Thursday 29 December 2011

NHS Confederation gets it right

The comments by the NHS Confederation today are absolutely spot on, and I will be extremely impressed if 2012 starts with a genuine debate about how we change the NHS to make it a genuine Health system rather than the treatment system which we largely have today. This is a debate I have been having in political circles since May when my cabinet role moved to Health and Wellbeing and later Adult Services

There are huge issues involved in getting more care carried out at home - one of which is hospitals recognising that incessant growth on their part is no longer the answer.  In fact, part of their thinking needs to move towards   working out how to reduce hospital admissions by funding preventative work.  As an example, people are, of course, extremely protective and precious about the need for excellent stroke recovery in the UK, but we need to ask ourselves whether we should be more demanding about better stroke prevention services - which are more beneficial in human and financial terms.

The latter part of this is the role of the media.  They (as well as opposition politicians of whatever colour) seem to use the number of hospital beds as a prime measure of NHS funding.  Too many hospital beds is as much a sign of failure as it is of adequate funding; we need to change this.  As well as measuring how well patients recover, the media needs to focus on how well we prevent people becoming patients in the first place.

It is interesting that part of the debate today has been around the suggestion that the current NHS changes are taking up too much time and therefore are distracting from the ability to make this sort of change.  I strongly challenge this. Making Health provision revolve more around GPS has real potential to make our system much more preventative and much more people focused.  We need to be looking at how prevention and more care at home fits in with the current reform instead of using it as a reason not to listen to the wise words of the NHS Confederation.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Farewell to Margaret Sargent at Alderman Jacobs School

It has been quite a sad week for me, having attended four different events at Alderman Jacobs School to say farewell to Margaret Sargent who has been headteacher there for 16 years.  I have been a Governor for 15 years at AJS and for most of that time I have been Chairman, so I have seen first hand the great work Margaret has done over this period.

Alderman Jacobs School has always delivered for our children, Margaret took that to a whole new level, delivering a school for Whittlesey that has high results, high aspirations and a great team of staff.  It is easy to point to an inspection rating and say a school is outstanding, my belief is that AJS is outstanding in every sense and not just in the more limited view that OfStEd takes of education - and Margaret Sargent is the main reason for that.

I am pleased to say that the school did a great job in saying farewell, on Monday we unveiled a plaque which names the new extension to the dining hall after Margaret (and whoever thought of "Sargent's Mess" it was a stroke of genius).  Yesterday the staff put on a special assembly for Margaret (and I shall not say what my role was in that!!).  I know Margaret enjoyed the assembly and the children absolutely loved it.

I cannot say enough how much Margaret has done for AJS and indeed for Whittlesey, and I wish her many happy travel filled days in the future.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Has David Cameron rescued his Eurosceptic credentials?

David Cameron's decision to veto the proposed changes to the EU Treaty has been widely applauded, and rightly so.   The EU has become a bureaucratic monster that eats our money and our ideology to feed its own belief that it should take over the world.  The unwillingness of some of our EU partners to compromise meant that he had little choice but to stand up for our rights and walk away.

Where it gets interesting is in how we move on from here.  There is an argument that because this has isolated Britain, David Cameron should try and build bridges.   I hope that is not where we go. Isolation is not always a bad thing - especially when the thing you are isolating yourself from is going to damage you and your future.  If bridges are to be built, the first moves have to come from the likes of Sarkozy and Merkel - who need to recognise the monster the EU has become and accept the need to reinvent based on a less predatory ideology.

If that compromise doesn't happen, I hope and believe the writing is on the wall for our membership of the EU.  And,quite probably, for the coalition Government too.  What I see as something we need to be wary about is the potential for a Labour win, or a Lib-Lab coalition after General Election 2015 - which would see Britain leaping straight back into bed with the EU and giving up yet more powers.  That means we have to act now.  David Cameron should set the EU a timetable, outlining what it needs to do and by when to repatriate powers, tidy up its act and abandon its plans to create a Europe wide state. If they fail to meet that deadline, then he should call a referendum on Britain's membership.

I believe the EU knows it needs us more than we need it.  The stupid arguments that exports would be harmed as a result of us leaving the EU have never held weight.  Businesses will deal with whoever offers them the right product at the right price. If the ludicrous sums of money we invest in the EU were there for us to use on Britain we could cut the deficit, reduce taxes and/or invest in high quality innovative manufacturing - all of which would make us more competitive, not less.  It would enable us to trade better with EU member states and, more importantly, with the rest of the world.

I have always said that my preference is that I would prefer Britain to stay in the EU, but only on the basis that it reverted to the organisation which my parents signed up for, which was about trading co-operation, and was nothing to do with a bureaucratic superstate.  My view that a referendum is needed is because I don't think the EU is capable of reinventing itself.  I suspect we are about to find out.

So, would we harm the Euro by taking this step?  To be honest, the Euro is doomed anyway - it is not fixable because it was never viable within the huge mass of cultures and ideological differences that exist across Europe.  If there is a financial hit for Britain as a consequence of the Euro collapsing, then we are going to have to take it - whether we are in the EU, in the process of leaving, or have left.  Why not be in a better financial position when it happens through not paying out huge sums of money to the EU?

The next General Election is going to be fascinating.  I don't think the Labour Party, as it currently stands, is electable - but exploitation of the tough financia s ituation might lead to a Lib-Lab coalition.  I hope not - but I can see it happening, and it would be disastrous for Britain, not least because of the EU issue.  If David Cameron deals with the EU in this Parliament that issue is sorted.  In any case it would probably see him achieve a second term as Prime Minister - but this time with an overall majority.

Must Farm - Putting Whittlesey on the Map

A month or so ago I was privileged to be invited along with my fellow Whittlesey County Councillor Ralph Butcher to visit the Must Farm archeological dig that is currently taking place.  Before I go into detail about the dig itself, I want to say that we should be grateful to Hanson Brick for their role in this - whilst it is true that they have legal responsibilities to allow archeology, it is also quite clear from what the archeologists were saying to us that they are going above and beyond what is required to support Cambridge Archeological Unit in doing this work.

As a bit of an avid Time Team watcher, I have to say I was a bit like a kid in a sweet shop at this site - obviously helped by the fantastic stuff they have found.  But I would suggest you read some of the links at the end of this post, to read more about that - I am nowhere near expert enough, but I have been aching to blog this ever since my visit. I apologise for not doing so - but we were asked to keep it quiet for a while and I only got the go ahead last week.

Part of the excavation is a series of 6 hollowed out log boats, some of which are so well preserved you can still see the axe marks where they were carved and also areas where repairs have been carried out.   There was also an extremely well preserved wicker eel trap.  The fact that something like that has managed to be preserved over thousands of years says a huge amount about why this site is important - and indeed it is - with the archeologists who were there repeating a number of times that the finds here are of international importance.

There is still alot of work to be done on this site - years worth, and these latest discoveries are certainly not the first.  I had some discussions on the day of our visit about the opportunities for Whittlesey and about how we could do something for our museum and schools - I hope to follow that up shortly, especially as I have had a discussion today with the proprietor of Whittlesey museum.

Nothing more to say - except this is not a site that is suitable to walk to - it is very, very slippy and potentially dangerous, so please, please don't try.  Meanwhile enjoy my photos and a few National and local links to media stories which say a bit more about the site. The "Shape Your Place" link includes a video which has me rambling (and I did!!) about the need to seek benefits for Whittlesey from this.

I would like to also thank Cambridge Archeological Unit for hosting us on our visit.  It was a real privilege to see this.


Wednesday 23 November 2011

More Anglian Water Problems - A605 closure 26/27 November November

This was emailed to me today:

"It has now been confirmed that there is a leaking water main in the middle of the A605 between Kings Dyke Level Crossing and the Water Tower at Whittlesey.  The main is approx 2.5 to 3 mts deep and Anglia Water have no alternative but to close the road to carryout the excavation and make the repair.

At present there is water coming up to the road surface, which AWA are monitoring and are happy at present to go in after the morning rush on Saturday and then work continuously until it is repair which they believe will take until at least Sunday afternoon.  They are having to monitor the weather as if there is a freeze they will have to go in sooner due to the danger.

Diversions with be either via the North Bank or Pondersbridge from Whittlesey. Signing advising motorists of the impending closure are due to go up shortly."

Sunday 20 November 2011

Humour in times of trouble

Well now we all have running water and can reasonably go to the toilet, I thought I would comment on Sunday in Whittlesey.
Actually - it was a pain in the neck, and it does force to remind you how reliant we are on simple things like running water.  I normally do a long run on Sundays and had to cancel because I really couldn't force those I love to suffer me after 11miles and no shower!

Twitter and Facebook come into their own with incidents like this - great for passing out information, but also a place for gallows humour.  Here are a few examples of the Tweets that made me smile:

  • Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Lol jks they lived in Whittlesey. 
  • Guinness world record attempt TMO. Biggest ever communal bath. Manor Leisure Centre. (This was mine!!)
  • 11 hours without water in Whitltesey and it still smells better than XXXX (the XXXX represents an area in Peterborough - location deleted so as not to cause offence).
  • I hear bob geldof and midge ure are heading to Whittlesey as we speak

When it comes down to it, we suffered a while without water.  It all got sorted, we all got washed, shaved and ate and, for most, it was just an inconvenience.  Yes there are questions to be asked about Anglian Water and the advice they gave out, but nothing seriousand they did work through the night to get it sorted.

It seems everyone is entitled to a £20 rebate from Anglian Water as a result of the water outage. The link to their code of conduct is here. Let's use it for a good cause - can I suggest we all claim what is due to us and donate it to Water Aid and help people that really, really do need water - where the issue is one of life or death rather than just inconvenience.




Tuesday 15 November 2011

Fenland Discussions at County Council

At Cambs County Council Cabinet meeting this morning we had some very serious discussions about Fenland.  The first one was to agree to underwriting some of Fenland District Council's cost for the proposed new College of  West Anglia facility.  The County Council's approach to this is really important, not least because it proves its commitment to education in Fenland.  Something that is also shown by the way we fought to keep Building Schools for the Future in Fenland and have supported Thomas Clarkson Community College on its journey of improvement, both of which I was actively involved in as Lead Member for Children in the years running up to May 2011.

The next debate was about the issues highlighted by the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (which is, largely, a set of data that highlights Helath and Wellbeing outcomes across the County) and shows Fenland to be the area of highest Multiple Deprivation in the County.   Cllr Sales, a Labour Councillor for whom I have huge respect, chose to use the opportunity to suggest that the evidence shows a County Council failing.

I think his approach is misguided and, actually, a shame.  Whilst it is wrong to deny the existence of deprivation, and wrong to deny there is much more to do, the truth is that turning round areas of multiple deprivation takes a considerable amount of time, not least because it needs cultural change from deep within communities.  It is already clear that we have made a start.  Nationally, the Government have made huge changes to the way Public Health and Health and Wellbeing works, which allow us to take the sort of holistic preventative approach to communities that is needed at ground level, they have also introduce the Pupil Premium, which means additional funding for students from deprived backgrounds.  The County have taken a real proactive approach to schools and our Superfast Broadband policy has potential to benefit rural Fenland more than any other area of the County.  The investment in COWA (as already discussed) is the County Council investing its own money when the previous Labour Government chose to unilaterally withdraw from its commitment to fund the proposed March premises.  We invest in parenting support in Fenland to stop children going into care by working proactively with difficult families and have set priorities for the new County Wide Health and Wellbeing board that are directly related to the issues Fenland faces.

The truth is, turning around areas of deprivation takes time, but as long as I have been a County Councillor, the issues in Fenland have been a priority, there is also no doubt that the top down methodology of the previous 13 years of Labour Government have inhibited our ability to deliver, in a way that is a direct contrast to the localism agenda and an exciting new approach to managing the way Health and Wellbeing works.  We are further aided in this in Cambridgeshire by having GPs who are striving to work with us on this sort of thinking.

I want to give Paul Sales something to think about.  Where were his Fenland colleagues when the Labour Government were denying us funding?  They almost completely vanished when times were tough for Labour in Fenland, only to reappear when they thought there was potential for rich electoral pickings after the change in Government; some of them re-emerging as independent candidates to maximise their electoral opportunities.  As Conservatives we are lobbying this Government to get the case for Fenland across; his Labour colleagues should have been showing genuine support for the communities they want to serve, by lobbying and striving for a better deal from their Government.

Let's not also forget, Fenland is still a great place to live.  Core services are good, the countryside around us is magnificent, it is full of people with real heart and there are some real signs of good stuff happening.  So whilst there are serious struggles to overcome some real problems, we should not let anyone portray a total sense of gloom - but I suspect that might be Labour's latest strategy for the area.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Charlie and Marie - A Tale of Ageing

I really like this video.  It is quite touching and covers many of the issues people face as they age.
I could make all sorts of comments about it, but better just leave it here for you to see.  It's a really good piece of work and is, at times, quite touching:

Charlie and Marie: A tale of ageing from The Young Foundation on Vimeo.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Lib Dems, Hypocrits? More Proof

The Lib Dems contributed a mere 40 seconds to the debate at Full Council on allowances.  A debate that ended in a free vote and where an argument needed to be won.  They could have spoken as much as they liked, but adopted a group policy to stay silent, so they could make as much political capital as possible afterwards.

Someone has just reminded me that they complained back in May about being silenced.  Total hypocrites.

Be in no doubt that the current bluster is about votes not principle.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Cabinet Meeting this morning

Today's Cabinet Meeting was definitely one of the better ones.  We approved two excellent papers to do with preventative work with vulnerable children and families, we agreed an extension to the Babraham Park and Ride.  I personally dealt with some very helpful but challenging comment from the Leader of the Labour Group, Tariq Sadiq about Adult Social Care overspending and reform, giving my initial views about the direction we need to take.

The contrast between the Labour Group Leader being active in the meeting and making some helpful, challenging comment and the Leader of the Lib Dem group who had decided to say nothing and actually sat at the back of the room appearing totally uninterested and playing with his laptop was pretty stark.

Monday 24 October 2011

Politics in the Pub - 31st October Letter B

I have promised to try to do more about the boundary commission report.  Well here is news about my first politics in the pub event in Whittlesey, next Monday at 19.30 in the Letter B:

Sunday 23 October 2011

Parking Outside Alderman Jacobs School

Since the decision to give planning permission for 460 houses on Bassenhally Farm with one of the accesses coming off Drybread Road (which I opposed), I have been working hard to try and get some thinking about how to improve the horrendous parking problem outside Alderman Jacobs School - which I believe will get worse with the new development.  This has involved lobbying and working with Fenland District Council and the County Council (don't tell me there is no benefit to being a dual-hatted Councillor).

This week I have at last heard that there is a recognition that I have a point and some work is going to be done to investigate ways to improve it.  One of the options being considered is extending the dropping off zone just outside the school.

I don't think this will solve the problem, but I hope it will deliver improvements, at the very least it should stop things getting worse.  There isn't any more to say at the moment, but rest assured I will try and update on progress when there is something to report.

Saturday 22 October 2011

The Art of Hypocrisy - Cambridgeshire Lib Dems

We are having quite a spat in Cambridgeshire about Councillors' allowances.  Not helped by some issues with how the setting up of our independent panel was managed.

The rules (Nationally) state that our allowances have to be looked at every four years by an independent panel.  This is not to deal with inflation - that is normally linked to staff pay rises - and, like others, we have not had an inflationary rise for at least two years.  This change is to revisit the role of Councillors, to examine workloads and structures, marry it up against other circumstances and make recommendations.

The difficult bit is that Councillors have to then vote to agree the results of the panel, something I am deeply uncomfortable about.  My view is that this is flawed and creates the sort of controversy we are seeing at the moment, I believe the recommendations of these panels should be implemented automatically - councils should not be voting on their own allowances.  Because of this view, I have always said I would support the recommendations of any panel, whether it raised or lowered allowances, that is what I said during the debate and why I voted for an increase in allowances.  This is my speech:
What really disappointed me is that Cambridgeshire Lib Dems said virtually nothing during the debate leading up to that vote.  Their Leader spoke for about 40 seconds, but the rest said nothing.  I tweeted at the time that it smacked of cowardice and I stand by that.  When I put that feeling to a couple of Lib Dem Councillors after the meeting, they told me that they had an agreed group policy to say nothing.  They have now put out some sort of press release that says they "firmly opposed" a rise in allowances. That claim is utter balderdash.

Why does this matter?  Well, the vote last week was a free vote.  That meant that the party politics was taken out of the debate and therefore there was an argument to be won in the chamber, so those who opposed a rise had a responsibility to make their case.  Indeed Councillor Nichola Harrison, an independent Councillor, said that she had been persuaded to vote for the increase based on what was said in the chamber.  I suspect if a strong case had been made against the rise, some of those who supported it might have voted the other way.  Given that two people switching votes would have tied the result.  It is easily argued that the weak, cowardly and opportunistic approach taken by the Lib Dems during the debate contributed to the Yes vote winning,  So to now kick up a fuss and claim they "firmly opposed" is utter hypocrisy. Just to reinforce the point, the Lib Dem group leader at the time agreed to the panel being set up and, as of last night, Cambridgeshire Lib Dems website had absolutely no comment or press releases about the issue.

The debate and vote about allowances, including the decision to go along with an independent panel and raise allowances is not what damages politics, what really does harm are the sort of duplicitous games the Lib Dems are playing.  I want to make it plain, I am happy with the result - I believe accepting the outcome of the independent panel's deliberations (whether it recommends increases or otherwise) is the right thing to do.

Incidentally - the report of the independent panel can be found here

Thanks to Richard Taylor for the video.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Liam Fox resignation

As soon as it became clear that xxx Werrity was being funded by business to be an advisor to Liam Fox (if that is what he was?!), it was clear that Liam Fox would have to resign.  I have no issue with that.

However, it still disgusts me that the press rounded on Liam Fox and left Chris Huhne alone.

I also think this is yet another reminder that the way senior politicians use political advisors needs a rethink.  We need a move back to making better use of the voices of wisdom that exist within elected politics - i.e. using MPs with appropriate experience or time in office.

Political advisors distort politics and create a separation from the Government and the backbench MPs that are supposed to support them, less of them and better use of backbenchers would be a good thing.

Sportmakers Launch - Cambridge Park Run

This morning I went to the launch of Living Sport's Sportmakers initiative in Cambridgeshire.  It was held at Milton Country Park, coinciding with the Cambridge Parkrun.

Sportmakers is an initiative aimed at getting more people involved in running sports events. The aim in Cambridgeshrie is to get 600 people to commit 10hours to organising an event of some sort - even if it is someone encouraging and getting some of their mates to run once a week.  The programme runs until September 2013, giving ample opportunity to capture the enthusiasm that the Olympics will generate.

Cambridge Parkrun is a perfect example of the sorts of project that Sportmakers will hope to create.  Started by Heidi and still largely run by her and a team of volunteers, it involves something like 250 runners each week running a 5km circuit around Milton Country Park.  As ever with any running event,  at least one of the active volunteers is also a member of Fetcheveryone, which is a phenomenal online running community. My parting comment to Heidi today was that she should be immensely proud of what she has achieved (in fact I think I actually said I would come back and run one day!!).

Monday 10 October 2011

Thanks to Peterborough

I had a busy day yesterday.  Great Eastern Run in the morning and Whittlesey Civic Service in the afternoon.  I ran one and hobbled to the other!!

The Great Eastern Run was, as ever, a great event.  Peterborough always does itself proud at this event with supporters cheering runners on right along the route.  Good support really does keep you going when you're struggling on these runs - so thanks to each and every one of you.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Dr Liam Fox vs. Chris Huhne

I am not an apologist for Dr Liam Fox - I am not sure his behaviour is that you would expect of a Defence Secretary when you consider the security implications.

However, at the same time as he was exposed for having someone as an unpaid employee with access to the MoD, Chris Huhne MP has also, apparently, admitted trying to slur Theresa May privately to journalists The Guardian - surprise, surprise).  But, furthermore, it seems he may have lied about it.

In my view it is the sort of conduct that Chris Huhne has admitted guilt to that is destroying trust in politics - it feeds journalists in the Westminster bubble with bile and gossip that makes twant more, it contributes to our political system becoming distant and remote from the people it serves.  In my opinion, Chris Huhne has proven himself far less worthy of holding political office than Dr Liam Fox.  However, I cannot see there being a campaign against Chris Huhne - the press love the vile politicians that like to sneak and brief their way to the top - they are the ones that create their headlines, irrespective of morality.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

My Friends Cambridgeshire Lib Dems Again

Sometimes I despair.

Today during a discussion on the use of LPSA funding - for which an agreement has been reached with every District in Cambridgeshire with the exception of the City Council (again), the Leader of the Lib Dem group at the County Council made a plea to the Cabinet to rethink our position or face the decision being called in - making the point that he didn't want to create "unnecessary work."

If he recognises that the call-in would be unnecessary work - then don't call it in, otherwise it would be a blatant waste of public money.

There was some really good stuff at Cabinet today, including an excellent interim report on Domestic Violence presented by Cllr Samantha Hoy.  It was also the first time I had spoken at Cabinet in my new capacity as Cabinet Member for Adult Services, talking about progress since the last CQC assessment (completed in 2010) .  It was a good news story because the assessment judged us as performing well with excellent features, and the action plan created after the inspection has been delivered pretty well.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Fingertips - Online Database of Health and Wellbeing Indicators

There are a number of ways of finding out information about the population of Cambridgeshire on the internet.  Fingertips is the most user-friendly one I have seen to date.

It doesn't yet drill below County level.  But, given how easy it is to use, I hope that will happen.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

All change at the County Council as well

Yesterday I was advised that Catherine Hutton, the current Cabinet Member for Adult Services was standing down because of work commitments (a seriosu issue for some Councillors) and was asked if I would take over that portfolio.  One which is, arguably, the most challenging in the Council.

As someone that relishes a challenge, I have accepted.  I could say more, but it is probably best to link to the news release from Shire Hall.

Even on the first day, the enormity of the task that I face is becoming very, very apparent.

Monday 19 September 2011

New Responsibilities at Fenland District Council

I was recently offered and have accepted the post of Vice-Chairman of Planning by Alan Melton, the Leader at Fenland District Council. 

I am delighted to be coming back into planning, it is an extremely demanding area but one that I enjoy working in.  It is going to become even more challenging as Fenland's Development Framework, the Government White Paper and Neighbourhood Planning all start to have their influence.

Britain's Membership of the EU

The case for a referendum on membership of the European Union is being raised almost daily now, including a suggestion that the PM is coming under pressure to acceded to demands from within the Conservative Party.  I don't know how much of it is just rhetoric as we head towards the Party Conference, but some articles related to it are here and here.

My view on the EU has always been that I would prefer a renegotiation of our membership, a return to what we signed up for - a union of trading nations rather than the costly political monstrosity we currently suffer.  However, over the last few years it has become obvious that the EU is not an organisation that can deliver this sort of radical retrenchment.  I have come to the conclusion that we need an in or out referendum, where I would vote to leave.

However, whatever the current rhetoric, I cannot see how this can happen whilst we remain in a coalition with the proudly pro-European Liberal Democrats.  My instinct is that the Conservatives will go into the next General Election with the promise of a referendum. I'd like it earlier, but I'd go along with that strategy.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Boundary Commission Review of Constituencies

At midnight last night the Boundary Commission's review of parliamentary constituency boundaries was published - although it was leaked and was available on line way before that.  The implications for Whittlesey and Fenland are huge.

Basically, North East Cambridgeshire will be no more.  It is proposed that; Whittlesey will move into Peterborough South; March and Wisbech will move into a new Wisbech and Downham Market constituency and; Chatteris and surrounding area will move into Huntingdonshire.

Of course these are just proposals at the moment and, indeed, only affect Parliamentary Constituencies - but it is important that people respond to the consultation.  One serious issue that comes from this is that any subsequent review of Council Boundaries could lead to Whittlesey moving out of Fenland and into Peterborough City Council.

Whilst I have huge concerns about what this means for the people I serve, I am adamant that the reasons behind the review are absolutely right - that the sizes of constituencies need to be evened out so that we end the ludicrous situation where the Conservatives need to poll loads more votes than the Labour Party in order to get a majority in Parliament.  Largely because inner city parliamentary seats are smaller than rural ones - despite the fact that geography means that rural Constituencies are much harder to manage.

I could talk and type about this for hours - certainly there are lots of questions that need to be answered - such as how much future housing growth has been taken into account and how much of this has been the Boundary Commission simply playing with numbers without understand or asking questions about the implications for the tax payers who fund politicians and, indeed, the Boundary Commission itself.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

The truth about the Health and Wellbeing Board

One of the decisions I guided through Cabinet today was the approval of the structure, terms of reference and make up of the Shadow Health and Well Being Board in Cambridgeshire, which is being created as part of the changes being made to Health delivery in England through Andrew Lansley's changes to the NHS.

A number of factors went into our thinking about the Board; we wanted it to be small enough to be an efficient vehicle for delivery and for everyone involved in Health to be able to have their voice heard, whilst recognising that not everyone could have a seat on the Board without it becoming too cumbersome.

As a result, we created a board of eleven members, including; the Leader of the County Council, myself and a representative from the District Councils as democratic representatives along with a number of Council Officers and representatives of the Health Sector.  But we also agreed to create a number of networks underneath this, including Local Health Partnerships which will ensure some of the thinking is done in a more localist way.  We also agreed for the District Councils to be able to create their own network so that their representative on the board could speak for all.

I believe this is an excellent structure - but of course the Lib Dems claim it is undemocratic.  So let me explain where the democracy is in this structure.  Firstly, our overview and scrutiny function will be continuously overseeing the function of the board; that committee includes District Councillors and Liberal Democrats.  The Local Health Partnerships will have councillors on them (including in some places Liberal Democrats) and the Board itself has three Councillors.  So, whilst maintaining an efficient top level structure, we have managed to make the overall structure localist and democratic.

The Lib Dem position is, of course, about headlines rather than reality. Some things never change.

County Council Changes Wind Farm Policy

At today's County Council meeting the Cabinet decided to change it's position and no longer pursue wind famrs on its County Farms estate.  It is a position I absolutely endorse, despite the fact that it will cost the Council significant sums of money,not least because it is about putting people above money.

I spoke at the meeting about the fact that Fenland residents feel they have done enough in terms of generating Wind energy and that these developments would have a significant impact on the Fenland landscape (even if they wouldn't be strictly be located here).

The Liberal Democrats spoke in opposition to the change, wanting to impose more Wind Farms on Fenland and elsewhere, against the wishes of residents.  As I pointed out, their stance is neither Liberal nor Democratic.

Thursday 1 September 2011

Progress in Campaign for Improved Whittlesey Rail Services

Local MP Steve Barclay deserves our thanks for the work he is doing to get improved rail services in Fenland, including Whittlesey.  His progress is being reported in the Cambs Times.

I have reported on this before.  I am convinced that with the right sort of timetable, there is the potential for the operators to benefit from a significant increase in passenger numbers from Whittlesea.  There is evidence to back this up, with an increase of 8,000 passengers the year that Car Parking charges for users of Peterborough Station were hiked up.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Visit of Chris Holmes to Ferry Meadows

Yesterday, in my capacity as Nations and Regions East representative for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough I had the pleasure of an early morning trip to Ferry Meadows to meet Chris Holmes - winner of  paralympic gold medals - on his visit to Ferry Meadows.  The Peterborough Evening Telegraph story about the visit is here.

The visit was memorable for a number of reasons.  Of course meeting someone as successful as Chris Holmes was a privilege, but that is also true of meeting some of the young local disabled paralympic hopefuls.  Chatting to them about their regular very early morning training sessions and the level of commitment they have to make was a real eye opener for me.

I also had a chat with a couple of the guys involved with the Peterborough Adapted Cycling Scheme who provide handbikes and facilities for the disabled around Peterborough.  The scheme is, apparently, highly successful, with regular sessions at Peterborough Athletics track as well as providing equipment at Ferry Meadows.  As someone who does a bit of cycling, I was extremely impressed with the hand bike I was shown around and somewhat surprised to be told it was ten years old and that the modern ones are much more high tech.

Both Sailability, which provides sailing experience for the disabled, and the adapted cycling scheme are very accessible to Whittlesey people -so please recommend them to anyone you know who could benefit.

Friday 19 August 2011

Not fit to do the job

Labour MP for Glasgow South, Tom Harris MP has just tweeted this:

Grateful that there were no British victims of this mornng's terrorist attack in Kabul.

It has sparked something of a storm and quite rightly so.   Here is a quick screen print of immediate responses:

This is the story.  Nine people, presumably working in support of the British cause were killed in that attack.  It smacks of the same attitude adopted by Harold Wilson when he pulled British troops out of Aden in the 60s and left behind a slaughter of those who had supported them.  He is currently justifying his comments - he should just apologise.

Monday 15 August 2011

£20m contribution to superfast broadband

We had a special Cabinet Meeting at the County Council today, to agree a contribution of up to £20m towards superfast broadband in Cambridgeshire.

I fully support this and spoke in favour of it today.  Broadband is as much of an infrastructure issue as Highways and Schools and getting ahead of the game across the County will significantly benefit our economy.  As such, the investment should easily pay for itself.

I look forward to seeing how the project progresses.

Friday 12 August 2011

Tidy Fenland

This is the text of a press release from Fenland District Council:

Litterbugs to be hit with £75 penalty

Most people don't drop litter but the small minority who do could be in for a nasty shock.

Anyone caught in the act is likely to be hit with a hefty fine as Fenland District Council steps up its “Tidy Fenland” campaign.

Council officers will be patrolling the streets and open spaces in all four market towns over the next two weeks, ready to punish any litterbugs with instant fixed penalty notices of up to £75.

The enforcement move is the latest stage in the campaign, which was launched earlier this year. Until now it has concentrated on raising people’s awareness of the problem and drawing attention to the costs of clearing up.

Every kind of throwaway rubbish is being targeted, with a particular focus on “food on the go” litter, such as takeaway cartons and sweet wrappers, and cigarette butts, which are the most widespread problem.

Councillor Peter Murphy, FDC’s portfolio holder responsible for the environment, said: “Eight out of 10 people don’t drop litter but we all suffer from the thoughtless minority who do. It’s not just the fact that they create a horrible mess which spoils our towns and villages; it’s also that it costs us £1,000 a day to clear it all up. That money could be much better spent on other things.

“So we’re asking everyone to take a pride in their local environment and to either put their litter in a bin or take it home with them. And we’re warning those who just chuck it on the ground that they’re liable to be hit in the pocket with a £75 penalty.”

FDC has been working with town councils and local communities to identify the main problem areas. The Chambers of Commerce are also involved, as are the various Street Pride groups, and many local businesses have signed up to a voluntary code of practice supporting the campaign’s aims.
“Tidy Fenland” is one strand of a wider “It’s your Fenland – be proud of it” initiative designed to engage local communities in looking after their environment.

The riots, what they mean and what they don't

I have had loads of discussions online and offline about events across the country last week (if you talk politics with just politicians you become islolated).  Monday night in particular was horrific - I was actually at the quiz in The George in Whittlesey whilst events were unwinding on the television there, and it was quite surreal how the quiz slowly started to take second place to what we were seeing on the screen.

My first comment is about policing.  It is quite clear to me that initially the police failed us as members of the public.  The response was feeble and only improved after, it seems, David Cameron got involved and gave them what for.  That's not about the officers on the ground it is about the leadership.

The police do not lack the tools to crack down on protestors and looters, they lacked the leadership to make it happen.  When people blame Tory cuts etc. they need to recognise that the failed leadership derives from the culture of 13 years of Labour rule which will take time to drive out of our system.   The issue was not about police numbers, the issue was about leadership and direction.  When Labour pretend the police issue is about cuts, it is an argument of convenience.

Similar can be said about many (not all) Labour politicians rants about the causes of the riots. Riots in modern, free countries are not caused by EMA or tuition fees.  They are caused by irresponsibility, bad parenting and a lack of respect.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Those politicians like Ken Livingstone and Harriet Harman who try to blame cuts are not explaining the reasons, they are excusing criminality.

There are plenty of families in difficult circumstances who will have kept their children in, will not have allowed them to take part in this activity and who would have been horrified to discover they had.  The difference between the dos and do nots in these circumstances is not about material possession, nor is it about education - it is about respect, a sense of responsibility and good parenting.

Anyone that knows me and my politics knows that I am passionate about the issue of deprivation.  I recognise  how tough deprivation is - I saw it in Nottingham as a parliamentary candidate and I saw the dire housing estates that people are being asked to live in - and yet were paying rent to a Housing Provider with a recent history of corrupt practice; I know that deprived communities need support.  But the evidence of the last week also proves something that people like Iain Duncan Smith have been saying for years - that improvement has to be driven from the bottom-up not from the top down - for many individuals one handout leads to an expectation of more, it is not a recognition of the need to improve your circumstances.   In this respect we need to nurture the spirit that came out of the cleanup campaigns to drive change.   We also need a ramping up of parenting programmes - with an expectation that any parent who is labelled as "failing" or in danger of failing will attend, at the same time making sure that our law is changed so that failed parents take legal responsibility for the crimes committed by the children that they are failing - helping parents by giving them the skills whilst making them personally accountable for their failures has huge potential and it enforces responsibility in two directions - but it has to be got right and the intervention has to be early.  Sure Start Children's Centres have huge potential here and local Authorities have a responsibility to ensure they are a priority (note the word Local Authorities here - that's the age we live in - it's down to them not Government - and down to you to hold them to account if they don't do it).

One other thing people need to recognise is that jobs will only come to a community or a location if those communities prove they are ready for them and will respond positively to them.  The rioters who use lack of jobs as an excuse (excuse not reason), have done a huge amount to ensure that employers won't move into their area.

I want to finish by talking about the economy.  We need to make people aware of the danger of the Ken Livingstone's of this world who cannot see beyond their nose economically.  We live in difficult times - the same week riots were taking place in England world stock markets were in turmoil, largely because of a sovereign debt crisis in the EU (i.e. Governments in the EU have borrowed too much money).  In Britain we stand almost alone in our recognition of what this means and have a Government with the foresight to deal with it.  The US recently raised the limit on the amount they could borrow, the result was a lowering in confidence in their ability to pay the debt back and a reduction in their credit rating - which could result in higher interest payments on their debt.  Similar is being predicted by some for France and Germany.   The same company that lowered the US credit rating made a clear statement that Britain was safe whilst it remained committed to dealing with its problems.   What does that mean - and why is that relevant to the riots of last week?   Because a lower credit rating means higher interest rates and higher repayments - which means more taxation and even less money to spend on state infrastructure.   Ignoring the problem now will mean greater cost down the line and even greater cuts.

Could we tax the rich more?  Possibly, but it raises very little additional tax and the evidence suggests that overdoing it stifles investment.

I also want to make the point that responsibility has to come from every direction.  The incessant and irresponsible marketing, the obsession with the bottom line, despite the consequences, which we are seeing in business also has to change.  Business growth has to come from beating the competition, from being innovative and leading edge and from expanding your business base, not from using subtle or not-so-subtle marketing techniques that squeeze more and more money out of the same people.  Businesses need to be responsible as much as individuals do.

Thursday 11 August 2011

More about an elected Mayor

This article in the Cambs Times is a good one, and quotes some of my Twitter posts to the person desirous of wasting more of your money on another fruitless Mayoral referendum in Fenland.

He has now been advised that the idea is off the agenda for at least four years because there has to be a gap of 10 years between such referenda.

So what is the response?.  To raise his sights to wasting even more money on an even more fruitless idea - a Mayor for the whole of Cambridgeshire.  This is about ego not fact - please don't sign a petition to support this idea.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

More comment from ECOPS

This also from ECops:

We are urging social media users not to believe everything they read on Twitter or Facebook – unless it’s an official feed.

We have been receiving a number of calls and Tweets, following rumours and speculation circulating on social media sites.

There is no truth in these rumours, and we have been working hard to reassure the public through their official Twitter feeds @cambscops and @suptpaul.

We would urge people not to believe everything they read on social media sites – unless it from an official police feed. There are a number of unhelpful postings and rumours that are simply untrue.

We are also actively pursuing anyone we believe to be using social networking sites to incite violence and disorder.

Young people are particularly reminded of the risks of committing serious criminal offences with items they post on social networking sites.

We continue to monitor the situation across the county – as well as other parts of the country, and are committed to keeping the people of Cambridgeshire as informed
as possible through our official channels.

Anyone concerned about issues in their area can keep an eye on our Twitter feeds @cambscops and @suptpaul

Tuesday 9 August 2011

ECops comment on disorder

I got this via Ecops and thought it worth cutting and pasting:

Dear Resident,
We are urging residents to remain calm amid untrue rumours of disorder across the county.

We are receiving a number of calls regarding rumours of incidents across Peterborough and the rest of the county. Several false rumours are also circulating on social media sites 

There is no truth in these rumours and no incidents have been reported in Cambridgeshire.
We would stress there have been no incidents of violence and disorder reported in the county. Businesses and residents should continue with their lives as usual.

We are monitoring the situation in London and other parts of the country. However there is no information to suggest there is any threat to this county. 

We urge people to not pass on these rumours via email, text or via social media and to follow us on Twitter @cambscops or @suptpaul to get the most up-to-date information.
Our officers have been assisting the Metropolitan Police to deal with incidents of violence and disorder in London. 

We have sent two Police Support Unit’s of 25 officers to the capital yesterday and today.
We are monitoring the situation in London and other parts of the country. At this time there is no information to suggest there is any threat to Cambridgeshire but we have contingency plans in place.

Our message is clear, there is no threat to the people of Cambridgeshire or local businesses and people should carry on with business as usual. 

We understand there may be concerns and feelings of vulnerability within a number of communities and are working closely with our partners and community leaders to address those concerns. 

Patrols in the county have been increased as a precaution. 

Violence, disorder and any other criminality will not be tolerated in Cambridgeshire and we will deal swiftly and robustly with anyone who uses the emerging issues in London as an excuse to break the law in this county. 

Kind Regards,

Your Neighbourhood Policing Team. 

Sunday 7 August 2011

It's more than just walking

Sunset near Goswick
I have just got back from 5 days of walking the Northumberland Coast Path.   A sixty mile walk from Cresswell in Northumberland to Berwick Upon Tweed.  It was an intriguing few days, helped by the fact that we decided to camp along the walk (something that is a bit difficult for the first half!!).

I can’t say enough about the beauty of the Northumberland Coast.  Magnificent beaches, castles, rocks and cliffs make it a spectacular journey - I described Northumberland as Britain’s best kept secret and I really do think that’s appropriate.  But we also met some fascinating people and received some amazing hospitality.
Bamburgh Castle
On the second night we stayed at the Camping and Caravan Club site at Beadnell Bay.  We got there at the end of our longest day and were absolutely shattered.  The managers at the site recognised this and were kind enough to let us stay in an already erected frame tent that was empty for the night rather than put our own tent up.   It didn’t save us much time, but it was a lovely gesture that they did not have to make.  The next day’s walking, from Beadnell to Belford was pretty wet and we got to Bluebell Farm campsite at Belford pretty soaked (being wet doesn’t have to stop you enjoying yourself by the way - it was a great day’s walking), as a result we asked the owners of the site if we could use their bunkhouse instead.  It would have been really easy for them to say no - we were the only guests at the bunkhouse and it was probably not worth the few extra pounds they made to open it up for us.  But they did, and indeed put the heating on so we could get everything dry overnight.  Again, we would have coped without this, but it was a nice gesture that made life easier for us.

On another night we reached a remote campsite and I mentioned to Angela (my amazing wife) that I would love a beer, although we had no chance of finding a shop, ten minutes later we bumped in to someone we had briefly bumped into a few days earlier and he immediately offered me a beer.

On our final night we met Aaron who originates from Wexford in Ireland.  He was getting somewhat frustrated with life and so sold everything he owned, bought some camping gear and went walking around Britain.  When we met him he had been walking for four months, wild camping most nights.  We ended up walking the final stretch of the Coast path with him and I have to say I totally admire what he has chosen to do.   How many of us would have the courage to do something like that?

Long walks like these are great experiences.  It is the second one Angela and I have completed and it certainly won’t be the last.  They are great for meeting people, learning about life and a great way of seeing our marvellous country.

Sunday 31 July 2011

Don't sign a petition for an elected Mayor in Fenland

There have been a few people posting on Twitter suggesting that the campaign for an elected Mayor is going to be resurrected in Fenland.   I am writing to urge you not to support this campaign.  A referendum will be kicked off following submission of a petition signed by 5% of the electorate of Fenland.   So, the first thing people will do is organise such a petition.  Please don't sign it.

Last time, the cost of the referendum equated to more than a 1% increase in Council Tax and it was rejected overwhelmingly (17,296 against, 5509 for).  There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the result would be any different (there is a good reason for that - an elected Mayor for Fenland makes absolutely no sense).

The people organising this petition seem to be people who were rejected by the electorate in the Fenland elections in May.  Apparently, they don't like the result and the fact that it gave the Conservatives the right to elect a Leader for Fenland - despite the fact that we have 34 out of 40 Councillors.  Don't let them waste your money on a campaign that makes little sense and has little chance of success.

Will Chilcott deliver Blair's legacy?

The news that Tony Blair is, apparently, going to get a hard time from the Chilcott inquiry because of his conduct  over Iraq comes as no surprise to me.

If Chilcott is going to have the courage to do this, I absolutely welcome it.  I have said time and again that I believe Blair lied to us in order to justify a war, something that is totally unacceptable conduct from a Prime Minister.   Being held up as the liar he was will be a fitting legacy.

Saturday 30 July 2011

Steve Barclay MP - Activities in Whittlesey

Thought I would link to a couple of posts from our local MP Steve Barclay's blog.   Both involve some of his activities in Whittlesey.

The first is his visit and commitment to Whittlesea railway station.   I totally applaud and support his ambitions here, as I suspect do most of the people in Whittlesey.

The second is the opening of the Enhanced Provision Centre at Sir Harry Smith.  The work going on to support some of our more difficult students in Whittlesey is excellent and it is good to see Steve recognising this (and indeed Cllr Kay Mayor).

Benwick Harvest Supper

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Supermarket Applications for Whittlesey

Today's Evening Telegraph highlights the two competing Supermarket Applications for Whittlesey.

This is a very complex situation, two supermarkets would surely not be sustainable, therefore it almost seems a choice of one or the other, it is also true that either of the proposals have potential serious implications, mostly the impact on the A605 and the Town Centre.

It is also true that there is huge demand for a supermarket amongst residents - something that also cannot be ignored.

I received a PDF from Whiteacres about their scheme which can be found here.  Whilst it does not cover the most important issues sufficiently, it does provide some useful information (the important detail should be included with the application).

I would appreciate any feedback and thoughts you might have.

Monday 25 July 2011

Who is the culprit?

The leaked email highlighting Andrew Lansley's concerns about Public Sector pensions is interesting. From what I can see it can only have been leaked by someone wanting to do harm to him and, as such, there is absolutely no public interest in its publication.  In fact, if you read the contents, it is quite clear that he was fulfilling his role as Health Secretary in writing it - but also keeping his concerns private, as one would expect of a Minister.

When leaks like this happen, we as members of the public need to focus more on who is leaking rather than on the content.

If it was a genuine public interest story - such as the exposure of wrongdoing, it would be a different story, but this is not.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Surreal trips abroad

Tolmin and Metalcamp from the 11th Century fort at Kozlov Rob
Earlier this week I got back from a trip to a hard rock festival called metalcamp in Slovenia.  Of course, I had a great time, but it was also somewhat surreal.  The festival describes itself as "Hell over Paradise".  I am not sure the Hell bit is appropriate, but you can see why they use the word paradise.

The idea of waking up in the morning, strolling to the nearby river, swimming, washing and relaxing whilst watching the eagles soar above the valley is not something normally associated with a festival.  Of course there was always the pleasure of a few beers and excellent music in the evenings and afternoons just to bring a bit of normality to proceedings.  I have been to many festivals, but this is the only one where I could honestly say that I would have willingly spent the entry fee just to camp there at any other time of the year.  Slovenia is a country with a very proud history and it is great to see the country using that, and its magnificent alpine environment to drive it forwards.

At least Slovenia's supermarkets can see the EU for what it is!
So why have I written this article in what is largely a political blog.  Well, it is also pretty clear that Slovenia is receiving a large amount of EU money.  Whilst expanding the EU outwards has created huge immigration issues, given the history of the Balkan states, moving closer towards them and helping them move forwards to prevent a repeat of what was seen a few decades ago has to be a good thing.  I say that as a Eurosceptic and  would add that I am sure there are probably more efficient, more cost effective ways of achieving the same objective without the monolithic monstrosity that is the EU, but at least in Slovenia you can see some benefit.

I also learned that the worst white knuckle rides are not found in theme parks, but in camper vans on winding roads in Alpine mountains.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Councillor Roger Green

I returned from my holiday to Slovenia to read the sad news of the passing of Councillor Roger Green, Town and District Councillor in Wisbech.

I worked with Roger for many years whilst I was Chairman of Planning and he was vice-Chairman.  Roger was a man who spoke authoritatively and passionately about Wisbech and Fenland and was extremely well respected because of that.  His passing will leave a big gap in Fenland that will be tough to fill.

My sympathies go out to his family.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Congratulations to Steve Count

It was announced today that my fellow Fenland County Councillor Steve Count has been appointed to the Cabinet at the County Council to take on the Resources and Performance portfolio.

I am really pleased for Steve, he has proven to be a a real asset to the County Council since his election and his promotion is well earned.  I am really looking forward to working with him on the Cabinet.

P.S. Please give me credit for not using a "Count on Steve" headline - trust me I was tempted.

Launch of Kick Ash Sir Harry Smith

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the launch of Kick Ash at Sir Harry Smith Community College.  Kick Ash is a program that uses young mentors to try and prevent and reduce smoking in schools.  There is real evidence that the program is really successful in other schools.  The mentors who were involved in the launch yesterday were great - a few weeks ago they were involved in creating a radio advert, which they played yesterday with some accompanied comedy acting. You can find the advert here.

Congratulations to everyone involved.