Out-of-touch Conservatives running Herts County Council have launched an attempt to drown local media in unwanted press releases.
The Liberal Democrat opposition highlighted over 2000 press releases on locality budgets sent out in less than 3 years, at the budget meeting of the county council, and pointed out that most local newspapers and radio stations have said they don't want them.
The Tories hit back in the only way they know how - by sending even more, clogging up inboxes across the county. 22 came out the next day, then a record 62 the day after.
"We know virtually no-one reads them - why waste money producing them?" said LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan.
Councillor Mark Watkin, the opposition spokesperson for Education, challenged Frances Button, the executive member for Education to explain how services for specific groups such as high achieving children with autism who cannot cope with schools will be addressed. She failed to do so, instead she repeated the standard response that they could either attend a Moderate Learning Difficulty School, or have home help or attend a mainstream school, none of which will adequately meet their needs.
"What parents of such children have pointed out time and time again is that there needs to be a special unit or school where these children can be educated. The new scheme for providing Special Needs Education does not allow for this", stated Cllr Mark Watkin. "There could be hundreds of such children across the County but they are submerged under the needs of larger groups who receive all the funding."
Ringway, the County Councils new highways contractor, has again come under fire from county councillors.
At a Full Council meeting at County Hall, Hertford, senior Ringway Directors heard a barrage of complaints from opposition councillors who questioned the Conservative Cabinet member for Highways (Cllr Stuart Pile) over their poor performance since they took over responsibility for maintaining Hertfordshire roads on 1st October last year.
"I was pleased that almost every opposition councillor was able to air their concerns, and give examples, about the way Ringway had failed to deliver the services we are paying them for. I was disappointed that Conservative councillors failed to raise complaints despite me knowing they have similar worries about the contractors and performance. It's almost as if they did not want to seen to be criticising a multi million pound company that they appointed to fix our roads." said Liberal Democrat Leader and Highways Spokesman Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst.
Liberal Democrats kept up their pressure on the ruling Conservative group at county hall on Tuesday.
The LibDem alternative budget, which was balanced and fully costed, allowed for up to one-third of all lights currently going off at midnight, to be turned back on, with the lights chosen by the local county councillor for each area.
Opposition Liberal Democrat County Councillors have hit out at the waste of money on issuing over 2,500 Locality Budget Press releases in under three years.
The Press Releases from County Hall publicise grants made from each members £10,000 locality budget. They a range from small grants of £50 to over £5,000 but each gets a press release drafted by officer that then has to be approved and issued to all of Hertfordshire's papers and other media outlets.
Liberal Democrat Opposition Leader Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst (Central Watford and Oxhey), "We have long thought that the Conservatives spend too much on corporate self-publicity with 21 staff and over £3m spent last year, and this proves it. If councillors have decided to make a grant under the councils localism agenda why cant they just tell the press themselves, if they want to - why employ extra staff to do this?."
In a shock move, the Liberal Democrats have demanded urgent answers to allegations of fraud made by a whistle blower.
Chris White, Liberal Democrat councillor for St Albans Central, recently met with a former highways engineer, who handed him some documentation. This documentation included paperwork from county council officials which admitted:
- falsification of records
- use of inferior materials instead of contracted materials
- falsification of key performance indicators reported to the council
- false 'close down' of jobs
There was also a letter from a senior county council official which said: "We have considered the situation carefully and it has been agreed that out files will be handed over to the Police so that they can consider what action, if any, they wish to take."
Speaking about the decision of the Secretary of State to call in the New Barnfield incinerator application, LibDem county councillor Malcolm Cowan said "In a mad world, a note of sanity has crept in. Now at last the merits or otherwise of the plan can be rationally examined by a planning inspector. Having seen the strong planning arguments put forward against New Barnfield by no less than 3 district councils, not to mention the arguments put forward by the local groups, I would not bet anything on the scheme going through."
Statements made by Labour councillors at the council meeting on 22nd January during the debate on Flexible Tenancies for Council Tenants were branded as disgraceful by Lib Dem Group Leader, Tony Skottowe. "The clear impression given by all the speakers from Labour was that all council tenants faced eviction at the end of 5 years as a result of these changes", said Cllr Skottowe. "At no time did anyone from Labour say that the new Flexible Tenancies will only apply to NEW tenancies. To make these sorts of comments could cause huge distress and concern to many elderly and vulnerable residents - just the sort of people Labour claim to be concerned about. What is needed is for this policy to be handled with sensitivity and compassion and we will hold the administration to account if this is not done", he concluded.
Local LibDems are angry that the Tories running Welwyn Hatfield council have missed an opportunity to help house-buyers in the district. The Local Authority Mortgage Scheme (LAMS) provides support to first-time buyers. The county council, who are leading the scheme, provide £1m per district to make deposits affordable. Welwyn Hatfield are one of just two districts in Herts not to join in. Contrary to what councillors were told in papers for the cancelled council meeting on Monday, the district does not have to put up any money and thus cannot be subject to a legal challenge.
"The council would have been able to have its name on a Welwyn Hatfield scheme of its own at no cost, but even that was not enough - or did they fail to ask the basic questions that I did?" said LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan. "Either way, it reduces help for people wanting to buy here, and that of course makes it harder to sell. So we miss out twice over."