Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Council Meeting - Cuts

I really haven't been looking forward to writing this - last night's Council meeting was just about the most bad tempered I've been to, and the most doom laden.
Gareth Ratcliffe has been warning for months that big cuts are coming - and now it seems they are almost upon us. The County Council has to find £20 million in cuts this year, and another £20 million over the following two years. So far they've been able to identify £17.5 million in cuts across Powys.

There are several big issues facing Hay. The first is the toilets, of course. They have been allowed to stay open until the end of the financial year, but when April comes around they will close unless someone can come up with a bright idea to fund them. Gareth has been looking into turnstiles at the doors - only to find there's a 1960s Act of Parliament that forbids Councils from installing turnstiles.

Then there's the school. Despite Councillors at previous meetings expressing grave doubts about the suitability of the plans for the new school, they don't seem to have been listened to, and we are still in the situation where the library will be moving into the school building, which will also be shared with the community centre, and the councillors will be competing with everyone else who wants to hire the space to hold their council meetings.
The County Council says they have to find around 30% of the money to build the school (the rest coming from the Welsh Assembly) and this means selling off the other public buildings in Hay. Hay Council have asked for a five year lease of the Council Chambers, but they haven't been told yet whether they can have it.
(What a pity the County Council invested in Icelandic banks....).
This led to quite a bit of hostility expressed towards Plan B, who stopped the original plan for a new school because the present school site would have been used for a new supermarket, and Hay Together, which they seem to think is just another name for Plan B. However, it seems that Steve Like has been asking Hay Together for minutes of their meetings and a list of their committee, without getting any information, which hasn't helped matters. At least, this is what I gathered last night.
It also led to hostility expressed towards the County Council. Fiona Howard went so far as to say she thought Richard Booth had been right when he declared Hay independent - if we had the money from the car park, we could probably fund everything we want ourselves. The assessment of the situation was that the County Council are trying to devolve everything that costs them money to the local communities, which are already struggling, but they're not passing any local assets back to the local communities (like the car park) even if they were bought by the local communities back in the mists of time.
Instead, it all gets syphoned off and Hay is left with inadequate replacements, in much the same way as the County Council offices where I used to pay my council tax and go when I needed to make enquiries (instead of trekking all the way to Brecon) were replaced with "LibraryPlus". I think I'm the only person in Hay who pays their council tax at the library, but I'm determined to keep doing it so that the County Council won't be able to say there is no demand for what they have provided. The saying "use it or lose it" comes to mind - but these days even if a service is well used it seems likely to be taken away anyway.
Fiona made it clear she was blaming the system, though Gareth was obviously feeling defensive, as the local county councillor. And the problem with the system is that, if the people of Hay are unhappy with the County Council, the only way they can show it is in their votes for or against Gareth - we in Hay have no power to affect any of the other county councillors who are making the decisions that affect the town. Gareth predicted that the whole County Council set up would have to change, maybe with a return to the old Borough Councils.
There's a ticking clock here, too, as Hay Council have to set the next year's precept (which is their share of the council tax) before the end of January, but they have to know where they stand with the toilets first, because they will need to budget for keeping them open, especially after Rob Golesworthy's pledge at the public meeting before Christmas. They agreed that they couldn't offer any financial assistance to local groups this year until they knew where they stood - which was why they turned down Hay Together's request for funding (as the successor to Community Support, which always used to get a grant).

There was more bad feeling over a letter Ros Garratt sent to the Town Council, about the money that was set aside for a new community centre back around the Millennium. This prodded at some very complicated past history involving the council and HADSCA (the Sports and Community Association). I felt quite sorry for Dawn Lewis, the new councillor here, because she was coming in to this without knowing anything about the past history, and the animosity the subject brought to the surface. Once again Plan B was blamed for the lack of action in providing a new community centre, because this had been part of the whole package of building by the doctors' surgery which Plan B opposed.
Running the sports pitches is another of those costs to the County Council which they are seeking to devolve to the various sports associations.
The money is, apparently, still sitting there, but the Town Council will be making enquiries about future plans concerning it. The matters Ros Garratt raised about HADSCA, they decided, were something the council could do nothing about, and she'd have to write to HADSCA to get an answer.


Anonymous said...

I hope plan B are happy. If they had left things to the council which we had all voted for and trusted, we would now have a school, a supermarket that we need and probably a community center.
I have never seen so many delivery vans in Hay from supermarkets as we get now. I wonder how many Plan B members use these services.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, Plan B, eh? Yes, any excuse to cause animosity and unpleasantness amongst people who want the best for Hay, all in their different ways. Why can't the Council just simply grow up, and put their heads together to be a bit more productive and start acting for the best of Hay. Plan B, in my opinion, was a great thing, but it's so last year! Let's move forward, please Hay Council, listen to your voters and work something out which will be beneficial and progress Hay itself. The locked antlers, hissy fits and harrumphing is getting no one anywhere.
As for Hay Together....give it a chance. It's voluntarily run by people with a great many other commitments and could probably do with encouragement rather than brickbats. I think the launching event at the Castle Gardens was great and let's have another one!
Finally, while I'm on a role, what dedication Lealy Arrowsmith! How else would we get such a strong feel of these council meetings? Heaven forbid we would have to sit through the meetings ourselves to find out what is going on! Well done and thank you.

Disillusioned Voter said...

As long as our town council insist on trying to keep everything the same as it has always been, they'll never achieve anything worthwhile.

Changes will happen whether they like it or not, so why aren't they trying to get ahead of those changes and influence the way they go, instead of dragging behind them in a futile attempt to slow them down?

It's high time the town council decided to shoulder its responsibilities instead of trying to keep Hay in the 1950's.

And yes, many thanks for your work on reporting these meetings Lesley - well done!

Anonymous said...

I don't think Hay Together is entirely voluntary, Ellie Spencer (whose also on the town council) is receiving quite a decent amount of money for her two days a week - conflict of interest?

Anonymous said...

How about we realise a few things:
1. Plan B and Hay Together are basically one and the same.
2. Plan B are basically people who couldnt get onto the council, because most of them are not very well liked, or not known, and not even locals - just simply people who have settled in hay over the years.
3, Plan B are also the ones who ruined the opportunity for Hay to have a new school and community center.
4. Those shop owners who were in Plan B, felt threatened by the new Supermarket. What they need to realise, is that competition will ALWAYS be present. Its up to them to differentiate their stores, and not hike up the price to a ridiculous amount that shock visitors.
5. Hay Together members are always ordering online groceries as we see the Tesco & Waitrose delivery vans at their homes all the time. Not that there is anything wrong with ordering online, but those are also the same people who screamed and shouted to "buy locally" and "keep the coop alive" etc. The Coop is one of the most expensive Coops in the UK (fact), simply because they have the monopoly, and they know it.
In conclusion, Hay Together are a bunch of incomers, who couldnt get onto the council, formed their own little group, think Hay is all wrong and should be changed to suit their own needs, after their own little agenda, and probably just a bunch of bored people who have nothing better to do that to complain about as much as they can, so they can get attention, and fill their little pathetic lives with something to do. Have they ever thought to just go read a book??
If they dont like Hay as it is, then leave. Go find another town to ruin.

The Hay town council do need to step up, and be more proactive, that is for sure. But their hands are tied by Powys, so it is a complicated situation.

Rodney Mace said...

I am very concerned by the continuing blame being directed by some at Hay Together and Plan B for the failures associated with the new school project. As current chairman of Hay Together I wish to make it very clear that Hay Together is NOT Plan B by another name.

It would be helpful if those who continue to confuse the two to read and compare the constitutions of both organisations where their very different objectives are clearly laid out. Hay Together is a broad based community membership organisation open to all including statutory organisations like Hay Town Council. Cllr Like should note that the business of Hay Together is available to all its members but along with other similar groups we do not respond to request for information from non members using hotmail/personal email accounts particularly when they concern HT members details. To do otherwise would break those parts of our constitution concerned with the Data Protection Act 1998. Hay Town Council is welcome to become a member and attend all our meetings and to come to our office at the Castle and see what we do.

Instead of blaming Plan B and others in the Town for the difficulties surrounding the school it is helpful to carefully read the PCC statement as to why the Gaufron project did not go ahead particularly those parts concerned with the threat of judicial review which may have revealed serious questions about the original commissioning process and exposure of several conflicts of interest. Also a careful reading of the retail and financial press as to the fast changes taking place in the state of the supermarket business particularly relating to the building of 'new sheds'. As we now know there was no supermarket waiting in the wings, the Co-op which did not have the money for a 'free school' any way as promised by Gaufron at the outset was only brought in at the very last minute. It was all a developer's chimera, born like so many, before the 2008 crash.

Bad tempered meeting laced with blame are not in the least helpful in bringing the Town together in these very difficult times - smiles and laughter and mutual support work wonders.

Anonymous said...

When you say that you invited the council to participate, well, why would the council actually care?? The arrogance of hay together is a joke - They actually think they are important and significant. Look, if people didn't vote for you to get elected, then dont think anyone else cares about your opinions.
In fact, no one really cares, other than others like you, who are bored, retired, have little else to do, just arrived in hay, and think hay locals are simply not able to run their town, so you come here and think you know better.
But ask yourselves, What makes you lot think you actually know better?
As for conflict, Cllr Spencer is paid by hay together, and on the council. How is that for prime conflict! She can't seem to decide what committee or club she is on, putting her foot in everything she can possibly do, yet people here don't even care what she does, and she is ineffective all around. Either she is a councillor, or in some club like yours or other such little clubs set up by a few people.
You seem to place importance on the registration of hay together - it's a club, a group, a few people together. So what... If you want smiles and happy, then Go read a book, actually buy locally (and not just say you do), and occupy your time with better things that are not destructive and obstructive to plans that are actually conceived by elected officials!

Anonymous said...

This is specific to Rodney Mace: you tried to get onto the council as Plan B, and was unsuccessful. Then you decided another way to push your opinions was to create a little group called Hay Together, where you managed to find others like you, gotten some funding, and paid them for their time.
As for the supermarket trade, have you heard of what is termed as "monopoly"? That is what the coop had, and still have, thanks to you and your fellow members of plan b that has now been dissolved as there is no further use for it. There are many people here who cannot afford to order online from Waitrose like you, and are reliant on the coop and sadly have to pay their hiked prices, so thanks to you and your fellow plan b members, these lower/moderate income people are still at the mercy of coop pricing structure in Hay. Us, the coop was the supermarket behind the new location. You did not know that then. This would have opened up another location for an other supermarket and broken the monopolistic pricing feed. So now, you are chairing hay together. And for what? What is the point? You could not get enough votes to get onto the council, yet you come across as runing a group of unknowns in hay that the council "can attend"?!? Stop dreaming. I doubt the council cares, or will care, in fact, from Lesley's reporting, it sounds like they absolutely couldn't care less about hay together.

Eigon said...

I don't think Anonymous understands "conflict of interests". All councillors have to declare their interests, and on occasions when that subject is discussed, those who have declared their interest have to leave the room. For instance, councillors on the board of HADSCA have to leave the room when that organisation is discussed. So there is nothing wrong with Ellie Spencer working for a group, since she has declared her interest.

Eigon said...

I'd appreciate it if people posting here would include their names, rather than posting as Anonymous. For one thing, it would be easier to keep track of who is saying what, and for another, people who are throwing accusations of one sort or another around should have the decency to put their names to it.
Thank you.

Ellie Spencer said...

Dear Anonymous,
I am sorry that you are disappointed in me and my work. I would welcome the opportunity to respond properly to your criticism and to correct some of the misconceptions in your comment. Perhaps you'd reply with your name so that I may contact you?
Best wishes,
Ellie Spencer

Disillusioned Voter said...

Wow - what a collection of rants! I find the toxic approach of Anonymous No 3 particularly hard to stomach. Who on earth is responsible for showing this particular Anonymous how a keyboard and the internet works? Please, please don't let them near it again, for all our sakes.

SFL said...

Not much chance for world peace then, if this is what goes around a small place such as Hay! For goodness sakes........