JIM PARKER: There really is no 'i' in word 'team'
THERE's no 'i' in 'team' and that has to be the way forward if Torbay is to weather the choppy waters that lie head. Mayor Gordon Oliver has had a meeting with Torbay MP Adrian Sanders and Brixham counterpart Sarah Wollaston to outline his concerns as the councils faces £10million budget cuts.
Town Hall finance guru Cllr Alan Tyerman and a finance officer were also there.
That's a team working together.
It was revealed during the talks that the mayor had also — through Mrs Wollaston — arranged a meeting with Local Government Minister Eric Pickles to talk about under-the-cosh Town Hall finances and other issues, including crippling business rates.
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Neither Mr Sanders, nor Cllr Tyerman — or even an officer with financial expertise — went with him.
Cllr Tyerman actually offered to pay for himself to go.
The issue was raised by local Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Baldrey who wrote in an email to the mayor: "I note that you did not request help from Torbay's other MP Adrian Sanders and would welcome your comment."
As far as I am aware he is still awaiting a response.
Bay MP Mr Sanders did respond to Cllr Baldrey and said: "Gordon did invite me to a meeting in the Town Hall where he revealed his problems balancing the books.
"He also revealed that he had through Sarah arranged a meeting with Mr Pickles but did not ask me if I could attend.
"I was more concerned that he wasn't taking a finance officer with him who could challenge anything the civil servants might raise and suggested he take a finance officer and for extra cover, Cllr Tyerman."
Mr Sanders also told me: "I was not invited to the Pickles meeting. Alan Tyerman had volunteered to go at his own expense. He has a grasp of local government finance."
Cllr Tyerman didn't appear to be too put out.
He said: "It was Gordon's decision. That's really it. I would have been happy to go with him. He had Sarah with him. Gordon did not want it to feel that Eric Pickles was being attacked by a large group of people."
Just a few days later it was Mr Sanders who was organising a meeting with Danny Alexander, Lib Dem MP and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and local business leaders who were invited to raise various issues with him.
There was no invite for the mayor or Cllr Tyerman.
Mr Sanders says he sent out a 'personal invitation' to Mr Alexander who was also shown the route of the Kingskerswell bypass.
He said invites to the actual meeting were not handled by him and it was about business issues not council matters.
Mr Sanders added: "It was about business. The Torbay Development Agency was there as the council."
Team work may still shine through at the end of the day, though.
At the meeting with the mayor, MPs Sanders and Wollaston were asked for help to find a way for the council to repay loans earlier than agreed without incurring big government cash penalties.
Evidently, Torbay Council took out a series of loans amounting to around £40million for its capital programme, including £20million for a Torquay Town Hall redevelopment project which never saw the light of day.
The money has been sat in council coffers and was originally making money, but with the credit crunch and interest rates changing, it needs to be got rid of.
Mr Sanders said: "Gordon was concerned that an enormous sum of money had been borrowed that he did not want for the purpose that it was acquired.
"They borrowed it with a high interest rate and are now having to pay it back. They do not need that money. They should never have borrowed.
"The Government can control whether a council can pay off a loan early without being penalised."
He has raised the issue with Treasury chief Mr Alexander and both he and Mrs Wollaston are due to have a follow up meeting with him.
Mr Sanders says: "We are going to see if the loan can be rescheduled. Danny was reasonably positive right from the off.
"He wanted detail. Sarah has put together the detail in a letter asking for a meeting.
"It could save the local authority a fair sum of money."
Cllr Tyerman said: "We are trying to see if there is way we can do a deal with repaying some loans.
"No money has been borrowed for the past two years, but we have been left with borrowings far higher than we needed."
Cllr Tyerman is all for working together as a team — with everybody putting politics to one side.
He says: "I am here because I want to do the best for my community. Politics is low down on my list of priorities."
He emphasises that his comments are not aimed at any particular individuals.
He just says: "Things are too difficult for us to do in a traditional way. We have to overcome that. You have to have a good team around you. You have to delegate. You cannot do it all yourself."
As I say, there's no 'i' in 'team'...