Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Jumpers

With Christmas approaching we are just completing our second ward canvass for Lordswood and Capstone ward for next year’s local elections.

It is important to remember at Christmas – amongst all the parties, black-tie work do’s, Christmas lunches and catch up drinks – of the year that has been and reflecting.

It is also the season for Christmas jumpers. Nope, not the unhappy and tired Tories jumping to UKIP; but the woollies with snowmen (as worn proudly by the Rochester & Strood PPC).  

We have a truly fantastic, young and dynamic team in the Labour movement and one with a bright future. Even though our sartorial appeal may need some Cameron-like airbrushing…

Watling candidate Ben Pranczke perfecting the art of canvassing... 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Small Business Saturday

Small and independent businesses in Chatham and Aylesford make a vital contribution to our community, add to the character of the town and are a source of local jobs.

That’s why a team of Medway Labour councillors and PPCs got behind our local shops and firms as part of this year’s Small Business Saturday.

The idea of ‘Small Business Saturday’ comes from the USA. Last year, we helped bring the idea to the UK and a movement was born. Small Business Saturday is a grass-roots campaign that encourages people to shop locally and support small and independent businesses in the local community.

Last year was the first time it took place. It was the largest celebration of small business the country had seen. Nearly half of consumers who knew about the day made purchases because of it and almost £500m of extra trade went to small firms. It also helped local small business link together, championed their vital role in local communities and created a buzz about entrepreneurship and people starting out.

That’s why we celebrated Small Business Saturday on Saturday 6 December and shopped at local small firms. The Labour Group leader met businesses in Chatham, Strood, Rochester, Luton, Gillingham and Rainham.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Food bank Christmas Collection

Last weekend I joined Labour councillors at the Tesco in Chatham to collect food and donations on behalf of Medway Bank. The Medway food bank and has fed around over 8,500 people since it opened in December 2011. This figure includes a staggering 3,000 children.

The Church of England is absolutely right to highlight how the government needs to be doing more to help the most disadvantaged. We have a cost-of-living crisis in the UK coupled with a benefits system in shambles (with one lady reported last week waiting months). Coupled with a zero-hour contract culture we are seeing low-pay becoming endemic in communities. This hurts Britain over the long term as it dents aspiration and hinders social mobility.  The need for food banks has rocketed over recent years with 500,000 people across the UK now relying on food donations.

I was deeply impressed with the generosity of the people of Chatham. I cannot praise the work of the Trussell Trust highly enough but it is a very sad state of affairs that so many people cannot afford food in the sixth biggest economy in the world.

Monday, 15 September 2014

South Eastern Franchise Renewal

As a regular commuter from Medway who spends two hours a day using South Eastern trains you could say that I am probably bias when it comes to transport priorities. 

South Eastern trains are used to the regular criticism by now; after inheriting a mess from the Connex franchise it was never going to be an easy journey to see improvements to a service that had been run into the ground post 1995. And don’t get me wrong; since Hatfield the money invested into rail has seen marked improvements. The trains are in general cleaner, more modern and we do carry more passengers.

I could go into a small litany of reasons why our railways have ended up where they have. I can blame the Major government for botching the privatisation, handing out poor franchises and destabilising the network. And yes, they are largely to blame. My opponents can blame the subsequent government for overseeing a massive increase in public spending to improve rail; a renewal of the private franchise model; and increasing fares to pay for the necessary improvements. 

Today however the government could have acted better. It has been the choice of this government to renew the South Eastern franchise despite public opinion. It is the wrong choice.

I have consistently called for a not-for-profit franchise model to be able to bid for the contract. I have on occasion incurred the wrath of many for saying as such, but I believe we can not continue to fleece commuters as we are without a fundamental shift in both the model of franchise arrangements, and also significant improvements in redress for poor service.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Tunnel Vision

One of responsibilities of being an opposition councillor is probing into some of the poorer financial judgements made since 2002/03. 

An issue which is likely to raise its head in the coming weeks and months is the financial status of the Medway Tunnel. 

For those that do not know this Tunnel has been mired in controversy since the Rochester Bridge Trust (RBT) transferred to Medway Council the freehold of the Medway Tunnel, including the tunnel structure, tunnel portals, and the associated land and tunnel service buildings in 2009. The transfer included a sum of £3.648 million. (The original sum offered was £4 million, but during the preparation for the proposed transfer, some of this money had already been given to the Council to assist with the 2007/08 revenue costs of the tunnel.

Following the transfer for £1, the RBT ceased involvement with, or responsibility for, the operation of the Tunnel. Ownership and full responsibility for the Tunnel fell onto the Council.

At the time the BBC undertook an investigative documentary (see above) that implied concern around how senior individuals in both the Council and RBT acted. These issues today have still not been entirely resolved. The concern expressed by my predecessor, Labour MP for Chatham, Jonathan Shaw indicated that the transaction would leave a terrible legacy for residents in large part because of medium-long term revenue implications on the Council. 

He was right.  

The revenue tipping point - in my mind – may have just been reached. From now, the Council taxpayer is potentially liable to pick up the tab on ongoing revenue implications for this tunnel. This is not an insignificant sum of money and could fund road improvements and other projects across the Unitary Authority.

When challenged in Full Council on whether the Tory Group would rule out a toll to fund the Tunnel in future no categorical answer was given. I recently raised the situation with the Tunnel at Council Overview & Scrutiny meeting and there has been no movement on moving this asset off the Council books. 

It is another black hole in the ground that any incoming administration next year will have to face.

The figures are in the below letter: