25/11/2012 Sunday Politics West


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


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


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2247 seconds


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


Sunday Politics in the west on this sodden wet weekend:


Teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. West Somerset Council


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


against staying in the Common Market to put their case forward


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


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


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


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


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


achieving it. Days of heavy rain and strong winds


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


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


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


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


squeezed. It has been a week that many would


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


already spent in this village building ditchers, the cost that


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


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


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


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


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


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


waiting for more answers from central government on where we will


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


an independent councillor in South Somerset. He first stood for


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


specialist interest in flooding and all these years of experience -


could improvements be made if proper prevention work was carried


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


maintain their spending is on highways. You think councils have


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


money down drains and metaphorically all the time. But


they are falling down on this instance where money should


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


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


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


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


local authorities, it must be possible to find economies and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


for coming in. The smallest council in Britain


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


covers the Minehead area - is facing bankruptcy. Paul Barltrop


reports. For the 35,000 residents of West


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


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


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


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


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


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


is happening here goes far wider - experts including the Audit


Commission warn many other councils could soon face similar troubles.


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


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


the most severe the moment, but many other authorities are


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


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


most effective of all government organisations, is just not


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


small population. The difficulty is providing those services, and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I believe local-government will increasingly need their help


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


His recent report for the Government was clear on the future


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


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


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


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


one knows what is. The Conservative leader of West


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


councils enough funding to recognise those two things. Over


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


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


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


shining committees that Conservative phrase, would you be


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


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


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


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


this that you are talking about every household paying an


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


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


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


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


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


Is that what some local authorities are doing now under this


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


not living within their means, because the last thing George


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


promised to abolish Sunday street parking charges in the city.


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


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


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


million worth of cuts the council will have to make.


The new police and crime commissioners started work this


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


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


shares my vision. And after what have been described


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


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


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


crime commissioners and their chief constables. The chief constable in


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


commissioner is better than not having any democratic control of


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


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


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


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


friction between the police commissioner and the Chief


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


operational police are different from what the people on the ground


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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