The Evening Standard reports that four Conservative councillors in Merton have resigned the whip and are considering joining UKIP. They are Cllr Richard Hilton, Cllr Suzanne Evans, Cllr Rod Scott and Cllr Linda Scott.
If we turn to the Wimbledon Guardian for further and better particulars it seems to be more about personalities than policy. The Gang of Four don't seem to like the new Conservative Group leader Cllr Oonagh Milton, or the new Mayor, the Conservative councillor Cllr Krystal Miller. They thought the position should have gone to the Deputy Mayor Cllr Chris Edge.
It all sounds like a bit of spat. So far as I can tell all those involved are good Conservatives - it's just that one group can't stand the other group. So those in the minority have stormed off. It's not really good anything to do with David Cameron, or the European Union or whether or not the Council Tax should be cut. I often think that the machinations of a local council would make a fantastic soap opera.
I suppose it will all help the Labour Party in next year's council elections - especially if the breakaway group run as rival candidates. But is there a wider relevance? UKIP may well pick up a windfall of four new councillors who would otherwise have sat as independents. UKIP offers the disaffected a home to go to. They may well encourage those elsewhere who are unhappy to feel a bit more comfortable about quitting.
George Grant, a former foreign correspondent and think tank analyst, on the dispute between a Green MP and a Green Council. Follow George on Twitter
There’s trouble afoot down in Brighton, the super-lefty slice of England that’s home to the country’s only Green-led council and its only Green MP. The row has largely passed below the radar of the mainstream media, but it highlights a much bigger issue that merits more attention.
Several months ago Brighton & Hove council announced plans to overhaul special allowances paid to its workforce, a fancy way of saying it wanted to reduce the pay bill. About 6,000 council employees will be affected under the scheme, with union bosses claiming that around 1,000 staff are in line to lose as much as £4,000 a year.
The council says the move is necessary to prevent layoffs in light of the need to curb public spending.
Enter stage-left Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, who has denounced the plans as “unacceptable” and made clear her “opposition to any cuts in take-home pay”.
Bolstered by a local party vote last Tuesday evening to condemn the offer and express “dismay that responsibility for the pay negotiations was handed to council officers”, Lucas has now pledged to join striking workers on the picket lines… against her own council.
After the local election results I noted that in several counties there could be Conservative/UKIP coalitions and that in terms of policy these would offer UKIP their best chance to advance their stated causes of lower Council Tax, less political correctness and bureaucracy, fewer potholes and expansion of grammar schools.
Yet so far no such coalitions have come about and in general this seems to be due to UKIP refusing to negotiate. In Lincolnshire there is to be a Conservative/Lib Dem/Independents coalition. The Lib Dems will have one Cabinet Member. The Conservative council leader Cllr Martin Hill would have been happy to have talked to UKIP about a coalition but they weren't interested. They delayed a week before choosing their group leader - lacking any sense of urgency that in a large organisations there are decisions that have to be taken. But even before their meeting it was made clear that they would only have been interested in a UKIP/Lab/Lib Dem/Independents coalition.
In East Sussex there will be a minority Conservative administration.
The Labour Government kept secret a report from 2007 estimating the impact of immigration from eastern Europe. It has been disclosed following a Parliamentary Question about the additional costs to public services of immigration.
What would be the economic costs and benefits? What would be the impact on crime? What about housing? What would be the geographical distribution within the UK?
In some respects the burdens would be relatively low. The "young demographic" of those coming over to work from eastern Europe meant a proportionately lower burden on the NHS. There was no evidence found that immigration increased unemployment overall. There were considered to be a net benefit regarding economic growth. On the other hand for schools there was the challenge of extra "English as an Additional Language" pupils.
All this data is important for a more informed debate. Rather than being pro or anti immigration the debate should shift to what individuals offer. Why do they want to live here? Are they entrepreneurs? Are they welfare tourists?
The Communities and Local government Secretary Eric Pickles said:
"This is Labour's secret report on immigration which they didn't want you to see. Under this Government immigration has fallen by a third and we are working hard to ensure proper controls on immigration and to support those who work hard to get on in life. We are also working to address the ‘pull’ factors that previously led to unsustainable impacts on this country."
The key to Michael Gove's speech on Thursday, and to our opponents' furious response, lies in his use of this joke:
As Dr Johnson once observed of two women arguing from the windows of houses on opposing sides of a street - ‘they will never agree, Boswell, because they are arguing from different premises’.
Follow Michael Rosen's monthly free hit at Michael Gove, and the debate in the comments column - in which I take part as Quaestor - and you will see the chasm running down the middle of education's street.
The Left see the purpose of Michael Gove's reforms to the curriculum, testing and examinations, as ensuring that a high proportion of children fail, are labelled as failures from the earliest possible age, have their confidence battered, and are then fed into docile, low-paid employment. Some contributors add his intention to privatise the education service and hand it to Rupert Murdoch, and some just write four-letter abuse, which The Guardian usually deletes.
Michael Gove's premises are set out in his speech, which addresses the fundamental question of what education is for, beginning with literacy, which remains the foundation of everything else. He quotes the view of John Blake, of Labour Teachers, that Michael Rosen's column is ‘basically an argument that poor kids can’t possibly learn to write properly’.
The Press Association reports:
Barking and Dagenham London Borough - Longbridge:
Lab 1555, Ukip 466, C 284, Lib Dem 78, and BNP 37. (May 2010 - Three seats Lab 3292, 2900, 2559, Lib Dem 1239, C 1221, 1109, BNP 677, Ind 452, 388, Ukip 383, Ind 369, C 316, Ind 167).
Lab hold. Swing 3.1 per cent Ukip to Lab.
Leicester City - Abbey:
Lab 1190, C 562, Ind 352, Lib Dem 212, Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts 165. (May 2011 - Three seats Lab 1579, 1542, 1511, Liberal 479, C 456, 422, Liberal 392, 353, C 333, Ukip 301, 287, 207, Lib Dem 230, 185, 168).
Lab hold. Swing 7.5 per cent Lab to C.
Oldham Borough - Alexandra:
Lab 1553, Ukip 412, Lib Dem 96, C 80, Green 55. (Lab 1100, C 826, Lib Dem 447).
Lab hold. Swing 27.7 per cent C to Lab.
Thanet District - Cliftonville East:
Ukip 699, C 526, Lab 352, Ind 112, Lib Dem 32. (May 2011 - Three seats C 1187, 1165, 1155, Ind 601, 598, Lab 515, 490, 456, Green 283).
Ukip gain from C. Swing 8.3 per cent C to Lab).
Interesting detail of the collapse of the BNP vote in Barking and Dagenham. If they are getting such a derisory showing in this borough it indicates that the era of democratically elected neo-Nazis in our council chambers does seem to be drawing to a close.
There were also lots of Council byelections last week (118 so rather too many to list) alongside the main council elections. The Conservatives made net losses of nine. We held 48 of the 64 seats we were defending. However we gained five seats from the Lib Dems and two from Labour (in Wellingborough and Wycombe.) The 16 losses were mostly to UKIP and to independents.
The Taxpayers' Alliance annual Town Hall Rich List is out and it shows a quite significant fall in the number of council staff on six figure salaries (or rather "remuneration" as the TPA rightly includes the cost of pension contributions.) There were 2,525 council employees who received total remuneration in excess of £100,000 in 2011 -12. This is a fall of 11% on the previous year when the total was 2,839.
Also included within that figure of 2,525 are dozens of posts where the salary cost is split between more than one council. That is trend I expect will continue. If two neighboring district councils share a chief executive and he is paid £110,000 isn't that likely to be better value than them each employing their own at £95,000? There is a saving of £80,000. Yet that would show up on the TPA survey as an increase in fat cat pay.
There is no simple equation between Town Hall pay for senior executives, and the Council Tax and quality of services. The two councils with the lowest Council Tax - Westminster and Wandsworth - pay their senior people very well indeed. These councils also have high satisfaction from their residents with the standard of the services they provide.
Let's judge by "outputs" rather than "inputs." If the Council Tax is low and the services are good then so what if the chief executive is paid more than the Prime Minister? However councils that are charging higher Council Tax and pleading they have "no alternative" are rather more open to challenge.
Keith Mitchell, the former Conservative leader of Oxfordshire County Council, stood down as a councillor this month but I am pleased that this has not stopped him blogging.
He has written a series of posts on the local election results in his county where the Conservatives just lost overall control. The emphasis is a lively account of the local personalities and factions and mechanics of coalition following the inconclusive result.
However Mr Mitchell also offers advice to David Cameron, who as well as being Prime Minister is also one of the county's MPs.
Mr Mitchell says:
I think you and your team need to be stronger and clearer about the limitations of coalition government as well as the benefits. You need to spell out what the Liberals are preventing us from doing however much that may threaten the coalition.
The Government has released figures on the level of debt and the resulting interest bill for each local authority. The total spending on debt interest comes to £3.043 billion a year.
For many councils this is a huge item of spending, yet one where little effort has been made to reduce it. Routinely, high debt is combined with a long list of surplus or under-used assets.
Hull City Council has just increased the Council Tax by 1.95%. The council has debts of £454 million costing £8 million in interest payments.
It owns 670 works of art but the council doesn't know how much they are worth.
The response to my FOI request was:
The art collection has not been separately valued and is not separately insured. It comes under the general insurance for the Museum collections.
How many of these works of art are on display?
The Borough does not have a separate permanent art gallery so few of the works are on permanent display (four currently at the Museum and a small number within the Guildhall) but there are temporary displays of material from the collection at regular intervals.