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.

Bid to lower voting age

Liberal Democrats in Gloucestershire are putting the spotlight on lowering the voting age to 16.

Both locally and nationally, the Liberal Democrats have campaigned for years to allow 16 years the right to vote. They were also at the forefront of laying down an amendment in Parliament back in 2015 that would have given 16 year olds a vote in last year’s EU referendum.

Lowering the voting age to 16 has also been a campaign for the UK Youth Parliament for several years with over 100,000 young people in November last year voting it as their top campaigning priority.

Now the county’s Lib Dems feel this issue should be high-up on the political agenda.

Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) is calling for 16 year olds to get the vote. He will be leading a debate at Shire Hall at the County Council Meeting on Wednesday 13 September and said:

“For years young people have shown an active interest in politics and yet when it comes to the ballot box their voice remains silent. We saw more under 24’s voting than before in this year’s General Election too.

“I know many young people who have very strong opinions on a wide variety of issues. It is ridiculous that in spite of all the things 16 and 17 year olds are legally able to do, they still do not have the right to vote in elections. Yet they can get married, work, pay tax and fight for their country. It doesn’t make any sense.

“In last year’s EU referendum, we saw unfair restrictions placed on those that actually have the longest stake in the future of this country, it wasn’t right that 16 and 17 year olds were denied a vote in a decision that has altered our nation’s course.

“After hearing from our county’s representatives of the Youth Parliament about this particular issue it made me realise that it really is about time 16 and 17 year olds are given the right to vote in all elections. This is about giving a voice to young people in our country.

“I hope elected members across the chamber will support my motion and with one voice we can show all six Gloucestershire MPs that they have our backing in lowering the voting age to 16.”

Gloucestershire’s Youth Parliament representatives, George Richmond for Cotswold & Stroud and Harriet Hards for Cheltenham & Tewkesbury also said:

“It is deeply pleasing to see that votes for 16 will be debated at the County Council meeting in September. This will both hopefully enthuse many young people in Gloucestershire but also bring the wider debate to discussion.

“We look forward to hearing the result and hope all political parties will support this motion.”

ENDS

Special meeting to be held over “shocking” Ofsted report

LIBERAL DEMOCRATS have secured an extraordinary meeting of the County Council after a damning Ofsted report was published rating the county’s children’s services as ‘inadequate’.  

The forty-one page report conducted between 27 February and 23 March 2017 found “serious and widespread failures for children in need of help and protection” and “serious concerns about the integrity of the current senior leadership team”.

The overall conclusion by Ofsted that Children’s services in Gloucestershire are ‘inadequate’  came from examining the following areas:

·         Children who need help and protection – Inadequate

·         Children looked after and achieving permanence – Requires improvement

·         Adoption performance – Good

·         Experiences and progress of care leavers – Requires improvement

·         Leadership, management and governance – Inadequate.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Gloucestershire County Council, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) says the report is shocking and a massive blow to those who are responsible for the protection of children:

“This is an utterly damning report on the state of local children’s services in Gloucestershire. It is a story of failure.

“Ofsted has graded two out of five areas as ‘inadequate’ and another two areas as ‘requires improvement’. It is alarming that the report states that “senior leaders have not sufficiently prioritised or improved the quality of social work practice since services for children in need of help and protection were judged inadequate in 2011, and the quality of services to children and families has now deteriorated significantly”.

“The report goes on to say that “management oversight is inadequate…”, that there are “significant weaknesses in social work practice” and that “children in need and child protection plans are not sufficiently clear or robust.”

“We have seen several ‘inadequate’ inspection reports across the country where there have been calls for resignations and requests made to establish independent peer review boards.

“Here, we know that heads are already rolling as a result of this report with the sudden resignation of one and the quick retirement of another senior officer within the department. It is not surprising as this is a truly awful and deeply concerning report. The Council’s leadership now need to consider their own positions.

“Approximately 124,799 children and young people under the age of 18 years live in Gloucestershire. At 28th February 2017, 7,319 children had been identified as needing specialist children’s services, and 604 children are being looked after by this local authority, these children deserve better.

“The Council’s leaders need to explain how this has happened under their watch.”

Call for Road Safety Champion

This week at Shire Hall a proposal had been made for the creation of a Road Safety Champion for Gloucestershire.

Paul Hodgkinson (right) with residents and councillors from along the A436

Latest figures reveal that the number of killed and seriously injured people in the county last year was 207. But, the County Council has set itself a ‘target’ of 141. The number of killed and seriously injured older people was 48. This was double the County Council’s own ‘target’. This comes on the back of equally disturbing figures over the last few years.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson questioned the current Cabinet Member responsible for road safety about what the Council was actually doing to reduce the number of accidents on our roads.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) said:

“Any road accident is certainly one too many and although I am pleased that over the last 10 years casualties on our county’s roads have reduced, the county council target has nevertheless been consistently missed in the last 3 years. Recently, rural roads such as the A429 Fosse Way have seen a major increase in deaths. Other roads in Gloucestershire including the A48 in the Forest of Dean have also seen regular road safety issues.

“I have therefore called for a Road Safety Champion who will work with the Council’s road safety team focusing specifically on this alarming trend and ultimately to save lives.

“This Champion would be a County Councillor who would really tackle this problem and provide a focal point for reducing accidents.

“We hope our request is reasonable and that whoever runs the administration after May’s elections will seriously consider the creation of this new role to promote road safety and make a decision on this as soon as possible.”

Take control back of our roads

Liberal Democrats have announced bold plans to bring the county’s roads and footways back under the control of the County Council.

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach) has pledged to look at how the county’s highway services can be taken back in-house rather than extend the existing contract with Amey.

Since April 2014, Amey has taken responsibility for managing and maintaining Gloucestershire’s highway network, which includes nearly 10,000km of roads, as well as providing winter maintenance services and delivering highway improvement schemes.

The contract, which runs for 5 years with possible extensions up to 11 years, is currently being reviewed by the county’s Highways Commissioning Team. Councillors are due to decide in the early summer whether to extend the contract for a further 3 years or to terminate it in 2018/19. Due to the length of time it takes to re-tender the highways contract the decision to extend  it needs to be taken between 18 and 24 months prior to the end of the 5 year period.

Amey’s performance over the years has been regularly criticised by both the Liberal Democrats and by parish councils and residents. Targets for filling potholes were repeatedly missed by the private contractor until recently.

Cllr. Paul Hodgkinson said:

“There is an unfounded acceptance that private companies such as Amey are cheaper and more efficient than the public sector. Many councils up and down the country are however taking public services back in-house. There are substantial cost savings being achieved as a result of ‘insourcing’ and those councils that have brought services back in-house are delivering higher quality services.

“In 2011, Cumbria, Ealing and Rotherham all brought their highways back in-house. Cumbria’s reason was simply to allow greater control and ability to deliver efficiency savings. Councils have fallen out of love with outsourcing vital services and fed up with private contractors failing to deliver. Amey is certainly no exception.

“Right from the beginning of the Amey contract, we saw many so called ‘teething troubles’, but problems escalated.

“The teething problems have become a nagging toothache requiring much needed treatment. We should not be railroaded into thinking that extending the contract with Amey or retendering and mobilising a new contract with another private contractor are our only options.

“I have serious misgivings in extending the contract with Amey and have therefore pledged to ask council officers to work on the option of bringing our highways back in-house if the Lib Dems form an administration at Shire Hall after the May local elections.

“Let’s take back control of our roads.”

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.

PaulPothole2016

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.

key_glassbottles

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.”

Missing Link work won’t start before 2021

Construction of the notorious ‘Missing Link’ at the Air Balloon roundabout is unlikely to start for another 5 years.

Cllr Paul Hodgkinson called for urgent action over the Air Balloon rounadabout

That’s the latest word from roads bosses who are managing the project.

In a letter to the Leader of Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Highways England have confirmed that the project is still ongoing despite changes in Government but that any hope of construction work starting soon has gone.

Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton & Northleach) wrote to the new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in July asking him to re-commit to the project following the Brexit vote. Mr Grayling didn’t answer himself but passed the letter to Highways England to respond.

Now, Cllr Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach), who represents the area around the Air Balloon roundabout on the A417, says he’s happy that the work is still planned but disappointed it is taking so long to happen:

“The ‘Missing Link’ has been a problem for our county for more than 20 years. It’s now heavily congested at all times of day. Recently we have seen weekly incidents including broken down lorries and yet more accidents.

“Whilst I’m glad that fixing this urgent problem is still on the agenda, the news that work won’t even start for another 5 years is frustrating. This road is a real drag on Gloucestershire’s economy.

“My other concern is that Highways England say in their letter that funding for all schemes is reviewed regularly. Does that mean the Government could pull the plug if it wanted to?

“I will keep the pressure up on the new Transport Minister. It’s a shame he hasn’t given his personal commitment to the scheme and has not responded to my request for him to visit and see the issues for himself.”

Highways England are currently working to identify a number of different options to solve the issues on the A417. They say that they will be engaging with local people later this year.

Call for action over shocking levels of deprivation

New figures show big differences across Gloucestershire when it comes to hardship and access to services. 

Rural Negative Word Cloud

At the latest County Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee, councillors were presented with alarming figures showing how the county fares compared to other parts of England. And it made for uncomfortable reading as council bosses prepare their budgets for next year.

The figures come from an ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation’ and show levels of ‘deprivation’ for each part of Gloucestershire.

Areas are ranked from least deprived to most deprived, based on different measures including income, employment, education skills and training, health deprivation and disability, crime and disorder and barriers to housing and services.

The picture shows Gloucester and the Forest of Dean as ranked higher for deprivation compared to Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, the Cotswolds and Stroud.

But parts of the county usually seen as wealthier also show surprising results says Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton and Northleach):

“There are pockets of people in the Cotswolds who face barriers to housing and services. I wasn’t expecting to see rural areas feature so highly in the deprivation league table.

“The Cotswolds is often seen as a playground for the rich and famous, but behind this veneer there are shocking levels of isolation and below average wages. Places like Chedworth now have few buses, sky high house prices and bad mobile phone coverage. For the more vulnerable this is a real issue which is not often talked about.

“Gloucestershire is made up of six unique districts; I’m appalled by these new figures. The Conservatives who have run the Council for 11 years have a responsibility to step up to the plate, take real action to address this situation and make sure there’s a level playing field for accessing services in our county. I want to see them come up with a plan to tackle these inequalities.”

At next month’s Council meeting, Cllr Hodgkinson will be asking the Leader of the County Council how the administration plans to address these new figures.

Call for new Transport Secretary to confirm commitment to ‘Missing link’

Leader of the Liberal Democrat County Council Group, Paul Hodgkinson, has today sent an open letter to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP.

Cllrs Nigel Robbins and Paul Hodgkinson (right) are backing urgent action at the Air Balloon.

Cllrs Nigel Robbins and Paul Hodgkinson (right) are backing urgent action at the Air Balloon.

The letter requests the new Transport Secretary and the newly formed post-Referendum Government continue with the commitment shown by the previous Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin MP to fix the ‘Missing Link’ on the A417.

Cllr. Hodgkinson (Bourton and Northleach), who represents the area around the Air Balloon roundabout, said that:

“The ‘Missing Link’ has been a problem for Gloucestershire for more than 20 years. It is often very heavily congested seeing more than 34,000 vehicles a day and there are frequent tragic accidents with more than 340 casualties in the past 15 years.

“Local residents, campaigners and elected representatives have for decades been lobbying both local and national government to find a solution. It is well known for it being a significant bottleneck and has been found to have the worst average vehicle delay of all strategic routes in the South West.

The letter continued by saying that:

“Since the start of January 2014, I’ve been delighted to see support gathering pace for government to fund the £255 million A417 loop, which is undoubtedly the only viable option to fix the ‘Missing Link’.

“In April 2014, I was particularly pleased that support was given by the Highways Agency in recognising local concerns about the route following stakeholder events in the region and highlighting the issue in its route strategy.

In making reference to the support of the former Transport Secretary, Cllr. Hodgkinson also said:

“The former Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin MP visited the A417 ‘Missing Link’ two years ago on Wednesday 16th July 2014 and was extremely supportive of the scheme.

“Funding has been secured by Highways England (HE) for the next stage of the A417 ‘Missing Link’ scheme development, but there’s still along way to go. We would like you to be equally committed as your predecessor, if not more supportive and would very much like to see construction starting before Highways England’s issued timeline for the scheme development, which identifies that construction will not start until summer 2021.

“The Air Balloon roundabout, which is a key part of the missing link section, is forecasted to be running 30 per cent over capacity by 2026. Already the road is congested and dangerous and needless to say will be worse before the anticipated summer 2021 construction date.

Cllr. Hodgkinson in asking to reaffirm the new Transport Secretary’s funding commitment to the ‘Missing Link’ also offered an invitation to the Rt Hon Chris Grayling saying:

“I believe Highways England (HE) will be undertaking an engagement event in Autumn 2016 to explain what will happen next and we would be delighted if you could perhaps join us to show your support?