Category Archives: News

County & District Councillor’s July Blog

I write this half way through a fortnight of having a young person “shadowing” me – Laurence Hayward is one of our two UK Youth Parliament Members for Dorset and has been with me on his work experience. Laurence is aged 15 and attends Sturminster High School. We have two UK Youth Parliament Members for Dorset and the other one for this year is Rory Baird who attends Gryphon School.

Having to show another person what I do and how I do it makes me much more aware of what a varied job being a councillor is and what a privilege it is. Poor Laurence has had a week of early starts and generally late finishes. We started the week at 9.30 a.m. on the Monday by going to take photos of an overgrown field which it is hoped can be bought to be a nature reserve and allow the Trailway to be extended beyond Stur. After a quick introduction to the Sturminster Newton Town Clerk, he learnt about the Wyvern Credit Union and also Wheels to Work, both of which may be of value to young people going into work. Along the way he also met our Grounds Team Manager. He then found himself discussing a million pound project, the hope of developing a business hub in Stur., which could provide more and better paid work for our young people if it comes into being. The following morning he was back in the field again with me at 8.00 a.m. meeting the County Rangers whose responsibility this will be. After a full day of training he was with me at Hazelbury Bryan Parish Council at 8.00 p.m. for two hours where a lively meeting took place with residents and councillors engaging in heated discussions about the Neighbourhood Plan, speeding issues and pig grazing. He has participated in the Corporate Parenting Board which is concerned with the well-being of children in care and a review of the Children and Adolescents Mental Health Service. He was bemused by the County Farms Liaison Committee, not being a farming lad. He has attended training sessions on how we attempt to combat anti-social behaviour, followed by training on Corporate Development. He spent a day at the Verwood District Council By-election including attending the Count and was surprised by how well we get on across the Parties and how friendly everyone was. In the coming week he will be spending two days in London with our MP Simon Hoare and three more with me. Before that we will be at the Special Educational Needs Development Group followed by a briefing on Treasury Management and then a Conservative Group Meeting on the Monday. He will be addressing the full County Council on the Thursday and following that with an information session on Diversity in the County and the Town Council’s Planning and Environment Committee that evening.. The final delights on the Friday will be a meeting of the Shadow Executive Committee which is the main decision making body for the Shadow Authority and an afternoon trip with me to Boscombe in my role as Chairman of the Dorset Race Equality Council. He did decline to come with me on my weekend work but I can forgive him that. We still have some things to do we could not fit in, notably going for a trip round my Division with the Community Highways Officer to look at potholes, a visit to the Highways control room, a meeting with the Gypsy and Traveller Chaplain at Hilfield Friary, and a meeting at Stur. High School in the autumn about their desire to get an astroturf pitch. Its all in a fortnight’s work for a Councillor.

As we move towards the new Dorset Council there is concern being expressed by the public about how it may save money, about the harmonisation of council tax and whether the Council and Councillors will be more distant from the residents, as Dorchester will be the headquarters.

Dorset has been a poor relation as far as Revenue Support Grant from Central Government is concerned and is about to cease to get any, indeed in 2020 is expected to pay money from our Council Tax to central government. So any savings from the unification will not mean a reduction in Council Tax, they are to fill the hole left by the loss of grant, whilst endeavouring to avoid cuts in front line services. Support services, including the most expensive staff, will be centralised to avoid duplication and make savings. Currently there are 174 County and District Councillors across rural Dorset and this will be reduced to 82 Dorset Councillors. The head office of North Dorset District Council has already gone and Councillors rent a village hall or rooms at West Dorset’s headquarters for meetings. Similarly East Dorset’s head office has gone. Some office space will remain by way of “hubs” in the rural area for the public to meet officers or bases for staff to go out from within their areas. All councils have been reviewing their assets, selling what they can, and trying to make best use of modern means of communicating. The numbers of staff allegedly earning high salaries is quoted by critics but numbers quoted include school staff employed by the County Council, not just people at County Hall. Salary levels are set in line with national measures and Dorset’s have traditionally been comparatively low.

“Harmonisation” means that residents across rural Dorset will pay the same Dorset Council Tax at each band level, because the former Districts will have gone and we will have one, rural Dorset wide Council delivering the same services across the county. There will still be local variations in the amounts precepted by individual town and parish councils.

Surgeries and door knocking in August: Saturday 4th August 9.30 p.m. door knocking in Glanvilles Wootton; 10.30 a.m. Surgery and Coffee Morning Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 a.m. Surgery in The Exchange Coffee Bar, Sturminster Newton Saturday 11th August Hilton Church Get Together and Mud Pie Café Okeford Fitzpaine
Saturday 18th August… taking the day off to attend Victoria Foot’s wedding in Mappowder.

Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone – 01258 472583 Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page – Councillor Pauline Batstone

Blackmore Vale Division Councillor’s Blog

As I write this blog the pace of life of local government in Dorset has increased dramatically as we move towards the ending of the life of Dorset County Council and North Dorset District Council and the formal start on 1st April 2019 of the new Dorset Council which will take on the functions of the former Dorset County Council and the Districts. So for the remainder of this year we have various “Shadow” bodies meeting, notably the Shadow Council meeting on 7th June. On that warm summer’s evening potentially 160+ councillors packed into one large room at South Walks House. I am not specific about the number of Councillors as just when I think I do have the correct number someone else dies or resigns…… One benefit of the new authority will be that we can be clear that we will have 82 Councillors at one level, working with their Parish and Town Councillors. The newly elected Chairman of the Shadow Council, Cllr. Cox, made an unfortunate remark at the start of the meeting, saying that under the new arrangements from May 2019 each resident would only have one Councilor to relate to…. no, they will still have their Parish and Town Councillors who can often be more effective at improving the quality of life than people further up the tree. I realised a long time ago that whilst those at the top of the government tree are seen to have the power, it’s the people lower down who actually get things done. I enjoy working in partnership with my parish councillors, even if they do make my life difficult when three parishes all want to meet on the same evening. The first Tuesday of the month means Hilton and Ansty at 7.00 p.m., dashing across to Okeford Fitzpaine for 7.30 p.m. and then catching up with Hazelbury half way through their meeting. Then there are the parish chairmen who have to call meetings at short notice when they have something to consider, which is great for them but can totally throw my plans, bless them.

The new authority has to set a budget for its first year of combined powers and no local authority can set a deficit budget. There are some difficult discussions to be had because of the change of emphasis in spending for those used to the Districts. For the County Council now, and the new Dorset Council next year, the biggest budget item is and will be the care of the elderly, which, with children and families care, is something like 75%+ of revenue. These areas of work are all demand led, we have to find ways of meeting the needs of the elderly and of children and keeping them safe, we cannot refuse to help, although there are criteria to be met. One increasing problem with elderly care is that people go into care homes of their choice, believing they have sufficient funds to pay for their care. However care is expensive and money can run out whilst the individual is, hopefully, still going strong – at that point when capital drops to a certain level the local authority must pay. The local authority is clear that it will pay for good quality care but not for hotel service. Hence the problems when old people either have to move to a cheaper home or their relatives have to supplement the costs. I have been through the process of sorting care for two elderly relatives so far. In one case the local authority put a charge on her house to cover the money they were putting in, which was redeemed when that individual died, and I also supplemented the costs. In the other case the sale of the cousin’s flat paid for an annuity at a cost equivalent to three years payments, which so far has covered her for four years and she is still going strong (aged 98 and her mother lived to 105). She also still has money left in the bank to leave to her nieces and nephews. I strongly recommend anyone thinking in advance about how they may fund their care to give themselves peace of mind and also to reduce the burden on their fellow council tax payers.

Roads are another vital part of our responsibilities at County but the Highways Budget has had to take some savage cuts to support elderly and family care. The Highways team are very aware that they are often being forced to take short term measures, notably pothole mending, when they would rather take a more fundamental, preventative approach, but the money just is not there. The new Council will bring together the assets and incomes of all the merging councils but some are more asset rich than others, notably Weymouth with its council owned hotels and West Dorset with its seaside car parks. North Dorset has the lowest Council tax at present but under the new authority the council tax rates across rural Dorset wil have to be brought to the same level at some point, sooner rather than later, with increases not being matched by any obvious improvement in services. At the same time, as I have said before, the central government revenue support grant ceases and they start asking us to pay them money – that is still being protested about through our MPs and through the Local Government Association.

The whole point of merging the local authorities is to make the best use of the resources available to us and give the best service we can, but the future is going to be difficult. The 82 Councillors responsible for this will be elected on 2nd May next year – the words “poisoned chalice” come to mind.

Surgeries and door knocking in July:
Saturday 7th July 9.30 p.m. door knocking in Glanvilles Wootton; 10.30 a.m. Surgery and Coffee Morning Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 a.m. Surgery in The Exchange Coffee Bar, Sturminster Newton
Saturday 14th July Hilton
Saturday 21st July door knocking in Hazelbury Bryan; 11.00 ish Okeford Fitzpaine.
Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone – 01258 472583 Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page – Councillor Pauline Batstone

County & District Councillor’s June Blog 2018

My month of May has rather been dominated by a non-Council event, that of the Centenary Celebrations for the Old Girls Association of my old school, Lord Digby’s in Sherborne, on the 12th May. The school and its brother school Fosters, were founded in the mid eighteenth century by local philanthropists and continued until 1992 when they and St. Aldhelm’s School were merged to form the excellent Gryphon School. During the First World War Lord Digby’s set up its Old Girls Association, formalising it in 1918. Whether the founder girls and staff realised just how important the support and friendship of their school-friends was going to be in the new post war world when so many men had died, we do not know. What we do know, as said by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell, in his speech, is that many families were not formed, nor children born, in the early part of the last century because of the high male death toll of the war, plus the the Spanish Flu epidemic which came after, and a disproportionate number of women went through life on their own. The opportunities, expectations and ambitions of young women today are both very different from those of the girls of 1918, and yet very much the same – to have fulfillment in their families, in their careers and in their communities. The girls of Lord Digby’s were expected, and well-trained, to accept responsibility and play their part in the society of Dorset and beyond, and the girls of Gryphon are following that pattern. Through all those changes over 100 years the Old Girls Association has continued, producing regular magazines which have enabled Old Girls and Staff around the world to keep in touch, and holding its annual Founders Service jointly with the Old Fosterians, although we do rather outnumber them. At our celebration on the 12th May a celebration 100 cake was cut by the three oldest ladies present, all in their 90s. Having got the big party out of the way, there is always a lot of clearing up and sorting out to do which takes as long as the setting up did in the first place. As the Old Girls of Lord Digby’s grow fewer in number I hope that our Association may eventually gently merge with whatever organisation the Gryphon develops for its former pupils, to keep that spirit of comradeship alive.

The month of May is a busy one for Parish Council Annual Meetings, my problem being when several happen on the same time and same night and I have to make a choice and risk offending someone – I usually choose the one I have least recently been to.

At both the County and District Councils, whilst business is continuing as usual, additional work is being undertaken to implement the move to the unitary across rural Dorset.
A shadow authority is being set up to prepare for the new authority which will be called ‘Dorset Council’. It will consist of the existing 206 council seats across the Dorset Area, but accounting for twin hatted Members, this equates to 175 councillors. It will have a shadow executive committee of 20 members providing a balance of representation from the Dorset Area. The Shadow Authority would have to meet on at least three occasions, firstly to appoint a Shadow Executive (SE), which would then take charge of the vast majority of the transition function and secondly to agree the new council’s budget. The first meeting is expected to take place in mid June.

The shadow authority is in place prior to the elections for the new Dorset Council. The Structural Change Order states there will be 82 councillors in the new authority ‘Dorset Council’. A ward boundary review is being undertaken to look at the existing wards and any changes that can be implemented prior to elections in May 2019. All political parties will be looking for people who wish to consider becoming councillors and of course anyone can stand independently. Each Ward is like to contain around 2,500 homes, so that many doors to be knocked on and leaflets delivered to, half the size of the current County Divisions.

In case you have time to travel further abroad for your entertainment over the weekend of the 1st June a lot will be happening from Friday onwards with the Real Ale and Cider Festival at The Exchange in Sturminster Newton going on for three days. On Saturday 2nd June the Anonymous Traveling Market will be selling local produce; the Craft Fair will be in The Exchange and Rotary are holding a Plant Sale in the Railway Gardens. On Sunday 3rd, whilst the Real Ale and Cider Festival continues inside, the Big Lunch, organised again by Rotary, will be happening from 12.00 to 4.00 p.m in the Railway Gardens (free to all, just bring your own picnic).

 

Surgeries and door knocking June:
Saturday 2nd June 9.30 a.m. door knocking in Glanvilles Wootton; 10.30 a.m. Surgery and Coffee Morning Pulham Village Hall
Village Hall; 11.30 a.m. Surgery in The Exchange Coffee Bar, Sturminster Newton
Saturday 16th June 9.30 a.m. door knocking in Hazelbury Bryan; 11.00 ish Okeford Fitzpaine.
Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone – 01258 472583 Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page – Councillor Pauline Batstone

County & District Councillor’s May Report

The month of April began with the opening of the Community Chest community shop for Stur., the aim of which is to raise funds to use the improvement of the central town environment. As well as acting as line manager to the Shop Manager and being a general dog body, I have done a couple of shifts so far as a shop assistant.

At the County Council in my role as Chairman of the Children and Adults Safeguarding Committee I have attended a “wash up” meeting following our 13th March Meeting. I also attended the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board. The Safeguarding Committee are concerned to explore further the issue of children out of school and also the issue of how the Youth Clubs, set up when Youth Centres were closed, have fared. Both issues will be looked at in the July meeting. A fun event was the Youth Council’s session where young people met to consider and review the Council’s pledge to those in care. This formed part of an overnight stay for the young people at the Springhead Centre, Fontmell Magna, and I have to confess I gave my apologies for the various wide game and other activities planned to tire them out during the night. The downside of that was hearing some worrying tales from some young people of how they have been treated whilst in care, which I have fed back to the Department

I attended the Annual Meeting of the County Council which in large part is a formality but we also considered two motions one concerned with locating staff under the new Council arrangements in Weymouth as a means of countering the low wage economy there and one proposing the use of Proportional Representation for elections to the new Council, the latter being beyond the powers of local government. The issue of Local Government Reorganisation was also raised by Christchurch Councillors who continue to maintain that the Secretary of State has acted ultra vires and therefore a privately funded judicial review is being requested.

In my role as Equality Champion I have attended a meeting to review the implementation of the Council’s revised Equality Policy. It is hoped this can be the policy adopted under the new authority. I was invited to introduce the speaker, Dr. Sarah Peers, Director of Programmes at The Innovation Institute, at a training event for senior County Council staff where the issue of equality and diversity was considered and in particular the gender gap and how we can encourage young women to extend their career horizons and ambitions. I continue to Chair the Dorset Race Equality Council although I will be standing down in May now that we have a new Chief Executive in post – I have chaired the Council since the previous chairman resigned suddenly in December 2016. This has been very time consuming as the Council operates across Dorset but is based in Boscombe. I have also attended the Dorset Interagency Committee for Gypsies and Travellers which is concerned with combatting negative media reporting. The government has launched a consultation on the proposed new “ Powers for dealing with unauthorised development and encampments” which the local Gypsy community in particular will be commenting on.

As a Member of NDDC I have attended the Commercialisation Panel which is endeavouring to identify ways in which the Councils in the Dorset Councils Partnership can increase their revenue through investment in commercial projects. Unfortunately there are few options yet identified for NDDC. I have attended one meeting about our own proposed Enterprise Hub which was also discussed at this month’s Economy Board Meeting. I have heard the proposals for the Ward boundaries under the new unitary authority, where Council Wards will be approximately half the size of the existing Divisions with 82 Councillors replacing the current 165 occupying 206 seats (as 31 are “double hatters”). Most Wards will have one Councillor although there are proposals for two or even three Councillor Wards in some of the towns (but not Stur.). The first meeting of the Shadow Authority of those 165 Councillors which will run until April 2019 will be in June at a venue yet to be arranged, although I understand The Exchange has been proposed.

I have attended four Parish and Town Council Meetings in April and one Parish Meeting, that of Pulham where the two major concerns continue to be the non-functioning reed bed in the village and speeding vehicles.

Pauline Batstone,
County, District and Town Councillor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Burns Night at Glanvilles Wootton

In January, before the snow and ice, a hearty crowd of revellers toasted the bard of Scotland and enjoyed an absolutely delicious meal. Tales were told, laughter was heard and very discrete and moderate drinking took place. Louise Dutton and her band of slaves were entirely responsible for the great success of the event. You’d only get sad if you missed next year’s bash …

The evening raised £1,200 for the Sherborne Deanery Rural Chaplaincy project, headed up by the Rev Richard Kirlew.

County & District Councillor’s April Report

As I write this we are about to be the subject of another amber weather warning with snow forecast for Sunday and Monday – and by the time you read this we will all know the outcome…. but it sounds as if my third attempt to celebrate my birthday with a meal out with friends is going to be thwarted, such are the delights of living in rural Dorset in winter, but it does not happen often. Hopefully the Highways Department will perform as well as most people felt they did earlier in March. I was given a number of complements to pass on to our local Highways people for the efficient way they got out and gritted during the earlier cold spell, as opposed to the complaints I more usually get. They planned well and did a very good job, with staff working through the nights to keep us moving safely. One complaint I did get was from someone who could not understand why the schools planned to close before a single snowflake had dropped – by that afternoon it was very apparent why they had taken that decision, as the snow came relentlessly down. In the old days children may have walked three miles through the snow to school but many of our children live rather more than three miles away and the school transport was taken off because the warning was for only essential journeys to be made. Few parents would permit their children to walk three miles through the snow to school nowadays and we live in a far more litigious society if the school transport went wrong. I do have one real complaint about that snow… it was impossible to make snowballs out of.

Not only can our part of the world be a risky place because of the inclement weather but most recently it has been a dangerous place because of the outside world giving us a rude awakening. Sturminster Newton was shocked by an early morning armed robbery at the One Stop Shop which we now believe may have been committed by two local people. It must have been very frightening for the shop staff. A few days later a local hairdressers had their door kicked in overnight and I am told had shampoos stolen …. obviously someone who was so proud of their hair was concerned that they had run out of shampoo and could not wait until the shop opened. Then on top of that Gillingham was in a state of lock down with armed police, soldiers and firemen swarming over it when the recovery vehicle used to move the Russian spy’s car ended up there and was believed to have been contaminated with nerve agent. Our reserve firemen have been moved to cover for the Salisbury firemen who are involved in the clean up operation. When two unrecognised police turned up outside and then inside our medical centre and escorted someone out we had all added two and two together and made five before they had even got in their car.

During the month of March I seem to have had lot of 12 hour plus days of Councillor duties. As well as our normal meetings which involved a lot of pre-meeting reading, I sit as a trustee on several bodies. In one case in particular I found myself involved in a staff appointment which became more complicated and unpleasant than could possibly have been imagined. In the old days Councillors went onto Boards because they gave gravitas but really did not need to do anything except turn up every few months and issue words of wisdom. Nowadays we live in a very different world where Trustees are expected to really get involved by taking on responsibility for pieces of work in between times. It is all very time consuming if you want to do a good job and pull your weight but without volunteers to take these roles our community life would be much poorer.

When I wrote last month we were expecting a government announcement that the 9 local authorities of Dorset were to become two General Purpose Authorities, otherwise known as a Unitary Authority. That announcement has now come. Those of us who hope to be involved in the rural Dorset Council are taking part in the creation of the new body, whilst also being involved in the on-going work of the current councils. As I have said before the new Dorset Council we believe will consist of 82 Councillors rather than 206 which means financial savings to the electorate but more work for those individuals. Even so, if anyone is brave enough to feel this is something they want to do now is the time to make yourself known to your political party of choice or to get guidance from the Democratic Services section of the District Council.

One exciting new project I am pleased to support is the Community Shop in Sturminster, a charity shop with a difference, i.e.selling good quality pre-used goods, books, crafts and holding tourist and local information, aiming to be at the heart of the community. The intention is to raise funds to be used to improve the look of Sturminster, for example putting money towards improved floral displays in the summer, repainting those railings on the entrance to town (again), supporting the Christmas decorations; improving the signage in town…. all those things that the Town Council would like to do but cannot afford. The shop will open on Easter Saturday and thereafter be opened six days a week, 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.

Surgeries and door knocking in April:

Saturday 7th April 9.30 p.m. door knocking in Glanvilles Wootton; 10.30 a.m. Surgery and Coffee Morning Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 a.m. Surgery in The Exchange Coffee Bar, Sturminster Newton
Saturday 14th April 10.30 a.m. Hilton Coffee Morning
Saturday 21st April, door knocking in Hazelbury Bryan; 11.00 ish Mud Pie Cafe, Okeford Fitzpaine.

Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone – 01258 472583 Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page – Councillor Pauline Batstone

County & District Councillor’s March Report

The trouble with living in our part of the world is that there is just so much going on you cannot go to everything….or if you did you would get very fat. We seem to be going through a phase where every village is starting up a coffee morning or similar event, plus the occasional breakfast. Okeford Fitzpaine has its weekly “Mudpie Cafe” on Saturday mornings in the village hall, Pulham is having bi-monthly Saturday coffee mornings, Hilton has a monthly Saturday coffee morning in the church, Hazelbury Bryan is doing a Monday morning Coffee morning monthly, Ansty does one on the first Thursday, Tea and Chat Groups meet monthly in Pulham and Hazelbury, and Lydlinch and Glanvilles Wootton do the occasional full English Breakfast. Okeford Fitzpaine also did a “Welcome” event to newcomers to the village for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon where the village organisations had stalls to publicise themselves. Its really good that so much social activity is going on in our rural area, bringing communities together for a pleasant hour or so whilst raising money for the village and offering social contact to some who may be lonely. From a Councillor’s point of view it is a very good way of just meeting people and learning about life in their village and hamlet, rather than only being contacted when there is a crisis. And the home-made cakes are always plentiful and excellent. Thank you to all those reliable local volunteers who work so hard to make the cakes, run the raffles and serve the refreshments on the day.

This winter has been a bad one for colds and ‘flu’ with vaccination seeming to have had no preventative effect. It is important we keep an eye on our neighbours, especially the ones of more mature years who may be alone, to see if they need any groceries, or yet more paracetamol, or just cheering up.

As I write this the local authorities are still holding their collective breath waiting to hear from the Secretary of State for Local Government whether the local government reorganisation will go ahead in 2019. The situation has been made complex because of Christchurch Borough Council and their MP’s determination to fight the proposal that they should merge with Bournemouth and Poole. Whether or not that happens there will be elections in 2019 either for a new authority or the same old one. As Chairman of a Constituency political Association I am concerned that we should recruit people to stand as Councillors who have the energy to move local government forward so that we don’t just have “the same old” bunch of people. I am sure the other political parties are similarly occupied. I have been a councillor in Dorset now for almost 23 years and I still enjoy it so I will also be throwing my hat into the ring again, but it does rather take over your life. We need people who are committed to promoting the wellbeing of their local area as well as able to take a strategic view across Dorset (and also to read a tremendous amount of material). Training is given and expenses paid. If you, or someone you know, has been thinking that they would like to be a Councillor then this is the time to make yourself known to your political party of choice who will help you through the process, or to talk to Democratic Services at either County Hall or the Dorset Council’s partnership for more information. It is likely that there will be 82 Wards under the Rural Dorset Unitary authority rather than the 200+ Councillors serving the same area currently. Those Wards are likely to be half the size of a current County Division but that one Councillor will be operating alone, without the support of District Councillors as now. Fortunately we do have hard working people at Parish level to spread the load.

One minor triumph in my life as a councillor is seeing that the Sovereign Housing Association have finally made an extra parking space for their tenants at Mead Corner, Glanvilles Wootton. This is a long going saga involving inconvenience for those tenants and also danger for drivers using that road who may find cars parked just round a blind bend. This has come about as the result of on-going nagging on the part of a number of people including the tenants and the Parish Chairman. So thank you Sovereign. We do have a similar problem in Ibberton but that currently seems even more intractable.

In Sturminster Newton we are about to start planning for next Christmas. Each year we have tried to do a bit better, as far as our Christmas events are concerned. I am calling a meeting of all those who have played a part previously, and a few new ones, to see what we can come up with for this year, to make Stur. sparkle even more in the festive season.

All the local authorities have now fixed their Council Tax precept for 2018-19 and it is no surprise that the major bodies have all gone for the maximum increase in Council Tax which they are allowed without calling a referendum. As I have said before, the biggest consumer of your County Council Tax payments is Adult Social Care followed closely by Children and Families Care. I accept that our rural roads are in a sad and sorry state from potholes. Highways have had their budget severely cut because of the money going into social care. However, I still urge you to ensure you report potholes either via phone or the dorsetforyou website because repairs will be done once the Highways Department know about them, prioritised in accordance with size and position. That data from reporting is valuable as information to support Highways requests for more financial help from central government.

Surgeries and door knocking in March:

Saturday 3rd March – 9.30 door knocking around Glanvilles Wootton; 10.30 surgery in Pulham Village Hall, 11.30 surgery in The Exchange, Sturminster Newton
Saturday 17th March – Hazelbury Bryan door knocking

Regrettably I cannot visit the Hilton or Okeford Fitzpaine Coffee Mornings this month because of other commitments.

Preferred e.mail address: cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone: 01258 472583
Post: Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, DT10 2DJ
Twitter: @paulinebatstone
Facebook Page: Councillor Pauline Batstone

County & District Councillor’s February Report

February, and the last of the Christmas Decorations are finally taken out of the Church on Candlemas, 2nd February. Candlemas was the time when the church candles for the coming year were blessed. It was, or is, also a day when in the countryside farms changed hands, rents were paid and we moved forward into a new planting season.

Local government is also moving forward as I said in my last blog. The closing date for comments on the proposed new Unitary Structure was the 8th January. Eight of the nine Dorset first and second tier councils support the new structure of one Rural Unitary Authority and one Urban Authority, with Christchurch Borough Council preferring the existing two tier structure. In my opinion my Christchurch colleagues seem to have decided to turn a blind eye to the impossible financial situation which their alternative proposal would place the Dorset local authorities in. If the unitary structure is not adopted the rural District and Borough Council’s will struggle to stay afloat for long with the financial restraints being tightened upon them and the County will struggle even more, with the risk of not being able to balance its budgets. The savings we hope to make will come from reductions in central and management services and in premises, which can be shared between the authorities. In the event of the County in effect going broke, the presumption is the government would take over its responsibilities for a period of time – whether it would give itself more money to do so with more money is unknown.

The County is working hard to reduce the costs of child care by recruiting more of its own foster parents and making less use of the considerably more expensive private agency foster parents. There are also to make more provision within the County for children who need special care. In particular there are plans to reopen Bovington School as a special needs school to complement those already in the County. Anyone interested in fostering our Dorset children should contact Children’s Services at County Hall.

All of us , as we age, need to think about how we keep ourselves fit for longer, and the care we need as we grow frailer. The County Council is promoting a campaign at present to make us all more aware of how we can help ourselves under the heading “My Life, My Care”, planning for our future care, and it is never too early to start looking after our health and our finances. Elderly care is the biggest item in the County’s budget and it is dictated by people’s own demands, beyond the control of the organisation. The only thing that can be done is to endeavour to persuade people to think about how they can help themselves, with the County being the last point of call, rather than the first.

On a more positive note, thinking of the other end of the age spectrum, there is good news that Stepping Stones, the pre-school based at The William Barnes Primary School in Sturminster Newton, has been awarded almost £75,000 towards its target of £93,000 to build an extension to its premises. With other funds the staff have raised this will enable to extension to go ahead. The aim is to increase the number of places available for local children, although the demand is likely to still outstrip availability. More children to enter the pre-school will also mean more children coming to the William Barnes and in turn to more on to the High School which is important for the future of our local schools. The money comes from the North Dorset LEADER Funding, which is European Union funding. As well as more places for children, three more jobs will be created plus the offer of apprenticeships.

I have been in discussion with the Sturminster Newon High School about the possibility of acquiring a multi-use astroturf pitch on their site. The idea would be a surface which can be used for a range of ball games, in particular hockey which the High School currently do not have a pitch for. It would not be suitable for football matches but could be used for football practice. It could be used by the school in school time and the community for the rest of the time. Funds would be raised by charges for its use. It this is to go ahead it will have to be a partnership between public and charitable bodies, in this case the High School, Football Club and SturFit. It will be necessary for the funding to come from a variety of grant sources and for a charity to apply for them. These are early days but I think this is not unreasonable to achieve.

I have written before of the work being done by some hard working enthusiasts to promote the idea of a National Park for Dorset. They have now achieved the next stage of Natural England formally assessing the proposal later this year. My own view is that we have much to gain in North Dorset, providing that the market towns and surrounding area are included in a National Park, as well as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The experience of those living in the National Park in Sussex would seem to support the view that this has benefitted the area economically and also, perhaps surprisingly, has increased the amount of social housing for local people.

I have decided that I will no longer do monthly surgeries in Glanvilles Wootton and Hazelbury because virtually no one ever comes to see me, preferring to phone or e.mail or make arrangements to meet rather than just dropping in. Therefore in those villages I will set aside the time as now but go and knock on doors – if people will not come to me, I must go to them. The Surgeries in Pulham and Sturminster Newton do work, as people do drop in, and also in Pulham, Okeford Fitzpaine and Ansty I am able to meet people at their coffee mornings.

 

Surgeries in February:

Saturday 3rd Feb. – 9.30 a.m. Glanvilles Wootton door knocking; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday 10th 10.30 a.m. Hilton Coffee Morning
Saturday 17th – 9.30 a.m. Hazelbury Bryan door knocking; 10.45 a.m. Okeford Fitzpaine Village Hall

Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone 01258 472583
Post – Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 2DJ
Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page Councillor Pauline Batstone

County & District Councillor’s December Report

November was been a busy month with County Council Committees and Parish/Town Meetings and that continued Into December. In particular, as well as keeping the “day job” going, work is also underway to prepare for the new shape of local government in 2019 .

The County has set up a Special Education Needs Delivery Board to endeavour to improve the service to given to parents and children with Special Educational Needs. I found myself standing in for the Chairman of that Board at the beginning of November. We have an increasing number of young people being put forward by their parents/carers for assessment as having special educational needs but the amount of money we get from central government to help those young people remains the same. Therefore the finances are spread more thinly. In particular more parents and carers are asking for education health and care assessments to be completed which is a complex process requiring the input of Educational Psychologists of whom we do not currently have enough for this purpose . An additional one-off grant of £1.4m has now been promised which will enhance what can be done. There is also now a banding process to decide what support should be given, which I have yet to get my head around. My own view is that the whole system is increasingly complex and I admire any parent who manages to navigate it. I have the same view of the process for applying for school places and the ensuing process of getting school transport. It was all so much simpler when you simply went to the nearest school. Even more difficult is the problem of young people being required to stay on in education or training for the years 16 to 18 where there is no help with transport. Therefore the decision of what courses to follow may be swayed by the availability of transport. I have every admiration for parents trying to find their way through the labyrinth of a system. What I would advise anyone struggling with the system is to ask their County Councillor for their help and support, especially with Appeals.

On a much lighter note, we have had fun here in Stur. before Christmas with a Living Advent Calendar of Shop and Business windows. Each night a different shop or business has unveiled a festively decorated window, generally launched with mulled wine and mince-pies within the premises. This has led to what I have called a “peripatetic party”, meeting each evening, some people always there, some new faces, following the windows round. Hopefully this will lead to some extra business for the shops involved and certainly makes for some good window displays during the Christmas period. The Christmas Producers Market this year was run by the Anonymous Traveling Market which made things much easier for those of us who have been promoting this event over the past three years. There was a range of foodstuff and craft goods in the street, complementing the regular Craft Market in the Exchange. The profits from the Craft Market, on the first Saturday of the month, have gone towards the Christmas tree lights, and again the tree looked very lovely, thanks to the business “Christmas Decorations” who provide the lights and keep an eye on the tree during that period. We did not have garlands across the road because of the enormous cost of being compliant with the requirements of the insurance company. The shops put up their Christmas trees but we hope to make the process easier for them next year by offering a package to get them in place. Each parish has had its own events which add to the fun of Christmas in the countryside.

As winter settles in the complaints about floods on roads, blocked drains and potholes increase in number. I would urge people to report any complaints or concerns directly to the County Council Highways Department either via dorsetforyou or over the phone to Dorset Direct at County Hall on 01305 221000. That way it gets directly to the iPad of our Community Highways Officer, Paul Starkey, who will be onto the problem with the tenacity of a terrier. It also goes into the database of the Council which it has used successfully to get additional grant funding from central Government into Dorset. Move roads funding has recently been promised by government which should help us.

We now move forward to an exciting New Year. Dorset, particularly North Dorset, is a lovely place and we are hoping to promote our area more effectively to those who wish to visit and spend their time and money here by setting up a Tourist Association. We intend to develop a branding for The Blackmore Vale, which businesses can engage with to promote themselves. I keep reminding my colleagues that the Blackmore Vale is not just the property of Dorset but also runs into South Somerset and we need to be working with colleagues there as well.

 

I wish you all a happy New Year and a good, healthy and prosperous 2018 to come.

Surgeries in January 2018
Saturday 6th January 9.30 a.m. – Glanvilles Wootton knocking on doors; 10.30 a.m. Pulham Village Hall; 11.30 The Exchange, Sturminster Newton.
Saturday 13th 10.30 a.m. Hilton Coffee Morning
I shall not be doing my surgery at Hazelbury Bryan in January as I hope to be in India at that time.
I hope to visit the Mud Pie Café in Okeford Fitzpaine when I return.

Preferred e.mail address – cllr.p.batstone@btinternet.com
Phone 01258 472583
Post – Elvlyn Cottage, Glue Hill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 2DJ
Twitter @paulinebatstone Facebook Page Councillor Pauline Batstone