Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Government of Dilettantes?

Margaret Thatcher was a Prime Minister who evoked emotion.

Looking back on her in her pomp noone was apathetic about her. She was either a heroine or something akin to Satan - it's fair to say everyone had a view.

It would probably surprise very few to know that (and I will put this mildly) I wasn't a very big fan.

Now as much as I disliked Mrs Thatcher there is no doubt you knew where you stood with her.

Remember the famous line 'the lady isn't for turning'?

All I can say is that it is a good job she hasn't passed away because if she had she would be spinning furiously right now.

Have we ever seen a government which takes U-turns with such regularity?

Today it's the anouncement that the government are reversing their plans to reduce prison tariffs where the accused pleads 'guilty' at an early stage in the trial process.

Below we see a list of just some of the most notable about-faces this government have taken in only a year of being in power:

  • School sports partnerships
  • Forestry commission sell-off
  • NHS reform
  • Cancelling free school milk
  • Gaol for those caught carrying knifes
  • Danny Alexanders 'no negotiation' ultimatum
  • Prison sentence reform
Of course, what you will be told is that the government have listened and made adult decisions.

It's not a simple as that. Any responsible government should do the listening before going off half-cocked with ill thought out policies which cause distress and consternation to the general public.

We haven't got a listening government, what we have is a bunch of dilettantes...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

A summer of discontent?

Every time I turn on the news or open a newspaper I see that one union or another is balloting its members about strike action.

Let's be clear that a strike, particularly in the public service, is never something which should be entered into lightly.

A strike which directly affects the lives of countless people throughout the country through the suspension of public services should always be a last resort.

It is also true that in these dark economic times the vast majority of workers, whether in the public, private or third sector have experienced job losses, at best no increase to wages and being constantly asked to do more by their employers.

However, surely there must come a time when any worker must say 'enough is enough'.

Workers in the public sector have been placed under exactly the same strains as those in the private sector. They have seen large scale redundancies, constant extra duties and yes, increases to pension contributions.

It should be the right of every working person to be a union member and to use the collective power of the workforce to take industrial action for their benefit.

Incidentally it is also the right of employers to dismiss striking workers but lets face it to do so would be ruinous to any business.

Many observers question the wisdom of unions taking action on 'gold-plated' pensions typically highlighting that final salary schemes have long since been closed in other sectors.

Whilst public sector pensions are some of the best schemes around we should understand that for many contributions have significantly increased, benefits have been reduced and previously advantageous age limits phased out.

To put the matter simply a very large number of public sector workers feel that they have been the target of a government, prone to u-turns and errors, making nothing more than a ideological stand for too long.

It is very easy for a government to point at 'inefficiencies' in the public sector but we must remember how 18 years of Tory government left our public services.

Health professionals were leaving the NHS in their droves, schools were falling down and initiatives such as Compulsory Competitive Tendering were based entirely on cost and not delivering a service that was worth anything to anyone.

Is this something we want to return to?

We must remember that the vast majority of public employees are hard working and dedicated people who do not take strike action lightly.

Yes, the rhetoric is being stepped up by the Unions but when Government ministers are stating that their cuts are 'take it or leave it' there is no wonder that strikes are being called for.

And if these cuts are enforced without defending the rights of employees then what terms and conditions will be unilaterally withdrawn next?

Strikes are a last resort and let us hope that both parties (the unions and government) can negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement but if discussions stall I for one will be supportive of any workers right to strike.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Fox site developments approved

Last night the Planning Committee at North West Leicestershire District Council considered an application to demolish The Fox public house in Thringstone and in its place develop a care home for elderly people.

This application has been on the books at the council for some time.

In fact the application was first made in 2008, however, local people (and neighbours in particular) raised some serious and real concerns about many aspects of the proposals, not least regarding sewerage, parking, local wildlife and the general look and overbearing nature of the building.

After three years the developers have listened to these objections and come back with a much better solution that addresses each of the pertinent issues. This in itself is a great example of the real power that neighbours have when they raise their objections to unacceptable development proposals.

Last night I spoke in favour of the application at the planning committee. Whilst I understand that some local people still have a few reservations I am encouraged that the use of planning conditions (numbering around 30) in the application will ensure that the worst worries will be averted.

I am pleased to say that the application was passed subject to those planning conditions.

The construction of the care home will not only remove an eyesore, which is regularly subject to vandalism, from our village but in the long run will bring around 70 jobs to Thringstone and will prove to be a boost to local suppliers.

I hope that the care home will prove to be a real boost to our community.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Leaders week - preparation for cabinet and council

As Leader of the Labour Group I have previously said that I would post regular personal blog entries outlining what I have been up to in my role.

This week has mostly seen preparations begin for the next council cycle of cabinet and full council.
  • I have received a briefing from the Monitoring Officer on various constitutional and process issues.
  • Along with our Shadow Cabinet member for Housing and Customer Services I have received a briefing from the Director of Services.
  • I have undertaken consultation and preparations to formally respond to outline terms of reference for Policy Development Group.
  • Begun preparations for submitting pertinent member questions to full council.
  • Arranged with the Chief Executive assistance with promoting surgeries (on a non-political basis for all members) should councillors wish to undertake them. I should add that surgeries have historically had different levels of effectiveness in different areas and some councillors conduct other effective methods of conducting casework with their constituents and therefore surgeries are not always pertinent, however, where they are it is fantastic that we will receive support in promoting them.
  • Arranged to speak at planning committee in respect of proposed development at The Fox site, Thringstone. It should be noted that on this issue I will be speaking as a ward member and not as group leader. It is my intention to speak in favour of the proposed developments whilst supporting sufficient planning conditions to ensure that neighbours are not detrimentally affected throughout the construction and operational phases.
In addition to the actions outlined above as Leader of the Labour Group I have also been asked to provide comment by local media in respect of the election petition recently made against Council Leader, Cllr Richard Blunt. I have released the comment below on this matter which I think is self explanatory:

'An election petition is a private matter between the petitioner and respondent. The Labour group will await the outcome with interest but will not be making further comments on how this petition may affect Cllr Blunt's membership of North West Leicestershire District or Leicestershire County Councils.'
All in all it's been another busy week but hopefully we have started to make small but significant steps to being an effective opposition for the benefit of our community.

A community day bringing back memories of how things used to be

Yesterday we had a fantastic day out at the Thringstone House Centenary Celebrations and Scarecrow Festival.

The turnout from the local community (and further afield) was amazing with apparently everyone getting involved in the many activities which were organised around the village.

Being born and growing up in Thringstone I remember days like this at the village fetes as a kid.

It was great to talk to so many familiar faces, all of us reminiscing about those times and hoping that the Community Centre can work through its current difficulties to face a bright future of delivering another hundred years of such celebrations.

Some photographs of the day are posted below:

(Special thanks are given to Holy Cross School, Whitwick for the loan of Harry Potters tie!)