Thursday 23 December 2010

Personality clashes in politics shock!

It amazes me the fuss that is being made of the fact that certain Lib Dems in Government don't like certain Conservative Ministers.  Shall I let you into a secret?  There are some Conservatives in Government who also don't like certain Conservative Ministers.  It is the nature of politics, healthy debates happens when there is a conflict of ideology, different interpretations of events and different perspectives; the debate and disagreement that comes from this is a healthy part of the system.   Within a Cabinet, accepting that these disagreements and dislikes happen and accepting that, as long as you have had your say and have contributed to the debate, means that you should abide by the principles of collective decision-making and collective responsibility.  It is an integral part of being effective in a position of political power.  This is as true of Cabinet systems at local level as as it is Nationally.  There is not a single Cabinet worth its salt that does not have strong debate at its heart.

What is at issue with the latest revelations from Lib Dem Ministers is the damage caused by the total lack of respect for collective responsibility.  The indiscretions which are, in part, about securing personal standings at a time when Ministers are faced with tough decisions because of the failings of the previous Government, actually does those individuals more damage in the long term IMHO.

What fascinates me even more is is these indiscretions come from senior members of a political party that has tried to further its own ends by claiming that our system would be better if it was largely led by coalition Governments (because that IS the only outcome of election through proportional representation) and yet seems to be hell bent on proving that they do not have the will or the ability to work within a coalition.

The Lib Dems need to grow up fast.

Monday 13 December 2010

Bassenhally/Feldale Fields Planning Application - Again

Yet another planning application has been submitted for 460 homes plus Care Home etc. for Bassenhally Field.

The files are not yet on line, but it appears to be an identical application which must mean that the developer has submitted it expecting a refusal so he can take it to appeal. (because the time for appeal has passed for the previous application).

I can't think of any reason this could have been submitted other than this - once again there has been no prior discussion with officers at Fenland about it.

I have rejuvenated the previous Facebook page on this which can be found here.

The Planning application (Ref F/YR10/0904/O) is here

Please join and please, please write to Fenland Planning Department with your views.  This is too important and too large to ignore.  The address is:

Development control, 
Fenland District Council
Fenland Hall, 
County Road, 
March, PE15 8NQ

Splits in Cambridgeshire Lib Dems

More evidence of Cambridgeshire Lib Dems being split comes in this article:

I know for a fact that this view is not supported by all of Cllr Gymer's colleagues because I know what they have said to me.

You will note that there is no alternative to tuition fees suggested - and this seems to be Cambs Lib Dems approach to any difficult decision; total denial of reality.

Cllr Gymer, is of course the same person I had to remind at the last County Council meeting to be wary of the sort of public comments she makes about our young people after some quite scurrilous suggestions of what they would all be up to because of what is happening over Youth Services.   I had to remind her that the vast majority of the young people in this county are an asset to us.  Steve Tierney covered this exchange in his blog.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Passing of Cllr John West

I have just got back from a training course to read of the sad passing of Cllr John West.

I served with John on two Councils, on both he had a reputation for being both a character and a straight-talker.

My deepest sympathies to his family.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

What did I learn from today? Nothing has changed.

We had our Full Council meeting at the County Council yesterday.   It came as we approach one of the most difficult periods we have faced in recent times because of the serious cuts in funding we face.

So what did I learn?  Just that nothing has changed.  Our Labour Group Leader remains in total denial and, more importantly, our main opposition, the Lib Dems, seem to be carrying on with their "heads in the sand" approach to tough decisions - despite belonging to a political party that is sharing Government and therefore should have a better understanding of where we are.

We have a long budget process in Cambridgeshire, to summarise it involves a cycle of increasingly adding detail as more information becomes available.  It is sort of an evaluate, challenge, evaluate, challenge process.  But before the final decision (which is made in Jan/Feb every year) we always get a small period of fiction.  That fiction is the Lib Dems alternative budget.  Every year they produce it and every year it shows a misunderstanding of a number of issues - one in particular is the approach we take to reserves, where they try and pretend that we have far too much stashed away (despite the Audit Commission saying otherwise), and take money out of reserves as the solution to all our problems.  But when their budget is evaluated (it has been through our scrutiny process the last two years) it is proven to be unworkable.

Based on what I saw today we are headed for the same piece of fiction.  I got lots of challenge about the IYSS process that is seeing cuts to County Council funding of Youth and Connexions Services.  I have posted about that before.  I don't mind that challenge and I also know that a number of Councillors, including some of the more responsible Lib Dems, are doing the same sort of work as we are in Whittlesey to try and mitigate the impacts of the County Council's decisions, but in truth none of the senior opposition members offered up any sort of alternative to what we are having to do - just saying we shouldn't do this.  It says to me that they haven't learned anything about their failures of the past, or from the opportunities that being a party with a handle on National power provides.

Friday 26 November 2010

BSF Cuts

I am sure there are many, like me that are disappointed about the cuts to the Phase 2 of Fenland BSF - which means less money going into the rebuilding work at Meadowgate, Sir Harry Smith Community College, Cromwell and the Fenland PRU.   I thought it would be worth talking a little about the causes of these cuts.

As time moved on after last May's elections it became increasingly obvious to Central Government that they had inherited a huge problem with funding for new primary schools which was not dealt with by the previous Government.  This is a real problem, in Cambridge City population growth means we need additional classes for 180 children - if that growth continues that means a need for 6 schools the size of Alderman Jacobs (joint biggest in the County) this is genuine population growth that has not been caused by new housing.  The same problem exists across the Country and, coupled with the Treasury's needs to get to grips with the budget deficit and the debt inherited from New Labour, meant that funding to Partnership for Schools (the body that funds BSF) was cut significantly and this in turn means cuts to all of the BSF projects that are at the same stage as the phase two schools in Fenland.

Do I like what has happened?  No, of course I don't.  But in this instance I do not believe a huge protest will make a difference - this is not the same as the dreadful decision to cut funding to the new COWA facility which arose from the incompetence of both the LSC and the Labour Government and where the cuts were pretty random (but with largely Labour areas saved) - these are cuts across the spectrum.  In this instance I think the role of me and fellow County Councillors is to try and mitigate the impact on Fenland schools so that we can maximise the amount of money that goes into school buildings; I continue to do that.

This is not all doom and gloom.  Despite a really difficult financial situation at the moment, education outcomes (sorry for the buzz words) continue to improve across Fenland at a faster rate than they are Nationally; we are seeing new buildings going up at Neale Wade (which I was fortunate enough to see yesterday) and Thomas Clarkson; local plans to redevelop the COWA site in Wisbech are still moving forwards, despite the slap in the face delivered by New Labour; and the phase 2 BSF schools in Fenland are still forecast to receive millions of pounds of funding for rebuild and refurbishment.

Friday 19 November 2010

Lord Young needed to go

I often defended Labour politicians who were threatened with the axe following gaffes so you might expect me to defend Lord Young who was forced to stand down from an advisory role yesterday because of his remarks to the Telegraph that people in this country "had never had it so good."

In Cambridgeshire we have good staff who are facing redundancy as a result of the cuts we are having to make. I cannot justify what Lord Young said in those circumstances and I think the decision to leave was the right one.

It makes the Conservatives appear so out of touch, when I know that is not the case,(which I think is proven by David Cameron's response).

Whittlesey Market Square - What to do?

Recently the Town Council has been mulling over whether to try and do something different with the market square.

With a new bistro opening and The George thriving, there is the potential to do something really different; allowing tables and chairs to spill out onto the square to create something of a continental feel.  With a bit of imagination I am sure there are all sorts of things this could lead to.

The biggest barrier is, of course, that this is an important bus stop.  So if we were to make these changes, we would need to find an alternative place for buses, preferably one where we could provide shelter for passengers
while they are waiting.

No decisions have been made about this yet, we have had some initial chats and thrown around some ideas, but nothing more.  So now is the time to throw things out in the open so people can tell me what they think of the idea, give me ideas about what we could do with buses and to give me any other thoughts.

I can be contacted here.

The Lib Dems don't do dirty tricks..

No, No, No.

Whoops.  Yes they do.

Be wary if you get one of these through your door.

(And AV is a bad thing anyway!!!)

Wednesday 10 November 2010

School Meals

With the lovely dinner ladies at Alderman Jacobs Primary School
Today, as part of School Meals week, I went to Alderman Jacobs Primary School to sample a school dinner.

I really enjoyed my food - it reinforced the message about the quality of the meals Cambridgeshire Catering Services are providing, they certainly exceed anything I experienced as a child (and indeed much of what I experienced as a soldier eating in Army canteens!!).  There were a number of other things that impressed me, firstly the attitude of the dinner ladies and cooks who run an extremely slick and busy operation in the school, but also the efforts they have gone to overcome some of the age old problems.  So, as an example, year 5 and 6 children are able to preselect their food so that the kitchens don't run out by the time they are served.   I have to end this paragraph by saying thanks to the catering team for putting up with me.

If you are a parent who is hesitant about school meals for your children based on your own experiences - please don't be, things have really changed for the better.

Because I am sure you want to know - I had sausages, carrots, mashed potato and gravy followed by chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce.

I also have to say comment on the politeness of the children as they were being served.  A credit to themselves, the school and their parents/carers.  I have been a Governor at AJS for fourteen years (and have just taken up the role of Chairman of Governors again) and this is one aspect of the school that has always impressed me.

Acceptable Campaigning

I have been fascinated by the judgement against Labour's Phil Woolas, who has been stripped of his parliamentary seat after a judge found him guilty of telling lies during his election campaign.

There are all sorts of issues at stake here and it is interesting that it is this issue that has opened up the first of what I suspect will be many divisions within the Parliamentary Labour Party.  Personally I think the judgement is important and right.  Politics is a tough game and the election process needs to challenge what both individuals and the party they represent stand for - but telling lies cannot be part of that.  That is why I am astonished by these comments from Labour MP Graham Stringer in a BBC Online article about the issue:
"If the courts get involved in elections when people go over the top on policy and sometimes tell lies then we are going to have a very strange electoral process in future," 
That quote is quite clear to me, this is a Labour MP saying that lies are acceptable in an election campaign.  It is no wonder that people have problems with politics.

Personally, I think it will be the Lib Dems who are most worried about this.  I have often thought their by-election campaigning is on the edge of acceptability.  As an example they have often used dubious graphs that misrepresent results in previous elections or twist history to make it a European campaign relevant to a local by-election. We should not forget that they are also guilty of one of the nastiest bits of political campaigning ever when Simon Hughes stood against gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell (who I don't believe had come out at the time).  Simon Hughes is, of course, now the Lib Dem Deputy Leader.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Efficiency Measures vs Cuts

Whilst I absolutely believe the coalition are headed in the right direction when it comes to getting Britain's economy back on track, I have one frustration - that is the obsession with talking about efficiency measures.  It is frustrating for people, like me, who are having to deal with the implications of cuts in funding to local Government which have by the way, been significantly front loaded so we cannot spread the pain over 4 years as much as some would have liked.

Cambridgeshire is an efficient Council.   We have our problems but, for the majority, we are well run, not overly bureaucratic and deliver good services to the people of the County.  What that means is we cannot take between 25% - 33% out of our budget just by "efficiency measures".   There are, of course, things we do that we don't have to, but all too often they are services that people like and appreciate; a great example of this is the cuts we are having to make to Youth Services.

As a Council in Cambridgeshire, we are having to go back to the things that are most important.  So, in children's services, that means prioritising support to vulnerable children and families, putting the children who most need help first, that means we have to look at every service that is not totally focussed on this. Of course we are also looking at management posts because of course we are, but we cannot take out the huge sums of money that are needed without cuts in services.  I just wish Government would recognise this and not play about with the language, it may be easier for them to use that sort of phrase, but in reality it is a bit confusing when people experience the inevitability of what is happening in local Government.

I recognise that the Coalition inherited a financial mess from New Labour; a combination of a budget out of control and levels of borrowing that were totally unsustainable, and I know both myself and my colleagues are all too aware that Cambridgeshire has to play its part and take some of the pain - but let's just call them cuts and not beat around the bush.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Fenland's State of the District Debate

We had Fenland's "State of the District Debate" this afternoon.  Basically, a Council meeting that is help once a year to discuss how things are going.   Part of it included a summary of the financial challenges facing Fenland District council, something I am also dealing with as a County Councillor.  More of that another time.

Another part was a presentation from Alan Melton, the Leader, about opportunities moving forwards.  I was quite heartened that once again he gave great credence to some of my ideas about a large business park in the centre of Fenland as a means of funding an A605 Whittlesey Bypass -given that a bypass would provide rapid access from Fenland to the A1.   He was also kind enough to mention it as my idea.

He also talked about plans that have been put to the new Greater Cambridge and Greater Peterborough LEP to upgrade Chesterton railway station and potentially improve railway lines from Cambridge to Peterborough.   I made the point during the debate about the increase in rail usage from Whittlesey over the last few years (since Peterborough decided to charge extortionate rates for Station Parking!!) basically making the point about hte need for more trains to stop.

It is good to see positive ideas still coming forward despite the financial tough times that Councils face.  We have to keep trying to look forwards and move forwards.

Wednesday 20 October 2010

A good use of time?

We had Full Council at Shire Hall again yesterday and it was yet another meeting where you have to question the meaning of the Lib Dems:
  • A motion on Press and PR expenditure which asks for a premature decision on a review that is currently taking place as part of the budget process.
  • A motion challenging the minutes of the last Full Council meeting when the first thing they did at the start of the meeting was to agree the previous minutes.
  • A motion asking for online publication of Declarations of Interest - which they could have got just by dropping someone a quick email (which we supported but added the inclusion of CRB checking information).
  • Yet another motion about Academies which, in short, accused heads of misleading Governors and parents by omitting information.  It was yet another attempt by Cllr Downes to get Cambridgeshire to oppose all things academy, basically covering ground that was covered at the last Council Meeting. The motion also showed a remarkable distrust in Nick Clegg's comments with regard to fairness recently.  (We amended this to tone the language down, to recognise the hard work heads and Officers were doing on Academies and to recognise the commitment to fairness in education that Nick Clegg has made).

Full Council is an extremely important part of the democratic function.  But the meetings take a great deal of Council Officer's time to service and support so, the more time we spend on superfluous rubbish the more money we waste.

We are a Council facing the prospect of 25-40% budget cuts over the next four years - we have to be efficient and that means political groups using meetings in a way that offers the right sort of challenge and that is respectful of officer's time.   Unfortunately the Lib Dems really don't get it.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Youth Services Cuts

I have been contacted by a number of residents about the proposed cuts to Youth Services budget in Whittlesey and the impact this will have on the open access clubs in the Town.

These proposed changes come about directly as a result of the cuts the County Council face, which are forecast to be between 25% and 40%.  Cuts like that, especially in a County like Cambridgeshire which is recognised for managing money well and for being efficient, cannot be made without impacting on some services.   When the Coalition Government came to power, they inherited a record budget deficit - and these changes can be directly attributed to the measures needed to bring our country back onto an even financial keel.

Wiithin Children's Services, which is my portfolio as a Cabinet Member at the County Council, we have had to go back to basics and recognise that our primary role is to make sure we protect and support vulnerable children and families and to do preventative work which reduces more expensive interventions.   Unfortunately, Open Access Youth Clubs don't fit in to that category.  That is not to say they don't have a function and they aren't useful, just that with the funding situation we face, they are not affordable.   This is not something anyone wants to do, it is forced on us by circumstances.

I have been approached by a number of people asking what can be done to keep the Youth Centre in Whittlesey open.  As a result I have asked for some support to investigate the possibility of creating a Trust of some sort that can be used as a basis for fund raising and making bids to try and replace the money that is being lost and minimise the impact of those cuts on Whittlesey - I don't know the detail of this, it is very much a work in progress, but if this is something you are interested in, please get in touch.

Please also get in touch if you have any other ideas and thoughts.

Friday 8 October 2010

Joint Area Committee - Yellow Lines and Bypasses

I went to the Joint Area Committee meeting this afternoon.   Before you start furiously clicking to get away from this page - let me tell you why it's important.

JAC brings together Fenland and County Councillors to discuss various Highways matters.  Two important issues were raised today, of very contrasting scales.  The first was a petition requesting support for a set of double yellow lines to prevent parking on the junction along Stonald Road near Sudbury Court.  It is a relatively low cost item, but we agreed to take it away and see whether a deal can be done to find some funding - no guarantees, but we will try.  The petition was supported by a resident of Sudbury Court and by the appropriate District Councillor for the Ward, Councillor Kay Mayor.

The second item was to bring forward proposals for a Market Towns Strategy for Whittlesey - which is a much needed piece of work which will develop an overarching roads strategy for the Town.  Included in this will be considerations for a bypass - ideas for which are currently being worked out.   In fact the only bit of the whole report that I expressed concern about was this phrase:

"Initial desktop study work looking at Whittlesey traffic issues and the scope, impact and costs/viability of a bypass has commenced"

What I commented about was the word viability - I asked for it to be replaced by "possibilities" because I don't want "no" to be part of the solution.

I have been a Councillor in Whittlesey for over ten years and this is the first time I have known any sort of firm plans to be brought forwards - that is testament to the amount of work local Town, District and County Councillors have done to push this issue.  Indeed, I was supported today by fellow County Councillor Ralph Butcher (who also supported the Sudbury Court petition).

This is still going to take time - but at least we can see progress being made.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Civil Parking Enforcement Call-In

This morning's call-in of the Cabinet decision over Civil Parking Enforcement decision (which is inextricably linked to car parking charges) was interesting.  It was a pretty lively address and I think the outcome was pretty much that there were different understandings of what the decision meant and therefore that it should be referred back to Fenland's Cabinet meeting for review.  This should provide better clarity.  From a Whittlesey perspective, I asked specifically that better clarity be provided for the decision to include Whittlesey and Chatteris as a last minute amendment.

Another part of my contribution was to suggest a possible alternative to car parking charges, which could give  Fenland the opportunity to create income from growth in business rates as an alternative approach to dealing with some of the parking issues - an idea that is potentially a much more positive way forward than car parking charges.

Thanks to everyone that contacted me - I was able to use a number of the points raised in the debate.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Ending the Culture of Benefit Dependency

Iain Duncan Smith has a record of commitment to Social Justice second to none in British politics today.  He was a man who put ideology first when he left the leadership of the Conservative Party and set up the Centre for Social Justice and did a massive amount of work to get the Conservative Party to understand issues of social justice and deprivation.  That is why he is exactly the right man to lead welfare reform in Government.

Welfare reform is also one of the most important issues we face - not just because of cost but because the lack of a working culture in some communities and families causes huge damage to an economy we need to get thriving again.  It also matters to many of the people in those communities.   When I stood for Parliament in Nottingham North it was one of three major issues that were raised time and time again at our regular stall on Bulwell Market. (If you want to know the other two were  teenage pregnancy and its impact on housing and immigration).

What is important to me is not just that IDS will deal with the issue, but that he will deal with it compassionately and with his deep understanding and commitment to the people in our society who need help most.. What seems to be coming out of the media today reinforces that.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Excusing the unacceptable

There is loads of political commentary around today about Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour Party conference - and rightly so.  But a fair portion of it seems to be about the fact that Ed talked left in order to capture the Union vote to get him elected as leader, but now elected is talking right wing in order to make himself electable.  It has been said, almost as if that is what he has to do.

Surely, taking one position with your own party and another with the electorate at large is just downright hypocrisy?  I'm pretty sure that he's not the first to do it, but that doesn't make it right.

Roddons - Delivering for Fenland Tenants

According to the Cambs Times, Robert Pinnock is to launch a campaign against the closure of two residential homes in Fenland by Roddons. In the same article he, apparently, challenges the success of Roddons. 

I wonder if Mr Pinnock has been to see the two homes in question (which are The Dales in Elm and Napier Court/Elizabeth Terrace in Wisbech)?   I suspect not.

I am a member of the Roddons Board that took the decision to support closure.  A decision that I did not take lightly and nor did any other Board Member (which you should remember includes a mix of Councillors, independent members and, importantly tenants).  I went on to Roddons Board to act in the interests of Fenland residents and tenants and, I have to say that I did exactly that in contributing to the decision to close these two homes.

Firstly, let’s make it plain.  These buildings are no longer fit for purpose.  As a board we went to visit both locations on the night we made our decision and that was absolutely clear from the moment we walked into the first bedroom, this is reinforced by the fact that Roddons have struggled to find tenants to take up places in both locations.

Secondly, the homes are also not capable of refurbishment because of the nature of their design.   I actually don’t believe the Board would have supported the proposal to demolish (which was only put forward to us after a full and open 12 week consultation with residents and stakeholders) if that had not been the case.

But, there is an important point here, which is that the nature of care for older people has changed.  The focus now is on enabling people to stay at home for as long as they can - in fact designing homes for life is an important principle, making sure that wherever possible, adaptations that may be needed in future are built into homes at the design stage.  This inevitably means that the focus returns to the shortage of social housing rather than a demand for residential homes.  So I strongly suspect that these now out-dated and not fit for purpose buildings will indeed be replaced by much needed social housing.

Let’s get something else straight. One of the other issues that the board considered was where this sits alongside the promises that were made at transfer.   I was absolutely assured at that meeting that there was no breach of promises - not least because, whilst refurbishment of residential homes was a priority, these two homes were not capable of refurbishment at that time.

I am very proud to be a Board member of Roddons, they have achieved a great deal since the transfer.  As an example, they have already reached the Decent Homes standard and are now heading towards achieving Decent Homes plus, which is what was promised at transfer.  Under Fenland’s control this would not have been achievable - not because of any failing of Fenland’s but because of the financial circumstances that surrounded council housing.  Robert Pinnock has raised this, but talks about how things should have been.   The problem with that line of thinking is that they were absolutely not the circumstances then.  Tenants already have better homes than they would have had if they had listened to Robert Pinnock when he opposed transfer - and standards are destined to improve even further. 

Another question that Mr Pinnock raises is where Roddons stands with regards to its promise to distribute £1million worth of community grants.  Well, Roddons have already distributed £400,000 and will start with the process of distributing even more in April 2011.

Another aspect that Robert Pinnock raises is the relationship with Circle Anglia group.   The success that Roddons have had in delivering its promises is down to two things - the first is that Roddons as an organisation have been focussed and determined to be successful from day one.  The other is the advantage of belonging to a group structure, such as that provided by Circle Anglia, not least because of the extra financial leverage that creates.

I recognise that the number of times I mention Mr Pinnock in this post suggests that I am having a go.  That is not the intention, it is just that it is his contact with the Cambs Times that has forced me to respond.   I recognise that his campaign is very well intentioned and also that campaigning can be of real value when it is done sensibly and is based on good evidence.  I dealt with many, many examples of good campaigning as Chairman of Planning.  My disappointment with the sort of approach being adopted in this case is that the only thing that can come out of it is to wrongly undermine residents’ confidence in Roddons, an organisation that I believe is really delivering in Fenland.  The facts behind the challenges he makes could easily have been found out through a quick email to Roddons, it didn't take a press campaign.

Friday 24 September 2010

Helping Hampton's Profits

Some views about Car Parking charges (which I expressed in private) were (kindly!!) leaked to the Cambs Times today.  So I thought it was important that I provided an update and some clarity.

Firstly the fact that this issue was being debated at Fenland’s Cabinet meeting yesterday slipped my mind last night - and it meant I misled a few people on Twitter.  For that I apologise and thank John Elworthy for setting me straight.  I also had the expectation that only Wisbech and March were on the radar - but a last minute amendment at Cabinet (that I had absolutely no advance warning of) meant that is no longer the case and Whittlesey is now part of the proposal.

Civil Parking Enforcement is a way of providing enforcement of parking offences through charging for on-street parking -( i.e. such as along Market Street), however, it cannot  and will not work without the use of off street charging (i.e. it has to include Car Parks) and, if the charging regime is right, Fenland could make a profit out of it - something that is an important part of the debate given that we face serious financial challenges in the near future.   But, to me, the important point is the word Enforcement.  In my opinion Whittlesey does not have serious enforcement issues.  Moreover, there is the possibility for CPE to provide some minimal support to areas like ours without a charging regime.  Police Officers will also retain the right to issue tickets in certain circumstances.

So, from where I sit, no serious enforcement issues, no need for CPE or the Car Parking charges that go along with it.    When CPE was discussed at the County Council I pushed this point of view that there should be flexibility in the scheme so that those Towns/Districts that didn’t want or need CPE had the ability not to introduce it.

The reason I am fundamentally opposed to general car parking charges is because of Whittlesey’s unique position in Fenland.  It’s proximity to Peterborough (and especially to Hampton) mean that it has to find ways of standing out and selling the things that are unique about it in order to preserve our Town centre.  We need to build on our USPs not get rid of them, otherwise, we might as well just put “Please shop at Hampton” signs on our roundabouts.

There are other things that are worthy of discussion - but they are NOT related to CPE.   We do sometimes suffer from lack of parking space because of the number of people that park in Town all day and take the bus into Peterborough.  That lack of space deters some people from coming into Town.  One answer to that could be (could be) to introduce car parking charges after 2 or 3 hours.   But at the moment there are too many unanswered questions to even consider moving towards this, such as: 

  • How would this impact on the side streets close to the Town - such as London Street, High Causeway, Gracious Street.  I know some of the residents in those areas are interested in a residents parking scheme - but we don’t know how universal that wish is (this issue wrt parking in side streets is true of all parking charges).  
  • How would the New Queen Street Surgery car park fit into the equation? 

I am also pretty sure that CPE will not be affordable with a charging scheme that only makes money from people who park for longer than two hours and therefore that CPE is not the appropriate way of bringing this issue forwards.  I am willing to be proven wrong on this - but I don’t think I will be.

But, above all we need to have a better idea about the impact of any charging regime on the Town Centre. 

I know there are loads of people in Whittlesey who have strong views about this - please, please let me know what they are - whether they support Car Parking charges or not.   This decision has now been called in by our scrutiny committee and the better informed I am about the views of Whittlesey people the better I will be able to represent them at that meeting.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Time to examine your navel Mr Downes

On Monday, Peter Downes, the Liberal Democrat Lead on Children's Services at the County Council led a debate at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference which opposed the Coalition Government's Free Schools and Academies proposals.  The motion was opposed by the Lib Dem Schools Minister, Sarah Teather, but was unfortunately supported by the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Thankfully, on a practical approach, the motion doesn't affect Government policy, but it is still disappointing for at least two reasons.  Firstly, opposing a bill which allows greater freedom for schools totally ignores the huge lessons of the last 13 years (and indeed from before), that the ever centralising, controlling agenda doesn't work.  Whilst exam results have improved in Britain, our international standing in terms of literacy and numeracy has gone backwards and Head Teachers, Governors etc. have become increasingly frustrated by the mass of bureaucracy and paperwork from central Government.  The coalition has offered an alternative which rewards success and encourages fresh independent thinking through the creation of free schools, whilst offering commitment to the most vulnerable through the pupil premium and other emerging ideas.

I have to say - I do not expect a flood of Free Schools in Cambridgeshire, but, whilst we have to treat them on a case by case basis, we do have to be open minded and examine them on their merits rather than based on a rigid opposition to all things different.

However, it is the second reason for my disappointment that is the most important - and that is that by driving a wedge between himself and Lib Dem Ministers Peter Downes has harmed Cambridgeshire's ability to influence the National agenda and improve the lot for the children of our County.  When Nick Clegg accepted a role in Government, it gave Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats a unique opportunity to influence the National agenda according to their own vision.  What they have actually done is oppose, oppose, oppose.  Never more so than with this motion to the Lib Dem Party Conference which has created huge distance between Peter Downes and the very people he could and should have worked with in order to help improve the lot for the County.

I am afraid Peter Downes must recognise that his stance, however principled, has harmed his ability to serve the people who elected him.  It is time for him to realise that having someone else fulfil his opposition role will better enable the rebuilding of bridges between Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats and Education Ministers at a National level.

Monday 13 September 2010

My teaching experience

Today, I had a new experience, which was teaching a lesson at St Albans Catholic Primary School in Cambridge.   It's the sort of thing I like to do - it helps to get a bottom up perspective and, as a result, improves decision-making.

In the end I really enjoyed it, albeit I was a bit nervous at the start.  I was helped by a great group of children, some of whom actually seemed to enjoy themselves.  For those that want to know, it was a lesson based on the poem "The Sound Collector" by Roger McGough where I got the children to write their own middle section. Some of the results were amazing.

What did I learn:

  1. If every teacher spent as much time on a single lesson plan as I did, no teaching would get done.
  2. Writing a lesson plan is one thing.  Converting it into a coherent lesson is a different and far more important talent.
  3.   Don't cram too much into one lesson.

Later on this evening I then did an interview with BBC Radio Cambridgeshire - basically talking about my experience and linking it to better decision-making over cuts - a very valid point - the better informed, the better the decisions.

They also asked about the cuts agenda and I was able to make the point that opposing is one thing, but coming up with sensible alternatives that cut Europe's biggest deficit in the sort of timescales we need to is entirely another.

Overall, one of the good days.

I would just like to thank everyone at St Albans school and, in particular, their very patient, attentive and clever Year 6 students for putting up with me.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Andy Coulson will have to resign

Andy Coulson left his job at the News of the World because phone tapping happened on his watch.  He has already paid the price.  The only significant development since then is that one of the people that was sacked - someone who absolutely has an axe to grind - has made allegations that the person who sacked him was culpable.  I really struggle to see the story.

I am sure you would say that I am bound to say that.  Well, maybe - but there were times under the Labour Government where I supported Ministers when everyone else was screaming for resignations.

The shame is that I suspect Andy Coulson is going to have to resign whatever happens in future.  The job of a Head of Communications is to manage the news and communications, and when you become the news that makes the job impossible - so unfounded allegations are almost certainly going to cost him his livelihood.  Shame.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Treatment of William Hague

I agree 100% with Iain Dale's analysis of the treatment of William Hague by Guido Fawkes.

This sort of hits home my feelings about the way the National media is going.  National newspapers are employing less and less people and, as a result, true investigative reporting has largely gone out of the window (NOTW excepted).   Instead what we have is the internet and a few bloggers using innuendo and hints to hound people into exposing their issues (if they are genuine) or indeed hounding them out of office because they cannot take the pressure created by false accusations - as happened in this case.  

An even bigger concern about the National news media is their increasing reliance on agency stories that exaggerate the truth in order to make them saleable.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Meeting with Tim Loughton MP - Minister for Children

I had a meeting with Tim Loughton MP, the Minister for Children today.  I have met him a few times before when he was Shadow Minister, he was also one of the people who was kind enough to drop me a good luck note when I stood for Parliament in Nottingham North earlier in the year.   It was a pleasure being able to chat now that he is in power and has Governmental responsibility for children's services.

Much of our conversation was about future direction.   Whilst everyone is awaiting the spending announcements in October with anticipation and not a little concern, (and we all know tough times are ahead financially), it is reassuring to know that the Government's view is very hands off, preferring to look at what Councils produce and stepping in where necessary rather than managing in micro-detail from Westminster - which is what we had from the Labour Government.   It means we can take a much more Cambridgeshire focussed view of what we do instead of continually reacting to diktats.

This is exactly what the Conservatives promised in the election campaign; it is good to see it happening in reality.

Monday 30 August 2010

Axl Rose and Eleven O'Clock Curfews

I don't very often talk about music on this blog, but every now and again an issue comes up which crosses rock music (my 2nd passion) and politics, this is one of them.

Axl Rose is the lead singer of Guns n Roses, a once great rock band whose reputation has nose-dived since the departure of Slash and a few others.  Everyone in rock music circles knows of Axl Rose's reputation as a self-important rock star who is losing his talent.  And also that Slash featuring Myles Kennedy on vocals was a far better watch on the festival circuit this year (including their covers of GnR songs).  A Guns n Roses let down at Reading and Leeds was easily predicted.  In fact the band went on stage an hour and a half late at Reading and half hour late at Leeds resulting in short sets and Axl having a moan at everyone except himself about the curfew being imposed

There are two issues here.  The first is Guns n Roses behaviour - which shows a real disrespect for their fans who spend good money seeing the band and paying the always over-inflated prices that are charged for merchandise etc.  I say this because there does not seem to be any explanation for the problems and these were certainly not unusual occurrences.

The second issue is a real bugbear of mine and that is the stupid way that eleven o'clock curfews have become the norm at British rock venues and festivals, especially the way they are enforced without an ounce of flexibility.  I hate it.   I thoroughly enjoy going to European festivals for a few reasons; they are less of a rip off than their UK counterparts; they often have a great international feel to them; and they have live music until 2 to 3 o'clock in the morning.

This universal idea that music has to finish at 11 o'clock is just daft and causes real problems.   I went to see Ace Frehley earlier this year in London and he has some real technical problems before the gig which meant the band went on stage late, the ludicrous curfew meant that he played a 40 minute set, the result - lots of angry and upset fans.

At festivals the result of the curfew is that everyone heads to the bars or back to their tents and drink.   Is that what we are supposed to be encouraging?

I am not saying that all venues and all gigs should have later curfews.    But clearly some common sense is needed - if a band is unavoidably delayed on stage, let's be flexible.  Where a venue is not surrounded by housing and especially when it is surrounded by night club venues that are open all hours, let's allow later curfews.  And especially, where people are paying a couple of hundred quid to go to a festival, let's have a curfew at a sensible hour so they can spend as much time as possible doing what they paid to do - watch bands playing music.

The current licencing laws were brought in by the control freakery that was New Labour.  I hope the Conservatives have the sense to revisit this piece of legislation and inject a bit of localism and common sense.

Sunday 29 August 2010

Sex Education - More or Less?

Stewart Jackson, Member of Parliament for Peterborough caused a bit of fuss this week by challenging the notion that more sex education is always a good thing.

It is quite an interesting challenge and is not as controversial as it sounds.   More and more sex education has not provided the huge benefits that people have suggested.  But just looking at the increase in STIs is not the only measure.  There is a slow decrease in the number of teenage pregnancies (an area where Cambridgeshire has a good record) which suggests that something is working.

However, I do not believe the argument is about more or less, it is about better.  I do not believe the overall standard of sex education (and indeed delivery of the rest of the PSHE curriculum) is good enough.  There are some outstanding teachers who deliver first class sex education, but there are others who may be great teachers in their own subjects, but who, for whatever reason, do not deliver PSHE well enough.  Schools need to be realistic about this, so does the education system as a whole.

I want to finish though by saying that Stewart Jackson is certainly not the only person who holds the view he does and those that criticise him maybe ought to examine their own navels first and start to think about why that is the case.  I have a great deal of respect for Stewart and he has every right to stand up and say what he did.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Unnecessary Signs

Some of you will have seen Eric Pickles' comments today about getting rid of unnecessary signs which can cause confusion and clutter.  The County Council are waiting for further clarification on this, but actually it is an announcement to be welcomed.  

So, over to you.   If you see or know of any in the Whittlesey area, please get in touch and let me know.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Publication of Spending Over £500

I was fascinated by the decision by Eric Pickles to be ahead of the game and publish all of his department's spending over £500.  At the moment it is a win-win situation for him.   He gets to highlight some of the utter waste that there was under New Labour and provides an incentive for Councils to get on and publish.

Some of you may know that I was a Civil Servant for 14 years, working for the MoD.   During that time I went on a few "jollies" that went under the banner of team building.  Probably the one I questioned most was 3 days at Centre Parcs Longleat - where, to be fair, as well as team working exercises we carried out an examination of where our section (which was split into 3 locations across Britain) was going wrong in terms of communications and strategy and some useful stuff came out of it.   Whilst value was gained from it - there can be no doubt that it didn't need to be at Longleat for that to be achieved.  The point is, I think, let's not dismiss all of this sort of spending - the best thing is to look in detail and understand the benefits as well as the negative points (although massages cannot be justified!!!)

I also know that during my time as a Civil Servant there was a great deal of spending that just was not necessary; Budget holders were not allowed to carry over funding from one year to the next, so at the end of the financial year there was a tendency for money to be spent on unnecessary stuff rather than risk losing part of next year's budget through underspending.  Hopefully more transparency will provide a disincentive to that sort of waste.

In the medium term, as Eric Pickles becomes responsible for what his department spends, this sort of publishing could cause problems but I am sure he is on top of that.

I have chased where Cambs County Council are with this and I am advised that we will start publishing spending data in October at the latest.

Closure of North Bank Road Part 3

I have been doing some chasing about the North Bank.  Apparently, Peterborough City Council have changed their way of working to get around the Moorhen problem, which means that the planned re-opening of the North Bank remains January next year.   This is good for two reasons:

1.  We only have to suffer the misery of difficult travel into Peterborough until January

2.  It means there is time in this financial year to get the necessary repairs to the A605 completed.

CCC Highways Dept are going to do some of the repairs overnight shortly - but only on quieter stretches where residents won't be disturbed.    The rest will be done after the North Bank has reopened.

Thanks to Officers at CCC and Peterborough for working on this.  Still don't like the closure - but at least the impact has been minimised

Community Grants Scheme

Sometimes it's best to just cut and paste:

"It's that fantastic time of year again when Fenland District Council

officially launch their Community Grants Fund and we are inviting

community groups to apply for our funding! We have a total pot of
100,000- (25,000 from Roddons Housing Association and 75,000 from
Fenland District Council which amounts to 25,000 allocation per
Neighbourhood Management Board Area). 

Each Neighbourhood Management Board assesses applications for their
local area to ensure that local people have an active role in decision
making. This new assessment process has been very exciting. 

The Community Grants fund has continued to help small projects across
Fenland provide essential services for local residents and we would like
your help to make this year a bumper year of applications. If you work/
volunteer for a community group,know a community group in your parish or
have a project which you need
funding up to (a suggested amount) of 5,000 then this could be your
opportunity to bid into our pot.

There are opportunities within the funding pot for District Wide
funding applications 
(and there is no upper limit) so if you know of a project which has
outcomes across Fenland then please ask the group to firstly contact our
community development team for more information. 

The projects must support outcomes within the Sustainable Community
Strategy as follows; 
?  Fenlands children and young people- to enable children and young
people to have the best possible start in life, to be healthy, stay
safe, make a positive contribution, enjoy and achieve and achieve
economic well-being.
?  Safer Fenland- help to make Fenland a safer place to live by
reducing anti-social behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse etc. 
?  A sustainable Fenland environment - Working together to create a
clean and healthy environment as well as combat climate change.
?  Fenlands community health and social well-being- to deliver
services which help to develop the health and social well-being of local
?  Fenlands Economic and Sustainable Community development- to
promote the growth of local businesses, enable residents to have access
to high quality training and education. Enable a thriving and cohesive
local community.

If you know of a group who are considering submitting an application
and they would like a bit of guidance in filling it in then please do
not hesitate to contact the Community Development Team. Please feel free
to forward this email onto other groups who may be interested in
applying for funding from us.

If successful the funding allocation will not be made until April 2011
i.e. the next financial year. The deadline for applications is Friday
8th October and if you would like an application pack and guidance notes
please contact Steve Drew on 01354 654321,  email sdrewATfenlandDOTgovDOTuk

or write to Fenland District Council. Fenland Hall. County Road. March.
PE15 8NQ"

Education in Whittlesey and a few words of thanks

Some of you will have read in either the Cambs Times and the Evening Telegraph (no link available) about my daughter's A Level results (and well done to the Cambs Times for getting her results right!).   Of course, I am really proud of Rosie for what she has achieved - she has worked really hard throughout her time at school, and she got the results she deserved.

Rosie finishing her A Levels means that both of my children have now completed their education in Whittlesey, and both have absolutely thrived here - and I wanted to use this post to express my thanks and to highlight how lucky we are.

Of course Sir Harry take loads of credit.  There are times during both of my children's time there when certain teachers have pulled out all the stops to help them.  Those teachers probably know who they are, but actually the overall ethos of the school, one where students are expected to achieve to the best of their ability, is to be applauded.  This is something that was created by Mike Sandeman during his time as Head and which has carried on since his departure.  Whittlesey is lucky to have a school of this quality, but more importantly, one that also keeps striving to improve.

But we shouldn't also forget that education starts at Primary School and both of my children were also extremely well served by Alderman Jacobs.  But it is true that our primary schools overall are of a high standard and I am sure there are parents from every school in Whittlesey who are as grateful as I am of their particular schools.

So, thanks to everyone at Sir Harry's and AJS for the huge role they played in my children's education.   It is something for which I will always be grateful.

Can I also add my congratulations to the students who have just left the 6th Form, those that I know and have met are a real credit to themselves and to Whittlesey.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Closure of North Bank Road Part 2

This came in today on the ECops Email:

"Just to make everyone aware the North Bank road that leads from the B1040 from Whittlesey out towards Peterborough will be closed for 22 weeks as from 2nd August 2010 due to repairs being carried out on the hump bridge at the Peterborough end of Wash Road. 

Please be mindful that anyone caught contravening the temporary road closure will be issued with a £30 pound fixed penalty ticket."
I look forward to the police taking an equally vigorous approach to the speeding issues that residents have badgered them about along the A605.

Closure of North Bank Road

I was disappointed to find out about the closure of the North Bank Road a little late.   As you may be aware this is a Peterborough City Council road and I have been advised that there was little or no notification about the closure, which is to repair the bridge at the bend at the end.  Certainly none of the Whittlesey Councillors were given any formal notification and, as a result, were not able to make the case about the impact that a 22 week closure will have and, in particular, the chaos that is going to happen when school starts again.

I have asked some questions about the lack of consultation, why Councillors weren't advised and also whether anything can be done to speed up the completion of the road works.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Warboys Primary School

This has taken a few weeks because I wanted to get permission to use the photograph.   I really enjoy visiting schools and my trip to Warboys on the day of the Duke of Gloucester's visit was no exception.  The event had a great atmosphere and brought out the best of a school that has a lovely feel and some really dedicated parents.  

The Duke of Gloucester was there to officially 'open' the pirate ship which had been funded to the tune of £14,500k (I think) entirely by the PTA.  We have some great PTAs around the County - but how many could raise that sort of money?

This is a school that is very proud of the improvements it has made and indeed of where it is at the moment.

The Duke of Gloucester was of course why all the children and parents were at the school - but for me these pirates were the stars of the day - which is why I asked for the photograph.

Friday 23 July 2010

I have seen the future and it is 'Spoons shaped

I got up early today and went to the open of our new Wetherspoons after sampling a pint of Old Hooky at the preview night last night.

I have to say I approve wholeheartedly.  Everybody will have seen the outside and how good it looks - and most importantly that the frontage retains every inch of its historic look.   Inside is fantastic.  Especially the skylight above the bar area, but also in the way the place has been opened out but used smart use of petitions to create separate areas.  

For the beer lovers one important point is that the cellar is right behind the bar, which means the real ale doesn't have far to travel.

Something like £1.8m has been spent buying and redeveloping the George.  It is difficult to see any company other than Wetherspoons spending that sort of money to rejuvenate the place and it guarantees that it will stay open and we won't have to suffer the delapidated Town Centre building that we did before.

I may be forced to have another visit later on today!!

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Full Council Review (Lib Dems fail to deliver edition - Episode 27)

We had our Full Council meeting today in Cambridgeshire.  It was interesting if a little long.

A major issue for me was a debate about Academies with the Lib Dems, the Labour group and our token (but excellent value) Green Party member ganging up trying to persuade us that the Academies Bill is the worst possible thing for Cambridgeshire, despite the evidence that some of our outstanding schools see it as something worth exploring.  i.e. that some of our best heads and schools feel there may be value in it.

They seemed to be basing their case around the negative impact Academies would have on less successful schools.  It's an argument that doesn't stack up for a number of reasons.  The main one is that part of the criteria for an outstanding school to become an academy is that they have to partner and help to develop a less successful school.  But it is more than that.   Education has lost the ability to innovate.  As a country we have slid down the OECD rankings over the last ten years - a real sign that our system is failing that decades of top down thinking in education is not doing what it should.   It is not because of poor teaching or poor heads it is because an obsession with top down initiative and direction from Whitehall has stifled improvement.  We cannot keep doing this - we need to drive up standards by allowing innovation and learning from it where it is seen to work.  My belief is that the Academies programme will start to enable this.   The Lib Dems of course were defeated on their motion - but what is more important is that they clearly lost the argument too.

Another major part of today's meeting was an agreement to proceed with our Shared Services programme which will see us working with Northamptonshire County Council to deliver joint back off services and functions in order to drive down overhead costs.  The Liberal Democrats and others again opposed this, but for some strange reasons.  One of these was that we had rushed things - we have been working this up for three years.   Another (which came from the Lib Dem leader) was that the pressure on other services meant that we shouldn't be focussing on Shared Services. I responded to this point; the more we can achieve under Shared Services the less budgets in areas like Children's and Adult Services will have to suffer, minimising those pressures are exactly the reason we need to be innovative in the way we work.

It was strange day today.  Normally the Lib Dems at least put up something of a coherent argument when they oppose us.  Today they didn't get even manage that - certainly not on the two most important issues of the day.

Friday 16 July 2010

Larkfleet Homes Application on Bassenhally Farm rejected.

I am delighted that Fenland Officers have refused the application for 460 homes on Bassenhally Farm in Whittlesey,  I am not surprised it has been refused, but I am delighted.  This was never an application that was suited to Whittlesey or that helped it move forwards, in fact one of the issues was that the Developer didn't properly engage over the site.

Of course the developer has the right to appeal - but I cannot see an appeal succeeding because the policy position that supports the refusal is pretty strong.  My advice to Larkfleet is to take stock and do what I suggested from the start, which is to feed their desires for this site into the forthcoming master planning process for Whittlesey.  That way we can ensure that any development fits in to the bigger picture and we will be able to use the Community Infrastructure Levy to ensure a development on this site works with Whittlesey instead of against it.

A link to the decision notice is here:

Thursday 15 July 2010

Sir Harry Smith Rock Night

I can't say enough good things about the rock night at Sir Harry's tonight.  Three bands made up of a mix of students and staff performing to an extremely high standard.  I suspect that having members of staff from a
band as successful as The Brays is having a really positive impact on the school.

The music covered by the bands tonight just gives a good idea of the standard, they included Pink Floyd (5 songs played by a 7 piece PF tribute band) and Linkin Park - both bands whose songs need talent to cover with any credit.

It was a nice touch for The Brays to perform This Is It Now with Pandemonium who were one of the winners in Sir Harry's recent talent competition.  They also allowed the bands to use their sound equipment and gave away free copies of their album and then spent ages signing as well.

The Brays are not my sort of music (not loud enough for me!!) - but I take my hat off to them for what they are helping to influence at Sir Harry Smith.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Whetherspoons in Whittlesey

I had a stroll round Town for a few drinks last night.  It was interesting chatting to a couple of the landlords around Town about the new Whetherspoons that opens next week.  I was expecting some concern, but actually the response was that they are looking forward to the opening and believe that it will encourage people to spend their weekend evenings in Whittlesey rather than Peterborough and, as a result, increase trade around the Town.  I hope so, because I am a big fan of JD Whetherspoons as a pub chain.  Everything they do is about value.  I also have an optimistic view of the benefit it will offer the Town and, of course, it has the added bonus of  sorting The George out.

Anyway, there has been a Facebook page created which confirms that the opening is next Friday 23rd July at 7am.   I will probably be there, strictly in the line of duty of course!!

A link to the Facebook page is here.

Michael Gove and the BSF Error

I gave an interview for Radio Cambridgeshire last week about BSF.  Basically talking about the situation in Fenland where, even despite the error, the Fenland wave of BSF is still going ahead.  I also said we would continue looking at the situation with regard to capital funding and see what emerges so that we can get necessary focus on other schools in the County.  I strongly believe Michael Gove was quite right to  cancel future waves to re-examine what is happening and people should not be surprised that he is has done so - he signalled the intention well before the election.

BSF as a process is overly bureaucratic - the huge time gap that exists between getting "involved" and actually laying bricks on the ground is a period that eats up money that could be spent better elsewhere.  It is as simple as that, but the fact that it was the only game in Town under New Labour meant that every authority worked with it.   I feel sorry for Authorities that have had waves cancelled - but lets not pretend that BSF was a perfect process that didn't need to be looked at and changed, and let's also not pretend that this is the cancellation of school capital spending - Michael Gove has pledged to look at capital spending with a view to streamlining it and making the process is less bureaucratic.  If a delay makes the overall process better and means that our money is spent more wisely then all the better.

As for the error.  The biggest disappointment for me is Ed Balls vociferous attack on Michael Gove, because he takes some responsibility.   The organisation that is now the Department for Education was in a situation before the election where any problem that arose was solved by a more controlling attitude and/or by throwing another bag of money at it - even when the Country had no more bags of money to throw.  The Department is undergoing a huge cultural change to get beyond the waste and control freakery that Ed Balls made his legacy.   As they go through this transition mistakes are inevitable.  I suspect this particular incident will be a useful lesson to Michael Gove which he will learn from, but I also suspect that as the D for E goes through its transition phase there will be more mistakes.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Disagreeing with Conservatives over Mosquito Devices

I must not make a habit of disagreeing with the Conservatives.  Seriously I do agree with 95% of what my party says, but every now and again I see or read something that I just cannot agree with.

Nick Herbert's failure to deal with mosquito devices is one of them.  The BBC report the story here.

Mosquito devices are evil electronic gadgets that sit on the outside of buildings and emit a high pitch noise that only young people can hear, they are there to deter young people for hanging around in certain places.  They are a poor substitute for good community policing.

One the surface I can see why some people approve.  However, if you believe that punishing the innocent is wrong - then you simply cannot support these vile objects.  The vast  majority of our young people are a real asset to us - those innocent, well-behaved, well-intentioned young people are affected by mosquito devices as much as the small minority of young people who don't know how to behave.  It suggests that just 'hanging around' is anti-social behaviour in itself.  It is not.

What about those people that can't express their view?  How about a mother stood near one of these devices with a baby in a pushchair?  That baby could hear the device, could be disturbed by it and could not express the reason for their distress.

I remember having a conversation at a meeting with a representative of Cambs Police.  At the time they had supported the installation of one of these things at Queensgate shopping centre.   He justified it by saying that it was OK because it was only turned on for 20 minutes at a time.  So I asked him if it was OK for me to pester older people as long as it was only for 20 minutes at a time.  I didn't get an answer.

I really hope Nick Herbert will rethink his views on this.

Friday 2 July 2010

Steve Tierney on Wind Turbines

I just want to endorse this post by my fellow County Councillor Steve Tierney about Wind Turbines.

From a resident's perspective planning is frustrating, but there are many of us who feel that Fenland has more than done its bit as far as Wind Turbines go and it is important people make their voices heard.

There is potentially a big issue coming up here though.   Unlike with previous wind farm applications, Fenland now has quite a robust policy in place which provides a basis to resist where previously it was difficult.    The question is, if the planning inspectorate overturn a local decision to refuse, what next?   There would be the potential to challenge the decision in the High Court.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Behaviour of MPs

MPs are currently up in arms about IPSA, their new expenses watchdog, which they see as inefficient and bureaucratic.

Actually it seems one of the legacy's of the new labour regime is to leave MPs with the sort of bureaucratic rubbish that they forced on the rest of the country.  The fact that it is a taste of their own medicine leaves me with little sympathy.  Especially when you consider that it uses a similar system that I understand was forced on the Military and on other areas of the public sector.

It therefore astonishes me to read in the Telegraph that MPs were heard to heckle and even swear at representatives from IPSA at a select committee meeting.  MPs would be disgusted if someone swore at them at a public meeting and as the rules stand at the moment, Councillors would be in front of the Standards Board before they could say boo if they did it.  If MPs want to be respected, maybe they should start by behaving respectfully.

If what the Telegraph reports is correct, then MPs are out of order.  If the Telegraph have names then they should be made public.

Out of Hours GP Service

I had a meeting today with Cambridgeshire NHS to discuss the issues around the out of hours GP service.

I was given a reassurance that Whittlesey residents would not be forced to use any service they didn't want to.  That  is good news.

However, one of the ideas they are muting is to have callers referred to the triage system at Doddington for telephone consultation, but then for patients to have the option of going to Peterborough if they need to see someone.  This is something that Queen Street Surgery have (quite rightly IMHO) already refused to do.

My own view on this, which is what I expressed, was that this is over-complicated and that patients benefit from using the service with whom they had the initial telephone conversation.   As an example, on my return from France last week I had to use the out of hours service for a leg problem.  When I visited the service I was dealt with by the same nurse that I had spoken to on the phone - it meant that I didn't have to go over the same story twice, it made the process much simpler.

I also have concerns about the expectation that would be put on patients in this situation and whether we could rely on the advice about the possibility of using Peterborough being put across.   In effect it could lead to a default transfer to the Doddington service as a result.

Whittlesey residents should be referred to the Peterborough service automatically because it is the best and simplest option for them.  I think this message was taken on board and I appreciate the NHS taking time to listen.

I have subsequently discussed this with the Practice Manager at Queen Street Surgery who is in total agreement with my views.  There is a meeting of GP surgeries and the PCT coming up to discuss the issue and I am hopeful that the simple, patient focussed option will be agreed.

Can I remind residents to please pop in to the New Queen Street Surgery and sign their petition.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Jockey Club Estates

I went with a number of Cabinet Colleagues today on a visit to Jockey Club Estates, basically getting a better picture of how the racing world operates around Newmarket, bearing in mind much of their operation is in Cambridgeshire.

I have to say it was a real eye opener for me and I learned a huge amount.  One of the things I didn't realise was that the British Racing School (which is in Cambridgeshire) offers 170 residential apprenticeships each year and every Apprentice who leaves does so with a job.

I have asked for a return visit to the School to see if there are ways we can work together.

Farewell to Gordon Jeyes

Last night we held a farewell dinner for Gordon Jeyes who is leaving his post as Director of Children's Services in Cambridgeshire.

I have been fortunate to work closely alongside Gordon over the last two years in my role as Lead Member for Children.  There have been tough times and good times, but throughout Gordon has been a consummate professional who has readily accepted and provided challenge and he is also someone that is not afraid to have fun.

I wanted to use this opportunity to express my own personal thanks to Gordon for all he has done in Cambridgeshire - there can be no doubt that Children and Young People in the County are better off as a result of Gordon's five years here.

Gordon is replaced by Adrian Loades who has been promoted from within.  Those than know him will be aware of his abilities and that he too has a huge amount to offer in his new role.

Monday 28 June 2010

Queen Street Car Park Resurfacing

Rather than blather on - I thought I would cut and paste the text of the letter I received about Queen Street Car Park:

"I am writing to inform you that proposed Car Park Refurbishment works for Queen Street Car Park are soon to commence. Works are scheduled to start week commencing Monday 12th July 2010, with completion anticipated for Friday 13th August 2010.

The Principal Contractor undertaking the Car Park maintenance works is Danaher & Walsh Civil Engineering of Meadow Lane, Syston, Leicester LE7 1NR.

This maintenance scheme is being delivered by Fenland District Council and is intended to provide better parking facilities for the benefit of all Car Park users.

The application of a new surface material together with enhanced road markings and the provision of additional gullies to aid surface water run off will further aid pedestrian safety. In addition a new system of street lighting utilising the latest LED technology with an improved lighting arrangement will provide for the safer passage of all pedestrians and vehicles.
For your information the proposed works to be undertaken in relation to this Contract will primarily involve:

  • The reconstruction of failed surfacing areas; including entrance and exits
  • Removal and disposal of the existing car park surface material where necessary and replacement with a new asphalt surface course over the entire area of the Car Park.
  • Reconstruction of defective base material by excavation or Cold Milling (Planing) to localised areas.
  • Improve surface water drainage where “ponding” has been identified by means of additional gullies and linear drainage channels.
  • Adjust all Ironware as necessary to suit new finished levels.
  • Application of coloured surface material to specific areas, i.e. disabled bays.
  • Installation of new street furniture to include a designated motor cycle parking facility.
  • Replacement of existing white lines and road markings, with an improved parking layout to aid operation.
  • Access remedial and accommodation works as necessary and where specified.
  • Installation of a new car park lighting system that utilises LED technology, reducing energy consumption, light pollution and ultimately CO2 usage.  The additional lighting will also assist and improve CCTV monitoring ability at night. In addition it is intended to further reduce energy consumption and CO2 usage by means of dimming the lighting levels after midnight.     
The Contractor’s intended hours of work shall generally be between 07.30 to 18.00 hours Monday to Friday, and where required between 08.30 to 18.00 hours on Saturdays. Sunday working will only be undertaken if and when absolutely necessary and will be restricted between 10.00 to 16.00 hours.

Pedestrian and vehicular access in and around the works and to all residential and commercial properties will be maintained, although some areas will need to be fully closed to use by the public for health and safety reasons whilst construction works are carried out. However it is intended that approximately 50% of the car park will remain in use at any given time throughout the contract period with the exception of the final surface material application and construction of the entry/exit areas which may require full closures for a period of 1 to 2 days.

Appropriate traffic control measures and signage will be implemented and any necessary diversions put in place to maintain limited vehicular and pedestrian access in and around the Car Park.

Obviously there will be some disruption caused by the improvement works, but I would ask for your patience and understanding during the course of this contract. It is hoped that any disruption can be kept to a minimum, and I apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused as a result of these works."

Sunday 27 June 2010

School Olympics

On the surface this forthcoming announcement from Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Minister and Michael Gove the Education Minister is great news.  The idea of an olympics for schools is excellent - competition is a vital part of growing up (and indeed of adult life) and so is sport - so we should be in no doubt that good will come of this.

However, I am a little troubled by the fact that funding for this has come from the National Lottery.   I thought one of the aims of the Conservatives was to stop it being used for Ministers' pet projects and to return it the magnificent funder of community and arts projects that John Major created.

I suppose it is all in the bigger picture and we should wait and see what happens elsewhere.