Posted November 8, 2013
Readers of this site may have seen me being quoted on the front page of the Durham Times today (and in the Northern Echo) about the County Council claiming to be saving money on the Durham mayoralty by combining the role with the Chairmanship of the County Council.
Apart from the disgraceful fact that the council has stolen the mayor’s position from the City, behind the smoke and mirrors of the apparent savings lies a perverse subsidy by council tax payers across the county.
When the Charter Trust was established on the demise of the City Council, an additional local rate was established on the residents of the former district council (only) to pay for the mayor.
It was necessary to set up an office for the mayor’s secretary (full-time) in the Town Hall for which the Charter Trust paid rent. Under the new arrangements, the mayor’s secretary has been relocated to County Hall and no rent is being paid by the Charter Trust for the office space she now occupies.
The mayor’s secretary was a full-time position – and given the hundreds of appointments the mayor had this was certainly necessary. Since she has now been ‘down-sized’ we can only assume that the mayor’s role has been significantly reduced also.
On the other hand, if the Charter Trustees are no longer paying for office space, it follows that this is being paid for from general County Council funds. In other words, council tax payers from across the whole county are subsidising the Durham City mayoralty.
Similarly the costs of the mayor’s transport are being hidden inside the costs of transporting the Chairman around.
The only conclusion I can come to is that everyone is being short-changed by the new arrangements – residents of Durham City, because they now have a mayor from outside the City who is doing much less for the City than before, and residents across the County who are subsidising the City which is totally contra to the raison d’etre of the Charter Trust arrangement.
There is a solution to this mess - let’s get a Town Council for the City established to reclaim the mayoralty for the people of the City, and get away from the petty politicking of the Labour Party, who seem only interested in running things at County Hall for their own benefit.
Posted October 11, 2013
The first such is at the southern end of the golf course where David Wilson Homes (now part of Barratt Developments) are looking to build 61 new houses.
My memory tells me that the original Banks application gave an indicative number of around 56, but what’s 10% between friends.
As the first step, David Wilson Homes are holding a public consultation event between 3pm and 7 pm on Thursday 17 October, at Mount Oswald Manor (as the old house appears now to be called).
I hope as many interested people can get along to see what they have to offer, and put in ther two pennyworth.
Posted August 23, 2013
The Heritage Open Days , Thursday 12 – Sunday 15 September, is rapidly approaching, giving the public access to some fine buildings that are normally accessible.
To find out more about what can be seen in Durham, the council has details on:
Posted August 4, 2013
I have had three e-mails in the last two days from local people who are concerned about fracking in Durham City.
Fortunately, my fellow councillor is Dr Grenville Holland, a retired lecturer in Geology at Durham University, so I consulted him. Here is his reply:
“The deposits of interest lie in deep seated and very thick Ordovician/Silurian sediments and we are north of those. There should be no fracking in Durham.”
On the basis of this expert opinion, my responses to local residents have been that this is not an issue for them in this locality, which will no doubt find us all much relieved.
On the wider scale, I am as much concerned about the lack of informed reporting on the whole issue of fracking, which is leaving many people, me included, unsure and therefore concerned about the future.
The politicians in government are not scientists (by and large) and the press seem only interested in the “shock – horror” headlines that ignorance almost always produces.
For once, will someone who is really independent of all the vested interests (for and against) treat the population like adults and explain exactly what the real risks are with this procedure so that we can together make a properly informed judgement. Otherwise, we shall be left in the usual situation of knee-jerk reactions substituting for policy.
By the way, each of the e-mails that I have had on this topic have started with the identical wording:
“I’m very concerned about the prospect of fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – in our area.
“Fracking has been linked to contamination of water supplies and atmospheric pollution, as well as increased traffic to construction sites. The government has promised lower energy bills if gas and oil from fracking is produced, but even the fracking companies admit this is unlikely to happen.”
Again, this sounds like words from a pressure group. Some of these allegations may well be true, but can we have an independent evaluation please?
For instance, construction sites always produce increased traffic. It is the impact that is important. This country desperately needs many hundreds of thousands of new houses. Are we really going to refuse to build them purely because of the annoyance of constructing them?
Posted July 13, 2013
The County Council Cabinet is meeting next Wednesday and I am sitting with a copy of the papers for the meeting in front of me. As well as the usual raft of policy stuff such as the Corporate Asset Management Plan and Property Strategy, Residential Car Parking standards etc. (all important in their own right), there are two decisions being made on ‘local’ matters.
These too are important and refer respectively to a significant change to the status of St Oswald’s Infant School in Durham City (it is to become a primary school), and the approval of a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for Wharton Park, also in Durham City.
As a Councillor neither of these two decisions is directly related to the area I represent. St Oswald’s is in the Elvet and Gilesgate division and although Wharton Park was in the Neville’s Cross division, I lost it to Elvet and Gilesgate in the recent boundary changes.
So to my gripe for today.
All the decisions to be taken at the next Cabinet meeting have either countywide relevance or are about Durham City.
Question: Where is the Cabinet meeting taking place?
Yet again, Labour leaders at County Hall take no notice of the public when it comes to making decisions. While there may be some mileage (literally) in taking Cabinet meetings around the county, surely somebody should have had the thought that on this occasion the best place would actually be County Hall.
That is why I have put a motion down for the next Council meeting to have all meetings of both the County Council and the Cabinet broadcast live over the internet.
The cost of doing this is tiny, the public would have access all across the county, and money could be actually saved by not taking council officers to meetings many miles from where they normally work.
Other councils are doing this, and have been for some time. Will the Labour dinosaurs at County Hall agree when it is debated at next Full Council on 24 July? If their record on opposition proposals is anything to go by, I am not holding my breath.
Posted July 9, 2013
The long saga of replacing the play equipment at Allergate has just taken another significant step forward.
Two of the equipment providers on the Council’s approved list submitted designs and these were shown to the children at Neville’s Cross and St Margaret’s Primary Schools last week.
The children had a clear preference for what they wanted and that choice is now being moved forward through the formal procurement process at County Hall.
Hopefully, it will not be too long now before the playground in Allergate is back in proper use.
Friday, June 28th, 2013 by craigwhittall
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The coalition is using £15.3 billion of investment into our infrastructure to build a stronger economy for the future and to create thousands of jobs in construction right now.
For more information on the Liberal Democrats’ record in creating one million new jobs, and to find out how many new jobs are being created near you, visit the Million Jobs website: http://www.amillionjobs.org
Posted June 12, 2013
For the second time in 30 years, Durham City Labour councillors yesterday refused to elevate the previous Deputy Mayor into the position of Mayor.
The last time was in the early 1980s when Labour took control of the City Council and they stopped the late Harvey Smith, then a Liberal councillor for Framwelgate, from moving on from Deputy Mayor to Mayor.
It is an historical fact that, whenever Labour has had control in Durham City, only Labour councillors have been elected to be mayor, or on the County Council to be Chairman as far as I can see.
It is a fact that most councils do share the mayoralty/chairman position around the members of all parties, either by seniority (as in Darlington) or by a proportionate system as Lib Dems in Durham City tried to do with the District Council when we ran it between 2003 and 2009. The fact that Labour never had a mayor in that period was down to their stubbornness in refusing to co-operate and refused to nominate a Labour mayor whenever their turn came round.
Labour in County Durham really are in the stone age when it comes to this sort of thing.
So now Durham’s mayor is a councillor for Teesdale and lives in Eperley near Bishop Auckland.
The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Jan Blakey from Bowburn, is totally acceptable, but if this year’s way of doing things is the precedent, she won’t get to be mayor next year as that will go to the current Vice Chairman of the County Council, another Labour councillor, this time from Sedgefield [and if there was a vote between the Sedgefield man and Jan Blakey, I would vote for Jan - after all she will have been the Deputy Mayor].
That then appears to be the new model for the Durham City mayoralty. Wheel in some councillor (Labour of course) from wherever in County Durham and have a deputy from the former City District area.
The calculations of the workload of the City mayor and County chairman make is clear that there is no way the combined individual can fulfill both tasks properly, so my prediction is that County events will take priority and as a result most of the City events will be undertaken by the Deputy Mayor.
I hope I am wrong, but I shall certainly be keeping a close eye on what is going on.
As for the idea that this new arrangement will save lots of money, that is pie in the sky in my humble opinion, unless the activities of the mayor are also cut to the bone. Is that what the people of the City want?
And did you know that the cost of running the County Council Chairman’s office, according to figures I have seen, is estimated to be twice as much as that of the City mayor?
So what’s to do about this mess/tragedy?
Simply put, we need to get a Town Council set up for the City and as soon as possible.
The regulations for the Charter Trustees make is clear that they are intended to be a temporary arrangement until all the unparished areas within the old City of Durham District are given a parish/town council. When that happen, the Charter Trustees cease to exist and the mayoralty can be reclaimed by the City.
For me, that time cannot come too soon.
Posted June 2, 2013
Susan and I went in to the Town Hall yesterday to spend a couple of hours helping the mayor’s fundraising team run a tea, coffee and refreshments bar in the small hall – all profits to the mayor’s charities this year.
The day was special because the City Freemen and the Mayor’s Bodyguard were putting on tours and an exhibition of their activities in the Town Hall. So it was great to see so many people, especially visitors to the City, coming in to take it all in (and many to buy a drink and something to eat as well).
The Deputy Mayor, Councillor Amanda Hopgood, was outside in her robes and regalia to advertise the event and was clearly getting a lot of interest, as well as a steady stream of people coming up to her to complain about the intention of the Labour Council to make someone from Teesdale the City’s Mayor next year.
Which brings me back to the fundraising. I don’t think the Labour Councillors have twigged that all the Mayor’s fundraising is done by volunteers. The only involvement of any paid worker is the Mayor’s Secretary to deal with the agenda and minutes of the fundraising committee.
There are a couple of reasons why they have not caught on. Firstly, at County Hall it is clear that council staff do get involved in the day-to-day organisation of fund-raising activities for the Chairman’s charities (I see it first hand), and secondly, Labour members in the City have given little if any direct assistance in organising mayoral fundraising for the past four years.
So let us hope that days like yesterday, that promote the history and heritage of our City to the world can continue and will get the support from the Mayor and Deputy Mayor in the future.
By the way, the mayor elected last year, John Wilkinson, had his title stripped from him the day after he lost his seat on the Council, so he was unable to welcome visitors into the Town Hall yesterday in his robes and chain of office.
But, nonetheless, he and Cynthia were inside the Town Hall working hard serving visitors refreshments throughout the day, supporting the charities he chose 12 months ago.
Posted May 23, 2013
At a fractious informal meeting of the Charter Trustees yesterday afternoon, the Labour majority announced its intention to stop the mayor of Durham City being a councillor for the area and instead give it to the Chair of the County Council (who this year represents the Evenwood County Council division located in Teesdale!).
They have also effectively announced that they will in future scrap the tradition of the Deputy Mayor becoming the Mayor.
By giving the mayoralty to the County Council Chair they have also said that the current Deputy Mayor, Lib Dem Councillor Amanda Hopgood, will not be allowed to become mayor.
The last time this happened to a sitting councillor was over 30 years ago when Labour (who else?) refused to allow Liberal Councillor Harvey Smith to move up to mayor from deputy. [Other deputies have failed to become mayor since then, but only because they ceased to be councillors and so were legally debarred.]
But it gets worse.
They have appointed a Labour Councillor from the Coxhoe division (within the area of the former City of Durham District Council area) to be Deputy Mayor next year.
Sounds OK? Not at all. Labour’s intention is clearly to continue to appoint the County Council Chair in 2014 to be Mayor. This chap (the current Deputy Chair of the County Council) comes from Sedgefield.
So the pattern is clear. The Mayor will be someone from anywhere in the County and the Deputy will be from the old City District area, and in future that Deputy can whistle in the wind as far as then being Mayor is concerned.
What about the Mayor’s role in the local community?
Last year, the Chair of the County Council undertook around 400 civic events in that role around the County and outside. The Mayor of Durham last year did a similar number, if not more. In addition, only a small proportion for each were the same event.
So how is the new Mayor going to find time for anything up to 800 civic events doing both roles?
The answer is – she cannot – there are not enough hours in the day.
Here is my prediction: apart from a few of the major civic occasions, we shall see nothing of the Mayor wearing the Mayor’s chain. It will almost all be done by her Deputy, and Durham City will have been relegated to second class citizens by the pique of the Durham County Council Labour Group.
They claim it is to save money, but unless the civic events of the mayoralty are cut back to the bone, they will still need organising, transport will still need to be provided (and its a lot further from Teesdale than from anywhere in the City, so the cost per journey will necessarily be greater if the Mayor does deign to attend). The entertainment costs will still be there.
Labour has given us no information about how the alleged savings are to be found.
Will the new Mayor claim the £3,500 that currently is given to the Mayor for personal expenses (the amount has tax and national insurance applied to it) – added to the £6,500 she will get for being Chair of the County Council and the £8,580 so-called ‘clothing allowance’?
I know what I think the honourable thing to do would be.
So what is the cost now? Just over £100K a year, including the salary costs of the full-time Mayor’s secretary, service charges to the Council for managing things like finance and organising meetings of the Charter Trustees, rent for offices in the Town Hall, as well a the various costs of civic events, honoraria to the Mayor’s Bodyguard and the very modest personal allowances for the Mayor and Deputy.
All-in-all the cost to most households in the City area on their council tax is around one penny a day.
How many people really begrudge a penny a day to protect over 400 years of history, about to be torn up by Labour all because the Lib Dems had the temerity to expose the secret “clothing allowance” at County Hall.
We can do something about this – create a Town Council for the City and we can reclaim the mayor and its historic role – that is written into the Charter Tust regulations by Parliament.