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Gripes! Council in dire need ofa reality check

By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: September 11, 2012

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WHY is it that almost every time I write something nice about Mid Devon District Council, it backfires?

Once, I wrote in praise of its housing service, only to read a few weeks later that inspectors thought it performed poorly and there was little chance of it improving.

Recently, I wrote how impressed I was with the council's complaints procedures, stating I felt encouraged letters weren't just chucked in the bin, as my naturally cynical nature and relatively low opinion of the council's ability to deal with anything would lead me to suspect.

I also noted the council last year received more compliments than complaints – 316 to 264.

I declared that if I made a complaint as a member of the public, I would feel fairly confident it would be taken seriously.

Then, I read that some complaints made to the council aren't considered to be complaints at all. If you ring them up to complain that your bin wasn't emptied, or that your street is strewn with litter, that's not a complaint, it's a 'service request'. And complaints made to councillors aren't even included in the figures.

So basically, unless you wear a Victor Meldrew mask to hand deliver a black-bordered letter headed COMPLAINT while shouting 'I want to complain', it seems they think you're either paying them a compliment or asking for something.

This ability to bend reality so it suits the authority extends, in my view, to the decision to award councillors a 23 per cent backdated pay rise earlier this year.

While the rest of the country was sliding back into recession, and most of the working population, including many council employees, were forced to make do with pay rises below inflation for years, ie pay cuts, councillors convinced themselves they deserved an increase which, we now read, was the second highest in the entire United Kingdom.

Not only that, but it was the only council in Devon to increase allowances. Torbay and Teignbridge actually cut them.

And Mid Devon council leaders wonder why people grumble about the authority?

The reality disconnect also extends to the leader of Mid Devon District Council, Peter Hare-Scott, who cannot shake off the delusion that the council's plan to shut the leisure centre sports' hall in Crediton and turn it into a profit-generating gym and dance hall is a great idea.

This is despite two public meetings packed with hundreds of people opposing it and a campaign which has gained support from Sport England, as well as a rebellion of councillors who voted, albeit narrowly, to delay the scheme, again.

Yet Mr Hare-Scott was still calling it, in last week's Gazette,"our exciting plan". He even had the gall to rail against critics for delaying it, with the result the council could not "capitalise fully on the Olympic legacy".

He has somehow turned the badly-timed and crass decision to go public with this misguided and ill-planned scheme, just as the country was gearing up for the Olympics, into a positive.

How does kicking umpteen sports groups out of a sports hall, with virtually no discussion, so that you can replace it with something more profitable, equate to capitalising on the Olympic legacy? Mr Hare-Scott, you are living in a different world.

Council leader responds to last week's Twyford. Postbag, page 20.

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