Hebden Royd Budget 2010/11

Hebden Royd Town Hall

Last week Hebden Royd Town Council agreed the budget for 2010/11, which is almost entirely funded by council tax payers in our area. The budget agreed is a total of £277,100, up from £255,600 in 2009/10. Taking into account our bank balance at the end of the financial year, and the grant of £8,941 from Calderdale MBC, the cost to a council tax payer in a band D property is estimated to be £58.64 over the whole year, a 0.7% increase on last year.

All the Lib Dem councillors supported this budget, and I personally am extremely happy with the final figures that were put together. Many Labour councillors also supported it, although a few – predictably – wanted a larger raise. Neither of the independent councillors were present at the meeting.

I have campaigned in the past for low council tax increases, and keeping the increase to less than 1% without any cuts is a great achievement. The country is only just emerging from the recession, and many people are struggling to pay bills, so a raise of much more than this would be hard to justify.

So what do the council tax payers of Hebden Royd get for their hard earned cash?

The biggest spend outside of staff salaries is the £60,000 allocation for grants for community groups, a £5,000 increase from last year. These grants are extremely popular and enable many groups in the area to complete small projects. £25,000 has been allocated for environmental projects, and £10,000 for Christmas lights – although a large chunk of this will be taken up simply storing and putting up/taking down the lights we already have. £10,500 will go towards celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of Hebden Bridge this year, and £3,000 for the associated twinning events, as residents of both Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise (France) and Warstein (Germany) are visiting over the course of the year. The £30,000 we already have allocated for resurfacing the unadopted Central Street will remain, although we are struggling to get the help required from Calderdale MBC to see this one through. To balance the spend across the council area, £9,500 has been allocated for Mytholmroyd Memorial Gardens.

Finally – and as chair of the committee in question I am particularly pleased – we have increased the allotments budget to £7,500, in order to support three prospective projects across Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge which will hopefully be coming to fruition in 2010 and 2011. There is a real desire for new allotments in the area, not least because the majority of our houses don’t have gardens, and I’m hopeful that we will finally manage to get some more plots available. Allotments are one of the few things for which Town and Parish Councils are actually responsible. The lack of them is something we can’t blame on Calderdale MBC!

In the past, the budget has been decided at a somewhat acrimonious meeting of full council. This year, each committee made a recommendation for their own budget, and the Strategy & Review committee pulled together all of the recommendations, made a few tweaks, and produced a recommended budget for full council to approve. This worked extremely well, and enabled both Lib Dem and Labour councillors to have their say. However, the debate approving the budget at full council was rather short. I personally would have liked a longer debate with perhaps the chair of each committee outlining their plans rather than just waving through the recommendations. It worked out well in the end, though.

One final note – again this year, no one from the local media turned up to the budget meeting. Perhaps the discussion on how to spend over a quarter of a million pounds of tax payers money wasn’t of any interest to them?

Spotted in Salford

On a walk through Salford this morning I spotted my first David Cameron election poster, most pleasingly daubed with an alternative slogan underneath. It was a nice surprise as although the Tories aren’t exactly popular in Salford, it’s hardly a bastion of Liberal Democracy either. Good to see that, despite the myriad of parodies of this poster appearing online, old fashioned graffiti is still around.

I was only passing through central Salford to get to a friend’s flat, but I was amazed at the variety of interesting buildings to be found there, in various states of repair. I just had to keep taking photos and have posted the most interesting below. For anyone interested in architecture, I can certainly recommend a visit to Salford, particularly Chapel Street, and preferably with a copy of the SE Lancashire Pevsner to hand.

Former Police Station
Independent Chapel, with modern buildings looming overhead
Salford Education Offices
Salford Cathedral (RC)
Salford Matrix Club - some parts of Salford still living up to the stereotype
Church of St. Philip and Manchester & Salford Savings Bank
Salford Lads' Club, opened by Baden-Powell and immortalised by the famous photo of The Smiths standing in its doorway

Expenses and attendance

A certain “they’re only in it for themselves” attitude seems to infuse many people’s attitudes to politicians these days. A few months after being elected as a councillor, I went on a trip – at my own expense – to Hebden Bridge’s twin town of Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise. A friend’s immediate reaction when I mentioned that I was going was to ask if it was a council-funded jolly. In fact it cost me £75.

To set the record straight, the only Hebden Royd Town Councillor who receives an allowance is the mayor, with the deputy mayor also receiving some limited expenses. Additionally, the council occasionally pays for some councillors to attend training courses.

Just to make it completely clear, I have added a page to this website detailing what I have and (more frequently) have not received as a councillor, including a list of trips attended as a councillor at my own expense.

I have also added details of my council attendance. This is a somewhat thornier issue for town councillors! I am sad to say that I have never seen all eighteen Hebden Royd Town Councillors present in the council chamber at the same time. Councillor attendance records are published in the Town Talk newsletter, available from the council website. My own attendance is pretty good, although I didn’t quite manage 100% last year (2009) due to a holiday and meetings clashing with other things. Still, 21 out of 23 meetings is not bad. Congratulations to Cllr. Lesley Jones (Lib Dem) and Cllr. Dave Young (Labour) who both managed 100% attendance. At my suggestion, the latest figures list full council and committee attendance separately.

It is interesting to see that committee attendance ranges from 0 (two councillors) to 22 meetings (Cllr. Robin Dixon). Full council attendance also ranges from 2 to 11. Two meetings a year is the minimum attendance necessary to stay on the council as, by law, if a councillor does not attend for six months then he or she is automatically thrown off. Even though we’re all volunteers on Hebden Royd, in my opinion anyone with such a poor attendance record should consider very seriously whether they are adequately representing the people who voted for them. Of course, if some councillors attend no committee meetings, the net result is that the rest of us have to attend more.

What about Calderdale councillors? Some councils, for example nearby Kirklees, publish very comprehensive details of who is paid how much for doing what. Unfortunately Calderdale’s equivalent page is much less impressive and, importantly, doesn’t name names. For any given councillor, it is extremely hard to work out how much they have received. I am a strong believer in open democracy, and find it quite shocking that this information is not readily available on Calderdale’s website. If anyone else has better luck looking for it then please let me know!

2010: A great year for Hebden Bridge

Chris at the bridge

As 2010 begins, I am looking forward to a great year for Hebden Bridge for many reasons, but two in particular, both of which involve Hebden Royd Town Council.

Firstly, it is the 500th anniversary of the bridge from which the town takes its name. Well, approximately. The bridge was built in c.1510, so we’re having our celebrations this year. It replaced an earlier wooden bridge and has been repaired several times since. If you’re visiting, look out for three carved stones which mark the repairs. The Victorians raised the parapet (an early example of health and safety?) but apart from that it has remained largely unchanged.

Hebden Royd Town Council convened a working party, which has subsequently morphed into a committee comprising Councillors, including myself, and many other key people from the town. We are working to improve the bridge’s environment, including reducing the size of some of the self-seeded trees in the river, improvements to Old Gate, and flags and banners – very sensitively designed – to be installed for a limited period later in the year.

Of course, many local people and organisations are organising events this year. Either special events to commemorate the anniversary, or regular annual events with a special 2010 theme. The committee has done its best to co-ordinate events so that, for example, a children’s choir doesn’t try to sing from the bridge at the same time as a civil war re-enactment takes place. The calendar is kept up-to-date at the Hebden Bridge 500 website. Hebden Royd Town Council is organising several events itself, notably those involving the visitors from our twin towns of St. Pol (France) and Warstein (Germany), as well as a special commemoration event on 20 June which will be… Well, let’s just say it will certainly involve a surprise or two.

The other exciting event which is happening this year is the transfer of the town hall in Hebden Bridge from Calderdale Council’s ownership to a local community-based organisation formed to take over its management. Prior to 1974, the town hall was owned by Hebden Royd Urban District council. It then passed into Calderdale’s hands, and has been allowed to slowly deteriorate ever since. Hebden Royd Town Council is the main tenant, with offices as well as regular use of the council chamber and meeting rooms. However, several surrounding parishes also meet there, Calderdale have some offices, there is a small business in an attic room, and Hebden Bridge Youth Theatre/Light Opera use the upstairs hall at the back.

There were two applications for the asset transfer process – Hebden Bridge Community Association applied to take over the whole site, and the Youth Theatre/Light Opera put in their own bid for the rear part only. Fortunately the community application won through, and is one of the first asset transfers of this type to be approved in the country. I know the trustees will work hard with all existing tenants in their exciting plans to refurbish the existing building, and ultimately expansion into the neighbouring car park. As part of this, an Audit of Internal Architectural Historical Characteristics [PDF] was carried out of all the nooks and crannies of the place. It’s a fascinating read for architecture fanatics like myself. Spot the reference to the wonderful first floor Victorian gents which has survived.

Hebden Royd Town Council recently became a member of the community association – a little on the late side, I felt, but better late than never. I have personally been a member since the association was launched.

So, to summarise, it’s a great year to visit, and for two of the town’s best known landmarks. Come and see what’s happening – although probably best wait until all the snow and ice has melted first!

Edit 8 January 2010: Removed an incorrect statement about HRTC paying rent to the Community Association for use of the building. Janet Battye has pointed out that as part of the asset transfer, Calderdale Council have agreed to pay the rent due for parish councils.