Back in September I mentioned the failure of the government to fully reimburse the County council for the money paid to bus companies for travel by bus pass holders. Subsequently I took the issue up with our MP, Norman Lamb, who passed it on to the relevant ministry. In the fullness of time a response was received from someone called Bob Neill MP, who, for those of you like me who’ve never heard of him, is an Essex-boy lawyer who became MP for Chiselhurst in 2006 and is now Understrapper at the Department for Communities and Local Government. A chunk of his reply is worth quoting in full (Formula Grant is what central government pays to councils to carry out their statutory duties): “Formula grant is an unhypothecated block grant. This means that authorities are free to spend it on any service. For this reason, and due to the method of calculating formula grant, particularly floor damping, it is not possible to say how much grant has been provided for any particular service, including concessionary travel, that Norfolk County Council provide”. In other words, if the County want to protect other services which have been subject to massive cuts in funding by the government, they are free to raid the concessionary fares piggy bank.
This begs a number of questions, primarily why isn’t the money hypothecated? After all, it’s simple enough: the bus companies know how much they are owed, the County is required by, and on behalf of, the government to pay the bus companies and so should be reimbursed accordingly; the reimbursement should not be lumped in with the Formula Grant. Other questions like why the government is strangling the UK economy and thereby risking increasing the deficit, are harder to answer. Anyhow, if you haven’t already signed one of the Fair Fares petitions, please do so soon.
On the economic front, your Parish council is doing its bit: we have agreed to reduce the precept for next year from £8,000 to £7,000 without cutting any of our services. The grass will continue to be mown, our assets will continue to be maintained and we will continue to work for the best interests of the community. End of commercial break.
Part of that work includes adding our voice to that of other parishes and community groups bitterly opposed to the establishment of a ‘Reference Area’ over a 1km square chunk of Blakeney marshes as part of the Marine Conservation Zones process. This has been an interesting experience and an object lesson in quangology: while the actual chain of events is not yet clear it would seem that DEFRA, the Ministry responsible for implementing the Act, gave its advisory quango, Natural England, the task of setting up a number of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. They also wanted a number of Reference Areas covering different habitats to be preserved in pristine condition for future comparison. Fair enough so far. But Natural England chose to implement this by outsourcing to a number of specially created organisations – that for the east coast was called Net Gain – which would then be wound up once the work was done, thereby dodging any responsibility. Net Gain divided the eastern seaboard into four overlapping segments with this patch of coast falling into one of the overlap zones though we were ostensibly in what they called the East of England Regional Hub. Great swathes of forest have been felled so that Net Gain could produce various colourful brochures, and many colourless reports, to explain what they have done, all of which emphasise their extensive consultations with stakeholders in the area. Unfortunately, ‘area’ in this case seems to mean ‘within a five mile radius of Lowestoft’. They consulted the big boys: the Crown Estates, the big trawler owners, the aggregates dredgers, the oil and gas companies, etc, but they clearly didn’t give a stuff for local stakeholders, the people who actually live and work in these places. The first thing anyone around here – except for the NWT, who were represented at the Hub by John Hisket, but chose not to share this information – knew about it was a meeting on 3 August at which we were presented with a fait accompli by Natural England. And they are surprised we’re angry?
At the meeting on 2 November called by Blakeney Parish council the various local stakeholders made their views very plain: that the choice of RA4 (the Blakeney/Morston marshes) is not reasonable, not fit for intended purpose, and unenforceable. There is still time to register a protest as public ‘consultation’ continues into 2012 though I suspect a great deal of pressure will need to be applied to counter the inertia inherent in such organisations (plus they’ll probably expect us to find an alternative site for them). Everyone is urged to write to our MP once more to complain about the way we have been treated. If you wonder how many other areas are suffering similar problems, a quick google shows there are numerous complaints all round the coast about lack of consultation, or the unrepresentative nature of the various regional hubs, so we are not totally alone. We are not against the concept of MCZs, nor even of RAs, but we are all united in opposition to RA4; and we are probably less than enthusiastic about the fact that this whole exercise seems to have cost upwards of £3 million. Net Loss perhaps?
The Police were unable to make a personal appearance at our Parish council meeting but sent a brief report. The main item was a smash-and-grab at the Pinkfoot Gallery. This is the second time they have been attacked, probably by the same perpetrator, each time the target being a bronze sculpture. The suspicion is that these robberies are done on behalf of a less-than-scrupulous art collector rather than by some manky scrap metal dealer.
Coincidentally that same night the Police were called to a young people’s disco at the Village Hall. Various wild rumours were circulating around the village about the depraved behaviour of the attendees, but in reality they were as good as gold – no serious drunkenness, no drugs, and the music was turned down on request. What’s more they all packed up and went home before midnight, apart from a small army of cleaners who did a good job of tidying up after them. That the music, even after it had been turned down, almost certainly contravened the Geneva Convention on sonic warfare is merely a sign of the times.
The Police also wanted to remind people to watch out for oil thieves at this time of year; if you see someone wandering around with a large jerrycan and a length of hosepipe a quick call to the local nick might be in order. The new number for non-urgent calls is 101 though, if the jerrycan is clearly full, 999 might be more appropriate.
The next meeting of the Cley Parish council will be on Tuesday 6 December at 7.30pm in the Social Club room – assuming nobody has nicked it in the meantime.