Tuesday 30 October 2012

Budget Cuts and the EU

One of the most difficult things I have to deal with at the moment as a Cabinet Member of Cambridgeshire County Council is the annual budget round.  We are dealing with an increase in demand for Adult Social Care, a need to deliver a growth agenda and an ever declining budget.  Whilst I absolutely understand the cause (which I'm afraid is because Labour spent all the money) and the need to do it, it does become increasingly difficult; next year's budget is looking really tough.

That is why I find it frustrating that one of the most bureaucratic and bloated public sector organisations in the world refuses to even acknowledge its own role and responsibility in our difficult financial position, where even David Cameron's bid for a no-growth budget is being met with some resistance.  I talk, of course, about the EU.

Now, I am not one to rebel(!!), but I actually agree with those Conservatives who are arguing that the EU should have a strong cuts agenda - that it should play its own part in the solving the problem that it helped to cause and set an example.  I hope David Cameron listens to their message,  in my view he should be saying to the EU that if they will not cut their budget, Britain will cut its contributions unilaterally (and of course hold an in/out referendum). Of course the EU could start by ending the Strasbourg Circus.

This is not something that is independent of Cambridgeshire; Councils' budgets  are reducing because of reductions in Government funding, if Government have to contribute more to the EU, it means less to fund services in the UK (or indeed to fund tax cuts).

Monday 29 October 2012

E-Cops Halloween Message

Some might see the recent E-Cops message about Halloween as a bit "yah-boo sucks", but I support every word of it.  Having seen exactly how scared Halloween and the whole trick or treating thing made an elderly relative of mine, I realised that what is fun for some can be a source of real worry for others, so I hope people will read this and comply:

"Just a reminder to parents who will be taking their children out for Halloween trick or treating. Please could you bear in mind that not everyone welcomes a visit on Halloween, especially the elderly who are living alone. They may get quite anxious having a knock on the door when it is dark outside, due to the clocks going back at the weekend,(it will be soon be getting dark around five o clock).
Most people who are taking part in Halloween have their houses decorated with pumpkins etc so it would be advisable to visit these for your trick or treating.

For older children please do not allow them to take eggs and flour out with them as this can cause a lot of upset to residents to find their windows and doors covered and having to clear up the mess.

I hope you all have a great Halloween!"

Sunday 28 October 2012

The Great Police and Crime Commissioner Debate

A huge debate has developed over the last few days following a statement from the former Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) candidate, John Pye, who is encouraging electors to support the independent candidate in the forthcoming elections.  I would encourage you to read my County Council cabinet colleague Steve Tierney's excellent blog about the issue.

There is one area where I disagree with Steve.  I always felt that appointing someone as a Conservative candidate when they had no intention of joining the party was a mistake. Expecting others who pay good money to the party to campaign and fund raise for someone that was refusing to do the same was always a recipe for disaster, and so it proved. I also think his latest observations reinforce the view that his selection was a mistake.

But, I have always felt that the argument that a PCC should be independent was a weak one anyway (especially when the Cambridgeshire independent candidate has a clear socialist background).  To me, first and foremost, the police and crime commissioner has to be a talented and experienced politician .  The role is a political one, with a strong strategic role. 

The biggest part of the role for me is engagement.   With policing there is a delicate triangle of relationships between the police, politicians and the public. For people to have confidence in policing the links between all three have to be strong - but the reality is that currently they are not. If a PCC is to be effective he must strengthen those relationships by engaging strongly with all three in a way that is an exchange of facts and views rather than just a token listening exercise - and then to use that engagement to strongly inform the strategic thinking that is needed to develop policing.

The only way that engagement can work is if it is delivered by an experienced politician who can show a strong set of principles that will govern the way they work - principles which are often best demonstrated by political history and beliefs.  I would argue that strong Conservative values are those that are closest to people's thinking on policing, but also that Sir Graham Bright is the only candidate who can demonstrate the sort of political background that is needed to be an effective PCC.

The point Steve Tierney makes about whips is also spot on.  The PCC role is not one that is aligned to a political group, therefore there is no whipping.  I would argue that whips are applied too often in politics in any case - but that certainly is not the case for the PCC, who will be able to use his experience without the constraints of a group and will be free to operate within his own personal political ethos.

Friday 26 October 2012

St Mary's Ward By-Election Victory for Gary Swan

I spent yesterday supporting my friend and fellow Town Councillor Gary Swan in the District Council by-election for St Mary's Ward.  I am delighted to say that Gary was elected in a result that was beyond expectations:

GALE, Colin
SWAN, Gary




Turnout 30%

I am really, really happy for both Gary and for Whittlesey.  I am sure all sorts of people will give all sorts of reasons for the result, but the main reason is undoubtedly Gary.  I have never known a candidate work so hard for success in a by-election and he put together a great evidence base around his undoubted success as a Town Councillor.

I also hope that the victory shows that residents can see that Whittlesey Conservative Councillors, especially Gary, have fought their corner on the supermarket debate.

Gary is going to be an excellent District Councillor and I am really looking forward to working with him.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Public Meeting

Speaking at the meeting complete with sideburns
The Cambs Times have suggested that approaching 300 people were at the public meeting last night.

I thought it was well chaired by John Elworthy, and that Whittlesey people were given an opportunity to make their views known.  I was pleased to see Cllr John Clarke, a Cabinet Member from Fenland District Council there last night, it meant that the strength of feeling about last night could be fed back to the District from someone with no connection to Whittlesey.  I was also surprised and pleased to see Tesco represented, I didn't expect it, but it means they too have got a clear message.

What didn't surprise me was that so many people were there, I know what has been said to me in and around Whittlesey.  It is the first time that our Town's voice has been heard on this, and we took the opportunity.  I have said a number of times since the meeting of 19th September when the decision to refuse Tesco was overturned that Fenland District Council must ensure they recognise and deal with the Whittlesey issues that have been created as well as dealing with the legal nightmare.  To date that has not happened, but the need for them to do this must surely have got across loud and clear now.

My colleague Gary Swan made the point last night about the need for residents to complain to Fenland District Council about the matter.  He is, of course, quite right.  Fenland's Complaints policy can be found here.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

An about face and victory for Whittlesey (but not on Supermarkets...yet)

The Boundary Commission for England has published its revised proposals for new Parliamentary Constituencies.

You may remember the previous debate in Whittlesey, where there was overwhelming concern expressed about the proposal to link us with Peterborough South constituency and remove our historic links with Cambridgeshire.  I carried out some "politics in the pub" evenings to discuss this and encouraged people to express their views to the Boundary Commission and a 500 petition signature was submitted.

Well, the views of Whittlesey residents have been listened to and the latest report has reversed those proposals and has, instead, suggested keeping the North East Cambridgeshire constituency, with Whittlesey included. In fact, it seems to almost recreate the old "Isle of Ely" constituency, although Wisbech moves into a constituency with Downham Market.

There is one aspect of these revised proposals which is important to the debate taking place about supermarkets at the moment.  The report specifically mentions the correspondence received from Whittlesey residents as a factor in it considerations.  People wrote, someone listened, and Whittlesey got its way.   I have been encouraging people to write and complain to Fenland about supermarkets; politicians standing up for Whittlesey is important, but it works all the better when it is matched by a voice from the community.

The Boundary Commission proposals are still just proposals and there are some outside of Whittlesey who will not be happy about the changes - so please consider writing in and supporting the changes (or opposing them if you disagree with my view).

A605 Most Improved Road in Country

It was announced today that the A605 is the most improved road in the Country as far as road safety is concerned.

This is a great bit of news for residents - the award comes for work done right along the A605 from the A141 into Peterborough, much of it subtle stuff like signage and road markings right along the route including through Whittlesey, Coates and Eastrea but also because of the huge success of the work at the junction with the A141, which was dreadful before the installation of the traffic lights.

What is interesting about this is that much of the work is not massively expensive.  The most costly bit was almost certainly the A141 junction.  But even this was a project that was planned to be a roundabout and ended up as a much cheaper solution.  The officers at the County Council deserve a huge amount of credit for this success.  The change in the plans for this junction were one of my earlier decisions as a Cabinet Member at County and we made them work really hard to convince us that the traffic lights were a better solution than a roundabout, rather than just a cheaper one - and they have proved absolutely right.  This confirms my belief that more money is not the answer to everything (although it often helps!!)

It was also good to hear Cabinet Member for Highways, Cllr Tony Orgee, confirm in his interview with BBC Cambridgeshire Breakfast that the Kings Dyke railway crossing is very much on the County Council's radar. Good to know that the County are doing their bit for our Town.

I thought it was worth pasting the County Council's press release about this award:


County Council work to improve safety on the A605 in the north of Cambridgeshire has been given a royal seal of approval after winning the prestigious Prince Michael International Road Safety Award.

The 13-mile section of road between Hobbs Lot Bridge and Peterborough has been recognised as the most improved section of rural highway in the country.

Safety improvement work carried out by Cambridgeshire County Council included new traffic lights at the Goosetree junction, re-alignment of sections of the road, fixed and mobile speed cameras, new speed and accident blackspot warning signs and work to keep the surface and markings in good condition particularly at junctions and bends and maintained visibility by removing over grown trees and bushes.

As a result of the work, between 2005-2010 the number of fatal and serious crashes fell by 74% (from 34 to 9) and the road safety rating improved from medium risk to low risk.

Prior to 2005 crashes at junctions, those involving pedestrians and cyclists and vehicles running off the road were prominent, each accounting for 30% of all fatal and serious crashes along the route. Between 2006-2010, those proportions fell to 11% for each category of accident.

The award citation reads: ‘Prince Michael International Road Safety Awards are presented to individuals, companies or organisations in recognition of their outstanding contribution to improving road safety.’

The County Council will receive the award during the launch of the 2012 British European Road Assessment Programme (EuroRAP) at The House of Lords, on October 16.

County Council Cabinet Member for Community Infrastructure, Councillor Tony Orgee, said: “Improving road safety is all about cutting the number of people who are killed and injured on the roads and I’m delighted that our very successful efforts to do just that on the busy A605, which is a major commuter route that is also extensively used by local traffic and commercial vehicles, has been recognised by the award of such a prestigious accolade as the Prince Michael International Road Safety Award.

“Winning this award is a worthy recognition of the hard work of the local community which called for safety improvements, the County Councillors who supported their campaign and the road safety and highways teams who designed and implemented the improvements.”

Announcing the award, Adrian Walsh director of the awards scheme said: “Many of our rural ‘A’ roads remain high risk – here is an outstanding example of a county taking this seriously and making a difference, other authorities should follow and do the same.”

Sunday 14 October 2012

Adult Social Care Debate - BBC Radio Cambridgeshire - Mon 15th 6.30pm

Without change, Adult Social Care is facing an extremely tough time over the next twenty or so years.  We have a population that is growing older, which is a great thing, but it does mean that there will be an increasing number of people that need the sort of support that both the NHS and local councils provide.  In Cambridgeshire the number of over 65s are forecast to increase by 30% in the next ten years, the over 90s population will increase by 70%.  There is some evidence that without change some Councils will be spending almost their entire budgets on Adult Social Care in less than twenty years time.

Last Thursday I sat on a panel as part of a recorded live debate about adult social care at the BBC Cambridgeshire studios.  That debate will be broadcast tomorrow night (Monday 15th October) at 6.30pm on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

The debate was a first for me, and I was a little apprehensive about it.  But actually, I really enjoyed it.  There were some really, really contrasting views put across, but,for the most, the debate was not a political bun fight, but was issues based - even though it was clear that myself and at least one other person on the panel are poles apart politically.  I would also add that I thought Paul Stainton and his team did a great job of hosting the debate, making sure the audience members all got a say and that people like me didn't talk too much!!

The serious issues around Adult Social Care are not widely enough known, so debates like this are really important.  If you listen, please let me know what you think.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Public Meeting. Supermarkets. Tue 18.30 Ivy Leaf.

A public meeting has been organised for Tuesday evening to discuss the Whittlesey supermarket issues.  It is being hosted by John Elworthy, Editor of the Cambs Times and gives Whittlesey residents the opportunity to have their say.  It will be at the Ivy Leaf starting a 6.30.

I will be there to both say my piece, but also to listen to residents views.

Canvassing for Gary Swan

I spent this morning canvassing for Gary Swan, the Conservative candidate for the by-election for St Mary's Ward on 25th October.  I was with a team that included Stephen Barclay MP as well as party members from Peterborough, March, Wisbech and, of course, Whittlesey.  It says a great deal about Gary that he has managed to bring in support from such a wide area.

It was also reassuring to know that people largely understand that both Gary and the majority of Whittlesey Conservatives are fighting the Whittlesey corner on the supermarket debate.

What I also hadn't realised until today was that Gary has cancelled a holiday to focus on this election campaign, that says a great deal about his commitment as well as the support he has from his wife.  Of course, the Independent candidate has been away for two weeks on holiday!!

Friday 12 October 2012

Sacked No 3

I received this from the Leader of Fenland District Council a short while ago:
"At no time have I suggested that Martin acted outside of the law. I know that Martin took advice from our legal officers and he adhered to that legal advice completely. If I gave the impression to the contrary during the breakfast interview I un-reservedly apologise. I have no problem with statement being made public."

I genuinely appreciate the clarification.

Sacked Update

I have just heard on BBC Radio Cambs that I was sacked because I got too close to one particular application.

I need to defend myself on that.  In the run up to the planning debate I made it plain that if Tesco proved to be the best planning decision I would have supported it.  But a combination of the survey I carried out (which showed huge support in Whittlesey for Sainsbury) and the fact that I realised I could never support the basis for the Officer's recommendation at the committee, I stood down from the decision making process because of predetermination.

At that point, legally, I was entitled  to support whoever and whatever I wished without any need for impartiality.  I make no apology for standing up for the wishes of the people I serve and supporting a planning application which offered Whittlesey a much desired supermarket and a country park for a Town with a recognised lack of green space.

It is clear that my sacking has still not been justified.

Thursday 11 October 2012


Many of you will have seen the latest events about supermarkets.  If you haven't, I suggest you read the Cambs Times website.

I am not going to comment on most of the actions taken by the Leader, except to say something has to be done.  But I am going to say that my sacking has baffled me and others.

The events were as follows.  In a telephone conversation with the Leader of Fenland, Cllr Alan Melton on the evening of 10th October I was invited to resign to prevent the indignity of being sacked.  I asked for the reason for this and I was told it was because of "community perception".  I challenged and suggested that I had not seen or heard any issues in respect of this.

Having consulted a few people, I chose to decline the request.  This is my exact response sent by email early this morning:

Having consulted with a few people overnight. I have decided to refuse your request to resign. If you believe I should go on the basis of public perception (which is what you stated) that a debate needs to be had in public and I would therefore prefer the process to be transparent, rather than a fudge through forced resignation.
It's a bit clumsily worded because I was in a bit of a rush.  But I'm sure you get the point.  Being honest, I do not believe this is the real reason - I may have reacted differently if I thought I was being told bluntly and honestly what I had done wrong. I have had huge support for my behaviour in this process from across the board - but certainly there are politicians and others who do not like the robust approach I have taken - but sometimes I think being an elected community leader means you have to do that.  I hope that is not the reason for my sacking, if it is it sends a dreadful, dreadful message to other councillors who choose to stand up and be counted when they feel their community has been let down (which Whittlesey has).

It is also true that I had been considering resignation anyway because I was so disappointed with the actions taken by a few people at the last planning meeting - but I was waiting for Cllr Melton's reaction to events before I took a decision.  However, there is a difference between being forced to resign and resigning as a matter of conscience - and that is why I took the decision to refuse the request.