County leader Martin Tett’s letter regarding his council’s spending freeze is featured in this week’s round-up from our letters page.
ALREADY DONE IT
Many thanks to AVDC Councillor Mark Winn for his letter in last week’s Bucks Herald.
No doubt this was intended to be constructive and helpful.
However, virtually everything Cllr Winn suggests Buckinghamshire County Council does we have already done and more, in some cases many years ago.
Over the past four years we have saved over £100million.
We have done this by cutting back office costs, increasing income, working with partners, merging services with other councils, introducing a new website, going digital in much of our contact with residents, devolving services to town and parish councils and working more with communities to let them run local libraries, youth centres and even day care services.
The real issue is that, whilst our government grant has been cut by some 44% over recent years, demand and costs for many of our service is rapidly increasing, particularly across the Vale area which is seeing the highest growth levels.
The population of Buckinghamshire is growing fast, people are living longer, there are more vulnerable children who need to be safeguarded and more elderly people to help so they can live long and productive lives.
Caring for the most vulnerable in our society is and will remain one of our top priorities but it is incredibly expensive.
Currently 45 pence in every pound we spend is on elderly and children’s services. Soon it will be 60 pence. This leaves less and less money for everything else.
The government is about to tell local government what further cuts we will face. These are likely to be at least a further 30%.
I’m afraid, Councillor Winn, that following the example of other councils and renting out things like bouncy castles will not close the enormous £42million budget gap we face.
Tough and difficult decisions will have to be made as we continue to prioritise the key services we provide to our residents and businesses.
Leader, Buckinghamshire County Council
NUMBER IS TOO HIGH
AVDC wants us to get involved with the Local Plan and it is right that local people should have a voice in this process - but how much of a voice do we actually have?.
In last week’s Bucks Herald AVDC says that at least another 31,000 houses need to be built up to 2033, as though it is a statement of fact, whereas the first two questions in the consultation form ask if the HEDNA (Housing and Economic Developement Needs Assessment) has come to the right conclusions regarding potential growth.
However, although people can give their views if they think the number proposed is too high, how many are going to have the time and energy to read through the background and supporting documents to be able to answer the questions on the consultation document in any meaningful way? One document alone for the HEDNA is over 200 pages long.
I attended one of the public exhibitions and a member of AVDC said that it took his department a long time to read through and understand all the evidence. I asked how, in that case, can members of the public participate fully in the consultation?
For example: If people are of the opinion that the amount of development will be too high, as I am, it is very difficult to challenge the evidence in a way that AVDC will be able to take into account because even if the supporting evidence is read and understood, how and where would we obtain alternative evdence to back up our views?
When the previous local plan was rejected, which would have provided for 13,800 new homes, the leader of AVDC said he ‘felt that the Plan followed the government’s localism agenda by reflecting the views of the local community rather than housing numbers being imposed on us by others’.
It seems to me that this huge amount of growth is being imposed on the Vale, ultimately by central government, particularly with regard to the additional houses the Vale has to take from other areas in the county.
The enormous amount of development proposed will have a severe impact on life in Aylesbury and the Vale including the impact on traffic, services and loss of countryside. Also, it is extremely unlikely that the pressure for development will cease after 2033.
I believe that many people care about the future of Aylesbury and the Vale and I cannot imagine that I am alone in feeling overwhelmed and dispirited by this process.
Nevertheless, I believe it is important to respond to the consultation even though the process is weighted against true public participation and localism in so many ways.
Beaconsfield Road, Aston Clinton
CUTS ARE HURTING US
Across Bucks, and closer to home in Aylesbury Vale, the effects of the Conservative government’s austerity programme is taking effect.
The county council has stated that their budget has overheated and it is not going to be able to provide anything except the absolute basics to local residents.
AVDC, apparently, on the other hand has embraced innovation, is balancing its books and providing continuous improvement to the residents of the Vale.
On first glance it’s difficult to understand how one of our local council’s is clearly struggling and the other is apparently providing us with continuous improvements.
Both of these councils are suffering from quite severe reductions in funding.
They might be trying to adjust to this in different ways, but don’t be fooled.
The bottom line is that services which we all take for granted are going to be much reduced, whichever council is responsible for them.
Expect dodgy, scruffy road surfaces, pick your way along broken footpaths carefully, listen to your children tell you how many more children they had in their class today, don’t ask why that bus didn’t turn up, and don’t be a victim of crime.
Many of the local services that we also take for granted are provided by local charities.
These organisations provide community support for problems that most families will experience or be touched by in one way or another, and these have been funded through local councils.
Support for the elderly, advice and support on how to deal with debt, family issues, loneliness, homelessness, mental health, community projects. Grants slashed or even gone altogether.
The innovative council, through its Vale Lottery, will provide for all those ‘good causes’ provided they’ve signed up for the weekly divvy-up.
It is also going to get rid of the information service in Aylesbury Town that apparently no one uses. The Cloud is here so no one needs to talk to a staff member any more. Lots more modern and enterprising ideas to come.
We don’t want to see our councils wasting money - however they are here to provide a core purpose.
Local Government to provide local services that are needed in the everyday lives of us all.
We might not even appreciate how important some of these services are until they’ve gone.
Government cuts to local council budgets, the size we are experiencing, will damage us all and are simply stock piling problems for the future.
Balancing the books is important, but it can be done over a longer period than the five years of this Government.
Labour Councillor for Southcourt
FORGOT TO MENTION
Martin Tett said in your front page article (November 11) that the main catalyst for BCC’s projected overspend is an increased demand for social care.
May I suggest he refers to an increased need for social care – it is not as though vulnerable children and adults are marching through the streets of Bucks demanding that they get better care.
Many are unable to demand the service they have a legal right to expect because they are ill, or confused, or neglected, or exploited or frightened.
It is not their fault that BCC has not got enough money.
Mr Tett forgot to mention, when he put the blame on this increased “demand”, that government policies have pushed more and more people into homelessness, poor health and poverty.
He forgot to mention that this might be the reason for the increased need for social care. He also forgot to mention that he ignored all the warnings last year about a failing children’s services and, along with his Tory colleagues, cut its budget by £1million.
When Ofsted inspected children’s services five months later, it found BCC failing in its duty of care to vulnerable children.
So BCC had to spend millions of pounds trying to put the failing children’s services right.
If only Mr Tett had heeded the warnings in the first place, perhaps BCC would be in less of a financial mess.
However, the biggest of Mr Tett’s memory failures is to forget that the government has slashed local authority budgets by 40% since 2010.
Not only is the government increasing the number of people who need social care but it is reducing the money to help them.
BCC has failed to come clean about the situation – it is impossible to provide the services residents expect if money is slashed by 40%, particularly if the services, like social services, have been under-resourced and neglected for decades.
In May, the Tory-led Local Government Association warned the Chancellor that another round of cuts would devastate local services and harm the most vulnerable in society.
The Tory chair of Oxfordshire County Council had to explain recently to his MP, David Cameron, how the government’s cuts were having a devastating impact on frontline services in the PM’s own constituency.
But the government does not listen and more cuts are on their way.
BCC is already in a funding crisis. What is it going to do next year when more cuts hit local authorities?
Spokesperson for social care, Wycombe Labour
IT’S VERY IMPORTANT
In reply to Mr Linton the East-West Rail link is a very important link in the rail network and needs to be completed urgently.
Freight will use the line, cross country passenger trains will also provide new routes for many people.
Commuters and leisure passengers will have access to new links enabling jobs to be gained in Milton Keynes or Oxford plus passengers from Aylesbury will be able to travel to many parts of the UK and people in the Claydons will find it a lot easier to get out of the village by traveling to Winslow station .
Housing will follow but it is a national phenomenon and not confined to Bucks.
Would you rather have our roads clogged by cars and pollution?
Don’t rely on buses, usage is declining rapidly as is subsidy whereas rail is on the up.
Bucks County Council has announced that road renewal is on hold in a few years time, you could find yourself at the end a badly eroded road with other roads also falling to pieces so accept EWR and look to the future.
Wherever you live in the world I believe we stand on the brink of a very uncertain future.
We are doing our best to stand strong for what we believe in: for our freedom to choose, to be who we want to be and not be oppressed by any religion or government will.
These are very difficult times for the world at this time; what happened in Paris was a turning point for the Western world in the face of the merciless slaughter of mainly young people by an Islamic death cult.
I have no easy answers to how we respond or what happens next, all I know is that we should be prepared for many months; if not years for a very difficult time for all of us and to defend all we hold dear; we need to stand together in unity: We must never surrender or stop defending our freedoms or our traditional British values.
We need to stand and be counted and face our enemy, wherever they are amongst us.
My daughter returned home from school with a very moving poem that was written by her and three of her friends for Remembrance Sunday. Written by Theo Rogers (14), Sophie Stewart (13), Katie Williams (14) and Tanya Chineka (13). Year 9 students at John Colet School, Wendover:
The bitter November winds pierce me,
Sending a shiver down my spine.
Grasping my tepid cup of tea,
Waiting to defend the front line.
Us boys shiver stationary,
Shiv’ring under a white sea.
The November snowflakes impale me
Like petit crystal white swords.
A think layer of fabric and flea,
And our trenches like mud fjords
Can’t protect us again the cold,
Yet we still stand bleak but bold.
There’s a fire in this November sky,
Gold submerged in black and blue.
The morning blaze will soon die,
Like the youth in there lads, thanks to you
We stand here - frozen and dead,
Waiting for mother winter to put us to bed.
The bitter November winds pierce me,
As I pull the trigger and set my soul free.
Putting up Christmas decorations in November is ridiculous.
There should be a law banning decorations until December; and perhaps Aylesbury College could provide a compulsory course in common sense for councillors.