Tuesday, July 31, 2007
New LAP sub-groups promise much
At the last (which was, confusingly, the first) meeting of the Prestwich Local Area Partnership, it was agreed to set up two sub-groups to focus on particular areas of interest. One will look at the Town Centre, and the other at community cohesion and development. I am on the second one, along with fellow Lib Dem Cllrs Ann Garner and Wilf Davison. And we are meeting up this week to thrash out what will be our priorities for the group this year. There are obviously areas of concern - Polefield, Rainsough etc - but we need to think of positive, practical ways to make a difference for the people who live there, and the wider community.
We'll be setting up these groups to begin meeting after the recess, and they will contain partners like Six Town Housing and the PCT, with any luck. I'll welcome anybody's input on what we should prioritise for the communities of Prestwich. And of course we'll be feeding back to the Local Area Partnership and via this blog when it all gets moving in the near future.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Iain Dale's Top Blog List - Can I rise from 58th?
But, the good (or horrific) news, is that he is doing it again this year, and is asking blog readers the world over to nominate their top political blogs. He'll compile the little lists into one big list. So, can I make the top 50 this year? That's the question on everybody's lips... Mr Dale is asking for you to nominate between 10 and 20 of your top policitcal blogs, and is offering £100 of politics DVDs to one lucky participant as an incentive.
This blog is about as politically sophisticated as a Grunting Contest Sponsored by The Mike Tyson Hot Dog Corporation, but to be honest there isn't that much to write about being a backbench opposition Councillor, and I have managed more or less a post a day on average. So I think I deserve points for trying, if nothing else. I aid this would be about the ward, the Lib Dems, Bury Council and me. And that's what it is about. It isn't John Stuart Mill, and it dsoesn't set Fleet Street a-flutter, but if you want to know about Prestwich Village and what I think about it, then you'll get it here.
If you feel that Rick's St Mary's Diary is worthy of some points in the big competition, take a look at Iain Dale's post here or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
And let's see if we can make the big leagues this year, eh?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
BBQ fun in Rainsough
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Pubs and Buses
My battles with the PTE over the ridiculous treatment of elderly people crossing the Borough boundary to the north goes on. Just to re-cap, elderly people are entitled to free local bus travel. But at the Borough boundary, the X43 carries on to Burnley, and the old people have to get off and wait to pay to travel on the next bus! They can't even offer to pay and stay on the bus they're already on, unless the driver agrees. And they often don't! I am told that any change to the contract with the bus operators to ensure that old people aren't left freezing at far-flung bus stops is likely to take months to negotiate, and since all OAP bus travel is becoming free from April, they don't see the point. I pointed out to them that between now and April there is a small patch of calendar known as "Winter," which I hear can get quite nippy at desolate bus stops, but this didn't sway them. So I am considering my options on this one now.
Tonight it's the regular Lib Dem Council Group meeting- lots of exciting things to discuss. Not least of which is congestion charging. We will see tomorrow how the decision goes. Unfortunately the PTA (on which I sit) won't be able to advise the AGMA Leaders of their view because the Labour PTA Chair has re-scheduled our meeting until after the AGMA decision is made (our meeting was supposed to be today). But we'll see if the TIF bid is apporved as it stands. Since a number of high profile Bury Tories have publicly come out against the bid, it will be interesting if their leader votes for it! We shall see...
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Back to scrutiny
Last night's scrutiny meeting was informative on a number of subjects. Our capital and revenue outturn reports were presented, and the financial position of the Council is healthy. Preliminary discussions on alternative ways of providing services were also presented to us, and these will grow into something more substantial as time goes on. I am now on a sub-committee looking in greater detail at some of the proposals, with colleagues from the other parties.
My abiding recollection of the meeting was one of horror though, when I realised that I would need to turn round for the presentations, and thus risk angering the back. Thankfully I managed to twist my body without awaking the demon within, and saw the presentation without passing out with agony. The situation was made all the better later on when I returned home via a friend's house, and borrowed her fluffy pink hot water bottle. I don't care how womanly this sounds, or makes me look, but it works, and that's all that counts!
Monday, July 23, 2007
This morning's foray to the bathroom will live long in the memory. Unfortunately there was nobody there to see my performance, which was surely worthy of a spot at the Royal Variety Show. I was like a drunk, swaying out of control from wall to wall, and tumbling earthwards whenever my malfunctioning legs refused to do as they were told. When I'm back to full fettle I bet I won't be able to re-create it again.
I am worried that, at my age, I appear to have the spine of a 90 year old. It has come out of nowhere too - up until last week I was as fit as a fiddle, but now I can't get up out of my chair without a sizeable effort.
Tonight I will have to crawl to the car and drive to the town hall for the performance and resources scrutiny commission. Had I known what was around the corner for me, I may have asked some more probing questions at the last meeting when the topic of debate was adult disability services...
Friday, July 20, 2007
It wasn't much better for the Tories up north, where our candidate Greg Stone stormed into second place in the Sedgefield by-election with Labour seeing their majority slashed here too. The Tories slumped to third place on 13%, only just ahead of the BNP. We have doubled our share of the vote, which is fantastic when the other big parties styed pretty much the same or went down.
All of which leaves me feeling pretty confident as we move into the weekend. As well as leafleting this weekend to get the rest of the latest Focus out, we are going to be ringing round supporters and members to try to recruit some more willing helpers! There's no way that the party can further its current success in Bury without volunteer leafleters and the like, so we are going on a recruitment drive amongst the member-and-supporter-ship this weekend. And if anyone reading is interested in helping out in the future, please get in touch!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
Where's the blue bin?
One solution suggested to me today was that residents use communal recycling facilities such as the Longfield Centre. This is a wholly inappropriate response. For starters this is exactly the same situation as existed before - no home-based recycling option, and residents forced to go to lots of different community facilities to do their recycling. It's also completely unsustaainable because the Council have said they're going to scale-back the communal bring-sites and have them offer different types of recycling because everyone will have a blue bin! So the forgotten few won't even have the bring-sites in a few months!
I have responded to the Council today saying that they really need to pull their fingers out here. Leaving people out of recycling is no way to encourage more people to dispose of waste responsibly. And it'll do nothing to raise the woeful figures that we currently achieve.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Bringing together key partners in Prestwich around the table is a good idea in theory, but in practice we are still far too unsure of our remit and powers to make much of the proceedings anything more than hot air and bluster. Lot's oif fine words about the future of Prestwich, but virtually no money of our own to do anything, and no power to affect change even if there was. And frankly I sometimes think I'd be better off at home watching Holby City. If we all did that the whole time, think of the Councillors allowances that could be saved, and of the utter lack of difference it would make to the outcomes for people in Prestwich.
The best part of the meeting is the open forum, when residents get their chance to air grievances and discuss problems. It's a great place for this type of discussion - the one place where local councillors, police, health, youth and other representatives get together to listen to problems. Last night there was one particular problem which dominated the proceedings, an alley way with crime and noise problems. The tale is a familiar one - kids using the alley to drink in and ride illegal motorbikes down, litter and drug materials accumulating, residents getting angry and upset.
I can think of little more frustrating in the world than feeling angry and powerless about things going on outside your own front door, but these poor people have just that. They told us they'd been monitoring the situation for months and years, reporting crimes to the police, and putting up with cars being keyed and windows being smashed many many times. There was even an allegation that the alley is being used as a toilet by council refuse collectors on their rounds.
They asked for the alley to be closed or, at the very least, gated at night.
And what did we do? Plenty of sympathy and words, but absolutely nothing practical to help these people. All I wanted to be abe to do was say "yes, we've got the money for some gates. We'll be down at the weekend to take a look at the situation with some experts, and as your elected representatives, if we agree that it needs to be done we will sanction the funds on Monday morning. Two weeks time and you'll have your gate."
And surely it should be in the gift of the Local Area Partnership to do this? To solve the problems of these long-suffering residents.
Unfortunately, the response has to be incredibly bureaucratic. Concerns are noted and passed to relevant Council officers, who take weeks or months to assess the situation. The police, overstretched and under-resourced, take hours or days to turn up and respond to nuisance crimes. There is no local money so rather than knowledgeable local councillors releasing funds for the scheme, we have to go cap in hand to the Town Hall for money and abide by Bury-wide policies that might be completely inappropriate for Prestwich. And as for the bin-men using it as a toilet, this was glossed over rather than seized upon. If I had my time again I'd have demanded an investigation into this allegation. Unfortunately I didn't ask the question at the time, although I have raised it with the LAP chair since.
We are elected to serve these local people, not to make excuses for the Council or bury complaints in a black hole of bureacracy from which I have a very real fear they will never escape. We don't do it on purpose, it is just the only way we can do anything at all.
I came away last night feeling disappointed that I could do so little to help.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
Responses to eating, not to my meeting
Last night was an evening of meetings. First off was a very successful inaugural meeting of the Warwick Street and sherbourne Court TRA (Tenants and Residents Association). A committee was formed, and although I was proposed as Chair, it couldn't be a political appointment so I had to decline the offer. I did re-iterate my absolute support for this very worthy cause, regardless of politics, and I will be at as meny meetings as I can be helping this committee and the residents of the areas concerned make their home a better place. It was great to see four Council officers give up their evening as well to attend the meeting and offer support, so thank you very much indeed to them.
After that was the Bury Lib Dem Executive Committee meeting, an open meeting for all members of the Bury party to come and hear the latest news party-wise, and get updates on Council and regional activity that we've been involved in.
There is another meeting tonight - the first proper meeting of the Prestwich Local Area Partnership (or LAP, the replacement to Area Boards). This is a major step for Prestwich, bringing together the representatives of many community groups in a forum to discuss improvements to our area. The Councillors will be there, together with the police, health service, tenants representatives, youth representatives, the voluntary sector and other community groups. The meeting is open to everybody, and there is a public question time. Come along from 18.30 at Heaton Park Primary School on Cuckoo Lane.
And since my talk of meetings probably won't solicit a response, let me say this in conclusion - yesterday for the first time I filled up my Punto at a cost of over £40. FORTY POUNDS!! A damning indictment of Brown's Britain...
Monday, July 16, 2007
TRA and Exec tonight
Also tonight it's the Bury Lib Dem exec meeting. All members are welcome, so please do pop along if you want. Get in touch for more details.
Am I tight? Thoughts appreciated...
In the past, if service was average or better, social convention forced me to give a tip to the waiter/waitress, and I fulfilled my obligation, most of the time fairly willingly.
But on Saturday night, for about the third or fourth time this year, my bill arrived with a service charge added to the bottom, and then a revised total presented in bold for me to pay. On closer inspection there is some small-print saying that the 12.5% is "discretionary," but if I wasn't such a hawk with my wallet (it's all in the breeding and the blood!) I wouldn't have even noticed, and the restaurant (not the waiters) would've got an extra 12.5%, not to mention any other tip I'd have accidentally paid without realising I'd already paid for service!
Where do these restaurants get off?! If I want to give a tip, I decide, and I decide how much. Not you. If you want an extra 12.5% then add it to the price of every item on your menu. And I'll go somewhere cheaper. What you're doing now is pretty much stealing an extra 12.5%. You thieves.
If I was in a party of 20, or I'd ordered something bizarre, then fine. As it is, you take an age to take my order, chuck plates at the table like it's a Greek wedding, and forget my drinks. So you don't get a tip.
So I picked the bill up and explained to the waitress that I only wanted to pay for the food and drink, not this added fee. She went away confused, since I was clearly the first person to spot the rip-off. The manager came over and asked whether anything was wrong, and I was actually angry by this stage and telling her that I decide on tips, not her.
And all of this was not exactly enchanting my companion, to whom I had wanted to appear chivalrous and distinguished in picking up the tab. By now I was appearing argumentative and tight.
Was I right? I don't know... But I can't help but think that if restaurants are being deceptive like this, they deserve to be caught out. I think next time it happens I may be purposefully loud in my arguments to alert every other diner in the place to the scam. And I won't go back either.
Back from Ealing, with a sore feeling
It was like a street carnival with all the leafleters and stake-boards and posters everywhere. I met our candidate Nigel Bakhai, and joined the throng of helpers at our campaign HQ. There was plenty of leafleting to be done, which is handy because I seem to have developed quite a liking for it in recent months, and it was great to be back out on the campaign trail - I miss it since May! Being outdoors also seemed to re-awaken the sun, which has been noticeably absent since the election. Maybe there is some correlation between me campaigning and the sun shining... Or maybe the activities of a lone back-bench Bury Councillor have no bearing on celestial bodies... Who knows?
I was out for a good few hours around Southall with Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, the leader of Portsmouth City Council, and we delivered many hundreds of leaflets before treating ourselves to a well-deserved Ribena. The reputation of the Lib Dems as the party of the hard-drinker was re-enforced when I necked my bottle of raspberry and pomegranate Ribena in double quick time. But I can handle it.
It was good to play my (small) part in what will hopefully be a successful campaign - we shall see the result on Thursday evening! And if the Tory candidate loses, at least he can take comfort in the fact that he only wasted three weeks of his life as a Conservative party member, and can go back to his millionaire lifestyle dining with former Labour Prime Ministers!
After the leafleting I met up with some friends for dinner in Camden, before staying at a friend's house. The combination of strange bed and leaflet-weary body must have made for an odd sleeping position, because I woke up with a twinge in my back which has subsequently developed into a completely dibilitating agony. This morning I could barely dress myself, and getting out of my chair at work almost requires me to slide to the floor and clamber up the walls again, rather than put any pressure on my back.
This concerns me as a 26 year old, I have to say.
Hopefully I will be better for tonight's meetings.
Friday, July 13, 2007
Today I got in touch with housing officers from Bury Council as well as members of Salford City Council to discuss some of the things brought up at the Rainsough TRA meeting last night - the pavements and roads, the vacant shops on Chapel Road and the site of the Rainsough Brew pub amongst other things.
Up bright and early tomorrow morning to head down to London for the weekend and help out in the Ealing Southall by-election campaign. Less than a week now until polling day and things are really hotting up! Hopefully we'll see lots of Lib Dems down there willing to help out!
It's been a miserable day today. I don't think it has stopped raining for a moment. and now I am going to step out into the rain and head into Manchester to meet a friend. Hopefully the town centre remains above water...
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Rainsough TRA tonight
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
A small gesture to relieve the affordable housing crisis...
This evening I am having a night off from wad and party work, and taking my mum out for a belated happy birthday meal at Yang Sing in Manchester. She was in Las Vegas on her actual birthday, but sadly didn't break the bank at the Bellagio, so I am still paying for our meal...
But before then, I have a number of bits of casework to attend to. Already today I have spoken to Council officers regarding blue bin provision and street cleaning on behalf of resident,s and I will be speaking to others later in the day to help more local people get the services they need.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
He has no problem with paying from the boundary to Burnley, and neither do I. What he is concerned about (and what I am concerned about too) is the farce of having to get off a bus, only to wait to continue the same journey, simply to comply with administrative rules. It is bureaucracy gone mad.
I think a sensible solution would be to return to the original state of affairs as a minimum, or preferably to have a system whereby OAPs don't have to get off the bus at the boundary at all, and can just explain their situation to the driver on boarding the bus, and pay the appropriate amount. It seems ludicrous to force elderly people to wait at a bus stop whilst a bus that they were just on drives off without them, heading for their destination! And in the winter it will be even worse I'm sure.
I have contacted the GMPTE to try and get some clarity on the rules, and clear a way through the bureacratic jungle to get to a sensible solution that doesn't see hordes of elderly people shivering at bus stops.
Something and nothing
Also tonight is the discussion of applications from community groups to join the Prestwich Local Area Partnership (the first meeting of which is next week!).
I am not personally involved in either of the two groups meeting tonight, but a number of my party colleagues are, so the best of luck to them! I myself am having a quiet evening with dinner, my Ian McEwan and an early night. The rock and roll lifestyle of your local Councillor reaches a new zenith...
Monday, July 09, 2007
Awards and meetings
I have had the pleasure of seeing the Oldham Council staff award ceremony today (I work at Oldham MBC, nothing to do with my job as a Councillor in Bury). It is always a great sight to see so many dedicated servants of the public come together and celebrate the successes of their year working hard to improve people's lives. It has been my job to organise the event, which I have done over the past few minths. The organisation part was slightly less enjoyable, but once the guests had arrived and the speeches had begun, there was little I could do but enjoy it!
Tonight is a meeting of the Lib Dem Council group, and since it begins in 45 minutes and I am currently about 15 miles away from its venue, I really should get going...
Sunday, July 08, 2007
Join the club...
Friday, July 06, 2007
Tonight's happy agenda
I will rush home after that and get changed into my "posh" gear for the North West Lib Dem Parliamentary Circle dinner in Sale, where the guest speaker is Britain's youngest MP, Jo Swinson. I am attending as the guest of fellow Prestwich Lib Dem Cllr Andrew Garner, who is a vice-chair of the regional party and as such gets to go to these things rather more regularly than I do. It's posh food (a change from my regular Friday night trip to Armstrong's...) and requiures a dinner suit. Thus I made an emergency trip to purchase a new one earlier this week when it became clear that the one I had no longer in any way resembled the shape of my body. I only hope I managed to detach all the labels that dangled from it... Appearing in front of such a select band of dignitaries with a price tag plainly visible is not the impression I wish to give...
PTA Transport Network committee this morning
First, I asked about delays to commuters struggling on the Metrolink replacement buses whilst the track is closed. I have used the service myself, and whilst I think it is running well off-peak, at rush-hour the journey from Prestwich to Manchester is taking far too long. Sometimes up to an hour to travel 4 miles. I asked whether alternative routes or extra bus priorities could be explored, and officers said that they would investigate the matter. It was also the common view that once the school traffic has disappeared from the roads in a couple of weeks, the issue should be eased somewhat until September, by which time (hopefully!) the track replacement will be more or less complete.
I also raised the issue of concessionary bus travel fares, having promised to do so at the Youth Cabinet on Tuesday. Complaints to GMPTE nearly doubled in the three months to March, mainly as a result of complaints relating to the increase in concessionary fares from 50p to 70p. I asked for more dialogue to be put in place between the PTE and youth organisations to try and counteract negative implications of massive fare increases like this.
I know that a lot of families find it difficult to afford to send their children to school on the bus, and children themselves are more reluctant to use buses at other times because of the cost. The Chair of the PTA, Cllr Roger Jones, told me that GMPTA is one of only a few PTAs not to have half fares as the standard rate for children, and that this may have to be considered in future to make up funding shortfalls. I think that this would be a backward step, since it would further discourage young people from using more public transport. We need to make public transport as cheap and affordable as possible for the young, just as it is for the old (they travel free, remember). If we turn our children off public transport at such an early age, what hope is there for them using it when they're older?
Thursday, July 05, 2007
More power for communities is good news if done properly
I applaud these ideas, but I think we need caution in quite how they're executed. At present, power in this country is far too centralised, and we desperately need more power in the hands of more people locally. But the headline today seems to be about taking power from town halls, rather than from Whitehall. It is my view that town halls don't have enough power in the first place, and that this is the cause of the democratic deficit we see today. The current government, and those before it, have become ever more centralised, stripping local government of the powers it once had. Decades ago councils could revolutionise our towns and cities, whereas now they are sometimes little more than glorified planning committees. So of course local people aren't interested. Why would they be?
The way to get more people involved in decision making is to trust local communities more - to give powers to the town halls so that the people who local communities elect to govern their local area have the chance to really change things. I think that frustration with town halls today is less to do with councillors not using their powers properly than it is to do with councillors not having enough power in the first place. And if we were to get this power, this in itself would rejuvenate local decision making, make councillors more responsive to community wants and needs, and involve far more local people. Give communities much more of a say in prioritising - but do it through the institutions that exist already, the link between communities and government - the Councils!
The idea of votes for communities on spending priorities is a good one, but it needs to come as part of a wholesale re-alignment of the relationship between central and local government, giving more power to town halls and letting local councils decide how best to devolve that down to communities. Where Councillors are working with communities now, there are some really positive outcomes, because of course local people know best how to solve local problems. But simply giving power directly to communities from central government, by-passing councils and Councillors, ignores the vital unifying force and role in community leadership that Councillors have. And it's imperative that we don't do that.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The future's bright
It was absolutely fantastic to see so many young people round the table. The group is made up of representatives from youth groups and schools, together with Councillors from across the parties, and staff from the Youth Service. Members get the chance to debate how money is spent on services for young people, and are consulted with on lots of major developments in Bury to get a young person's point of view.
Last night's meeting talked about the development of The Rock in Bury, and we received a very useful report from young people on potential inclusions in the development to make it more attractive to people of all ages. There was also a debate about five-a-side football pitches in Fishpool, and reports from the recent election to the UK Youth Parliament, including one from our recently elected Member of that body, Catherine Rawsthorne.
One key concern that young people raised was relevant to me as Bury's representative to Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority. The concessionary fare for bus travel for young people has rocketed in recent years, and the situation has got particularly bad in the wake of the government policy to provide free travel to the over 65s. Whilst the intention of free travel for elderly people is noble, unfortunately it has led to the shortfall in revenue being filled by charging young people much, much more. So now it is costing young people loads oey to get to school, college, work or training. This is not acceptable and I will be asking my colleagues on the PTA to look into this matter urgently to come up with a more equitable solution.
But overall the meeting was a great success, and a tribute to the young people involved. They are a credit to the Borough, and represent the bright future we have if we nurture their obvious talents and enthusiasm.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Hair cuts and NHS cuts
I had my hair cut today specially for the meeting - it is always good to look one's best. During the obligatory barber's-chair chit-chat, we got talking about the barber's sick brother-in-law, and how he is in all sorts of trouble at the local NHS hospital. Apparently he is very concerned about ward cleanliness, and the food is often served late and luke-warm by harassed nurses who are overworked to the point of madness. I told him about our NHS SOS campaign which aims to put more power over the NHS into the hands of local communities, stop the cuts and cut the waste that are eroding public confidence and having a detrimental impact on services.
I always find talking to barbers slightly intimidating - they are perched over you with sharp cutting implements and could inflict serious harm at a moment's notice. Thankfully the depressing talk about NHS crises didn't give him undue reason to stab me, and I think I may have recruited another supporter. Hooray.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Ealing Southall and Sedgefield by-election campaigns - get involved!
The by-elections give us a great opportunity not only to win two more seats in Parliament, but also to show the country that we can come from behind to win even up against the "Brown Bounce" and the spin of David Cameron.
If you want to help in Sedgefield, campaign HQ is open from 9am to 9pm every day until polling day. It's easy to get to by road - and not too far from Newton Aycliffe station. The address is Lib Dem HQ:Unit 2, Evans Centre, Durham Way South, Newton Aycliffe, DL5 6UY, and the map site can be accessed here
If you want to help our candidate Nigel Bakhai win in Ealing Southall, the By-Election Campaign HQ is open from 9am EVERY day. The address is Unit 5, Urban Hive, Grand Union Way, Bridge Road, Southall, Middlesex UB2 4EX. An online map can be found at here
I'll be in Ealing on July 14th and 15th, as I say. But the more that make the trips to Ealine and Sedgfield, the better our chances of winning. Get involved in the campaigns and really make a difference!
Rain rain rain
I am out again tonight, and the fact that it's quite warm out means that I am reluctant to dress in my waterproofs (which are also cool air proof and render me hotter than the earth's core in minutes). Of course, as soon as I am spotted outside without waterproofs, monsoon season will begin again and I will return home looking like I've just gone ten rounds with Jaws.
Such are the joys of being a local Councillor in a wet part of the world, I suppose. It could be worse mind, we have escaped the flooding at least.
Tam told me today that she'd heard (on Key 103, Manchester's finest news source) that there'd only be "one rain free day all summer." I almost choked on my Vimto at this ludicrous piece of fake-meteorology, but then I thought it's probably a fairly good guess...