Friday, 31 December 2010

A New Years Eve Reflection

When I look back at 2010 I look back as it being the best year of my life.

It's odd that a man can get to 37 years of age and be able to say that.

It wasn't the best year because of any financial acheivements, in fact in that respect the year has been somewhat of a rollercoaster particularly with being made redunandant at the start of it.

No, the reason that 2010 has been my best year has been because I have realised the value of putting hard work in to all aspects of my life.

After losing my job in March I was so fortunate to get to spend time looking after my family. If you will doing the chores of a housewife. I did the school run, cooked dinners and started doing more and more work in our community to name just a few things.

I took on a role in our local school governors, helped out at village litter picks and even completed a lifelong ambition of becoming involved in local politics.

I have loved every minute of it.

When I was lucky enough to get a post working for a local charity I realised even more the value of working your hardest for your family and community and how much fulfillment that can bring.

One particular thing springs to mind.

On a recent Christmas shopping trip to Leicester I found myself stood at the clocktower with a tear in my eye when a memory came to me about a similar visit to the city I had with my parents when I was about twelve years old.

I recalled how that year my father, who has long since passed away, had been on short time at work and how we had been to Leicester so I could choose my presents. I remember being exceptionally ungrateful because my parents had not spent their usual amount on me and in hindsight I did not appreciate how much they must have struggled.

However, when I had that memory I didn't look back with regret but fondness and a great deal of love for it came to me that with luck and hard work my children, who may not be the most appreciative now, will look back and realise how much their Mum and Dad love them and what they do for them.

The beautiful thing is that although 2010 has been my best year I am not worried what 2011 will bring and fully expect it to be even better.

Things may not always go right but I realise that with hard work, a sense of perspective and most importantly love and caring anyone can take control of what happens to them.

Happy New Year...

The 'Big Society' or a veil to mask massive cuts?

When you look at those regular lists you see in the newspapers at this time of year about new words and phrases which have come in to our lexicon one term you will undoubtedly see is 'Big Society'.

For months in the run up to the general election Mr Cameron kept telling us how he wanted to deliver it. We heard that the 'Big Society' was something to do with charities and volunteering in our community although even many of the Tories didn't know what he was talking about, let alone the rest of us.

Well, at last I think I have figured out some of Mr Cameron's plans.

You may have seen in the past couple of days the government have produced a white paper about how donations to charities can be increased. Many suggestions are being contemplated to drive up donation levels from allowing you to donate on ATM machines through to 'rounding up' your shopping as a charitable donation.

Now in itself these options, and the ones that go with it in the white paper, are all ones that should be at least considered - and if they contribute to an increase in charitable income they would of course be welcome - but my question is why are the government taking such an interest in this area right now? And I think the answer is obvious for two reasons.

Firstly, as we see prices in shops go up and taxes increase inevitably one of the things that will drop will be our willingness to give to charity.

Cabinet Minister Francis Maude suggested we could all donate 1% of our income to raise £4 billion for charity. Does this man not realise we will already be spending an extra 2.5% of our wages in a couple of days time in his governments regressive tax rises?

Secondly and whilst more 'hidden' many charities rely for a significant part of their income from grant-funding bodies such as local government or the national lottery. The simple reason for this is that historically the charity has been better placed in the community to deliver services in a more cost-efficient and personalised way than a funding body ever could. Of course with  large cuts to local government budgets we are seeing even more significant cuts to charities.

Many charities are fully aware that for these two reasons they will not survive the next couple of years and many vital commmunity-based services will be lost forever.

It is not just the public-sector that is reeling from the tory-led governments cuts. The charity sector will be hit harder than ever before and the only thing that will go to make us a 'bigger society' will be our communal experience of higher taxes and less services!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

My Santa Adventure

Back in October I started a new job working for MRC Community Action at the Marlene Reid Centre in Coalville. Although the position is a fixed term contract which I know will come to an end in April it is without doubt the best job I have ever had.

My colleagues are wonderful, the job is varied and challenging and most importantly you know you are making a difference to the most disadvantaged in our community.

The job is also the principle reason why I am looking forward to this Christmas more than any I ever have previously.

Let me explain...

Not long after I started the role we were having a discussion in the office about the possibility of me dressing up as Father Christmas. I said that I would but with one proviso, the stipulation was that we should seek to give children a first class experience of Santa.

In short I said I would throw myself into the role only if we could get our hands on a top quality suit in order that we could give a 'department store' quality experience like the Father Christmas' of yesteryear.

I argued that hardly any children from a difficult background would have ever had such an experience and that it was a right of being a child that a visit to Santa should be both believable and magical. I insisted that if I was going to play the big man then we had to do it properly.

After a little persuasion and a rudimentary business case to prove that a premium quality suit was worthwhile to their eternal credit MRC agreed to purchase one.

Part of the business case was that we should offer our Santa, i.e. me, out to local schools, community organisations and our own events in order that we could give as many children (and those young at heart) as possible the best Father Christmas experience and obviously at the same time we could raise the profile of our charity.

The results have been astonishing.

After a period of time researching how a real Santa should act (always know the names of the reindeer and put blusher on your cheeks) over the past few weeks I have dressed up many times in the red suit and visited numerous primary schools, ladies luncheon clubs and other venues throughout the district.

I have learned two things throughout the process:

Firstly, it does not matter who they are but as soon as you put on that suit ladies start making suggestive comments to you. In short, they can be old, young, professional (or not so professional) but for some reason Father Christmas turns women a bit 'fruity'! I LOVED IT!!!

Secondly, to dress up as the big man is a real privilege and honour.

I have been lucky to be Santa at many different places. I have been to retired ladies groups (very fruity), primary schools, special needs units, teenage mums groups to name just a few.

Every time under my wig I have welled up a little.

Whether it was to the five year olds who were astonished, or the girl with learning needs who couldn't contain her excitement at meeting Father Christmas, or the young boy from a difficult background who only wanted a puncture repair kit, or even the teenage mum with the five week old baby.

It cannot fail to touch you to know you are bringing a little magic to a someone at this time of year.

There are so many bad things happening in the world and I know I moan about them most of the time on this blog but for a few short years children can believe in the most fantastic and good spirited thing possible and I am privileged to have been a part in keeping that alive this year.

And it's true. It's made me feel a lot more Christmassy because I have been able to capture some of that wonderment and for the first time in many years I really am excited about what is to come.

I'm just hoping that I'm on the good list and come Christmas night I get a visit from the real man in red.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas, and with that Ho Ho Ho!

Getting ready for a visit!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Coalition Government Lies

I read a rather wonderful article a couple of days ago.

The whole basis of the piece was to document the various 'lies' the coalition have told since they came to power (and you thought it was just the LibDems fibs about tuition fees).

Here is a list of some of those untruths...

  • In the election campaign the Tories denounced Labour for letting out 80,000 prisoners early and promised to 'increase prison capacity'. The reality - the government have announced the closing of up to 10 prisons.
  • In the election campaign the Tories said they would reduce the number of MP's by 10%. The LibDems said they would cut 20%. The reality - a cut of just 5% with no commensurate cut in ministerial pay.
  • In the campaign both coalition parties said they would introduce a right to recall unpopular MPs based upon local demand. The reality - the right to recall by local people has been dropped and replaced by the power being given to a small committee of members of parliament.
  • Neither of the two coalition parties offered a referendum on Alternative Vote, but we are getting one. However both parties, as well as Labour, said there would be a referendum on the European Union. It seems that this one has been quietly dropped.
Now are you ready for the best part?

The list didn't come out of The Guardian, New Statesman or some other left-wing tome.

No, the list is lifted from the bastion of conservative values The Spectator.

Isn't it coming to something when even your own people are highlighting your failings...

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A Groundbreaking Day

In case you missed it yesterday was a huge day for equal rights in the United States. The 18th of December 2010 was the day that witnessed the jumping of the final hurdle for the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' legislation for the US Armed Forces, a truly momentous occasion.

Back in 1993 when President Clinton was in the White House there were moves to remove the legislative barrier banning gay and bisexual men and women serving in the armed forces. Instead of an outright lifting of the ban however what was introduced was a half-measure designed in order to placate the conservative right of the country.

The alternative legislation which was introduced was called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) and in essence what it meant was that whilst superiors could not ask servicemen and women their sexual orientation if it became apparent that the serviceman (or woman) was LGBT then they would automatically be discharged from the services.

Since 1993 13,389 servicemen and women have been discharged from the US armed forces because of their sexuality.

What an indictment of a nation that nearly 14 thousand men and women, who were prepared to give their lives for their country, were ejected from their careers simply because of who they were.

Many on the conservative right argued that DADT was necessary to protect morale. Would any reasonable person suppose even for one minute that a LGBT serviceman was inferior to a heterosexual one? It's interesting to note that 889 of those discharged were from the elite Marine Corps, are we to suppose that that being gay made those servicemen and women more effeminate?

Were the conservative right concerned that LGBT servicemen could not control their urges? Who knows, but this assertion in itself is highly offensive. What on earth would make a gay man more likely to grope a colleague over a straight man doing the same to a female? The answer is, of course, nothing.

Whether we willingly accept it or not the USA are the leaders of the 'free world'. Their economic and military might are unparalleled and this civil rights anomaly was an indictment upon them.

President Obama has been criticised from all directions over many of his actions, however, undoubtedly in this one area alone he has elevated his position significantly as the protector of equal rights.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Hardship...you haven't seen nothing yet!

When the Tory / Lib-Dem government announced it's austerity measures a few weeks back we knew there were going to be tough times ahead for ordinary working and middle class people.

Are you ready for the rollercoaster to start?

In a front page article today The Guardian has revealed that by 31 March next year (only 4 months away) the public sector will have made 100,000 job cuts.

Now, let us put to one side for a moment how each of those redundancies are going to affect ordinary families where the breadwinner gets their P45, although the impact on them will be dire.

Let us instead concentrate on the majority who will be affected by these cuts, the general public.

Those of a right wing disposition will tell you that there is enormous waste in the public sector. Whilst I accept there is some the simple fact remains that for 10 years the previous Labour government have been striving to implement 'cashable' efficiencies to reduce the cost of public services.

Can anyone really believe therefore that there are 100,000 non-jobs in the public sector?

No!

As a result of these cuts we are going to see front line services used by all of us deteriorate and our quality of life be eroded.

We will see less police officers in our community, poorer education outcomes for our children, reductions in the operations offered by hospitals and cuts to council services.

Everyone in our communities will be affected.

And this isn't the end of it....

On 1st January we will see VAT increase to 20%. Everyone of us will be paying more tax on goods but because it is the same rate for everyone those with restricted incomes will be worse affected than the well off.

How fair is that?

The most excluded in our society will have massively diminished access to services and have to pay much more for that privilege.

The most galling thing about this whole situation is that it was not inevtiable but is purely ideological on the part of our government. Yes, a Labour government would have had to have made cuts - but on a much more progressive scale.

What we are seeing is Tories and Lib-Dems protecting themselves and their rich businessmen friends whilst the rest of us can face the troubles ahead alone.

A wise man once said that a society is measured on how it treats its weakest individuals. If that is the case the society that our new government is delivering isn't 'big' it's deplorable!

Monday, 13 December 2010

An open letter regarding Green Wedge Development from Labour Group Leader, Cllr. John Legrys

The text below is an open letter issued by NWLDC Labour Group Leader, Councillor John Legrys:

Whitwick/Thringstone Green Wedge
The housing developer William Davis with landowner Perks have submitted a Planning Application for approximately 1,500 new homes on Green Wedge land between Hall Lane Whitwick and the A511 Stephenson Way. This suggested new community is known as Stephenson Green.
Back in the 1990’s the NWLDC Labour Administration earmarked land between Whitwick/Thringstone, Swannington and Coalville as ‘Green Wedge’ to ensure that there was a ‘green lung’ within the urban area and to keep the communities with clear sustainable identities. The then Government accepted the principle of the ‘Green Wedge’ as part of the Local Plan regulations – and these regulations continue in force today.
In 2007 the NWLDC Conservative administration reversed years of community protection under Labour and drafted plans that identified the urban Green Wedge as suitable land for housing development. Following strong vocal objection to the idea that the Green Wedge should be built on the NWLDC Administration ‘U Turned’ on the draft plans and withdrew support from the idea.
The Tories’ retreat has left a breach in the community’s defences. Their aimless draft plans are on the records, a statement in writing that developers will be able to use as ammunition in any appeals against planning refusals.
They now hope the new Government will send them a long ladder to get them out of the political pit they have dug for themselves. This long ladder is the ‘Localism Bill’ – which starts the Parliamentary process on Monday 13th December.
 Waiting for the protection of the ‘Localism Bill’ is not an option as it will take at least 18 months to process through Parliament. Developers will want the appeal process out of the way before the new Act comes into force.
I am angry that the Administration did not consult the community before drafting plans. Not only have these draft plans gifted the developers they have antagonised communities.
We accept that we need more homes in the Coalville area, but communities need to be engaged in how we plan for our children and families’ needs before putting pen to paper.
Planning Law will prevent my Labour colleagues, Derek Howe and Dave Everritt who sit on the Planning Committee, from voicing an opinion, but I along with Ray Woodward and Felix Fenning will be opposing this and any other application to build on the Green Wedge”.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Is this the answer to where the 'secretive' BNP conference is being held?

The BNP are holding their annual conference at a secret Leicestershire venue (according to the BBC news report).

And by a process of elimination I reckon I know where it is being held...

Take a look at the link below:

BBC News Report - BNP Annual Conference

Did you notice the distinctive pointed roofline of the conference centre venue?

Now take a look at the picture below:



So where is this hotel?

It's The Best Western Leicester Stage Hotel in Wigston Fields, Leicester.

Now, I could be completely wrong and this may not be the venue of the BNP Annual Conference, but they do appear to be the same venue don't they?

Unless The Stage Hotel can confirm that they are not the venue for this extreme right wing party hotel I for one know that in the future I won't be taking my business to this or any other Best Western venue.

Your views, as always, are welcome.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The 'Battle for the Green Wedge' has entered a new phase (is it the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?)

Over the past few years the has been much talk about the development of a tract of land which forms a natural green border between the villages of Whitwick, Swannington and Thringstone and the town of Coalville.

The land has come to be known as The Green Wedge and organised objection to any development has become the focal point of the Whitwick Action Group, a body with a substantial membership who were established to campaign in particular on this issue.

During those years locals have known that it would be likely that at some point a formal planning application for housing development would be forthcoming. At last that time is here and for WAG and other interested residents the campaigning must now become even more vociferous.

Yesterday, 9 December 2010, an application was made to North West Leicestershire District Council to build 1,500 homes on the land.

Now, I have not yet seen that application (and to my knowledge it is not yet in the public domain) but it is indisputable that if approved the Green Wedge will be destroyed and the individual communities of Thringstone, Swannington and Whitwick in particular will be absorbed into the Coalville urban core and will lose their sense of identity forever.

This should not be allowed to happen and the reason is this.

Opposition to development is nothing to do with being a NIMBY, and yes, within the district new housing is needed. However, those three villages have long histories going back to the middle ages and therefore my question is do we really want to be the last generation to know them as historic villages instead of being a forgotten part of urban sprawl? Each village has a sense of community and residents justifiably fear that this will be lost if major development takes place.

At the next district council elections I hope to be standing as a Labour candidate for Thringstone. Whilst I cannot begin to presume to speak for the party as a whole what I can say is this:

I will do everything within my power to object against the development of The Green Wedge, and I mean that sincerely - not in a Liberal Democrat kind of way!

Now, I am sure over the coming months the rhetoric is going to increase from some local councillors about how they will object to development (probably directly correlating to the pressure emanating from residents). Some councillors may even make a point that they are the only ones objecting to development.

It is important that local residents know and bear in mind this single fact when it comes to next years elections.

Councillors are free to express their opinion and even campaign on this (usually in accordance with their party grouping), however, Councillors who serve on the planning committee are obligated to keep an open mind until a decision is made.

In the run up to the election residents of Whitwick in particular should remember that two of their councillors are on that planning committee and therefore cannot make comments about whether development should take place otherwise they cannot be part of the decision making process.

Whitwick people need to remember that not all candidates at the elections will be on the same level playing field when it comes to campaigning.

The Whitwick Action Group has done a great job and now is the time for local people to unite and object to this unwanted development.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

You Learn Something Every Day

There is an old maxim that you learn something new every day and it certainly is true.

In the past week different people have told me about two men who lived in Coalville within the past 125 years, of whom I knew nothing, and both of whom in their ways were very much heroes.

Thomas Elsdon Ashford

As I was sat talking to a colleague a few days ago he asked me if I knew that a man who had won the Victoria Cross was buried in Whitwick. I said that I did not and my colleague began to tell me about Thomas Ashford:

Ashford was born in Suffolk and when he was old enough went to join the Royal Fusiliers. Whilst with that regiment he was posted to Afghanistan where in 1880 following an incident near Kandahar he was cited for conspicuous gallantry alongside a Lieutenant Chase

'in having rescued and carried for a distance of over 200 yards, under the fire of the enemy, a wounded soldier, Private Massey, of the Royal Fusiliers, who had taken shelter in a blockhouse. Several times they were compelled to rest, but they persevered in bringing him to a place of safety'.

After he left the Army Ashford went on to become a postman, lived in Thringstone, marrying a local girl Betty Ann Sisson.

When he died in 1913 thousands attended his funeral in Whitwick Church.

George Smith

Another colleague a few days ago told me about a man named George Smith, again someone I had never heard of but who I have since read about and came to understand his contribution to society:

Smith was born in 1831 in Tunstall, Staffordshire and from the age of 9 he began working in the potteries brickfields. At the same time as working 13 hours a day the young Smith received some education and through hard work he became the manager of a brickworks.

In 1857, by which time he was living in Coalville, Smith had discovered large seams of clay in the town and a brickworks had sprung up.

However, Smith could not condone and would not use child labour in the brickworks and began campaigning for a change in the law.

By 1871 Smith had managed to interest two parliamentarians to his cause, the Earl of Shaftesbury and A.J. Mundella and eventually with their support legislation was introduced which would ultimately lead to the banning of child labour.

Smith, a Methodist Sunday School teacher, who by this stage had been dismissed by his employers was living in extreme poverty but continued to fight for childrens rights ultimately being a fundamental contributor to further legislation protecting children living on canal boats.

Smith died in poverty in 1895 in Northamptonshire.

So, I sit here today typing with a tear in my eye at the memory of these two great men and I want to raise three points.

1. Today in Coalville George Smith will finally be getting some of the recognition he deserves when a blue heritage plaque will be unveiled in his memory on the newly named George Smith Drive off London Road. Please take the time to go and view it along with Thomas Ashford's gravestone in Whitwick.

2. There are many people, often unknown to us, who in the past have done remarkable things. Please do not let their contribution to history die. The internet is a terrific resource for recording information but in reality their efforts can only truly be passed by telling our children and grandchildren about these great people.

3. Thomas Ashford and George Smith were ordinary men who did amazing things. There is a potential for anyone to do such acts of courage and bravery but how many of us do?

Edmund Burke said 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing'. Ashford and Smith were good men who did not look on doing nothing and as such they are an example to us all.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The NWLDC Tories waste £40,000 of taxpayers money (again?)

Today North West Leicestershire District Council announced that they would 'Secure Future Management of Leisure Centres' in the district. To put it mildly this is possibly the most hogwash ever coming out of our local Council Offices.

In a comprehensive about turn today the Tories said that they would be 'ruling out private sector management', in other words privatisation.

Let us not make any bones about this for the past several months the Tory administration have been going through an exploratory, but nevertheless formal, process of talking to private sector suppliers with the view of privatising management of our council-owned leisure centres.

The Tories, along with their counterpart groups at Charnwood and Melton, may argue that this was simply a 'market-testing' exercise.  But we should be clear that the intention throughout was the ideological outsourcing of our community owned facilities.

Why do I say that this was the case? The answer my friends is simple.

In a report on 31 August the Cabinet approved a very detailed timetable and evaluation criteria which would lead to privatisation. This isn't the actions of a body who are simply 'dipping their toe'.

What is worse in that report it was revealed that £41,350 had already been committed in this folly and that officers were requesting a further £10,000 be added to the pre-approved budget of £50,000 to allow the process to be completed on time.

And what has been the outcome of this process?

If you accept the press release issued by Councillor Pendleton it is because 'we have succeeded in delivering on a number of savings targets...'

Now I wouldn't want to call this statement into question, however, is you look at the previously approved timetable you will see what should have been happening now was 'pre-submission meetings'. I have been party to processes such as this and the only thing, I would suggest, which would have stopped this process would be private sector companies stating that they were not interested in moving forward with the formal exercise.

I would add that there is only one reason that those self same companies don't want to move forward and that is because there isn't any money to be made! And the reason for that is because our Leisure Centres have been well run historically by both officers and members!

Now I am at the end of this tirade I have two points to make.

My first point is ideological and needs to be set out in capitals for emphasis. THE PRIVATE SECTOR ISN'T A PANACEA AND THE PUBLIC SECTOR CAN DO THINGS WELL.

Over the past ten years under both Labour and now Tory governments the entire public sector has been striving to rid itself of inefficiencies. Why on earth does anyone think that the private sector will simply step in and find huge amounts of savings?

In simple terms if at present we are paying for efficient services all privatisation will mean is that we are paying for those same efficient services AND shareholder profits!

My second point is much more local. When is this Tory administration at our district council going to stop wasting money on ridiculous cost cutting plans?

If we accept that no more money has been spent since that August report (and incidentally I would be astonished if that was the case) our cash strapped council has wasted over £40,000 on this exercise.

That would be bad enough but this isn't a one off incident.

You may recall that as recently as 21 September the Cabinet resolved that they would no longer pursue their preferred option of moving to a site at Stephenson College after an extended investigation. Once again that process wouldn't have been cheap, although the cost is not particularly easy to determine because as I write this supporting reports are missing from the councils minutes website.

How many times is our council going to waste taxpayer money on money saving initiatives?

Let's hope that this administration is voted out before any more!