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So what's to be done
with the Town Partnership

The Town Partnership is asking the Town Council for money - which it can't afford. The Partnership say that before they can get any grants they need to recruit a Programme Manager to prepare their applications for them. (Absolutely classic Quango behaviour) If you are interested then you shouldn't miss the Town Council on Monday 17th July. First on the agenda at 7.15 the Chairman of the Partnership - the Headmaster - and Partnership Member Will Barton of WODC are coming to give a Progress Report. (Interesting that none of the well-known and respected Chippy members are facing the music. Where are you Mike Howes) They are also asking the Town Council to make a financial contribution to their budget which will be voted on later in the meeting. This will be a rare opportunity to find out what's going on since the Partnership is suffering from a serious "communications deficit". Most people in the town have lost interest and only vaguely remember a Public Meeting about 18 months ago when a sceptical audience were persuaded that it was necessary to set up a Partnership to access money from the Market Towns Initiative Fund. We needed some serious funds for new jobs in the town to replace the 400 lost at Parker Knoll. Neil Homer of the Co-Op famously told us that half a million pounds would be available within six months. Elizabeth Allen (LibDem) whose feet were more firmly on the ground hoped we weren't just setting up a talking shop. The Partnership was formed in a totally mysterious way - electing itself.  A few people wanted to join but were told to push off. Like the Chairman of KOPO who had just helped save the swimming pool and knew more about getting public support than most people. The Headmaster was curiously elected Chairman (what do headmasters know about creating jobs) because the Labour representatives and the Tories were at loggerheads and couldn't agree - they still are and still can't. The Partnership issued a Press Release in January 2005......"One of our key objectives will be to encourage public involvement and keep members of the public informed of progress through press releases, working groups, forums, newsletters, an annual meeting, displays in key locations such as the Town Hall, Library, Guild Hall, and Supermarkets. Minutes will be published." Well none of that has happened! When I asked for some minutes I was ignored. When I asked to sit in on a Steering Group Meeting I was told by the then Chairman that he didn't want his committee put under pressure. And when did you see a display in Somerfield (By contrast the Carterton Town Partnership -which is constantly quoted as an example - holds its meetings in public and publishes all the minutes of all its committees on the Town Council website). Most of us assumed that this whole thing had died a death. Not a bit of it........Now we are told  (after eighteen months) that the Partnership has a "Business Plan" to access around 130,000 a year for the next three years from SEEDA, OCC, Leader+ etc. Most of this is for a watered-down "Enterprise Centre" (Phase1 with no industrial units and probably no jobs)  but there are other half-baked projects like websites, employment surveys and Youth Forums. Before they can get any of this money the Partnership say they have to have a half-time Programme Manager who will cost 20,000 a year! This is a complete waste of money. The Partnership should concentrate on just one thing - a full-blooded Enterprise Centre. It is essential that small-scale industrial units should be part of this plan. And that plan will probably need more money than what is currently proposed. We don't have to hunt around for grants. We know where the money must come from. SEEDA and the County Council. The County Council money is already "earmarked" (see story below) We need a well-presented business case for SEEDA. We should get into immediate negotiation with a succesful local company like Oxford Innovation - who already run many Innovation Centres in Cherwell and Oxford City. They know more about getting government funding for Enterprise Centres than West Oxfordshire District Council will ever know. They will help us put together an urgent application. We don't need a Programme Manager for this. Our newly-elected Town Councillor Keith Greenwell has actually been involved in setting up an Enterprise Centre in Worcester -  he would be able to help, but nobody has asked him. The actual proposal is that this Programme Manager sets up a website then writes and uploads content for it. What a complete waste of someone's expensive time! (Ask a sixth former to do it!) The Partnership also wants to organise a Youth Forum. Forget it. The government has made it completely clear that Youth Forums are the province of Parish and Town Councils. (Carterton's Partnership have just handed all their Youth Projects back to the town council).  The Partnership should stick to securing jobs. The town is getting mightily impatient about all of this. Money has been "earmarked" and we want to get it used. A Programme Manager will simply delay things while he gets settled in - and where will he sit exactly (Squeeze up Town Clerk!) The business plan being presented says that the Guild of Commerce will contribute 5,000 towards Partnership costs this year and 10,000  next year. This is pie in the sky. The Guild's last balance sheet wasn't very healthy and is still unaudited. It has not actually raised any serious money for the Partnership and nobody has yet asked me as a member of the Guild for any contribution. Are they guaranteeing that money If so, how The Town Council needs to know. Hopefully somebody from the Guild will be present at Monday's meeting to explain all this. The County Council have refused to make any contribution to funding the Programme Manager's post. It would be instructive to know why. The Town Council has absolutely no mandate to contribute thousands of pounds towards a Programme Manager for the Partnership - particularly with so many pressing calls on its own budget. It certainly cannot commit for years ahead. Next year there will be a complete clear-out of the Town Council and things will be very different then. If there are Town Councillors wanting to pay over this money this year. what must now happen is that another Public Meeting must be called and the Partnership should be asked to make their case directly to the people of this town. (Its time for another meeting anyway). Its their money and they have already paid several times over for this Partnership. People seem to forget that whether its SEEDA, WODC or OCC the money comes out of our same taxpayer pocket! But as if to demonstrate their commitment to full involvement and consultation, the Partnership have gone ahead anyway and started running recruitment ads for a Programme Manger before funding is agreed and in place. Pretty arrogant by any standards. With a small group of local people working closely with Oxford Innovation a fully-worked proposal could be with SEEDA within two months which would be well before any new appointee to a Programme Manager's job had finished negotiating his pension rights.

If you are interested in Local Democracy you must be at the Town Hall. Monday 17th July. 7.15pm. See you there.