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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.