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.
Posted May 7, 2013
As most people following this site will know, I have been the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at County Hall for some time. In fact I have held the position since 1989 [I was first elected in 1985].
I have now decided that the time has come to pass on the baton to a new face.
As a number of friends and colleagues know, I took this decision early in the new year. The members of the new Liberal Democrat Group at County Hall have been notified and they will be electing their new Leader later this week at the first meeting of the Group since the election.
It has been a great privilege to act as group Leader, and I have enjoyed holding the position – most of the time! I wish my successor, whoever it turns out to be, all good fortune in what will surely be a challenging period ahead.
Posted May 7, 2013
May I say thank you once again to the voters of Neville’s Cross for giving me and Grenville Holland their support in the County Council elections last Thursday.
If you have not seen the result the full figures are:
|ASHFIELD, Stephen James||The Green Party||619|
|ELMER, Jonathan||Green Party||642|
|HOLLAND, James Grenville||Liberal Democrat||1087||Elected|
|LOVELL, Jonathan Priestman||Labour Party Candidate||471|
|MARTIN, Nigel||Liberal Democrat||1117||Elected|
|ROBERTS, Jonathan George Alfred||Labour Party Candidate||442|
|SMITH, Michael Drummond Moverley||The Conservative Party Candidate||247|
|SMITH, Wendy Frances||The Conservative Party Candidate||228|
In the rest of Durham City the Liberal Democrats won well the three seats in the new Framwellgate Moor and Newton Hall division, retained the two seat city centre Elvet and Gilesgate division and also won the new single member Durham South division.
Sadly we lost valued colleagues in Belmont and Deerness to Labour, who clearly profited from the unpopularity of the government and the difficulties caused by austerity.
Finally, it goes without saying that Grenville and I will continue to work for all the residents of the Neville’s Cross division irrespective of how they voted.
So if there is any issue that we think we may be able to help you with, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Posted April 25, 2013
I have just come back in from delivering some leaflets during which I bumped into a friend who had been canvassed by one of the Labour candidates.
My friend pointed out the shabby state of the City Centre, to which the Labour candidate said – that was all done by the Lib Dems.
A rather selective reading of history – so here is the fuller picture, for which I am prepared to be accountable (as, probably, my Labour opposite would not be).
The whole City Centre project came from something called Durham City Vision, set up jointly between the former County Council (Labour run) and the former City Council (Lib Dem run) and funded by the regional development agency, One North East.
The proposals went to the planning committee during the 2008-9 year, the final one of the City Council, who were indeed the planning authority for the project at that time, and after an acrimonious debate the plans were approved.
Remember that the proposals were fully supported by the senior officers of both councils at that time, and so, presumably, by the senior political leaderships of both.
In April 2009 the City Council was abolished and the new unitary County Council came into place, and it was under the oversight of the (Labour controlled) County Council that virtually all the changes to the market place were implemented.
So if there are any issues about the quality of the outcome and the maintenance of the result, which is what many residents have been speaking to me about, it is down to the oversight of the County Council and not the City Council that disappeared four years ago.
The really important thing is to ask what is going to be done about it now?
We have the Lindisfarne gospels coming in July and hopefully tens of thousands of visitors will come to the City to see them.
What undertakings are the Council making to ensure that everything is kept clean and tidy and all the issue with broken pavements etc. are dealt with.
A pity there is no Tourist Information Centre to put them in the right direction for their travels, but that’s another story.
Posted April 18, 2013
Being a mathematician has its uses from time to time.
As part of the Lib Dem budget proposals this year, we asked how much would be saved if the standard mileage rate paid to employees driving on Council business was reduced form 48p per mile to 45p per mile.
The answer from the Council’s Finance Department was £300,000.
So I asked my mathematical self: if a 3p per mile reduction results in a saving of £300,000, how many miles at 3p per mile will give that amount.
The answer is TEN MILLION miles!
In other words, council employees are claiming for mileage that would take them collectively to the moon and back more than 20 times.
Again, doing the arithmetic, the total cost at 48p a mile must be around £4.8 million a year. Think how much could be saved if the rate was reduced to 25p, the same as staff working for the NHS across the road form County Hall are allowed to claim.
[Answer: £2.3 million.]
Posted April 9, 2013
I have just checked with the MPs office and there is no response yet from Eric Pickles at the Depratment for Communities and Local Governmenton about the Mount Oswald call in request that I, Grenville Holland, the MP and the Save Mount Oswald organisers signed.
I hope that is good news, as it does not appear to have been rejected out of hand.
Posted April 5, 2013
I have just been reading today’s Northern Echo (having spent most of the day delivering our main election leaflet in Neville’s Cross) and spotted the article about complaints to the Council in 20011-12.
Here is the link to the article on the Echo web site: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/10330011.Near_triple_rise_in_complaints_against_council/
The main point is that complaints rose three-fold in the two years between 2009-10 and 20011-12.
To me this is just another aspect of how the people of County Durham have been failed by the merging of the old district councils and the County Council. This is not just me saying it – it is being brought up time and again on the doorstep by local residents while I have been out canvassing.
Quite frankly, the council is too big and local decisions are being made by councillors who are ignorant of the local circumstances.
This was Labour’s big idea for County Durham – Tony Blair even went to County Hall in person to persuade the Labour Group to do it.
Well, it is failing, and the people across County Durham are reaping the bitter harvest of Labour’s inability and unwillingness to listen to the people it purports to represent.
Posted March 20, 2013
Labour Leader Councillor Simon Henig today vowed that the County Council would take over the mayoralty of Durham City.
As the row about the so-called Chair’s “clothing allowance” continued to rumble on, Simon used the issue to attack the Durham City Charter Trustees.
So, while he did promise an all-party investigation into the County Council’s Chair’s allowances – something long overdue – he also said that the County should review those of the Charter Trust as well., and then dropped the bombshell about a County takeover of the City’s ancient institution.
Well, Simon, here are a few points you clearly do not understand:
- The Charter Trust is a body independent of the County Council, which means that the County has no right to interfere with its activities.
- The Charter Trustees did an in-depth review – in public – of its finances over two years ago with getting maximum value-for-money as the prime motivation.
- All the outcomes are in the minutes and associated papers and are in the public domain – unlike the financing of the Chair’s activities at County Hall.
The people of Durham will never forgive you if you snaffle their mayor away from them as part of some party-political revenge against opposition councillors turning over some stones at County Hall and exposing things that have been hidden for nearly 30 years..
How many people in the City would stand idly by if the County suddenly imposed someone from Seaham, Sedgefield or Stanley, on the City rather than a member elected from the Durham City area?
Of course, there is a way to stop this appalling prospect, and that is to set up parish/town councils to cover the as-yet unparished areas of Durham City.
Under the Charter Trust regulations, when this happens the mayoralty transfers to the new local council for the city centre area and any involvement with the County Council ceases.
We failed to get this last year, but clearly we have to start the campaign again, not only to give the City the strong voice that it needs, but now, it seems, also to save our historic mayor.
Posted March 15, 2013
The Labour candidates for Neville’s Cross in the coming County Council elections (Thursday 2 May) appear to be somewhat temporally challenged.
In their latest leaflet, they state that despite the coalition government cuts to its budget “Durham’s Labour County Council has dug deep to build a magnificent new Johnston School in Neville’s Cross.”
Forgive me, please, but my recollection is that (a) the school was built with a grant from the previous government and (b) it was opened in April 2009, more than a year before the 2010 general election.
Indeed, there is a plaque in the school entrance celebrating the fact that the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a Cabinet meeting in the school in February 2010.
How, therefore, so-called Lib Dem/Tory cuts can have affected the building of the new school mystifies me.
It is even more mystifying when you realise that one of the Labour candidates is the husband of the headteacher of Durham Johnston, and he really ought to know better.
For the record, the rebuilding of Durham Johnston came about after nearly 20 years of campaigning by school governors, including me, and school staff, as we saw the old school falling apart before our eyes.
Indeed, at one point in the 1990s, I was starting to despair when a very senior officer in the Education Department told me that I had to realise that Durham Johnston would be the last school rebuilt in the County because it was in a non-Labour area.
What changed had nothing to do with the County Council scrimping and saving to find the money to rebuild the Johnston. It was all to do with the fact that the Lib Dems had just won the City Council from Labour in 2003, were making rather a good fist of it, and Labour saw the very real prospect of losing the parliamentary seat in the 2005 general election.
So, while it had not been in Labour’s interest to rebuild the school in the 1990s, by 2005 it certainly was. That’s the reality of Labour politics in County Durham.
So we got the new school, although the governors had to take out substantial loans from DCC to provide the new furniture that the new building deserved (furniture not included in the building price). These loans are still being paid off at tens of thousands of pounds a year.
Also, as the time-warped Labour candidates should know, the new school was left with a dysfunctional IT system, a wood-pellet boiler that did not work, a heating system that meant some places were too hot while others were too cold, a kiln for the Art Department that was not connected, faulty window glass, and more.
These problems are all pretty much solved now, but only after long and repeated meetings between staff and governors and County Hall officers. In the end Grenville Holland and I, as governors and as the local councillors, had to get very senior County officers involved with some of these issues to bang heads together and break the logjam.
So Durham Johnston has a new school more in spite of Labour at County Hall, than because of it, and if the Labour candidates don’t know that, do they deserve to be elected?
PS Durham Johnston really is a fab school!
Posted February 13, 2013
So long as you have not changed address and your personal details are also unchanged, the Council will simply send you one through the post. The process of mailing them out will start on 18 February and should be complete by 18 March.
I got this from a Council press release that said that, if, like me, you have moved since getting your pass, then you will have to ring the Council on 03000 268 667 to change your details.
I just did that and discovered that all they were going to do was to send me a “change of address” form to fill in and return.
In fact the form is on the web at:
Or, if it is easier you can download it from here: Bus Pass Change of address form
If you do get sent your new bus pass and there is anything wrong with it, then again you should ring the telephone number above.
One thing though – the council phone network only operates during office hours Monday to Friday, something Lib Dems at County Hall will be campaigning to change.