Wednesday 3rd August was a red-letter day for me – Planning Committee was set as a proper “live” meeting after 18 months of virtual meetings which, especially at full Council have been truly farcical. Good to be “back to normal” – if only we lived in a normal Borough.
When I made the decision back in early 2018 to stand as a Councillor, I had a certain perception as to how “the system” worked – after all, I have been a resident in the borough and in this ward since 1979, seen two children through local schools and on to University, built an extension on our house and paid my dues in Council tax, the odd parking fine and of course the garden waste bill.
Many of us in the Borough will have recently received a questionnaire from their local Liberal Democrat Focus team – same document but with different faces on the front – it isn’t the local team, it is the Sutton party looking to create a strategy for the local elections next May.
I’m a Councillor, but still a resident and I spend time in the ward chatting to people on my dog walks and helping them out with council issues and, importantly, listening. When you do that, you don’t need a questionnaire to understand what people see as important.
Like them, I still suffer the frustrations of missed bin collections, overgrown paths, potholes and I was even a victim of crime with the theft of a catalytic converter. But I have, at least, attended enough Committees (87 to date) as well as meetings with officers of the Council to begin to fathom out where the gaps are and why they have appeared.
And the reality is that a huge gulf exists – it is the distance between political manifestos and what is actually delivered in terms of service to the community which is after all what most residents feel they pay for.
Every Sutton Committee paper (not including the Planning Committee) is prefaced by elements that are derived from the epithet “Ambitious for Sutton”. That apparently involves a number of outcome areas:-
Being Active – Making Informed Choices – Living Well Independently – Keeping People Safe – Smarter Ways of Working
Since the adoption of these, the Council has achieved regular entries in the Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column – but residents really don’t need a subscription to that publication or the judgement of others.
We have had “bingate” then there is the Council owned education company, COGNUS, pilloried by OFSTED and featured on Panorama – factors totally coincidental with a change of Chief Executive and a corporate re-allocation of shareholdings?
That the parents of the most vulnerable of the Borough’s children felt the need to form an EHCP Action Group to give their kids a chance for their best start in life is testament to the ongoing issues surrounding COGNUS and SEN education.
A Council owned company SDEN was established to run a “district heating system” connecting the ERF (incinerator to anyone outside the ruling group) and local building developments. There is about to be an independent enquiry into alleged irregularities into the business – one that is still some distance, literally and financially, away from connecting up to the incinerator!
Then there are schools – just how much of the Council’s money has been wasted in the past few years? There is the Passivhaus Primary School at Hackbridge – great positioning within 800 metres of the incinerator.
But then there was the debacle of the first developer’s failure and the Council, having wasted time and money, having to pay a replacement developer to put it right!
A refusal of Planning Permission on a site at Rose Hill on design grounds and a failure to determine the application on Sheen Way has meant around £250,000 in legal costs, £3 million plus to accommodate the bulge year of 2020 pupils in existing schools and the Lib Dems are still lobbying for the school to be stopped at Rose Hill!
But they can only afford to clear the gullies in your street every two years because of Tory cuts!
And cuts is all you hear about when you get to Council – like so many other Councils, Sutton has looked to “shared services” with other Councils, external contractors and establishment of wholly owned companies like COGNUS and SDEN. Then of course, there are “investments” to create revenues to compensate for those “cuts”.
Like many residents, I look at my Council Tax bill and then look at what can only be described as the general dilapidation of our Borough served by these companies and think there needs to be a root and branch review.
Or put another way – it is not just the creation of an unmanageable organisation and the clear deterioration of service, this administration have established a position of eye watering debt, that is currently in excess of £100 million!
That will have to be repaid sometime!
Desperate for revenue, they are ploughing ahead with Controlled Parking Zones, Parking Permit Areas and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods / School Streets.
But the services still don’t get better – the only areas that sees improvement are where local volunteers – let’s call them residents like you and me – get involved.
Regular litter picking locally and in Beddington Park makes a small dent and also in Beddington North we had a local business owner, unable to operate her hairdressers in the pandemic, turn her energies into running it as a food hub.
And therein lies the truth that the politicians do not want to admit – Councils should be facilitators for their residents – not attempt to be their rulers in some sort of paternalistic “we know better” way.
In Beddington North, three real, long-term residents – Jillian Green, Nick Mattey and myself, Tim Foster sit as Independent Councillors and have an unashamed singular focus on the residents of our ward and the services they deserve.
We’ve been fighting for residents of Highview along with present and future pupils of Carew Manor against the crazy and thoughtless idea of relocating their school to a tiny patch of green, approached through a narrow residential cul de sac and next to a busy railway.
After the ineffectual efforts of the previous Lib Dem Councillor who represented the ward on the Farmlands Conservation and Access Management Committee, we have gained the involvement of both the Beddington and Hackbridge communities and are pushing for an additional east/west cycle route as part of the development. Scant compensation but always residents first!
And in the absence of support from their own ward Councillors, Nick Mattey has even supported the residents of New Mill Quarter in their battles with the Council owned SDEN over outages and outrageous costs. Rather contrary to the original statements that the system’s aims included the intent to “Reduce fuel poverty and increase fuel security”.
We do it because we live here and we want to have pride in where we live.
Perhaps members of the ruling group and their supporters should look around and ask themselves – can we be proud of the state of our Borough, is there pride in passing on enormous debt to the next generation, is there pride in gullies clogged by cuttings from verges, potholes, is there pride in our Borough accepting more waste than the other four members of the South London Waste Partnership put together, are you looking forward to the 20-storey block on Throwley Way casting shadows over your High Street – have our ambitions been fulfilled by this administration?
I will leave you with that thought – I know that many will want to answer on your behalf.