Liberal Democrat Community Newsletter October 2017
We are writing to you, as councillors and campaigners for our interlinked cluster of villages, to keep you informed of local issues involving the District and County Councils. If you would prefer not to receive this email newsletter, please reply asking to be removed from the distribution list. If you know of someone not receiving this newsletter who would like to do so, please ask them to contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HIGH PRAISE FROM OFSTED: EVERYBODY IS SOMEBODY AT MELBOURN VILLAGE COLLEGE
Melbourn Village College was inspected by Ofsted last month – you can read all about it here.
DROP-IN ADVICE SURGERY
We hold drop-in advice surgeries on the first Mondays of the month, 3-4 PM, at the Melbourn Hub, and third Mondays, 3-4 PM, at The Limes, Bassingbourn. Next up: 16 October at The Limes.
AREA CHAMPIONS: £5K EACH FOR MYSTERY POLITICIANS
The County Council’s new unelected ‘Area Champions’, each paid a special allowance of £5K per year to ‘champion’ an entire district, have yet to introduce themselves, and it is not clear what they are meant to do. Susan has lodged a formal question for next week’s County Council meeting, ‘Why have I not yet heard from my Area Champion?’ An officer will be paid to provide an answer. The £25K cost of remunerating Area Champions comes out of the council’s hard-pressed budget.
£250 OR £500? DEPOSITS NOW REQUIRED FOR THIRD-PARTY FUNDED HIGHWAYS SCHEMES
Meanwhile as the County Council’s budget cuts intensify, so the burden on parish councils and residents grows.
County Highways has nowhere near enough funding to do what might be reasonably expected of it, and new rules have been put into place to protect officer time. Aside from the ‘Local Highways Initiative’ scheme, whereby parishes and other ‘third parties’ compete for partial funding of small schemes like parking restrictions and traffic calming, any other new scheme not on the County Highways work list requires 100% third-party funding. All projects require Highways approval, because the highway network is public property.
To begin a conversation on third-party funding, a deposit is now required, with two possible categories: a project requiring design and consultation (£500 deposit) or a project that needs no design or consultation (£250). These are non-refundable deposits, but are credited against schemes that go ahead. Please make use of your local county councillor to help obtain initial guidance.
We continue to use and recommend the County Highways on-line reporting system for any faults on the highways network (including footways, drains, bridges, etc) because this creates a record.
STILL MORE GOVT CUTS – AND TWISTING THE KNIFE LOCALLY
To provide context for the precarious position of funding for public services: Over the last six years Cambridgeshire County Council has made £215 million in ‘savings’, and over the next five years faces a further £100m of ‘pressure on budgets’.
The 2018/19 budget process has started with a £37.5 million gap between the money the Council receives from central government (which is close to eliminating revenue support), from council tax, business rates and the income it makes – and the amount it needs to spend on services. In addition to predicted changes to the rules surrounding ‘Dedicated Schools Grant’, the County is also facing a sharp increase in the number of older people needing care, increasing numbers of children needing home to school transport and increased numbers of vulnerable children needing protection.
There are projects to earn the Council money – including taking advantage of the failing South Cambridgeshire Local Plan to develop housing projects on land the Council owns, as it is doing in Bassingbourn and Shepreth. This approach is described as ‘generating £7.2m in income to protect front line services’.
For the last two years the Council controversially failed to take the 1.99% Council Tax increase permitted by Government, which would have provided £10 million for front line services this year. So while central Government eliminates its revenue support, the Council’s Conservative Group policy is to allow even deeper cuts through Council Tax freeze. Next year’s budget preparation is based on the same premise.
16-18-YEAR-OLDS: TRAVEL TO COLLEGE UNAFFORDABLE FOR SOME
In the wake of the elimination of council transport support for 16-18-year-olds to get to training and education, Royston and District Community Transport’s generous effort to provide daily lifts for sixth formers from Bassingbourn and Whaddon to Meldreth Station has been taken up by far fewer people than anticipated. In August, 21 people were provisionally signed up, but only four are actually using the service.
The service is run strictly at cost – £3.55 per return journey. Understandably, this may not be affordable for some, particularly as the overall cost of getting to Cambridge includes the annual train fare. There is no option of a single ticket for the overall journey, as ticketing is a complex matter regulated by government. We’ve researched the cost of the same lift service by a local taxi firm, but have found that the cost doubles. Other factors deterring people from using the lifts may be timings, since no two college schedules are the same. As a charitable organisation, Royston and District CT cannot run at a loss or profit, and unless patronage rises the scheme will have to be terminated after this term.
How can we ensure that all 16-18-year-olds, now required to be in education or training, actually reach college – as is their right? It’s alarming to note reports from post-16 education providers that intake is gradually shifting to a more affluent profile.
The County Council has no statutory obligation to provide transport support for 16-18-year-olds. The transport subsidies which they offered until September 2016 were ‘discretionary.’ Deep and continuing cuts that have become standard mean that discretionary services fall by the wayside.
OLD POUND COINS: ROYSTON AND DISTRICT COMMUNITY TRANSPORT HAPPY TO TAKE
The old pound coin ceases to be legal tender on 16th October. Remember you can still pay them into a post office or bank or, if you prefer, you can donate them to RDCT and who will pay them in for you! More about RDCT here.
ARE YOU PAYING COUNCIL TAX UNNECESSARILY?
There is evidence that many people are paying Council Tax when they do not have to. Exemptions are laid out here.
HELP IN A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS: FIRST RESPONSE
A new emergency mental health service is now in operation for Cambridgeshire residents. If you feel you are in a mental health crisis, please ring 111, option 2.
This ‘First Response’ service is clearly laid out here – well worth a look.
Thanks to all those who signed the petition opposing £1 million in cuts to Cambridgeshire Children’s Centres, there will now be a public debate on the issue at a full meeting of the County Council, taking place at Shire Hall at 10:30am on Tuesday October 17th. This means that every county councillor will get a vote on the future of our Children’s Centres.
Please send an email to your County Councillor telling them how much the community they represent values having a local Children’s Centre. If you have personal experience of using your local Children’s Centre, please tell them about it. You can find the contact details of your councillor by entering your postcode here.
If you haven’t yet done so, you can still add your name to the petition. Every signature adds to the pressure on the councillors. Sign here.
HOME-START ROYSTON AND SOUTH CAMBRIDGESHIRE
Home-Start has just held its AGM. This wonderful organisation supports families in our community; input at an early stage into young people and their carers’ lives helps to guarantee better outcomes later. The HomeStart team has identified that it needs to raise £140,000 in the coming year to ensure that the projects they have in place can go ahead. They are always looking for volunteers to work with their families. Please get in touch with Philippa if you are interested and would like any further information, or visit Home-Start’s website.
LETTER TO THE ROYSTON CROW: BREXIT AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
Melbourn resident and small business owner Keith Turner’s letter in this week’s Royston Crow sets out concern about the consequences of Brexit on opportunities for young people to work and study in the European Union. ‘How terribly harsh it feels on our young people to deny them the rights enjoyed by their parents.’ It is free to log in and read the Crow on line.
Over the past several years the ‘Melbourn Division Oil Club’ has been in place to help people access the best prices on household heating oil. There is no joining fee, and no obligation to make repeat orders. At the end of each financial year, the Club’s bulk buyer, Agricole Oil, provides a rebate totalling 5% of the year’s collective expenditure, and this is donated to a community group. Last year’s rebate went to Home-Start.
If any Whaddon or Bassingbourn residents are interested in such a scheme, run on the same basis, please contact Susan.
If you haven’t used the service before and would like to learn more, or give it a try, please contact our bulk buyer: Jeremy Cole, Agricole Oil, Tel 01954 719 452 / 07860 904 045 or email email@example.com
DOES YOUR HOME LEAK MONEY?
New easier to use compact thermal imaging cameras are available now from South Cambs, to borrow free of charge for the purpose of locating where heat is leaking out of your home. Ideal for taking action on insulation issues and draught proofing. To book, call 03450 450 063 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The cameras have an operating manual accessible online and brief training sessions are available provided free of charge. Please contact Jose for more information.
RURAL TRANSPORT HUBS
The Greater Cambridge Partnership (formerly known as the City Deal) has shortlisted six villages to go forward for possible funding to become Rural Transport Hubs. In our locality Meldreth and Shepreth are on the list, by virtue of their having rail stations. Very little else is known about what the hubs would look like; we are told that potential host villages themselves need to feed back to GCP what are their issues and what can be done to improve transport connectivity. We would welcome any comments and suggestions from you to feed back to the GCP team. Please contact Philippa or Jose.
MELDRETH, SHEPRETH AND FOXTON COMMUNITY RAIL PARTNERSHIP
Behind the scenes, the Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton Community Rail Partnership has been able to bring benefit to the community. You can read about it here.
LONGER TRAINS, PROTECTED CYCLE RACKS & GATES THAT WORK
While the new Thameslink timetable doesn’t come into force until December 2018, new eight-car trains will begin running in November, gradually working their way to standard. Due to platform extensions on the Cambridge bound sides at Shepreth and Foxton only, all trains at Meldreth will have selective door opening, as will south-bound trains at Shepreth and Foxton. We are told that this will be clearly announced by visual display and verbal announcements. The design will be a metro tube style, with advantages and disadvantages.
New cycle parking coming to Shepreth and Meldreth: These will be covered cycle park facilities with CCTV protection.
Foxton Level Crossing pedestrian gates: It is reported that these have been working very well (touch wood!)
PROTECTING OUR RIGHTS OF WAY: COSTLY ARGUMENTS
Last year, Network Rail proposed closing two ‘minor rural’ level crossings in our area. This was part of a regional exercise with a fixed target for a number of closures, for unclear purpose. In our area, the proposal to close one of the two pedestrian gates at Foxton Level Crossing (officially called ‘Barrington Road) was successfully quelled after much effort, and strong objections were lodged against closure of the crossing just south of Meldreth Station Bridge, that leads to Fieldgate nursery. Unfortunately, Network Rail’s formal recommendation to the Secretary of State included closure of the Meldreth crossing.
Now, County Council Rights of Way officers, supported by Council lawyers, are being deployed to fight Network Rail’s plan for this and other closures. A 20-day public inquiry is scheduled to commence on 28 November. One cash-strapped public body, the County Council, is spending precious resource defending public rights of way against another public body, which didn’t have enough funding to extend platforms on both sides of the tracks at Shepreth and Foxton, and not at all at Meldreth.
Why are parking charges so low (or free) at our stations? These nearly unique arrangements were negotiated with the train operating company several years ago, as a gesture of goodwill in return for the station platform gardening at all three of our local stations.
Last year, the Meldreth, Shepreth and Foxton Community Rail Partnership secured a grant from the Association of Community Rail Partnerships to replace all our station tubs with a weather-proof variety, following the disintegration of some of the old tubs – which had created safety concerns. The old tubs have now gone, and the new ones will be installed shortly, to be planted up by volunteers. If you might like to help out at any of the stations, for what is light but rewarding and appreciated work, please get in touch.
The Cam Vale Bus User Group met recently, attended by 28 people who made their way on foot or with Royston and District Community Transport, and with apologies from another dozen – reflecting the concern felt amongst people for whom bus transport is a lifeline service. The new fare for the 127/128 services, £6.00 for a return journey from Meldreth to Royston, and £4.50 from Bassingbourn, while understood to be at ‘industry standard’, is unaffordable for many people. The new operator said that patronage was down 30% as a result, and pointed out also that in spite of a recent County Council review of subsidized buses, in Bassingbourn the council continues to run two buses on the same route, thereby undermining potential.
JOB OPPORTUNITY: MAYOR’S CHIEF OF STAFF
The Mayor has thus far committed a lot of his available money – for example, £6 million to investigate the viability of a University in Peterborough – without recruiting the staff he needs to drive the projects forward. He has nevertheless announced that he needs a Chief of Staff. The Combined Authority Scrutiny Committee, of which Philippa is a member, are keeping a close watch on how the Mayor is bringing the Devolution Deal to this region.
FYLING SCOTSMAN PASSING THROUGH 21 OCTOBER
Here is an early heads up for Flying Scotsman which is working a one-way steam trip from Norwich to London on Saturday 21st October – scheduled to pass through Meldreth at 16:19.
MELBOURN HUB ACTIVITIES
A whole range of activities are happening at the thriving Melbourn Hub, including the Halloween Spooky Spectacular over Halloween weekend (end of half-term), and all posted on the Hub’s Facebook page.
ANY ITEMS WE CAN HELP TO RAISE?
We would be delighted to address any concerns you may have, or help raise awareness of issues affecting our community via this newsletter.
WHAT WE STAND FOR
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. Learn more about or join the Liberal Democrats at http://www.libdems.org.uk
Philippa, Jose and Susan
Philippa Hart, District Councillor for Meldreth and Shepreth
email@example.com, Tel 01763 261255
Jose Hales, District Councillor for Melbourn, Heydon and the Chishills
firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel 01763 221058
Susan van de Ven, County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon
email@example.com, www.susanvandeven.com, Tel 07905325574