Saturday, 30 January 2010

Yellow Bus v Freedom Pass.

Medway Conservatives have been talking busses recently.

Many residents in Medway who use busses are genuinely unhappy at present. We have a bus provider who is not held to account, poor bus routes, irregular services, old busses and a lack of coherent joined-up thinking behind public transport. We have pupils and parents paying huge sums of money to get their children to school and college.

The ongoing saga of Chatham's new bus station has raised the issue of comptence on busses. The public know that the administration has rushed through the proposal at the last possible moment to secure the funding. We now have a multimillion pound capital project approved which will bulldoze over the Paddock, despite opposition from local historical societies and independent campaigner

Meanwhile no commetary on the existing facility in the Pentagon and the management of this site by the Medway Conservative administration which has overseen a period of multiple ownership with little accountability.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been challenging the Tories on current poor public transport infrastructure in Medway. In addition, Labour and Liberal Democrats have been calling for an increase in subsidy for students and pupils of hard working parents, who are struggling to find the money to pay for bus travel. The opposition parties have highlighted the millions spent on CCTV cars and the Chatham road redevelopment which no one has voted for.

Indeed, it is a matter of priorities.

That is why the Yellow Bus Scheme deserves to be investigated, not only because it flies in the face of financial good practice but it also highlights the skewed approach to funding priorities.

Whilst not objecting to any principle of the Yellow Busses scheme. It is surely questionable that any competent administration should spend £300,000 subsidising the travel of a few hundred children going to schools in a very small geographical area of the towns. This while the largest majority of pupils get no benefit, including those in the entire Rochester & Strood constituency, who get no benefit at all from the Yellow Busses. Merely a half-price subsidy on very specific services with only a £60,000 budget.

The Yellow Bus Scheme is a service operated by Medway Council in association with various bus companies, including Nu-Venture and Manns Travel. It is aimed at encouraging children and young people to use the bus to travel to school and relieves their parent or carer of the inconvenience of arranging daily transport for their child.

The buses serve schools in different areas across Medway [ actually only Lordswood, Hempstead, Rainham and Gillingham ] , including:

* two buses from Lordswood running to Greenacre School, Walderslade Girls School, Chatham Grammar School for Boys and Chatham South School;
* one bus from the Gillingham area to Rainham Mark Grammar School, Rainham School for Girls and The Howard School;
* one bus from Hempstead to Chatham Grammar School for Girls;
* three buses from Hempstead, Wigmore and Parkwood to Rainham Mark Grammar School.

The principles behind the scheme are sound. Yet what it highlights is that unless your child is fortunate to get the above, you will have to seek alternative forms of transport. Transport which will cost you and your child heavily.

So yes, if you live in Strood, Rochester, Cuxton, Halling. Hoo, Frindsbury, Horsted, Borstal or indeed anywhere but the above listed in bold... you get no benefit at all from the Yellow Bus scheme.

This case shows the competence of an administration which is not using resources effectively or indeed fairly. The majority of parents get no benefit.

If the Yellow Bus Scheme is to continue it should be extended to all areas and not just a select few. Otherwise, quite rightly, the argument is open to challenge. It is not fair that whilst this student bus scheme gets £300,000 of funding the rest of Medway only gets £60,000 subsidy. It is double standards.

Alternatively, introducing the Freedom Pass or free bus travel would negate the requirement for seperate school busses with any cost to the parent. Now that would be a progressive solution.

This Conservative administration is not firing on all cylinders, its wheels are flat, its engine is poorly oiled and its insides are decayed and dated. We have an administration with no firm direction and a poor driver. It is sad therefore that it is parents and pupils in the majority of Medway which are paying to subsidise the few.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Broken Britain: Populism or reality?

Hat-tip to the Audacity of Pope on his piece on Broken Britain.

The campaign by David Cameron was launched this week in Medway, though one thing omitted by the piece was that Cameron got the crime numbers wrong during his speech. So he could be forgiven for forgetting that crime was at its peak in 1995.

Is 'Broken Britain' a fear campaign?

There has been significant debate over the last decade on the fear of crime and the worrying theme that despite statistical evidence from the Police and Home Office, the fear of crime still remains high.

The irrational 'fear of crime' act refers to the
fear of being a victim of crime as opposed to the actual probability of being a victim of crime.

The Broken Britain jibe, launched in Gillingham last week, on the back of an incorrect assertion by David Cameron that crime was increasing was totally irresponsible. However, the wider argument that Britain has a broken society is one which is designed to play to base instincts, and perhaps the biggest instinct of all, fear.

The 'fear of crime' can be differentiated into public feelings, thoughts and behaviors about the personal risk of criminal victimization. These feelings, thoughts and behaviors have a number of damaging effects on individual and group life: they can erode public health and psychological well-being; they can alter routine activities and habits; they can contribute to some places turning into ‘no-go’ areas via a withdrawal from community; and they can drain
community cohesion, trust and neighbourhood stability.

His use of isolated cases to suggest a wider caricature of a society bereft of cohesion and with widespread problems, short of being untrue, is dangerous and could be leading the public to 'fear' their community on the basis of inaccurate facts.

It opens up the argument that the Conservative leader might have designed the 'Broken Britain' argument to polarise and undermine public confidence, not only in our political masters [which is arguably the design] but also the public services which have, despite his accusations seen significant successes in reducing crime and reducing or squaring wealth inequality [see below].

A similar use of 'fear' was used and failed in the 2005 General Election over the topic of immigration, which continues to be a focus of attention for the public. I await to see when the issue is raised over the next 3 months.

It is known that factors influencing the fear of crime and surroundings include public perceptions of neighborhood stability and breakdown, circulating representations of the risk of victimization (chiefly via interpersonal communication and the mass media) and broader factors where anxieties about crime express anxieties about the pace and direction of social change.

All of these arguments have been used by Cameron with his Broken Britain jibe. Is he politicising on fear?

This blog would contend that short of acting in the interests of the public. He is deliberately provoking the public and increasing fear of social breakdown when the evidence points to an improvement over the last 13 years. Another reason why his leadership should be questioned.

The irony is that if Cameron does win, he has now raised expectations that the Tories can 'fix society'. Not only will he fail to do that with his current policy portfolio, but it is also doubted that with the values that many of the Conservative Party espouse of wealth redistribution to those who do not need it the most, will lead to a widening of inequality and potentially a worsening of the same challenges that Cameron has carped against.

But then that is why this blog will be supporting Labour in the General Election this year.

Wealth Gap widened?

The gap between the wealthiest few at the top and those at the bottom of the wealth divide has been subject of debate this week. The General Election fervour has seen the odd spectacle of the 'Compassionate' Cut Now Conservatives stating that Labour had failed to reduce economic inequality, whilst suggesting nothing at all on how they would seek to redress the imbalance.

The focus of the vitriol this week is a report by the National Equality Panel that concludes that divisions between the rich and poor in the UK are wider now than 40 years ago (e.g. 1979). Much like the U.S., Britain has seen a marked rise in the number of people with huge incomes, while the middle and lower segments of society experienced little or no income growth.

The report revealed that the household wealth of the top 10% of the population is £853,000 ($1.37 million) and above, or 100 times more than the wealth of the poorest 10%, which is £8,800 or below. Household wealth was defined as net financial assets, property and
possessions, houses (net of mortgages), and nonstate pension rights (occupational and personal)

But a closer look at the report reveals a cloudier picture.

For instance, inequality has actually declined in the most recent years of the report data. The big growth in inequality in Britain–much as in the U.S.–came during the de-regulation moves of the 1980s which was led by, yes, the Conservative Party. A party that in reality oversaw the worst excesses in inequality over the last forty years. A party which saw the largest single rise in income inequality.

The report itself states: “Over the most recent decade, earnings inequality has narrowed a little and income inequality has stabilised on some measures.”

Most importantly, whilst the Tories carp about the rise in inequality, the data set only ran through to 2008, so the report doesn’t include the effects of the financial crisis and Britain’s recession. The global financial crisis has wiped out huge amounts of wealth and income from the top–how much we don’t know yet, but this blog doubts that the crisis may in fact have increased inequality.

The devil is in the detail.

The charge used by the Tories that inequality has risen under Labour can therefore be challenged head on. If it has got worse, it has by the very slimmest of margins, which considering the amount of tax redistribution we have seen over the last 13 years towards the poorest, and the rise in standards in health, education and living standards, surely can not be a bad thing. Labour therefore married better services for the poorest with a meritocratic approach to wealth creation. A very positive record.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day

This year’s HMD marks the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The number of Holocaust survivors who have built their lives, communities and families in the UK are inevitably diminishing, and, as they become frail, their thoughts are turning to their future remembrance and the preservation of their memory.

It’s all of our responsibility to remember those who were persecuted and murdered, because their lives were wasted. Our challenge is to make the experience and words of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides a meaningful part of our future.

Please visit the HMD Website to light your candle

Cameron 'slipped up' on Kent Crime

Your Medway - 27/01/10 - P.3

Not if you cant get your facts straight...

The Cameron visit to Gillingham last week has been ridiculed by the Medway Press, after David Cameron got his facts wrong over Kent Crime. In the speech made at the Sunlight Centre, Gillingham he incorrectly aserted that crime in Kent had increased, when in fact crime had fallen significantly. A snub to the hard work of police officers across Medway and a major concern to the efforts of Neighbourhood policing teams who are trying to reduce the fear of crime against a very negative message.

The independent YourMedway picked up this issue on a page 3 exclusive, after Sky News had correctly highlighted the massive mistake when Cameron visited Medway.

Cameron has slipped up before over his Marriage Tax claims. A tax which would socially engineer the tax system against the interests of non-married couples, single parents and widowed families, and indeed anyone who has chosen to bring up a child or children on their own.

The 'Broken Britain' attack also coincided, rather ironically, with the explusion of Conservative Party, Councillor Brice who was caught in the act of kerb-crawling. Councillor Brice remains, as this blog understands at print, a member of the Conservative Party whilst being expelled locally.

The Tory leader needs to be very careful. The danger is that when you preach a negative message on crime and society, you only feed people's fear and negativity.

Chatham Bus Station... but at what cost?

News last night that the saga of the Chatham Bus Station has finally been resolved. After years and years of poor consultation and dubious designs from a number of different contractors, Medway Council and the administration pushed ahead with a watered-down proposal.

The administration was caught in a very difficult position because all regeneration in Medway is funded by the Labour Government. If the Council had not finally come to a conclusion the funding would have been lost. Indeed, if the government does change hands in May [or whenever the election is called] we will see an immediate cut in funding for local government. Regeneration and projects which have benefited Medway will cease. But that is different story

As such, there was an immediate urgency to get the money spent. The Council was running against the clock which was quickly ticking away.

So the Conservative administration gave the rubber stamp to this project to secure the funding and get the bus station built.

The Labour Group on the Council, which is supportive of funding for public transport has been articulating serious public concern with the current Paddock proposal since its inception. Labour do not object to the investment from a Labour Government. It objects to the manner in which the Council has bodged up the Consultation process and has failed to listen to residents.

Medway Labour had previously slammed the design of the dynamic bus facility back in August 2009 for its total lack of sensitivity to the environment.

Whilst every party supports funding and a better transport hub, the Labour opposition believed that the rush to bulldoze over the Paddock in Chatham was illconceived, when other designs and locations could be considered before the deadline.

The Paddock site has a special historical, cultural and environmental significance and remains a loved green lung in Chatham town centre.

It was in that effort that Labour Cllr Bill Esterson 'called' the issue back for further consideration in light of Public concerns.

He was rejected

Now that the proposal has been passed, we should see the area cordoned off and the bulldozers roll in over the next 6 months.

This issue could have better handled by the Council. If appropriate consultation had been made at early stages then these problems could and should have been avoided. Money, time and public support has been squandered.

A recurring theme which has been seen in other areas of cultural significance; Aveling & Porter, Rochester Dickens Centre, Rochester Market, Theatre Royal to name but a few...

Concern now moves to the Pentagon Centre which will loose its bus station. Questions remain about the management of the building by the Conservative Council in relation to its multiple ownership.

Interestingly Cllr Chambers, was able to report to the press that

“That’s why central Chatham’s road system is being remodelled, improving traffic flow. That’s why we’re investing heavily in Chatham’s retail environment.

This blog believes that the public have a very different opinion. The Two-Way Road system is widely lamented and most of the public are aware of the decline of the Pentagon Centre over the last 10 years, due in large part to multiple ownership and poor decision making.

The Liberal Democrats voted with the Conservatives to push forward with the bus development and reject further consultation last night. Perhaps a sign of things to come in national government?


For more on regeneration investment in Medway please take a look at Medway Council - Chatham Future

Please see Party press releases:

Labour - 'Will Chatham Regret Tories' Rushed Bus Station'

Conservative - None at the time of writing
Liberal Democrats - None at time of writing

Medway Media

YourMedway - Chatham Bus Station given the Go Ahead [no pun?]
Medway Messenger - Last minute attempts to block bus station plan

Medway Council

Go-ahead for Chatham Bus Station [no pun ?]

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Recession at an end.

There was a collective sigh of relief today as official figures released today by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed UK GDP increased by 0.1 per cent in the final quarter of 2009.

The growth, which was predicted to by 0.3%, was dissapointing. Larger growth areas include the services and government sectors. The positive news is that the UK’s longest and deepest recession since the 1930s ended in the third quarter of last year. GDP contracted for six consecutive quarters from Q2 2008 to Q3 2009 inclusive and by a total of 6 per cent.

Key points today include

• Output in both the service and production industries increased by 0.1 per cent; construction output was unchanged from the third quarter.

• Manufacturing output increased by 0.4 per cent, having fallen in eight of the previous nine quarters. The Government’s car scrappage scheme probably helped, though some of the increase might simply reflect companies rebuilding inventories.

• However, the increase in manufacturing output was offset by a 3.3 per cent fall in output in the electricity, gas and water supply industries.

• Output in the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector also increased by 0.4 per cent, having increased by 0.7 per cent in the third quarter. Motor trades and retail made the largest contribution to the increase

Many commentators remain under-impressed with the figures, though it is likely that the numbers will be revised upwards as more statistics emerge.

After today's figures, Labour should persuasively argue that Britain would still be in recession now if it hadn't been for the government's Keynesian spending boost. However evidence points to the fact that voters may blame governments for economic failure, they rarely credit them for recovery.

This position was confirmed last night by a Channel 4/ICM poll published last night. Only 20 per cent of voters said the government was responsible for helping the economy recover. And while 12 per cent said the end of the recession would make them more likely to vote Labour, 10 per cent said it would make them less likely to vote for the party.

The Government can also challenge the record of the Conservative Party which incorrectly opposed the fiscal stimulus and the nationalisation of Northern Rock. A policy position which would have increased unemployment and made the recession significantly more painful.

The concern of commenatators now surrounds the prospect for a W shaped 'double dip' recession as a result of potential cuts in government (public sector) jobs by an incoming Conservative administration. George Osborne has sought to challenge this head on; but realistically will need to review public sector headcount and the Conservative instinct is to cut. David Blanchflower warned of a double-dip recession, with the return of VAT to 17.5 per cent hindering growth in the first quarter of this year.

The commantary surrounding increases in VAT to 20% also raise significant concern as such a move to raise VAT could be very damaging to the economic recovery.

A welcome set of statistics but with economic recovery still fragile, we need to nurture and not tred on the early signs of green shoots.

Mandelson v Clarke

Ken Clarke and Peter Mandelson spar over the future of post-recession UK in the first "big beast" debate of the unofficial election campaign, according to Channel 4.

Aveling & Porter Demolition

Musing from Medway blogger at the former Aveling & Porter site.

The ongoing campaign to safeguard the Aveling & Porter site from Medway Council demolition hit the airwaves last week with BBC and local radio taking an interest in the campaign. Activists and heritage campaigners came together at the site of demolition to highlight concern and their opposition to the destruction of this historical icon of the industrial age.

The site is now surrounded by fencing as the historical building is bulldozed, gutted and destoyed under the auspices of the ruling Conservative Cabinet.

The Medway Council Report on the demolition can be accessed here (PDF 3.4MB).

The issue of Aveling & Porter will remain etched in the minds of local campaigners and activists. The Conservative administration in Gun Wharf did not act according to the wishes of constituents and has been challenged by Medway bloggers and history enthusiasts, including the Rochester Society, for trying to airbrush the heritage of Medway.

The current administration has form on historical vandamism; The Paddock, Theatre Royal, Dickens Centre, Markets and now the Aveling & Porter site have either been erased from our local heritage or are currently in the process of being erased.

Major concerns remain on the demolition of Aveling & Porter including

i) The gross underestimation on the the cost of demolition by £400,000. The total tax bill on the demolition currently stands at £800,000 cost on the tax payer books.
ii) No detailed structural analysis was undertaken which has led to a false conclusion based on poor or non-existent data.
iii) The Conservative administration ignored the Overview & Scrutiny Committee comprised of crosss-bench Councillors and independent heritage organisations based in
Medway and Nationally
iv) The Conservative administration ignored the economically viable proposal for housing and commercial use commissioned by SAVE Britain's Heritage

This is the same Conservative Cabinet which has mismanaged the establishment of a one-way transport system in Chatham and spent thousands on new CCTV cars.

The latest cabinet report, was ironically passed by the Cllr Chitty, herself a Conservative Cabinet member from Strood. There was no opposition from members on the committee.

The fact that demolition is presently occurring came despite the Overview & Scrutiny Committee referring the issue back to cabinet. The Committee considered the evidence presented by independent organisations, and decided that there was an alternative and economically viable solution, proposed by Save Britain's Heritage. The Cabinet, who had the demolition trucks waiting, used a procedural point, indicating a previous consent, to push through with the demolition. They ignored the cross-bench committee.

This issue will remain etched in the minds of local residents. It is not only the fact that an historical asset has been erased which is deplorable, but it is also the manner in which the Conservative administration has acted, by undermining people and their justifiable concerns.

Many local activists are now focusing campaigning efforts on bringing back the Strood steam rally to remind residents of the town heritage. A facebook group has been established.

Voters at the next local elections in 2011 will not forget this piece of historical vandalism.
Local Conservatives in Strood will do well to remember that.

Monday, 25 January 2010

'Sunlight' on Broken Britain

Despite the coverage in the local media on coverage of David Cameron at the Sunlight Centre, it has become clear that a number of his key arguments used were simply not true or based on inaccurate information.

As this blog has written below, the Conservative leader defended his controversial marriage proposals, which had been dismissed as “social engineering” by Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke last year, imploring the public to “think of the signals” government was sending out.

He also indicated that he would support “every sort of family” and would “back Sure Start”a completely mixed signal itself given his marriage tax plans and Shadow Universities Minister David Willetts’s remarks that “only a few” of the 3,197 Sure Start centres wouldn’t be abolished under a Tory government.

Most significantly, he simply airbrushed over the 8 per cent fall in crime, claiming “we have a problem with violent crime” and “we have had violent crime rising” – this despite British Crime Survey’s 2008/09 figures, released yesterday, which showed a 4% fall in violent offences, burglaries down 8%, robberies down 9% and car crime down a fifth.

Further analysis of the “Home Office Statistical Bulletin: Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2008/09″ report reveals that:

• Homicides (651) are down 14% from 2007/8 (753) – the lowest level for ten years, since 1998/9 (642);

• “Sharp instrument” homicides are down 6% from 271 to 255;

• Shooting homicides are down an even sharper 26% from 53 to 39;

• All firearms offences are down 18% from 17,378 to 14,250 – the fifth consecutive fall;

• Firearms offences resulting in injury were down from 4,164 (24% injury rate) to 2,458 (17%); and

• Prevalance of domestic abuse is down for men (5%-4%) and women (7%-6%) since 2004/5.

Longer term, violent crime – classed as robbery, sexual offences, assault and murder – is down nearly half (48%) since its peak in 1995.

Cameron not only had the wrong policies but he used inaccurate information to back up his arguments.

David Cameron visits Medway

A visit from the Tory leader David Cameron last week to the Gillingham Sunlight Centre to launch his 'Broken Society' campaign.

A somewhat ironic place to launch the campaign, considering news only the previous week that a Conservative Party Councillor was caught kerb-crawling, in an act which could be a neat juxta-position to 'Broken Britain'.

The Broken Britain narrative is not new to David Cameron and has been used in various guises by the Conservative Party since 2001. It is a Daily Mail type issue, popular with the right wing base but based on conjecture rather then fact.

Since being elected to Leader, Cameron has sought to focus on a small number of very public cases and has neatly weaved this into a wider narrative about a failing Society which should therefore, illogically, not be helped by government. Cameron was keen to highlight and comment upon the child attacks in South Yorkshire. The case should not have been used as political soundbit. Indeed, however much Conservatives want to make this a story about welfare dependency and Labour want to make it a story of brutal Thatcherite economics, these rare attacks have happened in Britain at the same rate for over a century.

The children who do this need to be humanely detained for as long as they are a danger. But everything we know about children who kill or mame tells us they are invariably victims of extreme abuse themselves, deserving of compassion, not hysterical condemnation. They are victims of poverty which leads to social decay, not vice versa.

Cameron went onto highlight his pledges to reduce anti-social behaviour and binge drinking. It is worth noting that the Conservative Party nationally opposed the establishment of PCSOs and the increase in investment that has seen crime dramatically reduce. In reality the Tory leader pledged nothing new. Indeed, he actually agreed with the retention of the Labour Policy for late licencing, responding to one Conservative PPC, he claimed that 'there was no need to turn back the clock' on this issue. He therefore, despite assurances, will not seek to return licencing to magistrates.

The Broken Britain narrative has been used by some in the Conservative Party to highlight the 'blight of anti-social behaviour' though fails to articulate why the law abiding majority, including myself, should have our drinking hours reduced because of a tiny minority of people who do make a fool of themselves. Prohibition does not work and cutting the hours of drinking in pubs and bars is not the cure. Reducing happy hour promotions, introducing community patrol officers (sponsered by the same bars) and directly linking the damage to the late night establishments that take significant profits is a sensible approach. We need to enforce existing laws not introduce punitive restrictions which only encourage people to drink quicker in reduced hours.

The Tory leader also pledged a government-centred drive to increase alcohol pricing on alcopops and certain 'defined' alcoholic beverages. Again a populist gimmick which will only hurt the mainstream majority who do not purchase WKDs or Alcopops to get drunk in public. The right approach is to tighten up on shops and premises that sell alcohol to underage people and introduce a compulsory ID for all those suspected of being under 18. The prices rises are populist, punitive and regressive and actually open to legal challenge as some drink companies may suffer more as a direct result. In addition, a price rise of 40-70p on cheap cider will not scare off anyone who is seeking to get drunk. Tough and enforced regulation on closure of stores that sell alcohol in identified areas must remain a top priority.

Lastly, the Tory leader sough to highlight the benefits of marriage. This blog supports marriage, but does not think we should socially engineer tax policy to benefit those who do not need the help. This point has been dwelled on for some time by many more sensible commentators. The fact that this is 'Back to Basics' policy which will come back to haunt the Conservatives. It is a highly regressive step and despite 18 years of Conservative power in the 1980s and 1990s it simply did not work. Between 1979 and 1997 marriage levles decreased and divorce increased. It is a reflection of a changing society that can and should not be legislated.

A bit of populism and a few soundbites in Gillingham will not be enough to gain a significant majority in May.

All Rights Reserved Picture - 'No Comment' by Phil Dillon

Welcome to New Musings

All Rights Reserved - 'Thorpe Hall Avenue' by The Ridg

A fresh start, A new beginning and a new style for Musings from Medway.

Whilst this blog has been updated it will continue to hold the Administration in Gun Wharf to account. It will continue to investigate and comment on current affairs and will continue to speak up for communities in Medway, who want to challenge and speak up.

The tone and language will change. It will seek to challenge rather then snipe. To question rather then to shout. To query, investigate and to pose a different perspective.

If all goes well, it should be an addition to useful debate about the future of our towns. It is time that this blog reflected and changed, and as Elizabeth Gaskell once stated:

"Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom"