Well last Thursday was Full Council - and a more lively debate than usual - here is some of what we discussed:
Photo: Members Room at Ebley Mill
Stroud District Council approves 1.9% council tax rise
Stroud District Council approved a below inflation, 1.9%, increase for its portion of council tax for the year ahead. The Tories like to say that this increase will cover improvements to services in the areas of homelessness prevention, household energy efficiency and funding for climate change initiatives. However the amounts are very small. The 1.9% increase amounts to 7 pence a week for the average household - the lowest increase in nine years.'
It will mean that an average 'band d' household will pay £186.93 a year to Stroud District Council - £3.49 more than they do at the moment. Stroud District Council's proportion of the council tax bill is 12%, with the rest going to the county council, police, and parish and town councils. Greens were not happy that enough is being done to tackle issues like fuel poverty so felt unable to support this move - see more comment re budget here.
Joint Use centres may close
This issue has had lots of discussion and I wont repeat here - see previous blog here and here for some stuff - we are told three of these centres are no longer financially viable - I asked about why marketing of these centres hadn't done the basics - in the Nailsworth centre for example there is no internet booking, not even a sign outside and no message on the answering machine! Having said that realistically we know cuts must come - my concerns are the way they are being done - seemingly no overall strategy, picking off the three that cost the most per head, not consulting properly, not guaranteeing transition funding, inconsistent messages....
Dursley No Alcohol drinking zone
I do not underestimate the problems faced by drinking in our town centres - they can blight areas and effectively stop people from going out in the evening. I understand Dursley has a problem although on the couple of evenings I have been there I didn't witness a problem - however we heard from one councillor who described broken windows and more - although another councillor disputed that....anyhow the local press got behind the campaign to introduce a no alcohol drinking zone - an extraordinary 31.7% of 3,017 questionnaires were returned and 94% said they wanted the zone.
This is a huge support so why do I have such problems with it....why could I not support such a measure....well let me list briefly some of my concerns....
- I attempted twice to view the papers regarding the research and letters from police officers etc. On one of those occasions I went into Ebley Mill especially to view them - the papers were unavailable. How can we make a decision without viewing the evidence? We got vague and even contradictory answers during the meeting.
- This measure will not stop people who are already drunk and going home after the pub: indeed I understand this is one of the main problems.
- It does not tackle the causes of the problems re drinking: what about improving the poor youth club provision?
- Evidence from other areas show that the drinkers move to outside the zone. I asked how many of those questionnaire responses came from people outside the zone as they maybe more likely to object - no specific answer. I was then informed by another concerned councillor at the meeting that neighbouring Cam Parish Council had objected: none of this information was in the papers available to us. I have to note deep disappointment at the failure to present this information to councillors. What did the other parishes think?
- I do not believe there has been a full debate about these zones - virtually all the material I have seen is one-sided in favour of the zone - I understand the local paper supported the move - yet I read that street interviews in London, Birmingham and Brighton, found that the majority of people are against or ambivalent about these zones. Where were our street interviews?
- I have read concern from other areas about a deterioration in police relations. I hope this wont occur here as we generally have sensitive policing - but it is a risk. Other areas like Brighton have reported police officers and community support officers confiscating alcohol from members of the public who are doing absolutely nothing wrong. Already between 2004–6, 3802 people received on-the-spot fines for drinking in public.
- Another concern, raised at the meeting, is that there is evidence of biased alcohol confiscation, with officers targeting groups like homeless people, people on their own who seem to be an‘easy target’ and groups of younger adults thought to be ‘up to no good’.
- Another key issue is why do we need additional laws? I had asked previously from the Cabinet member that I would welcome a clear discussion in these papers about what measures that have already been tried. Have extra checks been made on local off-licences and supermarkets? Why are the current anti-social behaviour and other laws not sufficient? Has there been a campaign re adults buying drink for youths? Are there sufficient activities for young people in the evening? None on these questions were answered in the papers despite my request. At Council we only get the chance to ask one question.
- in thirteen years Labour has created over 4,289 new laws so far (nearly one a day) – they also now wish to build on these orders and create a law to prohibit “persistent possession of alcohol in a public place”. The Labour Government has produced more new laws than any other government in British history. Are the police short of powers? Certainly not. How can any of us even keep up with this mountain of legislation? How can we find out what we’re newly outlawed from doing day by day? Worse still laws brought in for one thing are used for others so we see anti-terrorism laws used to search children, confiscate harmless items and pursue other groups like climate change campaigners.
- Lastly there was a question about Stroud - the zone was introduced a while back and led to problems in local parks - these were not policed properly despite some of the areas being in the zone. One question produced an answer that they didn't know about the effects on Stroud while then we heard it had improved the situation. Why was not proper information available to us?
While I applaud the intentions to try and sort this problem I do not believe this is the way to do it.
There were lots of other bits and pieces at the meeting - like the Asset Management plan which was basically good, shared service arrangements that will hopefully see savings.....I've run out of puff to write more......See webcast here.