Thursday, August 31, 2006


Even Government Ministers get rained on...

What with it being August and all, it rained in Manchester today. I got rained on walking to my car, and I got rained on walking from my car to the office. ANd then, no sooner had I arrived in the office, than the fire alarm went off.

Discounting the fact that a fire somehow broke out when everything for miles around was rendered non-flamable by the incessant rain, my stay in the fire assembly point (local college car park) in the rain was notable because I shared it with a government minister!

He was visiting Oldham Council, my place of work. We are often visited by Ministers. In fact, Tony Blair launched his 2005 General Election campaign from Oldham Civic Centre, and despite losing 100 seats of his majority, it doesn't seem to have put Labour off! Oldham has come a long way since the civil disturbances of 2001, and now the Borough is on the up in many ways. So much so that lots of people tak einterest in how they can learn from us at the Council, hence the visit today. Yet even the combined power of Oldham Council and a government minister couldn't stop the rain, as the Council Leader, Deputy Chief Executive and the Minister sheltered under their umbrellas.

Some light relief amidst the gloom...


Wednesday, August 30, 2006


Action update - Warehouse on Warwick St

A local resident has asked me what is to become of the warehouse on Warwick St now that the fire has put it permanently out of use. And I don't know the answer.

The warehouse runs halfway down Warwick Street, which runs from Bury New ROad down to Greengate Lane off Prestwich Village. The warehouse backs onto the rear of some of the houses on Clifton Road, and it used to contain a gym amongst other things. Sadly it burned down several months ago, meaning that all but the ground floor had to be demolished. I myself was a minor victim of the fire, having to evacuate my own house and spend the night with Tamsin and my next door neighbour trying to sleep in my car!

Whilst we were only out of the house for 18 hours, the warehouse itself is still out of action, probably permanently, and I am getting questions about what is going to become of it. I will endeavour to find out. First stop Cllr O'Hanlon...



The world is reading... Kind of...

At the advice of Cllr Andrew Garner, I have listed this blog on Lib Dem Blogs, a site which brings together blogs from Lib Dems all over the place.

I think this is a great idea, as it gives me the opportunity to read what other Lib Dems are doing and thinking, and it can do the same for them and you. Take a look at the site, and leave a comment somewhere if the mood takes you! I already have two people who have left comments after yesterday's posts, and hopefully they'll be the first of many. What's the point of a blog if it doesn't stimulate discussion?

Unfortunately, I haven't really done much to stimulate discussion today. I have just arrived home after a day at work and a visit to my grandpa in hospital. He has been there for a month now, and shows no signs of moving. He hasn't got out of bed for a week. It's a sad situation.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006


The wrong news

The Lib Dems made the front page of The Times today, but it was depressing reading and not what I was looking for to mark a return to work after a long weekend. I found Andrew Pierce’s piece on Charles Kennedy disturbing for a number of reasons.

First, since it’s the serialisation of his book, it’s going to be the first of many wince-inducing articles about our former leader’s problems with alcoholism. I think that they are unnecessary, unfair, and cruel to a man suffering from a sickness and vulnerable to the same problems as many other people in public life. If senior party colleagues respected Mr Kennedy’s privacy in not revealing his battles with alcohol, I see this more as a service to Mr Kennedy than as a dis-service to the party and the public. It is not up to others to “out” someone as having a problem with alcohol. It is up to the person themselves. If we are the party of fairness and trust, I would argue that we should apply these principals to our leaders as much as all of our members and the public as a whole. It was the role of senior party officials and MPs to encourage Mr Kennedy to seek help, which they did, and to insist that he stand down when it failed. Which they did. The article accuses the party of a “conspiracy and cover up.” If we conspired to keep Mr Kennedy’s private illness just that, then we have nothing to be ashamed of in our conspiracy. I argue that it was nobody’s business but those to whom Mr Kennedy chose to make it so. He put his faith in trusted advisers, like we all do when suffering with problems. When the problems became bad enough to consistently impair his leadership, he stood down.

With our national media’s obsession with the private lives of public figures, is it any wonder that plans to reveal an alcohol problem were shelved. If it had gone ahead, our party’s leader would have become less well known as “Charles Kennedy,” and better known as “alcoholic Charles Kennedy.” The man and party would never have stood a serious electoral chance. Not for real, factual reasons, based on the actual problems in leadership that an alcohol problem induces, but due to newspaper screeching and prejudice which is the same reason we don’t have a more honest approach to alcoholism in the wider world.

My second problem with the article, Sir Ming Campbell’s leadership is again sidetracked from policy and serious debate, becoming mired in backward-looking accusations from the Kennedy era that do nothing but paint us as bumbling fools. I’m no media strategist, but to me, today should have been the day we capitalised on the clear distinctions between our policies on the NHS, and those of the government. Many of the other newspapers led today on the disturbing news that many of our elderly NHS patients miss out on food at meal times because nurses don’t have the time to administer the level of care required. I can vouch for this. I am often by my Grandpa’s bed at tea time in North Manchester General Hospital, and by the time the harassed nurses have doled out meals to the other 20 patients on the ward, most of whom should be in care homes rather than hospitals, my Grandpa’s food has gone cold or been fed to him by me.

Today we should be promoting our policies on care for the elderly and the future of the NHS, that mark us clearly out from Labour and the Conservatives, and see us offer quicker diagnosis and free care for the elderly. Instead, we are placed on the back foot and forced to defend years-old accusations about a former leader. We should have had the opportunity to take hold of the media cycle by the scruff of its neck and keep a tight hold of it until it was beyond the help of even the most determined NHS nurse! But we can’t now.

And it affects local campaigning as well. What chance do we have to make gains in Bury and start to make a real difference to the lives of local people in terms of our local environment, anti-social behaviour, local regeneration, fairer taxation and everything else, when issues are hijacked by this?

But the main problem I have with the article is that, again, Charles Kennedy’s name gets more media coverage than Ming Campbell’s. I get the impression from the media, and certainly from some of the local people I speak to, that Sir Ming is seen as little more than a stop-gap leader, biding time for someone else. This isn’t helped by assertions of the same in articles such as today’s, which says that “fourteen months before the 2005 general election… Sir Menzies privately agreed to a request from senior MPs to take over as caretaker if Mr Kennedy was forced to quit.” I get the feeling that a lot of people think that this has actually happened! This is not helped by announcements from Mr Kennedy that he is “ready for a political comeback.” Mr Kennedy remains an MP, and has done all along. Whether or not he makes a comeback to a shadow-Cabinet position should be a matter for the leader, not him. If he wants to tell people that he’s over his problems, then let Sir Ming appoint him to a position, and announce it together. Sometimes I feel that I quite fancy a stab at front-line national political activity myself, but unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately!) I don’t decide!

Sir Ming Campbell is not a stand-in leader. He is our party’s full-time, permanent leader. The man is a respected MP of many years’ standing, with a distinguished and varied career before that, and was a former Olympic athlete before that. Sadly, his cause has not been helped by our party’s own attempts to commit very public electoral suicide on a number of occasions. The public scandals involving Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes, together with the ongoing Charles Kennedy saga, mean that, in my view, Sir Ming is struggling to cement his position. Resultantly, his own problems (such as his performance at Prime Minister’s Questions) are given far more weight than they deserve, whilst his successes (revised tax policies, by-election successes etc) are glossed over as something like the Superbowl Half-Time show whilst we wait for the real leader to re-emerge.

Imagine if his Olympic race was run again, but that two of his main competitors stumbled out of the starting blocks like amateurs and put themselves out of the race (Oaten and Hughes). His one remaining competitor (Chris Huhne) had never run a race of that magnitude before, and whilst he put up a brave challenge, he was never going to win. So Sir Ming crosses the line first, but is able to claim only a hollow victory. And all the while, his main challenger, Charles Kennedy, had to sit out the race serving a drugs ban! What kind of Olympic champion would that make?!

But the fact is that he is our Olympic champion. He is our winner, and he is our leader. We should publicly back him, and publicly shout down those that do not. Only when we do this can we seize back the agenda, put forth our good ideas, and beat those that challenge them and us. I want the local agenda to be about real issues for the people of Prestwich. I hope that it still is, and that distractions like today’s article remain away from my main aim of helping local people.



My Weekend: Weddings, nudity and thin hotel walls...

My weekend away was hugely entertaining, as I hoped it would be. I am rarely let down by my friends and relatives, who provide me with a constant source of amusement and good times. I headed down south on Friday evening, avoiding the catastrophe that is the M6 at rush hour. However, I hadn’t bargained for the eternal disaster that is the Birmingham stretch. In all my time at Birmingham University (1999-2002) the bit of the motorway around junction 6 was permanently being worked upon. And now it seems that they are doing it again. I reckon a sizeable phalanx of road workers could retire off that stretch of the M6 alone!

Spaghetti Junction seems less of a marvel than it once was. When I was younger and we drove past, I distinctly remember it actually looking like spaghetti, with at least a hundred winding over-passes and motorways. Nowadays, with adulthood sweeping away my childish exuberances, it seems like there’s little more than a dribble of concrete flopping limply over the motorway. I hope someone can tell me that, somewhere between about 1992 and now, at least three dozen roads in the area have been destroyed. Either that, or being an adult is a lot less wondrous than being a child.

On Saturday I went into London, arranging to meet a friend for lunch, followed by an afternoon in the park with my Dad. We don’t see one another very often, and the conversation this time round was a deeply disturbing story about his recent escapades on a naturist beach in Brighton. Whilst I don’t begrudge him his freedom to wander naked along whichever part of the South coast he lawfully chooses, there is something almost indescribably horrific about hearing my own father’s tales of clothes-free shenanigans. Especially since I am his son, and therefore genetically pre-disposed to emulate his feats. Whilst I can grudgingly accept baldness, if my genes think they’ll have me prancing nude around Brighton in thirty years time, they’re wrong.

Anyway, from my London nightmare to Ware (where?), and the wedding. It turns out that the relative of Tam’s concerned was a man named Matt, and his bride a girl called Charlotte. And a very nice wedding it was too. The ceremony was in a lovely old house with glorious gardens which we wandered around during our stay. I’d love to get married one day, but have a real fear about cracking up during the vows. Even now I find them quite amusing, and have a real urge to giggle sometimes. I think it’s a nervous thing with the silence, but there are a number of things that I find amusing and that, if I was starring as the Groom and was stood there with my Bride, I know that we as a couple would find hysterical too. I’d have to really try and hold it together. There’s the “no lawful impediment” bit, where someone always seems to cough at the crucial moment. Then there’s the part I lovingly refer to as the “Alf Garnett” element of the ceremony, where the Minister recites the names of a string of sit-coms “In Sickness and In Health… Til Death us do Part…” and all I can think of is Warren Mitchell screaming at Tony Booth.

I have been to a number of weddings recently, and there is an awful lot of hanging about in between the various elements. I reckon there’s money to be made in hurrying the whole process along a bit. If we could be ushered with urgency from ceremony to photographs to meal to speeches to exit, the venues could probably get three in in an afternoon, and the whole thing would be a damn site cheaper for the punters. As it was we stood around shivering on the grass, digesting our own stomachs waiting for the food.

We stayed in the annex next to the old house, which used to be a conference centre and training venue, and thus had the requisite furniture (depressing pine desk, tiny TV purchased in bulk from ex-Soviet republic, pressure-free shower etc). Our room was groan-inducingly bad. I would like to congratulate the owners of the hotel for managing to fit a 4’6” bed in a room precisely 4’7” wide, and also in constructing walls so spectacularly thin that their ability to prop up the ceiling was remarkable given their ability to transmit even the most miniscule outside noise directly to my ears.

That’s it for my summer of weddings. We don’t have any more planned for a while now. I was glad to get back to Prestwich last night, but was back in work today. Three day weekends are great, but the worst thing about them is that they end.


Thursday, August 24, 2006


Away for the weekend

I am going away for the bank holiday weekend tomorrow, so there’ll be no blogging until at least Monday night, possibly Tuesday.

I am going down to Farnborough in Hampshire, where my girlfriend Tamsin’s parents live. I will stay there on Friday night, and then head into London on Saturday where I will probably meet up with a couple of friends, and my Dad and Sister. My Sister is going off to teach English in China on Sunday, so it will be the last time I see her for six months! And it isn’t often I get to see my Dad now that he lives down South, so that will be lovely too.

On Sunday there is a wedding in Tam’s family. I am not too sure of who is getting married, but attendance is mandatory so off I shall go. It is my third wedding this month! It’s certainly the season! Anyway, the wedding is in Ware, in Hertfordshire, which has caused much confusion and hilarity when I have attempted to explain this to people. The conversation normally goes something like this:

“Where’s the wedding?”
“Yes, where?
"No, I’m, asking you. Where is the wedding?!”
“I don’t know! You tell me!”

So, where will I be? I will be in Ware!

Until Monday night. Have a good weekend.



Getting people to work... And to work together!

I have just arrived home after a busy evening at Northern Air Hospital Radio. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am a volunteer at the station, which serves North Manchester General and Hope Hospitals.

It is part of my job to interview potential new recruits, and tonight we had two come down and visit us. It is always lovely to meet new people interested in volunteering – it’s always uplifting to see so many people willing to give up their free time for a worthy cause. Tonight’s two were both younger than me, and willing to give hospital radio a go, both to entertain and cheer up the patients, and maybe learn some radio skills as well. Hopefully we can put them to work doing just that.

I am also in the process of modernizing the way the station is run so that it is more efficient and get things done speedier. My colleague Rose and I are busily attempting to draw up a constitution and a committee structure, and tonight we were putting in place some roles and responsibilities for committee members ahead of next month’s AGM. Some people are against the idea of a committee, fearing that it will all be a bit too bureaucratic, but I think that if run properly, and given enough flexibility to not be bound by red tape, it is a great opportunity. It will give the members with most to contribute the opportunity to do just that, whilst providing a solid platform for the rest to come to for support.

I hope it will all work out, but I know the risks! If only Council Committees were as universally successful as I hope my Hospital Radio committee will be!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


What goes down... Must come up!

My run tonight taught me a valuable lesson – that what goes down must come up! Experts on local topography (and if there are any of them amongst my readers, be assured that I am becoming one myself!) will note that Prestwich is one of the more undulating areas of Bury. Sadly, my house seems to be at the top end of the range, and so no matter which direction I run in, it always seems to begin with a descent and end with a climb.

Tonight was a particularly prime example. My first mile was extremely easy, down Bury New Road and St Anne’s Road. Cllr Donal O’Hanlon drove past me on St Anne’s Road, pulling over to offer me some kind words of encouragement (mainly friendly abuse about not delivering Focus leaflets as I ran!), and I was in fine voice to talk back. So confident was I in fact, that I was making plans in my head to go on for miles more, maybe all the way to Heaton Park, round it and back.

Sadly, I hadn’t reckoned on Prestwich’s version of Mt Everest, in the shape of Lowther Road. I have driven up this street on many occasions, and delivered leaflets to its residents too, but had yet to sample the joys of running up it.

It ruined me.

My legs are still hurting now. I managed to carry on for a mile or so afterwards, but it has done significant damage I am sure. I always thought that the gradient was fairly mild, but now I am convinced that it is an almost vertical incline.
But I won’t let it beat me! I shall take it on again I’m sure. And this time I’ll know what’s coming!


Running the Ward

I have just been on my first run after the Birchwood 10k on Sunday, taking the opportunity to tkae a look round the Ward on the hunt for any potential issues and trouble-spots. Tonight's route took me from my house in Clitfon Road, turning right onto Bury New Road, then right onto St Anne's Road. I ran right to the end beofre doubling back on myself and turning right up Lowther Road. From there I wen tright around the block, ending up doing a circuit of Prestwich Hills before returning onto Bury New Road and home.

I was glad to see that the re-surfacing of St Anne's Road seems to have been completed, after the inexplicable delay. I also noticed quite a number of young people hanging about in various places. Obviously I don't begrudge them their fun at all, but sometimes they can get very boisterous. In particular, the shops on St Anne's Road, the play area in St Mary's Park, and Prestwich Village Precinct around the Grapes pub seem to be problem areas. Thius last one could be very dangerous given its position on the main road.

I know that a number of local Councillors have been talking about extra youth provision so that young peopledon't have to hang around on street corners in the rain. Getting wet when it rains should be the preserve of silly runners like me! I will make sure I discuss it with them to see what progress, if any, is being made.

Monday, August 21, 2006


The start of a busy week

It's been the start of a busy week. As well as keeping abreast of the issues and working on the content of the next "Focus," I have verious jobs to do and things going on, which all seem to have collided in the period of the next seven days. And to top it all off, my car has chosen this week to stop working, and so has had to be driven off to the Grimshaw's Care Home by Junction 17 of the M60 for some TLC. My own preferred solution of just kicking it didn't seem to work.

Tomorrow evening I am taking a friend of mine from Sunderland to see her team play Bury FC at Gigg Lane. I used to be a regular at Gigg throughout the 90's, and it's a shame how far the team have fallen since the glory days of 1996-7 when we won what is now League 1 and spent a couple of seasons in The Championshop. It looks like it'll be touch and go whether we can remain in the league at all this year. It's vital for Bury to keep its league team, as the profile brought to the Borough by a successful football team is a great bonus. Not to mention the spirit of togetherness that can be engendered by everyone coming together to support the Shakers. So tomorrow I will be lending the team my support. And my friend will be supporting Sunderland, who have got off to an equally awful start to the season. Between us, we have played 8 games this season, and lost 8. This could well be the first game in history where both teams lose!

I will keep you posted as the week progresses!


Sunday, August 20, 2006


Action Update - Ward Meeting

This evening I met with Cllrs Donal O'Hanlon and Vic D'Albert to discuss some of the issues affecting St Mary's that you have brought to our attention in the past few weeks. As well as my mini-motor-bike crusade, some of the things we talked about included:

- Anti-social behaviour around the village
- The problems with parking near the Post Office, and the fact that the dis-used area of land between Tesco and the Post Office might be worth looking into as a potential solution
- Improvements in traffic flow through Prestwich Village after our successful campaign to sort out the traffic light sequencing and rationalise the on-street car parking
- The possibility of "cheering up" Prestwich Village, to make Bury New Road more welcoming and to alert through-traffic as to where they are passing through
- The possibility of working in conjunction with Prestwich Carnival organisers to make next year's event an even bigger success than previous years
- The setting up and continuance of a number of residents' groups in the Ward, and how we could work with them to link with the Council.

We talked about a number of other things as well. Of course, your views on those issues, and anything else you feel we might be able to help with, are always welcome here, by phone (0161 798 4996) or email (

We also started thinking about future issues of St Mary's Focus, the next edition of which should start to be distributed in the next few weeks. Focus takes quite a while to deliver, since we have to visit virtually every house in the Ward ourselves and post them by hand (we do use the Post Office for a tiny percentage of them). We are always on the look out for volunteers to help us deliver, and if you are interested, please do give me a call or fill in this form.

Donal and I, and the other Prestwich Lib Dem Councillors like Vic, are always here to help with your issues and concerns. Tonight's meeting was very useful in allowing us all to get together and discuss action. Hopefully next time we meet, some of the issues will have been postiviely resolved, and others will be there for us to tackle together with the community.



I ran... And live to fight another day!

So, today was the day of my big run! Eight weeks on from starting as a complete novice, barely capable of running to my own fridge for some chocolate, I was competing in the Birchwood 10k. And, as you can see from the slightly sweaty image to the left, I managed it!

I had done a couple of 10k runs around Prestwich in the build-up to the big day, and it wasn't until taking up my local runs that I realised quite how mountainous Prestwich actually is! Have you ever tried running up Gardner Mount? Or up Bury New Road from St Mary's Park towards Tesco? It's quite a challenge!

Thankfully, the Birchwood route is fairly flat, save for a couple of nasty motorway bridges near the end. I had been aiming for a time under 1 hour, and according to my watch I made it in just under 56 minutes, so I was very pleased with myself. And I got a lovely pink bath-towel from the organisers as a congratulatory gift! So thanks to them for that, and for their organisational skills in making sure that all 800-odd of us runners ran the right way and didn't get run over.

I'm not sure of my position as yet, I will have to wait for the official results to be posted on-line for that. But I am sure that I didn't come last, which was my big fear. That and leaving the venue in an ambulance. Thankfully neither occurred!

I might explore the possibility of a road race in Bury! I don't know whether there is one already, but if not, why not? From a purely selfish point of view, it's closer than Birchwood! Although I might see if we can avoid the hillier areas of Prestwich!

Friday, August 18, 2006


Weekend Plans

My 10k road race in Birchwood is now just 40 hours away. On Sunday at 10.30 I will join 500 fellow athletes and pound the streets for an hour. Well, I say an hour, but I imagine that I will be one of the few for whom the race lasts that long. By the time I stagger home (assuming, of course, that I manage it at all!), I suspect that some of the speedier racers will be showered, changed, and half way home!

I am aiming for a time of an hour or less, but the more I think about it, the more I reckon that my mark of success will be avoiding the local paper doing a special feature on me, rather like I read after the London Marathon, when a man in a full suit of armour dragging a truck behind him crosses the line in a fortnight.

Because of my impending run, I have decided to take it easy this weekend. I had planned on a final warm-up run tonight, but I was advised that it might leave me tired for Sunday. So I have decided to give it a miss. Which does leave me a little under-prepared... But still, I have also been told to "stock up on my carbs" which is something I can easily prepare for with some glee! Hence this evening's trip to Armstrong's and tomorrow's plans for signigifcant eating!

Sadly I think that I will be running with no support on Sunday. My girlfriend is away, as are most of my friends, and my Mum is busy too! So not only do I have to run in a circle for an hour for a reason I can't quite remember, but then I have to drive home as well!

Where did it all go wrong...?


I saw the eyesore...

The eyesore that is "The Retreat" artwork in Prestwich Village centre has made it to the front page of the Prestwich Advertiser. Hopefully this will alert many more people to the disgraceful delays in getting this sorted once and for all. It is a shameful waste of money and effort to redevelop an area only for its supposed centrepiece to be left as little more than a derelict and dangerous building site. Not to mention the crippling effect that it is having on businesses. I know that I don't look forward to having to walk by it every time I go to the library or to the shops or to the Metrolink station, wondering what pieces of random debris will be scattered about the place today, so goodness knows how elderly or disabled people must feel having to navigate it. And, as Cllr D'Albert says in the paper, it is hardly an open-arms invitation to businesses to come and fill the vacant units in Radius, is it?

The report in the paper says that the Council will provide a briefing note on plans for re-opening "within two weeks." I await that with some interest.


Thursday, August 17, 2006


Action Update - Mini Motor Bikes (again!)

I got through to the Police today, and had a very productive chat with PC Andy Ferguson, who is part of a unit concentrating on Mini Motor Bikes at the moment. He let me know a few facts about the situation:

- If Police discover a bike bieng ridden illegally, or in an unsafe condition, it can be seized, and the rider issued with a £30 fixed penalty.
- If the rider wants to get it back, there is a charge of £120, plus £12 per day storage.
- If, after 21 days, the bike is unclaimed, it is crushed.

PC Ferguson was very helpful. He told me that there is nowhere legal for these bikes to be ridden around here. They are not insured for use on roads or footpaths, and cannot be used on common land (i.e. Prestwich Clough, St Mary's Park etc).

PC Ferguson's advice to residents is that if they see a mini motor bike being ridden, they call the Police's non-emergency respose line on 0161 872 5050. A Police Officer will then visit the scene and hopefully take the appropriate action should the offecne still be taking place.

To report a problem after the event, PC Ferguson's number is 0161 856 4532.

Acting on complaints from local residents, I informed PC Ferguson of a number of bikes that had been spotted as active in the Clifton Road area in recent nights. PC Ferguson promised to investigate, and seize the bikes if necessary. I have not spoken to him since, but note that there have been no bikes outside my house tonight!

PC Ferguson also told me that the article I mentioned last night was wrong, and that the arrest mentioned actually took place here in Prestwich, rather than in Whitefield.

We spoke about potential longer-term solutions to the problem. In terms of stopping supply of the bikes, PC Ferguson told me that Council Trading Standards Officers last year visited a number of premises selling the bikes illegally, and shut them down in conjunction with the Police. In the run up to Christmas, this scheme, supported by the Council, will be restarted. This is something I obviously applaud.

However, since these bikes obviously appeal to younger people, and there is not likely to be success stopping all of them from getting onto the streets, we spoke about more constructive measures. We talked about the possibility of a safe area for the bikes to be ridden legally, possibly under supervision. We also spoke about the possibility of some kind of mechanics course open to users of the bikes, to boost skills and enable them to be ridden legally and maintained safely. I will raise both suggestions with Cllr O'Hanlon and other local Lib Dem Councillors when I see them at the weekend.

In the meantime, if any readers have suggestions, concerns or comments about this issue (or of course, anything else), please do drop me a line.



It's like 1776 all over again...

After a busy day at work, where I was sat in a variety of meetings about a partnership deal which made my head ache, I have just been down to Northern Air Hospital Radio, where I am Membership Secretary.

Our constitution is in dire need of refreshment, so I re-wrote it in about a quarter of an hour to present to the other members at our forthcoming AGM. I know it was a rush job, and I probably will re-visit it again, but I was quite proud of my feat! I felt like the Founding Fathers of the USA! Creating constitutions!

Although I didn't start it off with "All hospital radio volunteers are created equal under God" (try telling that to a Programme Controller!), it is nonetheless an important document to our little organisation, and hopefully will allow us to make streamlined, rational decisions and progress, to continue providing a service to patients at NMGH and Hope Hospital.

If only my work's partnership deal was finished so quickly...


Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Action Update - Mini Motor Bikes

Following on from yesterday's post about Mini Motor Bikes, Sgt Campbell and I missed one another today, but did leave useful messages on answer machines!

Sgt Campbell was very quick to get back to me, and told me that he was aware of the problem of mini-motor bikes and illegal quad bikes in the area. He also said that patrols have been stepped up to combat the problem, and directed me to this article from the Manchester Evening News which shows both the potential scale of the problem, as well as the Police's successful solution against one bike in Whitefield.

I'd like to thank Sgt Campbell for his prompt repsonse, and I will try and speak to him in person tomorrow rather than via voicemail! Hopefully the problem will be addressed and the riders warned not only of the illegality of their actions, but also of the dangers.

Having said all that, the mini-motor bike from yesterday is still whizzing up and down the street past my house, now with two people on it more often than not. Where's a policeman when you need one?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Mini Motor Bikes

Mini Motor Bikes have been in the news recently, with a "crackdown" proposed by the Home Secretary. They are becoming more of a problem around here, and this evening one has been roaring up and down the street past my house on Clifton Road for the last half hour.

From this position it is a fairly amusing site. The machines are only a couple of feet high, so from this angle it looks as though a floating person is gliding past the window. If it wasn't for the appalling racket, it would almost be amusing. But the noise isn't the only problem. These machines are being used in an incredibly reckless way. They are being ridden down the middle of what is a fairly busy road, with no lights, no reflective paint on either machine or rider, no helmet, no registration plate, no protective gear at all, and probably no insurance. I have seen the various riders veer out of the way of the traffic more than once. It may be a cliche to say it, but it seems only a matter of time before somebody is seriously injured or worse.

Somebody riding a dark motorbike, three feet off the ground, at dusk, in the middle of a busy road, wearing no helmet and black clothes, with no lights, isn't the brightest thing going. And I mean that both literally and figuratively!

I have rung Sgt Campbell at Prestwich Police Station (0161 856 4537) to inform him of the situation, and will be speaking to local Councillors about it. Not only is it a nuisance, attracting crowds of young people to the noise, but it is also highly dangerous and should be stopped. I have no objection at all to these machines, provided they are used sensibly and legally. This is neither.



Running Man

I have recently taken up running, after my sister had the ludicrous idea that we should run the Bath Half Marathon next spring. I hadn't run more than a few yards for more than a few years, but about six weeks ago I decided to take up the challenge, and signed up to run the Birchwood 10k run, which now looms large on my horizon this Sunday.

At first it was like taking an ice-pick to my lungs. On my debut trip out, I managed to run for eight minutes and about one kilometre, but through perseverance and, more importantly, the fear of ridicule from my friends, I have persisted and have now managed 10k training runs on a couple of occasions. This evening I went for a 5k run, which I now consider a "short" one, despite it being laughably far compared to what I could manage a few weeks back.

A couple of things struck me when I was running today.

First, how incredibly fast professional track athletes actually run. My last run before tonight was on Saturday, when I went out just after watching Mo Farah win silver for Britain in the European Championships. He ran 5,000m in little more than 13 minutes, and still didn't win the race! Tonight I managed it in 31 minutes, and felt on top of the world (literally - I could barely breath and my legs hurt). Paula Radcliffe runs marathons in two and a quarter hours, which means averaging 6 minute miles for 26 miles! I can't manage a single one! My target for Sunday is an hour. In the time it takes me to run 10k, those two could run over 20k!

And second, running has become a great way to get to see more of the Ward. I have a few street circuits that I can run around, and I know how far each of them are by using this fabulous site. 10k circuits can take me all around Prestwich, past any potential problems for residents, or any exciting new developments. The other day a local resident rang me up to tell me about a problem with some derelict garages, which were on my regular running route! And tonight I saw him again as I ran past his house.

So next time you see a panting, sweating twnety-something flopping past your fornt door, don't call the police, as it's probably me. If you stop me to say hello, I may well say "Hi" back, or I may just grunt something at you. Believe me, it's nothing to do with impoliteness, it just depends whether you've caught me at the beginning of my run, or at the end when I've lost the power of speech.

A final thought - surely it can't be a coincidence that the number one centre for top class endurance running in the UK is called... St Mary's, can it?! Beijing Olympics here I come!


Monday, August 14, 2006


Find out how your Council is doing!

Local Councillors don't receive a salary. They get an allowance, but most have full time jobs as well. For those of us who haven't been elected, and merely campaign locally, there is no financial reward at all, so I have a full time job myself. And it proves very useful in campaigns!

I work for Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, a neighbouring Authority to Bury. My particular job is in Performance Improvement, and it involves making sure that the Council continually improves all of its services. I liaise with central government, keeping on top of the various inspections, assessments, and performance indicator information that they need. I also make sure that we as a Council best respond to the needs of both central government and the local community. As a result, I get to know about lots of interesting websites which can put you in touch with the Council, and more particularly can let you know about how well (or not) the Council is performing.

Councils are subject to assessment across all of their services. One of the main coordinating bodies for all of these assessments is the Audit Commission, who are also charged with ensuring improvements in the health service, criminal justice and housing. The Audit Commission's main way of assessing Local Government is Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), which you can read about here. More particularly, if you want to find out about Bury MBC's performance in CPA, the Council's scorecard is available here. This site is very useful if you want to find out more about how the Council is providing its services, as it contains lots of inspection reports.

Other useful sites that you might be interested in are:

OFSTED - where you can read inspection reports on schools and Local Education Authorities

The Commission for Social Care Improvement whose job it is to drive improvements in the social care sector. In fact, you can see their page on Bury MBC here.

The Benefits Fraud Inspectorate who look to improve benefits administration and reduce fraud.

Of course the best place to start finding out about the Council is at its own website at

I only thought of recording all of this information because, after a hard day at the office, I think the websites deserve someone visitng them who isn't me! I have spent the day immersed in compiling a Value for Money self assessment for Oldham, and writing a Direction of Travel statement as well. I've dealt with it for quite long enough today, so won't share the details now (that will have to wait for another exciting posting!), but it is comforting to think that, nationwide, there are plenty more like me writing the same for their own Authorities. And once the documents are written and inspected, everyone can view the type of websites I've mentioned here, and find out exactly how their Council is doing.


Sunday, August 13, 2006


Leafletting can be a dog's life!

Today has been a busy day - not helped by some scandalous lying in this morning which saw me barely up before the crack of lunch!

At midday I met with Cllr Vic D'Albert, Cllr Andrew Garner, and local campaigner Steve Wright for some Focus leafletting in Sedgley ward. The walk was punctuated by another confrontation with a local canine resident. If dogs could vote, I don't think they'd be voting for us as they seem to delight in attempting to bark, growl and bite us out of the area!

Today's angry dog was called "Spike," and I feared forVic's life at one point when the angry barks turned to frightening growls! It was interesting that Spike's owner responded to the dog's increasingly intense noise-making by remaining rooted to the spot and shouting "Spike" at gradually increasing volume. I speculated as to what the dog would have to do before the owner actually moved to stop it, but I shudder to think!

I hurried off in the opposite direction pretending not to be scared, but thankfully found Vic safe and sound a few minutes later. In the battle of man vs beast, both sides live to fight another day. But such are the perils of putting leaflets through peoples' doors!


Angels in blue uniforms

I popped in to see my Grandpa this afternoon. He has been a patient on ward E6 of North Manchester General Hospital for the last two weeks since he fell in his house. He is 83 years old, and is my last surviving grandparent.

He suffers from a condition known as Aphasia which has gradually robbed him of the ability to speak over the past few years. He was a fine, good man until he ws well into his late 70's. Now he is a shadow of that, and his speech is almost impossible to understand. He makes sounds, but these are'nt words as we would understand them, and for the past few months it has been very difficult to make him understand our words as well. In addition to his Aphasia, he is becoming physically much weaker as the ravages of time take their toll. He has trouble walking more than a few steps, and getting up out of his chair (hence the fall). He is no longer mobile enough to look after himself.

It is upsetting to see him in this way, but my sadness is tempered by the wonderful care that he receives in the hospital. I wouldn't wish a stay in hospital on anyone, and I want him out of there as soon as possible, but the doctors and nurses charged with his care are simply exemplary in their professionalism, their commitment, and their love for my Grandpa.

I volunteer at NMGH's Hospital Radio Station, Northern Air, and have done for a number of years. I speak to the nurses regularly as I go around the wards speaking to patients and collecting requests. Having said that, I hadn't really appreciated the breadth of their work until now. As well as attending to medical matters, the nurses are also caterers (distributing food and drink), odd-job people (fixing all sorts of technical gadgets that patients might have with them), and most importantly, counsellors. On virtually every occasion that I have visited my Grandpa over the last two weeks, the nurses have taken time to chat to him and the fellow patients, even when busy doing other things. He doesn't understand much these days, and we don't really understands him, but his wide smile when the nurse takes his hand is enough to show us all that he is absolutely safe in their care.

The NHS gets a bad press often enough, but I have nothing but praise for the people caring for my Grandpa.


Action Update - 13th August

The Retreat - progress with the "Eyesore"
I spoke to Cllr Andrew Garner and Cllr Vic D'Albert about the progress with our "Eyesore" campaign which you can read about in the current edition of St Mary's Focus . The piece of public artwork known as "The Retreat," the supposed centre-piece of the regeneration of Prestwich Precinct, has lain derelict for the past several months since being declared unsafe. We have been actively campaigning to have something done about this, since it is currently more than just an eyesore. It's a disincentive for businesses to move into the new Radius building, and also does little to help the businesses already in the precinct. It's also right in front of the library - a facility obviously popular with children, and therefore not the ideal place for a building site. Andrew and Vic told me that they had recieved an informal verbal update from a Council officer, and that hopefully some formal update on progress would be forthcoming shortly.

Rain Pain Water Main!

I spoke to Cllr Donal O'Hanlon this afternoon about some casework that has come up regarding burst water mains in Butterstile Lane and Church Lane. We were going to head down and have a look, but sadly the heavy rain meant we've had to postpose it. Hopefully we can have a look tomorrow, assuming that the streets haven't been washed away in the meantime!



Welcome to the St Mary's Diary!

Welcome to the St Mary's Diary! I'm trying to use this as a way of letting people know of the Liberal Democrat campaigns that are going on locally, and about what the party and I am up to in between editions of "St Mary's Focus."

But hopefully this will be more than that. I really want to use this diary as a way of speaking with people in St Mary's and the wider community, as well as anyone else who happens to read.

I think the internet is an amazing tool in bringing people together to talk, and I'm excited by the opportunity this diary gives me to listen to what local people (and everyone else!) might be thinking on lots of issues. So please leave any comments you might have. These can be about our campaigns, any issues we might not know about, or something that the Lib Dems nationally might be talking about.

The links on the left hand side of the page are to some other sites which you may find interesting They include "blogs" by some local Councillors, as well as links to the main Lib Dem party website.

I hope you enjoy the St Mary's Diary. If you ever want to leave a comment, please do. Or email me on


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