Time for a Fresh Start on Sutton Coldfield Town Council

Sutton Conservatives have now published some of their plans for Sutton Coldfield Town Council on the assumption they are returned with a majority of the 24 seats in May. What they fear is to have to work with non-conservative councillors to agree what is best for the town as a whole and all its residents. I have worked through their proposals and made a few observations

“Royal Sutton Coldfield Conservatives have pledged to continue to work for the good of the community ahead of local elections on May 3rd and have urged residents not to allow “a cynical coalition of chaos” to bring higher taxes to the Royal Town. (THIS IS A BLATANT ATTEMPT TO  MISLEAD THE ELECTORATE FROM A FAILED ADMINISTRATION) 

The Conservatives will be launching their manifesto shortly, something that the coalition will be unable to do. Some of the plans include increased powers for the Town Council, ensuring that more decisions which affect Sutton Coldfield are made in Sutton Coldfield. Some of the plans include

  • Returning the management of Sutton Park to Sutton via the Town Council (Needs to be agreed with BCC and that requires a positive working relationship)
  • The appointment of Town Rangers to clean up the Town (Has been requested many times by residents and blocked by the Conservatives who would rather spend the money on Consultants)
  • Improving transport links and driving improvements to the Town Centre (Part of HS2 Transport Hub programme which will happen irrespective of whether the Conservatives have a majority on the new Town Council
  • Securing a long term future for our Library and Archives (With substantial help from Folio)
  • Working with SCART and Birmingham City Council to secure a long term future for our Town Hall
  • Set up a £10,000 ward fund, supporting community organisations at a grass roots level (What about the disparity in Ward sizes under the new boundaries? This will penalise Vesey and Walmley & Minworth)
  • Ensuring over £1 million is invested in Sutton Park as part of the Commonwealth Games legacy (And how exactly do you propose to achieve this?)

It has been almost 24 months since the Town Council was formed (Despite Conservative opposition) and in that time it has successfully led on a number of key initiatives including the Concerts in the Park, a huge community event which attracted thousands of residents into Sutton Park for a weekend of world class entertainment. (At a cost of £90,000 to the precept payers who if they also bought tickets paid twice and subsidised non residents!) The event is set to be repeated this year with tickets selling fast and opportunities being offered to local young people to gain experience in various roles. (Still subsidised to the tune of at least £53,000 from the precept payers) This great event was almost derailed by opposition councillors joining together to play politics. (If wanting residents to be consulted on the format for the concert and its costs before commissioning the CBSO again was wrong – guilty as charged)

The leader of Sutton Coldfield Town Council Simon Ward said “We have always said that we wanted the Town Council to be a real positive for our Town (NO YOU DID NOT UNTIL AFTER THE REFERENDUM WHEN THE RESIDENTS VOTED FOR A NEW TOWN COUNCIL – PRIOR TO THAT IT WAS ‘A PIG AND A POKE’ TO QUOTE ANDREW MITCHELL.)– we are the level of local government that is closest to residents – we take that responsibility very seriously. We have delivered a number of community projects which have benefitted residents but have been continually attacked by opportunist opposition councillors who claim to rise above politics whilst doing the exact opposite.  At every turn they have played politics when we are simply trying to do our best for our Royal Town and reassert our unique identity.” (Meaningless gobbledygook and an attempt to smear non conservative councillors)

Since 2016, under a Conservative administration, the Town Council has also delivered improved play facilities for local kids, (Apart from Boldmere when you spent £3000 on a consultation and then ignored the result because Councillor Passey wanted the playground on ‘Mossy Bank’ and the residents didn’t) played a pivotal role in the saving of Sutton’s library, delivered improvements in road safety in key areas of the Town, (????) worked with residents in Falcon Lodge to develop the first Community Plan (Lets ask the residents of Falcon Lodge about that) in the Town as well as supporting local good causes with over £100,000 of funding and just last week launching an exciting campaign for Britain in Bloom here in the Royal Town.

All of this has been achieved whilst delivering a 3% cut in the council tax precept in real terms. (Rubbish you dare not increase the precept as with £2,000,000 in reserves the bank after 2 years we really ought to start a petition to demand a rebate due to being overcharged)

Speaking about the first 24 months Simon Ward said “We are ambitious for Sutton Coldfield and I am incredibly proud of the initiatives that we have led on. We are not professional politicians, we are a group of local volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, who are passionate about our community. We have delivered in so many areas (Residents need to examine the 2018/19 budget and look at how the conservatives want to spend the precept and then decide if these statements are valid. but we know that we have so much more to do and are restless to deliver. (Provide we can hire consultants at vast cost to do the work) We are determined to continue to give value for money for residents whilst delivering services and initiatives that benefit our community.”  We will continue to work alongside all stakeholders (Like you are working with the Police and the Chief Constable concerning the future of policing in the town) to deliver these basic Conservative principles for our Town –reflecting the overwhelming views of our fellow residents. (40% of them do not agree with you but are unrepresented)

Local Conservatives have welcomed the news that Labour, Independents, Lib Dems and Greens will be forming a coalition at the upcoming elections on May 3rd, ensuring that it is a straight choice between a Conservative plan or no plan. (When the new council is formed if no one group has the majority an agreed programme that is best for the town will have to be agreed – RESIDENTS WORKING FOR RESIDENTS)

Simon Ward added “The choice on May 3rd is very simple. a Conservative led Town Council with a sound plan, delivering value for money and a better Royal Sutton Coldfield OR a coalition of political opportunism which has pledged to spend every penny of taxpayers’ money, including substituting for services that Birmingham City Council should be delivering, without having a plan for the Town Council and involving double taxation of local residents.” (This is very similar to the disastrous ‘REMAIN CAMPAIGN’ that the conservatives ran for the EU Referendum – Will they never learn, take the electorate for granted at your peril – we may be foolish occasionally but we are not stupid.) 

The towns MP Andrew Mitchell said “Under the leadership of the Royal Towns Conservatives, the Town Council has made a great start. Don’t let Labour and their friends ruin it.” (From an MP who was a government minister during the Coalition Government – which I for one think worked better than what we have now – not to mention the DUP deal this is outstanding hypocrisy.)

Can’t wait to see the rest of the plans, hopefully they will be an improvement on these which have more holes in them than a sieve.

This is a Town Council not Westminster

Sutton Coldfield has a Town Council with very limited powers, it is not Westminster or even Birmingham City Council, I campaigned along with SCCA against setting it up in the first place as I feared it would become an expensive talking shop.  When faced with the reality that it was going to happen SCCA saw it as a threat and set out to ensure that it came under their control. They had the financial power and the numbers to field 24 candidates knowing that none of the other groups could do the same. This year the other parties have decided not to split the vote and concentrate on achieving a town council that is run by Residents working together for Residents and councillors should be elected on their merits – not what colour rosette they wear.

The conservatives are up in arms and calling it a shady deal and a choice between Chaos and competence. Their competence is open to discussion when you consider that they could not even organise the ‘Annual Town Meeting’ efficiently.

Those of us who remember the 2016 campaign might well ask what happened to the £200K cap on running costs (2018/19 Budget £480K with over £100K on consultants?) What happened to the Boldmere Playground where £3k was spent on a public consultation the result of which was ignored, why was £90K spent on subsidising the CBSO concert with no record being kept on the number of precept payers who attended. Why is the bulk of the precept sitting in the bank? (It was even described as the ‘Council’s Money’ in the minutes of the Financial and General Purposes Committee Meeting.) Now they are going to employ treasury consultants to tell them how to invest the reserves.

This council is more concerned with knocking Labour and BCC than doing what is best for the Town. They do not run an effective rolling consultation programme; a prime example is the Town Centre Wi Fi which is a total waste of £60K if it ever gets installed – this is justified by the statement that it was in the Conservative 2016 Manifesto – however there is no evidence of need or public demand.

It is not all bad – Some good work has been done, the library, the Town Hall and the community grant programme but so much more could have been done if they had been more open minded and less concerned with playing party politics. We can only hope that come May 3rd we get a more balanced council which everyone can support.

 

Claire Bennett resigns in protest from Sutton Coldfield Town Council

It is a sad day when a person of integrity who cares passionately about her community feels she has no option but to resign due to a lack of respect from the majority group. Having attended a number of council meetings I understand why Claire has taken this action. All Councillors should take note that we expect them to work in the best interests of all residents and not play party politics – plenty of that goes on elsewhere and we do not need it on Sutton Coldfield Town Council

Lots would like to see proper debate

This letter was printed in the Sutton Coldfield Observer on Friday 23rd 2018. I had emailed the leadership of the Town Council privately with my concerns but they chose not to engage and responded via the previous weeks letters page.

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It would seem that if you write to the leadership of the Town Council as a resident expressing concerns you get your reply via the Observer’s Letters page.  As Simon Ward and Olive O’Sullivan have chosen this route I will follow suite with a couple of observations: –

  • Because of Simon Ward’s involvement with the CBSO he should not have chaired the Finance Committee Meeting when the 2018 concert contract was approved!
  • A new council will be elected in May it is unacceptable that major expenditure should be sanctioned when there is no clear, current, mandate from the residents for another CBSO Concert.
  • The council is waiving its financial regulations too often and cannot prove it is getting best value for money when it does not follow a competitive quote/tender process.
  • The confrontational atmosphere at council meetings where a total lack of respect is shown for non-conservative councillors and residents who try to ask questions is very bad practice.

Many residents would prefer to see a revived ‘Sutton Carnival’ instead of another CBSO Concert. This would involve the whole town over two days but maybe this is too ‘down market’ for Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council.

Lots of us would like to see proper debate at committee and council meetings and an end to ‘whipped’ decisions. The town faces many problems with an increasing crime rate, more Anti-Social behavior and rough sleepers on our streets. Let’s see the council taking a lead on some of these issues please.

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Concerts in the Park – Residents concerns

Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council Councillors are refusing to answer legitimate questions from residents and the Conservative social media platforms are deleting any comments relating to residents concerns
We will never know what Angus said and because I replied to Penny Harper’s  comment they deleted it. This is censorship and shows that the conservatives are trying to manipulate social media to their own advantage. I have supported the conservatives all my adult life but this brand of conservatism is not one I wish to be associated with – refusing to engage because you do not like the questions suggests you have something to hide.

Cash Cow – more like an abuse of power!

Dominic McDonough (Andrew Mitchells Agent) letter in last week’s Observer appears to be a deliberate attempt to smear the hard-working non-conservative town councillors. For Dominic’s information (he was not here at the time) these are the people who worked tirelessly to establish the town council in the first place. SCCA (Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association) campaigned against it and were defeated in the referendum.

It can indeed be described as a ‘Cash Cow’ but only if your project or need fits the conservative political agenda. When it comes to a crisis the conservatives appear obsessed with attacking Birmingham City Council. Frail, elderly residents and disabled people were left to struggle on their own during the ‘Bin Strike.’ This was a time when we hoped the Town Council would step up and show some leadership – what did they do? Spend the whole time scoring political points and running a petition for a council tax rebate which stood no chance of succeeding.

In May the town will have a chance to make it views on the performance of this council known, be aware the next council will serve for 4 years, some residents resent being forced to pay the precept and would like to see it removed from their Council Tax bills altogether.

A balanced council where everyone’s voice is equal, and decisions are made in public by consensus after debate is what the town needs to restore trust. The conservative ‘One Party State’ needs to change and all groups be included.

An Example of Bad Governance

Boldmere Futures Partnership were desperate to save the Christmas Lights Festival and made a last-ditch appeal to Sutton Coldfield Town Council for help! They hoped the ‘Amenities Committee’ would be sympathetic – faint hope I am afraid – the response was more akin to that of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist.

We now know from the statement by Simon Ward in the Observer that ‘Boldmere Futures Partnership’ did not follow due process – always the last refuge of a bureaucrat who has made a poor decision.

Statements like “I am deeply uncomfortable with the overall cost of the Boldmere Christmas Event” suggests he had sight of the application prior to the Amenities Committee Meeting and the decision was already made before it took place. Sorry to say that this is another example of poor governance where decisions are made in private and then announced in public.

He also asserts that BCC should provide the extra funding – why? Vesey residents fund roughly a quarter of the Council’s income yet decisions are made to the detriment of the ward and the larger town by non-Vesey Councillors. The Vesey Councillors are marginalised and the ‘two’ conservative Vesey Councillors either have no say or have forgotten their duty to the residents and are too busy trying to climb the ‘Greasy Pole.’

Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council was prepared to subsidise the ‘Concert in the Park’ to the tune of £25 per head (£6.25 of which came from Vesey residents) but refuses £1 per head for the Boldmere Christmas Festival to keep people safe!

There is a growing demand for an urgent review of the council’s structures and procedures many of which are not fit for purpose. Several Councillors should be considering their positions over this fiasco.


Printed by the Royal Sutton Observer on their letters page 10/11/2017

Boldmere Christmas Lights – 2017

We now have the official statement on behalf of ‘Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council’ and their reasons for declining the emergency funding request. A request that resulted from the need to fund a substantial increase in security which could not be foreseen during the planning of the event.

I have a few observations which I have annotated below in red: –

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Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council town clerk, Olive O’Sullivan, said: “The town council is sorry to hear that the Boldmere Christmas Lights event has been cancelled.

The view expressed by committee was that the community grant in the Four Oaks, New Hall and Trinity wards should not be spent on an event in the Vesey ward, particularly when the other local centres would not have a festive light switch on event in their local areas. (What about the Gracechurch Centre? The other areas do not have an established event and the council just needed to increase the budget to overcome this issue. With over £1m in reserves of which £250k has come from Vesey Residents one would have thought this would not be a problem.)

If a local centre wanted to do something over and above what the town council is providing in terms of festive lights then that activity should be funded locally. (This suggests that the residents have no say in the matter. It also adds weight to the argument that the budget should be under the control of Ward Councillors and not an ‘Appointed Committee’ which is not representative of the wards. The Amenities Committee has 4 Trinity, 2 Four Oaks, 1 New Hall and 1 Vesey Councillor.)

The council appreciates that rising costs of road closures and stewarding for events means that the Boldmere Futures Partnership had to make some difficult decisions about the event.” (The decision by council left us no option but to cancel as the Councillors who are also members of the Boldmere Futures Partnership one of whom sits on the Amenities Committee were aware. The lack of empathy with the impact on Boldmere and the wider community who have supported the event for 5 years is disappointing)

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Is the Sutton Coldfield Town Council fit for Purpose?

To the Editor, Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer

Dear Sir

I am prompted to write following the letter by Olive O’Sullivan in this week’s edition concerning the legal responsibilities affecting refuse collections. While I have great respect for Olive she completely misses the point. The Town Council had an opportunity to show some leadership by organising a service to assist the residents with taking their rubbish to the tip if they were unable to do so themselves. This is a big problem for the elderly and the disabled. This happened in other parts of Birmingham, why not Sutton? We need the Town Council to respond during a crisis, to stand back and say that it is down to the mismanagement by Birmingham is to make a political point which does not help the residents.

I voted against setting up this Council in the first place in line with the Conservative view at the time because I feared it would be a waste of time and money or a ‘Pig and a Poke’ as stated by our MP. Subsequently I have watched the council being run by the majority group as a ‘One Party State’ with elected Town Councillors being told to toe the party line. As a result, it is neither inclusive or representative of all the town’s residents.  Boldmere in particular has suffered at the hands of the Town Council as out lined by Councillor Long in his resent letter. The reasons for this are unclear but one suspects that it is down to the ward electing only one Conservative Councillor in 2016

The Town Council should be run for the benefit of all residents by the residents and should be open and transparent with decisions being taken in public and not in private meetings of the majority group. I also feel that Councillors should not sit on both BCC and SCTC as there is an obvious conflict of interests.

Neighbourhood planning would be a major benefit to the whole Town, Lichfield is a good example of what can be done when a council takes a positive approach. However, in Sutton this has been blocked at every turn. Maybe the problem is that BCC and many Councillors do not want to see neighbourhood plans implemented as it limits their flexibility. I have also noted that Rob Pocock who was a supporter 2 years ago is now not as vocal on the subject.

One can only hope that next year when new Councillors are elected for the Town and City we will see some changes.  The Town Council should represent all residents and spend the precept on improving the town for their benefit. Currently they seem to be obsessed with not funding additional services for Sutton which fall within the BCC remit. As a result, we suffer with dirty streets, pot holes, limited facilities for the disabled etc. while the bulk of the precept sits in the bank. If they cannot spend it on services which the residents want maybe they should give us all a refund.

Yours Truly

Tony Cannon

Footnote,

The Sutton Observer chose not to publish this letter this week and preferred Clare Horrocks’s rather poor letter in my opinion which does her no credit and picks on one aspect of a well measured letter by Councillor Long last week by launching a personalised attack.

Well, I also am not impressed with the attitude of the ‘Planning Committee’ towards ‘Neighbourhood Planning.’ In fact when I raised the subject at a planning meeting the Chair was extremely rude to me as a resident and conservative party member. (Not anymore – if they had bothered to send me a membership card I would have the pleasure of cutting it up but as they haven’t I can’t. No wonder the Conservative Party is shedding members hand over fist – too many of the executive are out of touch, and remote)

Did the Lichfield Councillors have specialised  training on neighbourhood planning – I doubt it –  like most people I am sure if they were unclear on a subject they sought advice. There are a number of planning officers in the town who offered their services to the Town Council for free and were turned down! This council prefers to waste money on unnecessary training, vanity projects and party political objectives. Roll on 2018, I feel it will be as much of a wake up call for SCCA as the General Election was for the National Party (Though they do not seem to have taken much notice.)

Birmingham Bin Strike & Sutton Town Council

Will a petition calling for a Council Tax refund help resolve the dispute – no. Could the Town Council take a lead in looking at alternative ways to handle the collection of refuse and recycling – possibly. It could definitely initiate a programme to support residents who are unable to take their rubbish to the tip. Time to step up and show some leadership I suggest.