Report from I.W. Councillor Roger Mazillius

Posted by IWC Admin on Sunday, 27th February 2011, 00:00

COUNCILLOR ROGER MAZILLIUS
I.W. COUNCILLOR FOR
COWES SOUTH & NORTHWOOD
21 OXFORD STREET, NORTHWOOD
ISLE OF WIGHT PO31 8PT
Tel: 01983 295556
Email:
roger.mazillius@iow.gov.uk

 

EXTRA REPORT FROM I.W. COUNCILLOR ROGER MAZILLIUS – MARCH 2011

Report to Northwood Parish and Cowes Town Councils for March meetings.

WIGHTBUS SERVICE NO. 32 – COWES-NORTHWOOD-GURNARD

The new schedules from 17th April have just been published showing the removal of the early 9am service and the discontinuing of the Saturday service. However the Council has confirmed that the service will now continue until 2nd September, giving further time for community initiatives to run a replacement service. In this regard I can report on positive possibilities coming from the Community Transport Working Party discussions with Southern Vectis.

As I am sure colleagues will be aware, S.Vectis has offered to fully train volunteers as PSV licence holders who will drive buses supplied by the company as unpaid volunteers which will make the replacement service financially viable. Indeed the company has suggested that the fares, including those collected under the Concessionary Fares Scheme could be shared with the community concerned.

I attended a meeting of the Community Transport Forum last week where it became apparent that the Company were in similar discussions with a number of Parish Councils. I also understand that the Company would prefer to meet separately with our representatives to discuss our more Cowes-based routes and I hope our nominated reperesentatives can arrange this as soon as possible.

In the meantime I confirm the IW Council is considering the opportunities offered by  new Sustainable Transport Grant funding. After discussions with both national and local government the Council will be making an Expression of Interest in such funding in June with the intent of making a final detailed bid for funding in February next.

Finally, I will be reporting on the budget passed at the Council meeting on 23rd February later in my Report but mention here the addition of an extra £100,000 in funding to support Community Transport initiatives and the continuation of subsidised bus services where considered appropriate which with original budget funding of £261k will make a total additional funding for these services of £361k.

LIBRARIES

A detailed paper on proposals for the future of Island libraries will be considered by the Council’s Cabinet on 1st March, the recommendations from which I will report verbally at our meeting.

The paper will show that 82% of library usage comes from six sites, i.e. Cowes, Freshwater, Newport, Ryde, Sandown and Ventnor, with 49% of all usage coming from just Newport and Ryde.

After the consultation period ended earlier this month over 1500 responses were received showing evidence of the popularity of the current service. The responses have led to five bids by community, etc., groups to run local libraries and these are now being fully evaluated.

The lengthy Cabinet paper makes four recommendations:

1. Council-run libraries would continue in Cowes, Freshwater, Newport, Ryde, Sandown and Ventnor. In addition, pending the local bid evaluations, the Council will continue running libraries at Bembridge, Brighstone, East Cowes, Niton and Shanklin until the extended date of 30th June when it is anticipated those bidders will be in a position to assume the running of these libraries.
2. Part of the library HQ budget would be devolved to these eleven libraries and Newport and Ryde would be used to trial a modern self-service system.

3.Where appropriate, the Council will lease transfer the library building to a Parish or Town Council or Community Group where such entities have agreed to take over their local library.

4. Where such an entity establishes a case for a library in an area where there is none, the Council will support such an undertaking with a core stock of books, materials etc., and training.

This I believe, as has always been the intention behind the library consultation process, will result in more community involvement in local libraries, with possibly a greater choice and at a reduced cost to the Council taxpayer from the present net expenditure of £1.7m p.a.

Local members including myself and, I hope, Cllrs Wells and Mcgregor, have been invited to meet with Cllr Brown and Astrid Davies on 28th February (Monday) to discuss the more detailed future of Cowes Library and I am sure between us, we can fully report to colleagues on these discussions at our meeting.

PUBLIC CONVENIENCES

The Council currently operates 67 PCs and sought the public’s views on initial proposals to reduce that number to 35 by transferring responsibility or closure. The present number costs £581,000 including building maintenance, in the present financial year. Following consultation and the receipt of expressions of interest in many of the sites, up to 52  sites may now be retained from April this year.

Full details of these recommendations can be found under Cabinet Papers 1st March on the Council’s website. As far as I am aware, there are no changes being made to the proposals relating to Cowes toilets as previously reported although I understand details of the declared as surplus Park Road toilets, operating costs etc. have now been supplied to us and prior to any decision we may make as to the taking-over of these toilets. Finally an interest has been registered in the Council-retained Cowes Parade toilets, details of which will I assume be released after a full evaluation of any relevant business case submitted for consideration.

COUNCIL BUDGET 2011/12

The Conservative administration’s budget was duly passed by full Council on 23rd February after four other budget proposals were debated and not approved.

Because the Council Tax element of the budget does not rise by more than 2.5% there will be no increase in Council Tax for the next year. The Band D level will therefore remain at the 2010/11 level of £1,289.80.

Due to the need to find nearly £18m in savings as a result of reduced government grant and increased demand and costs, this could be described as an austere budget for austere times. As a result the proposals needed to direct these significantly reduced resources to those areas for which the Council has a legal duty and on which the most vulnerable residents rely.

It is very important to recognise that as part of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review, as well as the grant reductions for 2011/12, the Council will also have to find a further £8m in spending reductions due to loss of grant for 2012/13. The reality of that only serves to emphasise the importance of delivering a balanced budget for 2011/12 because any failure to do so would have resulted in the amount of that failure having to be added to the 2012/13 budget reduction.

An example of this was the failed Labour Party proposal to fund expenditure by taking nearly £3m from reserves meaning that such an additional sum would still have to be found for 2012/13. Fortunately, this proposal was roundly defeated although surprisingly a few Independent Councillors still voted in favour of that proposal!

We have protected services as far as possible by drastically reducing the Council’s own management costs including back office and efficiency savings totalling in excess of £11m. I hope colleagues will appreciate that previous grant settlements from central goverment included funding for inflation, landfill tax, national insurance and demographic pressures (the Island has one of the highest over-65 populations in the country and the second highest population over the age of 75). There is no such funding in our present grant settlement. In addition, our funding for the Concessionary Bus Fares Scheme has been slashed from £1.782m to £487k.

This is bad enough but it must also be borne in mind that the Scheme actually costs the Island Council Taxpayer nearly £4m leaving that massive funding gap to be borne locally. In addition, the Council’s large cash deposits throughout the year, despite obviously reducing as the year progresses have in the past given up to £2m in interest towards our general finances. Due to the very low interest rates, this interest received is so low it really now has no or very little bearing on our finances.

May I also draw colleagues’ attention to the Council Bulletin issued on 24th February and which is usually passed on to us by our Council Clerk, for further detailed budget comments from Steve Beynon as part of his Chief Executive’s message.

COUNTY HALL REFURBISHMENT

There has been much publicity, indeed even controversy, over the Council’s plans to refurbish County Hall. I hope a re-stating of the actual costings for this will prove of interest to colleagues. The business case shows capital receipts from the disposal of surplus buildings of £1.225m with revenue savings from the reduction in operational buildings of £1.81m per annum with a resultant reduction per head of operating County Hall of £597 per annum.

All of this should lead to payback being achieved in 1.5 years based on the costed refurbishment programme amounting to £4m. Work will progress in earnest from April and it is expected to be completed by next March.

POLLING PLACE REVIEW

This has now been published with  comments regarding the suitability of the Community Hall as a Polling Station leading to a recommendation that, subject to Health and Safety checks, the main rooms at Northwood House be used again. Also a suggestion that St Faith Church Hall be used for polling for the Cowes Medina Ward will be checked for suitability.

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