Peter Harris

Campaigner for Southwell & Villages Learn more

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Report from Kelham Hall – the new 2013-4 Council Year starts

by Peter Harris on 15 May, 2013

Since my last report there have been no meetings of the Cabinet or of the main Scrutiny Committees. The first meeting of the Council since our last report was last night ending at 20h40

The outcomes of the meeting were difficult to assess as, due to the lack of a Conservative majority on the Council, we were hoping that there might be some alterations to the way in which the Council would operate this coming year. Sadly, despite the Leader’s written comments in the Southwell Advertiser last week, there does not appear to have been a significant change of mind.

The Chairman for 2013-4 is Dennis Jones and the Vice Chairman Rita Crowe. They were elected nem con.

Kelham Hall is now jointly occupied by the District Council and www.kelham-hall.com as a wedding venue. In the move the Leader of the Council has got a newly painted office with a view over the River Trent. Other 45 members have been reduced to using a small room with peeling paint and four chairs.

Kelham Hall is now jointly occupied by the District Council
and www.kelham-hall.com as a wedding venue.

In the move the Leader of the Council has got a newly painted office
with a view over the River Trent.

The other 45 members have been reduced to using a small room with
peeling paint and four chairs.

The Council now has four substantive action Committees, Policy [with seven members  4 Con 3 Lab], Homes and Communities [7 Con and Lab, 1 Ind], Leisure and Environment [7 Con 1 Lab and Christine Rose [Lib Dem Sutton-on-Trent]] and Economic Development [7 Con , 4 Lab and 1 Ind]. The Regulatory Committees continue with Planning Committee including Julian Hamilton [Lib Dem Southwell East and Upton].

At the Full Council meeting I was able to ask about a number of issues from the last Council cycle, including the failure of the Council to respond correctly to a Freedom of Information request where the Council denied it owns any Council houses [the Council continues to own a significant number of houses in Southwell, although they are managed by Newark and Sherwood Homes, as already reported to the Town Council by us].

There was a discussion on the effects of the reduction of Housing Benefit. Following pressure on the Council, there is a Hardship Fund to help individuals affected by the reductions in support. There have been 107 applications for support across the District, with 50 applicants getting help. There appears to be a significant amount of money left in the Budget remaining. Unlike some other Councils the Cabinet decided to implement an across the board application of Council Tax even to those in receipt of full welfare support, so that even the poorest residents under pension age will pay Council Tax contributions. Due to the higher cost of Council Tax banding in Southwell, there is a disproportionate effect on some residents in Southwell. We will monitor this.

I also asked what discussions had been held with the Town Council relating to the Tourism Commissioning that we referred to in the last report. The discussions have not been held yet, although the Leader of the Council seemed to think that it was the Town Forum that was involved and had to be reminded that it was the Southwell Tourism Partnership that was the effective body.

There was a discussion on the Community Infrastructure Levy, and despite the recent guidance from DCLG on how the Town Council might deploy its percentage of the CIL, with or without the uncapped element of CIL following a Neighbourhood Plan. The Leader of the Council was dismissive of how CIL would be used to support local infrastructure by town and parish councils, suggesting, despite the clear guidance to the contrary, that CIL directed to local communities would have to be deployed according to the priorities of the District Council.

There was a passionate a plea for Health Scrutiny to continue at the Council following good work by Cllrs including Julian Hamilton holding the local Health Agencies including the Clinical Commissioning Group and East Midlands Ambulance Service to account. It should be noted that Sherwood Forest Hospitals Trust have not appeared. The point about ensuring scrutiny on health matters was accepted by the council leadership.

It was also announced that the CAB has been successful in achieving a grant of over £340,000 to extend its support across the District. The Town Council has already undertaken to support the extension of the CAB to the town by offering accommodation, so this does now look likely to be implemented.

I am pleased to report that my tweets from the Council Chamber are widely read – including by the Conservative leadership. Reading my reports appears to be the main source of challenge to their thinking, and there were four times last night when my tweets were referred to. The Conservatives continue to refuse to allow any broadcasting of their debating skills from the Council Chamber – so the only way most residents will hear from the Chamber is via tweets. [There were only 4 members of the public attending last night!]

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