More Council Cuts to Come
As things stand, Calderdale Council will have to reduce its spending by over £13m over the next three years. This is on top of the £93m that will have been made by next year.
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr James Baker said: “The scale of the cuts is now too large. The Council has done a good job in becoming more efficient but there is only so much that can be done without damaging services. It is now a crunch time in local government.”
Departmental Merger Moves Forward
The Council has agreed to merge the posts of Director of Children’s Services and Director of Adults, Health and Social Care. Other changes to the two existing directorates will be decided later. Deputy Leader of the Council’s Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Ashley Evans said: “I don’t think that the how and why of this move have been fully considered. Both of these directorates are large and complicated. Putting then together will result in an even bigger, more complicated directorate. Children’s Services have only just come out of ‘special measures’ and there is a danger that the Council will take its eye off the ball of improvement. I know that many councils have already merged these two departments, but many haven’t and some of those that had have now split them again. I am not convinced that the case has been made.”
Taking Action on Dangerous Driving
After a few small changes were made to James Baker’s motion on dangerous driving to include points made by the Labour and Conservative groups, everyone present supported it. Cllr Baker said: “The issue of dangerous driving is a major concern to many councillors, and it’s not just about speeding but includes tailgating, driving without insurance and driving while using a mobile phone. I think the standard of driving is deteriorating. There is an economic case and a moral case for tackling this issue.”
At the end of the debate Cllr Baker added: “It’s good to see local democracy in action with this issue being discussed at a number of Ward Forums, but with a quango making decisions on the use of speed cameras, decision-making is moving away from local people. The Council now needs to turn its words into actions and Conservative councillors could raise the matter of police cuts at their Party Conference next week.”
Improving Social Care
Liberal Democrat councillors supported a Labour motion on Social Care. Cllr James Baker said: “We agree that better joined-up working between social care providers and the NHS is needed. Social care doesn’t come cheap, though, and we may have to put our hands in our pockets and pay for it. As a society, we need to look at this issue and it may be that extra taxation is needed.”
Liberal Democrat councillors opposed a Conservative motion to halt the introduction of 20mph zones until their effectiveness has been demonstrated. Cllr James Baker said: “The Conservatives know that this matter is to be discussed at the Economy and Environment Scrutiny Panel meeting in November. This motion is premature as all the evidence they want can be reviewed in detail at that meeting.”
Cllr Paul Bellenger said: “20mph limits do work, but it’s about education, not just physical changes to roads. Drivers need to be made aware of the dangers of driving over the speed limit.”
Liberal Democrat councillors supported a Labour motion asking the Government not to proceed with its reported policy of allowing the creation of more grammar schools. Cllr James Baker said: “We seem to have a policy based on nostalgia, but we need a forward-looking education policy. The evidence shows that grammar schools don’t help the majority of pupils who don’t go there. There are many more pressing problems in education, such as teachers leaving the profession because of the bureaucracy involved and box-ticking education.”
Valley of Sanctuary
Liberal Democrat councillors supported the Labour motion that would “make Calderdale a formal part of the City of Sanctuary movement committed to building a culture of hospitality and welcome, especially for refugees and asylum seekers seeking sanctuary from war and persecution”. It being rather late by the time this was discussed, hardly anyone spoke on the matter. The motion was supported by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, with the Conservatives abstaining from voting.
Ashley Evans again beat his Labour opponent from May, this time to become a member of the Warley Trust. His margin of victory was, though, considerably smaller this time.
Compulsory Purchase Powers
Cllr Ashley Evans asked if Calderdale Council intended to follow Birmingham City Council’s example of making more use of compulsory purchase powers on land owners who refuse to develop their land, thus reducing the need to develop on green field sites. The answer, though in considerably more words was basically “no, it’s not needed here”.
Glyphosate Weed Killer
Cllr Marilyn Greenwood asked if the Council had any plans to stop using glyphosate weed killers and switch to safer alternatives because of concerns about the effect on human health of glyphosate. The answer is that the Council aims to reduce its glyphosate usage by 10% each year until 2021. It has managed this this year, but has not yet found a suitable alternative.
Cllr Marilyn Greenwood asked whether the portfolio-holder for Regeneration and Economic Development would press for a feasibility study into building a passenger rail station at Greetland. The answer is that this was looked at in 2014 and was not thought to be commercially viable.
Marilyn’s argument is that things have changed: there are now plans for major alterations to the nearby road network and (possibly) to the hospital, which is relatively close by.
James Baker asked about taking enforcement action against people using residential premises for car sales and repairs. The official answer was, roughly, that this is a very complicated area. However, later in the meeting the portfolio-holder distanced himself from this answer (prepared by officers) saying that it was a typical response that set out why the problem was not being fixed, rather than saying what was going to be done to fix it.
Monitoring Council Spending
Paul Bellenger asked a question about the sometimes large variation in council spending between the projections resulting from monitoring carried out in November and the actual spending at the end of March. He wanted to know if monitoring processes, and the way these are reported to councillors, needed to be improved. The answer, again taking up rather more words, was that both are being looked at.