Saturday, 28 January 2012

The arrival of the Catholic Tax?

Every now and then I mention my children on this blog, mostly when they have infuriated me.

The truth is they don't infuriate me too often and as a result I don't mention them more often. The reason for that is I love them and I (and of course with my wife) want to make the best possible choices for them as they grow up.

One of the decisions we made several years ago was to send our children to Roman Catholic schools. Clare and I had benefitted from a faith-based education (with differing degrees of success) and for all the drawbacks we decided that this was something we wanted for our offspring.

A few years ago now some cried out that Leicestershire County Council were imposing a 'Catholic' Tax when they decided that effectively travel for children at faith schools was costing significantly more than for those with children at catchment area schools.

As a result the County Council said that travel to and from faith schools would no longer be 'subsidised' and parents with children at such schools (overwhelmingly Catholic) would have to pay £240 per year to make up the subsidy.

Funnily enough I didn't have a problem with this. You see we chose to send our children to a faith school. I understand that distances travelled are further than for the vast majority of other children and this must cost more and I don't expect other parents and taxpayers to pay disproportionately because of what are essentially are our religious choices.

But I do have a problem now.

You see as cuts begin to bite Leicestershire County Council have announced that as they have no legal obligation to provide transport to faith schools and as such they will soon be charging parents of pupils at these schools £490 a year to cover the FULL cost of transport.

Now, whilst I do not mind paying a fee so our children are not subsidised I do very much mind when our chidren do not receive the same basic service that children in catchment area schools receive.

When the first decision was made I pointedly steered away from the term 'Catholic' tax but be under no misapprehension this decision is nothing more than one.

The proposals are currently under 'consultation'. I fully appreciate that the County Hall Tories don't have a good record of listening in such exercises but if you do want to make a submission you can reach the LCC website by clicking here.



Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Is Councillor Bayliss Scaremongering or worse?

In case you might have missed it the Tory lead government have been talking recently about the 'major' problem of council house subletting - where a council tenant seeks a profit by subletting their home to a third party.

Apparently it's so much of a problem that the Tories are making the act a criminal offence.

And it's so much of a problem in North West Leicestershire that Councillor Roger Bayliss, NWLDC Portfolio Holder for Housing has now stated twice that:

'There are people in desperate need of housing on the waiting list in North West Leicestershire and it cannot be right that current tenants are profiting at the expense of both those in need of housing and the Council taxpayers in North West Leicestershire.'

But it turns out that Councillor Bayliss might not have painted the full picture...

At last nights meeting Labour Coucillor Ron Adams asked the simply question 'how many incidences of subletting of council housing in North West Leicestershire have been proved SINCE 2008?'

Guess what the answer was.... go on, guess?

Yes, that's right, there have been 0 proven incidences of subletting in the past 4 years!

Now certainly I would not suggest that sub-letting  is not a problem in urban areas, I'm sure it is BUT for Councillor Bayliss as Portfolioholder for Housing to make this statement in the face of zero evidence is scaremongering, arguably misleading and certainly offensive to the many tenants who he has sought to denigrate.

He should apologise.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Is Vision value for money?

We know that economy is in a worsening state.

We know that businesses and hard pressed families are struggling.

We know that the public sector is finding it increasingly difficult to provide essential services.

But tonight at a meeting of North West Leicestershire District Council the Tory administration revealed that they spend £28,680 a year on producing their quarterly in-house magazine, Vision.

My question, simply put, is 'Is this a luxury our council can afford in the current climate?'

Could the best part of £29,000 be better spent on improving our economy?

What do you think? I would love to hear your views or alternatively vote in the webpoll on this website.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

An Open Letter to Eric Pickles

Morally questionable?
Today Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary (and responsible for Local Government) has said that councillors have a 'moral duty' to sign up to the government's council tax freeze.

I am astounded Mr Pickles.

The last thing councillors from all parties need is to be told by you what our 'moral duties' are.

Believe me when I say that everytime we go around our wards we see families struggling to make ends meet.

The exact same families who depend on public services such as refuse collection, libraries or a benefit system which we all know are beginning to creak (and in some cases have disappeared completely).

The exact same families who are seeing their businesses failing or jobs in jeopardy whether in the private or public sector.

Councillors are well aware of their moral obligations.

Councils across the country and from all shades of the political spectrum, whether it be Labour Leicester or Tory Surrey, are agonising over whether to increase council tax.

We know key public services are becoming increasingly impossible to maintain but we also know the pain that raising council tax will cause.

I fully understand why some councils have chosen to turn you down on your council tax freeze subsidy because accepting it now is going to result in even greater cuts down the road.

Your cynical grant isn't protecting services Mr Pickles, and you know it, it is saving even worse problems up for a rainy day.

In North West Leicestershire I personally believe that times are too tough to consider raising council tax. Local people are suffering too much right now to increase charges.

But there will be a price to pay Mr Pickles. Public services cannot go on indefinitely whilst inflation is so high and our economy falters.

Ultimately Mr Pickles YOU have a moral responsibility to our public services and right now you are failing in it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Thringstone Play Facilities - Update

Tonight at a meeting of the NWLDC Cabinet the proposed funding to improve play facilities in Thringstone was formally given the go ahead.

As recommended by the Coalville Special Expenses Working Group (as reported in November) £30,000 has now been allocated for new equipment (to be spent in 2012/13).

We now have a tremendous opportunity to improve facilities for children in the village but it is important to stress that before any work is carried out a full consultation will take place with children, parents, neighbours and other stakeholders in order to make sure that any proposals are suitable and acceptable to all.

Of course I will keep everyone informed as things progress.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Parish Council Logo

Whitwick Parish Council has now been up and running for nearly a year.

One of the areas of work that the council has been looking at is developing an identity and therefore a logo.

The adoption of a logo is to be discussed at the Parish Council this coming Thursday, 19 January.

You can see the selection of proposed logos on the Parish Council's website by clicking here.

The designers, Quiet Storm,  have kindly agreed to come up with a logo (at no cost) which reflects Whitwicks heritage of mining, forest and castle.

I would love to be able to put forward the views of local people at the meeting.

Why not vote in the poll on this blog or leave a comment letting me know which logo you prefer?

UPDATE: Many thanks for all of your comments and web poll votes.

You told me that your favorite designs were option 5 and option 8 and I put these views to the parish council on Thursday evening.

As is only right other parish councillors had consulted with local residents and also offered their views and after a debate option 7 was selected as the new parish council logo.

Although I voted for option 5, in line with the most popular of your votes, I believe it is great that we now have a visual symbol for the parish council which I am sure will be a big step forward in developing our formal identity over the years to come.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Some rules for Tripadvisor

Like most people I love going on holiday.

But if there is one thing I love more than going on holiday then it is planning to go on holiday.

I spend hours on the internet looking for flights, hotels, car hire, restaurants and things to do and as my wife will testify by the time the holiday comes things are pretty much planned out to the hour (you can probably guess that she loves this, she just pretends not to).

There is one website that helps me in my quest for perfect planning more than any other and that is Tripadvisor.com .

If you know Tripadvisor.com you will probably agree with me it's one of the best websites ever.

If you don't know it's basically a directory of hotels, restaurants and so on that covers the whole  world and where the reviews are written by you, the traveller.

I was therefore a little perturbed to see a segment on BBC News this week commenting that the website might not be the most, ahem, balanced website in the world.

A Bed & Breakfast in Hastings had stated that a bad review on Tripadvisor had led to them losing a significant amount trade.

Now there are two points to be made here:

1. It is very sad that any business should be so affected by one bad review.

2. To read single reviews is entirely missing the point of Tripadvisor - you need to look at trends.

If you have ever spent time on the website you will know as a reasonable person (for Dear Reader you must be a reasonable person if you are reading this) that you get some absolute idiots writing reviews.

People for whom the slightest thing (often nothing to do with the hotel, activity etc.) results in them giving a 1 star review - usually with a two page diatribe attached.

The whole point is that you should IGNORE these reviews - just like you should ignore the very very best ones as there is always a nagging feeling that these have been written by the proprietor.

My view is look at the average - and if the average is good then trust it.

I must confess I do have my own set of rules when it comes to giving credence to reviews:

1. Who wrote the review? Are they European or American? -  I have a personal rule of thumb that if the author is from the US (worst of all if they have never appeared to travel out of their own state) and their review is a rant about poor reception of HBO or something similar then ignore it. Simply put our expectations are different. I stayed in a fantastic boutique hotel in Chicago on the top floor of a skyscraper which was absolutely castigated in some reviews by this type of people because you had to take 2 elevators to get to reception.

2. Has the reviewer uploaded photos? If yes, are the photos in focus? - clearly if someone can't even manage to upload a clear picture without assistance would you trust them for their opinion on a week long vacation?

3. But if photos are uploaded do you look like the reviewer (or at least share some affinity)? If the reviewer appears to be Snoop Dogg or Mother Teresa chances are their life experiences, and therefore expectations, are not going to be the same as yours. I always trust the reviews of fat, middle aged men with three kids on hand on the basis that they are bound to share my own low standards.

Tripadvisor is an amazing tool which really hasn't led me wrong yet. Every time I have used it, obviously following the above rules, I have had a great trip.

I'm already planning my next holiday to Florida using Tripadvisor and I really can't wait. Gatorland really is better than Disney? Right?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Let's keep some perspective

Over the past few days we have seen politicians of various colours making politically incorrect, and let's face it - offensive, gaffes.

Let me be clear the comments of Diane Abbott - giving an inflammatory view on race, and David Cameron - showing a distinct lack of awareness on debilitating medical conditions were completely wrong and not acceptable from anyone, let alone leading politicians. (I certainly wouldn't categorise Ed Miliband's 'Blackbusters' typo in the same vein.)

But we must keep some perspective. Each gaffee (if that is the right word) has now apologised for their mistake and we must consider the wider implications.

Leading politicians (and anyone else in public life) are now scrutinised more than ever before. We live with 24 hour news cycles (which constantly need filling), instant contact through social media and not least political opponents constantly on the search for the latest double meaning.

It is no wonder that under such scrutiny from time to time a politician drops a clanger. But the question is should we be shouting for their resignation or sacking every time they do?

The answer is that unless the gaffe is so heinous to be morally reprehensible then of course not.

I may disagree with his politics but I do not believe that Mr Cameron is a bad person because of an ill-judged quip. Similarly I don't believe that a 140 character gaffe makes Diane Abbott a lesser constituency MP or front bench spokesperson.

It is precisely because we live in a time of such scrutiny that we must take care to overreact to individual faux pas.

It has never been more important that we now consider the whole picture when we consider our politicians. Otherwise we will get to a stage where we either don't have any politicians left or otherwise they will be so bland that they never say anything worth listening to.

It's time to move on...