Rocke's Roles - this year (!)How long ago did I say that the weekly updates would be back imminently?
Regrettably I reached the point of saturation. The quite small 'contingency time' I left unallocated has been swallowed by events at another place and for the period before and after Christmas it even impacted upon council work.
Anyway, you'll hear more of that I guarantee within the coming months and this is Abertillery Online, not Torfaen Offtrack.
This 6-weekly Scrutiny cycle (the last of this Council) has just finished and my attendance over the past 3 months has been in line with my average over the years ie. 8 out of 12 plus additional duties.
* The rate of action to get Education to the point where we do right for our children and not simply Leighton Andrews continues apace.
At an Ed & Leis Scrutiny this week the Committee backed a plan for the council to join with 4 other councils (Torfaen, Monmouth, Newport & Caerphilly) to create an Integrated Achievement Service (IAS) to support schools across the area they cover.
Typical bolitical speak, 'Achievement Service'.
I'll be blunt. It's more appropriately termed an improvement service. Figures provided showed a high proportion of schools across that area in the low Band 4 and lowest Band 5 grouping.
Believe it or not, BG's overall spread isn't anything out of the ordinary really but such is life.
The main thing is that it's not where we are in a table, it's about what we are providing - and that's not a good enough service to arm our children for the day they have to fight to get a job, to raise a family and give them every chance in life.
Boliticians deal in relatives, achievers strive for absolutes.
That's been our problem, and indeed a trap I fell into.
Believe it or not the IAS will save the 4 councils around £400,000pa. NOW - I know what you're thinking, I said 4 councils and us.
Well, they'll save £400K between them but it will cost BGCBC an extra £6,000 or so per annum.
However, the reason is that because of the way the support will be provided BG will have a considerable amount of learning support resources poured into it. Basically a Band 5 school gets something like 50-odd days of dedicated support, a Band 4 40 days or so etc.
As such the minute increase is excellent value for money.
Also, since the contributions are proportionate to the number of schools affected we are the second-lowest contributor to the service.
Last week's Housing and Regeneration meeting was um...vibrant.
I'm Vice Chair of this committee but it didn't stop me being a bit of a pain.
You all know my feelings about Abertillery and the mess it all is, the mess of non or misinformation that is.
Destruction comes before reconstruction (and it had better be worth it) but proper adequate warning and an explanation beforehand would solve a lot of problems.
Fortunately I've been having a right pasting about it, and of course I've told people that I'm told nothing, representing a mere village and not a big town like Aber. In fact I think the last meeting concerning Aber was last May. Delwyn confirmed that we don't appear to have been to a meeting for almost a year.
Believe it or not, on 15th Feb the 'town council' had a special meeting and were able to quiz a BGCBC Officer on the state of play.
I made sure that Housing & Regen knew about it as well.
A Community Councillor for Cwmtillery knows more of what is going on re. Aber than a BG Councillor for the same Ward does !
And more than that, there's more citizens in Cwmtillery Ward than Abertillery ward, so more of 'my citizens' are affected.
Now you'll understand why I'm going for the double hit of BGCBC councillor for Cwmtillery and Community Councillor for Abertillery Ward. I'm sure we'll work well together !
Also in Regen we had the thorny issue of Street Lighting and an overspend on it, due mainly to an increase in energy costs.
There's a 20% overspend, so I asked how much energy charges had risen.
The Executive Member for Regen stated that it was 20%, and was at pains to point out that the report said it. Heads nodded until I pointed out that the report actually stated that 'energy costs have rised by 20% (from 8p/KwH to 10p/KwH)'.
Still heads nodded as if to say 'there you are then'.
Then the Killer: "I know our education provision is currently amiss but the school I went to taught me that a rise from 8 to 10 is in fact 25%."
I've only had a moment such as this about 3 or 4 times in the 4 years in Council.
Stunned silence. Nothing. An Offciers mouths 'he's right' to the Exec Member.
"What hope do we as members have of effective Scrutiny then?
We've had comments made about the scrutiny function of this council and we get this. 8p to 10p is 25%. This has an obvious implication for the projected overspend.", says I.
The poor old accountants answer with 'we'll come back to you on that'. I say 'poor old accountants' because they can only relay what they have been informed, and of course they've done their job and said 'why are you overspent to the tune of £160,000 on streetlighting Regen/Highways?' and had that answer back.
(They still could have checked though....)
Yes, I wasn't in a good mood before and certainly not after that meeting.
I must have had a bad weekend because I was on the same tack at Monday's Crime and Disorder and Safer Communities Scrutiny.
Fixed Penalties for littering and dog fouling were up for consideration. I won't go back over the 'cotton knocking' that's gone on (but you might find it useful to refer to the post).
Anyway, the revenue isn't coming in as it should.
XFOR's doing the enforcement but the malefactors aren't doing the paying, so there's less in the kitty.
Cue one brilliant idea, a tried and tested one - give people a discount for paying early.
Now, if they're not paying because they can't ( or won't ) afford it it doesn't matter what you charge really.
And if they'd rather go to court and pay at £2/week say then c'est la vie.
Anyway, the proposal is that someone caught with their cigarrette butt down can get some Fine off for the good behaviour of paying within 14 days. The proposal is a reduction of £25, to £50.
Cue Cllr Hobbs with a very astute question.
'Who takes the hit?' is basically what she asked.
(You might be aware that there's 2 funding methods for XFOR - 2 Ops the councils pays for at £18/hr and 3 Ops where there's a
£45/£30 split of the FP in favour of the company).
"We will" says our officer. "The Service Level Agreement is in place and agreed.".
Now in fairness XFOR are being asked to serve notices, and they're doing just that, so why should they have to take a hit?
I assume that we could have left collection to them as well, but obviously it's better business for us not to, with the attendant risks, which have come home to roost.
Anyway, the recovery rate is about 48%, leaving us about £30,000 down, resulting in the service costing us about £19,000, instead of the surplus we expected. Hopefully forthcoming prosecutions will up the income.
Anyway, back to Maths.
Which is the greater: 48% of 30 or 16.667% of 30 ?
You think I'm having a laugh don't you ?????????????
Well, we've been charging people £75. The Council's getting £30, and we've managed to collect 48% of what we've charged.
So, in order to er... increase the income, we're going to reduce our take by 83.33% for all future FPs.
Yes, instead of £30/FP we'll receive um..... a whole FIVER !!!
I'm not patronising anyone but let's make the figures easier to understand.
Say XFOR issue 100 tickets.
That's 100x £30 for the Council ie. £3,000.
On current recovery levels of 48% the council actually gets £1,440 into the coffers.
If this scheme comes in that will be:
100x £5 for the Council ie. £500 and that's assuming a 100% recovery rate.
ie. the more successful this 'initiative' is the less money the council gets. And remember, any surplus was intended to fund more dog wardens, litter pickers etc.
Another one of those stunned silences.
Then a member of the committee says somethig like 'we have to try this because weve got to stop dog fouling'.
The action to stop dog fouling is fining the person in charge in the first place !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They're not going to say 'I'll pick my dog's mess up only if you drop the fine to £50?' - are they ?!!!!
Even I'm questioning my sanity now.
We are custodians of the public purse, and we're being asked to cost the council money, to no benefit of citizens. (Remember, XFOR's already doing the job, recovery of money is secondary).
It will be interesting what happens to this when the Executive discuss it.
This year's council tax is the lowest ever !
Um no. Another mathematical faux pas I had to correct in our group meeting prior to Council. It's the lowest increase BG's ever had.
On Weds Council Tax was set at a level 2.6% higher than last year.
Never mind the bolitics ( and there's been some, all over the country about this, Torfaen announced 2.599%, just to keep it under 2.6 and the first bits level with other authorities that did 2.5 for example) we all know things go up year by year but soemtimes you have to cut back somewhere in order to prevent living outside your means.
This council's done that year by year.
There's been no massive improvements because that takes money but what the public can't get hold of ( because you can't see it unless you're in council, and anyone who explains it will simply be contradicted by another councillor and we'll all end up being reagrded as 'typical councillors) is that there's been a lot of work behind the scenes in order to make sure money continues to be available to ensure the priority services such as Social Care are still there.
Additionally there's intense political (small 'p') pressure regarding the Green agenda whereby we have had to spend in order to save and reach targets set by WG, the purchase of wheelie bins being an example.
What I'd suggest is this - look at your household bills, energy, fuel, insurance etc. and see how they've increased. The Council's not immune or exempt. In that respect the CTax increases aren't overboard by any means.
I do however accept that it's a different kettle of fish if you ask if the services you get are value for that money.
2.6% was proposed but Cllr Hillman made an amendment to make it zero ie freeze it.
It seems he wanted the money to be taken from reserves, that's the equivalent of the special pot you have for a rainy day.
So what happens if something unexpected happens ( Torfaen has just had to grab £400,000 to pour into a hole in its IT, as you might have seen in the Argus ).
As Steve Thomas, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group quite rightly said 'the problem Des is that people will think it's electioneering, and nobody wants that'.
Cllr Hillman asked for a recorded vote.
He, Cllr Bard, Cllr Ford and Cllr Edwards voted for the amendment, to grab rainy day money.
The other 30-odd of us didn't.
I hope nothing happens in the future for me to have to say how wise we were, that we kept money in reserves and that rainy day in some regrettable form had come.
You might not consider yourselves in good hands but they are responsible hands.
If only every meeting were like that.
As it happens in Env Health Scrutiny they generally are.
Easy for me to say, having been Chair for the past 2 years.
However, Thursday's meeting was a prime example.
Straying animals is a problem and has been for years.
Over the past 4 years a number of initiatives have come before us and we've had our say and generally shaped the policy.
Last Autumn we were asked to look the charging structure for impounded animals ( you won't believe the charges - charges for feed, Vet's examination, transport, boarding etc. etc ). After a good debate it was decided to canvass the owners themselves via the Straying Animals Working Group. Here farmers, commoners, councillors and officers meet. Unfortunately I couldn't be there but there was consensus that there should be no increase, so back it came to committee and we agreed to support a recommendation to the Executive to keep things as they are, but extend the fees to pigs and goats, so now they're not safe on the road !!
The reason for no increase was simple economics.
If it costs too much to buy the animal back the owner won't, and in the worst case scenario we put it up for auction - and it fetches 5p, the fraternity knowing it's an impounded stray. It's possibly cost over £100 of your money to keep it until market.
See my point ?
I've always regarded Env Health as more of a team than a committee. There's little bolitics and the Chairing's more relaxed (!!).
Another 'team affair' is Licencing.
We work very well together.
There's no bolitics because this is a public protection issue, a quasi-legal process. No-one has different views on standards of service because of their political views do they?
Much of the committee's work is exempt from the public domain, due to the often personal nature of the work.
Taxi drivers and firms are the biggest workload and the best example.
When you get in a Taxi do you ask the driver if he's got a criminal record, do you say 'are you safe with women (or men)'?, 'will you rip me off by going the long way around?', 'are you going to do a Jenson Button impression and break your record for Tesco to Glandawr St.?'
You'd probably get your head chewed off for being personal.
But of course you expect there to be no problems. It's a licenced cab after all and the driver's licenced.
We do it all for you. We ensure that the cab and its driver are safe, that you can be confident of an appropriate ride and charge at the end of it.
As such we interview applicants or drivers (if they've been reported) wherever CRB checks reveal potential issues, the obvious one being new applicants with, say, 6 points on their licence from a couple of years ago for speeding.
We seem to have got into a bit of a routine, unwittingly I think, but due to where we each sit and the efficient way the Chair Cllr Watkins conducts business I almost always start the questions, which often open up other avenues for my colleagues.
We had a case like that on Tuesday, where team play worked very well.
I can't say anymore - it's exempt !!
The next couple of 'Roles' will probably be more of public interaction than committee work but they'll in themselves serve to nicely end these insights into the role and day-to-day work of a councillor.
Sorry, forgot to mention a human side to things that happened this week.
Down the Canteen Thursday before Env Scrutiny and I met the Mayor ( had lunch as it happens ).
Uncharacteristically he was not in a jovial mood.
"I'm trying to get the flags raised ( they're not up all the time) to half mast for the lads who died" he said "but there's a protocol that only allows for the death of the queen, politicians and councillors".
"I'm going to see (an officer) about it now. You coming with me?"
"No problem at all Mike", says I.
Mike Bartlet is a extremely active prime supporter of serving troops, while some of you might know my prime focus is on those who have served (it goes without saying we both totally support all categories, but you get my meaning).
Off we go and it takes just one phone call to the Leader to get it sorted.
The Mayor has probably got a protocol rewritten.
I don't think it will be too long before the flags are automatically brought out to honour those who regrettably have given everything for us.