Sunday, 31 July 2011

Grain Airport Proposed as Medway MPs silent

The not-so lesser spotted Airport proposal

The ineffective bench of Medway Conservative MPs is once again silent in the press, as another proposal for an international airport hub on the Peninsula takes off.

Despite the warm-words of Conservatives since 2007 it is now all but clear that the Medway Tories have done nothing to realistically oppose the airport proposal which is now likely to be part of a major consultation exercise by the government.

Peninsula communities are at real risk of having a consultation exercise foisted upon them which could decimate houseprices for residents.

The Labour opposition has consistently warned that lazy Conservatives locally, coupled with the desire to win Parliamentary elections, could lead to the bulldozing of the Peninsula with the support of the London Conservative Party.

House-prices and peoples communities stand on the end of a precipice unless our MPs locally can get a grip on this issue and start to show some backbone. Thus far their record on transport has been utterly lame; we have eye-watering increases in train fares, an increase on the Dartford Toll and an administration in utter denial about the state of Medway roads.

This blog has consistently predicted the slippery slope of the airport from when it was a pie-in-the-sky Island airport idea to getting funding from Arabs, to the Cliffe proposal... all drip drip drip since 2007. A ratchet approach we see with Conservative proposals all the time; never quite dropped, time-limited 'no-plans' and lack of committment.

This article fits utterly with the position that the Conservative Government will propose to bulldoze over an area in the South East before 2015, and this blog predicted probably this year.

Given the number of articles, and the sympathies of George Osborne and Steve Hilton (Cameron's Strategist) our local heritage is now very much at risk.

Will Medway Tories start to ramp up the opposition.

Dont hold your breath; there paymasters in Whitehall have other plans.

Cabinet Papers Reveal

August is always the time that Medway Conservatives use the Council to bury bad news. They think because everyone is having a holiday, that the next full Council meeting is in October and its the silly season in the press that this can be an excuse to treat the public with absolute contempt.

The cabinet papers to be discussed this week provide some damning insights into financial mismanagement by Councillor Jarrett on regeneration schemes in Chatham and specifically the bus station and road improvement works. They also provide chilling evidence that the four year Free Swimming and Freedom Pass could actually be a 'one-off'. A direct contradiction to Conservative manifesto pledges in May 2011.

No one denies that regeneration is necessary in Chatham, but just like with the Woodland's fiasco and the second submission for the Primary School change programme, we see continued waste of hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money.

Below is the full cost of the 'dynamic' bus facility in Chatham. Cllr Vince Maple (Labour) has requested this cost breakdown at the last four Council meetings with no response.

Interesting to note the second time in as many weeks that we read that the Tory administration had to submit another design (costing almost £1m) because of a failure to get it right the first time. Remember, the first Cllr Wicks Primary School change proposal also had to be submitted again because it was poorly written.

The overrun on the bus station is predicted to be £435,000.

That is the equivalent sum to saving dozens of Teaching Assistants in our Primary schools.

The above however baffles. This bus station is now four/five months late, and the design of which had to be submitted twice at a cost of almost £1m. However take away the design cost and you end up below budget; despite it being late. It is almost as if the budget outturn had been over-exaggerated so that taking away secondary submission costs it would come out below budget?

These are not small sums of money and it is espcially galling when backbench Councillors [of all partisan colours] are given the same 'we have no funding' on ward-based schemes when such vast sums are clearly not being spent as well as they could be. The public need to get a lot more honesty and transparency from the Tories. We can all go back and look at prior press statements and budgets.

Below is the full cost of the road regeneration to the Union Street and Brook. These schemes were bitterly opposed by local residents (and indeed saw the fib over the demolition of the Hawkins Flyover in 2007, where the Tories changed their minds just before and after the local elections).

The scheme has led to a decline in local footfall for traders and is itself almost £800,000 overbudget. Despite being almost 9.5% over-budget the Conservatives even have the gall to suffest that it was 'not an unexpected occurance' though HCA rules are strict, this just seems a very high figure given an area where surely we know what is burried beneath the streets; the road was only build thirty years ago during the previous regeneration exercise.

What these two key projects highlight is not that regeneration is not necessary. I passionately believe we do need to see improvements in Medway; it is that the Medway Conservatives have mismanaged them time and time again. They are simply rubbish at managing our money; what with schools and now regeneration schemes overbudget - it raises serious questions about how much fiscal control Cllr Jarrett actually has. By these figures very little indeed.

Lastly, and this is a key point, for all those who believe local election pledges should be followed.

The Medway Conservatives promised four years funding for the Medway Freedom Pass and the Free Swimming initiative

Note the reference to 'fund one-off' initiatives (is that even a term?) from the Reserves. No mention of longer-term funding at all.
  • Have the Tories lied to the public by promising free swimming for four years?
  • Where is the additional budgeted sum for the extension of the Freedom Pass scheme?

Not only are the Tories mismanaging multi-million pounds projects but are their pledges going the same way as their dodgy figures?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Tory Police plan is reckless

It looks like the grassroots of the Conservative Party in Kent disagree with their erstwhile policy wonks in Medway and have expressed major concern about the forthcoming move to introduce elected Police commissioners.

In what will be seen as a direct snub to a number of extreme right-wing MPs the grassroots rebellion threatens to pit Conservative against Conservative.

The Kent Messenger Group is also likely to sit on the fence as it becomes increasingly clear this plan has zero support from the community.

Not one letter to the press, not one major campaign, not one well-known sponser outside of the political Oxbridge elite. The elite are simply out of touch with reality on the ground.

People in Medway are looking for the Police to combat crime not canvass for votes.

The Tory plan will see candidates (potentially aligned to the Police) spending thousands on election campaigns whilst residents begin to see the ill-effects of criminal cuts to Police which will impact the whole of Medway.

Millions wasted on elections as Police officers, PCSOs and support staff are axed.

There are concerns that an elected 'sheriff' will skew Police priorities away from urban low-voting areas into rural high-voting areas, which though politically popular, would lead to increasing crime rates. Going back in history we can see that Medway suffered from a lack of focus when it was part of KCC. The risk is a Kent-wide Commissioner will distort priorities away from Medway.

Medway Labour put a motion before Medway Council in 2010 to reject the proposal but local Conservatives opposed the Labour motion. Despite the fact we can see the ill-effects of partisan interference with the Police over the by-election in River ward in 2010 which saw a spat erupt between incumbent Conservatives who suggested the Police were bias.

Kent County Council Conservative leader Paul Carter agreed to write a letter to David Cameron warning him of the dangers of politicising the police, with Lib Dem group leader Trudy Dean due to add her signature.

The development has also been welcomed by the chairwoman of Kent Police Authority, Ann Barnes, who has been an outspoken critic of the plans to give one directly-elected individual the power currently held by 17 authority members.

Cllr Dean raised the issue at County Hall last week following allegations a handful of Met Police officers had been paid for supplying information to journalists at the News of the World. The force has also come under fire for botching a previous investigation into phone-hacking at the paper.

Cllr Dean said:

“This whole sorry tale proves that you need a complete separation between the police and elected government. You always need a separation between those who make the decisions and those who put them into operation.

“By introducing elected police commissioners you will merge those two roles and make these types of incidents far more likely to occur in future.

“It’s been an idea that’s been around for some time under both Labour and the Conservatives, and I think superficially it has an attraction of allowing local people to vote for police representatives. But the more you think about how that would work in practice, the more you realise the pitfalls that exist.

“As time has gone on, the voices of people against the proposals have grown louder and louder, and this whole scandal is an outstanding example of how things can go terribly wrong.”

Kent Police Authority currently consists of 17 non-elected board members, including a mix of independents and different party members from Kent County Council and Medway Council.

It is time for Tories to drop this pie-in-the-sky idea and get on with supporting our Police in fighting crime on the ground.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Monopoly Concerns

It is with mixed feelings that this blog has read about the KM Group bid for seven Kent newspaper titles.

The proposed purchase, which is subject to approval by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), involves the Medway News, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Thanet Times, Folkestone Herald, Dover Express, the Times series covering Canterbury, Faversham, Whitstable and Herne Bay, and the East Kent Gazette.

The titles are currently owned by Kent Regional News and Media (KRNM)

Given Medway, a conurbation of some 220,000 residents is currently only served by two major newspapers; News and Messenger, it is extremely concerning to note that the KM Group would have an effective monopoly over the area.

Whilst this blog has nothing against the KM Group it is simply not healthy in a democracy for one provider to have such dominance over local news, and indeed does raise questions about whether the KM Group will remain impartial and investigative of Conservative Council practices.

This issue comes on the back of the Medway Messenger having given Tracey Crouch MP a regular column in its regular Friday edition, so giving the Conservatives two out of the four political slots. Given the other slots were from leaders of respective Council Groups it looks very odd that the independent group, which only has one member less than the Liberal Democrats, was not as this blog understands, offered the slot.

The proposed acquisition is subject to a 40-working day investigation by the OFT who I believe should look at this purchase with caution.

A subsuming of the Medway News would be an utterly unwanted development locally and should be opposed by residents.

We need a healthy press and not a monopoly of opinion, news or comment.

Fight to save St Mary's ABC

St Mary's ABC, Chatham

Labour Councillors in Luton & Wayfield will be supporting the campaign by our local St Mary's ABC which is currently threatened with closure after the ownership of the land changed.

I along with Councillor colleagues met the campaigners yesterday evening and it is clear they will fight to the end for a club which spawned former world champion Johnny Armour and top heavyweight Tom Dallas.

St Mary's Amateur Boxing Club in Chatham is one of the oldest and proudest clubs in the county and has support from across the region. It is the epitomy of a small sports club fighting against corporate greed.

You can join their Facebook site and a petition is currently being organised to safeguard this piece of local heritage.

The Council has a responsibility to local sportsclubs to ensure they are safeguarded; one such as this with such a proud history must be looked at.

St Mary's has been at the site for more than 50 years. It has previously rented the property for a peppercorn rent of just £26 a year, but following the death of its landlady, the future of the club is in doubt.

Club secretary and head coach Dave Bowler said to Medway Messenger:

"We are very worried. We don't know who is going to buy it and if they will let us stay. If the new owners put the rent up, we wouldn't be able to afford it, and we can't afford to go anywhere else."

St Mary's most famous son is Armour who reigned the WBU bantamweight division for three years. He trained at the club from the age of 10 until he signed a professional contract aged 21.

He said:

"It would be a great shame if the club had to close. A lot of people would feel the same as me. It has been there such a long time and a lot of people will have fond memories of it.

"It is a blinding club, I don't think you will ever get a club as good as St Mary's in Medway. I couldn't have done anything I have done in my career without the start I was given at that club."

As Councillors - Sam Craven, Tristan Osborne and Christine Godwin will be fighting for the boxing club and are currently engaged with the Council to ensure that the tradition of this much-loved sport continues in our community.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Working for Gillingham

Cllr Dave Colman & Cllr Adam Price at the Labour funded Mid-Kent College site

Labour in Gillingham are out and about delivering for the community after the local elections in May 2011 saw two Labour gains.

Despite the focus locally being on the spats and splits between the former Liberal Democrat PPC, Andy Stamp and the Chair of the Medway Liberal Democrats, Alan Jefferies it is clear that Labour is out, working below the radar, and delivering for the people of Gillingham on their concerns.

Cllr Dave Colman, a former railway worker, has been particularly active as a new Councillor, introducing himself to community leaders and activists and helping residents. From dealing with private landlord disputes, clearing alleys to working with Council Officers on delivering better local services.

Dave is a team-player, collegiate and understated Councillor; he isnt interested in the public bickering that is distorting the priorities for Gillingham away from people issues. He is there to deliver and help people.

You can get in touch with Dave at Gillingham Library or via the Council Website

Expect to see a lot more of Dave Colman and Adam Price. Quiet, understated but delivering for Gillingham

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Our Highstreets deserve better

The visit by John Denham MP a few weeks ago, coupled with the front page of the Medway News and todays GDP figures show that the Tories have let down small business.

It is now up to Labour to save Medway’s high streets, calling for urgent action to help retailers, protect jobs and give people a real say over their local high street.

According to the Local Data Company, 14.6% of retail premises in the UK are now vacant, indicating that approximately 50,000 high street units are empty, with vacancy rates rising. The Javelin Group has predicted that if current trends continue, a quarter of all non-food retail outlets in the UK could be vacant by 2020. This also follows a recent spate of household-name high street retailers going under or having to close premises.

Portfolio holder, Cllr Chitty and Cllr Jarrett last week offered no comment on the situation that they have allowed to hit local traders in Chatham. They have simply failed local business.

Meanwhile evidence from Gravesend and Dartford shows that those centres have not suffered the same decline on footfall that the Medway Conservatives have overseen in our towns

Thousands of jobs on our Medway high streets are at risk. The British Retail Consortium’s Retail Employment monitor in April 2011 found that 29% of retailers planned to decrease staffing levels, up from 8% in April 2010.

Consumer spending remains sluggish as household incomes are squeezed and the government’s VAT hike hits consumers. Nationwide Building Society’s Consumer Confidence Index, released this week, fell by six points in June, returning to a similar level to January.

The government’s VAT hike is hitting the High Street – last year, the British Retail Consortium predicted that the increase would cost 163,000 jobs over four years and reduce consumer spending by £3.6 billion over the same period.

Additionally, many small businesses are struggling to access the finance they need, with lending to businesses contracting in the three months to May 2011 and the cost of borrowing increasing according to the Bank of England this week.

Labour has unveiled a four-point plan to save Britain’s high streets:

  • Enact a temporary cut in VAT from 20% to 17.5%, giving struggling retailers a boost and putting £450 back into each family’s pocket.
  • Introduce a retail diversity planning clause, putting communities in charge of the future of their local high streets. Local people and local retailers would have a say on any retail plans for their area, giving them the power to put the heart back into the high street.
  • Create a ‘competition test’ in the planning system, leading to greater choice and lower prices for shoppers. The test would ensure a level playing field between small and large shops.
  • Repeat Labour’s empty shops initiative, enabling councils to pursue innovative uses for empty shops and reinvigorate high-streets, such as using vacant units for cultural, community or learning services, rather than leaving them empty

The Tories have lost the trust of local business people. Labour stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the small trader and entrepreneur.

GDP Growth Shock

This morning’s growth figures show that – as expected – the economy grew by just 0.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2011. Given that the economy flat-lined in the six months after September, it means that growth has been anaemic for the last nine months as the chart below shows.

For Medway residents it shows that the Conservative austerity plan which is seeing over-aggressive cuts has resulted in a decline in consumer confidence. Unemployment, benefit payments and future prospects remain bleak.

It is time for the Tories to accept that they need to focus on growth and jobs. Time and time again the opposition has made it clear that the doom-mongering and negative language from the Chancellor would spook investment. It clearly has.

The OBR’s latest prediction for 2011 growth of 1.7 per cent now looks virtually impossible to achieve. Even if the economy gets back on track in Q3 and Q4, 2011 growth will barely hit 1.2 per cent – under half its original prediction of 2.6 per cent which it made in June 2010. The OBR has already been forced to downgrade its growth predictions on three previous occasions and will have to do so for a fourth time when it releases its forecast evaluation report in the autumn. Alongside this, they will be forced to raise their borrowing predictions.

Tories can not hide now from their failure to mismanage growth in the economy. They have taken the wrong and over aggressive course and the longer this continues the longer that residents across Chatham, Rochester, Gillingham, Rainham and Strood will suffer.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Master and Apprentice Challenged

Press Emperor, Rupert Murdoch, after almost 40 years of active lobbying, involuntary coercion, bullying and belittling our democracy, was finally held to account by Parliament today, and made to answer for the phone hacking scandal.

The culture, media and sport select committee quized Murdoch and son James from 2:30, followed by Rebekah Brooks from 3:30.

Three things in particular stood out

  • Rupert Murdoch is clearly not as scary a figure as has been portrayed and at times was almost pitiable. There was the definate streak of arrogance though on reflection on the size of his business and the fact he was simply uninterested in the UK (or at least tried to portray it) but yet a contradiction that he seemed eager almost to court senior politicians in Number 10. I suspect his interested was more than admitted. He did however reflect his age - time has a reached a point where such an octongerian should consider stepping back. A number of answers clearly showed he was not briefed appropriately by his UK News Corporation team but in addition he was slow footed and not on top of his game. There was an early mea-cupla but his answers conveyed a sense that because he was so senior or was almost above the fray; or at least perceived to be.
  • James Murdoch answered well but once again was light on detail; citing the defence of other investigations [which is fair enough you could argue] about answering any tricky question. The fact is though the culpability for paying huge sums of money to private investigators lies with someone and he singularly failed to answer a simple financial question; who signed the cheques? Someone would pay attention surely if £500,000 came out of your bank account for 'services' rendered?
  • Parliament finally showed some teeth and used the Select Committee's for some actual cross-examination. This is good thing for democracy and we should see more of it.

The shareholders and Board of News Corporation will deliver a more ruthless verdict shortly it is hoped. The days of the press emperor are surely coming to a close and like the analogy with the Emperor Palpatine (who bares a strickling resemblance) will it be one of his sons and most trusted advisors on the board who will fling the Emperor over the edge.

On a political note; the support from David Cameron, notably quiet today, will be under the spotlight tomorrow. Cameron has a number of questions to answer about his judgement and leadership on employing Coulson and especially and notably about why the chief of staff turned down advice on the phone hacking saga. In addition, Cameron revealed last week extensive informal relationships with News Corporation moguls; surely meeting such people informally a contradiction when the government was considering a BSkyB bid for Sky?

There is a smell of sulfur eminating from Camerons office. Will the force be with him tomorrow?

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Ready, Steady, Councillor

Residents in Luton and Wayfield enjoyed a day packed full of family fun over the weekend with live music, a barbecue, a talent show, fete and a quite comical Ready, Steady, Cook competition between local councillors Tristan Osborne and Sam Craven.

Residents also enjoyed a host of other events across the area including a Talent Performance Show at the Bishope of Rochester Acedemy. the event was a useful way of finding and engaging with people about their area and what they would like to see in the future.

With the tagline Local People, Local Solutions, the project is a joint initiative from Medway Council alongside NHS Medway, Kent Police in Medway, schools and community groups based in the area.

By working with the community and encouraging them to talk about any issues and concerns they have, the aim is to gain residents' feedback on the services they receive and how they can be improved, as well as looking at better ways to tackle issues such as anti social behaviour within a community.

Commenting Councillor Craven stated:

"Hundreds of residents turned out across all threee of the venues despite the poor weather and immersed themselves in the activities on offer. Residents enjoyed watching the talent contest with urban dance from Rochester Group ATZ to belly and folk dancing. The fete at Wayfield Primary School was really well attended with the 'Guess the Teacher' stand attracting a lot of attention from former pupils

"It is very clear from the performances we saw that Medway has lots of very talented young people and this needs to be encouraged and harnessed."

Commenting Councillor Osborne

"Politicians are regularly told that if they dont like the heat they should get out the kitchen, so it was also a useful opportunity to rest a score from the local election with a 'Ready, Steady, Cook' competition. The competition pitted my cooking prowess with that of Cllr Craven, a mum and teacher"

"After a very brief tutorial from the chef's my skills were put to the test and though my chicken pasta dish was a success, though minus the spinach. It was not enough. Cllr Craven won that day with an excellent curry, where my efforts were rewarded the wooden spoon"

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Time to step up and step out?

Ed Balls at St Peter's School, Rochester supporting parents at a school threatened by the Conservatives

Education is back on the agenda for full Council this week after a glut of stories highlighting the gross incompetence of the current Tory administration - and in particular portfolio holder Cllr Les Wick's - in managing Medway’s schools.

The Tory administration has shown an appalling level of ineptitude across the board with serious implications for the education and future of Medway’s children. Medway tax payers have had to pay through the teeth for fiasco after fiasco.

The recent Woodlands School fiasco detailed of late in local newspapers, comes on top of significant cuts announced to school staff such as teaching assistants, and a U-turn from the administration on future pupil numbers and school capacity requirements.

Plans have now been revealed for additional schools to be built in Chatham and Rochester, as a growing birth rate is expected to lead to a shortfall in available school places based on current provision. This, despite the closure of Ridge Meadow School, and the amalgamation others only a year ago, which reduced available places.

Given that Labour members - alongside parents, teachers, and local communities - consistently challenged the logic of closing successful schools at the time, it now seems clear the Tories simply failed to listen. The administration failed to take account of clear statistical evidence that foresaw the shortfall in places we now see, and could have avoided this costly error in closing schools only to need new ones a year down the line.

The Labour group thus demands answers from the Tory spokesperson, Cllr Les Wicks, on the legitimacy of the figures used in schools planning, and the rationale behind what now appears to be wasteful and unnecessary school closures. Labour councillors highlights a need for clear and open debate on the problems in Medway's schools, and implore the Tory administration to allow this to occur

In 2009/2010, local residents fought a campaign to oppose the Conservative Party cuts agenda to local schools and successfully campaigned with parents and pupils to reverse the policy which was based on flawed data.

The Tory incompetence can not be allowed to continue because our children deserve better.

Something must be done urgently and those responsible should reflect on whether they can really fix or whether they are the problem.

Background Videos

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Ed Miliband standing up for Britain

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Luton & Wayfield Fun Day

Residents in Luton and Wayfield are getting set for a day packed full of family fun this weekend.

Live music, a barbecue, a talent show and cookery sessions will be the eclectic mix of activities on offer at the Luton and Wayfield Big Event, taking place this Saturday, 16 July.

A whole host of activities for all the family to enjoy will be held at three main venues across the areas of Luton and Wayfield on a day dedicated to the residents of the area.

The event will launch the pilot project focused on the Luton and Wayfield area aimed at finding better ways to engage local communities and effectively tackle issues faced in their area.

With the tagline Local People, Local Solutions, the project is a joint initiative from Medway Council alongside NHS Medway, Kent Police in Medway, schools and community groups based in the area.

By working with the community and encouraging them to talk about any issues and concerns they have, the aim is to gain residents' feedback on the services they receive and how they can be improved, as well as looking at better ways to tackle issues such as anti social behaviour within a community.

The event will be an opportunity for residents to find out more about the project, as well as having some fun with their community, kick started with a talent show, held at Bishop of Rochester Academy.

The You’ve got Talent competition takes place at the academy's Magpie Hall Road site from 10am to 4pm, where performers will take to the stage and strutt their stuff in front of a select panel of judges and an audience. To take part in the show, call Medway Council on 01634 333333.

Over at Luton Junior School on Luton Road, families will be invited to don their aprons and take to the kitchen as the school opens especially for a day of fun packed cookery challenges.

Putting the fun back into food will be school meals provider Chartwells, who’ll be offering families the chance to take place in a series of cookery challenges, including Get Set Cook and Fun Fitness and Food – with fitness games, quizzes and cook -offs taking place from 10am to 4pm.

The third and final venue for the day is Wayfield Children’s Centre, where staff will be firing up the barbecue for an afternoon of summer fun.

The centre, on Wayfield Road, will be open from 12 to 4pm, and will also be holding a summer fete, with family fun in the shape of traditional games, face painting, cakes and more.

All events are free to attend and residents who attend two or more of the venues will receive a free goodie bag.

There will also be a prize draw on the day, with the chance to win a bike, smoothie maker or basket of fruit.

For more information and to register for the talent show, contact Medway Council on 01634 333333.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Deficit Reduction Poll

An interesting poll from Harris Interactive which shows that a clear majority of people in the UK still support the argument that we need spending reductions

Labour nationally has taken a sensible approach of supporting cost and deficit reduction strategies whilst also emphasising that cutting too far and too fast could damange the economic recovery and lead to unncessarily high unemployment.

It is clear that this argument has led to a chunk of support moving from 'the emphasis on cuts' column to the 'emphasis on tax rises column'.

Whilst Harris polls are not to be believed in isolation Labour needs to be careful that it continues to articulate a deficit reduction narrative but one which emphasises fairness and which is not as aggressive.

The Tory cuts agenda is leading to pessimism and a real growth issue and there is a very valid argument which suggests they need to slow down.

Most of the public accept the need for cost constraint as family budgets tighten; government is no different if it is to once again return to an even keal.

Care Home Concern

Over the last few days the beleaguered care home provider Southern Cross announced it is to shut down and its shares were suspended at 6.25p by the Financial Services Authority. The company, which owns around 750 homes across the country and two in Medway, will hand over control to landlords after it became unable to pay its rents, despite the company’s financial restructuring in March.

Ironically, on the same day as this collapse, David Cameron announced the intention of his government to give private companies the right to run schools, hospitals and nearly all other public services.

The irony was not lost.

Could a Southern Cross happen to a school or hospital near you if Cameron gets his way? Could we see asset stripping and private equity investors come into our health or education system? Flogging school buildings or hospitals only to lease back to the state? This is a very real possibility if this concept of state sell-off is not monitored.

The problem with the Conservative view on this issue is that many of them do not understand markets despite actually being the biggest cheerleaders for them. Many private equity firms have no interest in managing state assets; they have an interest in maximising profit and stepping back.

The case with care homes is a case in point. The financial restructuring of the firm saw the mortgaging of old people care for short term profit. Guess who now has to step in to fix the problem; government. Many of the 'landlords' who have taken over SouthernCross care homes across the country will also need to be closely monitored to maintain standards.

Shadow health secretary, John Healey MP, said in a comment:

“This announcement is what those living in Southern Cross owned homes have feared for weeks. While the company offers reassurances, residents and their families must now hear from Ministers what action they are taking to guarantee nobody ends up on the street or is left with inadequate care provision.”

In June, the FT revealed that Southern Cross senior management had made £35m after selling their equity stock in the Southern Cross. In December, the company’s former chairman, William Colvin, and three executive directors sold all of their stakes in the company for 550p a share.

Last month, the GMB union reported that one of Southern Cross landlords, Loyds Property Investments, which owns 49 of its properties, is linked to offshore tax avoidance. Its parent company, Loyd’s & Associates Inc, is registered in the British Virgin Islands. The union found that Loyds, which is in administration, has links to Israel, the Channel Islands and Switzerland. Its website boasts that the company’s current portfolio in the UK is worth an estimated £285m.

The Tories locally have had an agenda over the last decade of allowing the privatising care homes. I campaigned with Cllr Stephen Hubbard and former Cllr John Jones in 2007 against the privatisation of the Shaws Wood care home and we held major concerns about the scope of private sector involvement in health care.

In the last full Council meeting before the local election, I asked the the portfolio holder at full Council whether the Council could guarantee that no more Care homes would be privatised or sold off? He refused to give a firm answer.

Well if this situation highlights anything; it is that our older people need security and peace of mind.

A private company with the interests of share holders looking for short term return on an investment, may not necessarily be the same as those of a patient who is looking for medium-long term care.

Just food for thought.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Half mast Agents need to get a grip

It is becoming increasingly apparent to residents that we are currently witnessing a glut of phone mast applications across the Medway Towns.

Whilst we all accept that we do need to prepare for 4G and the increasing use of Wi-Fi enabled technology, it baffles belief that we continue to have applications for masts seemingly made by agents with little / no understanding of the area in which they are applying.

I have written to the agents who represent the phone companies, in support of the MP, who has also flagged concerns that the applications need to be better considered - not only in terms of the land they are placed on - but also to stop wasting the time of residents who remain concerned about the potential health risks.

Agents need to act with care on the placement of phone masts. Picking more suitable locations would not only speed up the erection of new masts but also lead to happier communities as well. Just food for thought.

I have suggested to the phone companies that instead of 'randomly' picking residential areas that they focus applications in industrial units.

Medway has a number of varied land types even in the most residential of areas, and such applications are likely to receive significantly less objections.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

New Council

Cllr Isaac Igwe is the newly elected representative for Strood South Ward who was guest writer for YourMedway


Now the new council is in place, the residents of Medway - including my humble self - are hoping the Conservative controlled council will come up with strategic policies that will see Medway advance in all spheres of economic, education and social development. The need to demonstrate measurable achievements is even greater at this point in time, as the council is pushing for city status.

It will be recalled that this time last year the Conservatives were moving with the speed of a hungry lion in pursuit of a prey in carrying out the mass closures and forced mergers of primary schools without proper consultation with stakeholders. Although some of the schools were eventually closed - at a huge cost, that in some cases exceeded the amount needed to save them - others were saved by the effort of Labour councillors, who raised armies of community campaigners, comprising men and women from all walks of life and children to oppose the cuts.

Until the end of the last financial year we enjoyed various development and regeneration projects, that saw the development of the four universities in Medway, the construction of several affordable housing sites, the Olympic fever felt in Medway with the transformation of the former Black Lion Leisure Centre to a training ground for the Olympians including the expansion of some roads. All of these schemes were funded and supported by Labour, despite claims and counter claims from Conservatives who refused to acknowledge this; still the evidence remains that the past Labour government singularly promoted the development and prosperity of Medway.

Under David Cameron’s government, the Conservatives dwell on criticising the past Labour government at every turn, instead of taking responsibility for supporting our fragile economy, that was damaged largely by a global financial crisis, not Labour’s spending. The Government is taking a reckless path of swingeing cuts, which are already raising concern from organisations such as the OECD and leading economists. With growth struggling, inflation rising, unemployment soaring and vital services struggling to stay afloat; the economic policy of the government is dangerous and misguided. The behaviour of the central government has trickled down to the Tory portfolio holders in Medway who are quick to find excuses when confronted with issues that hinge on social development. They have become obsessed with cuts, to the extent that no-one would be surprised if a pair of scissors eventually emerged as the Conservative party’s new logo.

My concern about the ability of the Conservative administration in Medway to lead the Council at this time of austerity measures is based on the events I witnessed during the proceedings of last full council meeting, which marked my first attendance as an elected councillor. In the meeting the leader of the Labour group Cllr Paul Godwin raised a motion that referenced a historical agreement reached among all political groups that the mayoral position will not be politicised, rather it should be rotated among the political groups. I gathered from his analysis that it was the turn of the Labour group to appoint a mayor when Cllr David Brake was appointed last year, yet at the start of this council period Cllr Ted Baker was elected as the new mayor, defeating Labour nominee Cllr Nick Bowler in a manner that presents the Tories like pupils acting out an over-rehearsed school drama in front of their parents. Their actions negated the ideals of the true gentlemen they profess to be at any given opportunity.

I was unimpressed by the swiftness with which the Conservative councillors acted in overriding the motion raised by Cllr Godwin.

My concern as a newly elected councillor is the behaviour the Conservative councillors presented collectively as a group in a minor issue such as mayoral succession will be replicated in more serious issues such as health care for the elderly and children in need, maintenance of our road networks, provision of affordable housing which will see reduction in long waiting lists, adequate funding for schools instead of closures that will impact on the quality of learning for our children

I have a feeling the Conservative group will dwell more on attacking the Labour group and our ideals with the intent to frustrate progressive ideas about community development and cohesion, which we profess continually, and forget about building on the indelible legacies which the past Labour government brought to Medway. In any case, I pledge to play my part in ensuring that the people I represent get a fair deal.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Where is the apology?

What a total Medway Conservative farce as the Primary School botched re-organisation comes back to bite.

Only this time the entire argument presented by the majority (though not all) Medway Conservatives has been totally blown out of the water as it is revealed that instead of a fall in pupil rolls, Medway will need thousands of extra primary school places over the next five years.

The local authority predicts the number of pupils attending primary schools will increase by about 2,400 by 2016. The report, which was linked last week and picked up on my twitter, predicts the figure could rise to 23,200 over the next five years.

Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester are most in need of extra places, the report says despite the words in 2009 of the Conservative Portfolio holder.

In 2009, the Tories presented a policy paper on Primary School Change, costing multiple millions of pounds, which based its conclusion on evidence of falling school rolls in the future. The proposal was to close and merge schools across Medway.

The argument was totally false.

The reason why this blog was / is so angered by Medway Conservative arrogance is because despite all the scientific proof that they were wrong, they would not accept fact and then accused Labour of spinning a campaign which was actually run by independent parents who were only concerned for their children's education.

All of the arguments at the time, and it is worth a read, are on the Medway Conservative website which highlights the way in which they dismissed any argument but their own (now seen to be utterly invalid) argument in 2009. They even falsely accused Labour of leaking information on Primary School closures for partisan gain; an utterly craven act at the time which was utterly without any foundation, and which was total fiction.

This blog expected today that the Medway Conservatives would show some humility and indeed basic human decency. Perhaps a mea culpa follow up to the glut of bilge they put out in 2009 spinning a tired yarn of falsehoods.

Unsurprisingly to readers we have had ZERO statements on the Conservative website and a brazen attempt to finger point to officers, when it is clear portfolio holders are responsibe for scrutinising their own departments.

It is the Tories that have played politics on this issue right from the very start.

Cllr Les Wicks wrote on the 10th July 2009 that 'Labour are more concerned with scoring points than the children's future' and even brazenly accused Labour of 'shame on school leak' when it became apparent the full list of school changes had actually be released earlier by the Council, no apology was forthcoming.

He continued

'that the government’s Primary Capital Programme for Medway, which the Labour group has so far opposed and attempted to undermine at every turn, proposes to impartially invest in schools which are in need of refurbishment... Let’s be clear, the Labour group in Medway are not interested in the well-being of children – instead they are intent on political point scoring. In comparison, the only concern for the Conservatives on Medway Council is the long-term interests of all our children in Medway'

Meanwhile Cllr Jarrett went even further in his article entitled 'Labour group would threaten every school with closure as their attempt to derail consultation with primary schools fails' on 19th June 2009; stating that

'Medway’s Labour group have failed to suggest any alternatives to address surplus places in Medway; something that the government has told us that we have to deal with. Their only suggestion is to start again which would threaten every school with closure and create uncertainty for our children for months on end.'

Labour did not provide alternative suggestions because we did not accept there were surplus places over the medium term. An argument that was eventually accepted by the impartial Schools Adjudicator and which is now seen to entirely correct.

Cllr Jarrett continued to burble the same tired line on 17th June 2009 when he accused Labour of 'threatening' £30m investment in Medway's schools'

'Labour councillors have, at every turn, opposed changes to primary schools in Medway, without suggesting any alternative solutions to address surplus places

Guidance issued to Medway Council under the Primary Capital Programme states that “strategies that fail to commit to addressing surplus capacity at local authority or individual school level will not be approved”, and that plans must “ensure that no school has more than 25% surplus places” and “reduce overall surplus places to less than 10% across the local authority area'

Councillor Jarrett is responsible for scrutinising numbers and detail on figures every day. How could he get basic demographics so wrong? A major question on his ability to process and scrutinise information therefore arises; is he competent enough?

The fact is Cllr's Wicks and Jarrett spent most of May & June 2009 effectively basing their argument on surplus places. They had opportunity to review the counter argument but chose not to and as a result schools have closed and parents given unnecessary stress.

Even worse - on the back of incorrect data, the Conservative authority chose to close Ridge Meadow

Residents today will making judgements on the character of our elected representatives.

A full, public and open apology should be forthcoming.