Petition launched to fight new HBC Office move

Here on Harrogate Borough Council my colleagues and I have been fighting the Conservatives’ plans to spend in the region of £10 million on building brand new offices to house the central administration of the Council.  I have launched a petition that you can sign if you agree with us that there are better ways of spending this money.  The link to the petition is on the home page of my website.

You can find below an extract from a recent press release that we as a group have sent out that outlines why we disagree with the Conservatives on this and what our plans are to update Council facilities.

The Conservative Group have broadly approved a plan to spend an approximate net  capital amount of £10 million (after property disposals) on the new office buildings.  They have already commissioned initial work from a range of contractors, costing in the region of £885,000*, before a final “go-ahead” decision is made by the Council in January 2015.  If the Conservatives do not go ahead with their plan, this approximate £885,00 would become abortive costs.  This would a phenomenal waste of public funding, particularly at a time when some swingeing cuts have just been announced to local bus services, approved by the Conservatives at County Hall.

Cllr Helen Flynn, Shadow Lib Dem Member for Finance and Resources at the Council said, “There are so many reasons why we oppose the scheme– this is simply not just a case of ‘tit for tat’ local politics.  But there are three main reasons: first, the unnecessary waste of local taxpayers’ money at a time when we know grants from Government are continuing to fall year on year and we are seemingly hamstrung from raising more locally from council tax, for example, judging by recent events.  We would rather spend such capital money as is available now on much needed upgrades to local infrastructure. 

“Second, the efficiency savings given as the rationale for this new-build scheme are predicated over a 25-year period.  Who knows what the world will look like in 25 years’ time?  The private sector, in my experience,  would be looking for a real payback on any capital scheme in 4-5 years. 

“Third, there is so much financial and structural uncertainty over the future of local government, that making this decision now, prior to the next General Election in 2015, seems slightly reckless.  There is a strong chance that there will be a nationwide move to unitary status after 2015, and the cuts to central Government grants to local authorities since 2010 have been giving us strong clues, in my opinion, as to the way things are going.”

The Lib Dem Group has been in favour of using such land as is available at Knapping Mount for affordable housing rather than as a site for shiny new offices.  Councillor Philip Broadbank, Leader of the Lib Dem Group, said, “We are crying out for more affordable homes across the district, and Knapping Mount would make a perfect infill site for a good number of affordable homes which would not put too much strain on local infrastructure.”

* The  potential abortive costs comprise the following elements: Full Professional Advisory Team (architect, quantity surveyor, planning consultant, mechanical and electrical engineer, etc) and an internal project manager over 2 stages before a final decision is taken in January 2015.



Ukip: Let’s Have A Debate About Low Skills

There has been an inconsistency between two highly prominent policy areas that has been niggling away at the back of my mind for quite some time now.  Ukip needs to take note.

So, take two policy areas and also take into account the temperature (at least according to the Daily Mail, etc) of the voters.

The first area is education.  Schools that do not match up to the floor levels at Key Stage 2 and at GCSE are pounced upon by Ofsted.  They require improvement or are put into special measures.  All children must get 5 good GCSEs.  They must progress and they must aspire.  Think of the slogans that populate the UK and US education policy discourse: “no child must be left behind; “every child matters”; and social mobility is regarded and upheld as a kind of rebalancing panacea to address all social ills and help narrow the gap.

According to our friends at the Mail, the education system is failing us and is exhorted to go further—we need to go back to the “golden days” of selective education and we must emulate the private system, held up as THE model for how to educate children.  There has been a “race to the bottom”, manifested by the comprehensive system that must be addressed through individual school accountability and competition between schools—ie, academies.

Everyone—teachers, pupils, parents—must do better to ensure we have the skills fit for the “knowledge economy” which will ensure we are leaders in the “global race”.

The second area is immigration.  The current policy proposals demand point systems, which mean that the only immigrants we are prepared to allow in are those with skills.  Those who come in, unbidden and unwanted (by the Mail readers), through free flow from the EU and work in our strawberry fields or on our assembly lines or wait in our bars and restaurants, are frowned upon.  They are taking our jobs!  The jobs of our young people, in particular—at least, according to the Mail.  On the doorstep people tell us that immigration must be stopped, that these incomers are not needed, that we can fill the gaps with our home-grown citizens.

Yet by our own national policy priorities, our young people must get 5 good GCSEs  and aspire to skilled jobs.  They must not take the unskilled jobs, as if they do, both they and the system will have failed, apparently.

So if we keep out the low skilled immigrants and stick with our current education policies, logically we will have to stop producing strawberries in our fields, as there will be no-one to pick them, and we will have to further denude our manufacturing sector, as there will be no-one to man the production lines.

So, what do we do?  Do we regressively alter our education priorities and accept that some people will work in the low-skilled sector and should not aspire to move up the social mobility ladder ?

Or do we accept that immigration of low-skilled workers in particular is actually important in our economy as it means that people come here, work hard in low paid, low skilled jobs and, if they do decide to stay, usually aspire to get their second generation into skilled jobs?

Maybe the Daily Mail will come to accept that the “price” of civilization and progress, at least when seen within the context of a system of national borders, is immigration?  Otherwise it’s back to the feudal days of lords and peasants.

Ah, but maybe that is what Ukip is all about, after all…….


A model business to learn from, created and based in Harrogate

Left to Right: Nick Heaton, Managing Director, Helen Flynn and Andy Makin, Sales Director.
Left to Right: Nick Heaton, Managing Director, Helen Flynn and Andy Makin, Sales Director.

It’s no surprise that EnviroVent has won so many national and local awards.  On my visit there today, I came away feeling that there was a glimmer of hope for a renaissance of the manufacturing sector in the UK.  And the fact that this beacon of best practice is based in–and committed to remaining in–Harrogate, is just wonderful.

Since 1st January 2014, 10 new employees have come on board and the sales figures inexorably are on the increase month on month.  The fact that their real step change in terms of sales growth began in 2007 and has escalated year on year in the teeth of a double dip recession and a period of virtually stagnant growth is strong testament to the management of the organisation.

But what is the key to the success?  Many things. But  I will pick out three:

  1.  A truly inclusive approach to their workforce which means that there are some 16 different nationalities amongst their total staff of over 200, and 50% of leadership positions are occupied by women.  And a commitment to staff which means that bespoke training is provided to employees according to their prospects, abilities and ambitions. It’s a fact that many of the middle and senior staff started on the shop floor and have found their niche as they have progressed within the company.
  2. A strong commitment to Research and Development (R&D), with a research facility on site which means that the business will not be left behind and will be able to compete strongly in a global market.  Over and above the commitment to R&D, there is a culture of innovation and reinvention that underpins every activity that the company engages in.
  3. Awareness-raising and problem-solving with regards to a little understood  health problem that the low energy ventilation units that the company manufactures can significantly alleviate–that problem being poor air quality.  They are not in the business of just flogging you a fan to put up in your bathroom, for example, though that is of course a tactic (and one that admittedly makes the company money!), but rather looking at a significant problem in the round and working out how their innovation and expertise can help to solve it.  In short, they are providing a total offer to the consumer.

I will be taking up the issue of poor air quality with parliamentarians, and how we should be addressing this as an issue in our policy proposals, as we can actually save lives by taking this issue seriously.  More on this anon.  But for now, I would like to thank the directors who took the time to chat with me today and show me around– Nick Heaton, Managing Director, and Andy Makin, Sales Director–and Chair, Ron Russell-Hobbs.

The business community in Harrogate is richer by having EnviroVent firmly committed to it.  I look forward to visiting more companies and organisations in the Harrogate & Knaresborough constituency over the coming months.