Sunday, 3 February 2013

Another Unpaid Week in Politics


I've had a number of meetings this week.

On Monday evening I took part in the full Town Council Meeting. We heard that we had not got all the information we needed to set a budget for the town council yet, for April 2013 to March 2014. In the past the number of households on which to base Council Tax has included all those who did not pay council tax, but were in receipt of benefits. The government then guaranteed the collecting council, in our case Central Bedfordshire, the money. Now, the government is saying that the collecting council cannot include those households on benefits. Therefore, there is a shortfall of household numbers over which to spread the same total costs. In common with other councils, Central Bedfordshire have had to come up with their own scheme to decide how they will charge those households on benefits. In turn, for the coming year, CBC have calculated a bonus that Houghton Regis Town Council will get from its share of the money they hope to collect from those households on benefits, some of whom will be paying Council Tax for the first time (or not, if they decide putting food on the table is more important!) - The resulting gap on the Town Council's financing  is that we'll have to put up our share of the Council Tax just to keep on with what we are paying for now. Then add inflationary costs, and it bumps up again. The next dilemma, is that there is no guarantee from CBC that they will give us this "bonus" next year, which could leave us with a gaping £90,000 hole in the budget for next year. Tomorrow night, we have to meet again to decide what our Town Council's share of the whole Council Tax pot will be.

On Tuesday I attended the Houghton Regis Memorial Hall's steering committee. The Hall was built out of fundraising in the fifties by people who wanted to leave a lasting legacy to the local people who died in World Wars. The Hall's funds are in a healthy state. We heard about the need for maintenance items like water pipes needing attention, flaking brickwork in parts, and discussed ways to keep cars off a pathway at the rear of the building. New fire doors are to be ordered up to replace a rotting framework and doors in poor condition. The insistence of the Performing Rights people that the Hall needs to pay for a licence to put music on rumbles on. The committee doesn't see why the Hall should pay for a licence as they don't play any music. People who book the hall pay for their own licences if they want music; why do Performing Rights insist on a douple dip?  We meet again in 2 months time.

On Wednesday afternoon I had a two hour meeting with Nick Shaw from Central Bedfordshire Council's Travel Choices team. He gave me an overview of their remit and explained how some of the £4.9m is to be spent around Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable, and Houghton Regis. In return I gave him a list of things on my mind to do with Houghton Regis.The team have already done some work on Dog Kennel path and other parts of this route that form a part of a national cycle route. There is some potential news ahead in the form of a community bus. A wheels-to-work scheme is being run by Beds RCC - an example given was that someone was assisted back into the workplace by being provided with a scooter to get to Aylesbury for 6am. If anyone has ideas for improving routes to work, or otherwise improving walking and cycling routes, and provided the route is one that "Highways" would be responsible for, then Travel Choices might be able to help. Or drop me a note.

On Wednesday evening I had another meeting at the Town Council's offices. This time in private to meet with my Lib Dem colleagues to discuss our ideas on the Houghton Regis precept for the Council Tax. Debate and consensus reached.


© A D Winter 2013

On Friday I was amazed to see the roof was off a land-mark building in Houghton Regis town centre and wrote up this story. Some of my Facebook friends nearly had kittens when they read it. I understand from ward councillors, Susan Goodchild and David Jones that they have alerted the planning enforcement officers.


On Saturday morning I attended a 3 hour meeting of the Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service public forum in Brewers Hill Road, Dunstable. An insightful and well run meeting in which the options facing BFRS for their share of Council Tax were explained and considered. The government would permit a 1% increase in BFRS share of Council Tax, AND GIVE IT TO THEM FOR NO INCREASE TO THE COUNCIL TAX PAYER. Except the catch is, that if inflation runs at 3%, then by the end of the year their overhead costs will have increased, and they will then need to collect even more the following year to catch up. Perhaps it is better to collect 2% and pass that 2% increase to the tax payer. That way asking for another increase the next year will not need to be such a big jump. That was certainly what the majority of the public forum thought. 

FIRE QUIZ
Have a go at these questions and write a quick answer down. Then check this link for the answer. 
1. How many people per year die in fires in Bedfordshire ?
2. How much does it cost in labour to crew one fire engine for a year ?
3. What is the annual budget of BFRS ?
4. How much does BFRS cost a Band D property ?

And Finally ...
It was brass monkey weather down at "Great Crixsey Cow Common", the home of Dunstablians RFU, on Saturday afternoon. At least 3 degrees cooler than up in the town. At least the locals won!
© A D Winter 2013

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