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.