Links

I think the following links and email addresses should be better known:

As you may be aware, Chas Lowes site has been sold and the shop will be closing at the end of this month. Mccarthy and Stone have purchased the site and will be giving an open presentation of their ‘proposes Plan’ on the 28th of March in Trinity Church between noon and 7:30pm. If you have views on how you would like to see the site developed, please do attend. The presentation is being made by The Remarkable Group who are handling the PR for McCarthy and Stone.

It seems that the actual business has been sold to Gibbs and Dandy, who are going to open a store in Gunnels Wood Park (SG1 3BH) ‘soon’. Watch this page for full details when they become available. It seems clear that land in Knebworth is worth a great deal more as a development for retirees than as a retail outlet.

I have been an elected politician for three years now. I have spent a lot of time in meetings, where people have said a lot of things. In some cases they have said the same things over and over but in many cases they have argued for the Council doing things. In nearly ever case, the focus has been on the benefits of taking the action. The implicit subtext is that this clearly exceeds the cost.

Most politicians would, if pressed, concede that all actions have a reaction, and, in reality there are very few changes that leave everyone better off. The hope is that the costs are low, and spread widely, and will be offset by one or other of the other actions taken which, cumulatively, leave everyone better off.

This is not unreasonable. we discuss many policies which cost very little in financial terms. A grant of £1,000 will cost the average person in the District less than a penny. It seems obvious that the average person would simply never notice such a cost. The gratitude and clear benefits to the recipient are, however, very clear to the grant committee. The argument hardly needs to be made that the award is worthwhile.

From an empathetic point of view, this is the right thing to do. But a quiet voice in my head keeps telling me that the resources that those 100,000 pennies represent have been diverted from what the producers of them would have chosen, to a charity that most of them have never heard of. Maybe if they had spent the time understanding the good work done by the organisers of this charity, they would have come to the same conclusion that we did. By examining the application, the constitution of the charity, the record of good work that it has done, we have saved countless hours of due diligence that could never have been justified if they were each considering dropping just a single penny in a collecting tin.

This is the argument made by Ronald Coase. That the practicalities of atomised decision making, are such that it makes eminent sense to delegate to a small group who can then arrange the joint purchase of services that in the absence of all the frictional forces operating in the real economy would have been impractical to agree.

The District Council collects household waste, and arranges for it to be disposed of. Every household may avail itself of this service. The cost is very modest. Private contractors would probably spring up if this service were not offered by the Council, and householders would, in most cases, sign up with one or other of the private contractors. Although I believe that capitalism is an incredibly efficient mechanism for supplying many goods and services, I acknowledge that it is very unlikely that households would save money.

There are certainly problems with local or central governments providing services. One of the biggest is the difficulty in innovating, especially when consumers no longer have the incentive to adapt their own behaviours to enable more cost effective delivery.

Coase’s Nobel Lecture.

About Steve

This is my latest corner of the web.

I used to have a blog at Tumblr. The old posts are still there. Tumblr has a lot going for it: spectacular free templates with all sorts of clever effects, the ability to auto tweet and auto post to Facebook. The problem is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I don’t mind advertising when it is for things sane people might want to buy. The problem is that, increasingly, legitimate advertisers have come to realise that online advertising doesn’t generate increased sales, at least not enough to cover the cost of it. The end result is only people seeking to prey on the vulnerable find it profitable to advertise on social media. The problem is particularly acute, because advertisements are increasingly indistinguishable from my genuine content, resulting in readers assuming that I endorse products that horrify me.

The source code for this website can all be examined at github. I haven’t given a link to the actual source because if you cannot find it easily you’re unlikely to find it of much interest. Git, and sites like github and bitbucket are wonderful things. If you are remotely interested in geeky things, I strongly suggest that you take a look at them.

In the penultimate meeting of NHDC for the current civic year, the budget for 201718 was agreed.  Further savings were identified, as well as a substantial programme of capital expenditure. The council faces challenging times ahead as it has to contend with dwindling revenues from the New Homes Bonus and from Business Rates.

The council’s focus is on making North Herts, in all its diversity, a better place for and working.  It aims to do this by working with partners to provide ‘an attractive and safe environment for our residents’. Currently, we are working towards a joint waste collection contract with East Herts District Council. Waste collection is not the most glamorous of activities, but it is the biggest item in the expenditure budget, accounting for 45% of the total!

The council has an objective ‘ To promote sustainable growth within our district to ensure economic and social opportunities exist for our communities…’. The main driver of this is the Local Plan. It also includes a £1m Capital Enhancement Fund, for community halls throughout the District, to be delivered over the next four years. 

The third and final objective is to ‘deliver cost effective and necessary services to our residents’.  Where these services are charged for at the point of use, such as for planning applications, the fees are also prescribed centrally. However, the council does operate a very successful Careline service. This award-winning service helps elderly and infirm residents to continue living at home. NHDC is also about to launch a building regulations inspection service and hopes that this will be a source of income. 

Of course, NHDC does not have a free hand in most of the services it provides. They are so-called ‘statutory services’, prescribed by the national government. In most cases these are free, for example waste collection. Where charges can be made (e.g. planning applications), the rates are set nationally.

One of the more controversial policies recently has been the one which applies to community halls owned by the council. The policy has been to lease these to local groups on a ‘repairing and insuring lease’. This has put some pressure on some local groups who find that it is difficult to adapt to paying for the costs of maintaining their premises. It does, however, put them on an equal footing with groups in parished areas, like Knebworth. Parishes, such as ours, have always had to bear these costs, especially now capital grants for village halls have largely dried up.

So, by now you’re probably wondering how much your council tax is going to go up in April. The NHDC precept for a Band D property will be £216.96 next year, an increase of £5, an increase of 2.4% in cash terms, close to zero in real terms. Not great, but as low as was reasonably achieveable in the circumstances.  (The rest of your Council Tax is made up of contributions to the County Council, the Police and the Parish Council.) For other Council Tax Bands, see the NHDC website, or just wait for your bill to be delivered.