Calderdale Council has spent £327,000 on empty offices at Dean Clough.

DeanClough

Calderdale Council moved out of the offices it was leasing at Dean Clough two years ago, but is still paying £163,500 per year for the space. That means that the Council has paid out nearly one-third of a million pounds for something that is of no benefit for the people of Calderdale.

As the lease has over six years still to run, a further million pounds could well be wasted in the same way. Clearly the Council needs to take action to reduce this wasteful spending or, hopefully, get rid of it altogether.

This also calls into question the wisdom of the Council in entering into long leases that it can’t easily get out of.

Even if the Council’s coffers were overflowing with cash, this would be an unacceptable waste of public money. In these difficult times it is even more intolerable.

The tax-payers of Calderdale and the Council staff who are at risk of losing their jobs over the coming years would be right to be appalled by this wasteful use of scarce resources.

Liberal Democrat Group Statement on Calderdale Council’s Budget

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Janet Battye (Calder) says: “The Council finds itself in a difficult position as the Conservative government has failed to provide enough funding for flood recovery and has also reduced the government grant the Council is getting. Although we appreciate the challenges the administration has in drawing up a budget in these difficult circumstances we won’t be supporting either the Labour or Conservative budget proposals.

“Locally, the Conservative’s budget proposals to withhold staff sick pay for three days would penalise people who are genuinely ill and result in them coming in whilst sick and spreading diseases. They claim that parking is a ‘basic right’ and we must keep parking charges low whilst proposing to increase charges elsewhere, such as the bulky waste collection fee.

“Labour proposed that everyone ought to pay more Council tax to cover the cost of the flooding. We don’t think it’s fair that people on a low income in Calderdale will have to pay more because people elsewhere in the Borough got flooded. The cost of the flooding should be borne by central government and fair taxation systems where the richest pay most, not local Council tax payers.

“If the Liberal Democrats were running Calderdale Council we would implement a host of energy efficiencies such as switching to LED Street lighting, and improving the energy efficiency of Council buildings. We also think the Council could share more back office functions by moving Council staff and services into community hubs that were shared with other organisations. This could free up funds to invest in resurfacing our roads, gritting services and initiatives to ensuring our streets are free of litter and dog fouling.”

What’s your view about On-Street Parking – have your say!

Calderdale Council’s Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel will meet at Halifax Town Hall on Thursday 3 March, 2016 at 6.00pm to look at the subject of On-Street parking and would particularly welcome the views of residents, businesses and those who work in Calderdale on this matter.

The chair of the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel, Councillor James Baker said:- We are very keen to receive from the Economy and Environment  an overview of “On-Street” Parking in the Borough including impact of obstruction and damage to footpaths; pavement parking; inconvenience to service vehicles (e.g. access for gritters, ambulances and waste and recycling collection vehicles) and to hear about what powers the Council and /or others legislative powers have in monitoring and enforcement, and to what extent they are actually used .

“This meeting gives both those individuals/ businesses which use and/or are affected by any on-street parking issues an opportunity to come together, share your experiences and to let us know your views about on-street parking”.

He further added:- “Members of the public are welcome to attend the  Scrutiny Panel meeting and I look forward to hearing their views.”

The meeting will be held at 6pm on Thursday 3 March, 2016 at Halifax Town Hall

Shadow environment secretary wants meat eaters to be treated like smokers

People at work in a grocery store

Warnings and adverts discouraging us from eating meat could become a reality if Labour’s shadow environment secretary gets her way.

There are many benefits to eating more vegetarian meals, they are often healthy and can have less of an impact on the environment. Additionally you do not have the suffering that can sometimes come with industrialised farming methods. I think most people would accept this, and be open minded towards having a few vegetarian dishes a week, along with a bit of fish and a few meat dishes as well – what we might call a balanced diet!

You can put a good case together that nutritional health advice should encourage people to try a few vegetarian dishes a week. I wouldn’t think many people would have a problem if some of the healthy eating advice gave some gentle encouragement towards vegetarian meals, so long as it was still their choice and they weren’t feeling harangued into a certain lifestyle.

However Labour’s new vegan shadow shadow environment takes a much more hard line approach. She wants advertising campaigns such as those targeted towards smokers, to stop people eating meat. Sadly this is typical of a lot of Labour’s approach to health issues, a strong nanny state paternalism that seeks to control society, rather than a more gentle educational approach. As a Liberal I think we should help educate people as to what’s healthy, and then allow people the freedom to choose what they eat.  We saw the same type of paternalism here in Calderdale where the Labour group wanted controls placed on E-cigs (despite their being evidence they can help people to give up smoking.) This nanny approach to health is all born out of good intentions, but the ‘we know what’s best for you attitude’ does wind me up as someone who values individual choice and independence.

“I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it.” – Kerry McCarthy shadow environment secretary.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want a load of money spent on nagging adverts warning us not to eat bacon sandwiches. We have to consider as well that a lot of land simply isn’t suitable for growing vegetables. A lot of the steep sided Pennine upland is really only good for sheep farming, or cattle when you get a bit lower into the valleys. There are a lot of farmers still in Calerdale, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with buying quality meat raised in Calderdale at a local butchers and eating it as part of a balanced diet.

 

Update on Brow Foot Gate Lane traffic problems

At the last full Council meeting I asked another question about the traffic problems affecting Brow Foot Gate Lane (and neighbouring roads like Trimmingham Lane, Churn Lane). Essentially I was concerned that this had been considered as a minor traffic and parking issue rather than a road safety issue. As it appeared that a lot of time and energy had been wasted considering it under the wrong policy when perhaps it ought to form part of the road safety programme.

Councillor Collins has asked me to respond to your query about Brow Foot Gate Lane following the Economy and Environment Scrutiny panel meeting in July.

The approved cabinet report and policy states clearly that speed reduction and road safety measures are not covered and are part of the road safety programme. These are largely driven by evidence, based on Killed and Seriously Injured data.

The minor traffic and parking schemes policy is primarily to prioritise and address relatively small scale schemes involving traffic issues and parking, that will in general require a traffic regulation order to regulate traffic. In identifying whether any work needs to be carried out each request is assessed against a number of criteria including road safety. When requests are assessed we look at existing safety issues as well as any potential ones that may be caused using the prioritisation matrix.

We have not been able to allocate a staff resource to carry out the feasibility work to identify a potential scheme at Brow Foot Gate Lane to date. I advised all councillors at the beginning of the financial year that, as we had just implemented a new structure and had a high number of vacancies, we would be concentrating on delivery of the core revenue and capital programmes of work to ensure that these were spent and weather-dependent work was delivered in the summer and autumn months. This work is progressing well and resources should become available shortly for other areas of work, such as requests under the minor traffic and parking schemes policy.

Since the scrutiny meeting in July the portfolio holder for Economy and Environment has made a commitment to increase resources to ensure that significant progress can be made to start delivering the schemes that have been prioritised through the policy. This will enable dedicated staff resource to be secured for a fixed period of time. We are now putting together a costed and deliverable programme of works to maximise the number of schemes that can be progressed, and this will include Brow Foot Gate Lane.

I cannot give definite timescales for the feasibility study to be completed for Brow Foot Gate Lane. Having spoken to colleagues there does not appear to be a simple solution and the feasibility study make take some time. Any solution will need wider buy-in through consultation and it may not be the solution that the two requestors have proposed. However, as soon as additional resources are secured I will ensure that Brow Foot Gate Lane is considered straight away.

So we are still waiting on a time-scale for when a feasibility study can be completed for the road. Although we have more promises that it’s coming at some point in the future. Like many residents I would be happier if an actual date could be provided. That might fill me with some confidence that the department is able to properly schedule and then carry out such works.

Detailed work on tackling the impact the environment has on public health

You often hear in the press and in leaflets when politicians disagree and argue with each other. It’s often because these disagreements are deemed newsworthy and reported. Yet over the past few months a cross-party group of Councillors have been working constructively together on a scrutiny review group I have chaired  looking at the relationships between the local environment and public health.

Green

We held our first review group meeting in November 2014 and agreed our methodology and ways of working. During the course of our review, we have looked closely at how the Council and its partners work on local environment and public health activities and initiatives, primarily within Calderdale, but also looking at examples of best practice regionally and nationally.

The scrutiny review group focussed on exploring the relationships between the local environment and public health to see if by making our environment a healthier place to live we can improve people’s health.

We identified three key objectives for us to focus on through our review group work: developing policies that promote active and sustainable travel across the borough; developing policies that reduce the negative effects of living in cold homes upon public health and developing policies that seek to mitigate the public health effects of environmental pollution.

The review group has produced and published a report that you can read in full here. It also made nine recommendations in total. These reccomendations will now be put towards whoever forms the next administration of Calderdale Council after the local elections next month.

Recommendation 1

That the Director of Communities and Service and the Director of Public Health, are requested to prepare a leaflet containing details, lengths etc. mapping National Cycle Route 66, perhaps dividing it into manageable lengths, and showing access points, so that local people and tourists are made aware of what Calderdale was offering in its endeavour to support cycling. This would be a good way forward to support healthy living, outdoor pursuits, and safe cycling and it is essential that the information is passed to the public via Tourist Information Centres, libraries and websites, etc.

Recommendation 2

That to help promote active and sustainable travel across the Borough, Cabinet be asked to consider setting aside a portion of the annual highways budget specifically for cycle path improvements.

Recommendation 3

That Cabinet be asked to give consideration to the establishment of one or two data analyst positions to work on a cross- council basis (economic justification for establishment of posts – invest to save basis)

(Whilst appreciating the Council already has an in-house Business Change and Performance Team, the review group felt that a dedicated data analyst resource would be beneficial to the Council in the long run in addressing fuel poverty / affordable warmth in particular and that Cabinet should consider this as a proposal on an “invest to save” basis. Further discussions around the principles of “open data”, sharing with partners and other organisations should also be explored and undertaken).

Recommendation 4

That the Portfolio Holder / Cabinet and the Director, Economy and Environment be

requested to take note of and consider the evidential research previously undertaken by the National Institute of Environmental Health and the Building Research Establishment (BRE) which suggests that targeting the Borough’s worst housing with a £1.4m investment programme could save an estimated £4.65m in associated health care costs (and the increase in economic benefits such work would bring to the Borough).

Recommendation 5

That Cabinet’s agreement and support be sought for the early revision of the Calderdale Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP), which was written in 2009 and is in need of updating.

Recommendation 6

That Cabinet’s agreement and support be sought to the undertaking and promotion of

  • a targeted campaign of awareness of the on-

  • going West Yorkshire Low Emissions

  • Strategy (WYLES) work from a public health

  • perspective, with the primary delivery method

  • to be through low cost platforms such as

  • social media (Facebook, Twitter etc.)

Recommendation 7

That Cabinet is asked to endorse and support more direct enforcement work being undertaken by external partners of the Council, such as the police, through the use of legally enforceable powers to tackle un-roadworthy vehicles with high emissions.

Recommendation 8

That Cabinet is asked to look into the possibility of undertaking a feasibility study into the possibility of introducing designated Low Emission Zones (LEZs) in Calderdale.

Recommendation 9

That Cabinet be informed that it should request a policy paper as soon as possible on how the £1.4m affordable warmth scheme recently agreed by Council providing grants to improve heating and insulation was to be implemented and it is recommended that that the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel could be used as “sounding board” on this important piece of policy development work. Links to public health, hospital trust and Adults Health and Social Care, the Better Care Fund and the work of the Health and Well-Being Board would also needed to be considered in taking this work forward.

 

Budget Council report – We have secured an investment into affordable warmth

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A Liberal Democrat amendment to the Council’s budget meeting that occurred on Monday 23rd February has secure a £1.4m investment into affordable warmth. The cost of this insulation scheme will be repaid through additional savings made through the smarter use of technology by the Council in its working practices.

In Calderdale in 2013 there were 93 excess winter deaths attributed to cold homes. Improving the insulation in homes, particularly those of vulnerable people, will help reduce the number of people suffering in cold homes. It will mean fewer people living in fuel poverty, fewer fossil fuels burnt to heat homes, and more money in residents’ pockets to be spent in our local economy.

The National Institute of Environmental Health and the Building Research Establishment have suggested that targeting the borough’s worst housing with a £1.4m investment programme could save an estimated £4.65m in associated health care costs. At a time when health services are under pressure this is a sensible and pragmatic measure the Council could take to help save lives in Calderdale.

Personally I’m delighted this affordable warmth scheme I have proposed was passed. Around 93 people a year in Calderdale die prematurely as a result of living in cold homes. These people are all someone’s grandparents, friends and relatives.  Lives will be saved from this measure, and many more will have their quality of life improved from being lifted out of fuel poverty. It will also reduce the burden of costs placed upon the NHS as prevention is cheaper for the taxpayer than cure.

This simply wouldn’t have happened without all of the support of Calderdale residents who vote Liberal Democrat in local elections. It is a crying shame that Labour failed to back this measure, simply because we proposed it and they did not want to be seen backing a Liberal Democrat amendment. I can’t understand that kind of party political petty mindedness.

Further features that the amended budget passed by Council and supported by the Liberal Democrats will deliver for Calderdale include

  • A Council tax freeze.
  • A 20% saving in the Council’s energy bills to be achieved through an investment in LED lighting in Council buildings and solar panels.
  • All future savings the Council has to make in 2017/18 to be determined by a major public consultation this summer.

In Contrast Labour’s amendment would have meant

  • No public Consultation
  • Council tax rises in two out of the three next years.
  • Money taken out of the road maintenance budget for other Labour priorities
  • An £800,000 cut in Children Services in 2017/18

The would have used the money raised from these cuts and Council tax rises on a risky venture of building 150 Council houses, a Town Square in Sowerby Bridge and a waterside park in Mytholmroyd.

 

My Question to Council on the state of Calderdale’s roads

COUNCIL MEETING ON: 18th FEBRUARY 2015

QUESTION FROM: COUNCILLOR BAKER

TO: COUNCILLOR CAFFREY, CABINET MEMBER FOR ECONOMY

Why is the state of repair on so many of Calderdale’s roads so bad when there appears to be money spare in the Highways department and a predicted underspend.

Answer

I do not accept that Calderdale’s roads are ‘so bad’ as Cllr Baker suggests – indeed, they are in at least as good a condition as those of our neighbouring authorities. It is also important to note that their condition is often at its worst at this time of the year due to the impact of the winter weather and need for gritting to keep them safe from ice and snow.

I would first of all like to clarify that the third Revenue Monitor reported to Scrutiny Panel on 29 January 2015 highlighted a budget pressure of £1M within the overall directorate (CAFM and non – CAFM budgets) and this contained a Highway works projected underspend of £430k. It was commented, however, in the report that this budget would be required in the financial year 2015/16 in order to finance additional Street Lighting capital works.

The report also referred to the potential for the overall budget for Highway works, which includes patching, footways, walling, signal maintenance, structures, street lighting and the winter service, to underspend by significantly more than this amount. If the overall budget for Highways works does underspend by significantly more than the £430k then it is worth noting that any underspend may be required in the first instance to finance other budget pressures within the directorate.

In assessing the successful delivery of the programme of works in relation to the Council’s network, which is essentially what the question relates to, there are a number of issues that need to be considered.  Within the Highways works budget for the current year, the overall budget for patching and associated works is in the region of £1.126M. Earlier in the year it became clear that it was unlikely that a programme of spend could be delivered to this level and the sum of £300k was diverted to fund additional street lighting works.

It is now anticipated we will spend the balance of £826k in the current year and if this is the case then it will equate to 70% of the original budget of £1,126M. It is also anticipated at this point in time that the Council will deliver spend in the region £3,503M out of a total budget of £3.839M which equates to over 90% delivery of the Council’s capital programme. Additional grant of £1.2M has also been received by the Council in the current financial year in relation to pothole (£820k) and severe weather (£380k) funding. Over £700k of this has been spent to date with further work estimated to the value of £250k underway and orders raised for another £180k of work.

It is worth noting that current forecast of revenue (£826k) and capital (£3,503M) spend for the current year totalling £4,329k is still a significant sum to be spent on the Council’s network. Given the fact that the Council has had to divert staffing resources in the current year to deliver the additional capital works, deal with the additional work in relation to the Tour De France and Parking TRO issues, and also implement a restructure of the service by 31 March 2015, then the overall programme of work forecast to be delivered in the current year is fairly significant.

Clearly, there are issues in relation to the programming and delivery of work that need to be discussed and agreed with the Council’s main contractor (Amey) and also other partners, and discussing are ongoing.

As regards street lighting, the number of outstanding faults has been reduced from nearly 700 at the start of the year to 279 last week, despite the reporting of new faults. 256 repairs were undertaken last week, and we are continuing to make progress on the backlog. The over-sleeving of columns also continues to progress with 390 columns having been installed so far. With the introduction of a further team, 50 columns were installed last week, so we are on target for the 700 columns required by the end of the financial year.

Fighting to improve our markets

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Picture by Tim Green repoduced under license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) –

 

The Liberal Democrats will be fighting for more cash for our markets at the Calderdale Council’s annual budget. The Conservatives are proposing to spend more on “Heritage and Cultural buildings” and local Lib Dems are suggesting that this would be better spent on the Council’s markets. I speak to quite a few local residents who tell me that borough market has been in decline over the years, and isn’t as good as it used to be. I think borough market is one of the jewels in Halifax’s crown and that it deserves some reinvestment.

Not only is the market a great place to stop, it also allows a really good first stepping stone for start-up retailers who can then go on and grow their business. Calderdale does really well in the new number of businesses starting up, we have a lot more of a entrepreneurial spirit then we sometimes give ourselves credit for!

The market service that the Council runs actually makes the Council quite a bit more money then it costs to run. To date this money has then gone on supporting other public services that we rely on. What we are arguing for is for more of the money the service raises to be spent on reinvestment to protect borough market as a building, and also improve the other markets across the borough. A capital investment in our indoor markets, and the stalls we use for other outdoor markets will help ensure we have a successful market service for years to come.