Over the past few weeks I have received lot of complaints about the state of grass verges in Whitwick and Thringstone. I know other councillors around the county are getting similar calls and emails.
It would be terribly easy to blame Leicestershire County Council and the Conservative administration who run it. Whilst County Hall does have some degree of culpability it is only right to put the situation in context in order that local residents can be better informed.
I shall try to do just that as part of this blog post, but it isn't a short story!
In the summer of 2013 Leicestershire County Council was becoming increasingly aware of a looming financial crisis.
Due to the way local government is funded your council tax has historically made up less than half of all the money the council spends, the rest comes from fees and income and from central government grants.
As a result of cuts to the central government grant funding, itself directly resulting from the government's austerity agenda, it became clear that over the next few years the County Council had to save around one third of all of the money it spends, well over £100 million pounds a year.
Accordingly the County Council conducted a large scale consultation exercise to ask you, the residents of Leicestershire, where you thought money could be saved.
7150 people responded to the consultation and overall budget reductions in grass verge cutting were amongst the top 5 areas thought acceptable by the general public.
There is no doubt that this has informed the County Council's spending plans.
Last year the County Council decided to reduce the number of cuts to grass verges from 8/9 a year to just 5.
The County Council asked parish and district councils if they would be prepared to take over mowing of grass verges. If the parish or district chose to do so they would be reimbursed by the County for 5 cuts and, of course, the parish could add further cuts in if they were able to provide funding.
In the case of Whitwick, after preliminary investigations, it became apparent that due to the economies of scale available to county the rate being offered would not be sufficient to meet the 5 cuts a year stipulation without top up funding from the parish. Clearly additional cuts would incur additional charge to the taxpayer.
As a result Whitwick Parish Council turned down Leicestershire County Council's offer.
This year the County Council commenced grass cutting around 1 April. By now Whitwick and Thringstone should have had 2 cuts. The County Council are currently behind schedule and have only carried out 1 cut although it is expected a further one will be carried out shortly.
Last year I attended a meeting of County and Parishes at the offices of North West Leicestershire District Council. I asked officers what was the legal minimum number of cuts that the County Council had to make to grass verges. I was informed that the minimum would be 3 cuts per year and there could be no guarantee that the County Council would not move to this arrangement in future years.
Leader of Leicestershire District Council Nick Rushton regularly tells all County Councillors that 'there is no more money'.
Nick is right. The government's austerity programme is here to stay and as has recently been validated by the general election result as being the will of the people.
Albeit there are some minor delays Leicestershire County Council's grass cutting arrangement is the new normal, if not a better version of something that will become the norm.
Should you wish to make a complaint about grass cutting I would very much urge local residents to make their complaints known to Leicestershire County Council at email@example.com
In future years it may be possible to increase the number of cuts at a parish level. This however would in all likelihood mean spending more of your council tax in this area with resulting cuts elsewhere or council tax increases.
If you would like to see the Parish Council undertaking more cuts then please contact me in order that I can make representations. It won't happen unless Whitwick residents say clearly this is what they want.
In addition to the above information there is an important ideological point to be considered.
Much of the money the County Council spends is around the area of targeted services, i.e. to elderly residents for care needs or vulnerable children, less and less is being spent on universal services we all access, such as museums or indeed verge cutting.
It is undoubtedly true as our council tax goes up most people are seeing less for their money, in many cases around £2,000 a year.
There will inevitably come a point when taxpayers become entirely disillusioned by the whole system.
It would be good to hear your views as to whether that point has arrived, or are we still some way off?