Saturday 28 November 2009

Live Music at the Youth Club

I went to Scaldgate Youth Club last night, where they had a live music night on.

This is something great for our young people - both musicians and audience.  The place was packed with people having a great time.  So good to see.

Thursday 26 November 2009

OFSTED and the Lib Dems

I haven't commented on our Ofsted report of Safeguarding and Looked After Children in the County yet, because I wanted my response to the Lib Dems disgraceful letter to be published first.  This is the letter that the Lib Dems published, the most appropriate quote is:

"The report in fact contains a pretty damning analysis of the service provided by the Conservative county council to the county's most vulnerable children."

It is this language and this sort of behaviour that really winds me up about the Lib Dems.  They are quite right that we were graded overall as adequate.  However, this is adequate based on a raised bar (in response to the criticisms of them after the Baby Peter case), OFSTED themselves have admitted this.  In fact I wish OFSTED would get rid of the phrase "Adequate" it is misleading and invites this sort of manipulation.

My response to the Lib Dems' letter was published (at last) yesterday.  It sets out where I am on this perfectly.   I absolutely welcome challenge - it is a vital part of opposition and helps me to work with officers at the County Council to deliver better services, and I will always strive for the best.  However, inaccurate statements that deliberately paint the services we provide as black are bad for morale and is poor opposition.

My aim as Lead Member for Children, or indeed in anything else I do, is continuous improvement and no complacency.  I want to work with opposition to improve services, but when they make statements like this, they serve the County poorly and make it impossible.   I should stress, out of 34 judgements made by OFSTED, not a single area was judged as Inadequate and 8 within the Looked After Children area were judge as Good.

I have to say, I have a number of issues with Ofsted and the way they currently operate - and I am not the only one.   But, overall, I accept the report for Cambridgeshire as something we can learn and move forward from.

The OFSTED report can be found here.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Running in Hereward's Wake

I had the privilege to be part of a team of runners from Thorney Running Club in the Hereward Relay today.  It is a relay race from Peterborough to Ely, run in four legs.  The total distance is 38 miles.

I took part last year and had a really bad run - doing the same leg as today which is 10.3 miles (actually - I made it 10.9) from the George Campbell Leisure Centre to Welney Parish Hall.

It is quite a tough leg, with loads of running off-road on muddy tracks.  Today it was even more adventurous because of some rather interesting weather.  Half way round the rain started to really chuck it down and that, coupled with some real windy conditions heading into Welney, meant it could have been just as tough as last year, but I actually found myself enjoying the challenge today, and getting a bit of speed up during the on-road stretches (speed when running is, of course, all relative).  Running along the Old Nene, along the dykes and past Coldham Wind Farm and seeing the sights was actually far more fun than I thought it would be.

I am still waiting for my official time and the times for the Thorney teams - but I personally will be much, much faster than last year (by at least 15 minutes), which is a real confidence boost as I start increasing the miles ready for the London Marathon next year.

Hats off to March Athletic Club who organise the event.  I have a lot of time for March Club, they are a good bunch who I occasionally chat to at various events and they do a great job with the Hereward Relay.   Also thanks to my own running club, Thorney (who are of course based in Whittlesey and Thorney!) for letting me take part.

Special congratulations to Eamonn Dorling from Thorney RC who, I understand, was the first ultra runner home (which means he ran the whole 38 miles on his own).  Eamonn is quite an inspiration as a runner,and deserves loads of credit for a fantastic effort today.

Looked After Children Awards

Last night we held our annual Looked After Children Awards at the Maltings in Ely.

It is a special event, that is really important.  It is a way of recognising and giving a bit of a boost to children who both need and deserve recognition and praise.  Parts of the night are actually quite touching, not least at the end where the Children are allowed to nominate adults for awards, some of the citations are real tear-jerkers.

The truth about some of these young people is that, if we can instil them with confidence and self-belief, the recognition that they have coped with more in their short lives than most people deal with in a lifetime would mean that there could be no stopping them.  We have a few examples of this in Cambridgeshire - but ceremonies like this play a really important part.

The night also gives me a chance to catch up with a few people.  Some looked after children that I have had contact with, but also some of our LAC team at the County Council.

Congratulations to everyone in the Just Us group who organised the event.  As ever, they did themselves proud.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

School Visits

Last week I spent time at Alderman Jacobs School talking to the Head about the recent outstanding OFSTED inspection as well as visiting and talking about Safeguarding and Special Needs.

Yesterday I was at New Road School to record a short interview about Groomfields, the County Council's grounds maintenance contractor.

Yesterday I went to Neale Wade and had a conversation with the head about their issues and also had the opportunity to talk to some of the school parliament representatives about March and Neale Wade issues.  I always wonder what they think being dumped in front of a politician.  But they were really good and I left with a few ideas to discuss with the locality manager that could help what we do with young people in March.

Today I have been to Sir Harry Smith CC to discuss safeguarding and behavioural issues.

It is interesting that there are some similar themes emerging - the most important of which is probably concerns about future funding.  We are heading towards some very difficult times and there is some uncertainty about how this will impact on schools. Cambridgeshire schools are poorly funded (by the Government!), so any cuts are likely to have a disproportionate impact.

Monday 16 November 2009

Sorry for smiling

There is an extraordinary letter in the Cambs Times this week which has something of a personal attack on me.    I am not convinced it is responsible journalism to print anonymous letters of that nature, but I’m a big boy and I can take it.  But it does deserve a response.

I seem to be criticised for:

a.   Smiling some time during the Tesco exhibition.  I must remember not to smile in future.  Actually - if that person had been watching properly, they would have also seen me asking a number of challenging questions to Tesco representatives about certain issues - mainly to do with highways.

b.  Going to a festival.  When I take holidays, one of the things I do is go to Rock Festivals, I make no apologies for that, being a big fan of hard rock music is part of who I am.  I have a right to be me.  This is the second time I have been criticised for taking a holiday, so here is an advanced warning - I am going to a rock festival in early December in Wales and another one next June in France.  Actually I plan these things well in advance and pay good money for them.  So being notified at short notice of a public exhibition doesn’t allow me to change those plans.

c.  Voting against the previous Station Road application.  Fair enough.  If some people think that I was wrong, so be it.  But I stand by my decision; I felt there were some serious short-comings about that application.   My understanding of the revised submission for the same site is that there has been some serious work done to try to deal with the problems raised.  Whether they are sufficient to overcome them I cannot comment on - I am not allowed to - but, if this application is approved (note the word if, this is not a statement of either opposition or support) - it will be all the better because of the previous refusal.

Planning is a complex matter.  We are governed by a number of National, Regional and local polices, arguably, the most important in this case is the Government’s Planning Policy Statement 6.  The decisions made at Planning Committee have to be decided based on those policies, but are also informed by local views.  However, if a decision is made that contravenes the policy framework, Fenland can be challenged either through appeal or through the Courts.  For that reason, whatever decisions are made at planning committee, have to have a solid policy foundation.  This is something that it is really difficult to get across, because the process undermines local democracy.  Indeed, Nationally, I have pushed the Conservative Party to change some of this after the General Election (which they have said they will do), but that doesn't change where we stand now and it is the current planning framework that has to inform any decision I make.  

One aspect of this is that I am not permitted to make up my mind until I have listened to the evidence at planning committee.  Any suggestion I have already made up my mind has no basis in fact.

Anti-Bullying Week

This week is Anti-Bullying Week.  So I thought I would link to the Connexions video about cyber-bullying that I mentioned a little while back.

I would also like to pass on my thanks to the children from Bottisham and Soham Village Colleges who attended the Children and Young People's Scrutiny Committee at Shire Hall last week to talk about the work they were doing to deal with bullying and to give us their own views.  Hearing about issues like this from young people is so informative.

Bullying can have a huge impact on Young People's lives.  As adults we have a duty to treat it seriously.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Not JUNK at all

The marvellous traffic around Cambridge made me a little late tonight for a preview of a film made by JUNK Theatre Group called "WASTED" which was shown at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.  But I was lucky enough to see most of it and was hugely impressed.

The film is to be shown in Cambridgeshire schools as part of the PSHE curriculum, telling the story of a young girl and her friends in the events leading up to a road accident which results in one of the friends being critically injured.

JUNK Theatre group is an organisation for Cambridgeshire Young People and operates out of The Junction in Cambridge (which is also a great music venue btw).   Judging by the standard of acting in this film, they have a great deal to be proud of.  I am told there is a possibility of it being put online some time.  If it is I will link to it.

Donarbon Waste Treatment Facility

We had the meeting between the County Council Cabinet and the Senior Management team at the new Donarbon  Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) facility yesterday.  It is quite something.  The idea of the site is to take the waste out of our non-recyclables bin (the green one in Fenland!!) and extract as much as possible from there to minimise what we send to landfill.

It does not fulfill the role of getting rid of our recycling bins because the value of the recyclable material from there is nowhere near as good as what we get from a recycling bin, but it will really help us to move forwards and make sure we improve the level of recycling - which is important because it will minimise the amount the County has to pay in increasingly costly landfill taxes.

Sunday 8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday in Whittlesey

Remembrance Sunday is very important to me.  Those of you that know my background will understand why.  I was brought up as the son of a soldier, my father served 37 years.  I was born in Aden during the conflict there, and also served 6 years in the Army.  My 3 brothers also served, including in Iraq and the Falklands (where one of my brothers was on HMS Antelope).

This year is even more poignant for me, because a number of Ammunition Technicians have been amongst the casualties in Afghanistan - and that was my profession as a soldier.

Whittlesey always does itself proud on Remembrance day and today was absolutely no exception.  As well as being greeted by lovely weather, we were met by a huge crowd at the market square when we reached it today.  Once again there were loads of wreaths and crosses laid and the behaviour during the minutes silence was exceptional.

Remembering the victims of war is so important, it is heartening to see that recognised by so many people in the Town.  Congratulations and thanks to everyone who organised and took part especially to the Royal British Legion and the Ivy Leaf club who hosted us before and after the parade.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Sometimes I'm nosey

Last week I went to Huntingdon to be nosey in and around Connexions where there were some Young People filming for a DVD about cyber-bullying.  Once again some great young people involved, all of whom go to Stageworks in Buckden.  It was interesting, not only to see the acting, but to develop my understanding of cyber-bullying and to meet such interesting young people (as well as the Connexions staff who were there).

I really don't think us old 'uns understand issues like this enough.   The difference between this and the bullying that we experienced and understood is that you can never turn off from it.  The idea that you don't want to turn on your computer or mobile for fear of what might be on it is something we should all understand.

I also went to the Youth Fair in Whittlesey.  Again it was a pleasure to be there. I met one organisation Stonham, that I hadn't dealt with before but also chatted to a number of people and organisations that provide support to Whittlesey. It was interesting to see Drinksense there, and then to see them at the Scaldgate Centre on Friday night showing some videos to some of our young people.