Asking the questions about public scrutiny

At the Joint Cabinet Meeting on Monday 4th May 2020, I asked several questions of the Leader – when would we know a clearer timetable for the Joint Local Plan, would this take into account, and have time for discussion of, the Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies the Council declared in July 2019 and, most importantly, why was there a five month gap between full Council meetings?  While there is still a lockdown for the Coronavirus pandemic vitural meetings are being held so why not a meeting of all Councillors?  We need full, transparent scrutiny and need to have more of our discussions open to the public.

East Anglian Daily Times 4th May 2020

EADT scrutiny article 2020-05-05

Coronavirus impacts – April 2020

Across Suffolk the Home but not Alone service was launched with an emergency number 0800 876 6926 available 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm.  Any vulnerable resident needing help in the current crisis can telephone and be matched up with a local volunteer group if necessary.

The Council is providing emergency funding, with grants up to £2,500, to help community groups meet local needs in the current crisis.  Beneficiaries include foodbanks, Citizens Advice Bureau and the Rural Coffee Caravan.

Formal Council meetings are due to recommence on 28 April with virtual meetings via Skype starting with a planning committee and then, on 4 May, a Cabinet meeting.  Other working group meetings continue via Skype and there is a weekly meeting of all the Political Group Leaders.  Council staff continue to work from home where possible.  Work on all Mid Suffolk’s building sites has ceased and the Council’s parks and play areas remain closed.

In planning, as planning officers are not out putting up site notices for new applications, they will be notifying more neighbours than usual of forthcoming applications as well as continuing to advertise in the local press.  Garden waste collections remain suspended as the waste crews focus on increased black bin collections such as medical waste.  Council house repairs are only being done where essential and the process for people to apply for, and move into, a council home has been suspended.

The Council has been distributing the £10,000 and £25,000 business grants to small firms that was announced by Government.  There have been significant increases to the Council for reductions in Council Tax.  To apply for either of these, visit www.midsuffolk.gov.uk and search for business rates or council tax.

Congratulations to Haughley Neighbourhood Plan group

20191028_083626

On Thursday 24th October 2019, Haughley Parish Neighbourhood Plan was finally “adopted” by Mid Suffolk District Council and is now one of the planning documents that all applications have to consider when submitted within the Neighbourhood Plan Area.

I congratulate all those involved: from my first mention at a Parish Council meeting to various Parish Council chairs taking it on and encouraging a very committed group in taking it to a conclusion.

It involved 1000s and 1000s of hours of volunteer time, yes some professionals involved as needs be, and paid for, but the majority of work is by calling on those in the parish to work together whether holding an exhibition, delivering leaflets, taking photos of key views, briefing professional bodies, drafting, checking and writing the plan.

It is a huge effort and this has finally paid off with the adoption of this plan.

It is also of great comfort to groups such as this to see Neighbourhood Planning Policy being taken into account at planning committees such as at the recent meeting on 16th October 2019 where an application was refused due to non-compliance.

Finally, thanks to all the officers concerned and I reiterate the point I have made at at least three Council meetings.  We need more resource here at Mid Suffolk to support communities to bring their plans forward.

At your convenience

I was delighted today (Sunday 17th March) to officially “open” the new compost toilet at Gallowsfield Wood in Haughley.  The Management Committee, led by Geoffrey Kay (see Gallowsfield Wood ) approached me for funding from the Mid Suffolk Locality Awards and I was pleased to be able to help.  It was rather a cold morning but many volunteers and locals turned up.  I’m sure the new facility will come in useful when there are future working parties at the woods.Rachel Eburne cutting the ribbonQueuing for the loo

House of Lords reception

Baroness Jenny Jones 130618I was delighted to attend a reception at the House of Lords last night (Wednesday 13th June) to acknowledge the work that the Local Government Association (LGA) has done with the support of MPs and Peers.  I spoke with Baroness Jenny Jones (pictured with me on the terrace at the House of Lords) about local and national issues.  Hopefully she will visit us in Mid Suffolk later this year.  The invitation to the reception was because of the work I do on the LGA’s Environment, Economy, Housing & Transport Board.  It was good to catch up with colleagues across the country talking about issues such as Government imposed housing targets and environmental concerns that arise with more and more housing developments.

Investing in local communities

The following organisations and projects have received awards from the Mid Suffolk District Council Locality Award and I am very pleased to be able to support them:

  • Wetherden Village Hall – improvements to access and parking
  • Haughley Playing Fields Committee – replacement of safety matting in children’s play area
  • Haughley Bowls Club – updating the bowls green
  • 1st Wetherden & Haughley Scouts – refurbishing the Scout Hut kitchen
  • Wetherden Parish Council and Wetherden Football Club – repairs and improvements to the Pavilion
  • Haughley United Football Club – storage shed
  • Wetherden Townlands Trust – upkeep of village car park
  • Haughley United Youth Football Club – goals (for use at Wetherden Playing Field)
  • Haughley Amateur Theatrical Society – support for the Panto
  • Rural Coffee Caravan – contribution towards replacement caravan

Every Mid Suffolk District Councillor receives an allocation to award to local groups.  A further allocation is expected to be provided for 2018/19 so groups will be able to apply for projects then.  I will publicise it when details are available.Goals H&W

 

How to invest £25 million

In the last few months, Mid Suffolk District Council has made multi-million pound investments in commercial property in central Peterborough (high street coffee shop), Brentwood (retail store) and most recently in Milton Keynes (a car dealership).  Is this what the Council should be doing?  Should they be spending our money in this way?

In 2016, the Council agreed to borrow up to £25 million, set up a company (registered number 10814415) to invest in commercial property outside of the Mid Suffolk area and then, hopefully, invest the profits from this in council services – so-called “Profit for Purpose”.

The Green Group of District Councillors voted against this – for two main reasons; 1) if we have money to invest, let’s invest in truly affordable housing for our residents; and 2) why aren’t we investing in our own area.  (The Council’s HQ has been re-located outside of Mid Suffolk and the ruling party said it didn’t want to invest millions in Mid Suffolk either.)

Conversely, Ipswich Borough Council has borrowed money to invest in commercial property …. in Ipswich.

See the East Anglian Daily Times view on this.

Parliamentary visit – Homelessness

This week (Monday 27th November 2017) I represented the LGA (Local Government Association) giving evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in Westminster.  The session was on the Code of Guidance for councils on the Homelessness Reduction Act.

I sat alongside a representative from London Councils and gave evidence after the homeless charities Crisis and Shelter.  The Minister responsible was questioned after us.

This Act comes into force in April 2018 but some of the legislation relating to it hasn’t been passed yet; Councils have been given some money towards it but not enough (given it is being taken away in other areas) and various aspects still have not been confirmed.

The idea of the legislation is good – Councils have a duty to prevent homelessness rather than just deal with it when it becomes a crisis.  I expect the implementation will go ahead but it would be better if it was more coordinated and complete so that local government could make a success of it.

Select Committee 271117

Why doesn’t the Council spend it’s budget?

Every year since I have been a district councillor, Mid Suffolk District Council has underspent it’s annual budget.  You may think this is a good thing – we all want to save money.  But councils raise taxes and receive funds from Government in order to provide services to their residents and communities – and they should agree what needs to be spent and spend it.

For the year 2016/17 Mid Suffolk District Council announced in July 2017 that the underspend was £528,000 – on a net budget of approximately £10 million.  The year before the underspend was £1,857,000!  And before that £526,000 – and so it goes on.

These underspends are added to a type of reserve called the “Transformation Fund” which the Coucil is supposed to use to “transform” the way it works – thus improving the quality of life for residents in the district.  Yet this fund stood at just over £10 million at the beginning of the last financial year.

My group on the Council puts forward amendments to the budget each year with suggestions (such as employing specialists to help with the 5 Year Housing Land Supply) and each year they are voted down on the basis that we cannot afford them.  I think we need to look long and hard on what we are doing with our citizens’ money.

National Sheepdog Trials – Haughley Park

SheepdogGreat day out at the National Sheepdog Trials this weekend (29th/30th July 2017).  Good to see them locally, for the first time in Suffolk, in the lovely setting of Haughley Park..  Well done to Suffolk on Show for a well-organised event – lots of people seemed to be enjoying themselves and sampling all the great Suffolk food and drink on offer.  Thanks also to all the sponsors and support from Mid Suffolk District Council.


Contact me

rachel.eburne@midsuffolk.gov.uk tel: 01449 673311 or 07768 460 108

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