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.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

What the Budget Means for Cambridgeshire

One of the announcements in yesterday's budget was a 25% reduction in funding for the majority of Government departments, to be achieved over the next four years.  That is going to have an effect on local Government - although exactly how it will impact on Cambridgeshire we will find out later in the year when the Public Spending Review is published.  

But it is important to point out that the County Council began the process of working towards these sort of cuts a year ago; because we knew that, whatever the colour of Government after the General Election, the writing was on the wall.  So we are well ahead of the game as far as our planning goes.  That is not to say it will not be without pain; Cambridgeshire County Council manages its money well - it is a recognised fact (albeit one which our Lib Dem opposition conveniently prefer to bury its head in the sand about), that means it is impossible to take 25% out of our organisation without pain - but the Conservative administration are working at ways of mitigating this in a number of ways, for example, by trying to work better with other public sector organisations in the County to provide a more joined up approach to what we do (that includes Health, Policing and other Councils as an example) as well as working across borders with other County Councils to see if we can share some of our "back office" tasks" to save money.

My hope is that the Public Spending Review will take into account how efficient Cambridgeshire is.  We deliver our services from a far lower funding base than other authorities; it is one of the reasons why we cannot deliver these cuts without pain.  Our schools are ranked 132nd out of 151 in the level of funding they receive from Government.  However, we continue to strive for more efficiency (a recent positive response to an excellent report by one of our Scrutiny Committees which made recommendations about how we could improve procurement is a great example) .   I hope that the new Government recognise our situation and make sure that those Councils which are demonstrably less efficient are seen to take a larger share of the pain to incentivise them to move towards the sort of efficiency we deliver.  I will, of course, take every opportunity to make that point myself.

It should be pointed out that one of the major failings of the last Government was their view that public services are everything.  They are not.  Good strong public services are important.  They must be able to educate, to protect and to support the needy and the vulnerable - but they cannot do everything and we need to destroy the myth that they can or that they should.  Part of our planning in Cambridgeshire is to make sure we get the decisions right about what we can and should provide for the people we represent.  One of the benefits of the current Government is that it is increasingly looking like we will be in control of deciding what is needed instead of Government deciding for us and adding unnecessary costs as a result.

The Budget

I was going to write a long post about yesterday's budget and what it means for Cambridgeshire - but it was a bit too long - so I have split it into two.   The other post is here.

Overall, given everything we have seen and heard since the General Election, the budget was better than many could have thought.  It is interesting that the BBC are highlighting that families earning £40k a year or less are better off and families earning £50k are not - that is a bit of narrowing the gap that Harriet Harman of course will conveniently forget (especially given that the gap between rich and poor widened under New Labour).  However, it is quite clear that when the VAT increase comes into effect in January this will not be the case.  It is the one measure I would prefer not to have seen in the budget, but those like me that recognise the dire financial situation that was inherited from the Labour Government know that it was unavoidable.

But I am pleased that alcohol and fuel taxes were not increased.

Harriet Harman called the budget one "that will throw people out of work, hold back economic growth and damage the public services we all rely on."

It is a really strange quote - she made the point that the Office of Budget Responsibility predictions for unemployment as the basis for part of this, but as the Spectator points out - there is much about her claims in that respect that are open to question.  As for holding back economic growth - can someone please tell me how lowering corporation taxes will have a negative impact on growth?  Those tax cuts are important, that is money that will allow businesses to invest and grow.  It is important that sort of incentive is used; we are going to see a shrink in the public sector - and quite rightly so, but as that starts to effect jobs, it is important that we have an economy that is creating jobs to mitigate the problem; moving new employment opportunities away from the wealth eating public sector and transferring them across to the wealth creating private sector.

I have to say that during the election campaign Labour proved it was in denial about the mess it has created.  You would have thought losing would have woke them up a bit, but they seem to have taken a step further away from reality instead of making the much needed leap towards it.  The Labour Party are encouraging supporters to use a form email to write in to local papers encouraging them to oppose the budget (link deliberately not provided).  Every time you read those letters - just recognise they are written by people who choose, for whatever reason, to ignore these facts:

1.   The current Government inherited the worst peace time debt ever from Gordon Brown's failed administration

2.   The level of taxation of New Labour was about 40% of GDP, the level of spending was at 50% - they were borrowing 25% more than they were spending.

Now some of this can be blamed on the banking bail-out - but not all of it by a long, long way.  Without making changes and making them quickly we were heading to disaster.  I hope our normally conscientious local newspapers decide not to publish any letters where the words are written by the Labour Party.  I am all for people making their own views known about the budget - but these letters will not contain individual views but the centralised opinions of a party that were just voted out of Government.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Changes to Out of Hours Services

A few weeks ago I was advised about possible changes to the NHS out of hours service for Whittlesey which would mean our patients having to travel to Doddington instead of to the Paterborouhg Walk-In centre. I chased this and was advised that nothing was decided yet. I quote:

"Our position is that patients should be able to access the Peterborough Centre for out of hours services - as they do now.   The details of our of hours services for Whittlesey and Yaxley are being discussed."

The issue was raised again at the neighbourhood forum in Whittlesey last week, so today I had a conversation with the Practice Manager at New Queen Street Surgery.  I am now concerned that we may indeed be headed towards this change.  In fact they have been contacted about changing their our of hours forwarding on their telephone system and have refused to do so.

We are well served out of hours by Peterborough - I have used the service a few times.  It is accessible, including by public transport over the weekend, and it is not difficult for their doctors to get out to Whittlesey if they need to.  Compare that to the route to Doddington, which is one that many people would be uncomfortable driving along in the dead of night  - and it is much further.

What also happens if, as a result of a trip to the out of hours service a patient is hospitalised?   It would mean a trip from Whittlesey to Doddington for the consultation and then back to Peterborough.

I also understand Yaxley residents are affected in that they could be asked to travel to Huntingdon, in fact if the change happens it will possibly affect 40,000 people.

I am now actively dealing with this issue - I have contacted Andrew Lansley MP who is both the Secretary of State for Health and a Cambridgeshire MP and made my views known to him - which are that this change is not acceptable.

Queen Street Surgery also have a petition running can I please advise you all to pop in and sign it - whether you are a user of that surgery or not.

I am trying to contact the PCT as I type, but just in case they choose to read this blog post - let's just make it plain:

An out of hours service from Doddington is not acceptable for Whittlesey residents

Friday 11 June 2010

Youth Games Plus 2010

Some days are a real pleasure and today was definitely one of them.

I fell off a climbing wall (but was harnessed), threw a ball around, chaired a meeting about the olympics but, most of all I watched and gave prizes at the Cambridgeshire Youth Games Plus, an event that allows disabled youngsters from across the County compete and try new sports.  What a great time - and it was great to see kids from over 20 schools across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough competing.

The event was opened by Danny Crates a past paralympian who also gave his time to attend our olympics meeting to talk about his experience and to offer some advice.

Thursday 10 June 2010

I am liking this..

Someone sent me a link to this today.  It made me smile:

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Bypass and Other Stuff

I had a meeting today with the new Executive Director of Environment Services.  We discussed a number of issues to do with Highways and Whittlesey and, in particular, the need to make progress on a bypass for the Town.

It is going to be extremely difficult to get funding for a bypass because of the financial climate at the moment, especially just by making the case based solely on the needs of Whittlesey and a large part of the discussion was about the benefits that a bypass could bring to Fenland as a whole.  We both agreed that the new strategic planning framework that will come about as a result of the demise of Regional Spatial Strategies provides a real opportunity to move this issue forwards.

There are those that seem to think this can happen tomorrow - it really can't. Getting the money together for something like this will take a long time - but I am convinced we are further ahead in our thinking than we ever have been.

Olympic - Open Weekend 23-25th July

"Olympics Champion" is a strange title, but it is one of the roles I hold on the County Council.  Basically it means I take a political overview of all things Olympic in the County and also sit on the Nations and Regions East Board which does the same thing for the Eastern Region.

We had our Board meeting yesterday and it served as a reminder to plug the Open Weekend which is happening on 23-25th July.  It is a weekend of opening up activities and events to the public.  Cambridgeshire has got quite a decent list of events, which I can't find online yet - but I know leaflets are being printed as we speak and I will provide a link when I get one.

What I do know is that a number of events are planned in both Whittlesey and Fenland.

Is that vague enough for you?

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Planning Application in Feldale Close Refused

There was a planning application in Feldale Close considered by the committee today.  I couldn't get too involved because it was a Roddons Housing Association application and I am a Board Member.    However, the committee made the right decision and turned it down.

One of the characteristics of the Avenues is the open spaces at the corners of many of the junctions, including the one at the junction with Feldale and Crescent Road that this application would have got rid of.   These spaces do a great deal to enhance the character of the area, a character that has existed for decades (my mum was brought up in the Avenues!!).  Allowing this application would have inevitably led to a number of similar applications which would have fundamentally changed the look and feel of the area giving it a real urban feel - so it was right to do this now and I thank the committee for their sensible decision.

Another aspect of this is that the application was an example of garden-grabbing, a practice that the Conservatives have pledged to end.  Hopefully a Planning Bill will see the end of this practice for ever.  Shame that the Labour Government failed to take the opportunity they had over a year ago to end it.

There is, of course, the possibility of an appeal, but given that the agent in this case was the District Council, I suspect that is unlikely.