We have a new Clerk! Mrs Louise Stevens, Clerk to the Letheringsett with Glandford Parish Council for the last six or seven years, applied and was gratefully snapped up. Assuming I don’t manage to scare her off in the meantime, her first meeting will be on the 3 December. Bless.
While we have several projects on the go, the biggest has to be the planned dredging and restoration of the old Quay area which has become badly overgrown and silted since we last did it in 1995. Back then life was simple: a word from Environment, consent from the NNDC and a deal with the Wildlife Trust to use their borrow pit and off we went; the finished product looked good and nobody/nothing was injured in the process. Scroll forward to 2013 and it’s a whole different story, most of which I have bored you with before, so I’ll just add that we are still having major hassles with the Environment Agency. Our original application seems to have gone missing and the new Desk Officer assigned to our case asked us to withdraw our application and then resubmit. After considerable delving in the bags of stuff Di Dann had given me, Cllr Mark Randell was able to reapply to the Environment Agency. Now we are hearing rumours that the new Desk Officer has herself been moved on. If true, it gives a whole new meaning to ‘hot-desking’. Not a lot of use to us though.
The November meeting is when we set the budget for the coming fiscal year. Included in that process is setting the rate precept, or the amount of money we need to gouge out of Cley parishioners in order to provide the services required. For the present year it is £8000 which includes a grant from the NNDC of £572. Next year we have set the precept at £8250, the modest increase being necessary to part compensate for the loss of earnings from recycling credits when NNDC start accepting bottles in the green bins. The rate support grant available this coming year is reduced to £480 which means a net figure of £7770 to be added to council tax bills, equivalent to £25.56 a year for a Band D household. There, that wasn’t too painful.
The elephant in the room, Eric Pickles, has yet to decide whether to extent rate capping to Parish Councils. As the lowest level in this particular food chain, parishes have been picking up extra duties sloughed off by the higher echelons – keeping footpaths clear is one example – so the strain on our budgets is increasing. The logical response would be to whack up the precept while we still have the option, just in case, but that would be a burden on our rate payers many of whose budgets are also under strain. While we have a lot of projects on the go, much of the funding has come from our reserves, is grant-aided or has already been paid. I’ll attempt to put a copy of the Budget up on the website along with last month’s Minutes once they are ratified. Gosh, it’s an exciting life as a Councillor [yawn].
Assuming I figure out how to upload the budget, and you manage to find it, you will notice that the Allotments are broadly self-financing – or will be once the few remaining back-sliders have paid their overdue rent. Come on, pay up before I have to send the boys round.
The day after, there was a meeting in Wells to discuss the future of the Coasthopper bus service. I drove, though there was an ironic cheer for one latecomer when he apologised for his tardiness which was due to having taken the bus; he had to leave early too. The meeting had been called by the County Council who are responsible for subsidised bus services in Norfolk. Simply said, the service has grown phenomenally since its rather shaky start in 1999 and now carries some 570,000 passengers a year and, in the summer months at least, has one of the highest load-factors in Norfolk. But over half of those passengers travel free on their bus-passes and over half of those are from out of the county. By the use of a suitably arcane formula the County reimburses part of the cost of these free-riders, all of them, while in turn the government is supposed to pay NCC. As the ‘Fares Fair’ campaign pointed out a couple of years ago the government has been shafting NCC to the tune of over £4 million a year – and what they do pay is not ring-fenced so could end up being spent on protecting vulnerable children, or boosting councillors’ allowances, or whatever.
Tracey Jessop, the council officer deputed to address the meeting – very much Danielle in the lions’ den – stated that the other subsidised bus services in the county had been pared to the bone and could not take any more cuts so logically the only service left to trim is the Coasthopper. They are proposing to cut the funding to just £75,000 in 2015-6 (it is currently £277,000) at the end of which year the contract should come up for renewal.
So far Norfolk Green as operators of the service are talking about reducing the number of buses and thus the frequency: winter 2014-5 is likely to see a bus every two hours at most. Fares for those that pay them are also rising steeply transferring the burden onto the young(er) users. Everyone is looking around for ways to make the pass-carriers pay – without incurring the political penalty attendant on repealing the original Act – and without massively increasing the traffic on the Coast Road, one of the main reasons for starting the service in the first place. The answer? Who knows, but if you want to have your sixpenn’orth you can do so online at www.norfolk.gov.uk or by email email@example.com.
The next meeting of Cley Parish Council will be on Tuesday 3 December commencing at 7.30pm in the Club Room, long after the buses have stopped running.