Friday, June 29, 2007
New Glasses, same faces.
This will also be the last weekend when I will be out on the street looking like a hungover and washed-up rock star - I am finally getting rid of my glasses with the "Reactions" lenses that go dark the moment I step outside. They are a fine idea in theory, and I'm sure my retinas are screaming for them to be kept on, but frankly they make me look like a gangster, and this isn't the image I wish to put across. So I have taken advantage of the Specsavers summer offer of two glasses for the price of one, and will have a nice new normal pair by the middle of next week.
I am less than enchanted with Mr Brown's first Cabinet, I have to say. He asked if his members were ready for "the challenge of change" about three hundred times during his speech in Manchester on Sunday. I was listening to it on the radio, and thought that there was a problem with the autocue at one point, it got so repetitive. Unfortunately Mr Brown seems less up for the challenge than he makes out. "New" faces in the Cabinet include Jack Straw, who's been in it for 10 years in one guise or another, and Alistair Darling who steps in to fill Mr Brown's old job. In fact, there are 14 members of Tony Blair's government still around, and 9 have been promoted in the re-shuffle. Not that much change really then, is there?
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Creative Industries and Creative Arguments!
Unfortunately, such positive noises weren't made by the other two parties on congestion charges. They did not support the Lib Dem motion rejecting the current congestion charging proposals for Greater Manchester. As you will know, we think they're unfair, not green enough, ill thought-out and not right for Bury. And last night was the chance for the Council to take a lead and say so. The Lib Dems did that, but were voted down. Instead, we will debate the issue again in the future, after the end of a consultation process which is deeply flawed. Since this proposal was better than nothing, we voted for this after our own motion was defeated. But rest assured we will stick to our guns and oppose this particular scheme when the debate comes round again.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Council debate on congestion tonight
We will be debating the proposed congestion charge tonight. The Lib Dems have put forward a motion opposing the scheme as utterly inappropriate for Bury, and completely unfair. We are the only group putting forward this motion – both Labour and the Conservatives have proposed amendments to it without being bold enough to call for an end to the mad scheme now.
Let’s be clear on what people are currently being “consulted” on. The government, which claims to be the champion of public transport improvement, will invest billions of pounds in Greater Manchester’s public transport infrastructure over the coming decade, but only if we agree to introduce congestion charging first. No charge = no investment.
So, we’re being held to ransom. Everyone admits that we can’t sit back and do nothing whilst congestion gets worse. But rather than do the right thing and make the investment in our ramshackle public transport network first, and then see if we still have a congestion problem, the government are forcing a staggeringly complicated and wholly illogical congestion charge scheme on us.
As well as the absurd unfairness of a flat rate fee which will force the poor off the roads, the whole scheme is flawed in so many ways, as I’ve discussed before on this blog. It’s not green enough, it’s not clear enough, and it asks more questions than it answers. Like “what about the M60?” “What about the congested district town centres?” And “What about local journeys from Whitefield to Prestwich?”
So that’s what’s behind our motion to Council tonight. We will see if the other parties are as willing to stand up for local people’s rights to decent public transport and fair road use as we are.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Goodbye Mr Blair...
Tony Blair came to power when I was 16, and he has been the PM through all of the changes that have happened in my life since then. Ten years ago, I never thought I'd be doing any of the things I'm doing now. The word "blog" didn't exist, for one thing. Big Brother was something I didn’t have, rather than something I didn’t watch. And I spent my days at school wishing I was out at work, rather than being at work and wishing to God above that I was back in school.
The last time anyone else worked from the desk at Number 10, pretty much the only people in my life who are still here now were my immediate family. Although, thinking about it, I had three grandparents then. And now I have none.
Mr Blair is apparently moving to a new job as a Middle East peace envoy. Certainly there can barely be a more important global issue for him to address. I wish him the best of luck. I hope that those he deals with there can be slightly more reasonable in their treatment of him than many of the commentators here. The screeching web-forums and vindictive pundits lambasting Mr Blair have reached fever pitch in recent months. Hardly the send-off a man would hope for after ten years with the biggest burden in the land. I am not his greatest fan (the last 10 years have seen my leave the Labour Party for the Lib Dems - surely not a gold star for his leadership in my book!), but let's be fair.
He has introduced the Minimum Wage, and child poverty has reduced. We have more people from poor backgrounds at university and an NHS with lower waiting times. And we have peace in Northern Ireland.
I know that this is a Lib Dem blog, and that the last paragraph was an advert for New Labour. But I don't care. Credit where credit is due - we're all grown ups, and opposing for opposing's sake is childish. It’s why nobody votes.
Mr Blair has made some big mistakes, sure. He has been nowhere near as transparent in government as we hoped. His attacks on civil liberties through his numerous new crime laws now mean we have less privacy and more police intrusion than ever before. The pressures of dealing with the new terrorist threat have meant not tackling low level crime in a sensible way. Prisons are in a mess – overcrowded and under-effective.
He has not dealt with phenomenal waste in the NHS and local government, and has kept power in Whitehall when it should have been devolved to communities to sort out problems locally using local knowledge and skills. In education there is a yawning gap between the exam grades of pupils and the skills they need to get good jobs later.
He has presided over a widening gap between rich and poor - surely his blackest failure here at home. He has taken us into Iraq, and we can't get out.
Mr Brown has huge challenges ahead. Many of them involve clearing up the mess Mr Blair has created. But he also has a huge deal of Blairite success to work with - not least the fact that he is heading up a government well into its third term, still with a healthy majority.
For all Mr Blair's mistakes, I am sad to see him go. I have little sympathy for those screaming for his head and bidding him good riddance.
Is he a war criminal? No, I don't think so. Parliament voted for the war, not just him. They did so on flawed evidence, but I don't think he can be blamed for that. I am sure he knew no more than any one else, and he made a mistake in interpreting it. I think Parliament’s decision was wrong, and I think Labour’s stubborn refusal to accept their mistake is wrong too. But Tony Blair deserves a trial at The Hague about as much as I do.
Is he a failure here at home? Again, I don't think so. He has done some very good things, and will go down in history for them like his predecessors from all parties. His NHS reforms saved my mother’s life, there’s little doubting that.
But I think my real sadness at Mr Blair’s leaving comes not from the end of Mr Blair’s administration, but from the disappearance from power of the man himself – from the prospect of not seeing his face at the door of Number 10 and at the Dispatch Box any more. For people of my age, he is the first and only Prime Minister to have really mattered to us. He has been the Prime Minister who has seen us move from childhood to adulthood – from a world of grazed knees and first kisses to a world of one night stands and weddings. When John Major was the PM, I lived with my parents. Now they don’t even live with each other.
Mr Blair has been the narrator on the soundtrack to our lives. Like Thatcher’s children before us, we are Tony Blair’s. From the death of Diana to the Millennium Dome. From the Golden Jubilee to 7/7. And from our first day at university to our first day at work. His has been the leader’s voice. He has been the one who’s been with us as we start a new life and make a way in the world. We really can remember nothing else.
He arrived in 1997 fresh-faced and optimistic. He leaves tomorrow looking jaded and deflated. And sometimes that mirrors my friends to an alarming degree. And tomorrow there'll be a new man waving from the leader's door, but no going back to the start for us.
Tony Blair will have gone by lunchtime tomorrow, and with him a fond-remembered and hugely important part of my life. And I’ll be sad not to see him there any more.
Flooding the way of the future?
It is concerning that freak weather conditions like this will become more and more common (and less freakish) as climate change tightens its grip. In St Mary's we've been lucky so far, and we are fortunate not to lie in an area where houses are particularly vulnerable. But we all have to pay the price in terms of higher insurance and higher taxes to deal with these emergency situations which are happening more and more.
We need to move proactively to prevent these things happening again. Any force that has the power to kill and injure, and displace thousands of people from their homes, must be stopped. We need to stop building houses on flood plains, and protect those already there. We need to work with the insurance industry and those professional risk managers who can plan properly to stop these incidents having the effects that they have. More flood protection, and better plans in place to deal with emergencies like this. It may cost money, but this has to become a priority now, because it costs less to protect settlements from a flood that may never come, than it does to rebuild a wrecked town.
Let down by the Tories on the PTA
With no party in a majority on GMPTA, the tiny 5 member Tory Group allowed Labour to take charge for 2007/8 at last Friday's Annual Meeting. What did the Tories gain? The Deputy Chair of the Bus Shelters Sub Committee and the Chair of the Audit Committee!
Labour lost control of the Passenger Transport Authority in the elections on 3 May. It was a real opportunity to replace the people in charge of tranport with people with some common sense to deal with these congestion charge proposals. In entering into this bizarre alliance with Labour, Conservatives have let down the people of GreaterManchester.
Bury's two seats on the PTA are taken up by Lib Dems (one of whom is me), and we will continue to fight for common sense and positive policies for Greater Manchester, in the face of this unholy alliance.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Why does it always rain on me?
And to add to what will doubtless be a day of many drips, I am leafleting in an hour - distributing papier mache with my barely-discernable face on it through the doors of Prestwich.
For once, today only, I'm with the "Sunday as day of rest" people.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Brum and Back
Now I am very tired though - last night was a late one, and this morning I got out of bed having enjoyed nowhere near the necessary amount of sleep! I shall make up for it this evening I think.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Still no sense in congestion charge proposals
So the proposals remain shambolic, ill thought-out and pretty much unworkable. Not to mention thoroughly unfair.
Tomorrow it's the Lib Dem Local Government Conference at the ICC in Birmingham, so I shall be therelistening to the speakers and taking in the exhibitors. I only hope I 'm not feeling too unwilling to undertake the drive down there after the work's night out I am going to tonight! It is "national wine week" in Weatherspoon's this evening, which spells trouble ahead at £6 a bottle...
Have a good weekend all.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Third in command of the sub-committee sub-sommittee
Tomorrow is the first meeting of the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA), to which I have been appointed along with Cllr Andrew Garner as Bury's representatives. Here is another body which clearly believes in delivering to my door as much paper as humanly possible. Quite why we can't move forward at least into the 1980s and use computers more than paper is something which continually puzzles me as a ride aboard the bureaucracy merry-go-round that is my life sometimes.
So that's something to look forard to tomorrow - and during the morning there is the AGM of the Lib Dem group on the PTA, where sub-committee appointments will be doled out. Last year my predecessor as Councillor in St Mary's also served on the PTA, and was appointed vice chair of the Bus Shelters Sub-Committee. I have struggled long and hard to think of a less glamorous position than this, but have failed so far. If there is anything more symptomatic of being bogged down in meetings, it is that! And who knows, maybe I will be the next incumbent of that lofty position come tomorrow morning!
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Taking care of casework
Also yesterday I had enquiries about the types of waste that can be put inside the new blue bins. It never ceases to amaze me how many different types of container and packaging there are which may or may not be suitable. I am no expert on materials science, but somebody somewhere needs to be because there's confusion! So I rang up environmental services who's line seems to be "if in doubt, bung it in the black bin," which isn't particularly helpful but at least gets rid of the confusion (if not the landfill mountain!). I must say that I too am a bit confused over what types of rubbish can go where - are envelopes OK to go in the paper recycling? What if they have plastic windows? What about plastic bottles with wrappers around them? The possibilities are endless...
And then yesterday I received a call from a Council tenant asking why I hadn't been at the latest tenants' group meeting. I had to say that it was because I had no idea that it was going on! But he told me he'd make it very clear to the organisers to let me know in future!
Today I am back at work, with a pile to do. So I'd best get on...
Monday, June 18, 2007
Fun at Prestwich Carnival
Fighting to save creative industries in Bury
Friday, June 15, 2007
New Facebook Group - and Prestwich Carnival this weekend
This weekend is the Prestwich carnival, one of the highlights of the year locally. There's lots to do in St Mary's Park all weekend, and particularly on Sunday, when I will be there along with my Councillor colleagues for a large part of the day. Rumour has it that several of us will be placed in stocks and "sponged" for charity - so if you have a burning desire to throw something at me, and wish to do it legally whilst raising money for a good cause, now's your chance! I only ope the weather holds and that I'm the only one getting soaked!
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Say "No" to congestion charging
Bury Lib Dems are against these proposals, and have set up a website at www.burysaysno.com where YOU can add your voice to the growing numbers of people angry at these proposals.
Of course we should shift taxes to benefit the environment. Of course we should invest more in public transport to make it better and more affordable. But these proposals don't do this nearly well enough.
They will impose significant financial penalties on thosecitizens of the Borough travelling to and from Manchester to go to work. The poorest and those with least flexible working arrangements will be hit hardest.
They will divide communities by introducing a charge formany local journeys that cross the M60.
They do not consider the environmental impact of the M60 motorway – particularly to those residents living nearby,such as poor air quality and noise pollution.
They do not provide sufficient public transport development in general.They are nowhere near clear enough on details including parking schemes, "rat runs", cost of collection and routes to be covered.
We oppose the congestion charge scheme as outlined in the current proposals, and urge you to do the same.
Sign up now at www.burysaysno.com
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
meetings and glasses
And then after that I am meeting a local resident about an issue with football pitches for his amateur team. I am going to look at the pitch concerned and see exactly what the issue is around changing facilities.
Right now though I am going to go to Specsavers and investigate the possibility of taking advantage of their 2-4-1 offer on glasses. I need a new pair, and am not going to make the mistake of getting reactions lenses this time - I am sick and tired of having sunglasses on every time I step into the open air for a second. It makes me look like a gangster - something which didn't always go down well on the doorstep during the campaign!
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The agenda for last night's meeting was very much to do with the agendas for future ones, and didn't have much in the way of exciting news on it. That, coupled with oppressive heat and us being squeezed around a table meant that it wasn't easy to rouse a great deal of vigorous enthusiasm for many of the more dry items up for discussion. Thankfully though we did make progress and din't get bogged down in the types of minutiae that are liable to send me off to sleep on an evening like that.
One thing that did become clear though is that the new prposals for LAPs aren't at all as clear as they need to be. Exactly who is going to make up the membership? What monies will we have control over, and where are they coming from? And what are the types of things we can expect the Council to provide practical help with? All of these things still need clarifying before we can really get going. And it's important to hit the ground running if we're to make the most of the new LAPs.
The next LAP (the first real one) will be in mid-July, at a venue to be confirmed. So look out for publicity if you want to come along. The public open forum element has been retained, and this is very important.
And it's still oppressively hot today - it needs to tip it down I think! It's very sticky and not at all nice to be in a shirt and tie inside! But I must get back to work...
Monday, June 11, 2007
I am now well and truly back with a bump from my weekend away in the lovely Cumbrian hills. I had a very peaceful stay in a gorgeous country house hotel, and may never experience a more sumptuous collection of meals as I enjoyed in the last two days. On Saturday I was woken by the sound of cows mooing in the field next door, and on Sunday morning it was water trickling over rocks that roused me (we had beef for tea on Saturday, so I don't know if that's where the noisy cows ended up...). We spent hours on a gentle walk to and from Alston, the highest market town in England (with about thirty shops claiming to be the highest of their particular type in England too!), and sat reading books and newspapers all weekend long. It was very relaxing indeed.
On the way home we stopped off in Penrith and Lancaster, and at a birds of prey centre where we saw eagles and kestrels and falcons. It was all very lovely indeed. And the weather held jhust long enough for us - clouds gathered as we approached Manchester and tipped down with gusto as we drove the final few miles.
And now I'm back in work. This morning I was awoken by Nicky Campbell on Five Live talking about Iraq at enormous volume. Maybe the chef from my hotel may want to do to him what I suspect he did with the cows...
Friday, June 08, 2007
Away for the weekend
The place we're going to is apparently quite well hidden, so my fear is that much of the weekend will be spent looking for it. But we shall see... In any event, I am now off to pack, and head to the wilds of the north!
Have a good weekend,
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Obviously none of us are experts in all of the things reported on, but at the heart of all the work that the Council does is a commitment to service improvement and excellence - and I think all the Members and the officers share that. The whole meeting was held in a spirit of constructive criticism and a shared desire to improve - which perhaps wasn't what I was expecting from aroom full of politicians from across the party spectrum, and potentuially nervous officers!
I learned a lot, and felt that I contributed my fair shaare as well. And that's my first meeting over with!
As ever there was time enough for me to embarrass myself as well. At one point I was called upon to ask a question, and in the act of putting down my hand I snapped my fingers into a fist shape, causing a noise that sounded like I was clicking my fingers towards the Chair. The room fell to silence and the Chair enquired (jokily) as to whether or not I was indeed snapping my fingers in his direction! As I put the sound down to my "noisy bones" and said that I probably wouldn't be invited back in future, thankfully there was laughter and not tutting and finger pointing!
I may leave that until; the next full Council...
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Another glorious day outside today - I am about to go and sample Oldham's European Market, which has returned to town today. One thing I always wonder about these markets is where they are the rest of the time. I imagine them returning home to their quaint villages rolling in the money they have amassed charging £3 for a baguette, but I hear from people around the country that they too have markets. Is it just one travelling market, or are there hundreds of deserted markets in France because every single continental cheese-seller has de-camped to here? And do we return the compliment...? Are there black-pudding peddlars across Europe, offering their wares in a Bury-tinged French at €7 a pop?
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
STARs! And traffic lights...
This evening I am going to see a local resident who was concerned about traffic lights on Bury New Road. I helped him out, and now he wants to find out more about how he can help us out! So Cllr Vic D'Albert and I are heading over to see him and his girlfriend, and hopefully get him involved in the Lib Dems!
Monday, June 04, 2007
This morning I turned up at the office super early, only to discover that my entire team was here already, having turned up in more superly early than me. There's not been a more disappointing feeling for quite some time...
Tamsin has returned from Rome, bearing a Roma t-shirt as a present, and leaving me open to jibes about "7-1" from any passing Man Utd fans. The effort of informing them that I'm not a fan, merely a present-wearer, isn't really worth it, so I don't.
It looks like another busy week ahead. As well as work, I have my first Scrunity meeting on Wednesday evening. On Tuesday I am meeting a prospective member to talk about how he can help with the party in Prestwich. And on Thursday I am going to The Woodthorpe pub to attend a talk hosted by Chris Davies MEP.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Wasted time - and wasted paper
Tonight I may be forced to watch another England friendly- never a wise move, but it is Brazil, and it is at Late Wembley, so I may make an exception. Let's hope that the new stadium gives the game some atmosphere, not like friendlies over the last few years when all that can be heard between echoey long-balls has been a few hundred giggly school-children screaming at David Beckham at places like Portman Road.
And is it just me, or is it not the same now they have Russell Watson (or clone) singing the national anthem? What's wrong with the good old fashioned brass bands? Maybe I'm an old man when it comes to football, but these traditions seem to have died and been replaced with a present day version of the old "Sky Strikers" dancing girls from about 1993. Do away with the glitz and let's get back to old style football games. Maybe if we jettisoned the opera stars we might be able to reduce the ticket prices!
Over the weekend I'll continue to prepare for the Finance Scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, reading through the vaious reports that have come may way. It's amazing the amount of paperwork that lands on my doormat daily. As well as the weekly couriered Council mail that comes on a Wednesday, I get lots of other reports and invitations and pieces of information almost every day. Just think of the environmental benefits of emailing it all! Not to mention the reduced strain on my postman! Much of it is emailed AND posted, in fact, which is very odd, and utterly unnecessary.
I suspect there might be Councillors complaining should we move to all email distribution, but as supposed community leaders I think we have a responsibility to be as paper-free as possible. We are all grown adults, and if we don't know how to use email, we should learn. There really is an astonishing amount of wasted paper, ink and envelopes. At least three or four separate envelopes in each couriered big envelope, in fact! So I shall make some enquiries and see if I can cut down my own paper usage, and then move on to the Council as a whole!