I must start my reply to Councillor Arun Chandran’s letter last week with an apology. Like many other people after a referendum, two general elections, watching the bear garden which the House of Commons became prior to the election, I was sick to my back teeth of the antics of some politicians. I hoped to get back to my job of making Newton Aycliffe a good place to work, play, live and bring up your children.

I then read Councillor Chandran’s letter and I must reply because Cllr. Chandran is deliberately misleading you, has lost the plot or has lost the plot and telling you fake news.

Cllr. Chandran, as a former President of the then Bishop Auckland Constituency Labour Party and, until four years ago, Group Secretary of the Labour Group at Great Aycliffe Town Council, had to know that the rules of the Labour Party do not apply to town and parish groups. It is not in the power, and has never been in the power of a Labour Group to expel a member and we are not able to suspend members. We do make decisions but we don’t have a whip. We have discussions on a number of issues and normally come to a consensus of opinion. That does not mean that members of the group can decide to act differently.

I will give you an example.

At the Council meeting last week I proposed to suspend Standing Orders. A number of Labour Councillors did not support me. This would not have occurred in the distant past.

No longer must a Labour Councillor vote for a nominated Labour Councillor for Mayor. This was the practice in the past. It was a practice which Cllr. Chandran and two other opposition Councillors took advantage of to become the Mayor of Great Aycliffe Town Council (is this not a case of don’t do what I did, but do what I tell you?).

Cllr. Chandran puts forward the case for Cllr. Sandra Haugh to become Mayor owing to her long service. I have no doubt that at some time Sandra will make an excellent Mayor and I wish her well. Long service does not always result in being Mayor. Cllr Bill Blenkinsopp, John Clare and Eddy Adam have all served for many years and have not been Mayor. Oh yes! I have served for almost 33 years and will never be Mayor.

In his letter, Cllr Chandran claims that Labour Councillors have set aside £39,000 to buy ‘new shiny laptops and i-pads’ after the next election. This is untrue. Great Aycliffe Town Council Policy and Resources Committee Minute 21 (December 2019) records that the Council resolved that ‘Officers work on a feasibility study for the Council to go paper-light, after which it would be recommended for consideration by the newly elected Council in 2021. The reason for this was that between one third and one half of the present councillors will be standing down or not be re-elected in 2021. With only 17 months to the election, it was decided that it would be unwise to proceed at this time. We also did not want to tie the hands of those Councillors who will be elected in 2021, no matter which party they support. The money quoted has been removed from the 2020/21 budget and will be retained in the Medium Term Financial Plan, if it is needed.

Cllr Chandran accuses the Labour Group of not making provision of funds in order to renew the contract with Durham County Council on the A167 street lights. This contract is not due for renewal until August 2025. Cllr Chandran quotes a figure of £47,507 to renew the contract. Councillor Eddy Adam, who is also a County Council Member, has established what the predicted cost to renew the lights in 2025 will be. These are the predicted costs from the County Highways Department:

Service Delivery Agreement – £60,000

82 light standards at £2,000 per standard – £164,000

65 replacement LED units – £32,500

Electrical power over 10 years – £47,000

A total of £243,500

There will be Council elections in 2021 and then in 2025. Those Councillors elected in 2025 will have a very difficult decision to make, as the sum indicated will have to be paid up-front.

The current Medium Term Financial Plan indicates the Council will be able to retain its activities and services for the next 5 years and also maintain our assets for the next 10 years. This is a result of many years of prudent management of our finances in both the long and short term. These predictions are subject to future councillors being prudent and not indulging themselves in personal extravagant pipe dreams.

Cllr Bob Fleming

Leader of the Council Chairman of Policy and Resources