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.