Lib Dem motion slightly amended and agreed unanimously.
- meals on wheels (complaints about the new provider: driver not finding the client, no meal, late meal, wrong meal) Lib Dem motion agreed unanimously.
- hate crime (increased since referendum vote) Lib Dem motion agreed unanimously following an amendment
- accident and emergency waiting times (Gloucestershire hospitals NHS Trust in breach of their licence). Conservative motion with Lib Dem additions, agreed unanimously.
- a Liberal Democrat motion calling on the Government to obtain a long-term settlement for funding NHS and Care Services was agreed, with the Conservative group abstaining.
- on fracking, affirming the Council’s opposition in principle to fracking (and also opposing personal payments to affected households and regretting the abolition of the Department for Energy and Climate Change) was agreed in a recorded vote with the Conservatives abstaining.
- improvements to the inspection and fixing of footways, given that many in the county are in need of repair. This was only approved after the Conservatives had amended it to delete a
sentence starting “Given the poor state of our county’s pavements”.
- concern over the reducing budget for supporting bus services that need a subsidy if they are to run has yet to be debated.
- concern over the increasing number of further education students (6th formers and above) with mental health problems. (Lib Dem motion). A task group has been set up to gather evidence and to produce recommendations to the council.
The council also debated a report on ambulance response times successfully requested by a Lib Dem motion to a previous County Council meeting. The report included ten recommendations which were all approved.
Also, a petition calling for 24-hour local urgent care services to continue at Stroud and Cirencester hospitals received in excess of the necessary 5000 signatures to be debated by the County Council. It is not a matter for which the council is responsible so at the end of the debate, where speeches supported the continuation of the Minor Injuries Units, it was referred to Gloucestershire Care Services and the Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group.
Berkeley Road bridges
The bridge replacement took longer than expected, one issue being securing possession of the railway line from Network Rail, in part caused by a delay in the electrification programme. The damage done to minor roads in the area caused by the closure and traffic light control of the A38 is being assessed.
A contract awarded to Skanska will convert all 55,000 street lights to LED lighting and also covers the general maintenance of the council’s street lighting.
It is running ahead of schedule and, due to difficulties encountered in another part of the county, the conversion was brought forward in Wotton, North Nibley, Stinchcombe, Kingswood and Hillesley & Tresham.
LED street lights use 70% less energy than the ones they are replacing. Much of the
county’s carbon footprint is associated with the present lights. These lights can be made more directional, reducing light pollution, and their brightness will be able to be controlled from a central location. Maintenance costs are also lower.
The Cabinet in February authorised the award of contracts including Area 3e (our part of Gloucestershire) for the deployment of superfast broadband to “Gigaclear”. Area 3e covers 13,000 premises and entails £11.6M private investment and £2.2M from Gloucestershire County Council. These contracts along with previous deployments will result in 97% of premises in Gloucestershire being served by either superfast or ultrafast broadband of at least 30Mbps. The report says that “remaining premises that need to be reached to meet the ambitions of the Broadband Strategy will be achieved through small scale procurement activity”.
Bus Service changes (Wotton, Nibley, Stinchcombe
A new number 60 bus started running from Thornbury to Gloucester, via Kingswood, Wotton, Stinchcombe, Cam & Dursley Station and Dursley five times a day, with one further service requiring a change of buses to a number 62 in Dursley. There are five return services, the last stopping at Charfield. I appreciate the timing is not to everybody’s liking.
Mike’s Travel number 201 is continuing to run between Thornbury and Gloucester for the present, despite withdrawal of the subsidy.
Thank you for the welcome you have given me to your council meetings over the last year and indeed the last 36 years. I hope to continue to serve you for the next four!