Sunday, 27 March 2011

No time but I was party to it

I Marched for an Alternative on the 26th of March 2011, on the 27th I was out getting Labour Candidates signed up for the coming elections, so after midnight on the 28th I visit my blog to make some points.

Firstly, What a great day it was, great praise to Glen Newstead for the organisation of the day, thanks to Unite the Union for the transport to our capital city. We arrived in New Convent Garden at 10a.m, it was a grey day by the river Thames, we made our way to the Lambeth Pier for a boat to Blackfriers Pier, a great start, with waves from the police we landed onto Victoria embankment.

We walked to the beat of drums and music from a Tower Hamlets band, this adding real buzz to the day, the absolute diversity of groups that was protesting was amazing. We saw small community groups that have lost their small community council grants, the groups that makes society tick, now are going out of business, the obvious public sector workers who are taking the pain of the public sector cuts, whether nurses, teachers, council workers, construction workers.

Then you had people that made this March for an Alternative a carnival atmosphere, whether the bands or those who dressed up, this was a family event, we took over 4 hours to go from Victoria embankment to Hyde Park, we had no time for speeches before it was time to leave.

I did see the windows in Piccadilly put in especially the banks and the Ritz had been paint bombed, this of course was outrageous, this had nothing to do with the March.

The police were great, helpful and bored I would say, they looked it.

My memory of the March was a diverse group of people, young and old, people from London, Wells, from the North from the south and the east and the west, from Scotland and Wales, a family March, optimistic, people saying there is an Alternative, cutting public services to fast too hard when the economy has hardly recovered from the worse recession in 60 years, why should billionaires be allowed to transfer his income to his wife in Monaco or the avoidance of inheritance tax by setting up off shore tax havens or the tax evasion of our multi national corporations.

We cannot consign the young to years of unemployment, governments should intervene to protect against the harsh markets.

I was on the March for an Alternative, I was proud to be Labour and a proud trade unionist as well, the headlines may be grabbed by a few hot heads who do not respresent anyone, but the decent majority who deeply care about their country and the sort of country we want to live in made their voices heard, the Labour movement now needs to develop it's vision of the decent society, of fair taxes an active society and a state that intervenes to protect those without economic power.

Monday, 21 March 2011

So many unanswered questions, yet one truism

On the twentieth of January this year I wrote to the liberal Democrat chair of scrutiny Mr Philip Whitmarsh with concerns about Mendip District accountancy and financial processes that led to the grant aiding of the Bristol Arts Performing Academy.

My basic premise of the letter was to ascertains the methodology of the decision making process in the awarding of the £47,000 to BAPA and the £16660 that appeared in the 2008 accounts of BAPA from Mendip District Council.

Tonight the Scrutiny Committee met to consider an investigation undertaken by members of the Scrutiny Panel
My concerns are after the Audit Commissions criticisms of Mendip Council twelve months ago concerning managing the finances.

I felt we cannot continue with the discontent about the BAPA grants, that's why I asked Mendip for the scrutiny committee to conduct an investigation into the award of these grants, this so the full facts are exposed for public inspection and restore public confidence in Mendip’s use of s106 monies.

My main concerns are about the diligence process, Will Dunscombe spoke at Scrutiny this evening, he was frustrated that most of his questions simply was not addressed, he concluded that how could you expect Lib Dem and Conservative members to criticise their colleagues and demanded a independent inquiry.

From what I heard the Scrutiny Committee simply misunderstood what they were investigating!

They were not debating the pros and cons of BAPA, the questions were about risk assessing grants against benefit, about how decisions were made against the information at councillors disposal.

The District Council was asked to do due diligence on BAPA before allocating £20,000 additional funding after already giving £27,000 by the Central Mendip Community Partnership. I had asked when this due diligence was conducted and by whom. Mendip say they did not pay BAPA £16660, yet how could they have missed this amount if they had looked at the 2007/08 accounts of BAPA? Should this have raised a query if they hadn't paid this?

It was clear by 2008/09 that £47,000 was not enough money to keep the BAPA solvent, and a much bigger grant would be required, I wanted to see the minutes of the due diligence meeting, whom was there and where these minutes are reported to.

I had asked if the successor company to BAPA the Musical Theatre Company had asked for a grant from Mendip Council, and if they had how this was processed by the Council.

The Scrutiny Board did recommend changes to the new Councils constitution on emergency grants, yet were no specific on what these measures were.

Sadly scrutiny could have investigated, produced a forensic report, a proper audit trail instead they produced a report that did not answer the questions asked of it, a damp squib of a report and a report that shows real change is needed at Mendip.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Voting Debate in Frome

I attended a meeting in Frome this evening to discuss the referendum on voting change to the Alternative Vote.

It was a good debate with high quality speakers, Ben Bradshaw for AV and Jane Kennedy against change.

I am going to comment on the debate except for one point, Jane Kennedy made one point that was really good, it is not necessarily concerning the AV referendum, but the way individuals and parties do politics.

The point was this, no matter what electoral system we use to elect our representatives, the most corrosive thing in politics is not keeping promises or knowing you can't keep promises when you make them.

My frustration with the current government is just that;

Mr Cameron said no top down re-organisation of the NHS and he is now doing so.
Mr Cameron said no cuts to frontline services, again thousands of Police offices losing their jobs, local authority workers being made redundant and services disappearing.
Mr Cameron said he would not increase VAT, then he did so.
Mr Cameron said he would not cut EMA then he did so etc etc etc
Mr Clegg said he didn't support tutition fees increase and then supported removing government funding increasing fees up to £9000.
Mr Clegg said he supported EMA, then cut it.
Mr Clegg said no to VAT rise then supported it.
Mr Clegg said AV was a shabby compromise and then supports it, etc etc etc

Infact we have a government programme without a public mandate.

In the coming local elections no doubt huge promises will be made again, the electorate will rightly be sceptical of their candidates, yet how many voters will be energised by a simple message of working hard for you, i'll make no promises but will do my best for you, and then lots of attacks on other candidates and don't forget the dodgy bar charts.

Politicans do have a responsibility to tell the truth, and voters have a responsibility too, we need a honest change in politics, let's hope politicians and parties reconise this, this will make politics more healthy and trust in the system more robust.

Monday, 14 March 2011

115,000 jobs please

Ahead of next week's budget, Labour leader Ed Miliband and the shadow chancellor Ed Balls set out how they would fund the financial hole left by reversing the VAT rise on petrol, now £6 a gallon and begin stimulating activity for the UK economy, putting forward plans that could create 115,000 jobs.

Their tests for next week's budget, they said, included whether the chancellor is taking steps to relieve the pinch on living standards, and whether the coalition has set out a clear plan for economic growth.

Labour's central proposal is that the government should repeat last year's bank bonus tax – which raised £3.5bn. Cautiously estimating the fresh tax could bring in £2bn, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls suggested:

• Establishing a £600m youth unemployment fund which they say would help more than 90,000 young people into work.

• Providing £1.2bn to fund the construction of 25,000 affordable homes which would also serve to shore up the "faltering" construction industry which, they said, had lost 27,000 jobs in the last year. These plans would generate 20,000 jobs, they claimed.

• Providing a funding stream for regional businesses by boosting regional growth fund by £200m.

Miliband said: "We are under no illusions that at this stage the government will abandon their deficit reduction plan – they are too dug in for that.

"But at least they should take some steps to deal with faltering growth in our economy, to start to establish a plan to create jobs in the private sector … to deal with the crisis of youth unemployment in our country and build the skills we need for the future.

"The tests for next week's budget are clear: growth and living standards. But the signs aren't good that they will be met. The government should think again."

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, maintained that a Labour government would still be sticking to the former chancellor Alistair Darling's plan to halve the deficit by the end of the current parliament.

He took on suggestions that Darling's plan would have meant just £2bn fewer cuts than Osborne's £16bn, saying these took no account of the fact that circumstances had changed since Darling produced his forecast, and that borrowing was £20bn lower than expected.

However, Ed Balls stopped short of saying how any extra cash would be used, only suggesting it would have insulated a Labour government from having to make the cuts the government is now making.

Ed Balls said it was "complete nonsense" to claim that a Labour government would have been cutting spending by almost as much as the coalition.

Friday, 11 March 2011

No to AV, Yes to PR

It's thirty years ago the Labour party split and the SDP was formed, let's say Lord David Owen was never my favourite politician, but I have to say I noticed what he has had to say on the AV referendum in May, "A proper choice should include the third option of proportional representation. It is a democratic disgrace that we in this House, it seems, are incapable of bringing this about”

I have wrote before about the Alternative Vote, it's not proportional and all votes are not equal and is no fairer than the current electoral system.

I'm irritated that Proportional Representation is not on the ballot paper in May, especially as there was an amendment put down in parliament to include PR on the ballot, it would appear no Lib Dem MPs supported the amendment, strange as Nick Clegg said of the AV Labour proposal “I am not going to settle for a miserable little compromise thrashed out by the Labour Party”. No Nick, just a miserable little compromise thrashed out by you and David Cameron!

I support the Additional Member System, this giving equal weight to each voters ballot, a vote for your constituency MP and your party choice to add proportionality to the final result. It was a tragedy that the Jenkins AV+ proposal was not put to the British people for their consideration.

In the most recent YouGov opinion poll, it suggests 'other' parties have 14% support, yet AV will not help gain representation for those parties, it appears the two party system is braking down with a more plural political system is emerging, so the electoral system needs to be able to accommodate that plurality.

I am not convinced AV is a step towards PR.

I will not be able to vote Yes to PR so it's no to AV.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Representative Democracy

An interesting piece in the Guardian today about the social economic grouping of local councillors.

It says that 16% of councillors are aged between 35 and 49, while 34% were over 65. The average age of councillors is 59.

In terms of employment 69% of all councillors who are in employment have managerial or professional backgrounds (43% of all councillors are retired).

Additional to council work, councillors who are school governor amounts to 42% down from 59% in 1997 Other unpaid voluntary work 51% down from 57% in 1997, the average councillor does 22 hours a week on council work.

Only 3% of councillors have trade apprentices 66% are educated to managerial levels .

This is quite understandable, for example how many employers welcome local councillors taking time off in the middle of a working day or workers using their holiday entitlement to attend meetings?

I am fortunate, I'm single and happy to use my holiday entitlement to attend day time off when required, I do not have children to worry about and evenings are my own, so I enjoy community work, albeit the frustrations of the process of local government.

The pressures of work and family must make it difficult for under 50 yr olds to participate in local government, the electorate probably are unaware of these difficulties, without changes and if power really does devolve to communities - and assuming local government wields that power - then the white, elderly, male, middle-class professionals will dominate Town Halls.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Sharing the pain, equally of course?

Bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland has handed shares worth £28m to nine of its top executives in the latest round of multimillion pound bonus awards by the high street banks.

The precise scale of the payouts at the loss-making bank, 83% owned by the state through £45bn of taxpayer funds, will become clearer next week when the annual report is published.

Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said: "While most taxpayers continue to suffer during tough economic times the top bankers at RBS - and yesterday at Barclays - celebrate their ludicrous bonuses. While everyone else is worried about paying their household bills, these people are counting their bundles of cash.

The astonishing pay deals still being handed out in the City barely two years after the banking crisis were laid bare by Barclays when it revealed that five of its top managers had shared a payout of £110m.

Bob Diamond, who took the helm in January after more than a decade building the investment banking arm, Barclays Capital. The American-born banker, who has called for the period of remorse for banks to end, received a potential £27m, including a £6.5m bonus for 2010, as well as a £2.25m award of shares which could pay out in the future, and share deals from the past five years that paid out £14m and one from 2007that paid out £5m.

And in terms of performance?

By the end of last year, £100 invested in Barclays shares four years earlier would have generated a loss of £47, while the FTSE 100 index of major shares gained £26 during the same period.

So despite big words by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable and the Silence from Osbourne and Cameron, nothing has changed, the banks and bankers are still untouchable and government will do nothing about it.

Now Cameron is talking about less red tape (code for deregulation and cutting workers rights)the market is to be further unleashed, with less checks and balances for ordinary workers.
In the last week the unite union has reported that Storck, owners of the renowned Bendicks’ mints and Werther's originals have informed Unite that it is considering moving production to east Germany.

Bendicks has been manufacturing chocolate in England since 1930 and is famously British. The company whose factory is based in Winchester and employs 140 staff has begun consulting with the union and the workforce.

Unite regional officer, Ian Woodland, said: "Bendicks and Werther's Originals are famously British. The skilled workforce who have spent years manufacturing high quality confectionary now face an uncertain future.

“Yet again, weak labour laws are working against the interests of the UK. Unite will be doing everything possible to protect jobs in a community where unemployment is already too high."

Saturday, 5 March 2011

World Book Night Comes to Shepton

I was asked to attend the presentation of the World Book Night in Hanover Housing here in Shepton, this is what I said.

I like to congratulate Gina for winning one of the national World Book Prizes and thank Gina and Hanover Housing for this invitation to this evening’s event that is a part of the World book Night, this event puts Shepton at the heart of an evening national event. Which culminates in television programmes, , readings, book parties and a nationwide celebration of the written word.

A million free books have been given away free to individual members of our communities today; an ambitious initiative to spread a buzz about the joy of reading, up and down the country.

Philip Pullman, whose book Northern Lights has been chosen by Gina is said to be thrilled by the World book Night, he says, "it’s a very original idea and yet so obvious to give books to people they enjoy and then they will go read more books and he hopes it will revive interest in reading."

Northern lights are a part of a trilogy, His Dark Materials, consisting of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass.

I will confess not to have read any of these books, so as not to disappoint you, thinking your local councillors don’t read books, I’m currently reading Attlee a life in politics my last books include Chris Mullins Diaries (View from the foothills and decline and fall), Paul Masons Live Working or Die Fighting: How The Working Class Went Global and Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars by Roy Hattersley. The next book is by Will Hutton Them and Us: Changing Britain - Why We Need a Fair Society – now I probably have just confirmed how boring I am!

I hope you enjoy the northern lights book and then want to read the remaining two books in the trilogy, and I sure these books can be hired from our library.

Like Phillip Pullman we in Shepton have fought hard to keep our Library from closure, we saw the closure of our library as cultural vandalism, libraries are a community resource that are used by young and old alike, whether for hire of books or for computers, this greater knowledge gives personal confidence and improves quality of life.

I was greatly heartened when standing in the snow on New Years Eve asking people to sign our Save our Library petition and people queued to do so and people turned out in their hundreds to public meetings, together we stood together and saved our libraries all be it with a 20% cut..

Libraries presence at the heart of our town sends the proud signal that everyone – whoever they are, whatever their educational background, whatever their age or their needs – is welcome. Free and fair access to books is a part of a civilized society

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The final council meeting of this term

Tuesday evening saw the last full council meeting of this Council, the next will be after the local elections on May 5th.

I will write the obituary of this Council before the election, but I thought I would report on that meeting.

The Police had requested to speak to the Town Council to outline the cuts to their service to Sheptonians, they did not attend, but the clerk told the meeting that the front office at Shepton's Police Station was to close, the only such cut in the area. I asked for clarification as the County Council removed funding for the PCSOs this would affect eleven officers and if Shepton would be affected?

The Mid Somerset Show Committee members attended to ask for support for the local development framework proposal to build houses on the showfield on Cannards Grave Road and this would allow the Mid Somerset Show to move along the Ridge Road, the Town Council decided to continue with it's recommendation to continue with it's policy of keeping this area as green space.

We had update on the Urban Design Statement (UDS) paid for by the Townscape Heritage Initiative THi, this was split into short term issues; improved lighting scheme, seating, painting street furniture and the setting of the Market Cross and the longer term aim of resurfacing Town Street.

We discovered the absolute neglect shown by our Conservative Councillors, this money to do this UDS could/should have been concluded three years ago, money was available through s106 Tesco planning gain money, this money should of been totally focused on the UDS, three years ago the County Council was spending Local Transport Funds to regenerate Market Towns, through Mendip Conservatives inaction, Shepton missed out on this opportunity, who knows when another funding opportunity will arrive.

We discussed the bus cuts, I have written three articles on the bus cuts, but I proposed that the Town Council should meet with Wells City, Frome Town Council to see if there is any way we can offer some relief to the bus cuts.

The Town Council has released the funding to the in bloom committee for the floral displays, Mendip Council will cease paying for the beds at Shaftesgate Ave, Charlton Rd, Millennium Stone and by the Fire Station, in Bloom with Quadron will take these beds on, and will plant fountains and railing plantings, the displays won't be so extensive, but with much hard work, the Town should at least bloom this summer.

I was not pleased the Conservative administration decided at the previous meeting to extend the Collett Park contract by 12 months on RPI inflation rate, I described that decision as bonkers, someone in the council saw sense and negotiated a 2% increase, I was happy to support that, but if they had taken my advice in the first place, a poor decision would not have been made.