Monday, 28 February 2011

Major hazard to pedestrians on Talbot Lane, Thringstone

Earlier today I went with my Labour colleagues Ray Woodward and Dave Everitt to meet some of the residents of Talbot Lane, Thringstone.

Those self same residents, and others, are blighted every day by a major road safety hazard.

You see, for approximately 400 yards there is absolutely no footpath on either side of this very busy and fast road.

To their credit Leicestershire County Council have taken some steps to alleviate the problem by installing raised cushions and road narrowing techniques along the road however, a significant proportion of motorists continue to ignore these measures putting pedestrians at risk.

Clearly there isn't enough room for a wide expanse of footpath alongside the road, however, a narrow single track pavement could be installed which would dramatically improve safety for those out walking.

I, along with my Labour colleagues, call on our local County Councillor Tony Gillard (Conservative) to make representations at County Hall  to review this situation as a matter of urgency.

Talbot Lane, Thringstone

With local residents and Labour Colleagues

Friday, 25 February 2011

A wonderful irony in the Coalville Times

Has anyone read the wonderfully ironic story in this weeks Coalville Times entitled 'Councillor stripped of his seat'?

In the short article the Coalville Times explains that after failing to turn up at the district council for SIX MONTHS Measham Councillor Jason Summerfield has been kicked off the council.

Obviously the newspaper wanted to pad out the story a little so decided to get a quote - from guess who?

Yes, that's right, Measham County Councillor Geraint Jones! Cllr Jones said that he was 'very, very upset' by the decision and wished the district council would have taken Mr Summerfields personal circumstances into account.

Now, two points:

1. If Mr Summerfield is suffering from difficult personal circumstances this is sad, however he also has a position representing the people of Measham and for the past six months he hasn't been doing this. Regrettably, the Council made the right decision in taking the decision they did.

2. Isn't it wonderful that the person they go to for comment is Councillor Jones who is only just coming back from a three month suspension from the County Council himself for allegedly bullying  staff?

In his case the standards committee found that Cllr Jones had sworn at council workers and threatened to get them the sack when he confronted them at roadworks near his home, he was forced to attend a training course on 'behavioural' issues as well as writing a letter of apology in addition to his ban.

To put it bluntly for three months this winter two out of the three elected Tory representatives of Measham were not doing their job, and sadly for whatever the reason that just isn't good enough.

I wonder if either of them will be standing for the district council come May 5th?

Source: Coalville Times 24/02/11; Leicester Mercury 04/09/10.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Two tales of the public sector which should raise concern

The Tory-led government have made many tough but ideological decisions over the past few months.

Amongst the additional taxes and u-turns on policies the government have presided over no one can have failed to notice how the government has made sustained attacks on the public sector.

Two stories have been reported on today which relate to public services and highlight the many problems aligned to Mr Camerons plans and how they will affect us all.

This morning, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron told us that there needed to be a 'complete change' to boost standards and end the 'states monopoly' over public services. He explained that he planned that there should be a new 'presumption' that private companies, charities and voluntary groups could run public services.

Mr Cameron, I have news for you.

This isn't a complete change or even a new presumption - you're doing exactly the same thing that the Thatcher government did in the 1980's under Compulsary Competitive Tendering (CCT) and that was an unmitigated disaster.

Public services were delivered by private companies on a 'cheapest possible' model and in short everywhere those services failed and eventually cost significantly more putting right the wrongs when they were brought back in-house.

Anyone who worked under CCT witnessed how services suffered and how they improved post 1997, not just for the employees but more importantly for the customers.

The simple fact is that the first concern for private companies isn't to deliver high quality public services but to deliver profits to their shareholders. Whilst undoubtedly companies will derive new business from adhering to key contract performance indicators the focus will always be on doing the least possible to deliver the most profit.

At first sight this might appear perfectly acceptable, but as is always the case the slightest change in requirements (for example due to new legislation) will result in a change management procedure being activated and additional charges being accrued - quite the opposite of the current ethos of public services who take on board such change in their stride.

The second story is perhaps even more worrying.

The government have maintained that all of the public sector job losses currently taking place will eventually be compensated for through a growing private sector economy.

The only problem is that in a major survey conducted by Barclays Corporate and the Financial Times 57% of the 500 companies who responded said they were not interested in employing former public workers.

Undoubtedly therefore what we are going to see is greater (not fewer) numbers of skilled people who will become long term unemployed and as a result will not only draw increasingly on the welfare system but will not contribute to improving the economy.

Once again we see an ideological measure which is going to decimate hard working families and we are continuously faced with the question 'is this government seeking to improve our economy or simply make a political point?'

Sunday, 20 February 2011

You've probably missed Wisconsin...most people have.

Wisconsin is a pretty ambiguous state in the American mid-west, nestling near to the Canadian border, that you have probably never even thought about in a serious way.

To many Americans Wisconsin is a running joke. The only thing that the state is known about in the wider nation is Wisconsin is where they make cheese.

In other words to most Americans Wisconsin is 'the back of beyond'.

But, and you have probably missed this if you watch British news, there is a major news story developing right now in Wisconsin that on the face of it is funny but has various serious themes bubbling under the surface.

In last years elections Wisconsin returned a new Governor, Scott Walker (R) and a new majority Republican State Senate.

(If you are not aware each state has a similar governmental setup to the nation as a whole, ie. an executive who interprets laws and sets the budget, and a legislature who passes them. In the federal setup you have the President, in states you have Governors. In short because each state is in some ways a nation of its own the state Governor and Legislature have very significant powers.)

Governor Walker was elected on a platform (amongst other things) of union busting. One of his main pledges was to stop the rights of unions to undertake collective bargaining on behalf of their workers, and this is what is causing huge issues at the minute.

The simple fact is that in having a state senate who is predominantly republican Governor Walker has the necessary majority for his restrictive union laws to come into force.

The Democratic minority in the senate have very little power to prevent the law passing apart from one, for want of a better word, crazy option.

There are enough Democrat state senators to prevent the republicans from being quorate on their own. As a result if the democrats don't turn up in the senate laws cannot be passed!

As a result all of the democrats have gone into hiding, crossing the border into other states.

What makes things even stranger is that state legislation means that the police can arrest the senators and take them to the statehouse to fulfil their legislative role, although they can't cross borders and in any event many of the officers are fully behind the democrats on this one.

Their is a clear stalemate developing. The unions are outraged, the Governor won't budge (as he has been democratically elected), and the democrats won't go back to Wisconsin. In the meantime the legislature has had to stop work, for who know how long?

Now, like all things, there are similarities with how things are back home. Mrs Thatcher destroyed most of the rights of unions back in the '80s - and undoubtedly some of her restrictions were right (such as banning closed shops) whilst others were abhorrent - but right now thousands upon thousands of our public servants are losing their jobs with very little in the way of protection.

Hardly anyone in Britain would suggest the actions of the Wisconsin democrats are right or even sensible but there is no doubt that there is a significant groundswell of opinion seeking to protect public labour over there.

Isn't it a shame that in Britain we simply sit back and watch as dedicated public employees lose their jobs?

Why not google Wisconsin - this story isn't over yet!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Councillor attendance at meetings

Back In November in response to a BNP leaflet being delivered around Thringstone I blogged about the levels of allowance paid to various councillors.

In that blog I said that being a councillor is much more than just an attendance record and that is undoubtedly true. The role of a councillor is just as much about casework as it turning up at meetings, however, at the same time the attendance record should not be simply ignored.

In particular I have been looking at how often councillors turn up at the meetings they are supposed to and how many times they fail to do so. The results are pretty interesting.

In my previous blog on this subject I noted that on a simple calculation of average allowances paid Labour councillors do receive the highest payments. I also went on to explain fully the reasoning for that inasmuch as Labour with a relatively small group are also recognised as the official opposition and as such receive special responsibility payments under the member allowance scheme.

It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that Labour have by far the best attendance record at an average of 95% attendance at meetings.

Conservatives similarly have a decent attendance record of 83% albeit that their average figure is brought down by the poor attendance of a few specific members.

It's not until you consider the Lib Dem group that you get to quite awful attendance rates.

The three Lib Dem members of the council have a combined average attendance of just 67%, in other words between them they miss more than three out of ten of all the meetings they are supposed to attend.

As I don't feel it appropriate it at this time to name the attendance rates of specific councillors (although you can check them out on the NWLDC website) I have not included single party groups in this blog, although in fairness those 'groupings' do tend to have good records.

The statement on my November blog holds true you can't just take into account attendance rates, however, my question is this:

Can a councillor be representing their ward members if all they do is casework? If councillors have poor attendance records is it possible for them to be doing their job properly?

Of course, it's up to the voters to decide.

Your comments, as ever, as welcome.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Big Society - placing our communities in jeopardy

This week David Cameron has once again been outlining his views for 'the big society'.

I must confess that some of the premises of the initiative are very hard to disagree with. Anything which can help to foster stronger communities through encouraging people to take an active role is undoubtedly a good thing.

I love the idea that community groups can play a strong and active role in their towns and villages. In fact the Friends of Thringstone group, in which I am a member, is a perfect example of the big society in action - and I am very proud of the work they do within the village.

Where I have a big disagreement with the Tory-led government however is that the big society cannot be a replacement for comprehensive public services.

We are in the midst of the biggest government cuts since the end of the second world war and these are disproportionately affecting both local government and the third sector groups which they have traditionally funded.

In North West Leicestershire alone we are seeing massive reductions in funding to community charities which will rob the district of vital projects which directly benefit our towns and villages.

Long established village groups are being placed in jeopardy because vital funding to their infrastructure is being withdrawn without which they may well not be able to survive.

It is undoubtedly true that a successful charity and voluntary sector must work hand in hand with public and private bodies and not independent of them. Regrettably the Big Society agenda is at grave risk of doing exactly the opposite and this is putting local community groups at greater risk rather than making them stronger.

Community groups are reliant on funding to deliver their objectives, whether that be for example providing money advice or supporting local gardening clubs. We are living through a period where traditional funding sources are drying up whilst at the same time private sector sponsorship opportunities are becoming rarer and rarer as the economy once again contracts.

Our government has not ceased to tell us that we are all in these tough times together. It can't be further from the truth. The cuts to funding are affecting already impoverished areas more than affluent ones and one of the central reasons for this is the big society.

Wealthy villages with a history of supporting community groups will undoubtedly be hard affected. Socially excluded areas who, for better or worse, rely on services even more due to their particular difficulties will be decimated.

My grave concern is that in developing Big Society thinking the government is doing so much more to compartmentalise our community groups rather than integrate them which in itself could well mean many highly valued organisations do not survive even in the short term.

When the District Elections take place in May have a think about the above points, and then consider this fact.

Whilst the massive cuts are taking place in our community the Sunday Times reported today that Mr Cameron has approved the appointment of a new MEP (following a European Parliament reorganisation). There is no obligation for the appointment until the next EU elections but it is in Mr Camerons gift. As a result there is due to be a new Conservative MEP in the West Midlands at a cost of £1.2 million per year.

Are we all really in this together?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Which is more important - club or country?

Yet again FIFA President Sepp Blatter has been causing controversy on the age old question of which is more important in football, club or country?

Mr Blatter, head of the world game, has always been very forthright in his views that the international game is of paramount importance and that club football takes a comparative back seat.

Now I don't know anything about running the sport of football but I do think that Blatter is massively out of touch with the vast majority of regular supporters.

I have been going to see Leicester City with varying degrees of regularity for over twenty years. In that time I have never met a single fan who would rather see England get to the final of a championship over the Foxes winning the championship.

Simply put, to a football fan club always comes first.

How can we adore players in the national jersey that otherwise week in week out we heckle and jeer in the league?

Sure, we would all like our national team to be successful but first and foremost our hearts belong to OUR club.

Football is tribal. Most of us support our hometown clubs and we love seeing local lads progressing to the first team, young men who maybe stood on the terraces alongside us as kids.

There is nothing better than besting your local rivals. How could winning the European Championship ever compare to having bragging rights over your colleagues at work for half a season?

We love the hardworking professionals who spend years at our club learning to love it just as much as we do.

For a Leicester supporter given the choice of Steve Walsh or Joe Cole (or some other fancy dan) I have absolutely no doubt who we would take every time.

Every club is the same, they all have their heroes, and pretty much every fan shares the same priorities.

It's the same in our communities. What would most of us want? An engaging and vibrant place to live, work and bring our children up in, or a nation that is top of economic league tables?

I am certain I know the answer. Who wouldn't take a strong community over a comparative measure in relation to other countries?

Mr Blatter treats football as nothing more than a business wanting to access untapped markets rather than considering the views of real fans.

It's funny but Mr Blatter seems to share quite a lot with our government considering their views on decimating our communities whilst prioritising the need to cosy up to big business and bankers.

Sad isn't it?

Your comments, as ever, are welcome.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A lovely day in Grace Dieu woods

Today (as they used to say on the Fast Show) I have been mostly out walking in the woods around Thringstone.

I just thought I would take this opportunity to upload some of the photos I snapped.

Won't it be a shame if we all lose access to woodland such as this as a result of the Forestry Commission sell-off?

Friday, 4 February 2011

Please stop being so obliging Mr Bridgen (or is that Biggins)?

I admire our MP, Mr Bridgen, I really do.

I may not agree with his politics (to be fair I'm not sure if he has ever really expressed them) but in terms of being obliging he is second to none.

I like to think of Mr Bridgen as the Christopher Biggins of politics (I realise that this is somewhat of dangerous line for me to tread given that it could be said that I share a physical resemblance). But Mr Bridgen is just like Mr Biggins in that you get the feeling that both would probably turn up to the opening of the proverbial envelope.

Whilst I must confess that Mr Bridgen does seem an awfully nice chap (if you haven't met him just hang around a while, he is bound to turn up) I do have a problem with his approach.

You see Mr Bridgen is very obliging, and that can be a weakness. I have spoke with many people who have had chats or visits or e-mails from Mr Bridgen and they always come away with the impression that he agrees with them.

Even when the constituent asks Mr Bridgen to vote against his government in the commons they 'kind of' get an ambiguous answer.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if he just said that as a junior backbencher he will vote according to his three line whip and whilst he might have sympathy with the constituent that is how it has to be?

Of course, the latest thing that Mr Bridgen is being obliging about is the privatisation of our woods and forests.

I know of various people who have contacted him to express their justifiable concerns about the governments plans. People are more than worried that public land which has been available to both them and their ancestors for generations will be sold off into private hands to be lost to the public for ever.

Of course, the government say that they will protect public access but once the woodlands are sold who is going to ensure that? Are the police going to stop gates being erected to deter you and me from entering private land? (I doubt it when their numbers are reducing so dramatically)

The answer of course is that privatisation will be a retrograde step for generations to come and a measure which is opposed by vast numbers of our population.

Of course should you read one of Mr Bridgens standardised replies to the many e-mails he has received you will pick up on his obliging style, in fact you might even think he will be considering voting against his whip, but of course when the division bell in rung (unless I am very much mistaken) he will be in the government lobby.

Please Mr Bridgen stop trying to keep everyone on side and say how you are going to vote. Your electorate might not agree with you but at least they would respect you for being clear about your intentions.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Green Wedge Poll - The Results!

Just over a month ago now I started a poll on this blog to try and get peoples views on whether they think housing development should be allowed on the Green Wedge between Coalville and Whitwick (the notorious Stephensons Green development).

The poll has now closed and the results are not a surprise to me, or I venture to anyone else living around the affected area.

In short 40 people voted in the poll.

Of those 40, 10 people (25%) said 'Yes' building should be allowed. 1 person (3% rounded) said that they didn't know.  Whilst 29 people (72%) said, perhaps predictably, that 'No' building should not take place.

Now I would be the first to admit that a poll such as this is not representative - it is probably fair to say that most of my readers have similar views to me inasmuch as that I believe there shouldn't be development on the Green Wedge. Similarly the sample is relatively small, just 40 people.

However, on the other hand, the above 'problems' are perhaps good reason to take note of the poll.

Whilst I am proud of my 800 hits a month my blog is relative small fry and yet 40 people have taken the time and trouble to access it and vote to express their views. In the long run the poll means nothing to the planning application but people feel that they need to express their concern about the prospect of losing treasured green space.

Given this it could be argued strongly that there is a widespread feeling in the community that the vast majority of people are against development and that is definitely the reason why, if I am lucky enough to be elected in Thringstone ward on polling day, that I will be advocating strongly against granting planning permission for 'Stephensons Green'.