Address to the full budget meeting of Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council

Helen Quenet, Monday 5th February 2018

QuoteThank you Madam Deputy Mayor.

The approach of the end of the financial year, is a good time to review any organisation. To look at what has gone well, and what needs to be improved upon. Here are four things in which we should aspire to do better in 2018/19.

Issue 1: Better internal communication

For example, the cross-party, Rat Scrutiny Committee was unaware until an article was published in the Welwyn Hatfield Times this week, that there is a major (£16,000) rat reduction initiative underway in Hatfield. If we are to scrutinise effectively we need to know what is already happening, otherwise we waste time.

Issue 2: Hatfield Nightshelter

This has been a fantastic initiative, with many really positive changes made to the lives of people in our homeless community. Massive credit needs to be give to Lynne Sparks for her work to make this initiative a success. But the Nightshelter closes in March, so now is the time for a full and honest review.



Unhappy New Year for Rail Travellers

Class 365 Networker Express in Great Northern liveryThe start of the New Year has yet again brought fare rises well above wage growth as the Tory government see rail users as easy target. LibDem councillor Malcolm Cowan says "While the private rail companies force passengers to endure over-crowding day after day, their chiefs pocket millions in pay and bonuses".

Great Northern users have seen delays time after time - the official figures show 24% of all trains on Great Northern are officially late i.e. more than 5 minutes late - nearly twice the rate on nearby Thameslink trains. But, as the poster on the footbridge at WGC station shows, the proportion actually arriving on time is much lower - just 31% arrived on time at Kings Cross last month, and 40% at Cambridge; and this does allow for the trains that skip Hatfield and WGC to catch up time, leaving passengers stranded.

"At minimum we should get a fares freeze, on a value for money basis there should be a reduction" said Malcolm.


Lecture at the Polish University in Lublin

Michal Siewniak and Assistant Professor Katarzyna Radzik - Maruszak at Lublin University with StudentsFormer Welwyn Hatfield Liberal Democrat councillor, Michal Siewniak, was contacted few months ago by Assistant Professor Katarzyna Radzik - Maruszak, from a University in Lublin, Poland. Mrs. Katarzyna Radzik - Maruszak is writing her dissertation on Local Government (LG) in the UK and she wanted to talk to current and former councillors from Hertfordshire.

She was really pleased that some Polish people (still not enough!) are keen to be part of the democratic process. Being part of public life is so important and it shows that EU nationals contribute in many different ways, also by becoming a 'civic voice' for their residents. Following a visit to the UK, Mrs Katarzyna Radzik - Maruszak invited Michal on a return visit to meet her students who study politics at UMCS in Lublin in the South East of Poland.

Michal Siewniak said: "I was delighted to come to Poland and give a lecture on the subject of Local Government in the UK which took place on Wednesday, 13 December. It went really well! I had an opportunity to talk to a superb group of students (35) who were very eager to learn more about the political process in the UK, Welwyn Hatfield, canvassing, Liberal Democrats and my experience (as a Polish migrant) of standing and winning a seat.



Welhat LibDems celebrate Handside Landslide

Yesterday Siobhán Elam was elected as the new Liberal Democrat Councillor in Handside Ward with 52.4% of the vote, taking over from Rachel Basch who had had to resign having been promoted into a politically restricted role in the Civil Service.

Newly elected Handside Councillor Siobhán Elam and the winning team at the count

Siobhán, who only joined the party this year and has not been involved in politics before, said: "I'm delighted to have been elected tonight to serve the people of Handside. I am looking forward to doing everything within my power to make sure that I do justice to the confidence that people have placed in me. It is such an honour to represent my neighbours in this way and I want to thank everyone who has made this possible."

The Conservatives, who in 2016 won two out of the three seats in Handside, and a significantly higher overall vote share, had complained that the election should not have been called and the seat left vacant until May. Commenting on this, Liberal Democrat Group leader Malcolm Cowan had this to say: "This was an election the Conservatives increasingly showed they didn't want to happen and we can now see why - despite the massive resources they brought in, Handside has spoken loud and clear. On these figures the Conservatives will be out of power in May and the Liberal Democrats will be leading the charge. Labour put in a big effort too, and their vote dropped even lower than it was in 2016."

County Councillor Nigel Quinton, who won the Handside & Peartree seat with 48% of the vote in May also commented: "It will be marvellous working with Siobhán who has shown herself to be a brilliant candidate and I am sure will be a great councillor for Handside. It was though rather sad to see the Conservative Councillors, and their MP, complaining about the cost of the by-election - actually about 8p per Borough resident; wasn't it the Conservative party that spent £113 million of tax-payers money on an unnecessary and cynical General Election in June?"


Heartless Tories ignore facts

Hertfordshire Lib Dems Press Release

"Conservatives heartless to ignore facts", say Lib Dems over decision to close Cuffley Camp outdoor centre.

In spite of a last-minute bid by the Liberal Democrat opposition on Hertfordshire County Council to save Cuffley Camp, the fate of the outdoor centre looks to have been sealed after Conservatives councillors refuse to reconsider their decision to close it.

The future use of Cuffley Camp was cut short by the nine Conservative councillors of the council's Cabinet, who agreed earlier in the month that the council should pay an undisclosed sum of money to withdraw from its lease agreements, leaving the tax-payer with a hefty bill reported to be over a million pounds.

A intervention by Liberal Democrat councillors secured a review of this decision, forcing a special meeting of the Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee, held yesterday. Leader of the Opposition Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst argued that the Cabinet had failed in its duty to give full and proper consideration to the facts of the decision...



End of Finesse not a surprise say LibDems

Hatfield Swim CentrePapers to next week's Cabinet meeting show that Finesse, a company wholly-owned by the council, who run various leisure facilities in the borough - Hatfield Swim Centre and Leisure Centre, Stanborough Park, KGV playing fields, Panshanger golf course, Moneyhole and Digswell playing fields - are handing over the running to Greenwich Leisure, who recently took over the Gosling facilities.

There has been rising discontent about Finesse's performance, both administrative and financial, among the public and councillors. This change is long overdue. Having several Conservative councillors on their board does not seem to have improved them" said LibDem group leader Malcolm Cowan. "When they were set up, they did not get to manage all the leisure facilities - Gosling, Campus West and Birchwood were all kept in other hands, so they failed to get economies of scale. And as time went on, the other leisure owners were keen to keep their facilities out of Finesse's hands. So they were in no position to go elsewhere to take on other districts leisure contracts.

"We have to hope the contracts allow the council to have a say in how the sites are run, and are not sacrificed to the greater glory of Greenwich, who are a massive operation" he added.


Councillors to probe rat issues

RatLiberal Democrat Councillors on Welwyn Hatfield Borough warmly welcome the agreement of the other parties to a Scrutiny being held into the numerous problems with rats across the Borough. The request for the scrutiny was tabled by the Liberal Democrats.

LibDem Cllr Helen Quenet who will sit on the scrutiny group said "I tabled a Freedom of Information request recently, which showed that 443 council-subsidised rodent treatments had been carried out across the Borough during the year from Sept 2016, however this figure underestimates the size of the problem as many people will have rodent infestations treated privately. It is clearly a major problem.

"During my time as a Councillor I have become very aware both of specific areas which seem to have disproportionate rat activity and individual cases where the presence of rats has caused great distress to residents. A scrutiny like this, gives all the parties a chance to examine an issue in depth and to research successful initiatives carried out in other areas of the country and indeed world. Such cross party working to my mind is the most constructive way forward in many areas of the Borough's work."


LibDems react to Philip Hammond's budget statement (and the small-print!)

Nigel QuintonToday Philip Hammond had an opportunity to help the British people; but he bottled it.

He could have given much needed money for the NHS, or for Social Care, or for local government which continues to bear the brunt of austerity politics. But that would have upset the hardliners in the Conservative Party, and of course he needs to save even more money to fund Brexit. That £3billion for the costs of Brexit in today's budget is just the tip of the iceberg, but even that could and should be being spent on vital public services.

And most of what he announced seems like smoke and mirrors to us. The stamp duty change will help barely 3500 people, and will likely lead to house price rises, benefitting the property owners, developers and estate agents, not those desperate to buy.

Read the full statement


Does this look fixed?

Malcolm Cowan, LibDem councillor is furious with a response from the county council's highways service. He reported an upturned drain in Heather Rd WGC. The response he got was:

This is an update to the highway fault reported on 06/11/2017 2:20 PM
The reference number is: 201013199114
Fault type: Road and cycle lane
Location: Heather Road, Welwyn Garden City
We have inspected this location and the necessary works have been carried out. No further action is planned.

Ringway FailMalcolm says "As you can see from the 'after' photo, there are lumps of concrete lying around, and the drain has not been re-laid. This is dangerous. The fact the cone has been left there shows work has not been undertaken.

"This is at least the third time in the last couple of years this has happened with faults I have reported - no work done, but claim it is fixed. Probably payment will be made on the basis of the incorrect report.

"When will they learn? I go back and check; what a shame no-one from the contractor Ringway, or from the county council does, otherwise there would not be a problem. Shamefully, I understand the county council are about to extend Ringway's contract without going out to tender. What a farce."


Letter to Welwyn Hatfield Times


Dear Sir

If buses often come long in twos, so it seems do U-turns by our local council. So just days after the welcome U-turn on allowing food waste into the brown bins - where was the justification for banning it, and where is the justification for suddenly changing once the £35 subscriptions were banked, comes another far less welcome, this time on the WGC Estate Management Scheme (EMS). A scheme to help preserve the uniqueness of WGC and stop it being slowly turned into yet another town but increasingly difficult to use.

For years the council has complained about the complexity of EMS and the difficulties of enforcing even-handedly between leaseholders and freeholders. Finally they brought forward plans to replace almost all of the scheme by changing the planning rules, giving us a simple transparent way to help protect the design of the town and equality of enforcement. Everyone was signed up - all 3 political parties, the council's staff, outside heritage bodies. All systems should have been go. Many of us were even hoping it would open the door to make the protected area boundaries more sensible.

But then months of delay, as usual unexplained. Then bombshell, not only is the council sticking with the current EMS, it introduces charges for applications, so in many cases, you will pay twice, once for planning permission, once for EMS permission. Did someone say another stealth tax?

To add insult to injury, WGC councillors representing the areas affected were not consulted, nor the ones who had worked to come up with a better alternative. Just 4 cabinet members were needed to push it through last week, none representing WGC. No prior notice, no debate. And it would seem no budget to publicise and explain the scheme to residents. You really couldn't make it up. Don't the Tories realise what a jewel they have here in WGC and how easily it can be destroyed?

Yours sincerely

Malcolm Cowan

LibDem councillor, Peartree ward

LibDems step in where Council fears to tread

Last weekend Councillors Nigel Quinton and Malcolm Cowan, along with new activists Siobhán Elam, joined with local resident Clive Marlowe to clear up the area behind Howard House, for which nobody seems prepared to take responsibility.

Clive had contacted the team as the rubbish that was collecting was attracting rats, and the Council were saying "nothing to do with us"!

We were able to get the Council to agree to tackle the rat infestation, although as yet we do not know if this has been done, but as the Council deny all responsibility to clear the rubbish, saying it belongs to a company in receivership, we decided we had just better get our sleeves rolled up.

Commenting on the lack of Council response, Cllr Malcolm Cowan said:

"It should not be left to residents to do this just because the Council are unable to tackle the landlord - as the Borough Council they have a responsibility to look after our neighbourhood and ensure that rats are not encouraged to make their home amongst stinking piles of rubbish. I trust the area will not look like this in 2020 when the town celebrates its centenary and people come from all over to see it."

Town Centre LitterBefore we started
Town Centre LitterBefore we started
Malcolm hard at workMalcolm hard at work
The LibDem community litter team – Nigel, Siobhán and MalcolmThe LibDem community litter team - Nigel, Siobhán and Malcolm