Friday, 30 December 2011

A look back at 2011 - and look forward to 2012

It is 4.00pm on Friday 30 December and for the last time this year I sit down to write my blog.

It's been a big year for me personally having been elected as District Councillor for Thringstone and Parish Councillor for Whitwick and not least as Leader of the Labour Group on North West Leicestershire District Council but it has, far more importantly, been a very difficult year for the residents of the district.

As I look back to the start of 2011 I think about how tough it has got economically for many families. Nationally our government has continued to introduce initiatives, such as the increase to VAT, which have affected the working family far more disproportionately than the well off and locally residents and businesses have suffered.

Of course, in May, I was disappointed that Labour did not take control of our district council but in hindsight I am delighted to say that increasing our number of seats from 5 to 16 vindicated our message of a realistic alternative by connecting with local people significantly more than many other parts of the region.

I feel very honoured that across the district huge numbers of voters chose to place their trust in Labour once more. Thank you, I hope we have not failed you.

Since May Labour has focused with renewed vigour in holding the Conservative administration to account.

We have continued to highlight the continued profligacy and wastefulness of the Whitwick Road Tories (£10,000 on new signs anyone? or, a million on consultants?) whilst at the same time showing just how out of touch the Leader and Cabinet really are with ordinary people with their flip-flopping on parking charges.

A personal highlight for me was how Nick Clarke led our campaign against parking charges with the result that I firmly believe  local people recognise that it was Labour who were instrumental in forcing the turnaround from the administration.

I am also delighted that all parties worked together to seek to preserve the Green Wedge through the emerging Core Strategy. There have been significant strides forward but the battle is not yet definitively won.

But there have also been disappointments.

I am disappointed at the lack of movement in improving Coalville.

I am disappointed at the plans for leisure centres (improving public health is a service not just a profit and loss sheet) .

I am disappointed that the administration failed to support our proposals for the adoption QEII Fields Challenge.

I am disappointed by the Tory plans for community grants,

and not least I am disappointed by how the current administration has sought to silence opposition by all but eradicating scrutiny and now refusing to let Labour councillors speak at meetings.

It is my fervent hope that in 2012 all parties will work together for the better good of the district.

We will be faced with many challenges such as museums, major planning applications and for the slightly nerdy amongst us - potential governance changes.

But in particular, I believe, we must have two main objectives of delivering meaningful regeneration of our town centres and villages (bringing jobs to the district) and doing whatever we can to mitigate the effects of a fast deteriorating economy on local people.

It is my fear that what we will see is the rich continuing to protect the rich and beggar all else.

I can reassure every reader of this blog that 2012 will see me doing all that I possibly can to bring positive change to every resident of this district who is feeling the pinch in these dark times.

I want Labour to support people through tough times and work with them in delivering better ones.

Have a Happy New Year and I fervently hope a better 2012 than 2011.



Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Christmas Message

I sit and type this on Christmas Eve morning with a cup of strong coffee, Taylors of Harrogate Christmas Blend if you are interested (it's very nice), and I contemplate the upcoming horrors of the 'food shop'.

We haven't yet even begun to contemplate the Christmas Dinner. What meat to have? What about veg? Don't forget the crackers!

You could argue that this is last minute but my argument is that it would have been done earlier, however yesterday was lost to buying the presents!

It's been hectic over the past few weeks. Clare has been snowed under at school, I'm busy trying to balance work, school governor and council business AND it seems like there have been more Christmas shows from the kids than ever before.

Now though we have the time to get properly ready for Christmas and the spirit and peace is coming down on me.

Truth be told I haven't given Christmas much thought over the past few weeks and certainly haven't prepared (the Christmas tree only went up on Monday). Christmas isn't going to be the Kinkade perfection you see in those dreadful oil paintings but it doesn't matter.

Christmas is a time for just being. Being with family. Being with friends and loved ones. Being happy.

I truly hope you are more prepared than I, but whether you are or not, I hope that you take the time to be.

Have a wonderful Christmas.

Leon



Tuesday, 13 December 2011

NWLDC Conservatives backtrack on parking charges

Earlier this evening North West Leicestershire District Council held its monthly Cabinet meeting.

The only agenda item which was of any interest to the vast majority of local people was Councillor Nick Rushton's report on 'Facing the Financial Challenge', particularly the section which was proposing the introduction of parking charges in Ibstock, Measham and Castle Donington and confirming previously proposed  increased charges in Coalville and Ashby.

But instead of confirming the contents of the report we were in for a shock.

Presenting the report Councillor Alison Smith (Nick had rightly declared a personal and prejudicial interest in the matter) announced that the administration had decided to drop the proposals against increased charges (which Cabinet had approved of just two months ago) and against extending chargeable locations (which the Portfolio Holder had presumably approved of just two weeks ago).

Now first of all I am delighted that the Tories have seen sense.

In the present economy increased charges were wrong for hard-pressed families and would have been potentially fatal for struggling local businesses.

But the question must be why backtrack now?

The answer, I believe, is simple.

Labour listened to the concerns of local businesses and families and mobilised a community based campaign against these ill-judged proposals.

Our spokesman for Business and Economic Regeneration, Nick Clarke, launched a petition which in just a few short weeks had gathered over 1000 signatures and was on course to gain at least three times that figure by the time of the February budget meeting.

Huge numbers of local people were rightly angry and Labour had given a voice to that anger.

The only responsible action for the Conservatives to take was to backtrack and I applaud them for realising in time that they had made a serious mistake.

The purpose of any opposition is to listen to and represent the often silent majority and we will continue to strive to do this over the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Cameron's NHS plans will cost £36 million in Leicestershire

MEDIA RELEASE
Labour has today revealed the hidden cost of the Government’s wasteful NHS reorganisation in Leicestershire. New guidelines will force the local NHS to put aside £36,006,147  from their budget this year and next to pay for a costly NHS restructure that David Cameron repeatedly ruled out.
Leon Spence, Leader of North West Leicestershire Labour Group said:
" These shocking new figures show the Government’s reorganisation is costing the NHS even more than we first feared. It is scandalous that they are telling our local NHS to hold back millions of pounds for their own reckless plans whilst thousands of nursing jobs are being axed.
"Leicestershire County and Rutland PCT has already seen a 65% increase in the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment since Cameron became Prime Minister.
“Before his plans are even fully through Parliament, David Cameron's reorganisation is hitting the NHS hard and costs are now topping £3.4bn across the country for the first time. Spending this amount on an unnecessary reorganisation is totally unjustifiable when every single penny should be focused on maintaining standards of care.
“At the election Cameron ruled out top-down NHS reorganisations. But only weeks after entering Number 10, he ripped up his own words and ordered the biggest and most dangerous upheaval of the NHS since it began.
The financial request is buried in the Government’s new NHS 'Operating Framework' document and takes the nationwide cost of the NHS reorganisation above previous estimates of £2-3bn, with Primary Care Trusts now holding back £3.44bn over two years.
Last Thursday evening leading doctors from the British Medical Association voted to call for an immediate halt to the Government’s costly and controversial Health Bill.
Leon Spence added:
The people of Leicestershire did not vote for it and our doctors, nurses and patients have already expressed huge concerns at the plans. Yet Cameron is ploughing on with his Health Bill, ignoring public and professional opinion. The time has come for him to listen, put the NHS first and drop his dangerous Bill.”
Labour is running a major national drive to unite the country in a call on the Government to drop its unwanted Health Bill and people are being urged to add their name to the Government online petition by Dr Kailash Chand at epetitions.direct.gov.uk.