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And so it ends.. or does it?

An honourable but heavy defeat

May 5, 2017
Bookham voters have decided heavily against having a Village Council.  The results, on a 54.3% turnout, are:
Yes: 815
No: 4,114

The immediate reaction from resident John Sellers on the Nextdoor social media site was “Let us now put this behind us. Thankfully the outcome is decisive and hopefully is so clear cut that no one will behave like the Scots and try again. Just a shame so much public money had to be spent getting there.”

But Dan Coffin, who organised the debate in the Barn Hall a week ago, replied with warm words for BEAM, the organisation that had campaigned for a council: “I'd like to say thank you to BEAM for standing up for something they believed in and bringing the idea of a Village Council to everyone. You should be proud of your significant commitment and efforts to drive forward something you believed in. And at the very least it has genuinely empowered residents and the community to think much harder about Bookham and keeping it great - I know that for a fact after speaking with lots of local Mums and Dads. Well done BEAM.

Other results

Bookham approved the Neighbourhood Development Plan by four to one:
Yes 3853
No 986.

Result for the council election just in: 

Clare Margaret Curran, Conservative – 3256
Majorie Joan Dixon, UKIP – 253
Raj Haque, Liberal Democrats – 2604
Damian Michael McDevitt, Green Party – 288

This is not a defeat for BEAM. It is a defeat for Bookham. Time will tell how our services survive the continuing onslaught from County Hall. In the meantime, the organisation which opposed the proposal so bitterly now has to demonstrate that it can keep its word, something it signally failed to do in the run-up to the vote. 
BRA says it does everything a village council can do and does it for nothing.
We, the voters, will hold you to that. 
As for the money the exercise has cost, it is true that in Turkey or North Korea it would be unlikely that the voters would have seen their hard-earned cash frittered away on finding out if they wanted a greater say in their own affairs. The Bugle is just glad to  operate in a country where such meagre prodigality is justified as promoting democratic debate. And where the press is free to take its part.

In the final hours...

As more local funding comes under threat, this is our last chance to fight back

May 4, 2017, updated May 4, 2017

Today’s vote for or against a Village Council for Bookham is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take serious control of our own affairs.

Unless we residents seize it, this vote will be the last time we have the chance to take, in a secret ballot, any decision that directly affects Bookham, and only Bookham, as Bookham residents rather than as part of a county or district.

Yes, we have to pay for the change to a Village Council. But if the working class area covered by the Stainland and District Community Association near Halifax, whom the Bugle met last year, can successfully campaign for a Parish Council*, what on earth is preventing Bookham from doing the same?

Voluntary effort is entirely admirable. It has been the source of Bookham’s huge vitality for many years now. Voluntary effort is how this community defines itself. And long may it continue. There is no evidence whatever that voting yes for a Village Council would be anything other than beneficial for voluntarism here.

But voluntarism is not enough.

The fatal weakness of rule by unelected voluntary bodies is that we have no right to insist.

Rightly, we cannot insist that a voluntary body carry out specific tasks within a certain time. Such a body has neither the people nor the money to carry the programme out.

Voluntary bodies are self-directed. They do not set out a budgeted programme of actions for the next two or three years with a timetable for the completion of the different projects that will make a vital difference to Bookham’s future.

We may be voters, but we have no control.

One example: our Youth and Community Centre. At the recent debate in the Barn Hall, David Cox, who is responsible for the centre, described with deep feeling the excellent work that goes on there.

But the decisions that are taken are not in our hands nor those of the estimable David Cox nor even the BRA. Surrey County Council, which leases the Centre to the Bookham Youth & Community Association, told the Bugle today, “The building requires significant refurbishment and work has commenced examining long term strategic options for the asset. The County Council's review will be to identify options that supports the Council's corporate priorities as well as satisfying defined Service needs in the area.”

Note, carefully, the County’s order of priorities: itself — and its coffers — first, Bookham second.

As if to confirm the fragility of the youth centre’s position, Disability Challengers, which provides disabled and special needs children with space to play and make friends while their parents take a break, told parents yesterday in an email that its SCC has ended its funding. The charity runs a programme for 13 to 18-year-olds at Bookham Youth Centre.

The Bugle learned of this last week but accepted an assurance from Conservative Councillor Clare Curran that Challengers’ funding had merely moved to another provider, YMCA East Surrey. A report in this morning’s Leatherhead Advertiser, however, says the services have been axed, and any new arrangements have not yet become clear. But YMCA East Surrey now says that the Leatherhead Ads story is wrong and that these clubs will continue.

No doubt the arrangements will become clearer once elections are out of the way. But the Bugle’s campaign for a Village Council was inspired by the strong conviction that we need to decide our own future rather than trust it to the tender mercies of Surrey County Council or any other outside body.

Objectors may be right to demand that they do that which we already pay them to do and which they have failed to provide. Good luck with that. There’s a better way.

Our campaign was also inspired by the equally strong conviction that any organisation which claims to speak for Bookham voters has to do what it says on the tin.

It has to act openly. We should know who is making decisions and what their political or financial interests are in the matter in hand. They must take their decisions in public having found out what Bookham people want, not acting on their own whims and prejudices.

We should insist that they declare any conflicts of interest. It is blindingly obvious, for example, that no unelected body should be allowed within 100 miles of expressing a view on any planning application that doesn’t directly affect its members.

But this vote is not about the organisations, voluntary or otherwise, that already exist. It’s about the future of this community and its ability to carry on being a busy, pleasant, worthwhile place to live at the gateway to some of the loveliest countryside that exists in these islands. It faces deep challenges that, at the moment, we are not equipped to meet.

Meet tomorrow’s challenges. Vote yes.

* In February this year Calderdale Council gave the Stainland campaigners the go-ahead for a new Parish Council.

The big vote

The case for - one resident’s view

May 1, 2017

Bookham resident Neil Walker describes how he made his decision about whether Bookham should have its own village council

I am a subscriber to the Bookham Residents Association. I’m not, and never have been, a member of BEAM or any other group promoting the idea of a village council.  I just happen to agree with them. These are my reasons for supporting the idea.

  • Decisions Close to Home - Decisions should always be taken as close as possible to the people affected by the decision. Today there is a gap between decisions made at my house and those that affect me made by Mole Valley District and Surrey County Councils - I think that can be filled by a Village Council.
  • Localism – this is a variation of my first point: the 2010 – 2015 Coalition Government had a policy to push decision making down towards people. It is something the country had repeatedly asked for as a result of feeling distanced from decision making.  The result was the Localism Bill, which has manifested itself in a number of ways: more devolution, new mayors and, in Bookham’s case, the ability for residents to initiate a Local Governance Review to consider the possibility of creating local village councils under various names.  We should grasp such an opportunity and not be fearful of it.  The areas that don’t take this up will find that decisions are made ever further from their own locality.
  • ‘The Vanguard Effect’ – Bookham Vanguard did a great job coming up with the Neighbourhood Development Plan—please vote YES for this, even if you disagree with the idea of a Village Council. It generated more interest and involvement in local affairs than anything I’d seen before. I want ‘more Vanguard’ – with the ability to conduct widespread and ongoing consultation with the people of Bookham.  This needs modest funding — accountable representation and consultation aren’t free — and a statutory body like Vanguard – a Village Council – to make it happen.
  • An Uncertain Future for MVDC – Mole Valley District Council has an uncertain future in my view. Due to the general national funding situation, I foresee a merger with other district councils or even with Surrey County Council.  Bookham’s voice will be fainter and fainter as ‘local’ decision-making moves further away.  As budgets are cut and district or county councils are forced into a position where they can only fund statutory obligations — refuse collection, social care, education and so on — certain discretionary items, such as libraries with reasonable opening hours, youth clubs, verge mowing, will no longer be funded.  If a community wants to do without these things, that is fine, but many of these things can’t be done by voluntary groups, and a Village Council does give the community the means to continue to support them if they so wish.

The case against

Before I came to my decision to support a village council I did consider the potential downsides. 

  • Runaway spend – what if a village council goes on a spending spree?
  • Affordability - some people are already struggling financially.
  • Elected representatives – some village councils can’t find enough people to stand, so they end up co-opting people who are not elected.
  • Bureaucracy – do we really want a third tier of government?
  • Volunteer groups already do what a council would do – why should we fund another body to do what volunteer groups do already?

I thought very carefully about these points and looked around the country at other parish or village councils for evidence of all of the above.  My conclusion is that these objections, whilst valid concerns, either can be managed or just don’t represent what really happens.

Spending - Parish and village councils that go on mad spending sprees just don’t exist.  Firstly we don’t live in the days of ‘looney-left’ councils like Brent and Liverpool of the 1980s any more, and secondly, village councillors live in the communities they represent and wouldn't get away with things like that even if they wanted to.  You can find sensationalised stories in the Telegraph or Mail about % increase of a precept (local tax) in a very few cases, but when you read the facts behind the story, there are always unusual and justifiable reasons for it.

A village council can be set up with a constitution—“Standing Orders” is the term for councils I believe—that limits its powers, requiring consultation and voting on spending plans BEFORE they are committed to.

Who can afford this? – I grew up on a council estate in Peterborough and money was tight.  My wife and I now manage the financial affairs of my mother, my mother-in-law and a disabled friend in the village – all with low, fixed incomes - so I am very conscious of financial pressures some people face. 
Two things make me feel this is manageable.  1) Financial support (benefit) for those who struggle to pay Council Tax is, and remains, available. 2) The de facto ‘cap’ on the precept I mention above will keep the cost down.  And remember, whatever a village council does will have to be costed and agreed up front.  There won’t be any vanity projects.  In particular two of the three people I help would willingly pay more if we could get some of the dangerous footpath areas (for wheelchair users) addressed that I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the County Council to address for four years now.

Representation and consultation aren’t free.  Elected representatives and taxation are part of what makes a civilised society – we work together and pool our resources for the greater good, even if there are some things we don’t agree on.

Bookham isn’t Dibley! There are plenty of smart people in Bookham who would scrutinise the proposed council standing orders and plans before they were acted on.  We could put any kind of ‘brake’ on expenditure, or a mandatory requirement to consult on a regular basis, into the council’s standing orders.  I also think there would be enough people willing to stand as councillors to serve the village (by the way – councillors are NOT PAID, they are voluntary positions!).

Bureaucracy – there is good bureaucracy and bad bureaucracy.  Everyone knows what bad bureaucracy looks like, but most people forget the dictionary definition of bureaucracy or what it means.  Bureaucracy is the machinery below a decision-making body (like a Council) that implements the decisions made by it.  Good bureaucracy is efficient, lean and constantly looking to improve what it does, just like any good company, charity or other organisation.  Again, I believe that Bookham has enough smart people to ensure any village council only operates good bureaucracy.

Volunteer groups in and around Bookham are fantastic.  They support the community in ways that governments can’t or won’t.  But they can’t and don’t do many things that Bookham Vision and later Bookham Vanguard, with comprehensive consultations of Bookham residents, said we wanted. 
Voluntary groups do not have the resources or official status to consult widely, thoroughly and regularly, as Bookham Vision did and Bookham Vanguard did (both funded by the state by the way), to make sure things that local people want are being done.  Bookham Residents Association (BRA) does many good things, but it does not represent residents in the way it claims to because it doesn’t consult widely and regularly. Its views are, therefore, those of a very small percentage of Bookham residents that sit on, or are close to, its committee.  And you don’t have to just believe me on this point - the Bookham Vision survey (70 per cent response rate) asked questions about how residents felt that their views were represented.  Only 17 per cent agreed with the statement “The BRA represents me on local issues”; and in the 18-34 bracket only 5 per cent agreed!

These and other issues were raised at the debate organised in the Barn Hall last week by Bookham resident and, may we suggest, local hero Dan Coffin. A video of the platform section of the discussion is available here

n response to Neil Walker's article, Mole Valley District Council’s Conservative leader Cllr Vivienne Michael, says: “Although, like other local authorities, we have experienced a reduction in the Revenue Support Grant from central government, this does not mean that we are contemplating merger with other councils, district or county. No such discussions have taken place and nor are they likely to in the foreseeable future.

“MVDC’s Administration presented a balanced budget for 2017/18 and our Medium Term Financial Strategy includes measures to ensure the sustainability of our services as the council moves towards self-sufficiency in future years.

“No front line services, statutory or discretionary, are being cut, indeed investment in some priority areas such as housing and family support, is increasing.

“We have embarked on several joint working arrangements with other authorities in different service areas such as waste and environmental health, and these are delivering efficiencies of scale whilst retaining the quality of services Mole Valley residents have come to expect. They are in no way a pre-cursor of future merger.”

Neil Walker replies: “[My] view was formed from an economic reality, not any political statement. As a nation we are in debt, we are still spending more than we are earning, year-on-year, piling on more debt. As a nation we are not paying anywhere near enough taxes to meet our obligations and to receive the services at the level we expect. I see little or no appetite for substantial increased taxation, and therefore there is only one avenue left - reduced spending. Like it or not, smaller local authorities like Mole Valley are going to find it harder and harder to make ends meet and will inevitably (in my opinion) be forced to merge with other authorities for economies of scale. I note your comments about MVDC's joint commissioning of services and I applaud that, but I think the economic pressures will continue.”

Bugle Comment: The local press cuttings the Bugle has collected over recent years suggest that most local government cuts have been made by Surrey County Council rather than Mole Valley.  

The latest report by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) notes that neighbourhood services have been the hardest hit of all local government services. They include maintaining local roads, providing parks, leisure centres and libraries, bin collections, recycling, and services that protect consumers like trading standards and environmental health. 

Spending on neighbourhood services in England fell £3.1bn or 13 per cent between 2010/11 and 2015/16 while spending on social care rose £2.2bn. 

The most deprived local authorities have seen the biggest fall in spending on neighbourhood services. Spending on neighbourhood services fell 22 per cent among the most deprived fifth of Local Councils over five years but only five per cent in better off areas.

UK local government’s spending as a share of the economy is falling sharply. In 2010/11, UK local government current expenditure accounted for 8.4 per cent of the economy. By 2015/16, it had fallen to 6.7 per cent. By 2021/22, it will be down to 5.7 per cent - a 60 year low.
(Updated May 3, 2017) 


Police: no more patrols

Neighbourhood Policing in Bookham ‘virtually non-existent’, says BRA

April 26, 2017

Neighbourhood policing in Bookham has collapsed, according to the minutes of the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA).

As of Monday this week, the BRA website has posted no minutes for any of its meetings this year and only for seven from last year. The Bugle, however, has seen the minutes for the first three months of 2017.

In March they record repeated concern about neighbourhood policing: “It has previously been noted that visibility of police has continued to fall and are now virtually non-existent.”

When the Bugle looked at the personnel of the neighbourhood policing team for Bookham and Fetcham on the Surrey Police website it found the ‘team’ comprises one person, PCSO Marion Hawkins.

‘Low crime figures deceptive’: The January minutes note a meeting between Police Inspector Richard Hamlyn, BRA chairman Peter Seaward and committee member Phil Harris about “a spate of issues” at various places in Bookham.

The minutes say that, “From the BRA’s perspective policing appears to be reactive only, not proactive, that police are also no longer visible and, whilst reported crime figures may be low, this is probably because the victims of crime are not reporting them for a variety of reasons, the fear of reprisals being one of them.”

Hamlyn had replied that Surrey couldn’t recruit enough officers, partly because Surrey was so expensive. New recruits would take time to be trained. “Unfortunately there is no prospect of returning the ‘officers on the beat’.”  But residents should be encouraged to report crime. Bookham could be reassured that “75% of [101 non-emergency police] calls are now answered within 30 seconds.”

At the February meeting a month later Harris said not only that he hadn’t seen any police in the village but that he “had tried to contact the 101 system but had experienced undue delays”.

The March meeting noted that windows and cars had been damaged and that ‘wanted’ posters had been put up on lamp posts.

Minutes during 2016 had mentioned inviting the Police Commissioner to the BRA meeting. By this meeting expectations had been lowered. The minutes note that Hamlin had agreed to attend an unspecified future BRA meeting “as a one-off”.

There is no hint of any of these concerns in the latest, pre-election BRA newsletter (click here to download). Local policing rates only a passing mention, when in a shopping list of the BRA’s good works for the year, chairman Peter Seaward lists “talking to the Surrey Police Commissioner” .

The Bugle may be mistaken, but it can find no record in any of the minutes for this year or last of any such conversation.

Crime — Bookham is vulnerable

Bookham isn’t dangerous. But neither is it safe, and you wonder why the Bookham Residents’ Association (BRA) insists on treating residents like children by failing to set out its concerns in its pre-election newsletter. Is it that it wants to show incumbent candidates, all Conservatives, in a good light? If so, so much for its pledge to be above party politics.

A Leatherhead Advertiser Survey earlier this year says Ashtead, Dorking‘s Goodwyns Estate and North Leatherhead all have lower reported crime than Bookham.

Over 200 of Bookham and Fetcham’s 857 reported crimes were anti-social behaviour. There were also 161 separate violent or sexual offences and well over 100 burglaries.

So when did you last see a police officer? Bookham used to have two Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). Now we have one (above) and she spends much of her time elsewhere in Mole Valley.

Oddly, the number of officers in Surrey has been steady at over 1,900 for many years (figures, click here). They're just not in Bookham. And the number of Surrey PCSOs has almost halved, from over 200 in 2009 to 119 last year.

The Bugle's close observation of the relationship between local police and the BRA is that it's too cosy by far. Where a Village or Parish Council might be asking searching questions about policing and insisting on answers, Surrey Police know that, if they have to cut back, Bookham's a good place to do it because they'll get an easy ride. 

It's easier, in the end, to plant trees. 

Meanwhile, local councils across the country now fund PCSOs under legislation that gives them powers to fight crime. Polegate in Sussex funds a PCSO for two days a week. Forest Row also part-funds a PCSO. Essex and Herts Police forces run schemes to help.

Other local councils run schemes to help people mark bikes and other property against theft in addition to schemes usually run by Police crime prevention. Wonersh’s PC has installed traffic calming to tackle speeding.

Why shouldn’t Bookham fund itself to do the same?

Vote yes to a Village Council on May 4. At least that way we stand a chance.

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