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.