25/11/2012 Sunday Politics West


25/11/2012

Andrew Neil and David Garmston with the latest political news, interviews and debate.


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Here - the storms lashing the west country: Complaints that stingy

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councils are making flooding worse because the drains are blocked. And

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2247 seconds

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could one local council be about to Thank you, Andrew. Coming up on the

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Sunday Politics in the west on this sodden wet weekend:

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Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. West Somerset Council

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could be the first local authority to be declared bankrupt. They are

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struggling to plug the holes in their leaky budget, but the leader

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says they are not to blame. It's been a week of extreme weather

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with flooding causing disruption across the west. So we've battened

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down the hatches in our little studio this weekend. Helping us

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along today is the Conservative MP for North Wiltshire James Gray, and

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the former Tory MP and now UKIP member Neil Hamilton. James, we

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have been watching what is going on in Brussels this week. No-budget

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agreed, is it time now to give this guy what it -- what he wants, a

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referendum? I am a strong sceptic of the euro. The problem with a

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referendum is the polls show it could go either way. If we have a

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referendum far as to stay in the Union, we are much worse off. --

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for us to stay. There was a situation last week where two

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referendums were a possibility. remember the last one that in 1975.

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Money was poured in by the European Communities, plus a huge amount of

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money from business. It made it impossible for those who were

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against staying in the Common Market to put their case forward

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properly. Without being impolite, if Britain decided to stay in,

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would you be quiet? So to me not. - - certainly not. Our aim is to form

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a government to take us out of the EU. I think it is difficult for us

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to imagine that has seen being sided -- decided just by MPs. We

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want to be out of the EU, regardless for the mechanism for

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achieving it. Days of heavy rain and strong winds

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have caused flash flooding across the west this week. The cost of the

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clean up is still unknown, but local councils will have to pick up

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the tab for mending damaged roads and clearing blocked drains. And

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that will be costly at a time when all of their budgets are being

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squeezed. It has been a week that many would

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rather forget. The heavy rain and high winds combined to cause chaos

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on our roads, and left some homes and business destroyed by flood

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water. In Somerset, council teams were clearing blocked drains.

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time it year is terrible. Know where for the water to go. --

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nowhere. It is a constant battle all over the west. And for some, it

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is too little too late. This house in Wiltshire has flooded three

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times in eight weeks because of poor drainage. They blame the

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council. It is so easy to solve. It is not complicated science. They

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say there is not the money to do this. The money that they have

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already spent in this village building ditchers, the cost that

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doesn't vault - this could have been done 10 times over.

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problem is they don't have the resources, the Manpower, the

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equipment or the expertise to try to solve all these issues at once.

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Spending on highways has been cut back by almost all of our councils,

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except in Wiltshire. But in North Somerset this weekend, a promise to

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do more. We are facing a very difficult budget year. We're

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waiting for more answers from central government on where we will

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be. But the one thing we are committing to is to try and find

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some money to pay it into the highway dangers of this flood

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problem. But there is no point widening the drain if water goes a

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bit further down and then gets stuck somewhere else. It has to be

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a collective solution. Roads churned up by the torrents of water

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will need repairing. The clean up will take weeks, even months - the

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cost could be felt by our councils for even longer. Patrick Palmer is

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an independent councillor in South Somerset. He first stood for

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election 45 years ago because of concerns over flooding. Welcome.

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Have you achieved anything in this 45 years? An enormous amount. In

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1972 in our village, I was the lead to achieve a flat scheme costing

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about �70,000. There were 22 houses flooded in that village every

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single year. So I achieved that. There was another flood scheme and

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several more at other villagers. So I'm very annoyed that the council

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has not actually cleared the drains and get than clear. It just needs

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the trains to be cleared. So what is your message, with your

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specialist interest in flooding and all these years of experience -

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could improvements be made if proper prevention work was carried

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out? I honestly believe small improvements can be made to keep

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the water out of many houses with a minimum of cost. What that actually

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clearing drains? You get rain at this time of year, you get the

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leads in the drains, and of course the consequences are obvious. A our

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councils cutting back, it? It is a county council responsibility.

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Everywhere you go, you can see water coming out of drains along

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the streets. The important ones are the ones like ours at the bottom of

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a help - you need to keep them clear so the pressure of water from

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the top and the volume of water doesn't come out of that rain and

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flat a highway. Once you at the top of the hill, it doesn't matter so

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much. Isn't at a basic local authority responsibility, to keep

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the trains clear? It is, and I'm glad the council saved a lot of

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money by a not cutting back on flood protection. A very good point

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you made is that there is no point clearing ditches at the top of the

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thing when their son in downstream keeping it blocked. -- when there

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is something downstream. Old. In the Somerset planes is that is

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where you store water until it moves down. There is some merit in

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what we call slow water moving all the way. Other councils have not

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maintain their spending is on highways. You think councils have

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taken their eye off the ball? think the government is pouring

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money down drains and metaphorically all the time. But

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they are falling down on this instance where money should

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actually be poured down the drain for productive reasons. There been

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no local authority cuts over all. The amount of money spent by local

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authorities on everything is the same today as it was three years

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ago. With that inflation at course, but in budgets the size of a big

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local authorities, it must be possible to find economies and

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deficiencies. Ultimately, it is a question of priorities. People

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often say it is the services at the front line that get cut rather than

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the back room. Patrick, had you found this, getting the councils to

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spend cash on basic things like train cleaning is difficult? Very

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difficult to get councils to spend money on an unromantic been like

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drains. Not taking into account this weekend, but we have had 59.8

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mm. In a normal year, we that 74. So it has been wet, but not even

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exceptional. So has there been a failure to get the basics right?

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I'm amazed there's been last this year. Over a couple of days this

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week, the rain has been severe, but not as much as we normally have.

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has been sodden. You were saying you were a farm up. The fields of

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sodden. The farmers cannot others their crops and the flood defences

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are overwhelmed and you have a real problem. The real problem is

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whether something big is happening. Business global warming? Thank you

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for coming in. The smallest council in Britain

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remains in deep financial trouble this weekend. West Somerset - which

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covers the Minehead area - is facing bankruptcy. Paul Barltrop

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reports. For the 35,000 residents of West

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Somerset, here's the good news - bins are still going to be

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collected. And now the bad news - the council is losing money. More

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than �100,000 a year - and that It's not new - they've made savings,

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cutting staff and services. But it's nowhere near enough. Part of

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the problem for West Somerset is that by population it is the

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smallest district council in the land. But the significance of what

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is happening here goes far wider - experts including the Audit

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Commission warn many other councils could soon face similar troubles.

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The Local Government Association were asked to help. Its view: West

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Somerset is not viable in the long term. Obviously, West Somerset are

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the most severe the moment, but many other authorities are

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struggling as well and there will be more as time goes on. The cuts

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that local authorities are facing, even though local government is the

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most effective of all government organisations, is just not

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sustainable. One way would be to whack up their part of the council

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tax - by 39%! That would put an extra �50 a year on bills, and

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require a risky local referendum. We do have to think very carefully

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about it. But would be sorry to see the end of West Somerset council.

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�1 a week. Well, probably one would have to. Now, I pay enough already.

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We pay a lot of money for our council tax where we lived. More

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immediately, they've asked the neighbours for help. Next door

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Sedgemoor may share more services - but its leader sounds a cautious

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note. Clearly, there would be savings by combining services, but

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the overriding problem is still that it is a large area with a

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small population. The difficulty is providing those services, and

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they're not going to go away just by an alternative providing those

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services. It is only a short-term measure. Some major decision will

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need to be made as to how those services could be provided in the

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future. The battle to save West Somerset has been fought and won

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before. But in 2007, it was from the threat to replace all the

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county's districts with one unitary authority. Some involved are now

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having second thoughts, encouraged by no less than Michael Heseltine.

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I believe local-government will increasingly need their help

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simpler structures which are more efficient and easy to deal with.

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His recent report for the Government was clear on the future

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of councils. There is great pressure on districts, more of them

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will want to go unitary. That will help with streamlining and decision

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making, and saves �10 million to 15 million a year in each county.

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in West Somerset right now, that's not the answer. Unfortunately, no

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one knows what is. The Conservative leader of West

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Somerset Council Tim Taylor joins us. Good to see it. With respect,

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you may have made a mess of this. don't think a current councillors

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have. We suffer from underfunding because of our sparsity. Much

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higher costs per head of population. Why is it so much higher? Do liver

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:53:04.:53:04.

and services out unbeatable Exmoor -- delivering its services out on a

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beautiful Exmoor. We also have a higher percentage of call costs.

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Both those things really hit us and we do not get compared with other

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councils enough funding to recognise those two things. Over

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the years, have you kept the council tax to low? Won the county

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was booming back in 2004, for example, you put the tax up by 2.8%.

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That is 5p a week. If you had repaired the route when the sun was

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shining committees that Conservative phrase, would you be

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in this mess? That's a very good point. I was not a councillor when

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that happened. We have been capped now so we cannot put the tax up

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enough and that is why a referendum to raise council tax is one option.

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But it is not the only option. put this in perspective, to sort

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this that you are talking about every household paying an

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additional �99. Yeah, we have identified significant savings add

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to the savings already made. We would have to raise the council tax

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by �1 a week on a band D property. Let's bring in the other

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politicians. It's a false economy, isn't it? Deep-freeze council taxes

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and don't put them up properly, and you create problems down the road.

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Is that what some local authorities are doing now under this

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Conservative austerity plan? really. Actually, it doesn't make

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all that much difference. The central government cuts the grant,

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which they had to do, by 27%. Obviously that has a real effect on

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services on the ground. That is the reality of the debt will be handed

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by the Labour government. But there are ways to save money. Will John

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has done it. I know that West Somerset is different. But we have

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saved an enormous amount of money. That is an option, isn't it? Not so

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much a unitary, that is not on the agenda, it will not happen

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immediately. But we do have to work closely with our neighbouring

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councils and to have... It is more to do with... Finance is important.

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But expertise, resilience and capacity are important. I think we

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need to work with other councils. There is room for a democratically

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elected body in west Somerset. But we need to work closely with other

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councils to make sure we've got the capacity and expertise to do what

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we should for the people of West Somerset. Do you have any sympathy

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with this guy? This is one thing you can't blame Europe on.

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course. The government is not in a strong position to blame you for

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not living within their means, because the last thing George

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Osborne is doing is living within his means. For all the talk of cuts,

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government spending has gone through the roof. Last year, it was

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nearly �660 billion. So I don't know where these so-called cuts are

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coming from. There cuts in projected increases, but not cuts

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in actual spending. They can't print them money and they can't or

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indefinitely, unlike him. Sir you should have more cuts, is that what

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he is saying? We got to cut our coat according to the clock. The

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national debt will have doubled in the course of this Parliament from

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�750 billion to 1,000 500 billion. These are colossal sums of money.

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Patrick, you've been on a small council for 45 years. Kenny offered

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any advice to poor old West Somerset? It's not a small council.

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It's one of the biggest councils in the region! Far from me to offer

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advice, I have every sympathy for West Somerset. We have 160,000

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:57:28.:57:30.

people, you're 35,000. We've got industries. I now appreciate how

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big you are! Is bankruptcy is serious option for you? And not in

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the next two years. We can certainly get through them.

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there. Limping on? We really have to cut costs. We understand

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national situation. Either we need more income or we have to work with

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other councils to cut our overheads. OK, thank you for coming in.

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Let's take a look at some of the other political stories from this

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week in our 60-second round up. George Ferguson has been sworn in

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as Bristol's first mayor. It was no coincidence that he chose Temple

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Meads station as the location, as he promised to put transport at the

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heart of his plans. He also renamed the council house City Hall and

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promised to abolish Sunday street parking charges in the city.

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going to do and not because I think it's wonderful that the city

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overtaken by cars, but because I want to make Sunday's special.

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other plans could include raising council tax to help cover the �32

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million worth of cuts the council will have to make.

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The new police and crime commissioners started work this

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week, and their first job will be appointing new chief constables to

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run our police forces. The person appointed has to be someone who

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shares my vision. And after what have been described

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as heated negotiations, the chief of Avon and Somerset also announced

:59:03.:59:13.
:59:13.:59:15.

he is to step down after refusing to re-apply for his own job.

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Let's pick up on the story about the tensions between our police and

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crime commissioners and their chief constables. The chief constable in

:59:25.:59:31.

Avon and Somerset told the new PCC to take a running jump. There will

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be problems, when they? Possibly, or maybe this shows the advantage

:59:36.:59:39.

of these new positions. In Wiltshire, his first job is going

:59:40.:59:46.

to be to appoint the chief constable. A very important account

:59:46.:59:54.

meant -- appointment. He can now appoint someone who will take

:59:54.:00:01.

account of the public's views. Existing GE council balls --

:00:01.:00:04.

existing chief constables may not want to work with someone who they

:00:04.:00:14.
:00:14.:00:15.

don't then knows anything about policing. UKIP didn't want police

:00:15.:00:18.

commissioners and acted. We wanted more elections at a more local

:00:18.:00:22.

level. But having said that, I think an elected police

:00:22.:00:26.

commissioner is better than not having any democratic control of

:00:26.:00:29.

the police. It gives a better form of accountability then was there

:00:29.:00:33.

before. Maybe with a bit of experience of how the situation

:00:33.:00:37.

works, the turnout at the next elections will be greater and there

:00:37.:00:42.

will be more public involvement. I think it's a good thing to have

:00:42.:00:49.

friction between the police commissioner and the Chief

:00:49.:00:53.

Constable, in so far as their priorities which are set by the

:00:53.:00:56.

operational police are different from what the people on the ground

:00:56.:01:04.

actually would like to see. That's what's been missing. For example?

:01:04.:01:09.

Do you want speeding cops on the M4, or do you want catching criminals?

:01:09.:01:13.

Do you want them to tackle terrorism, or do you want people up

:01:13.:01:18.

and down the streets. Those are political decisions, where you put

:01:18.:01:22.

the resources. It is right that a political person should make that

:01:22.:01:28.

decision. Why did nobody turn up in Wiltshire then? But there's nobody

:01:28.:01:33.

knew what it was about. I think he is actually write. In four years'

:01:34.:01:38.

time, people will say that they won their vote to count.

:01:38.:01:41.

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