Your chance to stand for the county council

Think you could do better in providing local services?…..well here’s your chance.

All six seats representing the Richmondshire District area on North Yorkshire County Council
are up for election on May 4 – and a special briefing session is being set up for election
agents and prospective candidates in March.

The county council is based in Northallerton and is responsible for some of the big spending local services such as education, social care and transports.

Local people are being urged to make a difference to the communities they live in and consider signing up as candidates for the May local elections.

The nearest councillors for this area at the moment are:

  • Helen Grant, Central Richmondshire division, NY Independent.
  • Carl Les, Catterick Bridge division, Conservative.
  • Stuart Parsons, Richmond division, NY Independent.

Anyone thinking of standing as a candidate – or acting as an agent – can attend to get more information on the process and what the role entails.

It takes place on Thursday, 2 March at 2pm at Mercury House, Station Road, Richmond.

Anyone wishing to attend should contact the Elections Team on 01748 901018 – and advise which County Division they are interested in as nomination packs will be distributed that day.

Councillors face new rules on allowances – how much is your councillor worth to you?

An independent panel has put forward a plan which could see some councillors on Richmondshire District Council receiving less from the public purse.

Currently each councillor is entitled to a flat rate allowance of £3,000 then that is topped up with allowances for taking on specific responsibilities as well as expenses for costs incurred such as meals and mileage.

But an Independent Remuneration Panel made up of people appointed to look at the way the authority rewards its councillors has suggested changes which would increase the basic allowance but restrict other expenses.

The most controversial of the changes is to remove the allowance of £14.99 per month for broadband access. A suggestion which has angered some councillors because they are required to access all official documents using their council issued ipads.

You can see their full discussion on the suggestion – described by one of the councillors as ‘tawdry’ – in this video from the meeting.

The councillors failed to agree on the panel’s recommendations at the last full council meeting of 2016 and so the issue will be considered again in February.

In the meantime, we took a look at the amount each is currently claiming.

The highest level of allowance and expenses goes to the Conservative leader of the council Yvonne Peacock who received £10,148.53 in the last year that figures have been published for.

The councillor who received the smallest amount of money in the financial year 2015-16 was Catterick’s Simon Young. He received just £299.47 but was only elected to the seat in February 2016.

The Richmond ward councillors were rewarded in that financial year (2015-16) as follows:
Linda Curren 3,903.87
Louise Dickens 1,766.75 (elected in Sept 2015)
Stuart Parsons 3,225.90
John Robinson 4,954.44
Clive World 3,260.53

The full list of councillors and the expenses received can be seen here .(Those councillors without details of ward or party are no longer serving on the Council.)

* Please note, the figures relate to Richmondshire District Council only. Some councillors also sit on North Yorkshire County Council, or other bodies, and so could also receive allowances and expenses from those authorities separately.

“Little boys and girls pounce on the food because they are so hungry”

It’s the moment in the blockbuster film of this year, I Daniel Blake, which brings home the enormity of the desperate situation the lead female character finds herself in.

Finally reaching the end of a winding food bank queue, the young mum is overwhelmed by the availability of food and is so hungry she can’t help herself from opening a tin and stuffing the cold, unappetising food into her mouth.

When this scene played out to a packed screening at The Station a few months ago, there was much rummaging in pockets for hankies, suppressed sniffles and clearing of throats.

But what the film followers experienced as fiction that evening is also playing out for real close to home. At a meeting last week, Richmond west ward councillor Linda Curran told her colleagues about the scenes she had witnessed at Richmond’s food bank, the StoreHouse on Victoria Road.

“We are talking about young families with young children who are being pushed into poverty, basically, and into hunger. I’ve been with quite a few families to the food bank and seen little boys and girls pounce on the food that’s available because they are so hungry.”

StoreHouse confirmed there had been a recent sharp increase in the number of people looking for help.

StoreHouse co-ordinator Paige Rutherford said: “We have seen a large increase over the past month or so of people accessing us. A normal week, we tend to see approximately 15 clients using us (which could feed anywhere from 15-20 people). Recently we’ve been seeing about 20-25 clients weekly which feed 30+ people. In comparison to large cities, this may seem a very small number, but for a town our size, and based on our normal weekly averages, this is a huge increase.

“Our increase seems to be coming from the choice between heating or food (one factor, but a fairly key one at this time of year).”

Councillor Curran believes that part of the issue pushing families into poverty has come about due to major policy changes from both local and national government relating to the way benefits are dealt with and the timing of when the money is paid out.

The topic is complex and multi-layered one which can be a baffling world of new terminology and processes just as the Ken Loach film exposes. The language used and systems deployed make public debate of the issue a minefield for people outside the system, a scary world of confusing new terms and undecipherable symbols.

For example, a process known as ‘sanctioning’ translates to mean that benefit money is withheld from people if a representative of the Department for Work and Pensions decides so. Richmondshire has the unhappy ‘honour’ of being at the top of the league for the whole of the UK for sanctions. In other words, as a proportion, more people claiming benefits in this area have them taken away leaving them without any financial support.

This month it was revealed that the area has also topped the league for homelessness in Yorkshire for the first time too, although it should be noted that that’s an accolade the council doesn’t accept as an accurate assessment.

What happens to those people left with no money?

Well no-one knows for sure because no-one collects the information. For some it could be good news – they simply don’t need help any more or maybe they have moved from the area? perhaps they got jobs? became homeless? or died? Statistics alone can’t answer those questions – and, it turns out, neither can the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request seeking some more information about what happened those local benefit claimants who have been ‘sanctioned’, the DWP said:

“The Act (FoI) does not require the Department to provide opinions or explanations, generate answers to questions, or create or obtain information it does not hold. We can confirm the Department does not hold any recorded information that could address your specific request at these questions. “

Imposed from a national decision, this  region was one of those selected as a pilot for the controversial flagship benefit policy, Universal Credit. That change was fully introduced across most of Richmondshire on 29th June this year.

Since that point, all new claims and changes in circumstances for housing benefits for working age people (with some minor exceptions) have been transferred to the DWP to be dealt with as Universal Credits claims.

The district council admits “there have been some teething problems in dealing with claims by the DWP leading to delays by the DWP in addressing claims” and the figures show there’s been a drop in the numbers of people locally receiving housing benefit – down from 2,072 in April to 1,778 in November.

But the changes don’t stop at nationally administered benefits. In order to avoid any potentially unpopular rise in the level of council tax  that householders have to pay, the district council reduced the level of subsidy available to people on low incomes to help pay their tax bills. There’s now 2,264 receiving that subsidy compared to 2,333 in April this year. According to councillor Curran, some families found that the increased Universal Credit they were entitled to pushed them into a position where they owed more council tax.

She called for action to ensure that people wouldn’t be faced with higher council tax bills in April while they waited for benefits changes to catch up with the shortfall in October.

The issue is sure to arise again during committee meetings of the council when taxes are set again next year but that still leaves those currently going through the labyrinthian systems with more pressing needs and the food bank operators are looking for help right now.

Rutherford appealed for donations: “We are definitely still looking for donations. Due to the increase of demand, or stock has gone down and a lot of our reserves have been used. We have had a quite a few generous donations recently, but we will continue to need more food to meet the demand over the coming weeks and months. We also accept financial donations – cash or direct debit/bank transfer if people prefer to donate this way.”

* The StoreHouse will be open on Wednesday, December 21st but then remains closed over the Christmas break. It will then reopen Wednesday January 4th, and be open full time again as usual from the 5th. There’s also more information about the food bank, including a list of the items required, at the website here.

 

Council to give away more than 0.5M in new grants schemes

Two new grant schemes – with a combined pot of £570,000 – have been set up by Richmondshire councillors.

The District Council says it is looking to help both large scale economic projects and smaller community initiatives through the two funding streams.

They form part of the council’s Economic Action Plan which was approved by members of Corporate Board earlier this year. That sets out key measures to drive forward economic growth in the district over the next four years.

Council leader, Yvonne Peacock:

Economic growth is one of the key priorities of the council and our action plan identifies the areas we believe should be addressed to achieve them.

These two new funds are a vital part of that action plan and may be used to kick start a new scheme or develop one that is already in place. It is an exciting opportunity for businesses and local groups to push forward plans that will benefit the district as a whole.

Members of Corporate Board approved the setting up of the two funds on Tuesday night. The money is being found from what the council calls its Taxpayers Reserve.

The Economic Growth Fund will award £300,000 to allocate to projects that are looking to help boost the Richmondshire economy by investing in the district – to a maximum of £100,000 awarded per project.

The Social Fund – which has £270,000 in its pot – has been ring fenced for smaller schemes in the authority’s five housing growth areas of Colburn, Hipswell, Scotton, Richmond and Leyburn. Up to £50,000 per project can be awarded – with schemes expected from schools, sports club and community groups.

Full nformation on the specific criteria under which the awards will be made and the closing dates for applications have not yet been made public although we have requested further details and will share here in due course.

Update: There’s more information in the appendix of the report which went to the committee which can viewed here. It includes a requirement of 70% match funding for the community scheme.

In the meantime, more information on how to access these funds – which open for business on November 1 – can be found by contacting the community engagement team on 01748 901037.

Richmond councillor joins hunger strike protest

Richmond west councillor Stuart Parsons is one of of two elected representatives reportedly carrying out a hunger strike to protest about “abysmal” treatment of vulnerable elderly residents.

The York Press reports that North York Moors farmer John Clark launched the protest outside County Hall, in Northallerton, and was joined by Parsons, an Independent member for Richmond after the pair said they had exhausted all other avenues to raise their concerns about the authority’s “abuse” of people it was legally responsible for.

The pair, who have served on councils in the county for a total of 48 years, told the paper they would continue the “extreme action” for as long as it took North Yorkshire County Council to implement sweeping changes to processes surrounding the care of those who were unable to complain.

You can read the full story here.

* If you’ve had issues with the County Council’s care, we’d be interested in hearing from you via the comments below or in confidence via RichmondNoticeboard@gmail.com.

Wanted: Mechanics for council contract

Councillor Ian Threlfall (left) and Colin Eales, Richmondshire District Council maintenance team leader with the housing maintenance workforce and the new fleet

Councillor Ian Threlfall (left) and Colin Eales, Richmondshire District Council maintenance team leader with the housing maintenance workforce and the new fleet

Richmondshire District Council is holding an open day as part of its search for a company to look after its fleet of light vehicles.

The authority says it is is looking for an experienced and competent service provider to service, maintain, repair and, carry out statutory inspections to a mix of around 41 vans used by the council.

Interested suppliers must register to attend the September 23 event – but can drop into Mercury House, Richmond at any time that day from 10am until 1pm.

Council officers will be on hand at the event to give out more information on the contract.

For more information contact Amanda Dyson on 01748 900952 or Gill Roberts on 01748 900955.

Another Tory win for the Catterick ward

Richmondshire District Council’s Catterick ward has a second new councillor.

Stephen Wyrill (The Conservative Party Candidate) was elected to fill the vacancy in the ward yesterday polling 228 votes.

He beat: David Coates (Liberal Democrats) who polled 203 votes; Robbie Kelly (Green Party) who polled 3; Jill McMullon (Independent) who polled 112.

The election was prompted by the death of Tony Pelton.

It is the second time this year that local people in Catterick have gone to the polls to elect a new district councillor – earlier this year Simon Young was voted on to the council following the death of Derek Sankey.

For further information call the election helpline on 01748 901018.

Filming at the council chamber

Tonight’s (Tuesday’s) full council meeting will be streamed live online. The debate and decisions made available for anyone to view or to catch up on at a time more convenient to their lives.

It’s a service we’ve been running here for several years now following a campaign to be allowed access which was one of several such actions across the UK which resulted in a change in the law to allow anyone to film or record local authority public meetings.

And we’ve been lucky to have volunteer help until recently, with Lorraine Hodgson behind the camera at many of the meetings. The only problem (for us) is – Lorraine enjoyed it so much, she decided to stand as a councillor and has now been elected.

This means we have vacancies for new volunteers to help with the filming – all the equipment and training is provided, all that’s required is the enthusiasm to make local decision-making more visible for the community.

Lorraine explained why she took part: “Helping Richmond Noticeboard film at Richmondshire District Council meetings has been fun and informative. Why not give it a go and help inform local residents of Richmondshire what is going on in their council meetings. It’s easy to do – if I managed to do it anyone can!”

If you would like to find out more, take a look at the coverage tonight via the Facebook page or Twitter @RichmondNYorks, pop into the council meeting after 6.30pm at Mercury House and drop us an email with any questions to RichmondNoticeboardATgmail.com.

Richmond CCTV: More time needed to look at the detail

Moves to re-instate the CCTV to Richmond town centre and other areas are to be looked into by a second council committee before a final decision is take on its viability.

The scrutiny committee were this evening given an update on the work which has been going on behind the scenes which included an offer from the MOD to undertake the monitoring of any new camera network – for free.

Although the councillors recorded a formal ‘thanks’ for the offer, there were also fears expressed that the offer might not be as open-ended as it first appeared and risked leaving the council footing a bill for equipment and being unable to afford a charge for monitoring later on.

There were also concerns expressed as to whether Richmond’s shop keepers, as major beneficiaries of the crime fighting initiative, would actually stump up cash to buy the cameras rather than it falling on local tax payers.

The options will now be investigated in more depth by the council’s task group and reported back at some future date.

You can watch the full debate about CCTV on the video clip here.

20p charge to spend a penny at Nuns Close toilets

If you need to spend a penny at the Nuns Close toilets in Richmond it will cost you 20p from July.

The new charge is part of a  six month trial to levy charges at public toilets in Richmondshire to assess whether charges should be rolled out across the district.

Councillors agreed this to test the scheme at three facilities – each with different usage which they hope will give them a broad view of how charging would affect all 14 public toilets in the district.

A press release issued today states:

Members of the Corporate Board were last night (Tuesday April 5) told that levying a charge of 20p a visit could generate another £157,000 in income for the authority.
In the last 12 months the 14 locations – in Hawes, Reeth, Richmond, Muker, Leyburn, Middleham, Gunnerside, Keld, Catterick, Bainbridge, Grinton and Langthwaite – were used 987,659 times.

“As part of our on going need to find savings various options for the future of these public toilets have been explored,” said Leader of the Council, Councillor Yvonne Peacock.

“By bringing in a small 20p a visit charge we can raise an additional £157,000 in income after overheads have been removed – this is not an amount we can ignore. It is relatively affordable and in line with charges made by other local authorities.

“Introducing charging will mean we can continue to provide public toilets in these locations and may mean other essential services do not need to be cut.”

The pilot scheme will run from July until December this year at Nuns Close in Richmond, Middleham and Langthwaite toilets. Once the results have been analysed work to roll the scheme out at all 14 facilities will begin.

The decision by Corporate Board still needs to be ratified by members of Full Council later this month.