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.