Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Most Important Day

Another day, another leaflet in St James. Helpers from Sevenoaks came down to help deliver in St James' ward, and we'd finished every letterbox by early afternoon. Our candidate and his helpers did a couple of hours of door to door canvassing before finishing, tired but pleased. Apparently three people actually stopped them in the street to wish him luck!

Tomorrow is election day in Tunbridge Wells, and the Liberal Democrats will try to hold on to four seats. It will be an interesting day.

For my part, I'll be interested to see the impact on local results of the national swing to the Conservatives.

So it's an early night, as I start my 'telling' stint at 7am, set up our systems to monitor the voting progress, then join the team dropping the next leaflet in St James' throughout the day.

So best of luck to the candidates, on the most important day of the campaign!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

CRB? Completely Raving Bonkers

I was speaking to a colleague from another council today, about joint initiatives to encourage our NEETs (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training) back into paid work.

He told me about a programme which had successfully encouraged a young woman to apply for a job as a drugs counsellor.  She was absolutely perfect for the job; she was engaging, committed and passionate.  She had also been a drug user herself.

There was just one problem. While she was using drugs, she had received a conviction for "dealing" to friends to feed her habit.

So when her Criminal Records Bureau check came back, it disqualified her from getting the job for which she would have been truly perfect.

And the real choker?

If her conviction had been for prostitution, she could have been given the job.

Fuelling our anger?

According to Ray Holloway, Director of the Petrol. Retailers Association, the OPEC nations fully expect to achieve $200 a barrel for crude oil.

This in turn will push up the price on the forecourts, which has already risen out of all proportions.

However, when faced with the accusation that Shell and BP have made record profits of around £3,000,000,000 and £4,000,000,000 in one quarter alone, his response was interesting.

He said that the higher price of oil gave the Government an unexpected windfall of around £4,000,000,000 in the last financial year. Yet they chose not to give any of this to the motorist by way of reduced tax.

Actually, doesn't he have a point?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Vicarious claims by association

Another week, another opinion poll - this time an ICM poll putting Labour way behind the Conservatives, with the Lib Dems trailing a weak third as usual.

And after Tony Blair's promise on leaving Number 10 to "remain loyal to Gordon Brown", Lord Michael Levy's autobiography claims he is "disappointed by Labour's slide" and feels that "Gordon Brown would lose an election to David Cameron".

But isn't this more about Lord Levy selling his book, which - devoid of any real public interest in his own comments - is trying desperately to notch up sales on the promise of salacious observations from more famous and interesting people?

Let Blair speak for himself if he feels a need, and let Levy's autobiography publicise Lord Levy - not vicarious claims by association.

Dunorlan in the sunshine

Having been away all week and busy canvassing since I got back, I really wanted to spend some time with the girls.

I've always resisted video games, bedroom TV sets and the ever-present Nintendo Wii, in favour of actually getting out spending time in the fresh air.

Given the contradictory weather recently, it was great to have some sun, so we went to Dunorlan Park in Tunbridge Wells. It has a beautiful boating lake, superb scenery, and a really nice traditional café.

We enjoyed ice cream cornets and lots of fresh air. Dunorlan looked great in the sunshine, and it was good to see so many people there - old, young, tourists and locals, dog walkers, people reading on the benches, couples cuddling on the grass. It was a real slice of life, with everyone getting on with each other.

It was also wonderful to see the fountain looking so good. Full marks to the Borough Council, who have spent a great deal of money on Dunorlan over the last few years. Today I could see exactly why.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Conservatives are for life - not just for elections

Another busy morning out canvassing in St James, with Borough candidate Alan McDermott. We were joined by Peter Dunlop, Chairman of Hawkhurst Parish Council, and Greg Clark, our MP. We canvassed several roads, and everywhere the reception was the same - really pleased that someone had made the effort to come and talk about local issues.

One couple were genuinely surprised that neither of their Liberal Democrat Borough Councillors had contacted me as their County Councillor in all the years I'd been representing St James' ward. It was even more interesting when the lady turned out to be the Lib Dem candidate's daughter! But - as we've done on so many doorsteps over the last few weeks - I gave her my number and suggested that she call me herself if she had any problems.

Our candidate, Alan, really has grown into his role. When he gets elected, he will join the rest of the small Conservative team knocking doors one Saturday each month, keeping up with local issues, and proving that Conservatives are for life, not just for elections.

Mind you, seeing the Liberal Democrats anywhere in St James' ward would be novel - even during the election campaign.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The 'Crime Wave' sweeping our country

Just sitting through a Liberal Democrat Party Election Broadcast on television, with that nice - and if you believe his self-proclamations in GQ magazine, ( incredibly virile - Mr Clegg. There's apparently a crime wave sweeping across our country. It must be true, because the lady on the council estate said so, and there's no way she'd get her lines wrong. She said some streets become no go areas at night - she's "terrified to go out".

The only consolation, of course, is that after the local government elections on 1st May, the Liberal Democrats will stop door knocking innocent citizens, and return to whatever it is that they do for the rest of the year.

And once again our streets will be safe to walk.

Of course, the more serious point of this indiscriminate election scaremongering is the fear it creates among the elderly and vulnerable who can't see it for the propaganda it really is. On a recent walkabout in Tunbridge Wells, one of our uniformed colleagues told me how he read a recent newsletter which spoke of "the increase in crime throughout Tunbridge Wells" from the LibDems.

Not only did he not recognise this at all in an area where crime was on a significant downturn, but it actually caused him more work because local residents, particularly the elderly, needed more reassurance that the junk pamphlet really was just that - junk.

...and the prize for the most ridiculous phone conversation goes to...

It must be Friday night. The overseas call centre phone calls are coming in. I promise myself I won't answer them, but you never know when it might be a constituent, so you answer it. And every time I'm disappointed.

But tonight exceeded all my expectations. The first call was quite short, consisting of a short, completely unintelligible ramble from a female voice with an Irish accent. I recognised "BT" in her murmurings. I asked her to repeat, and this time made out the phrase "...this call is being recorded for training purposes". She began mumbling again, and I had to say goodbye and hang up.

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. This time, an Indian voice confirm,ed my name, and told me they were ringing on behalf of one of my credit cards. Apparently I was £23 over my limit. Could I pay this amount tonight?

"What time is it where you are? I asked. "I know it's six o'clock where you are" she said smartly. "So where would you like me to pay you £23?" I enquired. "Well, if you have another credit card, I can take the details right now..." she suggested.

"So let me get this straight!" I replied "You're suggesting I pay off the balance on your credit card by moving the debt to another credit card?" I asked.

When she said yes, I can't recall which came first - my blasphemous cursing or me putting down the receiver...

You've got to be in it to win it?

I found myself dashing home from County Hall this afternoon to get changed before going back out to canvass in St James' ward. The television was showing a programme called 'Dickinson's Real Deal', which featured celebrity antique dealer and bronzed icon David Dickinson, in a kind of 'Antiques Roadshow' format where dealers made cash offers for objects.

Now it's not unusual for daytime TV shows to feature fairly fatuous phone in competitions, but this one took the biscuit. At a cost of £1 per minute from a BT land line, viewers were invited to answer the following question:

"Who was Britain's Prime Minister during most of the Second World War?"

Possible answers were:

A) Margaret Thatcher
B) Winston Churchill, or
C) Ted Heath

The prize was the eventual sale price of a set of RAF bravery and valour medals from WW2. They eventually went under the hammer for £2200. I wonder if more than 2200 people will have tried their luck at £1 a minute?

Of course they would, and the profit will have been vast.

After all the publicity about phone in competitions (Ant and Dec, Richard and Judy), about how the winners were chosen but the lines still left open to boost the income, isn't it time the television companies stopped insulting our intelligence with such facile and blatant attempt to generate income?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

If only more Councils were like this

This week, I've been working as part of a team undertaking a "peer review" of Wychavon District Council for the Improvement and Development Agency. You won't find Wychavon on a map - it's the name of the council serving three areas - Evesham, Droitwich and Pershore, and host of rural villages in Worcestershire.

I don't know what I was expecting, but what I found was a true star in the local government firmament. A District Council who had expanded its services, when other authorities up and down the country were reducing theirs; a council which, even though it has the eight lowest District Council Tax level in the country, had not increased its charges for years - just found more and more efficiencies throughout its organisation. And a council whose Leader and Managing Director (rather than Chief Executive, reflecting the ethos that residents were their "shareholders") were truly visionary, and whose elected members were stunning in the breadth of their knowledge and commitment.

Winner of the LGC Council of The Year Award in 2007, Wychavon also came second place in The Times' 2007 Best Councils To Work For awards. As an employer, they're amazing - staff are offered a private healthcare scheme, exemplary personal development opportunities, even access to a council "cycle pool" which they can use to travel more healthily to meetings around the area.

Among the real innovation we saw was the Pershore Hospital that Wychavon built and rented to the NHS. This in addition to the supermarket in Droitwich they built to bring jobs to that area. A "choice-based lettings" initiative to make the most of housing stock in the area; Abi, the full-time Occupational Therapist Wychavon recruited to clear the log-jam of disabled and vulnerable residents waiting to be assessed for aids and adaptations to their homes.

Everywhere we looked this week we heard another great story; saw another example of great innovation.

If only more Councils were like this...

A little bit of magic

I was in Evesham in Worcestershire last night, and decided to dine with a group of colleagues at the Evesham Hotel. I'd heard of the Evesham from several friends of mine, and remembered it as the hotel where the room keys were attached to teddy bears.

We arrived and ordered some drinks at the bar, with its built in bookshelf full of books with fascinating titles such as "Crap Jobs", "Crap Teams" and "How to Label a Goat". One of my colleagues ordered a currently trendy cider - "why on earth would you want that?" said owner John Jenkinson, resplendent in an orange shirt with a toy chimpanzee hanging round his neck like a tie. "It's completely tasteless. Would you like some real cider?"

We ordered our meals from at least six different menus placed before us - specials, vegetarian, "boring but very tasty" and so on. And when we asked for the wine list, the wine waiter brought along five enormous photo albums, each dedicated to a different set of wines from over seven hundred vintages which the Evesham carry at any one time in their cellars.

The food was absolutely magnificent - the "Carribbean Creams" dessert was truly an out-of-body experience. Over coffee, our waiter (who joined the Evesham for a summer gap seven years ago!) showed us around. The swimming pool was packed with kids toys, Punch and Judy shy, real "What the Butler saw" machine and red telephone box complete with Superman costume on a hangar. The Tudor Room, one of the many themed rooms - I won't ruin the surprise by describing it! - and on the way back to the bar (and perhaps most exclusively!) the wine cellars, heaving to the rafters with thousands of bottles of wonderful wine.

We came away with a "liqueur list" - itself a hundred and seventy six pages long - and a mental note that I have to come back here again - and again. The Evesham Hotel ( is truly a little bit of magic.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The best appropriate education for all

I see from yesterday's Daily Telegraph that the Labour pendulum has once again swung back to scrapping academic selection.

Legislative changes to the Education and Skills Bill, which would both end the eleven plus and close down existing grammar schools, are said to be supported by around fifty Labour MPs, many of whom will have benefited from a selective education themselves, because they feel grammar schools "condemn poor children to an inferior education".


Short sighted, bigoted MPs, happy to 'pull up the ladder' once they themselves have climbed it, condemn poor children to an inferior education.

Attacking selective education in grammar schools whilst fervently pushing for every other school to achieve "specialist status" - selecting on the basis of sports, art, drama or technological ability - that kind of cynical small-mindedness condemns poor children to an inferior education.

Wake up and smell the coffee. Against the background of failing and 'sink' schools, educational ghettos where excluding a violent, aggressive pupil places a black mark against the head teacher, no wonder there's such a wave of public support for traditional education methods.

Just because not all our young people can't be academically bright doesn't mean they should all pursue a vocational career. This 'all or nothing' Labour government doesn't have the subtlety to envision a future where all our schools should raise their sights and provide the best appropriate education for all.

And if we don't all stand up and say that, it will soon be too late, even if that means Kent Conservatives taking an opposing view to our Parliamentary colleagues.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What's good for the goose...

Whilst delivering leaflets on Thursday and Friday in St James' ward, a local constituent gave me a copy of a vitriolic little leaflet from the Liberal Democrats, which made much of the fact that the Conservative candidate lived in the village of Matfield, and should not have been standing as a candidate in St James.

They went so far as to say "The Tories have shown how much they care about St James by selecting a candidate from Matfield!"

So how much do the Lib Dems think of Culverden, Pantiles and St Marks wards, where they haven't put a candidate up at all?

And having read through the "Statement As To Persons Nominated" on the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council website - - more disturbing is to see that of the sixteen ward elections, the Liberal Democrats are only fielding candidates in fourteen; and of these fourteen candidates, six of them live outside the ward where they're standing:
  • Liberal Democrat John Billingham from Hawkhurst is standing in Lamberhurst and Goudhurst
  • Liberal Democrat Jackie Prance from Southborough is standing in Pembury
  • Liberal Democrat Bob Prance from Soutborough is standing in Rusthall
  • Liberal Democrat Jean-Luc Bressard from Park is standing in Broadwater
  • Liberal Democrat Marguerita Morton from St Johns is standing in Southborough
  • Liberal Democrat Alan Bullion from Sherwood is standing in St Johns - (interestingly, Mr Bullion complained in the local press that neither Roy Bullock nor myself - both from Lamberhurst - lived in our County divisions. It turns out that Mr Bullion - himself from Sherwood - is Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sevenoaks!)
So tell us again, Lib Dems - what's your view on candidates living away from the wards where they're standing?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the streets of St James'

Spent yesterday evening out on the doorsteps of St James' in Tunbridge Wells. Our MP, Greg Clark and I met up with our Conservative Borough Council candidate, Alan McDermott and went canvassing in the ward.

We got a great reception - and there's a very real chance that Alan could take this seat for the Conservatives. He'd be really good too - he's been getting to know the local residents for ages now, long before the election just in case he was accepted as a candidate. Greg and I have also been focusing on St James, doing a Saturday morning "street surgery" every month as MP and County Councillor.

So good luck to Alan - the Borough Council election is on Tuesday 1st May.

Do I feel lucky today?

I just wanted to share this with you all - it's an amusing text, but a fantastic picture:

"You are a South African bush pilot. You fly in some critical medical supplies, enjoy a quick lunch at the hospital. It's a stifling 100 degrees in the shade and you're eager to get back up to the cool, high blue yonder. On the way back to your plane, you discover that the only bit of shade within 10 miles has become very popular .

You start calculating the distance to the plane door, and wonder . . . 'Do I feel lucky today?'"

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

You're fired

I got back from canvassing with our MP and Borough Council candidate in St James' ward, to catch the end of The Apprentice on BBC1.

It was a shame to see Simon Smith fired, but Sir Alan Sugar was probably right when he commented that he was "out of his depth".

But when he walked through the door of Amstrad House to board his black cab back to satellite dish installation, I was reminded of something my wife said. Her theory is that the shot - of the latest loser taking the taxi ride to oblivion - has been filmed with every contestant in advance.

She observed that for the purposes of continuity on the shoot, every one will wear a coat with the collar buttoned right up to cover their shirt and tie.

And tonight? Coat buttoned to the top. So I wonder what really happens after the immortal phrase "You're fired"?

It's a simple call

Just when the Government was hoping we'd start to forget Northern Rock, along comes Gordon Brown's next big idea.

In an effort to relieve the pressure on the mortgage market, the Bank of England and the Treasury have suggested that banks and building societies - who in recent times have stopped lending to each other - should be allowed to swap traditional mortgage-based assets, for Government bonds.

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, said today that his Government "needed to sharpen up and improve message".

But for those of us who can see echoes of Northern Rock in this 'latest bright idea', we can allegedly take comfort in Gordon Brown's promise that the Government "Won't let this through without taxpayer protection"

It's a simple call. Does that statement make you feel secure? Or have we heard it all before and been let down every time by a duplicitous and increasingly knee-jerking Labour government, as it starts to go down for the third time?

Simple Pleasures

I decided to take my kids to Pooh Bridge today, to get a little fresh air and exercise. Things didn't start well, as I didn't have a map in the car, but I set off through Wadhurst and Mark Cross - heading towards Heathfield in East Sussex.

I got to a filling station and bought us drinks and a map, before realising I should have been heading for Hartfield, not Heathfield. It was an easy mistake to make, I convinced myself as the girls got more and more bored!

Eventually, we got to the picturesque village of Hartfield, and the tea shop gave us a free map. An hour later, I realised why the map was free, as we walked past the same house for the fourth time. We even decided to follow another couple, as they were carrying two water bottles and a small bunch of "pooh sticks" - needless to say we followed them as they twice went the wrong way!

Eventually, a friendly team of scaffolders took pity, and told us how to get to Pooh Bridge. Finally, we ambled around the twisting path and saw Pooh Bridge. It was all worthwhile to hear the kids' laughter as they raced their twigs under the bridge time and again. What is it they say about simple pleasures? Well they're absolutely right.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What a terrific community Pembury is

Tonight saw the second "Pembury Networking Evening" which this year was hosted by St Peter's Church on Hastings Road. Food and drink was provided by the excellent "Kitcheners" social enterprise at Pepenbury down the road.

Thirty or forty representatives from voluntary and community organisations in and around Pembury, turned up to meet existing and new colleagues, and to share news and information.

I also took the opportunity to announce the Kent County Council "mini-Local Area Agreement" which could see Pembury benefit from £25,000 of reward grant. Those present tonight helped with suggestions - both for potential performance targets, and potential ways to spend the money should we win it.

As with last year, the Networking Evening was a great event, and although tonight could have been a little better attended, it still underlined what a terrific community Pembury is, and how we're all working together for the benefit of the village.

Democracy came second after politics.

At the end of the KCC Cabinet agenda yesterday, those Cabinet Members who had appeared before the last meeting of Cabinet Scrutiny were asked to confirm that they had set in place actions to comply with the recommendations of the committee.

For me, it was an opportunity to reflect on over two hours spent questioning KCC's decision to recommission the day centre service at Queen Elizabeth Resource Centre in Dartford. Various postings to this blog have outlined the protests, media coverage, petitions and general concern about this decision, yet still the Labour-led Cabinet Scrutiny committee saw fit to invite two vulnerable wheelchair-bound users of the service, with no rest break, toilet break or any thought for medication times, to sit for over two hours at the table giving evidence.

Both Liberal Democrat and Labour spokesmen were invited to stand and read prepared statements which neither furthered the debate nor uncovered new evidence. And when the Managing Director of Kent Adult Social Services asked to correct the biased and misinformed statements, he was denied the opportunity.

And after all that, the committee recommended that we undertake the same degree of public consultation whether we commission a service or whether KCC owns that service. So when, last month, a national care home provider went out of business - calling us on the 16th to tell us to have all our clients out of their homes by the 20th - we should have refused and begun a six-month public consultation? When we received complaints from staff, users and carers about a day care facility, we should have 'put them on hold' for twelve weeks while we sought public opinion?

No. We will react with the same speed and compassion that we always have, because that's what social care is about. Not bureaucracy. Not box-ticking. And not posturing and political grandstanding while real life problems get put on the back burner.

I was pleased to have been asked to comment on my recent "brush with scrutiny". And a little more pleased to be able to shed some light on a biased meeting where democracy came second after politics.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

No Truck with Labour

This weekend saw the first advert in the Saturday Observer paid for personally by the Conservative Councillors at kent County Council.

Under the strapline "No Truck With Labour", thre advert underlined the unfairness of foreign lorry drivers crossing into and through Kent, often with a tankful of cheap French diesel. Their lorries cause damage to Kent roads (a laden freight lorry causes the same wear and tear to a road surface as 100,000 cars), and add to the congestion (on an average day there are seventeen miles of freight lorries on Kent roads if parked end to end). Not to mention the policy of "job and lob" which leaves paper parcels on our hard shoulders and hedgerows - I'll leave you to work out what that is.

The half page advert, which is reproduced above - calls for readers to visit the Kent Conservative website - - and sign the online e-petition. The response to the advert has already been excellent - watch out for more campaigns in coming months.

The Great Council Tax Scam

As you might be aware, since the time of Prescott's Minister for Local and Regional Government Nick Raynsford, the Government has made much of "keeping under control" the increase in Council Tax in local authorities up and down the country.

Indeed, the magical - and somewhat arbitrary - 'capping' figure of 5% has perplexed local government finance officers and cabinet members in trying to set their council tax. But for some years now, a scam has been perpetuated by some local authorities because of a loophole acknowledged yet ignored by the Labour Government.

Although County, District and Borough councils all have to ensure any rises in council tax stay below 5%, Town and Parish Councils do not. The scam then consists of some District and Borough councils simply "handing over" their responsibilities to their Town and District authorities, who then charge rate payers extra for this provision. Needless to say, the Borough or District Council keeps the amount it was originally given by its rate payers to provide the old service.

The Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (which used to be the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions and is now the Department for Communities and Local Government) was aware of this as long ago as September 2000, as you'll see from Anne J to its Green Paper for Town and Parish Councils - One of the key aspirations of this paper was " be fair to those who use and pay for local authority services" and " be intelligible and transparent to all stakeholders".

However, in paragraph J15, the Government admits that "Parish precepts account for less than 1½ per cent of total council tax collected. For most households, the parish precept is a very small component of the council tax bill. However, there are a few towns and parishes where the parish precept is larger than the council tax due to the district council. In these cases, it is illogical that taxpayers should have protection via the Government’s reserve capping powers from excessive council tax increases made by the district, but no protection from excessive increases in the precept."

And so it goes - a fascinating article by Mike Schofield of the IsItFair campaign tells the full story -

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Don't be so naieve

Dr John Sewell of Hythe has written an interesting letter to the Saturday Observer in Kent - "Abandon Hospital PFI". Dr Sewell's message is clear - he feels that PFI as a means of raising finance for building public sector buildings is expensive, dangerous, and unpredictable.

His letter states that "PFI has been called a millstone around the neck for new NHS hospitals", reducing their flexibility to respond to rapidly changing healthcare needs. He suggests that the NHS "should reconsider ... before signing this 30-year, tightly worded, risky and constrictive contract".
Well, Dr Sewell, I have news for you. Most of the rest of the public sector feels exactly the same way as you do about PFI, but sadly, it's the only game in town. If we didn't accept the Government's gracious capital funding mechanism we'd have no schools, hospitals or care homes in Kent or anywhere else for that matter.
So, Dr Sewell, if you can come up with a better means of funding Kent's new build public estate, then please let us know. In the meantime, please don't be so naieve.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Three year old terrorists?

Poole Borough Council in Dorset have undertaken surveillance across February and March of a three year old girl and her family.

Poole's powers were invoked under the Government's controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

And the reason for this intrusion? Was this a suspected terrorist? Perhaps the toddler was carrying a lunch box full of semtex?  No.  Her parents, Jenny Paton and Tim Joyce, were suspected of using a false address to get her in to Poole's Lilliput Primary School.

Once again using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, the Labour government have enabled anti-terrorism laws to be used against a child of three.

But isn't this the same Labour government who are fanatical about Human Rights legislation?

How does that work then?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The earth moved for us

It's the school holidays, and in our house my wife and I split looking after our two daughters, so that they still get time with Mum and Dad, but we don't use too much of our leave then up with no break at Christmas.

And so it was that I found myself on a Tuesday morning with two energetic, on-the-edge-of-boredom girls. Ten minutes on the internet later, we had decided. Diggerland in Rochester. Just forty five minutes later (and printing the AA route planner and getting the girls to navigate was a stroke of genius!) and we were there.

It's a fantastic place to go - I couldn't believe they actually let you get into a JCB worth anywhere between twelve and sixty thousand pounds, and take the controls. We went on everything - from tractors, to diggers. We sat on the platform of a hydraulic lift as it pushed us up to around fifty feet off the ground; we were seated in the bucket of a giant digger as it swung us around, lifted us up and dropped us from thirty odd feet. I won't forget standing in front of my two daughters, each one at the controls of a matching six tonne earthmover, giggling as they scooped huge craters in the ground.

The girls didn't want to leave, and if I'm honest neither did I. We'll certainly be back - it's a really novel idea, and well worth a day out. The earth certainly moved for us!

What do the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells CDif families get?

I see from tonight's news that the ex-Chief Executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, Rose Gibb is to sue the Trust over the package she expected to receive when she resigned last October.

A resignation, I hasten to add, which came just days before the C-Diff storm hit the media.

Ninety people died through a combination of incompetence and cover ups.  Scores of families were torn apart.

Ms Gibb is allegedly suing now for £75,000 for breach of contract, and a further £175,000 plus in compensation - in total, a quarter of a million pounds.  There are many who wonder - including myself - just what the families of those who died will get?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hopeless, gutless bastards

I see from today's Kent on Sunday (page 6, "Ex-PM Blair slammed at business exhibition") that Greg Dyke, ex-BBC Director General, has been in Kent visiting the Kent 2020 Vision business exhibition at the County Showground in Detling.

You may recall that Mr Dyke left the BBC four years ago having been caught up in something of a firestorm with Tony Blair's office over the "weapons of mass destruction" argument. He made the point that both the British and US Governments had "grossly exaggerated" the case for war, and that the journalists at the BBC had done their job, proving, as Mr Dyke said "We were right and they were wrong."

However, his comments on BBC Governors were most interesting. "If I was still in charge of the BBC I would have described the governors of the BBC as fine, upstanding people, but I can tell you most of them were hopeless, gutless bastards and the sooner the whole of the BBC governors system is changed the better."

Mark Thompson, who succeeded Mr Dyke, takes £459,000 of licence payers' money as salary, and one assumes that Mr Dyke earned nearly as much during his tenure.

So why didn't he feel brave enough to blow the whistle on the "hopeless, gutless bastards" while he was still in a position as Director General to actually do something about them?

All a bit unfair really

I hear from the news today that the Government is handing their responsibilities for rounding up stray dogs over to local government.

This seems more than a little daft, because a stray dog won't dutifully stay in one place from Friday night until Monday morning just because councils are shut over the weekend.

Of more concern is the fact that over the last couple of years, government seems to be throwing up its hands and passing over more and more of its smaller duties - today it was stray dogs; yesterday it was licencing in our pubs and clubs.

Needless to say, there's no more cash for councils to take over these duties; so once again, Government keeps taxpayers' cash but does less for it, then threatens councils with capping powers if they dare to raise their council tax to help pay for the additional work Government gives them.

All a bit unfair really.

I wonder what the summer's going to be like?

At this time of year you'd expect the weather headlines to read "phew, what a scorcher!". And yet, on a Sunday in April, when we've packed away the ski jackets and pullovers until later in the year, we've had snow.

And not just a light dusting - no, this snow has been falling since last night, and was deep enough to make this rather shapely 'snow woman' - I say woman, because I've rarely seen a snowman with a figure like this...

It's now late afternoon and the snow's still falling, and it certainly doesn't seem like we were opening Easter eggs a couple of weeks ago.

I wonder what the Summer's going to be like?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

I love it when a plan comes together!

A week or two ago a Sherwood resident contacted me to alert me to the fact that the 277 Sunday bus service, which provided Sherwood residents with vital access into Tunbridge Wells town centre, was to end tomorrow - Sunday 6th April.

I did some checking, and found the story was true - the service had been paid for by Section 106 contribution from property development on the industrial estate - from Toys R Us, PC World, B and Q and so on. The funding only lasted for a few years and now it had ended. Along with the bus service.

Kent County Council were alerted to this, and our transport officers began looking at options. We looked at alternative providers, and finally started negotiations with CountryLine.

Yesterday, I spoke at length with David Hall, the County Transportation Manager who told me we had signed agreements that afternoon, and that within weeks the CountryLine Sunday service which ran along Pembury Road, would turn onto the Sherwood Estate and provide a full replacement to the defunct 277 route.

It was great to see the look on the faces of Sherwood residents when I announced this last evening - broad smiles and a hearty round of applause said it all. As Hannibal from the A-Team would have said - "I love it when a plan comes together"!

Holding the Council to account

Last September, I organised a public meeting in Sherwood for long-suffering residents to vent their anger about the state of Greggs Wood Road - the main access through the estate.

Keith Ferrin, KCC Cabinet Member for Highways and his officers promised at that meeting that at least the most important end of Greggs Wood Road - from Sherwood Road down past the Medical Centre, the entrance the the primary school, the shops and the new TN2 Community Centre - would be resurfaced in six months.

Last night, together with Borough Councillor Frank Williams, we organised a follow up meeting with Keith Ferrin to make sure KCC was delivering on its promises.

Local residents voiced a range of concerns - about the quality of the work, about when the job would be completed; about when the rest of the road would be resurfaced as well. It wasn't an easy meeting, for Frank, for me or for Keith Ferrin. But it did show that council taxpayers can have a say in hoiw and when their local services are delivered, and that they should hold the Council to account.

Wait your turn for the roundabout

I see from Andrew Neil's BBC show "The Daily Politics" that Children's Secretary Ed Balls and Culture Minister Andy Burnham were filmed using play equipment at a kid's playground in South London yesterday. They bumped into each other, they fell off , they generally showed what immense fun could be had when our Labour Government decides to put money into building children's play parks.

But surely there's some mistake? Isn't this the same Labour government who, since coming to power in 1997, have allowed countless schools to sell off their playing fields to property developers? The same fun-loving party who wanted to outlaw competitive sport in case our children got upset when they didn't win?

And perhaps more importantly, where exactly are these new play parks going to be built, now that this Labour administration that have allowed much of the green space in the South East to be concreted over?

We could be excused for wondering exactly where these new parks would be built - in Kent, the two "growth areas" fingered by John Prescott will see around 120,000 new homes built over the next decade, and around 250,000 new residents to the County - so be prepared to wait your turn for the roundabout.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

It's a bit late now

Question Time tonight from Birmingham showed Labour's Douglas Alexander running down the Conservative's "capping" proposals on EU migrants.

He told us that Labour had a much better plan. They would employ the same "points system" as Australia. This would, he alleged, allow the Government to 'filter in' the better qualified immigrants, and 'filter out' those less qualified.

It's a shame Labour didn't think about bringing this system in all those years ago when they opened our borders to all comers and created the "black economy" they've left us with today.

And the Liberal Democrats? Well, they all abstained...

Funny thing happened at Kent County Council today. Trudy Dean, Leader of the six strong Lib Dem group had demanded a time-limited debate. This allows thirty minutes for cross party debate on a specified topic.

She chose to accuse KCC of sharp practice by setting up our own commercial businesses. KCC runs buses, a temp agency, and a landscaping operation. It sells energy, furniture and stationery to countless other local authorities, bringing in millions of pounds a year to keep council tax down.

And so it was that the LibDems started their tirade against the Conservatives, fuelling their tiresome and ill-informed yellow leaflets and portraying the LibDems as 'standing up for Kent businesses'.

But it didn't quite happen like that. The LibDem accusations fell on deaf ears. Rather than cries of "hear hear", you could have heard a pin drop. Then Derek Smyth stood up for Labour, and backed up the Conservatives' actions in a powerful speech about "the 21st century face of local government".  Other LibDems tried to save face with equally confused and misinformed mumblings, but they just dug themselves in deeper.

Finally, Members were asked to vote on the Liberal Democrats' motion against KCC. What happened? Massive support for KCC, from both sides of the chamber.

And the Liberal Democrats? Well, they all abstained...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A village with heart

It hardly seems twelve months since the last AGM of Pembury Parish Council. But last night, around fifty local residents turned up at the Village Hall to hear the Chairman, David Coleman give a potted history of the Parish Council's achievements over the last year.

Then he graciously handed over to me to give a County Councillor report. I praised the Parish Council - genuinely and sincerely as they really are one of Kent's best - and the three Borough Councillors. Working together, we've really been able to deliver improvements for the local community.

I talked about my school assemblies, my visits to churches and care homes, my campaign for a lollipop person, the network evening that brought voluntary organisations together, and the £9,500 I've managed to give local charities and organisations throughout the village.

And now the Pembury mini-LAA, which could bring real benefits to Pembury residents and net the village £25,000 into the bargain.

Paul Barrington-King, one of the Borough Councillors rode from Tunbridge Wells to Wiesbaden to raise money for the new play area, and last night he presented his cheque for £2000.

It was a great evening for Pembury. It's a village with heart.

It could be you

The National Lottery. As they never tire of telling us, over the years it's raised millions and millions for good causes up and down the country.

For thousands of small organisations, communities and charities, the Lottery has represented often the only way to deliver their projects. Indeed, it's often their only hope when most other funding goes to larger, more established charities.

And yet, with the Government's massive promises on delivering the Olympics in 2012, the National Lottery now represents a pot of gold that's hard to resist...

And as the Government licks its lips and prepares to plunder - sorry - redistribute our cash to their higher purpose, all those little charities will gradually wither. All those little local projects will cease to exist.

Mr Brown, I hope you know what you're doing. Maybe the public will show their feelings at the ballot box. You never know Mr Brown - it could be you.