Wednesday 28 March 2012

Appointed as Cycling Champion for Cambridgeshire

London to Cambridge Bike Ride - 2009
I am on the front page of the Cambridge News today (I'll put link up when it goes on line) because of my new role as cycling champion for Cambridgeshire.

It is a role I volunteered for for a number of reasons.  Firstly, and probably most importantly, I am a keen cyclist.  But also, I have recognised some time ago that cycling is one of the areas where we can deliver a really positive Olympic legacy for the County, building on both the inevitable momentum that will come from the performance of our cyclists in London 2012 and the reputation of Cambridge as Britain's top cycling city.  Of course, we already have a genuine cycling Champion in Jody Cundy MBE - something else that could help promote cycling in the County. But for now, let's get behind him for London 2012.

It is also important that I focus on cycling safety, making sure it is embedded in our planning and highways work and I am sure over the next few months I will hear of many areas where there are issues.  I can't promise ot sort all of them - but I will promise to listen.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

We're not the mean guys

Today's Full Council was pretty typical, large areas of consensus, including on a debate on cycling and about an issue with drought as well as almost universal support for the Independent Review of Allowances - which has recommended no immediate increase for Councillors.  Of course the Conservatives had a totally free vote on this and one of our Councillors abstained, funnily enough no such announcement about a free vote from the opposition.

The area where there was most argument was over a motion submitted by the Lib Dems in support of the Chisholm Trail - a cycle trail that will make the future Cambridge Science Park Railway Station more accessible to cyclists.  The Conservatives have already committed to this route but chose to oppose the motion.  I absolutely endorsed the decision to oppose, but it does bother me that in doing so we are the ones that come across as the bad guys. I think that needs some thought and discussion - because it is fundamental to the dishonesty that exists in modern politics - a dishonesty that is exercised through political opportunism.   My earlier post about the dishonesty surrounding the Lib Dem leaflet on the Cambridge Science Park Railway Station lies at the heart of it.

Despite huge opportunity today, the Lib Dems have so far totally failed to justify the dishonesty surrounding that leaflet, in fact one of the Lib Dems was gloriously smiling today as she took a picture of the Council Leader, Nick Clarke expressing his disgust at that leaflet - no doubt that photo will manifest itself as a piece of Lib Dem spin in the future.

The point is the motion today need not have been there.   In proposing it Killiam Bourke, the Leader of the Lib Dems, acknowledged that the Chisholm Trail was "implicitly part of the Council's plan" and yet chose to propose a motion that called for feasibility studies as well as for the Council to fully implement the trail by 2020 (which would immediately raise the price of the land we would need to TPO to deliver the trail).  The question you should ask is why would someone propose a motion on an area of universal support when areas like Delayed Transfers of Care or the desperate need for restructuring of adult social care (which are both part of my portfolio and remain serious contentious issues for the County)  remain totally disregarded by the opposition.  Well, the reason is - that even though the latter are more urgent and pressing, there are less headlines in them.

 The difficulty is, if we support motions like these, we open up doors for the Lib Dems to say they are setting the agenda, but if we oppose them we are portrayed as the nasty people playing politics in the Council chamber.  Ask yourself the question - who are the ones exploiting politics for the sake of votes at the expense of the people of Cambridgeshire?  My morals mean I have to oppose this stuff and I have to speak against those who use such tactics.  I am accused of playing these sort of politics continuously - but in truth I often compliment and thank the opposition when they ask the right questions for the right reasons - but I will always speak out against political opportunism and if that leads to my name being besmirched, so be it - at least I will be able to look myself in the mirror at the end of the day

This stance does not mean, for one second, that the Conservative group  are opposed to cycling, nor to the Chisholm trail.  Very much the opposite, I love cycling and recognise how important it is, especially with the cost of fuel going through the roof (more about my support for cycling over the next few days!) - this debate was not about this, it was about opposition politicians creating easy headlines for themselves.  Judge them, not those who are put in a no-win situation by having to deal with such malicious tactics.

Monday 26 March 2012

If the future is Whittlesey students, the future is good..

Last weekend I was part of a team of staff and students (with me as a token Governor) taking part in a 24 hour relay at Sir Harry Smith Community College, with five teams of four or five each keeping exercise bikes going for a total of 24 hours. Each person contributed at least 4 hours worth of cycling in half hour stints, suffering sleep deprivation, my sense of humour and some pretty sore backsides.

Of course it was great to raise money for a good cause, but actually there are more reasons than that to be lad to have taken part.  Top of the list has to be to observe and chat to the students, who despite tiredness, lack of sleep and a lack of sensible sleeping arrangements behaved impeccably, with no-one complaining and everyone joining in in some way or another in the spirit of the occasion.  I was so impressed with everything about the night, but especially how the students coped with the circumstances - and I should stress these were students of all ages, not just from the top years of the school.  I know they all went home feeling tired, I hope each and every one of them went home feeling proud, I certainly felt privileged to have been part of the event.

I would also like to thank Vesuvio for the marale boosting pizzas at aabout 9 o'clock Friday night.  A really nice and well appreciated gesture.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Cambridgeshire Lib Dems are Liars: Exhibit No 7674

I sit down and think, right I must try not to focus on the Lib Dems for the next few weeks, people already get the idea from reading my blog that they are a deceitful bunch, but then something else comes up that is so outrageous I just can't ignore it.

Cambridgeshire Lib Dems latest deceit falls into that category.  Before I get into detail, let me ask you a question.  If you ask the postman to deliver a letter and then he actually does the job, who has done the delivery?  Exactly, the postman, the guy who has done the job.

So it can be safe to assume that when the Lib Dems claim that they have "delivered" the North Cambridge Railway Station, they have been integral to the decision-making and that they had done something more than just ask for it to happen.   Well, the truth is, they have claimed they "delivered" it, and yet have done nothing except be one of the many organisations lobbying for it to happen. They also say that "Lib Dems in Government approved the station" - which is either an absolute lie or shows the true distance that they have been from the decision-making process.  The decision to "approve" the Station was one made by the County Council's Conservative Cabinet, in consultation with the ruling Conservative Group.  It was facilitated by an agreement from Theresa Villiers, a Conservative Minister, that the Government would include any Cambridge Science Park Railway Station in future rail franchise agreements - but the approval was made by the Conservative Cabinet.  The means of funding, and the renewed vigour for the Station was a combination of work from County Council officers based on a vision from Nick Clarke, the Conservative Leader of the Council and challenge from the Cabinet, including Ian Bates, the Conservative Lead on the matter.  Absolutely no Lib Dems have been involved in delivering this project, absolutely none.

Just to make this point there are a few questions that need to be asked:

1.  Would this project have happened without the Lib Dems?   The answer is absolutely yes.   The original scoping for the Station was done by the previous administration - also Conservative and the new vigour and emphasis came from the Conservative Leader of the Council.

2.  Could this project have happened without the support of the Conservative administration.  The answer quite clearly from what is above, is that it would not.

Interestingly,in a debate on Twitter over this Lib Dem lie, not one of the three that has engaged has challenged my answers to these questions.  Instead they comment about the fact that I have once again got somewhat irate about Lib Dem behaviour.  I would argue that the world would be a better place if politicians spent more time challenging dishonesty rather than behaving dishonestly like the Lib Dems have in this case.

Monday 19 March 2012

Torch Relay Route Announcements

The magnificent quadrangle at Trinity College
Today saw the detailed announcement of the Olympic Torch Relay routes through Peterborough, Cambridge, Huntingdon and St Ives.  The individual routes can be found here.

I am really chuffed with what has been announced for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.  Whilst we have had very little say in the decision-making for the County, we did sell the vision of sending the torch around the quadrangle at Trinity College to replicate the Chariots of Fire run, and the idea of using a punt for some of the route.  Both of these have been incorporated into the plans as part of the exit out of Cambridge on 8th July, with the entry into the City on 7h July coming through Newmarket Road and Mill Road prior to an evening celebration at Parker's Piece.  The routes through St Ives and Huntingdon, offer a similar combination of the scenic and the highly visible, and the route to the embankment in Peterborough on 3rd July includes a trip on the Nene Valley railway.

Torch Bearers posing for Cambridge First
The reason this is important is because I see the torch relay as having two purposes, one is to bring the Olympics out to Britain, to make it less London-centric,giving the opportunity for the whole country to have an involvement through getting the chance to see the torch and the procession, the other role is to provide an opportunity to send iconic images that sell Cambridgeshire around the world to make sure we capitalise on a tourism boom that we know will follow in the years after the Olympics.  The routes in Cambridgeshire offer a perfect combination of those two.

We did a big press call for the announcement at Trinity College this morning, where I featured live on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and recorded interviews for print, radio and for Anglia TV, along with Cambridge City Council representatives and some of our Torch Bearers.  I was extremely reassured to find that the torch bearers were exactly the sort of inspirational people I had been told the selection process would produce.

Links to various news stories are here:

Hunts Post          Cambridge News           BBC News           Anglia News   

Peterborough Evening Telegraph           Cambridge First

Saturday 17 March 2012

Reasons to never, ever, ever trust the Lib Dems No 6,000,007.

People often ask me about my oft repeated mantra that the Lib Dems will do and say anything for electoral advantage, here is more evidence to support that line of thought.  Their latest line is that they are delivering 75% of their manifesto.  Well, the truth is probably best found by looking at their pledge card from the last election:

I am glad they are not delivering on most of this stuff (not all - but most).   But the point is this.  Never, ever, ever trust the Liberal Democrats.

I still fear for the coalition's future because as soon as the Lib Dems can see advantage in pulling out of it, they will - they will do it when it is right for them, irrespective of what it means for Britain.

Thursday 8 March 2012

Government Advisor's Report on Improving Alternative Education Provision

When I was previously Cabinet Member for Children at the County Council I was involved in the development of a different approach to managing alternative tuition in schools (which in very brief terms means dealing with children who for whatever reason are struggling to scope with mainstream schools). This approach involved devolving finances for the management of these children back to schools to encourage them to take better responsibility for their decisions.  Whilst I did occasionally have to stand up and be counted to defend our plans, there was overall a huge amount of support and some excellent listening, working and leadership from officers in Cambridgeshire and from secondary head teachers in our County.  Because of this it is now a system that works well, with many fewer students being excluded and sent to Pupil Referral Units and an overall reduction in costs.

I was delighted to be told today that our approach has been recognised as an example of good practice in a report by Charlie Walker, the Government's Expert Advisor on Behaviour. (The reference to Cambridgeshire can be found on Page 11 of the report)

I hope lots of officers and teachers around the County are patting themselves on the back today for the work they have done - it is an example of a direct link between innovation and the improvement of people's lives.   That's the sort of thing we as Councillors should be about.

Pleasantly surprised

One of my tasks for today was to attend a couple of meetings with our providers of home and residential care.  The aim of the meetings was to give an overview of fees and costs for next year which is not a great story given the financial circumstances we are in; in particular it means we cannot give the sort of uplift that some would be looking for.  I gave a short introduction to the meetings, giving the political perspective about Council finances and our prevention and transformation agenda in Adult Social Care and was also there to respond to questions.

I expected to be given a bit of a rough ride and was incredibly surprised by the response.  Yes there was some concern about costs - actually the most significant concern was about the impact of fuel costs on our providers, which I pledged to write to Ministers about, but actually the meeting was really productive with providers talking as much about future possibilities and the willingness to work with us on the sort of transformation vision we have.

It really gave me heart that, although times are tough, the agenda we have as a County Council is the right one.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

A bit of humour..

This was one of two pictures I found on a Wisbech Facebook page following yesterday's Cabinet visit.  It made me laugh, so I thought I'd share. (It's also a good bit of photo shopping!)

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Taxi for Patrick

At the last Full Council meeting I teased the County Council's Liberal Democrat groups by saying that it was nice to hear them mention Fenland without just talking about taxis - because taxi issues seem to be the sole raison d'etre for Wisbech Liberal Democrats.

Just to prove my point Fenland Councillor Dave "Taxi" Patrick decided to use today to protest to a County Council Cabinet over an issue over which they have absolutely no jurisdiction.  Cllr Patrick is a taxi driver, good luck to him, but he has a ward to look after. but the only issues he seems to want to highlight are those revolving around his profession.

Does all this matter?  Yes, it does.  As I pointed out - part of today was about creating positive momentum; recognising investment, announcing new initiatives and spring boarding Wisbech forwards.  Councillor Patrick tried to make today all about his taxis, he tried to change the story and raise something that, in truth, pales into insignificance when you consider the millions of pounds of investment that is being made and the opportunity that creates for a community that needs and deserves exactly that.

We had Councillors from all parties and from across the County today turn up and contribute to the Cabinet meeting, fair play to them.  Dave Patrick, chose to ignore his ward, chose not to use the opportunity to raise issues there and, instead, to repeat his over-tired taxi rank mantra.  He is in danger of becoming a joke, that is a shame for the people of Kirkgate who he claims to represent.

The County Council's Wisbech Day

As a break from usual ways of working, the County Council held it's Cabinet Meeting at the Boathouse in Wisbech today as part of a whole day focused on Wisbech and its issues.  I am not one who denies those issues exist, the evidence is all too clear.  So, in terms of trying out something new, it was absolutely the right place to start.  I do want to say however, that the Daily Mail (my least favourite newspaper) and others who choose to exaggerate and stretch reality in order to sell papers does absolutely nothing to help.  The point was made today that we need to start talking positively about the future of Wisbech and realising that even a community that has issues, has strengths that can be captured and built upon.

The day started with a breakfast hosted by Archant (owners of Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard) and attended by Cabinet Members, local dignitaries, readers of abovementioned newspapers and others. The leaders of both Fenland District Council and the Council spoke during this session - a great way of setting the scene for the day.  

We then went on to the Cabinet meeting, where we discussed a number of issues.  The Lib Dems excelled themselves by talking about a bus service, having spoken to passengers about the impact that ending the subsidy would have, in fact, the bus they travelled on was commercial and therefore not under threat.  But, overall the meeting was a good one with some really good contributions from most of the speakers and some positive discussions. 

There were a number of important announcements made today.  I could comment on each and every one, it's probably better to just catch up with the Wisbech Standard website and Steve Tierney's blog.  But it is worth saying that the most important announcement was the 20-20 vision, because it potentially encompasses the rest.

As a Whittlesey Councillor, I do want to highlight that once again Alan Melton, the Leader of Fenland District Council, said that the A605 Whittlesey Bypass is key for the future of Fenland - a vision both he and I have been selling for some time.  This solution is a long way from being done and dusted but it is moving forwards.  Why is the bypass important?  Well, Whittlesey residents are screaming out for it, but for the rest of Fenland the potential to have the sort of easy access to the A1 from the heart of Fenland that an A605 bypass would provide offers all sots of economic benefits.

During lunch we had a discussion with community representatives and some very positive contributions from Inspector Robin Sissons, Christopher Smith, the former MD of Roddons and a number of primary school leaders which gave us, as a Cabinet, plenty of food for thought.

I then went for a trip to a day centre and a residential centre for adults with learning disabilities - all linked to my Adult Services cabinet role.  Once again, it was incredibly helpful.  I really enjoy getting out and talking to people, spending time getting to know how things work from the bottom-up.  In an organisation that spends over £180m a year (which Adult Services does) this is a vital part of what I do. It is this sort of, often hidden, work of a Cabinet Member that takes time and effort, but offers a real contribution to helping improve services and, in turn, peoples' lives.  As ever, I learned a huge amount, took a few issues away and left cards for people to contact me and so they can invite me back if needed.

We finished the day with a wash up, just discussing the day and what we learned from it - overall the feedback was really positive.  Three things come out of today; some much better informed Councillors; some real positive momentum for a Town that needs and deserves exactly that; and a model that can be repeated elsewhere in the County.

I have to say, when the idea of a Cabinet meeting in Wisbech was mentioned to me, I was a bit sceptical; I felt that it would be seen as tokenism.  I was wrong, well partially wrong, because what today turned into was something that was far more worthwhile than just simply moving a meeting out of Shire Hall and I hope the press response has proven that.