Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What price to shop in CWaC?


I try to always start these blogs with things that I like. However, like many people I know, shopping isn't one of them. The dawn of internet shopping hasn't made that particular hobby any more interesting for me but every now and then when the mood strikes me I really do like to go to a town and peruse the offers and stroll the pavement looking for the items I want.

It normally doesn't take me too long, I go armed with a list or have already pretty much decided what I want to buy - if I impulse buy I usually spend to much money and then am spending the next few days time justifying the purchase to my understandably annoyed wife.

Whether I am in a minority or a majority is unclear but there are many people who wish or need to go to the shops and for those who want to (or must do) the issue of parking (fees, no fees, Badges, schemes, parks, drop off zones, waiting zones etc.) can be a very big concern.

We are very lucky in CWaC as many of our towns have free parking or can offer such great incentives like "free after three" which allows the afternoon/evening economy to thrive without taking away the income required to maintain car parks in those areas where charges exist.

OK - so what? Why am I tattling on about Car Parks - obviously not the most interesting topic in the western world is it?

Well - perhaps it should be, especially for us lucky people who live in Winsford. You know, the town that as yet does not have the super deluxe shopping centre to which many would love to spend their afternoons and evenings at.

What do we do when we want to "go to the shops"? I suspect a lot of us drive off to Northwich, to gaze in admiration at the newly developed Barons Quay and stand in awe. Perhaps we go to the cinema or coffee shops or other fine, new establishments?  What would you say that it's going to start costing you to park in Northwich (currently it's free) after the Labour run CWaC council introduce parking charges?

I'm hearing the headlines now "Winsford residents taxed for not having a new shopping centre" because whichever way we look at it, that is what it effectively is if we decided to leave Winsford and go to Northwich, Chester* or indeed Ellesmere Port* to do a bit of shopping.

*With removal of "free after three"

"They're not going to introduce charges in Winsford are they?" I hear you scream. Thankfully not, thankfully not YET anyway is the answer. But if they are willing to introduce those charges now into Northwich, while the development is finding its feet and struggling to secure enough footfall without charges, what will it do to the rest of the plans, which are already faltering under labour? Will it really encourage more businesses to set up in Northwich or elsewhere?

OK - this might mean a windfall for us in Winsford because maybe, just maybe, those companies will want to set up here, as we will look attractive without those charges. In the detail, Labour have already own-goaled that idea as they have declared a desire to start charging as soon as possible.

What else was in that report? A lorry park in Winsford, more parking for the old high street.....truly excellent ideas that have my support. Getting Labour to deliver them is a bit more tricky, they've been slated as "medium" term , which to you or me means 5 - 10 years. So, charges now on shopping in other towns but 5 years before we get anything back. Starting to sound the complete opposite of a magic money tree, eh Mr Corbyn?

Thankfully, within CWaC we have something called scrutiny and we exercise the right to scrutinise reports and decisions which affect the residents of this borough (the type of things we Councillors do that doesn't really get seen by residents). The draft borough-wide parking strategy was scrutinised last night (19th June) in a marathon 4 hour meeting held at HQ in Chester.

Labour normally get these items through with a few recommendations and their usually poorly thought out strategies and pet projects continue along unabated as they have the majority on the council and therefore have a majority on every committee, including the scrutiny ones. Perhaps now you see why we in opposition keep a keen eye on events such as councillors who get pulled up for poor behaviour in Chester night clubs.The balance of power is a fine indeed within CWaC.

But last night was different.....for such important and contentious issues such as parking, Labour didn't have a majority present. I wont get into that as there may have been a perfectly good reason for it. What is probably worth a mention is that Cabinet Member for Economic Development wasn't there...Really? Given that car parking charges might have a direct economic consequence?

Thankfully we Tories could see that if you are going to bring in any charges, then you had better take a good look at the economic impact first.We voted for and indeed passed a recommendation that a full economic assessment be done before any decisions be made. We consider this as simple economics, although Labour keep failing to grasp this.

No doubt Labour will make a hullabaloo about this recommendation being above and beyond what was asked of the scrutiny committee. Of course they would, as they were the ones who asked the scrutiny committee narrow and specific questions. We Tories think somewhat different and feel it a duty to point out to Cabinet (where the report goes) if we feel a mistake is being made.

The Cabinet Member for Environment (Cllr Shore) has to decide whether she accepts the recommendation from Scrutiny when recommending (or not) implementing parking charges. You can find her already clear answers in the webcast to decide whether she is for or against.

https://cheshirewestandchester.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/287827  

For Labour, introducing parking charges will not be a popular decision. We Conservatives have urged them to consider taking all aspects into account first, a first impression is that, as usual, they have not.

Until then, enjoy your Saturday afternoons - wherever you shop.
  







Thursday, May 18, 2017

Karma Comedians? All hail the new Mayor

They say a day is a long time in politics, yet this last year seems like no time at all.


Now before I start on what is behind that particular comment, I want to state (For the Record) that this particular blog is not making any comment on the capability or ability of our new Mayor, Deputy Mayor or any member of the highly esteemed Winsford Town Council (Labour 10, Lib Dems 5).

With that on the record, a year ago, I went along to the annual AGM of the said Winsford Town Council (WTC) to watch the making of the new Mayor after the then current Mayor, Cllr Ailsa Gaskill-Jones, stood down after a successful year in office. Winsford has a "Mayoral Convention" which means that the Mayor is chosen based on standing and seniority and this means that the Mayor does not always come from the ruling party. A fair and equitable, perhaps indeed a noble act for our venerable town council.

Therefore, we were expecting to see the Elder Statesmen of the council, Cllr Malcolm Gaskill, rightly take over as the Mayor of Winsford. It has been clear for a long time that our Labour group have not seen eye to eye with Cllr Gaskill, it could be argued that not many people do but that is perhaps for more discussion in a later blog. To say "they were not getting on very well" would be quite the understatement for those of us who take the time to visit the WTC meetings.

Add into this mix the fact that a new Town Clerk had just been appointed after the long standing and excellent Alan Warburton headed off into retirement. The new Town Clerk (Mark Bailey) came with many years of experience in the public sector and with a glowing reputation. During this last year he has in my opinion been proven to be a first class choice to take over from Alan.

So, back to the meeting a year ago then.....Labour proposed to suspend the Mayoral Conventions for a period of three years. After a heated discussion, this was passed by a Labour majority.

Why? It's the question that has never adequately answered then or ever since. The "reason" given was that the new Clerk needed time to settle in and gain experience of the role. Understandable, I guess, except that if that were indeed the case, why was he appointed in the first place? Labour held the majority on the selection committee after all. Did they appoint the wrong person, even after telling us the new Clerk had loads of experience and was the right man for the job?

Or was it more likely that Labour simply did not want Cllr Malcolm Gaskill to be the Mayor. Did they fear him getting more press coverage then them? Or again is it more likely that Labour simply do not like any kind of opposition, as we have seen at CWaC.

Either way, it doesn't show Labour in a good light, either being incompetent in appointing the right town Clerk or petty and disrespectful in how they have treated the next Mayoral candidate. Did I mention that by the time the Mayoral Convention is back on track it will be at the Council elections in 2019? Funny that eh?

Fast forward to this year and of course our Liberal chums have not forgotten (they love to fight old and lost causes e.g. Handley Hill School, Brexit referendum). Cllr M. Gaskill gives a "damning speech" during the Mayor making meeting and refused to take part in the event by refusing to vote for the Mayor or his Deputy.

I can understand the new Mayor of Winsford, Cllr Mike Kennedy ( who I am sure will do an excellent job) being annoyed at the Lib Dems, after all, Labour have only given themselves three years to showcase themselves locally (in which they will no doubt never make a reference to Jeremy Corbyn either) and the Labour spin machine goes off again on their oppositions supposed "gutter politics" rather than their own actions which led to this point.

Time for a change locally in my opinion but Labour Cllrs need to remember one thing in politics.....

A day may be a long time.... but......you reap what you sow......

Friday, April 28, 2017

What's a little fracking between friends?

When the CWaC Labour spin machine gets going it can be a very effective resource at stopping real debate or even telling the truth about a particular situation as it unfolds before us.

This week I took the often travelled journey to CWaC headquarters in Chester to be part of the call in team for a very important and emotive item which on the face of it should not have required a call in if my voice or the voice of residents had been taken into consideration throughout.

For those of you who are not sure what a call in is and what it is for, its a mechanism where a decision of a committee or group within council can be asked to be scrutinised in depth by one of the various scrutiny committees (there are four) in CWaC. These committees are well run, two with Labour Chairpersons, one with Conservative and one by our independent Councillor.

So what was called in? Well, in order to call anything in there must be a minimum number of councillors and I was one of those calling in the SPD (Special planning Document) that has been developed by the LPWG (local plan working group)  around fracking and how (or not) to do it.

Why did I call it in? I like the other call in members did not disagree with the SPD but we felt it did not go far enough. I (we) wanted a situation where by any fracking application could be held to a referendum by local communities after working with fracking companies to see if there were any mutual benefits such as infrastructure, financial etc. You could therefore imagine that residents would have a say or even THE say on whether the fracking would go ahead.

At this point, I need to remind readers that in Labours manifesto pledge of 2015, they committed to this "We will seek to put a moratorium on the extraction of shale gas methane in the Cheshire West and Chester area...". However, after gaining power they were told they had no legal powers to do so (the first sign of a lack of understanding how it all works perhaps?)

So they (with our help and backing) have brought along the SPD - without which frackers can put in lots of planning applications to frack and CWaC can't do much about it.

We wanted it to be stronger......

and so we end up at the call-in April 26th and a few days after a general election is called and a couple of days after the Conservative group leader told Labour and officers that we are now under the rules of "purdah".

I hope you are still with me.....so far anyway. One of the rules of Purdah is that no local council facilities or buildings can be used for electioneering. A pretty common sense rule I think as that is not what Council Tax is paid for.

At the call-in, Chris Mathers, Labour MP for Chester, with a very small majority (I'll leave his ability for another blog perhaps) turns up. No doubt ready to make a compassionate election speech about how good labour were on turning about face on their promises not to frack.

And here in lies the truth, if we continue with the call-in, the legal team will stop it due to purdah, if we delay the meeting, we all have to tootle off to Chester again and in the meantime we have no SPD (which we conservatives support) with which to protect our residents. Thankfully common sense prevailed and we withdrew with assurances that the additional points would be discussed at a later date, webcast and recorded.

In the meantime......

The CWaC Labour spin machine goes off course and at full charge, accusing the call in members of wasting time, money and playing games. Some call this "fake news"...I have other words but can't print them here without upsetting even more people than the Labour cronies who might read this blog.

The biggest criticism comes from Matt Bryant (yes, the one due in court to appeal a decision) who calls us the pro-fracking Conservatives. I would remind readers he has gone from"no fracking here" to "we can frack now" within a space of two years......not bad eh?

No doubt this will also run and run but sometimes I think what residents want is strong rules and regulations which rely on them to have the better judgement on what is right in a community.

I'm not sure Labour can deliver that.....

Friday, March 10, 2017

Winsford given ultimate snub by Cheshire PCC

It's official. I love Winsford. 

I have raised a family here, moved from one side of town to the other, got elected as a councillor here and absolutely love the place and the people.

Our Police and Crime Commissioner (David Keane) obviously does not. 

Why do I say that? Well, it was announced yesterday that he was "moving his office" from Winsford to Stockton Heath near Warrington. That’s right, moving himself from the purpose built, at a cost of £40M no less, Winsford Cheshire Police Headquarters to an underutilised (danger of being closed?) police station.

This must have been quite the plush and expensive office for the PCC to house himself , given that by moving he hopes to save in excess of £50K per year although the exact listing of the savings are not defined.

The PCC also says that the Stockton Heath Station “provides an office which is easily accessible to the public” – ahem….Winsford headquarters is so easy to reach, it was why it was built here and not elsewhere.

Maybe there is another reason for the move. Our PCC says “A single police and fire headquarters is planned as part of the Cheshire bluelight collaboration programme”. Errr not quite….especially since the the BBC website shows the following…..from sep 2016
Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service has shelved plans to sell off its base in Winsford and move into the county's police headquarters.
Cheshire's Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Cashin said the decision was made "following an in-depth review". An official report says the cost of rebuilding fire training facilities was "prohibitive". 
Following a comment I posted on the Winsford Guardian Website, a “Qualtec” posted the following.
“it is now part of the smarter working initiative to encourage staff to either work from alternative office locations or home when this is possible dependant on the duties undertaken by the employee….The reasoning behind this is that a large number of public sector employees work electronically and with emails & telecon there is not a requirement to be in the same office at the same time to work”
Noble sentiments and yes, even I work from home, albeit without a £50K saving to me or my employer and indeed no one expects the PCC to work in his Winsford office 9 – 5 and 5 days a week.
So is there a deeper reason for the office move or snub as I now consider it?
Well, let’s think about this….
David Keane, our elected Labour PCC is awarded a salary of £75K and yet still sits as a Warrington Labour Councillor with an allowance of £8K for an additional approx 22 hours a week Council work*. Could it be that he wanted to move a little closer to home to fit it all in?
Whatever the reason, it can’t help but look like another politician getting the snout in the gravy train, this time the Warrington gravy train.
I would love to hear what residents think about this. I asked a prominent Winsford Labour CWaC Councillor what he thought – his reply (on twitter) was “if it is saving tax payers £50,000 per year. He could stay if govt stop savage cuts.”
Maybe a fair point but consider this – he could stay in Winsford if he did not hire a £50,000 per year political crony who “failed to demonstrate an adequate knowledge and understanding of the police service and Criminal Justice System” as his deputy.
Overall, whether strategic, tactical or personal the move out of Winsford by our PCC, David Keane, is a snub to the town that I love, Winsford.
At least he gave us a tax increase as a thank you.
*To avoid debate, we get a little more in CWaC and I am happy to supply details.

Quotes from BBC website, Silk news and Winsford Guardian

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Respect for Winsford as Councillor resigns hours after passing one of the three Labour Council tax rises?

Storm Doris really has a lot to answer for in and around Winsford - I have to replace two fence panels and a broken garden table, while plenty of other residents have much worse and sadly, one person in Wolverhampton lost their life - our thoughts and prayers go to their family.

In local politics, Doris was responsible for the postponement of the budget council as it was deemed too dangerous for Councillors and officers to cross the borough to come to Winsford. It also allowed us to have another week of Councillor Reggie Jones's antics and outbursts - please go and view the webcast of the budget meeting, it'll make you chuckle if nothing else when the good Councillor gives us all his two pennies worth.

I am sure the now ex-Councillor for Blacon has good reasons to resign his position and we on the Conservative side wish him all the very best (and good riddance) for the future.

However, it turns us all to wonder if the Labour Council (with a majority of just one) didn't cynically beg Cllr Jones to stay on "just one more week" so that their budget passed, perhaps it was just coincidence that he resigned the day after? Anyone believe in coincidence??

Let's turn to that unimaginative,  ponderous and costly budget, which by the way, I voted against at the budget council meeting...

Conservative Councillors put forward alternative budget plans for 0% change to council tax, with proposals to spend less on ICT, buildings and council staff. We asked Labour to delay introduction of the local living wage, so that low paid workers and fixed income residents don't have to pay for pay rises in the public sector.

Did you know that CWaC residents pick up a 75K tab for Trade Union representatives?  Are the unions coffers so empty that they desperately need us all to pay for this. When Union leaders take home >£100K home each year, there surely must be enough money to go around?

Labour gave us lots of plans with big budgets yet no details of what would actually be done or delivered, that sounds now a little too familiar for Winsford residents who have heard the number to be spent on regeneration but have no idea yet as to what or when it will happen.

Where we do need imagination is in spending in Adult Social care and integrating health and care for older and vulnerable residents. Tory proposals for a 3%  rise to the adult social care precept were voted down and set at 2% by Labour.

Here are the "gifts" from Labour we as Winsford residents are set to enjoy in 2017

Labour CWaC Council tax increase
Labour Winsford Town Council tax increase
Labour Police and Crime commissioner tax increase

So, while we have to thank Doris and Reggie for a lot of things, Doris was unavoidable, but if Reggie had quit a week before, residents would be paying slightly lower council tax.

At least we can continue to drive everywhere at 20 mph......


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Incinerator burns on and on

Welcome to the first of hopefully many (or at least a few) blogs from (at the time of writing) the only Conservative Councillor in Winsford.

I've been thinking of writing a blog for a while now but every time I sit down to compose, things take another turn from the sublime to the ridiculous in our great town of Winsford.

This week sees hundreds of Winsfordians sign a petition against a proposed incinerator on our industrial estate and many residents turn up to the Town Council meeting demanding some answers. But answers to what? and what do the two CWaC councillors who have the Industrial Estate in their ward have to say about it all? What have they done to bring it to public attention.

Well, turns out those same two Councillors could have called in the planning application to the CWaC planning committee for review. Turns out those two same Councillors sit on the Town Council as well and the town council actually objected to the planning application.

Turn the clock forward and another Town Councillor speaks to the paper about how the incinerator was "virtually a done deal" and how they were disappointed in the fact that the application was not called in to the CWaC planning committee.

The very next week - one of the Ward Councillors (who had not called it in) is pictured next to a banner saying "No incinerator here".

So, we have a situation where labour CWaC councillors are criticised by a labour Town Councillor for not doing their job. Who runs CWaC? Who runs Winsford TC?

ahem....

Labour

This one may just burn and burn......