Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Church Lane potholes - an update from County Councillor Leon Spence

For the past two months I have been working with officers at County Hall on the problem of potholes along Church Lane, Whitwick.

I have today received a report from highways which confirms that the many potholes along the road have occurred as a result of the settlement of an old utility trench which is causing the surface to crack along the length of the road.

It has not been possible to repair the road during the past few months as such a relatively narrow repair would be susceptible to damage from cold, wet weather.

I am, however, delighted to say that following my lobbying Church Lane is now planned for repair in early June. This is likely to require a road closure for a short time.

Obviously I will keep local residents informed should I hear anything more.

Leon Spence - Working hard for you all year round

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Are we all the same?

When I speak with local people I hear a sentence time and time again 'Politicans are in it for themselves, they are only after what they can get'.

I don't think that is true.

Being a councillor, and doing it properly, takes a great deal of time.

As much as many jobs do.

Because it takes so much time I do take the basic and special* allowances that are paid to county and district councillors which are determined by independent remuneration committees.

But that is it.

I don't claim any other form of expense.

I don't claim for broadband,

I don't claim for telephone*,

I don't claim for mileage*,

I don't claim for subsistence,

and I don't claim for a parking permit (although I do park free of charge, like all staff and visitors, at County Hall).

I've always believed that if you treat being a councillor as work you should treat your allowance as a wage. I personally don't believe in making claims for things which many people have to pay for as part of their jobs.

If you elect me as your district councillor for Whitwick Hermitage I promise to keep true to these principles.

I'll take my independently assessed allowance councillor allowance - nothing more.

Will other candidates standing in Whitwick Hermitage say the same?

*Special allowances are paid to councillors who do specialist jobs. I receive a special allowance because I chair the Children & Families scrutiny committee at County Hall.

* When I was first elected in 2011 I received an initial payment of £25.00 as a telephone allowance. I disclaimed this allowance shortly thereafter.
* In 2013/14 I travelled to London twice by train which the County Council booked on my behalf and which are shown on records as public transport claims.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Spence - Co-op rule out Whitwick Post Office move

A local councillor has been in direct contact with a company suggested as an alternative location for Whitwick's proposed Post Office move.

Leon Spence, county councillor for Whitwick, has been in talks with Central England Co-operative who are owners of the new food retail convenience store currently under construction in Whitwick Market Place.

A spokesman for Central England Co-op confirmed that the company had preliminary discussions about the Whitwick store with Post Office Limited some time ago but these did not progress further.

The spokesman also advised that for commercial reasons relating to the provision of competitor services it would be highly unlikely that the new Whitwick store would be considered as a suitable location for a post office site.

Councillor Spence said 'A number of local residents have expressed concern to me about the proposed new store particularly concerning parking problems.

'I have heard the new Co-op being suggested as an alternative site but sadly that doesn't seem possible.

'As County Councillor I will be asking both the Post Office and the highways authority to consider if there are any workable alternatives to the current proposals.'

Councillor Spence added 'On a positive note Central England Co-operative have confirmed to me they are on schedule for their store to open in August of this year. I look forward to welcoming them to the village.'

Friday, 10 April 2015

It's not just the economy... it's our national treasure, too - My Catholic Universe column

Late last summer I went on holiday with my family to the beautiful area of Speyside in Scotland. It was the first time we had ever ventured so far north and we had an amazing time enjoying the scenery, the history and not least the fine variety of whisky distilleries.
The only problem with our holiday is that Aviemore and all points north are a long drive from the midlands. Sadly the eight hour journey proved to be a little too much for my stepfather and within a very short space of time of arriving back home he was rushed into hospital.
The doctors, nurses and support staff of the NHS were superb. My stepdad was quickly assessed as having infected gall stones, he was cared for for more than a week as the infection safely subsided and was told he would have to have keyhole surgery 4 weeks later to have the stones removed.
Although his operation was delayed by a week it was successfully carried out and all of the necessary subsequent GP appointments were made easily, when he needed them and delivered with first rate awareness of his needs.
I’m delighted to write that by early November he had been given the all clear to travel on his next long journey, this time a visit to Las Vegas. Not bad for someone pushing 80 is it?
The NHS for my stepfather was amazing. It did everything he could have hoped with no fuss, just quiet efficiency and excellent care. For him and thousands like him there is no crisis in the National Health Service, he was a young man when it was first established under the great Aneurin Bevin and it continues to deliver today.
There are thousands of people up and down the country who will tell similar tales but just as crucially there are thousands more who will tell you that the service is beginning to creak under the pressures of budgetary restraint and an increasingly elderly and, clinically at least, more demanding population.
Sadly with the general election drawing near our perhaps greatest national treasure is becoming once more a political football.
The Conservative Party will tell voters they have protected the NHS for the past five years.
It would certainly seem there are large proportions of the electorate who don’t subscribe to this view. Look no further than Mr Cameron’s uncomfortable recent appearance at the Age UK Conference when he was heckled for defending the increasingly costly use of private sector staffing in nursing services.
Even more difficult for Mr Cameron is the fact that the heckles, from what may normally be expected to be a fairly sedate forum, were based entirely around justified grievances.
Hospitals are paying more and more for private sector bank staff. One example from my own area highlights that over Christmas an agency nurse was paid £1,416 for a twelve hour A and E shift, eight times more than a staff nurse at the same level.
As voters become increasingly worried about what will happen to our NHS these type of examples do no good in providing reassurance that it is save in Conservative hands.
There is undoubtedly a role for the private sector in the health service particularly around ancillary and support services. The last Labour government recognised that fact as well as the current administration.
I would venture to say that most people are not too bothered about who provides their health care to them under the NHS umbrella, but rather whether they are delivered cost effectively, to a high standard and in a timely fashion.
The real concern of course is that those three principles are starting to suffer, which ultimately is the reason for so much dissatisfaction.
We know that unlike my stepfather at the moment one in four people can’t get a GP appointment within a week, or occasionally at all. What happens when they can’t is obvious. They will struggle to already overstretched Accident and Emergency departments where more often than not they simply have to sit and wait.
In the past year more than one million people have waited more than four hours to be admitted to A and E units. Put into context that is more than three times as many as the last year of the previous Labour government.
At the same time more than half of hospital nurses are now saying that their wards are dangerously understaffed.
With a focus on top down reorganisation and ideological, rather than evidenced based, support for the private sector there is a real worry that the current Conservative-led coalition government are sleep walking our health service into a deep and possibly irrevocable crisis.
We can be under no misapprehension however that party politics is at play here and it is a party politics which in many respects plays directly to many of our congregations in the Catholic Church.
When you visit churches around the country, to put this point delicately, you cannot fail to notice that our congregations are not necessarily the youngest demographic in the world. Many for example are enjoying their retirement.
Both main parties are well aware that older people are much more likely to vote than younger ones and that they are much more likely to be regular users of our health service.
For the past five years, rightly in my opinion, the current government have protected retired people from the worst of the government cuts. Mr Cameron is hoping that in doing so that segment of the population you can rely on to turn out on voting day will be more likely to remain or become affiliated to his party.
At the same time Labour, once again rightly, are making sure voters are aware of the precarious state of the NHS and that, as the party who founded it and who has protected it for nearly 70 years, older people and their families will prioritise such a vital issue when it comes to polling day.
Opinion polls consistently tell us that voters trust the Tories more on the economy and Labour on protecting vital public services with the NHS being at the very top of the list.
Anyone who tells you that our health service is going to fall apart in the next couple of years is simply wrong. It will not. But it is in jeopardy. The changes not only to services but to culture which are being made may well be irreversible in five years time.
When Bill Clinton first became president of the United States his campaign strategist James Carville coined the phrase ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ when focussing on why people vote as they do.
What many people do not realise is that there was another part to that strategy, ‘Don’t forget health care’.
The battle lines are drawn and soon it will be time to decide which is most important to you.

Tough task for Church to find the right balance at synod - My Catholic Universe column

For the past week I have been on holiday in the great city of Chicago. With world class museums, sports and theatre it is without a doubt one of the finest cities on this planet, I very much hope I will have the chance to return at some point in the future. 

Whilst being away I went to see the touring Broadway show 'The Book of Mormon'. For those of you unfamiliar with the production it is a worldwide smash hit which takes a satirical swipe at the 'disneyfication' of Africa and, as the name suggests, the Mormon religion.

The show, which was written by the creators of the cartoon series South Park, initially received reactions and criticism something akin to Monty Python's Life of Brian but as times move on and in no small part due to the fact that adherents to the Mormon faith largely saw the funny side a major critical and commercial success followed. 

There is no doubt that The Book of Mormon is not a show for the easily offended, the themes are adult and the language explicit. But whilst I was humming along to the catchy tunes and giggling to well written but nevertheless very definitely toilet humour an important point struck me. 

As with all musical theatre the show has an anthemic song, in this case based on the faith and resulting idiosyncrasies of the young lead. 'I Believe' starts off as a passionate enunciation of Mormon doctrine but becomes increasingly silly as some of the more unusual aspects are mentioned. 

I paid particular attention when I heard the line 'I believe that in 1978 God changed His mind about black people' that I wanted to know more. 

Some background reading told me that until 1978 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stopped most black men from ‘being ordained to the church’s lay priesthood’, which resulted in black members not being able to play a full role within the church itself. 

In broad terms since its creation in the mid 1800’s the church and adherents to Mormonism had held a view about black people largely in accordance with that of the wider community and it was only when the civil rights movement became so prominent in the 1950’s and 60’s that attitudes changed and a few short years after the church accepted blacks to full status.

It shook me that as recently as in my lifetime a church was discriminating against people because of such a basic attribute of who they are. 

I am absolutely sure you are starting to see where I am going with this observation. 

Last week the front page story of this newspaper reported on battle lines being drawn up for the upcoming Synod of Bishops focusing on the family. A letter has been sent by 461 priests in England and Wales affirming ‘fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality’. 

Not for one second would I claim to be a theologian or have the biblical knowledge of any of those 461 priests who signed that letter but I, like many, many other Catholics can see how society is changing to become more accepting of people with different backgrounds and who make different lifestyle choices and I am more than comfortable with that. 

I come from a generation which sees divorce as sad but sometimes as sadly inevitable, a generation where we believe it is infinitely better to have a child needing care being raised in an unconventional foster family rather than staying in a children’s home, and where we realise that our gay friends make just as much a contribution to society as we do.

I have no idea what the outcome of the upcoming Synod of Bishops will be but I do know that the views and opinions of Catholics and non-catholics alike have changed irreversibly over the years to ones of being increasingly accepting of different lifestyles. I’m very proud that that change has happened in my lifetime.

During the recent Channel 4 programme ‘The Battle for Number 10’ Ed Miliband was asked what did he most applaud Mr Cameron for during his time as Prime Minister? Ed responded that there were two things, Mr Cameron’s support for international aid and his support for the introduction of gay marriage. 

To my mind Mr Miliband was right to identify both. I have written before in the pages of this newspaper about the need for overseas aid, and it is indeed a real achievement for this government, but this is the first time I have commented publicly on the second issue. 

I am very humbled to be a Catholic and I try to follow church teaching but I cannot help but feel if it were my son or daughter that told me they were gay above all else I would want them to have every right that I have had. I am sure like countless other parents my love for my children, and who they are or may grow up to be, would trump church dogma every single time. 

My views are not special or unusual, they are commonly held with most people that I know. 

Whether we are prepared to accept it or not parliament for the most part reflects wider society. Changes to social legislation such as the introduction of gay marriage would never have happened unless there was widespread public support for it. 

I cannot imagine a Conservative lead government making such a change twenty years ago. The reason they have now is because society has changed. It has become more tolerant, more accepting. In that sense we live in a much better world and have a much brighter future. 

Pope Francis can see that change happening and just like a political leader realises for the church to remain current it must adapt, the alternative is for its role to greatly diminish in our society. 

Just like in party politics change in the church is very much a balancing act. The church has to reflect society but should not forego its fundamental values to achieve popularity, even if maintaining those values may inevitably lead to a much tougher future. 

But, even without a great theological knowledge, let us be clear, in the church just as in politics there is massive room for interpretation. Scripture and teachings have been revised countless times over the decades each time with minor changes to wording or inference. I am fairly certain that the cumulative effect of those changes has led to a church organic in nature and which has gone through a number of iterations of it’s teaching on society. 

It seems to me at least that this time around our Bishops will have a very difficult task in balancing historical teaching and current society, the conservative right of the church and the liberal left. 

To do nothing will leave the church on the wrong side of history. We should very much pray for them.