Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A busy day at the office(s)

What a day today! I got into the office early to try to get some work done. This time of year is very busy in my work at the CAB, as the end of the financial year ends. It's been hard this year as we have been dealing with a changing funding landscape, with cuts from national and local funders. As I prepared for my organisations board meeting, where my trustees will consider our budget, I got a call from BBC radio Tees, who wanted to find out about the work of or CAB and the challenges we face, both in terms of funding and the higher workload we are experiencing in these hard economic times. One of our clients, Irene, was keen to speak about the difference the CAB made to her life. I was very grateful, because we really value client confidentiality and wouldn't ask most clients. Irene, who we have helped with financial problems after she was hospitalised, was a great advert for our service and talked about how having the stress relieved from her life was as important to her health as a recent operation.

As a result of all that, I was running late for our group meeting before the Northumberland County Council meeting to decide next years budget. So after, a brisk drive up to Morpeth, I went into the bear pit of the council chamber. Since the council became No Overall Control in 2008, with the Lib Dems leading a minority administration, the full council has become much more vital. You never quite know how the vote is going to go! Despite a lot of noise before the meeting, for the third year running our budget was the only one presented and was passed with one amendment, proposed by Simon Reed our portfolio holder for adult services. Labour leader Grant Davey moved a few amendments, proposing various extra ideas for spending. Some of them sounded worthy of further investigation but unfortunately he had not put them forward in advance and they weren't very well advocated. For one of them, he stated that a move would save £64,000, when in fact it would only save £6,000. So they were voted down but I hope he will bring them back for further consideration. We genuinely need all the good ideas we can get!

The headlines are a 0% council tax rise and a drive to save front line services. In many (mainly Labour) councils, there have been library, leisure centre and toilet closures. Despite a tough settlement that has been unfairly front loaded by DCLG, I think the budget proposed is a good one and was relatively happy to vote for it. It makes the best use of the money we have. I was particularly pleased with the freezing of council tax. Council tax is a particularly unfair levy, with the poorest in society paying a much higher share of their income in it. If a purely Lib Dem government had taken office, we would be abolishing it but at least we are able to stop it increasing.

Then it was off to a meeting of Prudhoe Town Council and a very busy agenda! We looked at plans for a community governance review of the council, which means reviewing the number of councillors and ward boundaries in Prudhoe. Then we heard about changes in affordable housing rules from the government and how some of this may impact a 60 house development on the site of Prudhoe Hospital. I am concerned that the poor state of the housing market is helping developers from using the low value of property to renege on their previous commitments on the number of houses that are affordable in developments. We also looked at plans from Northumberland Water to improve the sewerage system on the Castlefields estate. This is long overdue, as residents have long experienced flooding. It unfortunately means residents will have to put up with Castlefields Drive being closed in part for 5 weeks but I cannot praise Northumberland Water enough. They have kept us all informed at all stages and have not gone for the cheapest option.

Then I updated Town Councillors on the Decisions taken at County Hall and went home. A busy day but I enjoy doing a bit of everything.

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