Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Energy Drinks - A Monster problem for our schoolchildren?

You will have seen them, every morning on our streets, children walking to school.

What you don't realise is that that walk is hiding a secret which is causing significant problems in our schools.

You see that walk for many of our children, some at primary school, are having a breakfast of energy drinks - many of which contain excessive amounts of caffeine.

It's a problem which for some time now doctors have been warning about.

Those large cans of energy drinks, such as Monster Energy, that we see our children drinking not only contain up to 270 calories a serving but also, perhaps more worringly, contain the same amount of caffeine as 14 normals cans of fizzy pop.

Doctors in America have warned that high caffeine energy drinks could be responsible for "seizures, mania, stroke and sudden death".

Our own Food Standards Agency say such drinks are "as safe as any other drinks for adults to consume in moderation".

And even the soft drinks industry are placing labels on cans stating that energy drinks are not suitable for children.

But regrettably children are drinking them and their effects are manifesting themselves in behaviour in schools across North West Leicestershire.

One local headteacher has confirmed that they believe children drinking these drinks is having a direct result in reducing concentration and increasing manic behaviour.

Indeed the same headteacher believes that it was excessive intake of these drinks that have caused at least one pupil to be suspended.

Many schools have banned children drinking energy drinks on site.

But the problem is that despite the evidence and the warnings shops are selling such drinks to children on their way to school.

Today I will be contacting council officers to ask them to investigate this growing problem and look into the possibility of a voluntary code of conduct for retailers to stop selling these drinks to our children.

I will keep you informed.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Leveson Inquiry

Lord Justice Leveson has published his report into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. His detailed and thorough inquiry was commissioned following the news in 2011 that Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked. It heard evidence from hundreds of witnesses including many victims of abuse by the press, like the parents of Madeleine McCann.

In his report Lord Justice Leveson has proposed a new genuinely independent regulator of the press, with effective powers to protect the victims of abuse. He gives the responsibility for establishing this system to the press, but calls for a new law to ensure that this new system meets minimum requirements.

The Labour Party supports the recommendations of the Leveson Report and believes they should be implemented swiftly.

On behalf of every decent British citizen who wants protection for people like the Dowlers. Who wants a truly free press. A press that can expose abuse of power without abusing its own. We must act."

If you agree with Labour and thousands of others from all walks of life you can sign the Hacked Off petition calling for full implementation of Leveson by clicking here.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Christmas is coming - but what do you do with the rubbish?

I absolutely love Christmas.

I love the decorations, the presents, the food, going to church and most importantly spending time with loved ones.

There is one thing I can't stand though.

The rubbish.

Every year there is wrapping paper, packaging, turkey carcasses and so much more.

Getting rid of all of the rubbish can be like some sort of major operation.

Seeing the garbage stacked up against the bin and stored in the garage one has to plan just in what order you are going to get rid of it (and that's before you have to think about how you are going to dispose of broken decorations).

The only light at the end of the tunnel, for me at least, is knowing there are at least going to be a couple of weeks after Christmas when the bin men will take away your large black bin.

Or there was, until this year.

I have just received my annual 'Waste Collection Calendar' from North West Leicestershire District Council.

The Calendar says:

'Christmas 2012 - We will suspend one of your garden waste collections in December / January. Every household will receive three consecutive refuse collections during this period only.'

So far, so good.

The only problem is however which garden waste collection has been suspended?

The bad news, if you live in Coalville at least, is the 19th December!

In other words after Christmas you will only get your normal bin collections this year (but an extra black bin collection a week before Christmas).

So my advice is get ready for plenty of trips to the tip...or make sure this year you open presents and have your Christmas dinner on Tuesday 18th December!

'Great' planning from the Conservative administration at Whitwick Road.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Rose and Crown update

This week I have been in contact with agents for the Cooperative regarding the progress of the redevelopment Rose and Crown site in Thringstone.

The developers had been planning to commence the redevelopment of the building in September but unfortunately in preparing for work to commence the presence of bats were found.

As you probably know bats are a protected species and as such mitigation measures have to be put in place which have to be agreed with Natural England, this clearly can take some weeks.

The developers are working hard to ensure that building work can commence soon and have assured me they hope to do so as soon as a bat licence is awarded.

Obviously I will keep you updated in the coming weeks.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The Rumble in the Air Conditioned Auditorium

As the US Presidential election draws nearer this weekend witnessed the big debate.

No, not Obama v Romney but the eagerly awaited meetup between Jon Stewart v Bill O'Reilly.

What you will see below (and I'm not sure how long the feed will stay up) is 92 minutes of humorous but still relevant debate between two of the most highly visible 'journalists' the US has to offer.


Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

It doesn't matter who you vote for (although I hope it's Labour's fantastic candidate, Sarah Russell) but please vote:

Friday, 5 October 2012

Schlegel go into administration

Today many families in Coalville are shocked and scared at the news that major local employer, Schlegel, have gone into administration.

After losing high value contracts 218 workers (out of a workforce of 334) have been made redundant.

Those employees, retained to fulfil deals with existing customers whilst a new buyer is sought, remain uncertain whether they will be paid in coming weeks.

Many of those families who are left wondering tonight how they will make ends meet live here in Coalville.

These redundancies are a significant blow to hard working families and to the local economy.

As we hear this Tory-lead government telling us that the economy is getting better the people of North West Leicestershire know the truth.

In less than a year we have seen massive job losses in every corner of the district.

In Castle Donington at BMI Baby.

In Ashby at Standard Soap.

Now in Coalville.

Every one resulting in hundreds of redundancies.

And as families fear for their future what are the Tory administration at North West Leicestershire doing to help?

The answer is simple - cutting the council tax benefit of working age families who are already suffering.

Scared local families need help and a reason to hope for the future.

What they are getting is a worsening economy governed by a party giving ideological taxcuts to the super rich whilst ordinary people continue to struggle.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

NWLDC should u-turn on boundary review urgently

Back in the dying days of the last administration, just two months before the May 2011 elections, the Tories at Whitwick Road (who then had an overwhelming majority) decided to pass a motion at council calling for the Local Government Boundary Commission to reorganise North West Leicestershire District Council into 'Single Member Wards'.

The Local Government Boundary Commission were not being asked to visit our corner of Leicestershire because there was a need for them to. In fact on the contrary according to the statutory criteria used by the commission there was no need to come to North West Leicestershire and realistically no prospect of such a need for several years more.

No, the reason the commission were requested to visit was based on a personal preference of the current Conservative leadership. A leadership that believes councillors will be shamed into working harder for their constituents if they are solely accountable to voters.

Whilst I do not disagree in principle with Single Member Wards I do believe the assessment of the Tory leadership is fundamentally wrong.

I believe, irrespective of political party, most councillors work hard for the people resident in their ward.

I believe that where there are currently two or more members in existing wards this is because those members represent larger, easily identifiable communities. We should never simply split a community because it is more expedient or fits an unneeded 'model'. Communities and village life are far too important for that

I believe that if a councillor doesn't pull their weight being elected in a Single Member Ward isn't any more likely to make them accountable but rather more likely to make their village or community effectively unrepresented.

I believe that this exercise to redraw boundary lines is superfluous and cowtowing to personal whim. I also believe that this is an exercise which is a colossal waste of money.

Various Local Government Boundary Commission sources have placed a cost to the taxpayer for this exercise in a range between £100,000 and £200,000.

That represents a huge amount for an exercise for which there is no legal need, and a huge amount for an exercise which even with significant cuts to council size will arguably not achieve payback within a period of 10 years, and that doesn't even start to look at how representation of local people will be affected.

I strongly believe, as did the previous Labour group at North West Leicestershire, that the process of local boundary review should be stopped until there is a statutory need to undertake it and even when there is such a need we shouldn't be looking automatically at single member wards which may well worsen representation and artificially split communities.

As the highly respected and two-time former Chair of the Council, Councillor Nigel Smith said at last weeks Council meeting 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

Nigel is right, our system isn't broken and there is no need for to implement an expensive and unneeded reorganisation based on a whim.

As a Council we should be going back to the Local Government Boundary Commission and asking them to suspend this exercise.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Bankers directly benefit from increases to the poorest families council tax

As David Cameron's Tory-lead government continues to press ahead with draconian changes to council tax benefit that will result in the poorest families having to pay hundreds of pounds more each year tonight I can reveal that bankers will continue to benefit from council tax exemptions potentially worth millions of pounds.

At the same time as the government are allowing authorities to increase council tax on empty and second homes they have refused to alter the exemption allowed on repossessed properties.

Whilst technically when a house is repossessed the bill stays in the name of the mortgagee in reality banks take control.

As long as a 'mortgagee is in possession' an exemption from council tax is awarded. In 2011 over 36,000 homes were repossessed in the UK potentially meaning millions of council tax went unbilled and unpaid by local authorities to the direct benefit of bankers.

It seems totally inequitable that whilst hard pressed families already living on the bread line are faced with massive tax increases an arguably immoral exemption continues to be given for the benefit of bankers whose own business ethics have rightly been questioned in recent years.

But what more do you expect of a government who gives £40,000 tax breaks to millionaires?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Child Poverty in the UK

For the first time in their history Save the Children are running a campaign to raise awareness and funds to battle child poverty in the UK.

The following video may be portrayed by actors but it represents a problem which is very real in both our big cities and in towns and villages in North West Leicestershire.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Whitwick Holy Cross Flower Festival 2012

Yesterday saw the opening of the Whitwick Holy Cross Flower Festival to commemorate 175 years of the parish.

Parishioners have been working tirelessly to produce a beautiful display.

The flower festival is open until tomorrow (Monday), why not pay a visit if you have a free hour or two?


Thursday, 6 September 2012

Can councils put their differences to one side to help protect Glenfield Children's Cardiac Surgery?

Over the past few months one issue above all others has resonated with people around Leicestershire (and further afield) of all backgrounds and political persuasions, that is the outrageous proposal to close the Children's Cardiac Surgery unit at Glenfield Hospital.

Over recent weeks, whilst experts have clearly stated that up to 50 children will lose their lives as a result of the measure, more than 64,000 people have signed an e-petition calling for the decision to be reversed.

Regrettably the then Health Secretary maintained a stance that closure would go ahead.

This week however those campaigning against the closure, of which I admit I am a relative latecomer, were dealt a glimmer of hope.

The appointment of a new Secretary of State for Health in the shape of Jeremy Hunt means that there is a real opportunity for Government to take a fresh look at the decision and hopefully listen to the views of local people.

On Tuesday 18th September North West Leicestershire District Council will gather for its next scheduled meeting.

I have taken the opportunity to table the following motion to Council:

I truly hope that local politicians of all parties can put partisan views to one side to stand united in calling for lifesaving common sense to prevail.

I would strongly urge all councils in Leicester and Leicestershire to consider a similar motion.

Together councillors of all parties can stand united with local people and maybe by putting our collective civic weight behind the call we can have a positive effect in Mr Hunt reconsidering.

Anyone wishing to sign the e-petition can do so by clicking HERE.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Andrew Bridgen compares himself to David Taylor - the evidence

This week our local MP, Andrew Bridgen, has been in the news for his earnings outside of parliament.

In an article entitled 'I give voters value says county 'rich list' MP' the Leicester Mercury reported yesterday that in addition to his Westminster salary of £65,738 plus expenses Andrew also earns a substantial £7,773 a month as non-executive chairman of his company, AB Produce.

In return for working six hours a month chairing meetings and 'taking a few phone calls' Andrew earns nearly £100,000 a year on top of his pay as an MP, putting him in the top 20 highest earners in parliament.

Now some may question, quite rightly I should add, how can Andrew possibly understand the lives of those residents in North West Leicestershire struggling to make ends meet?

I do not believe he possibly can but ultimately that is a matter for the electorate to decide and for now as long as Andrew pays the appropriate tax on his income, which I am sure he does, then he is doing nothing legally wrong.

Where I do have major problems with Andrew's interview comments however is when he goes on to compare himself favorably against North West Leicestershire's previous MP, the late David Taylor.

Andrew says of David:

'He has set the bar high but I have looked at David's casework load in his last year and I do more.'

Now I must be clear that David was a personal hero of mine, indeed my first contact with David was when he undertook some casework on behalf of my eldest son, and that makes Andrew's self comparison with him, to me at least, appear somewhat crass.

It's not only an ill-advised comment it also doesn't convey the full picture.

If Andrew really wants to compare his work with David, let's look at the wider issues.

  • According to in his last year David spoke in 231 parliamentary debates, in the last year Andrew has spoken in 85.
  • In his last year David received answers to 164 written questions. Andrew has received 41.
  • In his last year David voted in 87.69% of votes in parliament. Andrew has voted in 77.96%
  • In 2009, according to the staunchly conservative Sunday Telegraph, David was named in the top ten MP's for giving value to constituents*. Andrew has not been.
  • In 2007 David was voted 'Commons Backbencher of the Year' by his fellow MP's for his work as "an indefatigable campaigner, constant attender and independent–minded". I don't believe Andrew has been awarded this honour, perhaps he can let me know if I am mistaken.

Even Andrew's comment about doing more casework is open to scrutiny. According to one ex-parliamentary staffer I have spoken with an analysis or comparison of case work is somewhat difficult to undertake.

Because casework is not a matter of public record it is impossible to say that Andrew is comparing like with like.

For example a simple statistic relating to new caseload may not include long standing open cases or not reflect how, for example, a 100 signature petition is registered. Is it one piece of casework or 100?

I have no idea how history will eventually record Andrew's contribution to our community but I have no doubt that David Taylor was a man many many people in North West Leicestershire greatly admired and a man that most of us in public office can only aspire to emulate.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Is NWLDC call answering getting worse (again)?

Back in January Councillor Sean Sheahan, opposition portfolio holder for Housing and Customer Services, asked Councillor Roger Bayliss, the Tory lead member, about the efficiency of telephone answering at the council.

In his formal reply Councillor Bayliss had to concede that for 11 days between 21 November and 16 December call handling was so poor more than half of all calls went unanswered.

During the same period on 14 separate days less than half of calls to the customer services team were answered within 20 seconds. Indeed on 6 of those days less than 3% of calls were answered within 20 seconds!

Councillor Bayliss, the man responsible for Customer Services, at the time said he was implementing a raft of changes to call answering which would make the customer experience better.

Moving forward 7 months yesterday I twice needed to telephone an officer at the council for whom I didn't have a direct dial number. So I, like the vast majority of customers phoned the main switchboard number...

The first time I called from the point the call was answered (and when I entered the automatic queuing system) to when a real person spoke to took 8 minutes 41 seconds.

The second time, later in the day, I spent 6 minutes 53 seconds waiting.

That was 15 minutes of my monthly mobile allowance wasted.

If I had been using the standard BT tariff I would have spent £1.50 on those two calls BEFORE I EVEN SPOKE TO ANYONE! That's a lot of money to an elderly person or someon living on benefits and a waste of money to the rest of us.

So my question is this, is that sort of wait time normal?

Let me know your experiences by leaving a comment.

It sure as hell isn't good enough!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Green Wedge Saved

This morning Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, published his decision on the appeal and public inquiry of the Whitwick Green Wedge made by William Davis and Jelson Homes.

I am delighted to say that Mr Pickles, on the advice of the independent inspector, rejected the appeal and thereby preserved the historic open space.

The two developers had sought permission to build 1,500 homes on the Green Wedge as part of their masterplan to develop a community without a sense of community called 'Stephenson Green'.

But whilst the developers sought to override all involved the people of Whitwick mobilised.

Led by a small group of dedicated and passionate residents the Whitwick Action Group, or WAG as it became known, organised themselves with a single focus - to save the Green Wedge.

WAG drummed up support, organised poster campaigns, raised funds for expert consultants and perhaps most importantly became open space planning experts in their own right!

The work WAG have done has been instrumental in this success.

Whilst I am very proud to say that every local Labour politician, both district, parish and the late David Taylor, worked with WAG (as did those of other parties) - it is not any us that deserve plaudits today.

A huge well done must go to WAG and the people of Whitwick who fought tirelessly.

As a final step the developers now have 6 weeks to appeal Mr Pickles decision to the High Court, which they may well do, but for now local people and the WAG steering group in particular can celebrate and take a well earned rest.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Grace Dieu Rosary Rally 2012

Yesterday saw the 26th Annual Rosary Rally at Grace Dieu.

As usual I took my camera hoping to capture the atmosphere of a hot, sunny and wonderful day, I hope you enjoy the resulting photographs.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Performance slides at NWLDC

If you speak to any North West Leicestershire Tory councillor at some point you will be fed the line that Conservatives are able to continue to deliver highly effective services as they and their masters in Westminster cut and cut and cut.

Of course the truth is somewhat contrary to the Tory line a report out this week paints a very different picture of performance at NWLDC.

The quarterly performance management report for the first three months of financial year 2012/13, due to be considered by Cabinet on 21 August, shows that more 'Council Delivery Plan' indicators are failing to meet their target than at any time since this format of the report was introduced.

The report shows that around a third (11 out of 34) of key targets are being missed this compares to 5 at the same time last year.

Targets that have been missed include:
  • Falling short of predicted membership income at Hermitage and Hood Park Leisure Centres.
  • Missing recycling and composting targets.
  • Checking planning applications.
  • Failing to process Housing and Council Tax Benefit applications quickly enough.
  • Missing out on projected visitor numbers at Moira Furnace Museum.
  • Customers using the complaint process being increasingly disatisfied.
At the same time staff sickness absence is worsening being at it's highest level since the report began.

North West Leicestershire has some amazing staff who work tremendously hard to make the district a better place to live but the simple fact is they are swimming against the tide.

For all their talk of localism the Tory-lead coalition are hell-bent on decimating local government and the increase in failing to meet key targets is a clear example of the results.

If you want to read the report yourself you can do so by clicking here and clicking on agenda item 8 (although it does seem that link to the report is currently not working).

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Sunset over the Green Wedge?

In the coming days we expect a decision from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles on the future of the Whitwick Green Wedge.

As I walked the dog this evening I noticed this amazing sunset over the area where developers want to build Stephensons Green.

Let's hope that Mr Pickles listens to the voice of the people of Whitwick and doesn't consign this view to history.

Sunset over the Green Wedge

Sunday, 12 August 2012

London 2012 - Inspiring many generations

I can remember vividly where I was on 6th July 2005.
What better view could you have?
I was sat in a computer room with colleagues at South Derbyshire District Council doing some consultancy work whilst I had the text feed of the BBC website open in the background pressing refresh every few seconds to wait to see if London had been successful in winning the 2012 Olympic games.

Of course noone in the room that day expected that we would be successful. Paris had been so far ahead in the bidding process and everyone expected them to win, even if they had got embroiled in a gaffe about the quality of Scandanavian food only a few days earlier.

When the text feed eventually showed that London would be the hosts of the XXX Olympiad there was elation along with a smattering of incredulity from everyone in the room. Right there and then I was determined that my family and I would be there to experience this once in a lifetime event.

When ticket processes were announced like many many others I entered the ballot and like many many others I received nothing.

But like so many others I kept trying and eventually managed to get tickets for 4 events that I really didn't have a great deal of interest in just to be there. I was so lucky.

Over the past two weeks we have been very fortunate to see the eventual gold medal winners, Mexico, playing football at Coventry; to feel the roof raising atmosphere as Team GB put up a determined fight at womens volleyball at Earls Court; to experience the Olympic Park (and the sunburn) as Australia faced off against USA in the hockey; and yesterday to cap it all off standing at the barriers on The Mall to see elite athletes that will be forever in my adulation at the Mens 50K Race Walk.

These Olympics have been undoubtedly two of the best weeks of my life.

The thrill of experiencing some of the worlds best athletes live has been mirrored by watching on television those 'where were you' iconic moments on television.

Over the past two weeks the vast majority of people in this country, me included, have become proud to be British again.

Britain has delivered.

Our athletes have been world beating.

Our government (both Labour in winning and macro planning and the coalition in programme management) has facilitated.

And perhaps most importantly the people of Britain through volunteering as gamesmakers and in the years running up to 2012 at sports clubs up and down the country as coaches, or simply parents driving their kids to fixtures, have shown what we can do as a nation.

It makes me very proud to have been part of it.

But there is something which has bought a tear to my eye more than once which has made these two weeks so special and something which I fervently hope will be a legacy of these games.

I honestly believe over the past two weeks we have been nicer people.

Strangers are talking to one another on trains. We are helping mums with pushchairs up stairs. We seem to have regained our manners.

On the news this morning people are being asked what was their moment of the games.

Here's mine.

When I think back to when we won the games in 2005 I was also doing consultancy work in the London Borough of Newham. It wasn't a nice place to go, it was run down, it had high levels of crime, it had groups of disaffected young people walking the streets.

Last week as I got off the tube at West Ham station to walk to the Olympic park the regeneration of the area was self evident and I hope long lasting but so much more than that were those young people giving their time to direct, to assist and to high five. I'm not ashamed to say I cried.

Walking from that tube station I thought about the legacy of these games and how I truly hope there is a long lasting benefit.

But more than I thought about the phrase 'Inspire a Generation'. Those young people in Newham and many many more around Britain have certainly inspired mine.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Council Tax Benefit - Online Consultation

The Tory-lead Government are making changes to the way council tax benefit is calculated.

From April 2013 all councils have been told that the national benefit scheme will end and in its place local schemes for determination must be introduced.

In other words it will be up to local councils to decide who qualifies for council tax benefit (with certain exemptions, such as pensioners, who will continue to qualify for their current levels).

To make things more complicated historically the bill for council tax benefit has been paid for by central government, not out of the council's coffers.

Government have said however that from next April they will only pay to councils 90% of the current bill.

As a result it is inevitable that many people who currently receive council tax benefit will receive considerably less and consequently will have a much larger council tax bill to pay.

It is expected that many hardworking families who currently receive help will see their bill increase by up to 20% next year.

The poorest families are likely to see their bills increase the most.

NWLDC is still to finalise its scheme for benefit and is asking your views on who should be required to pay more or less.

An online consultation has been set up for you to air your views which can be accessed by clicking here.

Please take the time to complete the consultation.

It is sad but true that due to the actions of Tories and LibDems many many local families all around the district are going to suffer even more next April.

We must ensure we have the fairest scheme in to mitigate this harshest of cuts.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Rose and Crown update

I have been asked by a number of Thringstone residents when building work is likely to commence at the Rose and Crown to convert it into a Co-operative Store as planning permission was granted last February.

As a result I have been in contact with the agents for the Co-operative to ask for an update which I can share with all of you.

The agent has advised me that although planning permission was given in February the Section 106 agreement associated with the application has only just been completed.

For those that do not know a Section 106 agreement is predominantly about how much contribution a developer must make to necessary infrastructure improvements associated with their application.

However now all the T's have been crossed and I's dotted the Co-operative are eager to get started.

I have been informed that providing all goes to plan construction work at the site will start in September with the outer shell being completed by January 2013 and fit out completed by March 2013.

Obviously I will keep you updated if I become aware of any changes to this schedule.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A big day for Tesco, a terrible day for Coalville

Yesterday was a big day for Tesco in North West Leicestershire.

Say goodbye to 'artists impressions' and goodbye to Tesco Coalville

In Ashby Tesco held the formal opening of their 'Tesco Extra' extension, an effective doubling of the size of the store which will bring wider product offers for customers and more jobs for local people. I wish the new store the very best of success.

Over in Coalville however it was a very different story.

Tesco formally confirmed that they will not be coming to town, something we all expected but a great disappointment just the same.

I know that many local residents never wanted Tesco in the first place. The vast majority of people with whom I speak tell me very clearly that they preferred the rival ASDA planning application.

But the fact is that in granting Tesco planning permission the district council were saying 'yes' to a number of significant benefits.

Tesco promised Coalville not only their store but also a range of secondary units which would have been attractive to other larger national multiple retailers. Let's not forget that Tesco also offered the prospect of new, town centre homes - something I believe would have been a great benefit to Coalville.

Now all of those promises have gone and all we are left with is a semi-derelict bank of land on Hotel Street which I have no doubt that without immediate intervention by the authority will be allowed by Tesco to deteriorate even further.

North West Leicestershire District Council must work with Tesco to ensure their Hotel Street properties are developed and brought back into use as a matter of urgency. And if working with Tesco's doesn't work we should not be afraid to take enforcement action to make it so.

Regeneration of Coalville is my top priority and our district council has lessons to be learned out of this mess.

First and foremost, I believe, in our search for an anchor store in town we granted Tesco (and let us not forget the precinct owners, Threadneedle) planning permission and then left them alone to get on with it. That was a mistake.

Granting planning permission should only have been a first step with Tesco (and Threadneedle) as a district council we should have skills in place to nurse those developers through to completion of their builds. To help overcome obstacles and to remind them that there are real benefits in coming to Coalville.

Our Council must make economic regeneration more of a priority. We must get into place those skills necessary to assist developers in seeing major projects through to completion.

It's not just about saying there are real benefits however, it's also about proving it. Our Council must work more with local retailers and shoppers to plan what Coalville needs for the future.

That is why Labour will be seeking to make better links with local businesses over the coming weeks and months. That is why I am seeking to hold a meeting with Coalville retailers as a matter of urgency to see what a Labour Council could do for them. 

Bringing regeneration to Coalville is not an easy task but let us be honest the Conservative administration at Whitwick Road have had six years now to make inroads but we have only seen our town go backwards.

We must dare to think out of the box to work for the regeneration of Coalville. We must think about not only attracting national multiples, anchors and independents but we must question what can a changing Coalville actually support.

We must address our leisure and night time economy to get people coming in to town and not least we must make it attractive for local (and not so local) people to want to spend time here.

As we have seen the Tesco fiasco unravel we have come to realise that the Tories cannot be trusted to prioritise regeneration of Coalville high enough up the agenda.

Labour will work with the current administration in seeking regeneration but where they are not going far enough we will pressure them and go out searching for investment in our town.

The very last thing I want is for regeneration of Coalville to be an election issue in two years time, it's too important to wait that long. I fervently hope our Council will have taken signficiant steps to address Coalville's problems.

I fear however that left to Tory devices we will still be floundering and in an even worse position.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Terry and June

Earlier today, as I often do of a Saturday lunchtime, I took my children out to the nearby supermarket for a bite to eat.

As we sat waiting for our meal an elderly couple who likewise visit most weeks came in for their regular weekend treat.

For the purposes of this entry I shall call them Terry and June although obviously that isn't their real names.

I have known them since I was a child and now both well into their eighties Terry is still deeply in love with June and I am sure vice versa.

But unfortunately June is suffering from severe dementia. She no longer speaks and only ever shows fleeting glances of even recognising her own husband.

Terry has dedicated his life to looking after June since her illness began and he does so with a tenderness that has to be seen to be believed but the simple fact is he is finding it increasingly difficult to cope.
He still looks on his beloved wife with the same eyes as when he first saw her at a dance a lifetime ago.

His love now, as then, is unconditional.

As Terry's own health falters understandably he is becoming increasingly concerned about what will become of June.

The last thing that Terry wants is for June to go into a home - it would break his heart.
We are living in a society with an increasingly aging population. A society where Terry and June's story is becoming increasingly common.

Even if you don't know one now I am certain over the next few years you will encounter a Terry and June.

Over the next few years care for the elderly is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing our society.

How are we going to support the millions of people that will be in similar positions to Terry or June?

How do we let them live their lives together in dignity when frankly they can't afford the support necessary to provide for themselves?

There are no easy (or cheap) answers.

We must be radical in ackowledging and addressing this massive problem.

But face this problem we must, right now and with an urgency that suitably honours those mothers, fathers and grandparents to who we owe so much.

Young, elected and jobless

The following article, by Cllr Roxanne Ellis - a fantastic young councillor in Gedling, was first published in the LGA First Magazine on 5 July 2012.

It's a thought provoking insight into the challenges facing many people dedicated to serving their community but dealing with the practicalities of doing so in a worsening economy.

My thanks to Roxanne and LGA for allowing reproduction of the article.

Councillor Roxanne Ellis"Would you give up being a councillor to make yourself more available for work?"

I sat in the Jobcentre in shock, unable to believe what the clerk had just said, and mumbled something about resigning from a few committees.

Sounds extreme, doesn't it? However this is a situation many young councillors are facing.

Councillors have the attributes that employers say they want – teamworking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. However, responses to my call for young councillors to describe their experiences of job-seeking were overwhelmingly negative.

With rocketing unemployment, being in public service is seen as a hindrance. It is obvious after a few interviews that as soon as you mention the word councillor you aren't going to be considered. Common advice is: "Don't tell them until after you've been offered the job."

The LGA claims that "anyone can be a councillor" but when it comes to the young and unemployed this isn't true. The 2010 Councillor Census shows that the average age of councillors is 60 and that young people are under-represented.

No disrespect to our colleagues, but as young people are bearing the brunt of the recession, an unrepresentative local democracy adds to their disillusionment and disenfranchisement.

Most councillors receive their allowance on top of any other earnings. Unemployed councillors have it deducted from their benefits and are considered not to be available for work when doing their council duties. Unless you have someone willing to support you financially, it is virtually impossible to survive as an unemployed councillor.

I'm still looking for work but I don't know whether to stand for a second term. Not because I don't enjoy being a councillor, I really do, but because I can't afford to. At 24 I may be putting my future career prospects at risk by wanting to serve my community.

Acting on the advice of the LGA, I put in a complaint about being asked if I would be willing to give up being a councillor. A month later and I am still waiting for a reply.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A return to Thatchers Poll Tax?

Will benefit cuts have the same effects?
For anyone in their mid-thirties and over you will remember the poll tax. The tax that in many ways ended Thatchers reign as Prime Minister.

You will remember the mass refusals to pay.

You will remember the queues outside court buildings.

You will remember the riots.

Thatchers poll tax was massively unfair in many ways not least because it completely ignored the widely accepted maxim, held by the majority of the population, that those with the deepest pockets were expected to pay a larger proportion than those on the breadline.

Thatchers poll tax saw the the likes of the Duke of Westminster paying the same in tax as the poorest cleaner.

What made the system even more unfair was that everyone, irrespective of income, was expected to pay at least 20% of the tax.

The burden was simply too great for many to bear.

But now twenty years on we are moving back towards Thatchers greatest ignominy.

We have already seen the regard this Tory government, followed by the poodling LibDems, has for the poorest in our society.

We have seen the increases to VAT which massively disproportionately affects the poorest.

We have seen the cuts to top rate tax whilst 400 surestart centres have been forced to close their doors for good.

Now we ready ourselves for the harshest and most debilitating cut of them all.

Next April council tax benefit changes will come into force which means that local councils must adopt their own benefit system for the poorest residents of our districts.

At the same time the government has said they will cut their grant for benefit by 10%.

What this means is, with certain exceptions such as pensioners, the worst off are likely to see their council tax benefit cut by 20 to 25 per cent.

Next March hundreds of families here in North West Leicestershire who struggle to get by right now because of their low income are likely to receive council tax bills for hundreds of pounds or even more.

The inevitable consequence will be to cause greater poverty, to see more costly legal action being taken to try and recover debts that will never be paid and to see collection rates deteriorate.

At Cabinet tonight the Tory administration here at North West Leicestershire will start the process of determining the 'fairest' way to cut council tax benefit.

The Tory cabinet are hamstrung. I am sure they know just how badly local residents are going to be affected. How much they are going to hurt.

But the Tory cabinet are part of the self same Tory party that has devised these cruel new rules.

Once again this party of bankers, property developers and landowners have shown their chronic disregard for the hard working and low paid.

Over the coming months Labour will fight hard to protect those hard working families who will be hurt the most.

We will do our very best to highlight to the Tory administration just how badly you will be affected.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Act NOW to save Glenfield Childrens Cardiac Unit

You will have by now heard that the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has given the go ahead to close the ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) and Children's Cardiac Surgery services at Glenfield Hospital.

The news has devastated many parents who rely on the service and who will now face trips of many hours to get to the nearest similar unit at Birmingham Childrens Hospital.

Expert doctors have very clearly said that transferring the service may result in the deaths of up to 50 children because it will take the relocated service up to 5 years to get up to speed.

We must act now to fight this appalling decision.

A petition has been created calling for the department to be saved. It already has more than 40,000 signatures.

If the petition receives 100,000 signatures it will force a debate on the issue in the House of Commons.

Please sign the petition here. Please ask everyone you know to sign it now.

Together we can make a difference.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The case against House of Lords reform

I remember, 20 years ago now, studying for my Government & Politics A Level.

I was very angry in those days about many things but somewhere very high up the list was the House of Lords.

I was disgusted that as recently as the turn of the twentieth century a bunch of hereditary toffs could stop democratically approved legislation being enacted pretty much indefinitely.

What right did 'the upper house' have to take such action?

Surely in a country aspiring to be a beacon of democracy everything the Lords stood for was abhorrent?

And of course it was.

But time moves on and we get older... and wiser.

Of course in my early days my anger towards the Lords was entirely focussed on the abomination that was hereditary peerages.

I am very proud that it was a Labour government that took significant steps to reduce the power of hereditary peers several years ago, and although 92 remain even here there is an element of selection.

Of course I would like to see an end to those who sit in the house through birthright but we have come a long way.

Hereditary Peers aside though, I have come to admire and indeed be proud of what the House of Lords stands for.

The Lords is a magnificent beacon for scrutiny.

It is a chamber populated by experts who are passionate for their fields.

A group of men and women who may well express a party allegiance but because of not ever having to worry about an election can be a great deal more independent than their colleagues in the Commons.

I fervently believe that the Government, of whichever colour, should listen to the counsel of the Lords more. Not necessarily to be bound by them but to hear their wisdom.

But if we change the composition of the Lords to a wholly elected one we change its very nature.

Both houses would be elected, so which would be more important?

How many real Independents would we see in a wholly elected House of Lords, or would virtually everyone originate from a political party?

How many experts would we see elected, or would more and more become nothing more than professional politicians?

Most of all I believe it is because our Upper House (overall) does such a good job that there is no public appetite to change it.

I have never spoke to anyone not loosely described as a 'politico' who has ever been remotely interested in the House of Lords.

In general ordinary men and women around this country have other more pressing things to worry about - like paying bills.

If we thought AV disconnected people just imagine what a referendum on the Upper House would do.

Anyone that demands a major legislative battle would, I believe, come across as being out of touch with the issues that really matter: jobs, homes and our economy.

Yes, minor amendments in an ideal world would be nice, but there is always a time and a place to make changes to our democratic system.

That time or place is neither right or here or right now.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The need for action on Talbot Street

Over the past two weeks I have been contacted by a number of residents of The Avenue, Talbot Street in Whitwick about a problem.

Their predicament, like many residents of Whitwick and Thringstone, is speeding traffic. But their problem has a twist.

You see because their homes are elevated from the road and access is somewhat obscured residents really do take their lives into their hands every time they go out and every time they return.

I stood at the end of their cul-de-sac for just twenty minutes during rush hour and witnessed just how bad things are.

So I undertook to contact Leicestershire County Council to ask them to take action.

Unfortunately today the County Council wrote to me to inform me that as, according to their records, there has only been one accident in the past three years and so they were not able to even look at the problem.

Now I have two questions about this reply.

Firstly, do highways have a full record of all accidents which have taken place or just those reported to the police?

Secondly, is it right to completely disregard the long history of accidents which have happened at this dangerous spot?

I would like to take this opportunity to say to the residents of The Avenue, the County Council and to all residents of Whitwick and Thringstone that I won't be deterred by a first letter of rejection from the highways department.

I will continue to fight for local people and the matters that matter to them.

I have already asked for this issue to be listed for the next meeting of Whitwick Parish Council so that we can move this matter forward.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Strategic Rail Freight - A personal view

Last Thursday Castle Donington Parish Council hosted a public meeting to consider and listen to the comments and concerns of local people surrounding the plans by developer Roxhill for a Strategic Rail Freight Terminal (SRFT) on land between Castle Donington, Hemington and Lockington and Kegworth.

Increasing freight distribution through rail has been an aspiration of successive governments and the possibility of locating a distribution hub on this location has long been considered.

Approval for a SRFT will not be given by North West Leicestershire District Council nor am I a member of the Planning Committee but I do want to take this opportunity to set out my own views.

The opportunity to potentially site a SRFT in North West Leicestershire is without overstatement one which could significantly beneficially improve our local economy for many years to come and in principle should be welcomed.

Not only could a SRFT directly bring thousands of new jobs to our district in both construction and ongoing employment but it would also benefit local businesses servicing the needs of the development and its workers.

A SRFT will provide much needed opportunities for training young people through apprenticeships as well as bringing significant improvements to public transport.

Let me be clear a SRFT is also likely to benefit our district in other important ways. A massive increase to district wide rateable value combined with a likely future capped retention of business rates will mean that local services wanted by local residents can be demonstrably improved.

There are also likely to be significant improvements to infrastructure as a direct result of the development being approved.

A SRFT in any location is likely to have an impact on immediately neighbouring communities. It is imperative that consideration needs to be given to and mitigation needs to be put in place for issues such as light and noise pollution and reducing traffic density.

The developer must work as a partner with authorities and the local community to absolutely minimise disruption to the lives of neighbours.

Our economy both nationally and locally has suffered in recent years.

We have an opportunity right here and now to give jobs to thousands of local families, to provide a long term boost to local businesses and improve community facilities.

We must not waste that opportunity.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Intensive Community Support and Ward Closures: An Update

Last month I reported on the plans of Leicestershire Partnerships Trust to divert 48 hospital beds in west Leicestershire to ‘Intensive Community Support’. In very simple terms providing nursing care at home for frail and elderly patients who have historically required stays in community hospitals.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that given the choice many patients would prefer to recover from illness in their own home I warned that ICS should not simply be seen as an opportunity to cut costs.

Last week LPT revealed to staff and stakeholders more details of their plans and the proposals are at the very least worrying.

A very simplified summary is that ward 3 at Coalville Community Hospital and Grace Dieu ward at Loughborough Hospital will face closure as a result of the initiative.

However, in a ‘question and answer’ sheet given to staff management reveal that:

‘We will be reallocating resource into community-based services but we do expect to make cost savings…’

This is deeply concerning as the Government’s own report on pilots to integrate health and social care make it clear that there is no money to be saved by improving care in this way. (National Evaluation of the Department of Health’s Integrated Care Pilot: RAND Corporation)

Indeed this must raise concerns that ‘expecting to make cost savings’ may well lead to the initiative not being implemented in a thorough manner for the benefit of patients.

But this is not the end of the concerns. The question and answer sheet goes on to cover the issue on whether hospitals will face closure. The answer is somewhat ambiguous:

‘We are not introducing this model to close community hospitals. Community hospital wards will remain a vital part of the pathway of care for frail older people but with these patients being treated in the community they will not be occupying a community hospital bed.’

It must be noted that there is absolutely no commitment to keep any hospital open.

One logical conclusion is that a closure of a ward in Coalville could well lead to a relocation and closure of Ashby and District Hospital. Indeed this is an outcome that many staff do fear.

The proposals of LPT, whilst laudable in principle, at this point are entirely unsatisfactory.

Management MUST make clear where they expect cost savings to come from whilst at least maintaining care standards given contrary evidence from the governments own pilots.

Similarly management must be more transparent about their plans for retention of our highly valued community hospitals.

Without clarity staff, stakeholders and local people will continue to be deeply concerned that local hospitals face a very uncertain future.

I am in the process of contact the Locality Service Manager to ask for answers to these two vitally important questions.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Coalville Community Forum - Decision Night

Each year Leicestershire County Council makes an amount of money available to local communities to spend on local projects.

This year the Coalvile Community Forum has £15,000 available to award to groups bidding for grant funding in this area.

10 groups from around Coalville have put forward projects which they believe would be beneficial to our community. Projects vary widely (and all have some merit), from funding requests from Community Baking Groups through to Renovation of Scout Headquarters.

But which projects receive funding isn't decided behind closed doors it is decided by you, local residents, during the Community Forum Decision Night, to be held on 20 June at Newbridge High School.

All local residents have a chance to attend the decision night but due to numbers you must book a place.

You can book your ticket by clicking here.

Alternatively, if you can't make it to decision night, there is the opportunity for you (using the link above) to give your views on which projects you think are most deserving of funding.

As the amount of money available to community groups from funding sources becomes smaller and smaller it is vitally important that whatever money is available goes to projects which our community decides are most deserving.

Please take the time to either attend decision night or leave a comment.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Melrose Road Play Area - Online Consultation

Thringstone residents may be aware that Councillor Dave Everitt and myself have secured £30,000 for improvements to play facilities in the village.

It's vitally important that local people have a chance to say how this money will be spent.

The District Council have opened an online consultation, open until 9th June, to allow local people to give their views.

Please take the time to take part in the consultation by clicking here .

The consultation is open to all, children, parents, neighbours and stakeholders - let us know what matters to you.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Coalville Twenty12

Mosaic Making

The sun was shining and spirits were high today in Coalville park with thousands of people turning out to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics at the Coalville Twenty12 event.

As Chair of the Special Expenses Working Group which organised the celebration I felt exceptionally proud that the team behind the day managed to deliver such an amazing event.

Our small team of Council officers, lead by Goff, Angela and Julia worked so hard to make the day memorable for the people of Coalville. A sincere thank you to all who made the event possible.

Absolutely everyone I spoke with commented on how much they enjoyed the event with something for all, from the very youngest to the very oldest. Right from the start with the procession of the 1948 Olympic torch through to the very last act on stage spirits were high.

But most importantly today was a day for community.
What a Palaver

Local groups and clubs had the opportunity to raise funds and awareness, local schoolchildren and musicians entertained, local businesses were able to offer their services and products, and local people took the time to mix and relax.

Today certainly wasn't a day for party politics and I am equally delighted that councillors of all parties put aside their differences to work together to deliver a memorable event. I hope we acheived that.

I truly hope you enjoyed today as much as I did.

Please take the time to leave a comment about what you thought. What did you enjoy? What could we do better?

Your view is very much appreciated.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Care initiative must not be used as a blunt tool to close wards

Leicestershire Partnerships Trust (LPT) has contacted its staff to advise them of changes to the local community hospitals in West Leicestershire. This includes Ashby and Coalville Hospitals. The letter to staff informs them that LPT intend to close 48 beds (the equivalent of two wards) in this area.

I understand that LPT wishes to divert resources from hospital care to ‘Intensive Community Support’ (ICS) for frail elderly patients and people with dementia.

Whilst I support the overall objective – which follows on from initiatives begun under Labour – I am deeply concerned that cost-cutting and closures appear to be taking priority.

Patients and carers want better care at home. They don’t want to go into hospital unless they have to and they want to come home quickly when they do. ‘Care closer to home’ can only work if there is investment in upskilling staff and building care pathways that include social care providers. The Government’s own report on pilots to integrate health and social care, started under Labour, have shown that joined up services can work – but make it clear there is no money to be saved by improving care in this way.

We all should be deeply concerned that LPTs plans to close wards are premature. We need to see that this project really does provide better outcomes for the most vulnerable of patients. We must be opposed to any mis-use of the project as nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise. We need to see evidence that LPT intend to invest enough in developing staff skills in this area. Opportunities to ‘shadow’ counterparts in the community are welcome but hardly sufficient.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

County Council Cabinet put 'Catholic Tax' decision on hold

I am absolutely delighted to report that at a meeting of the Cabinet of Leicestershire County Council earlier today Conservative politicians decided to put a decision introducing a faith school transport 'Catholic Tax' on hold.

The Cabinet papers do not report as to why the deferral decision was made, or for how long the hold will be for (or for that matter whether the recommendations will simply and quietly slide away - as is often the case with unpopular reports).

I truly hope that the Cabinet heeded the concerns of so many Leicestershire residents who took the time to make their views known - and in doing so tabled the largest ever e-petition to Leicestershire County Council.

We must all continue to be vigilant to make sure these discriminatory proposals do not sneek back on to the agenda.

It may be a cliche but whilst the battle is won the war may not be over.

Thank you all so much for your support.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Labour - Fighting for a Bardon Relief Road

When North West Leicestershire District Council's Core Strategy was approved last month I highlighted in the council chamber many problems with it.

To name but a few there are issues with housing in Ashby, in Ibstock and in sustainable villages and there a problems with the allocation of industrial land not least around a strategic rail hub to the north of the district.

But one of the largest ommissions from the plan was the dropping of a Bardon Relief Road in Coalville, not only to accommodate existing traffic flow approaching the town from Leicester and the M1 but to compensate for the large-scale additional housing expected to be built in our town over the next 20 years - effectively a development roughly the size of Ashby.

If the Core Strategy is approved by the Secretary of State a lack of a relief road will be severely damaging to the town.

Residents of Bardon Road and Greenhill are terrified of the safety implications to children and older people.

Residents of Hugglescote and Ellistown are frightened about the massive build up of traffic on Grange Road and Beveridge Lane.

At the same time dropping the relief road may well actually be damaging to the towns economy, negating many of the benefits that major new residential developments may bring.

Labour Party Councillors throughout Coalville are calling for the reinstatement of a Bardon Relief Road during the formal consultation period of the Core Strategy and are campaigning throughout the town over the coming weeks, collecting petition signatures, and demanding change.

Labour's spokesman for Transport, Councillor Dave De Lacy, encapsulated the problem so succinctly when he recently said:

"According to the Core Strategy there are at least 4500 dwellings planned to be built in the vicinity of Bardon Road over the next 20 years... How can the roads in their present state cope with this amount of development? The decision to abandon Bardon Relief Road must be reversed before it is too late."

If you want to get involved in the campaign to reinstate the Bardon Relief Road you can sign the e-petition by clicking here.

It is so important we take action now to fight for a relief road. Our actions will have implications for generations to come.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Local politician asks to hear YOUR views on Core Strategy

A politician is asking local residents, community groups and parish councils for their views on North West Leicestershire District Council’s newly approved Core Strategy.

As a precursor to a formal consultation period, which commences later this month Councillor Leon Spence, Leader of the Labour Group at North West Leicestershire is writing to community groups throughout the district offering to attend group and community meetings to listen to the views of local residents in order that they can feed into Labour group policy.

Councillor Spence says:

‘The Core Strategy is a massively important document for the future of our district setting out planning policy for 25 years and identifying where at least 9,700 homes should be built and where industry should be located. It is very clear that the Core Strategy will impact on ALL of North West Leicestershire.

A hugely important aspect of forming our policy towards the strategy will be to listen to local people and in particular community groups, those local residents who take such an active and important role in improving the places where we live.

Ultimately the Labour Group believe that the results of the formal consultation must be brought back to council for final ratification. Independently listening to local people will enable us to much better understand what the residents of North West Leicestershire really think about this strategy.’

Anyone who would like to invite a Labour Party representative to attend a community or group meeting to listen to their views is invited to contact Councillor Spence on 07828 194768. Alternatively local residents can e-mail their views on the Core Strategy directly to Councillor Spence at .