Editor : David Kernek (kernekdavid@gmail.com)

Why do local councils need ‘Cabinets’?

Why do local councils need ‘Cabinets’?

That Bath & NE Council has chosen to stick with the Cabinet system of governance, an unwelcome legacy of the Blair years, is not disappointing because there was little reason to hope that the Lib Dems would be sufficiently radical to restore the previous – and long-established – structure that empowered ward councillors accountable in decision-making and rendered them accountable.

Bath Council chooses to give the impression that it cannot by law restore committee governance. Its How does the Cabinet work? information sheet (dated October 31, 2019) states: ‘Legislation introduced in 2002 required the Council to institute “Executive” (Cabinet) decision-making.’

That was the case in 2002, but it is not now. The 2011 Localism Act permitted local councils in England to restore the committee system if they wanted to do so. It’s clear that, like the Conservatives in Bath, the Lib Dems want to keep decision-making to a 10-person Politburo, leaving local ward councillors – the Backbenchers – to get a look-in when they can or whenever they’re interested enough.

Significantly, that How does the Cabinet work? information sheet makes no attempt to explain the relationship between the Cabinet and Backbench ward councillors in decision-making. It gets one desultory reference, in Paragraph 6:

 ‘How is consultation ensured? In the case of Cabinet decisions, other councillors and the public may make representations or ask a question at the meeting to influence the Cabinet before they consider the issue.’ So in the Cabinet system, that’s what ward representatives have become: ‘Other’ councillors.

Can we look to the council to, at the very least, to correct the grossly false impression it attempts to convey in its ‘information’ paper? Bath & North East Somerset Council is no longer required by law to have Cabinet governance.

Guildhall

Roman Baths back in business

What was all that talk of Bath’s tourism crisis about? The Roman Baths has had  100,000 visitors since it re-opened in July.

All bookings have been done online, and has allowed for no more than 30% of total capacity. The 100,000 mark was reached on October 6, exactly 13 weeks after re-opening.

Bathwick towpath re-opens

Canal & River Trust and volunteers have finished repairs to the Bathwick Towpath, making it safer for walkers, cyclists, and boaters.

The work to reinstate 350 yards of eroded bank and create habitats for wildlife has been carried out between Cleveland House and Bathwick Hill. Mooring conditions have also been improved, the path resurfaced, and conservation and improvement work carried out on the ramp to the historic Grade II listed Bathwick Bridge.

The project was delivered with support from local volunteers from the Bath Towpath Taskforce, who each year contribute more than 4,000 hours to looking after waterways in the Bath area.

Mad rush for runway meals

The Guardian brings news of people in Singapore with much, much more money than sense. They are paying up to £360 a head to eat airline meals on two A380 superjumbo jets that don’t actually leave the runway at Changi airport. Demand for meals  on the stationary planes that ain’t going anywhere has been so high that Singapore Airlines has had to set up a waiting list after tickets sold out for two weekends of sittings. The deal – if it can be described as such – includes an in-non-flight movie.

Diners pushed for cash can order the £30 economy tray, which might – why not? – include a real-flight touch: that child sitting behind you and kicking the back of your seat.

People who don’t have the time to get to the airport have the extra-special option of paying a mere £501 to have the airline’s first-class gastronomic treat at home where, with Singapore Airlines tableware, slippers, and amenity kits they can imagine they’re having lunch or dinner on plane parked at an airport.

It’s a money-spinning idea from an airline that’s getting the last cent out of its A380s before they’re sent to the scrapyard.

Covid-19 in the West – the numbers

An economic briefing on the regional impact of the Covid-19 crisis has been published by the West of England Combined Authority (which covers not the entire West of England, just the Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire bit of it) but it isn’t slap bang up-t0-date. It’s dated September 17, and the cut-off points for most of the mostly depressing stats are July and August.

So, with those provisos, here goes:

Reported business liquidations from March 16 to August 31 numbered 246, against 244 in the same period last year, while reported Administrations were 29, also the same as last year.

New businesses formed in Bath (March 16 to August 31) numbered 147, compared with 455 last year.

At July 31 this year, 170,900 employees in the WECA region were on furlough … approximately 30% of those eligible. For the entire South-West region, recorded furlough levels were highest in the accommodation and food sectors (78% of those eligible), with the arts, entertainment and recreation at 72%, and construction at 63%.

By July 31, 44,100 claims on the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme had been made in Bristol, Bath, and South Gloucestershire, adding up to £132.7 million. These figures might not indicate the actual impact of the pandemic, since new businesses, freelances, and 1-person limited companies are excluded from the scheme.

Unemployment stats at August 2020:

Bath & NE Somerset – 4.4%

Bristol – 6.6%

North Somerset – 4.1%

The number of jobs advertised in the WECA region in August 2020 was 11,238, up 23% from the July total. WECA notes, however, that the level of availability is 18% lower than that recorded in August last year.

Click here for Covid cash help

Bath Council has news for residents who are receiving welfare benefits and whose earnings would be affected after being told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. They will be able to apply for a £500 Government support grant from today (October 12).

To be eligible for the grant, applicants:

•  Must have been instructed by NHS Test and Trace to self-isolate for a period starting on or after September 28 because they either tested positive or been in close contact with someone who  tested positive for Covid-19

•  Must be employed or self-employed

•  Must be unable to do their work from home and have lost out financially as a consequence

• Must be in receipt of one or more of these benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Housing Benefit, Income based Employment Support Allowance, Income based Jobseekers Allowance or Pension Credit

People who do not receive any of these benefits but fulfil the other criteria and are on a low income, might be entitled to a discretionary payment of £500.

For full details, go here: https://beta.bathnes.gov.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-latest-information-and-advice/apply-test-and-trace-support-payment

Honours, anyone?

‘However, critics expressed concern about the continuing “colonial nostalgia” over the honours system. Mike McKie, the founder of Bayleaf Honours, which provides advice and support for people making a nomination for the Queen’s honours, said:

“Is the word empire making the process inaccessible or, worse, distressing to potential nominees? Are people of colour being given the same opportunities as their white counterparts in order to be considered for some of these awards in the first place?”

He echoed calls made in the past to replace the world “empire” with “excellence”.’

The Guardian

Lament for lost gems

Lament for lost gems

BLAMING closures and other disruptions in normal business on the Covid Plague is a temptation many organizations have been unable to resist, as if everything worked perfectly before the pandemic.

Whatever the causes, four closures in Bath in the past year have been lamented.

One – For those of us in search of hammers, screws, and plug fuses, family-owned and run Langbridges in Larkhall was the first port of call. For more than 60 years, this family-owned store – some of us, of a certain age, knew it as ironmongers – was the must-go-to when when in need of plug fuses, screwdrivers, and, er, screws … plus, for intrepid Do-It-Yourselfers, cement mixers, drain rods, and scaffold towers.

The interweb has helped to finish it off. People would go in, get the staff’s always helpful advice, and then buy online … and then, perhaps, have nowhere to go for advice.

Two – Reboot Computer Services in Walcot has been knocked out after 27 years by Corvid-19 and those pre-Plague ‘challenging retail conditions’. Its owners saw puzzled customers through the years from Windows 95 to Windows 10, sold 1st class reconditioned laptops, and spoke in a type of plain English unknown by the youngsters who sell IT in the chainstores.

Three – Woods, hard by the also closed Royal Mineral Water Hospital (1738) in the heart of Georgian Bath, sold stationery since 1066. No, I made that up … it’s been selling pens, pencils, ink, and paper for 220 years. Its end came some months before the Plague.

Four – Please … please let the closure of the Little Cinema – known just as The Little – be temporary. Opening in 1935, it was owned by the family of the founders, Consuelo de Reyes and her stage designer husband Peter King, until it joined Picturehouse Cinemas group.

An old-school art house cinema that’s kept its 1930s charms, and kept up with digital sound and projection technology.

Bath: Glamour & Grit - Photographs 2000-2019

Bath: Glamour & Grit - Photographs 2000-2019

A photographic portrayal of Bath from 2000 to 2019 is being published this year by Bath Telegraph editor David Kernek. Bath: Glamour & Grit takes a wry, warts ’n all look at the town, with brief but caustic commentaries on aspects of life here: work, tourism, buskers, hen parties, homelessness, shopping, and pubs among them.

Here’s an extract from the foreword:

‘Perhaps the only significant constant in Bath’s history from a Roman spa 2,000 years ago to pre-Covid-19 England – the exception being its medieval centuries as a malodourous livestock market – has been its function as a centre for rest and recreation, known in the trade as tourism. Bath’s tourism is not as discerning as it was. Visitors, prevented for a while by Napoleon from enjoying Paris, Florence, and Venice, once came for the season to take the waters, often at the cost of their lives. The emphasis in recent decades has been on sightseers coming for the day to take a) the burgers and b) pictures of themselves eating burgers by the great doors of the town’s Gothic abbey. The drive for day-trip – almost over-tourism – coincided with the rapid growth of Bath’s two universities. It was estimated in 2019 that close to a quarter of the town’s population were students. They came, caused trouble, took their degrees, and left.

‘The Covid-19 LockIn followed years of economic change that saw the closure of many of the cute artizany independent shops that were promoted, along with Bath’s over-budget and far-too-small Mineral Water spa, across the planet as Unique Tourist Attractions. It has landed the town with an existential anxiety. Will the tourists and the undergraduates – many of them from China – return, and if they don’t, what will Bath actually be for?’

Bath: Glamour & Grit – Photographs 2000-2019, £15

For more information, and to order a copy, e-mail: kernekdavid@gmail.com

A year in Hedgemead Park

The Friends of Hedgemead Park have produced a 2021 calendar with 12 photographs highlighting the park’s beauty through the seasons.

They’re priced at £10 each, plus £2 postage & packing, with free delivery to addresses within one mile of the park.  To order, e-mail nigel.e.pollard@zen.co.uk