View from the Council Chamber
Josh Fenton-Glynn, one of Hebden Bridge's 3 Calderdale councillors gives a personal report of last night's council meeting
Thursday, 23 November 2017
Just got back from a 5 hour council meeting at Halifax Town Hall.
In this report I will talk about the Piece Hall, Calderdale's local delivery vehicle, school funding, street lighting, a Tory motion on cutting the cost of politics, a Liberal Democrat motion on Universal Credit, the local plan investment in the A649 and Elland station.
Piece Hall award
We started off with a nice moment when we heard that Historic England gave Claire Slattery an Angel Award for the work on the Piece Hall. The project won on both a U.K. and England categories. It was held up as an example for ambitious towns throughout the country. I'm proud that we have invested in this to bring money to Calderdale and given people something to be proud of.
The next items related to council business. One thing we we looked at was the current project using a local delivery vehicle to build more housing including social housing. This is one of the answers to the problems we have of not enough good quality social housing in this country. Disappointingly this was the first time in the meeting the leader of the Conservative group sought to score political points on the local plan. More on that later!
New sixth form
There was then a lengthy discussion about future school funding. One of the main results will be supporting a new sixth form to serve young people from across Calderdale, located on the Northgate House site in Halifax as part of Trinity Academy. Although I'm not wild about it being an academy, I am glad sixth form provision in Calderdale received cross party support.
Street lights to go LED
We then briefly discussed the Calderdale street light replacement with LEDs - a measure that will both replace old lights and be better for the environment. In some areas there are still old fashioned cast iron lamp posts, and we will do what we can to be sensitive to heritage. This is a forward looking project that will make us one of the most advanced boroughs in the country.
Councillor allowances and expenses
There was then a Tory motion on reducing the cost of politics. This was calling for a reduction in the number of councillors. This is a motion that comes up every year when there is an election coming. It is worth noting that Calderdale's councillors allowance is a third lower than those in Leeds and the lowest in West Yorkshire.
It was raised by Councillor Wilkinson that they talk about local government but won't talk about the House of Lords. I spoke to note similarly that the profligacy of our local MP's office hadn't been mentioned. Craig Whittaker's office (where Councillor Benton, the leader of the Conservative group works) has increased in cost by 1/3 since his first full year in office, and includes £3,200 spent on advertising, alongside £940 claimed for journeys taken within his own constituency. I would have taken Councillor Benton's assertion that every saving matters, if that same MP hadn't claimed £6 from the public for toilet roll.
Seriously though - I think local democracy is important and I also know how hard a lot of councillors work. We need to stop attacking those who give up a lot of time to stand up for their community. It might make short term political sense but in the long term seeing councillors as the problem doesn't help our democracy and we will end up with councillors drawn from an ever narrower section of society. This motion was blatant and childish politicking and rightly defeated.
Universal credit problems discussed - amid Tory laughter
The next matter for discussion was a motion by Liberal Democrat Councillor Allen about the impact of universal credit on people in Calderdale. Sadly this was the point many on the Conservative benches decided to go to the toilet. At various other points a number of Conservative members - including councillor Benton, the leader of the Conservative group - were laughing at the same time as people were talking about homelessness and food bank use in Calderdale. From the next meeting we will be streaming council meetings and I welcome that behaviour being exposed.
The government's change today does nowhere near enough. Universal credit is a cut disguised as a reform, with food bank use increasing by 30% in areas where UC has been rolled out.. People who work in emergency food aid are amazing, but it shouldn't be a main stay of our benefit system. The idea of a universal credit is a positive one, but the implementation alongside cuts has led to over-harsh sanctions and too frequently, destitution. Calderdale have worked hard with our customer contact centre to lessen the impact and help people apply for benefits advances. This motion was passed without votes from any Conservatives.
Next we discussed the local plan, which has been a controversial issue this year and has seen some delays, partly due to changes to the guidelines. We continue to work to make sure we are listening to residents and considering all the feedback. It's important we do this in a measured, considered way and we won't be rushed in moving to the next stage of consultation or making any decisions. We are likely to have fully adopted the local plan by 2019, much faster than comparable councils like Wakefield.
Questions to cabinet members
The questions to cabinet members had a few highlights, including Councillor Wilkinson talking about his work in opposition to the proposed Ryburn incinerator. We also heard from Councillor Collins about the £52 million investment in the A642 between Brighouse and Huddersfield and investment in Elland station secured by Calderdale council.