Thursday, 12 January 2012

Priorities for the year on Prudhoe Town Council

On Prudhoe Town Council, I sometimes plough a lonely furrow. Every now and then I find myself in a group of one on a lot of issues. Its the most important meeting of the Town Council next Wednesday, when we set our budget for the year. Increasingly the Town Council is becoming an important body, both in terms of the amount of tax it raises as well as the range of activities it undertakes. Play parks, cemeteries, Christmas lights, floral displays, a view on planning applications, environmental schemes, town signage, funding for local charities and services such as the youth service and the CAB etc.

Over the last few years, I have been somewhat sceptical as the administration costs of the council have shot up, massively outstripping the increase in budget for actual service delivery. This year  the council has had a reasonably big team for a year or so and is now ready to take a range of responsibilities from the county council, in line with all other parish and town councils in the county.

One of the things I think the council has a strong responsibility for is help for the elderly in the town. The main way it has done this in the past is through the subsidy of the TV licence. Residents over the pension age got £15, now £30, towards their licence fee by going to the post office and getting a form filled in.

Since the TV licence was made free to over 75s, this benefit has been less well targeted at the most vulnerable and old and I have consistently argued that it is not taken up by a lot of people (if it was it would probably bankrupt the council) and does not target the most in need and for many does not make a big difference. As it swallows up a major percentage of the town councils budget, I am keen to see if there are better ways to help the elderly in our town.

The town suffered last year when it lost the town 111 bus service. Unfortunately it just wasn't popular enough but it was valued by a lot of elderly people as a way to get into town. We have revamped the 686 service to cover this at county hall but it's been clear that a targeted door to door service run by a dial a ride company was what would do the best. I was really pleased at how successful the Adapt dial a ride service has been since launching last year. It operates in the town once a week and has a Hexham trip once a week as well. Both are over subscribed.

So I have developed a plan to expand the dial a ride service, with County Council willing to fund a scheme 50:50 if the town council joins in. This will fund an extra days service in Prudhoe for six months with a 4th day after 6 months if there is enough demand. I will be taking my plan, which will cost the town council a maximum of £3,120, to the Town Council - as well as an appeal that the Town Council contributes to the cost of a new accessible bus for Adapt in Prudhoe. I accept that I am unlikely to get the TV licence scheme money moved to a new way of spending it but I am hopeful that I will not be in a minority of 1 on the dial a ride scheme! I will also be pushing for continued funding for the Prudhoe East centre and the CAB as well as making sure the council focusses the majority of its money on service delivery rather than bureaucracy.

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