19 September 2010

Put up or shut up........

Human nature is a funny thing. Since our local election in January, and the formation of a new Town Council, supporters of the old Council have spent quite a lot of time sniping at the new and I find this behaviour quite odd. What objective does it serve? It may make these sad individuals feel better in themselves, as if they are striking back at some imaginary enemy, but the point is quite lost on me.

Today, Somerton has a Town Council which is trying be what a Town Council should be, and what the old Town Council certainly was not. The new Town Council is conducting its business in public and in a transparent manner, quite unlike the old. Yet some people seem determined to behave towards this new Town Council as if it was some sort of enemy when the fact is that it is representative of the community to a degree unheard of in Somerton in the last 20 years.

The new Town Council is being berated for spending money on the External Auditor/Audit Commission enquiry when the fact is that the new Town Council can do absolutely nothing about the enquiry and its attendant costs. The new Town Council is being criticised: for not having any money to spend on new play equipment; for spending money on a new laptop and for spending money on an independent website for the Town Council. Yet the people who make these criticisms were not coming to Town Council meetings 2 or more years ago when the old Town Council was squandering the best part of £1.1million on the Etsome/TinDunny/refurbishment disaster.

The people who level criticisms today were not speaking out when the old Town Council was hiking the Precept by 350% over 5 years (click the image below to view it larger) in order to waste it on little projects like the tractor which cost the town around £40,000 in purchase and maintenance and earned the town not one penny. The people who level criticisms today didn't raise their voices when the old Town Council did the Etsome/TinDunny swap and didn't pay off the Etsome borrowings. So, today, £23,000 per annum is going out of the door for land that the town no longer owns and that money will continue to go out of the door, yearly, for some years to come.

And this brings me to the core issue and that is the profound ignorance and prejudice of the new Council's critics. They haven't bothered to look at the Council's balance sheet and recognise the degree to which fixed overheads dominate the Council's finances. A fixed overhead is a cost which recurs year on year rather than being a cost which is once only. So, the Town Council's salaries are fixed overheads (consuming around 1/3rd of income at £70,000 per annum) where the cost of the laptop is a once only cost. Inconveniently, the new Council's fixed overheads are entirely inherited from the old Town Council, something that the old Town Council and its supporters would very much like to forget.

The old Town Council thought that they were being terribly clever when they started cranking up the Precept demand (coincidentally just around the time that Canvin the Contractor joined the Council). They thought that the Precept was free money and that they could just keep on asking for more and more in order to enact ever more ludicrous schemes. Today, the Town Council's fixed overheads consume close to 2/3rds of the Precept and that means that there is damn all to spend on the Town. At the same time, instead of securing the value of the Town's assets, the old Town Council swapped a very valuable asset (the Etsome Terrace site) for a crappy industrial box on a crappy industrial estate as far from the centre of the town as they could get.

I'd challenge the supporters of the old Town Council to put their money where their criticisms are and buy the Tin Dunny from the Town at the supposed valuation obtained by Messers Keenan and Canvin. That pathetic pair reckoned that the Dunny was worth £1.3 million. So maybe the new Town Council's critics would like to have a whip round, get the money and buy the Town out of the Tin Dunny. Then there would be plenty of money for play equipment.

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly