Opinion: Belper Town Council Not in a Generous Mood – Except to Celebrate the Queen’s birthday

I attended the Town Council Meetings on Tuesday, 8th March as I do most times they meet.  I am always surprised how few people go along to see what their elected representatives are doing and how they are spending our money – especially given how often I hear people complain about ‘them’.  On Tuesday, as is usual, there were half a dozen of us observing the meeting where decisions were made about our town.  I say ‘where decisions were made’, but actually all of the town councillors are Conservatives, they have a pre-meeting, so I imagine that most of the decisions have been made before they sit around the table in front of the public.

This week, there were a couple of grant applications for arts initiatives, and both were turned down.  A request to support an Arts Market in Belper was also turned down.  The reasons given were that the council already supported Fleet Arts, that they didn’t want to support people who were ‘lining their own pockets’, and something about ‘the current financial climate’(1).  Current financial climate?  As far as I am aware, the ‘current financial climate’ is not affecting our town council, who have very healthy financial reserves.  In fact, whenever they are questioned about these reserves, they ask for people to come forward with funding requests.

Whenever I tell someone that I live in Belper, they invariably say something along the lines of ‘Oh, yes, Belper, it’s a fabulous place for the arts’ or ‘yes, we came along to an arts/music event there, it’s really great to find a place that champions the arts.’  I’m not from Belper, I live in Belper by choice.  One of the things I love about Belper , and why a returned here to live, is the way that there is always something ‘arty’ going on.  A music festival, an arts event, an exhibition in Number 28, a play at the Strutts, lots and lots of other things happening right here on our doorstep.  None of these things happen by accident, someone has to organise them and arrange funding.  Arranging funding for Belper events is likely to mean the request of a grant from Belper Town Council.

I sat and listened, thinking that the council were obviously not as interested in the arts as I thought they were, or that they were in a particularly ungenerous mood.  They even turned down a request for support from Accessible Belper to assist with a scheme to provide chairs for people shopping in the town.  This was discussed and, because the request had come from what looked like a private care company (the secretary of Accessible Belper works there, but the company is not involved with Accessible Belper) the discussion was along the lines that a private care company should not need funds from the council, and that they didn’t want to be involved in this.  Having seen a couple of the town council members at Accessible Belper meetings, they must know that Accessible Belper is not affiliated to any private company, and that the request was to make the town more welcoming for people shopping here – although no-one spoke up to say that the council should assist with the scheme.

Anyway, as I say, I thought they were all just feeling particularly ungenerous – until it came to decisions about the celebrations for the Queen’s upcoming 90th birthday.  When this item was discussed, there were lots of warm words and positive noises.  Not only that, but the funds that could be used for preparations for this event were increased – so that the committee could spend up to £2500 on the celebrations.  Now, I am not pro or anti the Queen – I don’t have strong feelings either way.  But to turn down specific requests for support from people in Belper, to then commit to spending up to £2500 on celebrations on one day for the Queen’s birthday just does not seem right.

The town council meets each month, the dates and times are on the website http://www.belpertowncouncil.gov.uk/meeting_dates.php  You are allowed to speak on any matter relating to the business on the agenda.  If you want to make sure your voice is heard, go along to the meetings and let your elected councillors hear your views.

By Sue MacFarlane

 

  1. Due to some public misunderstanding Nailed wishes to state that these quotes reflect the council’s attitude to unspecified parties and should not be taken as a truthful or provable accusation against specific groups or people.

10 thoughts on “Opinion: Belper Town Council Not in a Generous Mood – Except to Celebrate the Queen’s birthday

  • 11th March 2016 at 1:42 am
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    I agree whole heartedly with your comments Sue. Belper is a great place to live, particularly because it has such a warm, enthusiastic, creative community which I am sure draws many people to the area. We are a World Heritage site and I feel it is very important that we encourage people to come and enjoy the creativity and wealth of talent we have here. As for ‘ lining their own pockets’, it seems to me that, judging by the performance of ous present government, there is no one better at that than the Conservatives. I find it hard to believe the council would turn down a request to support Accessible Belper, but then gain maybe I am not. £2500 seems a lot of money to spend on the Queen’s birthday. I noticed recently that our MP Pauline Latham was encouraging residents to clean for the Queen. Maybe the money could be put to good use paying people who are experiencing hard times to do the cleaning.
    I have been to a few council meetings and council members seem very reluctant to put their financial reserves to good use. It will be interesting to see what they actually do spend it on.

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  • 12th March 2016 at 12:25 am
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    Ever since last May’s Belper Town Council election fiasco, the 100% Tory council has operated without any dissenting voice. This means they can freely indulge their default position of refusing grant applications on spurious grounds. People will not turn up to Council meetings to watch this confederacy of dunces in action. Belper is also represented at Borough Council level by some of the very same people, and led by serial bungler Belper North Councillor Alan Cox. Voting Labour in the Amber Valley Council election in May is the only chance of replacing another malfunctioning Tory Council.

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    • 14th March 2016 at 8:13 pm
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      Then we will be back to having to watch the unprofessional antics of Labour blaming the Tories, and visa versa. I have witnessed this so many times at local and borough levels. People are just as unlikely to attend council meetings to watch unseemly disagreements and unproductive use of time. Councillors are voted in to represent and work for their locality not waste time aportioning blame. It is a shame that party politics seem to have such a major part to play at a local level, when at the end of the day the well being of our town and its population are important to us all. Perhaps it is time for some new blood, to bring a balance and a breath of fresh air to local government, in the shape of Green or Independent candidates. Maybe this would bring an end to petty squabbles, and it wouldn’t be a moment to soon.

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      • 27th March 2016 at 11:05 am
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        Councils are decision making bodies. Whenever there are decisions to be made there will be differences of opinion. Some of the worst and most petty arguments I have witnessed have been little voluntary organisations where everyone is supposedly there for exactly the same cause. To think that Green or independent councillors would be less prone to this is not realistic on any level. Ask the people in Brighton under a Green Council. Politics is about choices and that is always going to generate conflict. What we are seeing at the moment in The Town Council is what happens when a Conservative mindset is given free reign, i.e. the default assumption that certain kinds of spending ,arts, those which help the less well off etc are probably not justified, especially ‘ when ‘times are hard.’ National Tories cut council funding and local Tories use this to justify being even more stingy than before. Just as a BTC meeting is now an echo chamber for this thinking, where they re-in force each other’s views. Labour would take the meetings out of the pokey little back room at St John’s and open up the whole decision making process. Labour would have participatory decision making over the town budget. This means making a big effort to engage people, not sitting back and saying no one is interested , which is what the Mayor told me. We would have linked it to the Neighbourhood Plan. Unfortunately, we got five more years of the Tory love in instead. I hope the same thing doesn’t happen this May.

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  • 22nd March 2016 at 6:01 pm
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    Are you able to say what the two arts initiatives that were turned down for funding were?

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  • 22nd March 2016 at 6:04 pm
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    Could you advise where people can read the minutes of Town Council meetings.
    Thanks

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  • 22nd March 2016 at 6:06 pm
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    Every tome I try to leave a reply I am asked to comment, resulting in a monologue.

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  • 10th May 2016 at 4:30 pm
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    I have only just come across this article and feel that I must clarify the position regarding the funding. The allocation of £2,500 is an absolute maximum and as things currently stand the committee has not spent anything close to that, nor do we envisage doing so. The events taking place are over the course of a weekend and not just for 1 day, of which we aim that some will be self funding, with any extra revenue made going to the Mayors Charity, while others will be free events for the whole town to enjoy. I hope this offers a little further information for anyone reading this article.
    Now, do I sign off as one of the “confederacy of dunces” as your newly elected AVBC Councillor for Belper Central so affectionately calls us?…….. Nah, I left the playground many years ago.

    Reply

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