Saturday, 13 June 2015

Belper Town Council meeting - 9th June 2015 (part 1)

It is the intention of BelperStuff to comment on the Belper Town Council (BTC) meetings as soon a note of the proceedings are to hand but the resultant post has been some delayed this week because there was seen to be a need for some fact checking. I also have to admit that some of the delay has been due to a sinking feeling in the BelperStuff editorial heart when checking through the details of the meeting. Perhaps the best way forward is just to plough through this, point by point and see where we end up.

Members of the public

John Porter
As usual members of the public are allowed a few minutes to comment on any item listed on the meeting agenda and once again this brought up the complaints made to the Amber Valley Borough Council Standards committee about the behaviour of the Town Council in 2013/14. If you remember, last month this item was brought to the attention of BTC by John Morrissey and this month it was the turn of John Porter who, in May, had unsuccessfully stood as a Labour candidate for Belper East in the town council elections. He mentioned that BTC had voted that the report and findings of the Standards Committee should not be made public. Mr. Porter was raising this once again because it was listed as an agenda item so why not draw a line under the affair by making the findings public and then the newly elected council could get on with managing the affairs of the town with no distractions. The complaints related to the ousting of the Mayor, Deborah Biss (I think that should be Madam Mayor) and Councillor Fisher from their positions on the council; the town then being administered by a working group comprising the remaining 14 councillors, the Deputy Mayor taking over mayoral duties. When the item was addressed later in the meeting the current Mayor, Dan Booth, apologised for the Town Council's conduct and hoped that would be the end of the matter but as we have no idea what it was he was apologising for his apology had no merit. If the findings were made public then that apology would have some meaning.

Other speakers were Alan Cox who offered a home to Mr Potato Head at the Cottage Project and Dave Fisher who spoke in his capacity as treasurer of the Road Safety Committee and mentioned the ongoing battle with speeding motorists and the desire for a Belper by-pass.

That concluded the public speaking part of the meeting ............. look I know that you are all desperate to read the next installment in the life and times of Mr Potato Head but you will have to wait ............... we'll get there eventually but first there are some serious issues that we need to think about.

Derbyshire Children's Holidays

This charity, which provides holidays for deprived children asked the council to help fund holidays for 14 Belper children. There was some debate about this as it emerged that last year 5 Belper children had been involved and it was stated that the council had donated £1,400. The charity had stated that each holiday costs over £700 and certain councillors questioned this sum, the consensus being that a total sum of £1,400 for all the children seemed about right. Councillor Nelson was concerned that some Belper children might miss out but Councillor Joe Booth suggested that the BTC contribution for each child should be no more than £100, the meeting finally agreeing this ..... a maximum of 14 children at £100 each. Obviously BelperStuff is not comfortable with this as the obvious question should have been ...... just how many deprived children are there in Belper ........... and how many of those have no chance of a holiday. Just what is the criteria to be deemed eligible for a week with Derbyshire Children's Holidays? Not one councillor asked about this.

Researching into this matter soon turned up this interesting link Queen's award for Derbyshire Children's Holiday charity  and if you want to know more then click this link to open up the the DCHC website.

BelperStuff finds the above very disturbing, especially when it would appear that the BTC once again banked a large sum of money in the last fiscal year, salting it away in the General Reserve. We will not know the exact figures until the annual accounts have been audited but there is a suspicion that the £360k saved up to April 2014 could easily have swelled to over £400k this year. So, a council that in some years has banked and saved £45,000 finds it difficult to spend more than £1,400 on deprived children.

This should be no surprise because in this same week we have been stunned by the news that George Osborne is minded to cut over £5 billion ( that's £5,000,000,000) from the element of tax credits that relates to children. This would amount to an average cut of £1,400 per year for the average impoverished family. Try this link for a report in the Independant concerning proposed Tory cuts to working family tax credits. If this wasn't bad enough some "eminent" Conservatives urged Osborne to relent from such savagery because it would make the Tories look bad. I kid you not. But ......... birds of a feather .......... note the coincidental sum of £1,400 in both the national and local Tory concerns about children in poor families.

Food Festival Committee

The Food Festival committee is chaired by Wendy Moore of Fresh Basil, obviously the ideal person to co-opt. It was therefore a surprise that Councillor Nelson questioned her role as chairperson, his comments followed up by Mayor Dan Booth with the statement that a co-opted chair of a 5 person committee could not exercise the casting vote if the councillors were split 2 : 2.
Try as we might, BelperStuff can find no reference in any local government rules, regulations or more general guidance to back this assertion up. It would seem that if a council decides to co-opt a member of the public onto a committee then they can also allow that person to vote. We have the precedent of Dan Booth being co-opted as a councillor at the end of 2013, the council deciding not to hold an election for the vacancy. He was immediately granted full voting rights and was even named as Deputy Mayor before anybody had the chance to vote him onto the council. So why was that correct but the idea of Wendy Moore being allowed to be an effective committee chairperson is unthinkable. We deserve better from our councillors. If there is a definitive legality that barr's a co-opted committee member at parish level from voting then the town council should make reference to it rather than making vague statements. 

BelperStuff will have no hesitation in posting an apology if it is pointed out that we are in error in this matter.

A further note regarding the Food Festival deliberations seemed somewhat vague and, seeking clarification from our BTC meeting observer proved to be unsuccessful as he also could make no sense of what was being said (perhaps we should start to pay him then he might be more observant). There seems to be another problem with the management of the Food Festival. It was only a few months ago that the council decided to appoint a commercial company to run the food festival but it was reported in the meeting that the chosen company is struggling to perform this task. No doubt we will learn more in the coming weeks.

But what about Mr Potato Head?

Belper Bus Garage
If it means that much to you I suggest that you follow this link for an item on the BBC website. Yes it's true, Councillor Nelson once again waxed lyrical about Mr Potato Head (MPH) stating that he would end up high above the bus depot's doors on Chapel Street ........ but he had not asked the bus company if they would agree to it. One of the councillors commented about insurance and a question was to be asked of the BTC insurers if MPH was covered for third party liability. Our correspondent's notes degenerate into a series of zzzzzz's at this point but thinking about it, the placement of MPH may well incur some expense, perhaps to anchor it (sorry ...... him) securely or to indemnify an unwary pedestrian if that anchor proves to be insufficient. BelperStuff hopes that the eventual sum is no greater than the £100 that our true blue councillors deigned to spend on a deprived Belper child.

Please forgive me ......... there are a few other matters mentioned by our correspondent but I'm going to throw in the towel tonight. This is all too depressing but I will try to complete this report in part 2 tomorrow. Goodness ..... it's already tomorrow. What a waste of an evening. 

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