Less than Three Weeks in: problems and solutions

It is now almost three weeks after the election, and I would like to share what positive actions and approaches I have already taken in response to three specific problems – both old and new – for our town:

Problem #1

The Lib Dem Mayor, Dave Hodgson, failed to offer the Conservative Group a single seat in his Executive, despite the fact that we are the largest Group across the Borough, and many more people voted for us than his Lib Dem candidates. Across Borough and Town Councillor elections throughout Kempston, the Conservatives received 15,557 votes; the Lib Dems received just 1,787.  This is plainly undemocratic, and could lead to another four years of Kempston being a forgotten neighbour of Bedford.

Solutions:

  • Kempston now has representation in terms of scrutiny of that Executive, as I have already taken on additional responsibilities to join the Budget Scrutiny Committee and Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee.
  • I will be organising a series of petitions to put extra pressure on the Executive in securing a better deal for Kempston. If they won’t listen to the peoples’ wishes, we will just have to shout a bit louder! I have already started one petition, and will begin another one soon.
  • Fundamentally, I won’t make ‘being in Opposition’ an excuse for not getting things done in Kempston – we will work and fight where necessary to get a better deal for Kempston.

notiH049 - door must be kept closed

Problem #2 

The majority of decision-making regarding the proposed sale of the Saxon Centre to a Joint Venture has happened behind closed doors, and the plans are both unclear and new for the people of Kempston.

Solutions:

  • The other night, I made sure I sat on the Working Group determining what would be proposed for discussion at the Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee – through this, I have opened up discussion of the Saxon Centre deal to the first Corporate Services Scrutiny Committee following the election.
  • Fundamentally, I don’t buy any excuses for making these discussions private and hidden, and have already pushed for public scrutiny of the decisions being made.

saxon centre bad

Problem #3

Kempston is still dominated by Labour representation, both at Borough Council and Town/Parish Council level. Although I was able to break through the Labour monopoly at Borough level, and Richard Hyde and David Clarke were able to do the same at Town Council level, Kempston is still dominated by a deeply political strand of Labour. Therefore the majority of people who have presided over Kempston’s becoming a forgotten neighbour of Bedford are still in place.

Solutions:

  • I will work with the more conscientious and effective Labour Councillors who genuinely put effort into representing their local area, finding cross-party unity where possible.
  • I will hold the rest of them to account, as I have already begun doing by visiting the Town Council’s annual meeting last week to scrutinise expenditure plans on behalf of Kempston’s taxpayers – they didn’t like the new added scrutiny, and some of them took particular offence when I pointed out obvious savings.
  • Fundamentally, I will fight for value for money at all levels on behalf of Kempston’s taxpayers – Labour can work with me or against me on that.wasted-money

As I hope you can see from this list, I have already been quite busy getting stuck in on behalf of Kempston’s taxpayers. I will continue to do so for the remainder of the four years you have given me to serve our area, and will continue fighting for Kempston across the board!

‘Blitz spirit’ descends on Kempston as we suffer a frustrating burst water main

This morning, Kempston suffered a burst water main, which stopped the supply of water to the majority of homes, schools, and businesses in our town. It was very frustrating, and has caused real disruption, particularly with schools closing either partially or fully. I am glad to hear that year 6 pupils were still asked to go in, especially given the importance of their stage of education with regards to Key Stage 2 SATs.

I got on the phone to Anglian Water early this morning to ask when we should expect the problem to be sorted, and to add my name to calls for urgent action; I was told that we should expect the mains to be fixed by 2pm, and it appears to be the case that a gentle trickle has started again throughout Kempston at around 11am. Water pressure should be back to normal later this evening (at around 9pm at the latest) and, if not, please do call Anglian Water on 03457 145 145 – we are expecting everything to be normalised later.

Things we can learn from this going forward are that schools should be encouraged to use their text service ASAP to give as ready an alert as possible and that the Borough Council website should be updated more quickly – all parents were eventually informed, but it appears that some parents felt the reliance on social media as opposed to earlier direct communication was less useful. While we should encourage quicker and more joined-up responses to these types of emergencies in some cases, we should also appreciate the early efforts of staff at local schools, most of which were able to get the message out quickly and effectively.

We should also take joy in the fact that, on social media outlets, people in Kempston whose water supply had not been affected were quick to offer help and access to precious H2O for those in need. Out of such a frustrating situation, it was great to see an almost ‘blitz spirit’ emerge, especially so soon after the 70th anniversary of VE Day! It really does show you that – despite the gloomy media naysayers – we are still predominantly a great nation of people, and a great community in Kempston, even all these years after our finest hour.

There are lessons to be learned, and frustrations and disruption is still raw – but we should also be proud to have the type of people in our community who generously offered access to their water supply; whose first instinct is to help others.

Thank you, Kempston, for the opportunity to serve

Election celebrations

I just wanted to say a big thank you to all those people in Kempston Central & East who backed me and others from our team on Thursday. I am so chuffed to have become your Borough Councillor, and will strive to ensure the best deal for Kempston. Commiserations to those who lost, and congratulations to others who won.

As well as the news of becoming Borough Councillor, I am also very pleased to share the news that we also have two additions to Kempston Town Council: Richard Hyde, who has a wealth of great experience, having previously served as Town and Borough Councillor in Kempston; and David Clarke, whose personal connections across our town will help provide insightful representation.

Across Town Council and Borough Council elections, many of our team were painfully close – sometimes having slashed large majorities elsewhere. I hope they will all remain involved, and help us as we fight to create a better future for Kempston.

I will inform you all of surgeries and plans once settled in, and I don’t want to become a stranger for the next four years now the election’s over! However you voted, please feel free to get involved at surgeries and with ideas for improving Kempston once all the initial paperwork has been completed.

Thank you again. There is now work to be done!

Under Labour, Kempston has become the forgotten neighbour of Bedford

vote conservative

You may have felt that Kempston is sometimes the forgotten neighbour of Bedford, and that we simply don’t get the same amount of funding as other areas, which are lucky enough to have better fortunes with different Councillors representing them.

Well, it turns out you would be right! And now we have the figures to prove it:

In the year 2014-15, almost £2.19 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on footpaths across Bedford Borough. Kempston Central & East (a very big two seat ward with two Councillors) saw just £30,720 of that spent on its footpaths.

In other words, £54,737 was spent per Councillor across Bedford Borough – Kempston Central & East saw just a measly sum of £15,360 per Councillor secured. That means that current Councillors couldn’t even secure A THIRD of the Borough average in funding. And it gets worse: in Kempston North (around the Hillgrounds area), there was no money whatsoever spent on footpaths.

pavement

The truth of the matter is that Labour isn’t working for Kempston. As a town, we keep voting Labour in, and things never get better – Kempston remains forgotten, and we don’t get the fair amount of funding we have paid for. Time and time again, Kempston ends up being represented by Labour Councillors to the detriment of our town.

We would be mad to entrust Ed Miliband and Ed Balls with our national finances after they wrecked the economy; why do we keep giving the local Labour party a chance to ruin things in Kempston?

kempston1

Our local Conservative team has already had a positive impact with getting local repair work done, despite having zero political representation in Kempston at Borough level. Imagine what we could do if people actually voted us in!

Try something different in May: it would be a nice change to get value for money in what we’ve actually paid for rather than forever being a forgotten neighbour of Bedford. Kempston is a great town – it deserves just as much attention as Newnham, Wilshamstead, Harrold, Bromham, Clapham or any other part of our Borough. Under Labour, we’re not getting it.

 

Councillor Allowances – Enough is Enough

The situation:

After 2007, people in Kempston and Bedford Borough suffered – along with the rest of the country – the deepest recession this side of the Second World War.

Yes, things are starting to look better: under this Conservative-led government, unemployment has plummeted and more people are in work than at any point in history, with Britain outgrowing any other Western national economy; in Bedford Borough, we have seen the benefits first-hand, with new businesses being set up and a new lease of life for the area.

But local public services have had to go on a really quite severe diet and trim down in the meantime, while we deal with the untenable feasting of debt repayments and a mammoth deficit – and the fact is that we can’t afford to start supporting a return to ‘spending obesity’ any time soon.

Diet-Tricks-Dont-WorkThe problem:

Why then, as the rest of us have learnt to accept tightening the belt and becoming leaner and more efficient with our public services, have local Bedford Borough Councillors continued to gleefully fill their guts at the taxpayers-funded troughs? Why, when Bedford Borough’s Councillor Allowances are already so much higher than the national average, did Councillors vote to increase them a couple of years ago?

Nationally, the average annual Councillor Allowance stands at around £7,000. In nearby North Hertfordshire District Council, allowances have been below £5,000 in recent years, as they are in Boston Borough. Recently, an inner-city London borough froze allowances at just below £9,000. Yet, somehow, Bedford Borough Councillors have seen it fit to increase their own basic allowances to over £10,000 p.a., as well as increasing the scope for more allowances when taking on certain functional roles in Council.

pigs

What to do about it:

Recently, the Conservative Group in Bedford Borough proposed a £200,000 cut to Councillors’ pay packets, which would have reduced Councillors’ allowance to roughly £7,500 per year and the Mayor’s to £45,000 – this money would have been spent to offer two hours’ free parking during weekdays and four hours free on Saturdays in Bedford. The Conservative amendment was shot down by Labour and the Lib Dems.

If you vote for a Conservative Council and a Conservative Mayor this time round, this move can’t be blocked and what would otherwise be spent on allowances would be given back to the people. The Conservative Mayoral candidate, Jas Parmer, has already said he will “make it [his] priority to cut the member’s allowance”.

If people in Kempston Central & East vote for me, I will support moves to decrease Councillor Allowances in any way, and will personally pay back a proportion of what I am entitled to in the form of donations to local charities and projects.

In telling the rest of us to accept cutbacks and savings while voting to increase their own allowances, local Councillors have really hurt their credibility, and it’s no wonder people are so disillusioned with politics. It’s time to change that as much as we can.

Kempston Barracks May 2012