Sunday, 28 February 2010

Etonian Tories lurch to the Right

In a speech David Cameron gave on Feb 15th he claimed “We are not the same old Conservative Party. We have changed.”

Actions speak louder than words, and this leaflet seems to suggest it’s business as usual for the Tories in Romford.

The below shows that the Tories would be short changing the British public. It is ‘dog whistle’ politics as its worst

For a mainstream party to be engaging in this form of campaigning is a disgrace.

It shows a lurch to the nasty right wing once more. Breaking up and dividing communities for political gain which was rejected in 2005.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

That VAT Rebate

It seems like the Medway Conservative administration has been keeping hush hush about its £2.5m VAT rebate which it received last year.

The Council was successful in recovering the money after it was 'accidently' given to the government by Council controlled Sports Centres. Alas apparently no one in the Conservative administration noticed this error until last year. Oops.

Medway residents will be unsurprised at the financial incomptence.
Residents have seen the £2.5m cost of the Chatham two-way fiasco or indeed the £750,000-£850,000 spend on the demolition of the old Civic Centre in Strood. This does not include the millions that will be added to future bills because of the Medway Tunnel purchase.

Oh well, £2.5m is not a small sum and despite the fact it happened because of incompetence, it is a sum which could come in quite handy, perhaps, maybe to lower Council tax?

Whilst Medway Labour called for an immediate rebate to the hard pressed Medway Council tax payer by limiting the increase in Council Tax rise to one per cent at last weeks budget, the Tories rejected the idea.

Giving people their money back. Not in the priority list...

The £250,000 Council Website

The news that the Conservative administration has rubber stamped a £250,000 budget for a new Council website will stun members of the public and Council tax payers.

The Conservative administration is even being lambasted by its own membership for the cost. One Conservative campaign blogger called
"£250,000??? You're kidding. That's ridiculous" whilst another Alan W Collins summed up the view of most "Why is the Council website costing £250,000? I wouldn't pay £25,000 for that abberation - over any timescale!"

It seems the administration is not only lacking financial sense, but also control of its message.

The party of good financial sense?

Not according to the self-declared statements of the Medway Conservative membership.

What is frustrating is that nobody seems to have stood up in the Cabinet meeting and said: "You know, there's lots of very good open source content management systems (CMS) out there - indeed one called Wordpress which is free and eminently customisable." This is peculiar, as Wordpress was available (and as solid as any CMS) in 2005, runs on MySQL and PHP (which are both free products used by some of the largest companies in the world, such as airlines and Yahoo). And there are pots of programmers around with MySQL and PHP skills

It seems that there's a prevailing mindset amongst the ruling Conservatives on Medway Council that thinks that if taxpayers aren't paying through the nose, then you're not getting value for money.

Not true, of course; ask Twitter, or Facebook, or Google, or any of those other big sites that rely on free software.

There is a very interesting report looking at attitudes among local authority IT managers and staff to open source products in government. It's encouraging, though also scary: software licensing can be 30%-40% of a council's budget; cost is the reason for going with OSS for 75%; and 64% think their council will increase its use of OSS.

It will be interesting to see if Medway Council is using OSS in its project.

Also of note for Medway Council; there's a huge open goal as Windows 7 uses OpenOffice for most tasks rather than Microsoft Office, with potentially large cost savings.

Whether this has been examined no one knows - the process for cost attribution on this project is not easily accessible online.

How ironic!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Time for a Medway Freedom Pass

Many readers of this blog, and of the former Musings from Medway blog, will be aware of its campaign to get the Medway Freedom Pass locally.

The Labour Medway Freedom Pass will see the introduction of free bus travel for young people in education.

Despite the Medway Conservative vote against even this minor measure, Labour will be moving an amendment to the budget on Thursday 25th February, to call on the administration to fund free bus travel starting in September 2010.

It has also been confirmed that the cost of the scheme is nowhere near the £3 million claimed, and is in fact considerably less, echoing his inaccurate claim in previous years that half price bus fares would cost £9 million.

Kent Conservatives introduced a version of the Freedom Pass several years ago. The scheme was introduced to make travel easier and more affordable for young people. The principle aims of the scheme are to:
  • empower young people
  • improve safety
  • financially assist families
  • promote healthier lifestyles
  • encourage greater use of sustainable transport
  • reduce congestion and journey times (especially during the school runs)
  • ultimately increase quality of life accross the county.
Cllr Teresa Murray, Rochester & Strood PPC commenting directly to the Medway press stated that:

“The Tories’ record on bus services is dreadful. In the past few months alone, they’ve rushed through the design for the bus station, ignoring all the consultation results, voted against even investigating free bus travel for young people, and been censured by the national Ombudsman for their appalling policy of charging for companion bus passes for people with disabilities.”

“They also continue to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds carrying 350 children to school, mostly from the Leader and Deputy Leader’s ward, and yet only agreed to Labour’s half price bus scheme after being shamed into it. We’ll see on Thursday night whether they’ve learnt their lesson, and will get behind our proposal to make travel free for young people in full time education.”

Bus travel in Medway is dreadful. Only Labour is standing up to improve our public transport and get Medway Moving.

Cllr Brice 'Down but not out'?

News today that former Conservative Councillor Nick Brice will remain a salaried Councillor, despite widespread opposition in the local media, amongst residents and community groups associated with trying to reduce kerb-crawling and anti-social behaviour.

Nick Brice was selected by the Conservative Party to represent Rochester South & Horsted and is the second Tory to have disgraced himself in the ward, after a previous called on Single Mum's to be sterilised on what was a moral crusade of sorts.

The Medway Conservative Group expelled him but then chose to close ranks. They remain tightlipped on whether they think he should continue to be a salaried Councillor. A question of judgement that highlights the political decay in the corridors of Gun Wharf?

Medway Labour called for his immediate resignation and a byelection.

Surely, this puts to rest any notion that the Conservative Party should appeal to women. If they can remain tight-lipped over a kerb-crawler then what message does this set for young adults and those trying to combat anti-social behaviour?

Cllr Teresa Murray, spoke to YourMedway today on the disgraced Councillor.

Commenting on her website, Cllr Murray stated:

"'I think it is outrageous. Clearly Cllr Brice does not comprehend the seriousness of what he has done and thinks he can still be a representative of the people of Rochester South and Horsted. The complete silence from Medway Conservatives over whether Cllr Brice should remain in office speaks volumes of the disrespect for women and residents in Rochester. "

"For him to be cautioned for kerb crawling, at the same time the council, the police and the NHS are working hard to try to combat prostitution, is disgraceful."

"Councillor Brice should resign immediately."

The excellent CFJ Newswire asked people in Medway whether they would vote for him as an independent candidate and what they think of Mr Brice’s behaviour.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tories target Foster Parents

Medway Conservatives are tonight salivating at the prospect of inflicting cuts onto public services and support that the Council provides to its residents.

In what is a fortaste of a possible Conservative government, this blog can report that local Conservatives are targeting the most vulnerable in our community for punitive and regressive cuts in services.

Despite millions of pounds squandered on road fiasco's and the demolition of the Strood Civic Centre they have rubber stamped a punitive charge on all safety checks for adults who work with vulnerable children.

As this blog understands; Council staff have been left aghast as the Conservative scythe cut through the funding. The Tories have now moved to a position where foster carers and adoptive parents, as well as council employees, will have to fund the cost of their ‘ISA’, the Independent Safeguarding Authority check, before working with children.

This regressive Conservative policy could mean even fewer people coming forward to work in these areas, which are facing problems recruiting and retaining people already.

Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Spokesperson for Employment Matters said,

“I thought that the report would go through, and cannot believe that the Tories are genuinely proposing that foster parents and people who are adopting should pay their own costs. It may be ‘only’ £28, but there should be no costs attached to these selfless actions.”

“These checks are important, to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. It is a matter of principle that we should pay these ISA costs, to both protect people, and no ensure there are no barriers to people volunteering to care for others.”

This blog believes that the Conservatives should urgently reconsider this issue and to agree to fully fund the cost of the ISA checks for current and future employees for the following reasons

It is unfair, regressive, vindictive, uncaring and unreasonable for the Council to pass on this charge which is required by law and which employees have no choice but to pay if the Council does not.

It takes no account of the fact that Council Services run on the good will and co operation of very loyal and hard working staff and that whilst for some people the amount will not cause any hardship but it will for others, and for all employees it’s the principle. The feeling is that Medway Conservatives are doing this because they can and that it is taking an advantage too far of staff.

Poor show from an administration which is happy to squander millions on unwanted road schemes on Chatham highstreet, but nothing on those who care for vulnerable children.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Not quite what it seems...

News today which paints a quite different picture on the anti-bullying charity - the National Bullying Helpline - at the centre of allegations over Gordon Brown and his 'bullying' of staff.

The National Bullying Hotline led the allegations of bullying in Downing Street claiming that a number of No 10 staff had called in to complain about poor behaviour - though incidently not directed at Brown himself.

The firm has been looked at closely by many independent commentators as clearly the organisation was revealing such information at a very dubious time, in what could have been seen as an abuse of trust for advertising.

That is until further research into the organisation reveals very close links with the Conservative Party

Adam Bienkov has sensibly raised questions that confirm some quite close links:

* A personal endorsement from Conservative leader David Cameron

* One of their patrons is ['was'] Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe

* Another patron is ['was'] Boris Johnson's Chair of the London Health Authority, Conservative Cllr Mary O'Connor

* They have close ties to Conservative controlled Swindon borough Council.

Adam continues:

"There are also doubts about whether NBH is actually a functioning charity at all. An even quicker look at the Charity Commission's register reveals that:

* They are 206 days overdue on registering their accounts.

* They have registered just £852 pounds in expenditure since they were established."

Paul Waugh at the Evening Standard has said this saga has been a "one woman PR disaster" and said Christine Pratt's appearance on Sky News this morning was a "slow-mo car crash." Others are suggesting this has been a PR stunt, gone badly wrong for the National Bullying Helpline - which, as Adam Bienkov also discovers, appears to be the business arm of a charity, not a charity in itself.

The firm has also had 60 complaints made about it to the Charity Commission. These complaints have followed the charity's current appearance in the media spotlight - but there have also been earlier criticisms.

Meanwhile, three patrons of the National Bullying Helpline – Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, TV presenter Sarah Cawood and workplace stress expert Cary Cooper – quit today at the behaviour of Christine Pratt. There were also reports tonight that a fourth patron, Tory councillor for Hillingdon Mary O'Connor, had resigned – which would leave the charity without any patrons.

Christine was sketchy on details of how many people from No 10 had made complaints and denied that she had broken rules of confidentiality. "I know some are calling for my resignation. I don't believe I've done anything wrong. I haven't disclosed details or names."

Further information tonight that the organisation has a dubious record on confidentiality. An accusation that Christine Pratt, who runs the National Bullying Helpline (NBH), used the helpline to solicit business for the HR consultancy she runs with her husband.

One woman said that when she rang the helpline for "confidential, free advice" four years ago after being bullied at work, she was referred to Pratt's firm, HR & Diversity Management (HRDM), which provides mediation services, and paid them £250.

The Charity Commission investigated the helpline in 2008 after complaints that the NBH's website was registered by a business specialising in supporting those being bullied in the workplace. The commission found no wrongdoing but today said the charity would be reviewed "in light of the issues raised over the weekend and the complaints received today".

Doubts were also raised over Pratt's claim to have beaten workplace bullies herself.

In 2003, an employment tribunal rejected her claim for unfair dismissal from her former employer, Sanden International (Europe Ltd). In the publicly available judgement dismissing her appeal against the tribunal's decision, Pratt was found to have sent notes considered "discourteous and hostile" and "aggressive, accusatory and confrontational". She had also screamed in a colleague's ear.

The tribunal also dismissed Pratt's claim for discrimination on the grounds of race and sex and a claim that she had been paid less than a male comparator.

Lastly and most imporantly questions have also emerged over the accounting practices of the NBH as the Charity Commission revealed the charity had has failed to provide financial information for the financial year which ended 30 September 2008.

"We expected this information by 30 July 2009," said a spokeswoman. "If the charity's income for the year ended 30 September 2008 is under £10,000, the charity is asked to submit an Annual Update to the Commission, setting out key financial information. If the charity's income for that year is £10,000 or over, the charity is required to submit an Annual Return and Accounts.

So not only is the charity now a total mess with mass resignations, it failed to submit account information to the Charity Commission and now has a single leader with lacking judgement whose Tory supporters are running in the other direction.

This blog senses this story has more to run...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Luton Millenium Park Neglect

Despite the election of a Conservative Councillor in Luton & Wayfield it is clear that area is still suffering because of a lack of political action and investment.

The Luton Millenium Green, which was opened during the former Medway Labour administration has been suffering years of neglect.

Medway Tories are happy to spend money closing the Ridge Meadow School, on new CCTV 'White Vulture' Cars, two-way road schemes in Chatham and indeed the £800,000 fiasco over the Civic Centre.

The campaign to improve the park and green lung in central Chatham is being led by Labour organisers Tristan Osborne, Christine Seymour-Godwin and Sam Whittington.

Despite years of Conservative control of the Council areas like Luton & Wayfield have been left behind.

Aveling & Porter Protest

A few snaps from the Aveling & Porter protest which took place today at 12 midday. It was good to catch up with a number of members from the independent MedwayEyes group and also those concerned save Medway Heritage campaigners.

The protest was friendly with many of those present having previously turned up to Chatham 'Im a Photographer not a Terrorist' protest.

The demolition of the former Civic Centre has cost £800,000 to the Council tax payer. The site will now become a temporary car park.

Medway should be proud of its heritage and it should be proud that people are willing to stand up and challenge those Councillors who have acted in a disgraceful manner over the demolition of this historic building for a quick profit.

A few snaps below:

Friday, 19 February 2010

Medway Matters; Cost Revealed

The full cost of Medway Matters, the Council publication is now publicly available

The publication is not party political but is managed by the Council which is Conservative controlled.

The recent February/March publication did by chance have an exclusive interview with the Parliamentary Conservative Party candidate for Gillingham and Rainham, a key marginal seat. The publication revealed that the candidate is a cat fan, enjoys italian food and has a sweet tooth.

Nice to know


The request is below along with the Council response in italics.

Q1. The name, frequency and distribution/circulation of your council newspaper. (By council newspaper I mean the most frequently published newspaper or magazine intended for mass distribution covering more than one topic).

A1. The name of our council magazine is Medway Matters. It is produced bi-monthly. The circulation is 111,978.

Q2. How much it cost to produce and distribute said newspaper in the last full financial year, and how much was budgeted from council resources in the financial year 2009/2010?

A2. For the last full financial year (2008/09) the cost was £104,802. The budget figure for 2009/10 is £116,225.

Q3. How much of that cost is offset by advertising?
A3. For the last full financial year (2008/09) 100% of the cost was offset by advertising.

Q4. How much of that advertising, if any, comes from external sources (ie not from your authority's budgets)?
A4. For the last full financial year (2008/09) just under 68% of that advertising came from external sources.

Q5. Which other public sector partners pay to run advertising in your newspaper, eg PCTs?

A5. The other public sector partners who pay to run advertising are NHS Medway, Medway Maritime Hospital, Community Safety Partnership and local universities.

Vlog of the Week

Always amusing. Always a good watch - Audacity of Pope

Climate Change - the wedge issue?

The debate online between those who believe that climate change is a peril to the planet vs the climate change deniers, who seem to believe that climate change is some form of Communist, lefty, conspiracy should be highlighted as a major issue of disagreement between Labour and Conservative party members and perspectives on our future.

In Medway, the Conservative Party is stuffed full of vocal climate change deniers. The former chair of the Conservative Association in Rochester & Strood called cimate change a 'pseudoscience' and called Green taxes punitive. Local Tory bloggers regularly cite that Climate Change is a myth foisted by a European communist diaspora.

Medway Conservative PPCs probably, maybe, I dont know, disagree but oh, how quiet they are. Why challenge the foot soldiers, remember they deliver the leaflets and design the campaign slogans.

It isnt just locally, however, that the Tory membership remain on the wrong side of scientific consensus. Nationally the Conservative membership is far from convinced, despite rational evidence, that anthropogenic climate change is happening. The right wing Conservative blogosphere, despite its support of Cameron does not believe that climate change is a major challenge of our generation. It openly disagrees with its leadership over the issue.

The Tory blogosphere pandering to the right wing base could be short-term opportunism but it is also a disagreement with the leadership, which should be highlighted and exposed. The Cameroon 'move' onto the centre-ground, where most people accept the science of climate change, on the 'Vote Blue...Go Green' slogan can be shown to be total fiction by the views of the Tory membership.

A debate on climate change is therefore welcome.

It will highlight internal Tory splits on climate change, it will highlight the total madness of a very vocal (but increasingly) visible Tory minority who are found online (and in public view) and it will serve to highlight the vacuous 'Green' position of the Conservative Party as just a PR exercise. Cameron with huskies vs membership with 4x4s. Cameron 'Green' taxes v Lower fuel tax. Cameron bycycle v Shoes in car driving behind. Cameron 'targets' on Carbon emissions v Communist conspiracy to stop economic development. All wedge issues within the Conservative Party itself!

A wedge issue it is. However, the issue of climate change and the development of green industries, renewable energy and tax on dirty industries will also be a key policy position of any government, irrelevent of political complexion, over the next decade. Climate Change talks to set targets on cutting emissions fell apart in Copenhagen last year, but will be on any Prime Minister's table, and exposing and challenging the Climate Change deniers should be key part of the centre-left on twitter and social networking sites for this and future elections.

In looking to previous elections in Japan, Australia, Canada and the United States the political right has always denied that climate change mitigation should be prioritised over economic expansion. The Tory leadership is right to focus on climate change, but for political opponents, it is an open goal with which to beat the Tory base, who openly disagree with the leadership. Centrist Conservative PPCs will also be looking over their shoulders. If they vote to increase tax on carbon emissions, the same activists who delivered their leaflets will disappear overnight.

Hannan and his cohorts are waiting in the wings, a split over climate change is a very real possibility, and the centre-left should be there for whenever it happens.

The Centre-left should make climate change a central part of the General Election campaign and should continue to expose the Tory base on its out of touch and irrational position on Climate Change.

Traffic Chaos (again...)

News that residents across Medway are continuing to suffer because of Tory incompetence over traffic management and uncoordinated works is not new. On previous musings this blog has commented on the farce in Chatham over the two-way system and the management of traffic around the Medway City Estate, which was considered a joke by business located on the site.

This blog recommended that the Tories showed some operational control over road works and undertake some joined up thinking to ensure the public were not inconvenienced. It does however welcome the work being undertaken in Strood, though this key piece of work is years late and well overdue.

Despite the reduction in traffic due to school half term, Strood was in complete traffic chaos on Monday morning because of the Council's Highways Department’s decision to close one lane in the Strood High Street, in addition to the slip lane linking the High St to Commercial Road.

The reason for the closing of the offside lane as said to be for the safe removal of the former subway's reinforced concrete walls.

Interestingly, the same service in Rochester, which was coordinated, was undertaken with no lane closures in more difficult circumstances. When a similar railing and wall was removed at the Rochester subway the contractor just put a blue tarpaulin covered fence alongside the edge of the road.

Labour Councillors injected some sense into poor traffic management and coordination by the Conservative administration. Traffic chaos which has mired there term in office.

After significant numbers of complaints, the Council confirmed that it now intends to adopt a similar principal of covered fencing when removing Strood's subway walls.

Labour's Strood councillor, Stephen Hubbard, whose residents were most effected, stated that

"We all know about the problems of Strood Town Centre and its traffic congestion, and how one minor alteration can lead to long queues getting into and through Strood. Monday's chaos was a first-class, classic of how not to manage our highway. It was an obvious problem that should have been avoided. When will the council learn lessons? Good project management continues to be a stranger to Tory Medway Council."

"The Tories have a lementable record on traffic and parking. The residents of Medway deserve better then constant traffic jams, CCTV cars, armies of wardens, pot holed roads and Chatham road alterations which no one voted for or wanted but cost millions."

This blog agrees

House Price risk with Tories

George Osborne (7) on a shooting event organised by the Bullingdon Club. His shotgun approach to the UK economy could be more damaging.

The news today that economists and fiscal experts disagree with the Conservative Party and George Osborne does not come as a surprise. George Osborne, who has never managed his own business, or indeed worked outside of the Westminster bubble in banking, is leading Britain down a very dangerous path which could very well lead to a double-dip recession.

More than 60 academics have issued a stern rebuke to the claim by George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, that a consensus of economic experts supports his policies.

It is total fiction that there is ever a consensus in economics and it was sheer opportunism for the inexperienced Shadow Chancellor to claim, once again, that people agree with his position, when they do not. His latest position comes after he claimed Lord Stern was advising the Conservative Party, which was later rejected.

George Osborne has very little credibility in the City of London. This latest position highlights his weakness and the risk to the British economy under his stewardship.

In two letters, one led by Lord Skidelsky, a biographer of JM Keynes, and former monetary policy committee member David Blanchflower, and the other led by Lord Layard, emeritus professor of economics at the LSE, the economists have written to today's Financial Times to warn that starting a fiscal squeeze immediately could jeopardise the recovery, and "for the good of the British people, the first priority must be to restore robust economic growth".

They argue that the increase in the deficit in the last two years was unavoidable, given that the UK has just experienced the most severe recession since the ­second world war and GDP has fallen by 6%, forcing emergency government action to prevent the economy "falling off a cliff".

The economists are worried that the immediate slashing of funding to the public sector will lead to massive job losses, which will fuel a double-dip recession. This before the private sector has had enough time to recover. This would then lead to a spiral of decline and arguably social decay and increase in crime.

The Tories can not be trusted to manage the economy.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Getting America Working Again

The centre-left Democrats v right-wing Republicans.

The statistics prove that stimulus and investment keep people in jobs and reduce the pain of recession.

The Republican party is the sister party of the UK Conservative Party run by David Cameron. The Obama Democratic party is the sister party of the UK Labour Party run by Gordon Brown.

Getting Britain Working Again

Today’s reduced unemployment figures show that the labour market has withstood the recession much more strongly than in the past, but that the prospects for the remainder of 2010 remain highly variable with a risk of a double dip recession likely should the Conservatives take power and slash public sector headcounts too quickly.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicated that unemployment fell by 3,000 between October and December, compared to the previous quarter (that’s pretty much a statistical dead heat). Conversely, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance rose by 23,500 in January, following two monthly falls.

The post Christmas period is always a tough time for jobs, so a rise was to be expected.
Looking back to what was happening this time last year underlines that the labour market is now in a far better state than it was then. The February 2009 stats showed a 73,000 rise in the JSA rate and a 146,000 jump in ILO unemployment.

Today’s numbers on vacancies and redundancies, though still painful to those who are currently unemployed, do point to a brighter future ahead. Whoever takes power in May will need to nurture this recovery very carefully.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Aveling & Porter Opposition Video

Hat tip to OffWorldWorkshop

Independent commentary and panoramic of the Aveling & Porter building in Strood before it was demolished by the Medway Conservative administration at a cost of £800,000 to Council tax payers.

The building site is to become a temporary car park.

For those with too much time; you may be able to spot Strood opposition Councillor, Stephen Hubbard at the protest. Stephen opposed the demolition along with SAVE Britain's Heritage and the local MedwayEyes Group (independent).

Primary School Closures

Hat-tip to

The political row over Primary School closures continues to rumble across Medway as local Conservatives seek to forcibly merge Delce Junior and Infact Schools in Rochester, whilst being subject to a legal challenge by parents at St John's, Chatham over the closure of there school against best advice.

Ridge Meadow school was axed by Medway Conservatives last year after a parent-led campaign failed to stop the cuts.

The plans to close St Peter's Primary School were rejected after a massive parent-led campaign coupled with concerted action by Cllrs' Esterson and Murray which involved the u-turn of several prominent Conservative Councillors. Labour Cllr Hubbard led the fight to stop the merger of two independent Strood Schools.

The mess surrounding the closure of Primary Schools still rumbles because the process of consultation and engagement has been mismanaged by Medway Conservatives from the very inception.

The changes remain part of the Medway Primary Change Strategy - though it has now been so mangled that it would be a fool that would use the original consultation as a basis for school changes, now that a number of Primary Schools have been saved. The Government set aside more than £11million in its primary capital programme to invest in the council's proposals to transform primary school education in Medway. The Tories have bungled the process.

Medway Conservatives announced in April 2009, its proposed plans to merge 16 primary schools and close three after ensuring all schools were notified before going public.
The process has seen the Tories back-track singificantly on several key school closures and mergers due to statistical errors and poor management information and metrics.

The resulting process has shown that Medway Conservatives simply can not be trusted to manage children's education.

For more information please visit (independent) Save Our Medway Schools

I've never voted Tory but...

Exclusive video release by Political Scrapbook.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Gordon Brown; tenderness, warmth and humility

Gordon Brown has shown tenderness and warmth on the death of his daughter to Piers Morgan. Baby Jennifer died aged just 10 days old after a brain hemorrhage.

This blog watched the programme with earnest and felt that Gordon showed a truly warm side of himself.

The interview was filmed in front of a live audience.

Fighting for Delce Schools

Please click on image to read article.

Teresa Murray, Labour PPC for Rochester & Strood has been campaigning against the reckless Tory cuts to local schools.

Tory School closure plans which have threatened Primary Schools across Medway including St Peter's School in Rochester and schools across Strood.

The Medway Conservative School Cuts agenda is a disgrace and reflects what the Conservative Party will do nationally if they take power in May this year.

Dont vote recklessly

For more information please visit Save Our Medway Schools

Free Swimming Success

The government policy for free swimming for children and pensioners has been a massive success in Medway with more people taking to water without hurting their pockets.

According to the Medway Messnger, since the scheme was introduced 121,000 people have benefited from the Labour Policy which was a key plank of the manifesto in 2005.

In Medway, there was an increase of 180% increase in free swimming amongst the under 16s. A policy which will challenge the rising obesity rates across Medway. Medway has one of the strongest records for encouraging swimming in the UK.

Free swimming has been an unmitigated success. See David Walliams below

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Tombstone for Medway Heritage?

In light of the campaign by this blog and others in the medwayeyes group. Just in case you were wondering about who has consistently undermined Medway heritage. Closure of the Dickens Centre, Theatre Royal threat, Paddock tree bulldoze and Aveling & Porter building demolition.

Tombstone Tory Trouble

The Conservative 'compassionate' mask finally slipped this week with a deluge of stories – no doubt to the delight of Thatcher and the local blue rinse – indicating the nasty party were well and truly back: un-green, mean and ready for cuts to our public services.

Last week began with a vitriolic attack on the prime minister – no actual policies, you understand, just sneers and insults. Not to be seen to be surrounded by old-school Tories, Cameron had to bus in a crowd of young Conservatives to make him look good.

Meanwhile, broadcaster Dame Joan Bakewell launched a stinging attack on the Conservative’s tombstone poster campaign which attacked a mooted solution to the funding of Labour’s social care plan. Bakewell’s remarks came hours after Andrew Lansley admitted that he failed to tell David Cameron about his private talks on social care with Health Secretary, Andy Burnham.

Speaking on BBC’s ‘The World at One‘, Bakewell, who in November 2008 was made a ‘Voice of Older People‘ by the Government, said:

“You know we’ve had a lot of pious talk recently about how we must salvage the reputation of parliament because of the expenses scandal, but the scandal is still going on, because people are telling lies.

“That poster, which was that Gordon Brown wants 20,000 when you die, is merely one of a series of options being put forward as a way of stopping people having to sell their houses, people don’t want to have to sell their houses as they get older and this option, paying 20,000 out of your estate when you die is just one proposal put forward in good faith. To turn it into this grotesque poster is an insult to everybody and it damages the case for older people and their serious care.”

Last week's events provide further signs that Project Cameron isnt firing on all cylinders. The week that saw the Tory leader talk of shifting power away from the political elite to "the man and woman on the street" was also the week that saw desperate and chaotic efforts by his inner circle to ensure that Joanne Cash, a glamorous "A-list" candidate and supporter of all-women shortlists, who is married to one of Cameron's Old Etonian [yes again] pals, was maintained as parliamentary candidate for Westminster North.

Negative campaigning and a right Tory mess with members of the shadow cabinet not speaking to each other and cock ups over selection. Just imagine what they will be like in Government!?

Friday, 12 February 2010

Army of Traffic Wardens

On a related topic of parking. News today that Medway Council has once again been aggressively instructing its now phalanx of traffic wardens to go fourth and fine residents.

This blog has been chastised in the past for scaremongering on the traffic wardens and Tory surrogates locally have indicated that this blog is peddling a myth that the Conservative Council has increased numbers or set targets.

According to the Medway Messenger, the Medway Conservative have confirmed in their budget that traffic wardens will be expected to rake in an extra £200,000 next year.

According to the paper, local Conservatives believe they have been 'too lenient in the past with appeals and it was costing a significant amount of money.'

The Tory army of wardens will therefore be on the prowl. More CCTV cars, more tickets and more fines.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Car Parking Charges?

Musings from Medway is very proud to be supporting the efforts by Conservative blogger Alan W Collins on his challenge to the punitive and regressive position of our current Medway Conservative Council, which has fleeced residents for parking after hours.

Parking in Medway is disjointed and is poorly managed. Residents parking zones are not adequately policed, overnight charges are regressive, an army of traffic wards patrol and clamp, the 'white vulture' CCTV car is regularly caught breaking the law, in a vain effort to catch out rate payers who are not. We also have the indignity of parking toll machines which quite literally commit day light robbery by not giving change. This whilst two major car parks in Chatham are dangerously used as a major A road because of the inept management over the Chatham two-way system (see Chatham two-way video) below.

Individually it is a sign of poor management. Together it shows a total lack of investment in resource to appropriately manage and co-ordinate parking and transport generally.

Please complete this questionnaire on parking whether you think Medway Council should be charging people to park beyond 7pm? Do you want to get involved in a campaign to end the charging at 7pm?

This blog welcomes a debate between members of the ruling Conservative Group on parking. Hopefully this debate may result in some joined up thinking.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Council Tax hurts Tory Support

The announcement that Medway Conservatives have raised Council Tax again by 2.95% will not come as a surprise to this blog, or the hard working residents across Medway, who will have to pay another gaulling increase.

Medway Conservatives fib to the electorate at every local election. They pledge that they will cut tax and keep Council Tax low. After the election they do an abrupt U-Turn and tax above inflation.

The fact is that the Medway Tories have raised Council Tax above inflation EVERY year since they took office.

This blogger recently submitted a Freedom of Information request on the Council to reveal to the public the year on year increases in Council tax undertaken by Medway Conservatives and the cost to the average band D Council tax payer.

The statistics are now available publicly on an obscure webpage found here.

Be aware that this blog is using the total aggregated figures provided by the Council and uses last years numbers when the precept was known.

The figures provided to the press for this year 2011, are also very disengenous because it appears to this blogger that they have omitted the precept charges from the Kent Police & Kent Police Authority. These would also be added onto the final bill. The average Band D property is therefore likely to pay in excess of £1,300 with all charges included.

Despite the ideological committment of the local Conervatatives to cut tax, they have actually
raised it, over and over again.

It is ironic that Medway Tories tax people to the hilt because the Conservative party spokesperson on Local Government Caroline Spelman was very clear on the matter when Medway Tories tried to tax above the 4.5% cap in 2006;

"Hard working families and pensioners are being hit right in the pocket by tax hikes and have to face the prospect of ever-increasing council tax bills year on year," she said. "It's understandable that people resent these huge rises - the typical household now pays over £100 a month."

Yet Medway Conservatives still increase the tax every year?

The evidence is in now in black and white. Medway Tories are not only poor stewards with your money but they tax you more for the pleasure. It is sad that it is likely Conservative voters who are getting squeezed by Medway Conservatives the hardest.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

D Day for Aveling & Porter

Time-delayed photos of the Medway Conservative vandalism and destruction of the Aveling & Porter building in Strood.

The full cost to the tax-payer of this demolition stands at £800,000. Money taken from Council tax-payer pockets.

Money that could have been used to subsidise the Medway Freedom Pass or free bus passes for younger people.

Not only is the actual destruction a disgrace. But it seems the Council Censor has been undertaking some airbrushing of its own by changing its own Tourist website on the content of the Guildhall Museum; in the ironically titled 'lost industries' section' the content on Aveling & Porter has been deleted.

It had come to this blogs attention that the Council had recently removed the Aveling & Porter webpage on the Tourist website via a tip-off.

Seems like airbrushing history isnt just the actual demolition.

Please see cached version (from January) - here

And now the 'airbrushed version' - here

A statement on the webpage from someone with artistic licence. The comment that 'little remains of these industries and the men and women that worked in them' and "Looking at the area now, it is easy to forget that Rochester and Strood together were once the hub of a number of important heavy industries"

Not the most considered of comments given the timing.

£800,000 of money squandered, a historic asset demolished and residents ignored. All for a temporary car park.

Big Ideas to fix Parliament

The Labour Government is leading the country on the 'big ideas' that will be a cornerstone of the next Labour Manifesto and the General Election.

The outcome of the vote tonight on Voting Reform will be crucial, because irrelevent of which party wins power in three months time, constitutional change is needed to rebalance and focus politics to win back public support.

The Tory pledge to reduce the number of MPs does not fundamentally change the system. Making constituencies larger and less focused on the 'local' does not change the flaw in our democracy, that it does not represent the views of people fairly.

The Labour Government has pledged that it is time to consider the 'big idea' of Alternative Voting for future general elections.

The Conservative leader has dismissed the drive to AV as a 'fiddle' and a 'cynical attempt to save his own skin' and Tory surrogates have been spread far and wide to suggest that the voters do not care for electoral reform.

Comments on the doorstep from this blogger indicate that whilst many voters do not understand the differences in voting methods, many would want to see a fairer and more transparent system, where the 'smaller' parties can be given a chance and where people can vote for something other then the big three. They are unhappy with the status quo, and a knee jerk response by Cameron to cut the number of MPs [and those rebel MPs who disagree with him in the process] is not the [only] answer. They want real change.

It is also a tad ironic for Cameron to attack AV, because he benefited from a preferential voting system, a variation on AV, for his candidate and election for Conservative Party leader.

Mischievously, Michael Crick has blogged on this and has looked up the voting figures for the Conservative leadership election last time round, in 2005. The results are below:

David Davis - 62
David Cameron - 56
Liam Fox - 42
Ken Clarke - 38

If the Conservatives had used "first past the post" in 2005, then David Davis would have won.

Cameron is being two-faced over AV. He knows that the public want real reform of Parliament and that his policies are merely painting over the cracks.

Restoring the Reputation of Politics?

The drive by David Cameron to restore the reputation of politics is being lambasted by independent commentators as being 'two-faced' and opportunist.

Investigations have revealed that despite Cameron's pledge to 'smell test' politics, it is the Conservative Party which also remain mired in controversy over the failure of its MPs to repay thousands of pounds, and the tax status of its biggest benefactor, Lord Ashcroft.

The expenses Scrutiny Panel was established by Cameron last year to "go beyond" the discredited Parliamentary rule book and decide whether claims were acceptable or not. It announced that Tory MPs should repay £125,000 after the panel examined the claims.

Accoding to the Evening Standard, a comparison between Commons Record, Legg and the Scrutiny Panel report shows that among the promised paybacks by Tory MPs a number have been 'airbrushed', including £15,000 for rent and mortgages by a senior MP, £800 for gardening by a shadow defence minister and a £135 for the cost of "changing a light bulb" put in by shadow David Willetts.

The findings put into question Cameron's pledge to restore the reputation of politics.

Indeed, Lord Ashcroft, a man who donates multi-millions of pounds to Conservative candidates, still has not clarified his tax status.

Tory party officials have repeatedly refused to say whether they believe the British public has a right to know the truth about the current tax s­tatus of Lord Ashcroft, the multi-­millionaire who has helped to bankroll the party for almost three decades.

Ashcroft, a deputy chairman of the party, was granted a seat in the Lords in March 2000 after promising to return to Britain from his home in Belize and pay UK income tax by the end of that year.

Since then, the tycoon has repeatedly declined to say if he has made good on that promise, and senior Tories have faced censure from the information commissioner for what he describes as their "evasive and obfuscatory" statements on the matter.

Another of Cameron's attack to 'restoring the reputation' of politics was the £2m a year corporate lobbying industry. An attack that is particularly ironic given the number of lobbyists who are seeking to become Tory MPs, coupled with the fact that his local Conservative Association is managed by Peter Gummer - founder of Shadwick PR.

The Tory party has failed to mend itself. With individuals bankrolling the party from dubious sources, lobbyists at its core and a failure to clean up its own act on expenses.

The Party continues to by labled as a party comprised of the landed aristrocracy and gentry. An accusation which has seen the party poll beneath 40% despite 13 years of Labour incumbency. Surely Tories must be asking, if he cant poll above 40% now, what on earth will be like when he actually has to make some unfortunate decisions, if heaven-forbid he is elected.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Conservative Council Tax Hike

Another year and another Tory tax rise locally. No surprises that we have seen Medway Conservatives break their promise on tax every years since being elected. The figure keeps going up and it keeps going up above inflation.

The floor damping argument used is flawed because to compare one area to another simply on the basis of population is not a coherent argument. It ignores the different social and economic situations between the two areas and the fact that there are different types of services and differences in service provision.

The fact is that the Medway Conservative Council tax is set to rise by nearly three per cent in the next financial year despite promises during the local elections that they would keep Council tax low. The proposed hike was revealed by Medway Council is part of the authority’s draft budget plans for 2010/2011.

It would see the council tax bill for an average band ‘D’ property jump from £1,092 to £1,125 – up £33.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Chatham Two-way Carpark?

The above is an exclusive video of how hundreds of drivers every day have made a mockery out of the hated Chatham road scheme.

The video shows the two car parks between Medway Street and Globe Lane, used as cut throughs by people seeking to miss the CCTV camera's located on the former Sir John Hawkins flyover site at the main junction, which is now a bus, taxi and cycle lane. The car park in the film has no visible speed restrictions and was still being used as a public car park at the time (see padestrian) and whilst the Council gave permission for fitted expensive speed camera's to stop traffic only 100m away from doing the same thing.

The Chatham Road scheme was opposed by Medway tax-payers and residents in the 2007 Local Election. An election where the Medway Conservative Group promised to halt the road development and then did a u-turn after the election. A road scheme that most residents believe has squandered millions of pounds of tax payers money.

The video author states that "I think the only way to stop the 'rat run' is to put a barrier across where the two car parks meet and paint a yellow box on the floor "Emergency Access Only Do Not Obstruct" give a key to the emergency services, this will stop all traffic cutting through whichever way they're coming from. Today I went through from the other way (Medway street entrance) the entrance through the restriction was awkward"

At time of print, the Council may possibly have stopped this route being used as a cut-through. However the mere fact that residents have been, and maybe even continue to use it as a cut through, shows a total lack of thinking and organisation. It is also video evidence that someone [Council?] had placed bollards to restrict traffic flow, with the full awareness that it would have zero effect, as the video shows.

This video shows that Council tax payers money is not being managed well.

The full cost of the Chatham road fiasco [£2.5m] could incidently have funded a 'Medway Freedom Pass' or indeed free bus passes for young residents. Money that could also have been used to improve residential roads across Rochester, Strood, Chatham, Rainham and Gillingham and reduce the number of pot holes.

When your next driving through Chatham, just remember, who is responsible. Medway Conservatives.

For a full history of the Chatham two-way road fiasco and the Medway Labour Group and independent opposition.

Talking about Trains

Local Chatham & Aylesford MP, Jonathan Shaw has been standing up for commuters.

He is regularly consulting with South Eastern on train frequencies and quality. The new service throughout Kent has dramatically reduced journey times - travelling at up to 140mph, journey times from Ashford International to Central London are just 37 minutes and from Ebbsfleet International the journey takes just 18 minutes.

The fleet runs on High Speed 1 (HS1), the UK’s first high speed rail line between London’s beautifully refurbished St Pancras station and Kent. It shows the committment of the government to invest and spend on railways after the lost decade of underinvestment with the Conservatives.

That being said, the company do need to review the ticket cost structure of the train and its impact on other commuter services. More needs to be done to retain the Cannon Street, Victoria, Charing Cross and Blackfriar train services.

For more on the work undertaken by Labour MP, Jonathan Shaw on railways please see his Youtube train interview with SouthEastern CEO and his campaign to safeguard Cannon Street services.