Wittily named “Broader News” was set up to counter “Border News”, the now defunct propaganda organ of Border Group Parish Council.
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To “Have Your Say” go to the bottom of this page. All comments will be published, if legal.
SIR – Caroline Harriott (Letters, June 3) says the public need to be educated in the correct use of footpaths.
After 40 years of running in the countryside, I would suggest that this applies equally to landowners. Currently many of the footpaths where I live are impassable due to farmers growing crops over them, or making narrow paths that are overgrown within weeks.
If farmers want people to follow the rules, they should do so themselves.
Parish council bullies should take note of Liz Harvery’s Judicial Review outcome here.
Important points are made at 63(iii) and 136. My non expert opinion with reference to what is said at 63(iii) is that if small parish councils may not decide on allegations against members it follows that they do not have the power to make allegations of unreasonable behaviour against the public, decide upon that allegation or impose any sanctions against that member of the public. In fact, I think BGPC does not have the right in law to deal with any complaints and must refer them to HCC’s MO. To me this is what The Honourable Mrs Justice Cockerill seems to be saying. En passant, the blanket adoption of the HCC Unreasonable Behaviour Policy seems a draconian overstatement designed to intimidate rather than foster good relations with its parishioners. Perhaps it could be rethought?
136 makes the point that “….as confirmed in Heesom v Public Services Ombudsman for Wales….what is said by elected politicians is subject to “enhanced protection”, applying to all levels of politics (including local politics) and that the protection “extends to all matters of public administration and public concern including comments about the adequacy or inadequacy of performance of public duties by others” . Within reason, Parish councillors may make assessments of the performance of other councillors and employees without being accused of anything.
The more hypersensitive, power mad, deluded and pompous members of BGPC might like to read and inwardly digest the whole of The Honourable Mrs Justice Cockerill’s decision. She makes it very clear that small parish councils cannot take the law into their own hands and decide for themselves what is and what is not acceptable behaviour, and neither can they impose sanctions against those they deem to have misbehaved. Huge legal fees may ensue, and councillors will have to pay them.
The World is full of the hypersensitive taking offence at every comment, critique or point of view that does not exactly coincide with theirs. The point is beautifully made in a piece by Madeline Grant in the Sunday Telegraph today, from which I quote “…the idea of microaggression, which allows harm to be defined at the subjective whim of “the offended”, taking the personal perception of the supposed target as sufficient evidence of prejudice, even if it is roundly denied by the alleged perpetrator”, and “alleged “perpetrators” are instantly cast as wrongdoers, regardless of intent”. BGPC would do well to read the piece in the Telegraph and take note.
Population figures from the Census
with acknowledgement to Private Eye.
The report on the lengthsman scheme, reproduced below, was written unilaterally by Cllr. Chilman without consultation with the working group set up for the purpose, after the group was peremptorily, and possibly unlawfully, abolished without meeting, and therefore without any input or opinion from anyone else other than the one person determined to push through his own agenda. It is inaccurate and badly written. For example, the word is lengthsman, not length man. I would have thought that one with such strong views on the matter would at least have read enough on the subject to get its name right.
Cllr. Chilman describes the various activities of the lengthsman, but omits one crucial detail, that the lengthsman also clears ditches which are rightfully the responsibility of landowners. BGPC passes those costs on to precept payers. They amount to a sizeable portion of the overall costs. The same applies to footpath maintenance which is the responsibility of landowners, who may claim 25% of some of the costs from the county council. Cllr. Chilman completely ignores the debate on the matter of who is responsible for what and who should pay for what. He just airily announces that BGPC feels “strongly that virtually all this work would not get done by the County Council as the current state of our roads testify. Council maintenance contracts, with Balfour Beatty and previously, Amey and Jarvis, falls woefully short of routine work that needs doing, certainly this far north in the county.” This is not what was promised by Balfour Beatty at their meeting of 10Apr18 which he did not attend. I wonder what BB would think of the implication that this part of the county receives a lesser service than anywhere else? In which set of BGPC minutes is the strong feeling, or decision, to which he refers actually officially recorded? If there is no such record Cllr. Chilman is holding out as representing the council, which he knows he may not.
How has Cllr. Chilman arrived at the figure of £30-40/household? To which band of council tax does this figure refer and would it not be better expressed as the percentage increase per household in Council Tax Band D, which amounts to a staggering 116% by 2020, without any effective consultation with either the working group set up for the purpose or with parishioners?
The paragraph referring to the history of the scheme is irrelevant. What we are concerned with is the here and now, and the future. Reference to the past smacks of a need to legitimise the scheme, the “We’ve always done it this way” syndrome, but, again, fails to mention that now the funds have been withdrawn the position has obviously changed and a full reappraisal is unavoidable. Also, what is the benefit of maintaining roads “on a local basis?” Is that not a duplication of the effort and administration of Balfour Beatty? Why is anything “local” necessarily any better than the alternative? Do those involved have greater knowledge or experience than the county contractor, or the equipment? I very much doubt it. Perhaps Cllr. Chilman could explain his logic?
Cllr. Chilman does not make any reference to ratio of population to road mileage, or the low incomes of the area. This is important as it is a justification to pressure HCC into making some allowance for that condition. It may also be a reason to ask why central government spends billions on overseas aid before addressing the services it provides to its own electorate, or to question some of HCC’s spending that might otherwise be directed towards road maintenance.
Cllr. Chilman does not mention that actually the responsibility of maintaining roads lies entirely with the county council. The devolving of these costs to parish council precepts is a cynical manoeuvre by county councils to defray their own costs. Also, and importantly, the acceptance of these responsibilities by parishes is voluntary. Parishes do not have to be part of any lengthsman scheme. They can leave it all to the county council. It’s what council tax is for.
Cllr. Chilman writes that “Unfortunately, it will still be within the remit of the council to repair pot holes.” This is a misprint and should read county council. I understand from this that the proposal to commit to the enhanced lengthsman scheme has been dropped. If that is the case why the £30-40/household increase? The scheme as it is would cost less if the landowners were made to pay their share of roadside ditch and footpath maintenance. There should be no need for an increase. If we passed the buck back to HCC and abandoned the scheme altogether there could be a decrease in the precept!
But the main premise is that our C and U roads are in a poor state. I do not agree. These are little used roads and, with a couple of exceptions, they are quite serviceable. There is a danger that BGPC could set up its own little “project fear” by insisting the roads are in an appalling condition and that only BGPC can put this right. Empire builders with their own agendas can then claim that more must be done, all at the expense of the parishioner.
Cllr. Chilman asserts that our council would ensure “this money is used wisely for the benefit of all parishioners in the Border Group.” Why should we accept such a statement when BGPC has not been using this money for the benefit of all parishioners, but has been favouring landowners, and when BGPC has a collective apoplectic fit whenever anyone asks a question or makes the slightest scrutiny of its decisions and how they were reached, when its accounts are not in order, and when it costs more to administer BGPC than it spends on actually achieving anything? The assurance by Cllr. Chilman is flattering self assessment and may be a promise BGPC cannot keep?
This report is little more than the very minimum and is sloppy work. It fails to really address the issue, makes omissions and is unalloyed propaganda by one BGPC councillor claiming to represent the whole council, and who was instrumental in the imperious dismissal of the working group which might have come up with some more reasoned arguments, for or against. He is also one who might gain from the public purse underwriting the maintenance of roadside ditches and public footpaths over private land.
We need a more balanced and comprehensive report from someone without an interest or who might create the perception in the public mind that he has an interest.
S C Brown 1May18
Proposal for length man and footpaths in Border Group
The current funding for both our local highway maintenance and rights of ways public access routes is being removed by Hereford Council. For the past few years we have been receiving circa £2400 for highways work, which our length man Chris Shepherd has been doing for the parish council. This entails going around much of our (approx) 40Km C and U roads, opening channels to let water off roads into ditches; clearing drains; picking up litter; trimming back vegetation around signs and road junctions, and provides help and support where possible to parishioners in extreme weather conditions eg flooding or ice.
Mike Oliver inspects the large network of foot paths and bridleways in the Border Group, and along with Joe Thomas, carries our maintenance work which has been agreed by the PC. For the past few years the parish council has been able to make sure the rights of way have remained open, free from obstruction and safe to use for all, on a budget of £1700/annum.
The length man scheme was originally set up by the Border Group Parish Council under the stewardship of the late John Miles and Cllr Olwen Barnett, over 20 years ago, as a way of maintaining our highways and byways on a local basis, knowing full well that the council were going to do less of the routine work in many areas.
For the forth coming year we have sufficient reserves to maintain the current budgets for both highways and rights of way maintenance. From next year, however, we will need to raise the precept by around £30-40/household to cover the present cost of this work.
We as a council, feel strongly that virtually all this work would not get done by the County Council as the current state of our roads testify. Council maintenance contracts, with Balfour Beatty and previously, Amey and Jarvis, falls woefully short of routine work that needs doing, certainly this far north in the county.
As your local council, we would ensure this money is used wisely for the benefit of all parishioners in the Border Group. Unfortunately, it will still be within the remit of the council to repair pot holes, but at least by trying to keep the water grips clear and drains flowing, further degradation will be kept to a manageable level.
Parish Meetings are not meetings of the parish council.
As with parish council meetings, anyone in the whole world may attend a Parish Meeting, but only those registered to vote on the Electoral Register for that parish may speak and or vote at a parish meeting. Residency or mere attendance are not sufficient qualifications to speak or vote although the chairman may exercise discretion and extend an invitation to speak to a person not registered.
If the parish is one of a group forming a parish council the chairman of that parish council shall chair the Parish Meeting if he or she is in attendance.
The office of parish councillor is not recognised at a Parish Meeting. A parish councillor is of the same standing as any other attendee, so a parish councillor attending a Parish Meeting not registered to vote on the Electoral Register of that parish, whether or not he or she represents that parish on the parish council, may only speak at the invitation of the chairman. This applies to several BGPC councillors.
The minutes would normally be taken by the clerk of the parish council but anyone may take on the task if the clerk does not attend. If no one is willing to take the minutes the Parish Meeting cannot proceed.
Minutes must be approved either at the Parish Meeting or at the next Parish Meeting.
This is my understanding, but for the full story see Schedule 12 Part III of The Local Government Act 1972 here.
Countryside under threat, yet again!
Read the latest from CPRE here.
Unlawfulness and moral turpitude in BGPC
At the BGPC meeting of 17Apr18 it was decided to abolish the working group set up at the February meeting to examine the validity of the lengthsman scheme and report to the council on its findings. This was unlawful. Standing Orders state very clearly that a resolution may not be reversed within six months except by special motion introduced by two councillors after written notice to the proper officer given at least seven days in advance of the meeting. No such notice was given. No such motion formed part of the published agenda. The resolution to abolish the working group was therefore unlawful.
Why did the clerk not point out this basic procedural error? Why did the chairman allow it to happen? Why did the offending councillors propose and second such a motion?
BGPC is an utter disgrace and a disorderly, unlawful, bullying shambles.
Did you know that one of the main movers behind continued membership of the lengthsman scheme resulting in a proposed 116% increase in your precept over the next two years does not even live in the parish and so presumably will not be paying the increased precept? In my book that is moral turpitude of the lowest order, but we can expect nothing better from this council of unthinking, uninformed, inaccurate, bullying, unconstitutional cronies.
From CiLCA training literature…
“Modern local councils find ways in which people in the community can influence the council’s decisions. Community engagement includes listening and finding out what people think about issues affecting the community. Proposals for community engagement should recognise the diversity of the local community and highlight ways in which people can communicate their ideas. Examples of such methods might include surveys, focus groups, workshops or social media. In particular you identify people who rarely participate (if ever) and show how they can be encouraged to express a view.”
Contrast and compare with the attitude of BGPC as demonstrated below.
How the NUS wastes your money.
Why does this body get anything from the government? Just think what one of those millions could have done for pot holes in our county?
Read all about it here
A letter from the Daily Telegraph, Friday 30Mar18. The cost of local government is running out of control for the third time in my life. Reform is needed. Warning:- the parish precept is not mentioned here as an add-on to council tax, but it is an add-on. Your BGPC precept is slated to increase by 116% over the next three years.
SIR – The headline said: “Council tax up by 5 per cent” (report, March 29). In East Dorset, the increase was far more because of the size of the add-ons, such as the adult social care and Police and Crime Commissioner precepts. The latter was 2 per cent on the bill last year and has increased to 6.2 per cent this year.
This ever-expanding list of add-ons (in my view, designed to hide the real cost to the council-tax payer and avoid pushing council tax past the trigger point for a referendum) increases the bill for a single person in a Band C property from £1,147.47 to £1,284.58. This is an increase of 10.15 per cent, to be paid from a 3 per cent rise (before income tax) in the state pension.
St Ives, Dorset
Coming to a field near you soon!
Naive optimists who thought the Neighbourhood Development Plan would give residents some say over what goes up in their locale should read the new Draft National Planning Policy Framework. They told you to write an NDP. They gave you the money to do it. They said it must conform with the NPPF and the Local Plan, but then they changed the NPPF! Read paragraph 72, if nothing else. It blows NDPs right out of the water. But it’s good Tory policy for good rural Tories, is it not? Stand up for your environment and tell this allegedly Conservative government that uncontrolled building to house hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year is destroying Britain.
“The insolence of office.”
Apparently several of the less intelligent, less well informed and obviously less democratically minded members of BGPC, including Mrs Harley and Mr Chilman, announced at the March meeting that there is no need to consult parishioners over a projected 116% increase in the parish precept over three years. What do these antediluvian buffoons with their absurd sense of entitlement not understand about Openness, Transparency and Accountability? These “North Koreans” must be voted off the council at the next election.
What is happening in Ledbury?
Liz Harvey has launched a Judicial Review of discipline in parish councils. The case will be heard in Cardiff High Court on 17April18 and has great implications for all parish councils. Have HALC and NALC given good advice? We shall see. Read all about it here.
In this book “Paradise Destroyed”, Gregg Hubner fully exposes wind energy development for what it really is: a taxpayer scam.
Reply from Elizabeth Denham, CEO of the ICO
Case Reference Number ENQ0728630
Dear Mr Brown
Thank you for your email received 25 February 2018.
You sent us your comments regarding how local parish councils may have difficulty fulfilling their obligations under the GDPR. You were asking us to explain “the very obvious failings of the GDPR” and how we expect amateur parish councillors, and half trained semi-professional parish clerks to reconcile these various Acts and Regulations with the far more important FOI Act.
You mentioned information about DPOs from www.eugdpr.org owned by www.trunomi.com and were comparing it with guidance from our website about DPOs. The GDPR states clearly in Article 37(1)(a) public authorities and bodies have to appoint a DPO.
However, these terms aren’t defined in the GDPR itself but in the Data Protection Bill. The Bill provides that public authorities and public bodies are those defined by the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002 and any authority or body specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. However, such an authority or body will only be such a public body or authority when performing a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in it.
We are aware of the difficulties faced by local parish councils regarding their obligations to appoint DPOs and this is the reason we had published ourFAQs for local government.
In the coming weeks we are planning to publish GDPR guidance for micro organisations that may also be of help to small local parish councils. We have recently published an introduction to the Data Protection Bill. We also have extensive guidance of freedom of information and environmental information.
Regarding repealing GDPR, the Data Protection Bill or other data protection legislation, these are questions for the UK Government and Parliament to respond to as they are responsible for law making.
If you would like to discuss this case further, please contact me on my direct number 03304 14 6327. If you need advice on a new issue you can contact us via our Helpline on 0303 123 1113 or through our live chat service. In addition, more information about the Information Commissioner’s Office and the legislation we oversee is available on our website at ico.org.uk.
It seems there is still some way to go on this.
CPRE has produced an animated message showing how developers get out of providing Affordable Housing; another blow for the good, but naive intentions of the NDP.
“Your responsibilities and rules to follow for watercourses on or near your property, and permissions you need to do work around them.”
Let’s not have any more shilly shallying about this issue by BGPC. Farmers and landowners, those responsible, do your duty.
Mortimer Forest Development
See the Forestry Commission’s publication here
From the Daily Express 28Feb18
“The Environment Secretary had already vowed to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which he argues has wrongly diverted funds from the public purse to loaded landowners.”
See the whole piece here
BGPC should do the same by not diverting funds from the public purse in clearing roadside ditches or footpaths.
Hot Topic Number 2
The Lengthsman Scheme and where do we go from here?
The term lengthsman is centuries old and refers to a man who was employed by a parish, landowner, canal company, railway company, turnpike operator and so forth, to maintain a length of a road or canal, or whatever.
Some civil parishes have contracts with groundworkers to carry out the same sort of maintenance work. That obviously has to be paid for by the parish via the parish precept*, which is collected via your council tax and then distributed to the parish.
The Lengthsman Scheme was initiated much more recently and is an arrangement whereby grants were given by the county council to parishes who agreed to the scheme to help cover the costs of the lengthsman’s roadside maintenance work. These grants will end completely in April 2018. A parish not in the scheme left the task to the county council’s contractor. In Herefordshire there are about 131 parishes, but only about 80 ever signed up to the scheme.
But here’s the rub. Most of the expenses of our lengthsman relate to clearing roadside ditches and cutting roadside hedges and verges. The ditches are, without doubt, the responsibility of the adjacent landowner, known as a riparian landowner. In my view, as with footpaths, discussed in Hot Topic Number 1, the riparian landowners should honour their responsibilities and employ the groundworker directly and therefore carry the costs. That would reduce the precept.
Meanwhile, Herefordshire Council has introduced a new lengthsman scheme known as the Enhanced Lengthsman Scheme. It does not mean the lenghtsman is enhanced, but that the extent of his works may be, if the parish council signs up to the new scheme. There will be no grant for this scheme.
The new scheme will allow for a properly trained groundworker to make small repairs to the road surfaces. This must be done under proper supervision by Balfour Beatty’s representative for the area, known as the Localities Steward, the parish clerk, and a parish councillor, along with all the necessary bureaucracy, insurance and toing and froing. All four will have to arrange a mutually agreeable time to make regular rounds of inspection; a practical problem in itself, and an increase in our already crippling bureaucracy costs.
These people will have to inspect our roads in a group, after which the lengthsman will be told by the Localities Steward which holes he can repair and which Balfour Beatty will repair, giving rise to the ridiculous possibility that the lenghtsman might be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Balfour Beatty man with one repairing his maximum size of pothole and the other repairing his minimum size of pothole!
In my view this is utter nonsense. It would be better and cheaper for the parish to rely on the auspices of the properly trained and equipped county contractor rather than set up a parallel scheme that can only do part of the job. As well as the inefficiency and duplication of effort inherent in the new proposal there is the effort and cost of obtaining and carting materials, and the difficulty for residents that two suppliers of a service can play us off one against the other.
As there will be no grant towards the cost of the new scheme it will all have to paid for by you through a much increased parish precept. This seems unfair when we already pay for road maintenance in our general and council taxes. Why should the county council suddenly dump part of its responsibility on parishes and demand they pay for them? Why should we allow Balfour Beatty to renege on its contract part way through its term and dump the work and costs on tiny rural parishes?
Some parish councillors say we have always done it this way (employed a lenghtsman) which is not only untrue, but is not a cogent reason for continuing. When a modern farmer wants to plough his field does he get a sharpened stake, tie a rope near the sharp end and drag the stake along the turf with his wife doing the steering because he has always done it that way? No. He uses a massive tractor and a six furrow reversible plough because it is quicker, easier and much more efficient. He moves with the times, and so should parish councils.
We should abandon all works to do with road maintenance and leave it to the county council. At the very least we should wait for a year or two and see how the scheme pans out in other parishes. From what I can gather from those with some experience of the new scheme, feelings are mixed.
* See Hot Topic Number 3 on the Hot Topics page
“The most damaging phrase in the language is: ‘It’s always been done that way.’”
I quote this because certain members of BGPC can often be heard saying “We’ve always done it that way”.
They should read the story of “The Famous Monkey Experiment”
Simon Brown 25 Feb 2018 6:48AM
Alan J Ford is living in a fools paradise if he thinks Neighbourhood Development Plans carry any weight. They do not, and anyway they must conform with the LPA’s plan so what can they really do that is not already being done? Housing targets have been imposed on my parish by the LPA so no control over growth there. We did not have a referendum before the NDP was developed, despite my complaint. We await the final referendum, after four years of half baked consultation by a biased steering group. The next door parish has taken the sensible approach that these plans are divisive and should not be pursued. NDPs never were more than a sop to gullible enthusiasts of Localism which has itself turned out to be an expensive irrelevance.
Reply from Jane Rees25 Feb 2018 8:41AM
Localism is indeed a sop and an expensive irrelevance, Simon Brown.
A local farmer and land owner in our village arranged with a particularly aggressive planning consultant to apply for permission to build housing on one of his fields. The development will mean that our historic yet diversely housed village will increase by about 10% in size and the village will coalesce with another hamlet apart from a laughably small ransom strip between.
The local plan was for infill within the village boundary only. Local opposition resulted in over 250 written objections (2 in favour of the development), unprecedented apparently. The Parish Council was against it, the local Planning Authority was against it. The consultant went to appeal, two weeks were spent discussing esoteric legal points but in the end the Inspector who had been helicoptered in decided the development can go ahead as the local authority only had 4.78% of the required 5% of new housing in the pipeline. It was all a very expensive joke.
Localism does not exist.
Reply from damask rose 25 Feb 2018 1:05PM
Something similar here, Jane (although a much smaller development). A large number of substantiated objections; the local Planning authority recommending Refusal on 3 applications; Conservation area rules & local & national development plans flouted.
By the say so of two Councillors the whole thing was overturned & permission given – lamely asserting that the ‘need’ superseded any possible objection.
Beware, daylight robbery
“In Twyford, Hampshire, a band E household now pays 85p to the parish council for every £1 paid to Winchester City Council…”
From “The changing face of parish councils”, a piece in LocalGov.uk which can be found here
Don’t let your parish council do this here. Make a noise. Attend your parish council meeting and write a letter to the parish clerk at email@example.com
Bullshit and Red Tape Baffle Brains
Letter to Elizabeth Denham, CEO Information Commissioner’s Office 25Feb18 cc Bill Wiggin
Dear Ms Denham,
In your FAQs at https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/local-government/local-gov-gdpr-faqs/ you say that a small local council must appoint a DPO because it is a public authority.
EUGDPR.org says at https://www.eugdpr.org/key-changes.html at the bottom of the page “….DPO appointment will be mandatory only for those controllers and processors whose core activities consist of processing operations which require regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale or of special categories of data or data relating to criminal convictions and offences.” [my emphasis]
The EUGDPR.org advice quite clearly does not apply to small parish councils who do not collect data, do not store data and do not process data within the meaning of the GDPR. As the Data Protection Act and the forthcoming GDPR, which anyway may be repealed after 31Mar2019, are being erroneously invoked to randomly redact documents and withhold information please could you give much clearer instructions specifically aimed at the several thousand tiny parish councils now facing confusion and costs over these enormous, draconian and incomprehensible regulations? Advisors do not even seem to be able to adequately explain the key questions – what is data, and what is processing?
If I can write to the Daily Telegraph and it can publish my name and the part of my address why can a parish council not do the same thing with correspondence from the public? If it is a duty of an LPA to publish the name and address of a respondent to a planning application how can it be deemed by my parish council that they cannot do the same when publishing responses to a consultation? Why does my parish council assert that an individual must not be identifiable on the minutes? How can a parish council, which is urged by you to be open, transparent and accountable, publish contact details of clerks and councillors if it feels that to publish “data” is an offence under the DPA or the GDPR? These are rhetorical questions so please do not attempt to answer them, rather please explain the very obvious failings of the GDPR and how you expect amateur parish councillors, and half trained semi professional parish clerks to reconcile these various Acts and Regulations with the far more important FOI Act?
A regrettable cloak of secrecy is descending on local government because clerks and councillors are erring on the side of caution in fear of prosecution. They need clear advice and leadership and, in my opinion, your literature on the GDPR does not help. I would also hazard to suggest that unless this is properly explained in very simple terms to the public and local authorities you will be washed away by a tsunami of petty complaints arising from widespread misinterpretation of the GDPR.
S C Brown
Question to all those who think raising the parish precept is a good or popular idea.
Q If the prevailing view in Herefordshire is that council tax should be raised to what ever level HCC thinks it needs why would HCC not just do that?
A Because a raise of over 4.9% would trigger a county referendum which HCC knows it would lose.
So why is BGPC going for a 106% increase in the precept over two years? Because it can. Don’t get screwed, make a noise.
Reply from our Bill to mine of 17Jan18
(…a man outstanding in his field.)
Dear Mr Brown
Thank you for your further email. Following representations made on your behalf, I have now received the attached correspondence from the Minister responsible for Local Government, Rishi Sunak MP.
I appreciate that you have undertaken several of the steps outlined by Minister Sunak already in your complaints about the Parish Council, and I would be grateful for more information on the complaints that you raised with the County Monitoring Officer, such that I can make further representations on your behalf.
I am standing by if I can be of any further assistance.
Bill Wiggin MP
The letter from Rishi Sunak MP can be seen here.
More shenanigans from your parish council.
Further to my email of 13FEb18 in which I said “No. All correspondence is in the public domain from the moment you receive it and you should have complied with my request.” I make the following additional comment.
As everything you and the council do is in the public domain, unless there is a very good reason for it to not be, there is no reason why I should not be aware that you have taken advice from HALC and Carole Gandy. They have advised that “as a matter of courtesy” papers should be shown to councillors before the public. Both are quite wrong. There is no “matter of courtesy” mentioned in any document I have ever read on openness, transparency and accountability: in fact, all those documents make the opposite point which is, in general, that everything should, or must, be made available to the public.
Therefore, I ask you again to send me all the public responses to the leaflet as they are relevant to items on the agenda of the formal meeting on Tuesday 20Feb18 in that it is reasonable for the public to know what the public response has been both in tone and quantity. Moreover, you have declared these responses to be attached to the agenda for the meeting, but they are not. Failure to comply with paragraph 5.2.8 E of your own Code of Conduct, The Transparency Code and Statutory Implement 2015 No 494 will result in my making another report to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Although I admire Carole Gandy why you would seek the advice of a county councillor on parish council procedures is beyond me. We had great difficulties in this respect with the previous county councillor. County councillors are very definitely not arbitrators in these matters and they may not be in the least bit informed. They are not parish councillors and have no more special relationship with a parish council than a resident.
I also question the validity of HALC membership at the expense of residents if this is the sort of quality of advice we can expect from Lynda Wilcox.
I remind you of the Information Commissioner’s Case Reference Number FS50650977. I quote from this finding, he being the proper authority and proper arbitrator on these matters, as opposed to a county councillor or HALC, who are interpreting Laws without due authority…
“The Commissioner draws your attention to his published guidance on this matter http://ico.org.uk/for_organisations/freedom_of_information/guide/receiving_a_request
In the event of similar complaints the Commissioner may consider taking enforcement action under section 52 of the FOIA.”
The link given by the ICO leads to the very clear opening statement..
Anyone has a right to request information from a public authority. You have two separate duties when responding to these requests:
to tell the applicant whether you hold any information falling within the scope of their request; and
to provide that information…”
You do hold the information and you have sent it to councillors. You must therefore provide it to me.
It seems to me that you are not generally acting in the open and co-operative manner that you should as a holder of a stipendiary public office and that, from my experience, you never miss an opportunity to obstruct rather than oblige. Be aware that I intend to post this correspondence on my bloggsite.
Please could you forward this to Lynda Wilcox as I do not have her email address.
PS Apologies to Carole Gandy and Lynda Wilcox who apparently gave no such advice. A misleading interpretation of their advice was promulgated.
Here’s a laugh and a half.
Herefordshire Association of Local Councils (HALC) Judging panel said: ”We were really impressed by HALC facilitating a really important initiative to deliver transparency through local councils’ websites. It was excellent that they were spreading the news about democracy and the important role the local council sector has in doing this.”
HALC awards itself a pat on the back for “transparency through local councils’ websites”! A brief examination of parish council websites in Herefordshire will very quickly reveal their abysmal standards; some parishes don’t even have one. Very few comply with the FOI Act publishing the mandated Publication Scheme, something of which HALC should be very aware but seems to disregard, even in its own subscribers. Perhaps HALC could raise its feeble, wet standards.
As for democracy in parish councils…don’t make me laugh. Even the government recognises that standards have to be improved and has started a consultation on strengthening the Nolan Principles to perhaps introduce sanctions against breeches of the Code of Conduct, such breeches being rampant in BGPC. Despite the virtuous verbiage found in most relevant documents parish councillors are immune, even when the Monitoring Officer finds them to be guilty of a breech, so they are absolutely not accountable.
HALC must do much better, especially as it is mostly publicly funded.
Name and shame the transgressors.
According to the Localism Act if a parish councillor is found to have failed to comply with the Code of Conduct the parish council may decide what action to take against that councillor. May I suggest the councillor is named and shamed, made to apologise and undertake training in the matter upon which she or he has failed, at her or his own expense: after all, all the literature governing the behaviour of councillors is freely available and if parish councillors cannot be bothered to familiarise themselves that way, and so have to be trained, why should their training be at public expense?
Your parish council is controlled by a clique.
There are around 526 voters in Border Group Parish (BGP). By my very rough calculation there are around 60 BGP voters in, or closely aligned with, agriculture. That represents about 11% of the electorate, but six of the nine BGP councillors are farmers, landowners or dependent on the same farmers and landowners for their livelihood. That equates to 66% of the councillors, six times more than it should be if the parish council were to be truly representative of its various sectors.
As can be seen, to some extent, by the responses to the recent Hodnet application dealt with below, these six councillors are very likely friends and associates who regularly deal with each other as landlord and tenant; or farmer and farmer buying and selling stock, fodder and grazing rights; or as hirer and contractor; or meeting each other regularly at markets; socialising and lending each other tools and equipment. In short, they are a recognisably close knit, distinct minority sector; a clique within the parish which holds an unconscionable two thirds of parish council seats.
Apart from the perversion of democracy by the gross over representation of this sector, the close association of, and business dealings between these councillors would necessitate their declaring an interest far more often than is the case. For example, none of these six, if they were present when the Hodnet application P17426/F was considered, declared an interest, and yet it is more than likely that at least five of them use Hodnet’s livestock haulage business and know and deal with him as another farmer or contractor in the same way as they know and deal with each other. According to the Code of Conduct 5.2.16 “ If a matter to be considered affects the welfare or financial position (positively or negatively) of the member, a member of their family, and or a close personal associate to a greater extent than others in the member’s ward: then there is a requirement to declare such an interest.” [my emphasis] These would be “Other Declarable Interests” within the meaning of the Code of Conduct and the procedures detailed at 5.2.17 would apply, that is to say, if they did, these six should not have participated in the discussion leading to BGP Council’s (BGPC) representation to the planning department, and should not have voted, if there was a vote, which there was
There are numerous other issues dealt with by BGPC which would fall within the same category as that described above such as duties of riparian landowners or farmers to maintain roadside ditches, and duties of landowners in maintaining public footpaths, to mention just two.
Two of the six have already been found remiss in this respect by the county Monitoring Officer. Further non declaration of interests will be reported to the Monitoring Officer. Any decisions made where a complaint of non declaration of interest has been upheld by the Monitoring Officer may be open to Judicial Review at potentially huge expense to BGPC and the councillors involved. I hope that councillors will closely examine their consciences and that the prescriptions of the Code of Conduct will be recognised in future meetings.
Why are council taxes and the parish precept being raised? Mostly because the government is cutting grants to county councils, who, in turn, are cutting grants to parish councils. These grants are measured in millions and thousands, respectively. This when our government is contemplating spending billions on useless vanity projects like Trident and HS2, on dubious overseas aid and aircraft carriers with no aircraft. Please tell your Conservative MP, Bill Wiggin at firstname.lastname@example.org and your Conservative county councillor, Carole Gandy at email@example.com exactly what you think. It only takes a minute to send a simple email.
For the avoidance of doubt
Dear Mr Brown
Thank you for your enquiry, I can confirm that VG20 Brampton Bryan Village Green is owned. We have it in the register as being owned by Edward Harley.
Helen Beale – Estates Management Officer (Rural)
Asset Management & Property Services
Economy, Communities & Corporate Directorate
Letter to BGPC
BGPC, hereinafter referred to as you, has distributed a leaflet about the proposed increase in the precept from which I quote “Herefordshire Council will no longer be providing the parish council with funds for the Lengthsman Scheme (which deals with highway problems, like ditching and drainage) or for footpath maintenance. In an area prone to flooding, and with many well used footpaths, your parish council have decided these services are too valuable to lose.” End of quote.
The withdrawal of this funding presents you with an opportunity to assess what you have been doing and think about the future.
What you have been doing is simply wrong. A great part of lengthsman expenditure has been on clearing roadside ditches and excessive hedge and verge cutting. The latter two activities could be reduced which would cut costs and allow some environmental improvements and regeneration of our verges. The expenditure on clearing roadside ditches should not be made at all as that is a duty of the adjacent landowner. If the costs of these illegitimate activities are removed there is no need to replace the withdrawn grants from the county with an increase in the precept. It would be quite wrong to increase the precept to cover costs which should not be incurred in the first place.
Similarly, the clearing of encroaching vegetation on footpaths is the duty of the landowner and should not be a burden on the public purse.
It may be that the funding you have enjoyed for years has led to a misguided culture and this is now the moment to review that culture and hold to account those who should be accountable. Landowners must accept their duties and cease relying on the public purse to cover what are undeniably their own costs.
You are also about to decide whether to take on extra road maintenance responsibilities via the Enhanced Lengthsman Scheme for which there will be no funding and so the costs must be covered by an increased precept. Residents already pay council tax and it is a duty of the county’s contractor to maintain roads. It would be very unwise to take on more responsibilities with their inevitable mission creep and consequent inexorable cost increases. This is quite simply an increase in council tax by stealth. It is also a one sided arrangement as the contractor will control what is to be done and must approve works beforehand. Insurers are strongly advising against parishes taking on these responsibilities and there are other practical problems such as; acquisition, maintenance, ownership, insurance and storage of plant; training and its cost; time and cost of collection of materials from the contractor’s depot; management of the lengthsman; quality control (if it is to be the contractor they might as well do the work themselves); what recourse will tax paying residents have if work is poorly done; what will be the complaints procedure; will whomever manages the scheme be agreeable to residents frequently telephoning to report a problem, and will that person be easily contactable? Have you taken advice from other parishes as to their experience of the scheme and would it not be sensible to wait and see how successfully the scheme works in other parishes before committing to a contractual obligation? You have already shown yourselves to be misguided in your present road maintenance so what faith should we put in your ability to take on even more responsibilities?
Finally, I draw your attention to the farcical situation with regards to sec. 106 money and the restrictions on its use. You are told by higher authority that you may not spend this money on activities that other agencies have a statutory duty to provide. The highways authority has a statutory duty to maintain our roads so you may not spend the relatively large recent sec. 106 windfall of £4,400, and any future sec. 106 money, on maintaining our highways, and yet here you are contemplating raising taxes to do just that, maintain our highways.
It is manifestly unjust that the higher authority that is attempting to abrogate its responsibility to maintain our highways is simultaneously debarring you from spending our money on the same, and thereby possibly forcing you to raise even more taxes. We are not cash cows to be milked to make up an artificially created shortfall arising from an arcane rule with no basis in reality or fairness. Localism was meant to give rise to bottom up governance but here is a glaring example of the very opposite. Instead of acquiescing to the unfair demands and neglect of the county council you should make representations to the opposite effect on behalf of your residents.
It’s much worse than We thought!
From BGPC’s budget 2018/19 the expenditure is projected to be £15,270 of which £2,350 will be on footpaths and £4,500 will be on the lengthsman; £6,850 for that year.
From April 2016 to January 2018 the actual figure for these two combined was £7,116, which is the equivalent of £338 per month (7116/21months) which is an average of £4,066 per year.
Having examined the invoices from April 2016 to January 2018 I believe BGPC spent public funds on the lengthsmans’ activities and on footpath maintenance that were not legitimate in that costs of clearing roadside ditches and vegetation from footpaths, which are properly the responsibilities of the landowners and so should not be charged to the public purse, were included.
I believe the legitimate cost for those months was £3,638, or possibly less (I do not have all the invoices because of inconsistencies in what should properly be published by BGPC, but if I did have them the figure may be less) which is the equivalent of £173 per month (3638/21months) which is an average legitimate cost of £2,078 per year.
Since BGPC does very little other than run the lengthsman scheme and footpath maintenance this would mean that in 2019 BGPC would spend a projected £8,420 (15270-2350-4500) on administering a mere £2,000 or so legitimate expenditure on the lengthsman and footpaths.
Every £1 spent by BGPC on actually doing something would cost an additional massive £4.21! The cost of running BGPC is more than four times what it spends achieving anything!
That is plain bonkers.
Letter to Bill Wiggin 17Jan18
Dear Mr Wiggin,
From the Border Group Parish Council (BGPC) budget for 2018/19 it can be seen that the total amount to be spent by BGPC on actually doing things, that is footpath maintenance and the lengthsman’s work, amounts to £6,850, but the total cost to us will be a projected £15,270, of which the greatest single expenditures after footpaths and the lengthsman will be £610 on subscriptions and setting aside £700 for election costs. In other words, it costs we tax payers a whopping £8,420 to spend £6,850 on constructive activities! That works out at cost of £1.22 to BG parishioners for their parish council to spend £1, not accounting for the administration costs of Herefordshire Council in collecting the council tax and BGPC precept in the first place, and then redistributing council grants from council tax and central government to parish councils. This is not a sustainable policy. DCLG must take a long hard look at the value and necessity of small rural parish councils with a precept of less than say £ 30,000.
His reply 26Jan18
Dear Mr Brown
Thank you for contacting me regarding parish council budgets. I am always happy to hear the views of my constituents on such matters. I have taken up your concerns directly with the government, and will let you know as soon as I receive a response.
As always, I am standing by if I can be of any further assistance in the meantime.
Bill Wiggin MP
Parishioners please note. We are being robbed.
You have been given a leaflet telling you that the cost of your parish council will double over the next two years or so. Yes, double.
The reason for this extra pilfering of your back pocket is that the cost to the parish council of running the lengthsman scheme and maintaining public footpaths will rise. These cost were offset by grants from the county council but that has ended, so the full cost has to be borne by the parish council, if it chooses to take on these responsibilities.
The main cost of the lengthsman scheme arises from clearing and cutting roadside ditches and hedges, as distinct from clearing grips and gullies. Roadside ditches are the responsibility of the adjacent landowner. Public footpaths also the responsibility of the landowner.
I can see no reason for the parish council to ask us to pay for works which are the responsibility of landowners, except that the parish council is mostly made up from farmers and landowners, the very people who should be paying.
You may also like to know that for every £1 spent on constructive activities, which amount to the lengthsman scheme and footpath maintenance, it costs us another £1.22 to run the and administer the parish council.
This is a madness which must end.
Please tell your parish councillor what you think.
From the budget for 2018/19 it can be seen that the total amount to be spent by BGPC on actually doing things, that is footpath maintenance and the lengthsman’s work, amounts to £6,850, but the total cost to us will be a projected £15,270, of which the greatest single expenditures after footpaths and the legthsman will be £610 on subscriptions and setting aside £700 for election costs. In other words, it costs we tax payers a whopping £8,420 to spend £6,850 on constructive activities! That works out at £1.22 to spend £1. A charity working on this cost basis would be shut down.
This is NOT a sustainable policy.
If farmers want the public to pay subsidies for “countryside stewardship” after Brexit they will have to do a lot better than this!
All these pictures were taken on Stonewall Hill on 13Jan18. Stonewall Hill farmers hang your heads in shame.
Bale wrap and haylage black plastic dumped outside a gate.
More of the same and an empty container of agricultural sterilising fluid.
Our verges are not loading ramps for idle farmers who can’t be bothered to open a gate to get at the massive pile of unsightly black plastic.
The lane that many say is wide enough to accept even more heavy traffic for the Hodnet proposal planning application P174246/F
We picked up a car load of black plastic from Stonewall Hill in less than an hour! Disgusting.
Why we do not need BGPC to expand its activities
You should have received a leaflet about raising the parish council tax, known as the precept and collected via your council tax for redistribution to the parish. If you have not seen the leaflet you can see it here.
Personally, I think the leaflet is misleading. Road maintenance will not cease if we do away with the Lengthsman scheme: it can be carried out by those better equipped to do it, namely the Highways Authority through its contractor, and, cushion or no cushion, a doubling of the precept in a few years time for an inept parish council to control is not a good idea.
I am very much opposed to parish councils taking on more responsibilities. In general, and as frequently demonstrated on CPALC (google it), the rival organisation to HALC and NALC, parish councils are badly run and pay little attention to the fundamentals of accountability, transparency and openness. Councillors do not train and are not familiar with the rules and regulations under which they must operate. For example, we have had two complaints of failure to declare interests by BGP Councillors upheld by the Monitoring Officer but absolutely nothing was done about those failures. Not so long ago £963 was illegally spent on the destruction of a privately owned hedge, a decision taken without consultation and between council meetings by many still serving on BGPC, and, again, about which nothing was done even though BGPC’s own Standing Orders required expenditure of over £50 to be agreed by the council at a council meeting. Standards have only slightly improved since that incident.
Another reason to be circumspect about BGPC taking on more responsibilities is the gross and dangerous over representation of the farming and the land owning sectors. This has led to the failure to call those sectors to account for their own responsibilities such as mud clearance from roads, proper maintenance of public footpaths and their duty to clear riparian ditches, costs for the latter two responsibilities now being an unjustified expense on the the public purse.
The bunker mentality and closed minds of the BGPC have resulted in the council ignoring good advice on several occasions. A prime example was the refusal of the NDP Steering Group to accept that the NDP was not ready for Reg.14 in June 2016. Another example is the refusal to accept the advice of the insurers that taking on road maintenance is not a good idea.
Another major objection to BGPC taking on more responsibilities is that all these functions are actually county council responsibilities. Why duplicate at parish level managed by amateurs and with the attendant costs? I repeat, the two main functions being considered are footpaths and road surfaces. The former is, in law, entirely the responsibility of the landowner, who may claim 25% of some of the costs from the Highways Dept., and the latter is better managed by the county contractor. We do not need to pay for an extra administration to spend footpath money sent from the county council, known as P3, when all that is needed is for landowners to honour their responsibilities and claim their 25% directly from the Highways Dept.
I can see no merit in expensive, badly run, badly trained, inexperienced, non representative, antidemocratic parish councils taking on any more responsibilities and would rather see them abolished, an idea being actively promoted by those outside the bubble of HALC and parish councils.