Want to ask the council an urgent question? Put it in writing! 

The Conservatives at Shire Hall yesterday voted to stop people asking questions on the day of council meetings. 

The decision to change the current set up for ‘oral questions’ was made at the County Council’s Constitution Committee. That’s the body which recommends how the Council operates.

Up until now, members of the public have been able to turn up thirty minutes before the start of a council meeting and ask any question related to council business. Recently questions have been asked about the controversial incinerator, the pay freeze for public sector workers and cycling.

Now, all five Conservatives on the committee have voted to change the deadline for asking oral questions to 12 noon the day before a council meeting – but only if it is deemed ‘urgent’ by the Council’s Chairman. If it’s not urgent then you’ll need to put it in writing a full 7 days before the council meeting!

Conservative councillors claimed that they didn’t have enough time to be able to answer questions properly.

This was challenged by the Lib Dems and Green member on the Committee who voted against the proposal, calling it ‘anti democratic’.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach), voted against the move and says it comes at the worst possible time:

“Shire Hall has been rocked by an appalling OFSTED report into children’s services this year. That report criticised the culture and recommended more openness. What we’ve seen today is a decision which flies in the face of that. It’s a resident’s democratic right to ask questions and this change is certainly not in the spirit of the Council being accessible to everyone.

“The ability to ask verbal questions on the day of full council provides a great deal of flexibility for members of the public. If something is urgent you need to be able to come in and ask it. People live busy lives and with the advent of social media and 24/7 rolling news we all expect quick responses. This is the era of instant news not snail mail.

“The current system provides an opportunity for anyone across the county to come along on the day of council and ask a question that they feel is important to them after the deadline for submitting questions in writing has passed.

“In making this change the Tories are abusing democracy and getting rid of the things which irritate them. Cabinet Members get paid a special responsibility allowance of £18,000 a year and therefore should be able to think on their feet at short notice.

“This is Gloucestershire, not North Korea.”

The decision taken yesterday will now be debated at the next County Council meeting in December. If it is agreed, members of the public will then need to submit an oral question by 12 noon the day before a Council meeting if it is urgent. Written questions remain unchanged in that they need to be submitted 7 days in advance of a Council meeting.

Council rakes in millions from parking

Nearly £10 million profit has been produced from council parking operations over the last five years in Gloucestershire.  

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The figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats also show just under £2.5million was made both in 2014/2015 and 2015/2016.

Reference will be made to this huge sum of money by the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) in a question directed to parking bosses at next Wednesday’s County Council Cabinet Meeting.

In commenting, Cllr. Hodgkinson said:

“Next week, I’ll be challenging the Cabinet Member for parking to provide me with details of exactly what this surplus in parking has been spent on over the last few years.

“I’m aware that any profit generated must by law be spent on transport-related activities. It would however be good to see precisely those things that have been funded from money created from parking charges and penalty notices.

“Nearly £10 million is indisputably a huge amount of money. Gloucestershire was ranked 79 out of 353 councils in England with the largest parking surpluses. It could and should have been seen as making a very real difference in Gloucestershire, but I’m at a loss to see exactly what benefit this money has actually had. I’m dissatisfied and frustrated that the roads across the county are still dreadful. Where has this massive profit gone?

“The Conservatives have had 12 years in power on Gloucestershire County Council to get this right and they’ve simply failed to sort out the roads and pavements despite this windfall.

“I am saddened that we haven’t seen significant road improvements reflecting this significant sum of money generated from people who have paid for parking charges and penalty notices.

“Only a total change of approach will end the vicious cycle of potholed roads and ever increasing parking profits.”

Council pays out thousands of pounds for pothole damage

Nearly £18,000 of taxpayers’ money has been paid out to drivers for pothole damage in Gloucestershire.

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The figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request to Gloucestershire County Council show that £17,774 has been paid in compensation to motorists for pothole-related damage over the last three years.

Now, the county’s Liberal Democrats have expressed bitter disappointment with the Conservative controlled Council for not properly investing in the area’s roads. 

Liberal Democrat Shadow for Highways, Cllr. Chris Coleman (St Mark’s and St Peter’s) said:

“A total of 1,713 unsurprisingly annoyed drivers made claims for compensation between November 2013 and November 2016. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone, whether they are motorists, councils or taxpayers.

“People already have to fork out so much to drive a car, the least they should expect is that their vehicle doesn’t get ruined by a bumpy road.

“Thousands of pounds are now being spent on pay-outs that could have been invested instead in fixing our roads.

“Roads should be fixed quickly so this compensation does not have to be paid out in the first place.

“It is about time the Conservatives sorted out our county roads for good.”

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) added:

“The volume of claims is large for A roads. I’m not at all surprised given the correspondence I get regularly from constituents who have damaged their cars driving through potholes.

“The spike in claims in Spring 2016 reflects the massive backlog in repairs which GCC’s roads contractor Amey was experiencing. It also came at the end of a very wet winter when so many potholes appeared.

“It highlights a failure by the Conservatives who have been responsible for roads in the county for the last 12 years. They need to invest more in road maintenance and improve the quality of repairs. It is the number one thing people raise with me and it has to improve.”

Nationally a total of £12 million has been paid out over the last four years on pothole compensation, with an average payment per person of £650.

Council misses recycling targets for last 4 years

Latest figures show that Gloucestershire is binning more waste than ever but too much is going to landfill.

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Now, the Liberal Democrats are calling for the County Council to get its recycling shoes on and start hitting waste targets. At a recent Council meeting they called on Shire Hall bosses to find ways to boost the amount we all leave out on the kerbside which can be used again.

The latest figures show that county-wide recycling rates are averaging 48%. That’s 5% less than the target of 53% which the Council has set itself.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton-on-the-Water and Northleach), Leader of the county Lib Dems, led the debate and says that the Council’s administration needs to address the disappointing figures:

“When targets are set then every effort has to be made to meet them. This is serious stuff as we’re protecting our environment when we recycle more. The 53% target hasn’t been met for the last four years. The Council’s target is to recycle/compost at least 60% of its household waste by 2020 with an aspirational target of 70% by 2030. It clearly has a long way to go to achieve these goals.

“Sadly, across the county some of the recycling figures are low. In 2015/2016, Stroud was at the bottom with only 31% of their household waste being sent for recycling whilst Gloucester could only achieve a 37% rate. The Cotswolds was the only district that had met the 53% recycling target achieving a 58% rate last year, although even this has been falling from its peak.

“In the council chamber I called for a real uplift in recycling rates across the county. I agree with Gloucestershire’s ‘Waste Core Strategy’ in that we need to make sure that reusing and composting should be made as simple as possible and that people and businesses can easily recycle on the kerbside or at waste sites.

“There are some real differences across the county when it comes to dealing with trash. In some areas councils collect drink cartons whilst in others people have no choice but to send them to landfill. And what about metals and textiles? There’s so much scope here to help us all recycle more.

“In the meantime, I’ll be insisting that the Cabinet Member at Shire Hall responsible for waste commissions an urgent report to look at ways the county’s recycling rates can be improved and for this to be discussed by all councillors in December.

“Talking rubbish for some might not be very interesting, but how we dispose of it is an important issue, especially now that this Conservative administration has committed us to a massive incinerator at Javelin Park – we can’t let that be an excuse to fail to recycle.”

Broken Promise, Broken Roads

Today, Gloucestershire County Council’s Conservative bosses voted to slash money for road repairs.

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The Council’s Cabinet has put forward a budget which cuts money going to highways by over £2 million in the coming year.

Challenging the decision, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“In the last County Council elections in 2013 the Tories pledged to ‘invest more in our roads’. Sadly today they have broken that promise.

“We’re all painfully aware of how our roads are deteriorating at the end of a long, wet winter. Potholes are popping up all over the place.

“This is always the thing residents raise with me most. In fact, the Council’s own budget consultation shows that it’s one of the Top 5 things people want money spent on.

“Yet now we see a huge cut in the money going to fix our pavements and streets. It’s not rocket science to see that money could be found from other budgets to fix the potholes properly.

“I call now for an immediate U turn on this cut. Otherwise it is a case of ‘Broken promise, broken roads.’

 

Government decision to allow fracking in AONB branded ‘outrageous’

Fracking came one step closer to the Cotswolds after MPs voted to enable it to happen in areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks.

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The controversial method of extracting gas will be allowed under the most beautiful parts of the country after the measures were cleared by a vote in Parliament.

From now on fracking can take place three-quarters of a mile below national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty and world heritage sites in England.

Local Conservative MPs Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds), Neil Carmichael (Stroud) and Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) all voted to relax the rules in the House of Commons.

Reacting to the news, County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach) said he was horrified at the move:

“The Cotswolds has a huge area of AONB within in and it’s a special place. Yet now, we have the very real prospect of fracking taking place underneath us. The vote in Parliament gives the green light to this yet no one locally has been consulted.

“It is outrageous that the Cotswolds MP has supported a relaxation of the rules on fracking. We should be doing all we can to protect the unique nature of the area we live in, not jeopardise it.

“So many questions of safety are still being asked about fracking. Only last week the Government signed up to a landmark climate change deal and is now abandoning those pledges to create a market for another fossil fuel.

“Our AONB is now at risk and those who voted for this should hang their heads in shame.”

“This is a massive risk to our landscape, heritage and tourism industry. Investing in green energy is the way forward.”

3,000 could lose free school meals under Government plans

Thousands of children in the Cotswolds could lose their right to a free school meal under the Conservative Government’s plans to review the scheme.

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Universal free school meals offer every infant child a healthy meal at lunchtime, which saves families more than £400 per child per year.

Evidence shows where children have been given a free school dinner, their results improved compared to youngsters who didn’t get one.

These academic improvements were most marked among children from the poorest backgrounds.

There are currently 2,957 children who receive free school meals in the Cotswold district who would lose them if the Government follow through with plans reported in the media recently.

County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) said: “If this goes ahead, the Government will show it is willing to take an axe to the education budget at the expense of children’s learning.

“By scrapping this policy they would take food off the plates of thousands children across the Cotswolds who now benefit from a free healthy meal at lunchtime. I’ve seen first hand how primary schools like Bourton and North Cerney have made changes to their buildings to accommodate the extra meals. When I served pupils their lunch at North Cerney I was very impressed by the standard of food and the children seemed to love it.

“The Liberal Democrats fought tooth and nail to get this through in Coalition because we want every child to have the best possible start in life and be able to concentrate in class, and all the evidence shows that a healthy meal helps with that.

“Instead of investing in our children, the Government is turning up at the school gate and taking their lunch away. I ask them to think again.”

Wanted: Local Plan

Fields across the Cotswolds are at risk from unplanned development thanks to the Cotswolds Tories.

That’s the latest news, as the Conservative-run Cotswold District Council (CDC) falls behind around 70% of districts which have a draft ‘Local Plan’ in place – the blueprint which dictates where development should go.

Now, in breaking news, the Council has also been criticised by planning inspectors for failing to have enough housing in the pipeline to satisfy demand (called a ‘5 year housing supply’).

Planning bosses in Bristol overturned a decision not to allow new housing in Fairford by waving through another large development there despite opposition locally. Their main reason was CDC’s lack of a proper housing supply.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Prospective MP for the Cotswolds, is leading the fight to protect our countryside:

“When you consider that our area is unique and special, it beggars belief that the current MP and those who run our local Council have allowed this situation to happen.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) is fighting to protect our countryside

Paul Hodgkinson (right) is fighting to protect our countryside

“They knew years ago that a new Local Plan was needed but have put developers in the driving seat by leaving the Cotswolds exposed.

“Instead of allowing – where practical – small-scale developments to be built in villages across the district which have asked for them, the Tories have left the gate wide open.

“Now, our unique communities like Bourton, Stow, Tetbury and Moreton, as well as Cirencester, are faced with lots of extra houses but with no real improvement in services.”

“Whilst thousands of holiday homes have been built in our area by CDC, the housing crisis gets worse. The Cotswolds has the biggest gap between wages and house prices outside London, so something has to change.

“The emphasis now should be on affordable homes in the right places and where they are needed.

“That will help people live near to their families and friends instead of being forced to move away.”

Shock figures reveal Cotswolds homes crisis

A new set of figures shows the mountain people face when buying a house in the Cotswolds.

Houses like this are out of the reach of many younger people in the Cotswolds.

Houses like this are out of the reach of many younger people in the Cotswolds.

The National Housing Federation’s latest report on housing in the South West shows the Cotswolds as the most expensive place to live in the region.

The average house in the Cotswolds will set you back an eye £336,935 whilst the average salary in the area is just £18,762 a year.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for the Cotswolds, says the figures are alarming:

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but the reality is very different. With wages well below the national average and the average house price twice that of nearby Gloucester the affordability gap is getting bigger and bigger. We have to find a way to build small scale affordable developments in line with what local villages and towns want.

“The problem is made so much worse by Tory-run Cotswold District Council’s dreadful lack of an up to date Local Plan as developers are simply ploughing ahead in a totally unplanned way.

“To add insult to injury, the Council’s administration has permitted thousands of holiday homes over the last decade. I’m astonished that Conservative bosses can be so out of touch with the reality of the situation for so many people living in our area.”

“Instead of concreting over the Water Park with thousands of holiday homes, the Council leaders should be sorting out small scale developments of affordable homes in villages and towns which need them.

“For those aged under 40 in particular the Cotswolds is fast becoming off limits for housing – that is an intolerable situation.”