Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Free Tickets

The Town Council receives free tickets for the Bath and West Show, this allows free entrance.

Like the free entry to the chairman lunch at the Shepton show, I do not take the tickets.

For transparancy the following members will be using the free tickets;

Wed 30 May – Cllrs Bartlett (conservative) and Terry Marsh (Independent)

Thur 31 May – Cllr Parham (conservative)

Fri 1 June – Cllr Curtis (independent)

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Children paying too high a price

Under the previous Labour government Child poverty was greatly reduced this was down to state intervention. Labour knew that by intervening to provide extra cash through tax credits, cash transfers and accessible public services played a key role in reducing child poverty in the UK and protecting children from deprivation.

Today Unicef has published a report that says progress in protecting children from deprivation 'will be undermined by spending cuts',  this independent report suggests that much of the good work that Labour did to address child poverty is being undermined by the Conservative government. Government cuts that are short sighted that are too deep, this with the double-dip recession created by the government by their ill judged austerity drive will actually push more children and families below the breadline.

The report says "Failure to protect children from poverty is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make. The heaviest cost of all is borne by the children themselves. But their nations must also pay a very significant price – in reduced skills and productivity, in lower levels of health and educational achievement, in increased likelihood of unemployment and welfare dependence, in the higher costs of judicial and social protection systems, and in the loss of social cohesion. The economic argument, in anything but the shortest term, is therefore heavily on the side of protecting children from poverty."

Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: "It would be a grave injustice if we allowed the burden of the current economic turmoil to fall on the shoulders of disadvantaged children."

The Child Poverty Action group states;

There are 3.8 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That’s 29 per cent of children, or more than one in four

Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Almost two-thirds (58 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works

Child poverty imposes costs on broader society – estimated to be at least £25 billion a year. Governments forgo prospective revenues as well as commit themselves to providing services in the future if they fail to address child poverty in the here and now

Child poverty reduced dramatically between 1998/9-2010/11 when 900,000 children were lifted out of poverty. This reduction is credited in large part to measures that increased the levels of lone parents working, as well as real and often significant increases in the level of benefits paid to families with children

Under current government policies, child poverty is projected to rise from 2012/13 with an expected 300,000 more children living in poverty by 2015/16. This upward trend is expected to continue with 3.3 million children projected to be living in poverty by 2020

It is clear investing in children creates a more equal and fair country, it offers more opportunities and less chance of dependency, only a conservative government would be so blind to the case for investing in children.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Pressing fairly

Like many, I have watched the Leveson Commission with a great deal of interest, it seems particularly interesting how the interaction between politics, media and police has become blurred.

What started out as an inquiry into press standards now seems to be something a great deal bigger.

My experience of dealing with the local media has largely been excellent, reporters are decent people trying to do their best in reporting local stories.

I have on only one occasion been in dispute with a local newspaper, it was clear then that the Press Complaints commission was a toothless body that was not fit for purpose.

The Leveson Commission has to establish the principle of the freedom of the press, only a free press allows for a free society, people in public life have to be open to public scrutiny, the public interest has to be defended.

Often politicians and celebrities complain about press intrusion and at the same time courting the media.

It's like the politician that places his family on election material then complains about when he or she is caught having an affair, if you don't want your family involved, don't include them in your election material and don't preach about family values.

The other side of press freedom has to be press responsibility, printing a story that is not correct is hurtful, and unless neglect can be proved the Press Complaints Commission will allow the media owners off scot free.

Leveson has to recommend an independent press complaints body, that has teeth and allows individuals a cost free right of appeal to stories that damage their reputations, this should be paid for by a levy on the press owners. At the present time only wealthy people can afford High Court Injunctions, justice should be for all not just the rich and powerful.

Leveson also needs to look at the diverse owners of the media, at the current time too few people own too much of the media, diversity of ownership should help develop a more innovative approach rather than the barons who try to control the diet of news.

The shabby behaviour of some of our news media should not allow our news media to be placed in a straight jacket.

I want a media that challenges government and private business and people that do wrong, I want to live in a free society, I do not want government controlling the media, but the media must be challenged also, it must be fair and not printing stories that have no base in fact or are illegal.

That is the challenge for Leveson, can he meet that challenge?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Warm Words and Cruel Neglect

Today the Conservative government announced that Shepton Mallet would not benefit from the £1.2million they set a side for the Mary Portas project.

The Conservative government obviously in the spirit of Simon Cowell, is working with Mary Portas to help regenerate twelve High Street, with the added twist that Mary Portas will make a television series out of the process.

Minister of State for Communities and Local Government Grant Shapps, meanwhile, said the competition had "captured the imagination of the nation with communities across the country uniting to support their High Streets".Mr Shapps clearly using the Simon Cowell marketing technique there.

Shepton's High Street needs to be modernised, in the previous year, I have held meetings with Somerset County Council officers, Mendip District Council Officers.

Mendip District Council has £30,000 left of the Tesco legal agreement money left, this has to be spent by August 2012. I held a meeting with Somerset County Council where we discussed them using their contractors to draw up a scheme to improve paving and the Street Scene within the High Street and Town Street, this was to be designed so work could be completed as money became available. For reasons I do not understand this work has not been conducted.

I've met with Mendip District Council staff to discuss how the Tesco monies can be released, with all the reorganisation at Mendip, it appears no member of staff is responsible for regeneration funds, or they are too busy doing something else, the facts remains that there is very little to be seen for the money funded to Mendip for the Tesco store at Townsend.

The facts remain, one of the key elements to a successful Town Centre is an attractive environment. This will mean better paving and street scene, improved street furniture, improved traffic flow of people with improved signs from car parks.

The second key element is improving the promotion of the Town Centre, there is a need to arrange a full calender of events and draws the townspeople into  the Town Centre, the Town Centre should be seen as the Towns hub.

The third part of the Town centre is business support, this is very much for businesses to decide but all businesses need to change, they have to adopt to the Internet commerce and the challenging economic conditions.

With or without Mary Portas, all stakeholders need to be involved in working to develop our Town Centre, sadly the principled councils are losing their expertise in regeneration, this in response to government financial cuts, this is the real world, £1.2million with a glamorous women presenting a TV show.

In truth all levels of government should be working to rejuvenate our Town Centre.

Like most things this Conservative government does, when you look in the cupboard it is always bare. Warm words and cruel neglect.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Sunlight from the Parish to the government?

As a Town/parish councillor I am expected to agree to the Councils code of conduct, I have to legally declare, what my financial interests are, what clubs I'm a member, my political party, even my trade union.

It is not only expected, rightly so, to declare an interest and leave the meeting where a item is discussed that you,your friends or family have a financial or strong personal relationship. If a member of the public believe you have an interest, a member could decide to leave the meeting.

Furthermore, if you come to a meeting of a parish council having agreed a position without knowing all the facts, this is predetermination, this offence will make it impossible for the councillor to participate in the debate. There does not have to be any offence, a member of the public can say it was their preception of wronghood, the councillor could then face months of investigation.

You may ask, why this is important. The government and the previous government set down these rules for parish and principled authority councillors to follow, Members of Parliament decided this is what local representatives should comply with.

Interestingly Shepton Mallet Town Councillors do not receive any expenses for their duties, the Chairman does receive an allowance to cover costs for their year of additional expenses.

Contrast and compare with the parliamentarians, whom claiming for manure, duck houses or anything they thought they'd would. There is no doubt that being a parish councillor costs each councillor financially, I've never heard anyone complain, because we do it for our Town.

The government has recently introduced that police can now investigate alleged corruption, say if a councillor was a working party leader organising a new contract, secretly he supported one company, his office had passed information to that company, so that company would win the contract.

That councillor would have broken the code, in terms of confidences, predetermination and acting on behalf of a company and not necessarily the Town they represented.

So we move on to the BSkyB bid we know David Cameron knew Jeremy Hunt was pro-BSkyB before he gave the Department of Culture, Media and Sport control of the bid, after taking it off Vince Cable because he was too biased.

We know the Culture secretary office was in constant communication with friends of BskyB.

So from what we know, if Jeremy Hunt was a parish councillor, he would be in more than a spot of bother.

Perhaps the Government, Police and Media could use some parish council transparancy?

The Leverson Commission is allowing sunlight on some murky and pretty unedifying going ons.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Save our Beds

The Shepton Mallet Community Hospital in-patient hospital beds are now under review.

These beds offer care for Stroke patients and essential care for people who need care and can be released from larger hospitals or for respite care.

Last year the Wells Constituency Labour Party campaigned against the Health and Social care bill, now an Act.

We said that for the NHS to save £20 billion in this parliament and pay for a top down down reorganisation was simply the wrong prescription for our NHS.

This review has saving money written all over it, we know that the Somerset NHS has to find £6.2 million in the next three years.

At present the Community hospital serves people that needs care;

1. Patients who cannot be treated at home are admitted by local GPs instead of being sent to acute hospitals in Bath, Bristol, Yeovil or Taunton.

2. Some spend time there following treatment at acute hospitals, so they can be closer to their homes and families - and free up scarce and expensive beds in the big hospitals.

3. Other patients are there because caring for them in their homes has failed, or is not an option.

4. Public transport is very patchy (and getting worse), and our most vulnerable people are the ones who suffer most. Many patients are elderly or infirm, like their relatives, and visiting distant 2 hospitals 17-26 miles away would be a great hardship, and impossible for many. The number of over-85 year-olds in the country has doubled in the past 25 years and is expected to double again by 2030. Two-thirds of NHS patients are already over 65.

The nearest Stroke hospital to Shepton is South Petherton, this a nine hour round trip on our public bus service!

Everyone should lobby the Somerset Health Service, our aim must be to keep the inpatient service in Shepton Community hospital.

But, it is clear that the governments claim that there would be no cuts to frontline services is proving untrue.

We know that the Clinical Commissioning Group, new body set up in the top down reorganisation of the NHS, is fully involved in the review, and is effect in response to the new Health and Social care Act.

Labour warned that this Act would lead to more waiting and be less fair with less care.

We must campaign against Shepton being one of the first closures under this new Act, this is about people, Shepton's hospital offers quality care for those in our community that need that care, care close to home, this helps their recovery or for those to be close to their family in the closing part of their lives.

There are alternatives to closing the inpatient Community hospital, Somerset NHS and CCG just needs to listen, because we value our hospital.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Just wrong headed

The Conservative government has made a double dip recession, they have smashed confidence, they have frightened people with alarmist claims, they have deflated the economy by cutting to far and too fast in a dash for austerity.

The cuts in the public sector and in public infrastructure has seen construction being a real drag on the real economy.

Full time new jobs are being replaced with part time and flexible work this coupled, even in rural Somerset, of individual debt, then it is hard to see how the economy is going to recover.

Faced with these facts, the Conservatives may well spend time thinking about the difficulties people are facing.

So today a report written by Conservative-supporting venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft is published.

Its proposals are expected to include:

An end to a mandatory 90-day consultation period when a company is considering redundancy programmes. Instead it will suggest a standard 30-day period and an emergency five-day period if a firm is in severe distress

A cap on loss-of-earnings compensation for employees who make successful unfair dismissal claims

Reform of the rights that workers are allowed to "carry" to new employers when their companies are the subject of a takeover

Scrapping provisions in the Equality Act which make employers liable for claims from employees for "third-party harassment", such as customers making "sexist" comments to staff in a restaurant

Shifting responsibility for checking foreign workers' eligibility to work in the UK from employers to the Border Agency or the Home Office

These proposals effectively allow companies to fire workers with limited compensation, with contracts being changed at the whim of a dominant employer.
So, this will compound the sense of insecurity, confirming the state of fear.
Companies should be inclusive, with all the talents of the workforce included, employers should be seen as long term members, with training to improve the individual for the benefit of the company, companies should free employees to perform and not workers need to be forced to work at the end of a whip.
The British disease is no longer strikes by militant workers.
The British disease is now short term thinking, this is being led by the Conservative government and their City backers.
The British economy needs a long term plan, an investment bank to raise capital for business investment, improved supply side measures, education and training and government being active in support of science and new technologies.
The only way to reduce the deficit is to grow the economy, to produce and create wealth, the way ahead is not dividing a shrinking cake or tax and spend, expanding the economy by some public investment and expanding lending and productivity of small and medium sized businesses.

Like any business you need to invest in people and product (including new tooling) and this should create profit, only by expanding companies that employ highly motivated well paid staff, will be earn our way out of this deficit, once the economy is growing, then, the deficit can be cut once tax revenues increase.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Who is helping Who

After a period of not posting, I will restart my blog. I have had a very eventful year, being Chairman of the Town Council, this took far too much of my time, if I had catalogued the events, I am sure people would be surprised by those events, if published.

Last week I attended the CAB management committee, again the mounting debt burden on families is very evident, the CAB are dealing with £18million in Mendip.

Housing issues are very high on the Bureau workload, with rent arrears and tenancy issues and mortgage problems.

There is a lack of affordable rented properties for people. The government housing policy will start to hurt. The effective ending of Social Housing, 80% of Market rents and 12 month tenancies will make social housing less affordable and less secure, couple this with insecure employment and lower benefits, the government are assaulting low paid workers.

The single room housing benefit for under 35 year olds will badly effect younger people, there are few houses for multiple occupancy in the Mendip District, so effectively it will mean a choice between homelessness and indebtedness for under 35 year olds on housing benefit.

The problem being caused by legal aid being withdrawn from welfare, housing and employment issues will leave CABs, if the local advisers need to refer the issues to a solicitor this will be a very real challenge, instead of people accessing professional legal support, now they will have a telephone number.

Effectively ending justice for all, without the most vulnerable people having access to legal support,  changes the balance from the powerless to the powerful, this seems to be story of this government, supports the powerful and hurts the vulnerable.