Tories on South Glos took the shocking decision last night (Wednesday 17th Feb) to cut local people out of decision making.
Not only did they vote to scrap the Area Forums, where local councillors came together with residents, charities and action groups, they also handed more decisions over to unelected bureaucrats.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Claire Young said: “When services are being slashed and tough decisions made, it’s more important than ever that local people can get involved. Area Forums were a time when local people could hold both officials and elected councillors to account. We swapped views on budget proposals, made decisions on grant funding, debated traffic schemes. This was a vital way for local residents to have their say on what mattered in their area – but not anymore.”
“At the same time, the Tories are slashing the number of decisions made by elected councillors in public and handing more power to the unelected bureaucrats to make decisions behind closed doors. Local people won’t find out until they’re a done deal and it’s too late to have any say. We tried to amend this so we would have the opportunity to discuss some of the decisions in public, but the Tories wouldn’t hear of it. The only thing they want to do is stick their hands up when the leader tells them to. Nobody wins from this. Local government just became less democratic, less open, less transparent. That’s the Tory-run council for you.”
She added, “The proposals look like they were drawn up on the back of an envelope. They have no idea, for example, how giving each of the 70 councillors a tiny pot of money to give out as grants will work, but it’s hard to believe it won’t be more expensive to administer than handling them through 5 area forums. It’s not saving money, it’s just cutting local people out of the loop. We hope people will come along to the final forums to have their say.”
The ruling Tories on South Gloucestershire refused to save youth service funding and Chipping Sodbury library, even when offered the money to do so.
More money was made available from government funds, and the Liberal Democrats proposed using it to protect youth services and keep Chipping Sodbury library open for another year as a “satellite” service. In that time, the community, and the District and Town councils could have looked at longer term solutions.
Instead, the Tories funnelled the cash into a 50p a month tax break for houses with big gardens.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Claire Young said: “The Conservative choice is very revealing. It says that they think giving a minority of people a reduction of just 50p per month on their green bin charge – less than the price of a bar of chocolate – is more important than a whole string of other options, including saving youth services or Chipping Sodbury library.”
The Liberal Democrat amendment proposed maintaining the Positive Activities Fund at the current level, instead of the quarter million pound cuts proposed by the Tories. The youth fund will be cut for each of the next three years, meaning fewer sessions and activities for young people across South Gloucestershire.
Cllr Clare Fardell said: “Not one resident has contacted me to complain about the cost of the green bin collections since it was introduced. Most people won’t notice a 50p a month cut, some may feel aggrieved the fee still largely exists. I tell you they will notice the cuts to their youth services.”
Cllr Ian Blair, the Lib Dem spokesperson for Young People, said, “I’m aghast that the Tories would prioritise green bins for the few over youth services for everyone.”
The Liberal Democrats also proposed keeping Chipping Sodbury library open for a further year. Cllr Young added, “We gave the Tories a chance to rethink closing Chipping Sodbury library. Local residents should demand from their Tory councillor why they refused to do it.”
Welbeck Land have announced they want to build at least 350 houses on the fields along Morton Way and the planning authority, Tory led South Gloucestershire Council, are likely to give permission thanks to the Government’s planning policy. We know the country needs more homes but Thornbury is a target for developers because they can sell at high prices, not because they are meeting a local need. New rules on what makes a home “affordable” (80% of the average house price) still prices most local people out of the Thornbury housing market, so even the few that are built on each development doesn’t help them.
Developers are not building where they already have permission and banking the land, so the Government’s housing target for South Gloucestershire hasn’t been met. South Glos Council says it must give permission to any proposal unless there are exceptional circumstances. How can this make sense?
Overloading Thornbury doesn’t seem to be a good enough reason to refuse any planning permission. Lib Dem Councillors will keep fighting to maintain Thornbury’s special character in the face of this onslaught, which threatens to swamp it in the rush to develop. Welbeck have only given a few days’ notice of their consultation event in the Armstrong Hall on Sat 6th Feb but we hope people will go along to and have their say – We’ve posted the developer’s leaflet for more info.
View the developers' leaflet here
Tories in South Glos have backtracked on their key manifesto pledge for free green bin collections.
The Tory manifesto contained a page of pledges. The second on the list was to phase out green bin charges in South Glos. At the council’s Policy & Resources committee today, Liberal Democrat Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) asked what the level of the fee would be next year. The answer came back: “£36”, no reduction on this year.
Claire Young said: “The Tories have been wriggling for months and have finally confirmed what we knew all along. The council can’t afford to scrap this charge. The Tories have known it for as long as we have, but they chose to tell residents it was possible. They pretended that it would be low cost, affordable, and their priority. Either they were misleading themselves or misleading residents for the election.”
“Local Tory MP Luke Hall has deleted the page on his website calling for the charge to be scrapped – not only have they broken their promise, they’re trying to pretend they never made it in the first place. Local people will not be fooled. The Tories need to come clean. Why did they pretend they were going to be able to do something they knew simply wasn’t going to happen?”
Thornbury Citizens Advice Bureau has re-opened again after its refit. Their suite of rooms at the back of the Town Hall has been rearranged. By reducing the size of their waiting room, space has made to create an entirely separate Police Office. The police themselves are expected move in by Christmas.
Thornbury Mayor and Lib Dem Town Councillor Guy Rawlinson cut the ribbon for the CAB on 1st December. “I am delighted that the CAB will continue its excellent work here,” he said. “And I’m also extremely pleased that the Town Hall will now be home to a permanent Police Office, and so retain a permanent police presence in Thornbury.”
Thornbury CAB is open from 10am – 1pm Tuesdays and Thursdays. Outside these hours appointments can be made by phoning 03444 111 444 between 10 am to 2pm.
If urgent you can use the same number to make an appointment at another South Glos CAB office with different opening hours.