Tuesday, 31 January 2012

FU? What next...

This blog called it right on Cameron. It suspected he would have a u-turn on the Fiscal Union and it was proved right.

Cameron has been two-faced by stating that the EU could not use the facilities of the European Union in November and now doing an about u-turn on this position and is now actively allowing them to use the institutions of the EU.

Much like the V for Vendetta sketch with the domino's I can tell you what will happen next.

The remaining 25 EU states will now negotiate a new binding Fiscal Union compact which Britain will tacitly allow through the use of EU bureaucrats and institutions which you, the UK taxpayer will fund.

The Fiscal Union compact will be agreed in mid-late 2012 and will form a binding compact with all the states involved.

Over the next 2-3 years Brussels will either use 'ratchet clauses' already written into the Lisbon Treaty to add a fiscal union requirement into the existing Lisbon Treaty; Britain will win a concession to the Tobin Tax. Alternatively, and more likely it will form a simplified revision procedure to get it through without Cameron seeking the consent of the public.

The ratchet clause is where EU policies that require unanimous backing amongst member states could in future be carried by a majority instead. But already under the Lisbon Treaty, all member states have to agree to switch to majority voting in a particular area before it can happen. I suspect this will not happen because it would trigger a referendum.

Alternatively, and more likely, it will form a simplified revision procedure which Cameron can sign up to without fear of a referndum. The simplified revision procedure, which applies only to part three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and cannot increase the powers of the EU, sees changes simply agreed in the European Council by a decision before being ratified by each state.

Cameron can therefore claim he is not subject to a referendum lock as per Conservative-sponsored legislation in Parliament.

If I were a Europhobe Tory tonight i'd accept that you either work for a federalist Cameron leadership or you join a party which is truly anti-European, UKIP.

Two-faced Cameron on bonuses

Just like with NHS. Two-faced on bankers bonuses

The utter hypocrisy over the Conservatives over bankers bonuses has been exposed over the last two weeks as once again the two-faced Cameron says one thing and does another.

We had it today over Europe where he said one thing in November and did the total opposite today. Though I welcome his move to accept the fiscal union he is trying to pretend and distort the truth; he has capitulated, it was predicted and he should have the guts to admit it.

Of course he gets away with it...

Just rewind back only two years to February 2009 and Cameron said that bankers "needed to wake up and smell the coffee" as he urged ministers to tear up existing bank executive contracts at semi-nationalised banks to prevent them receiving any bonuses.

The Tory leader said it was not acceptable for them to receive bonuses since the firms would have collapsed altogether but for the government bail-out.The clampdown on bonuses should not just apply to the board members or the executives that had failed the banks, but had to extend to "the huge swathes" of senior executives, even if they had personally made a profit for the bank.

"In every company, if the firm does badly, there are fewer bonuses for everyone, because everyone has to work together to get that firm out of a hole"

Cameron even argued at the time that the government, as majority shareholder in some of the banks, could simply force the issue. In those banks that the government did not own, ministers were in a position to apply "some strong moral persuasion", since they were dependent on government credit guarantees.

Cameron said that in principle he wanted to see future bonuses linked more closely to share price rather than company profitsHe even said

"it is infuriating to listen to all this stuff about 'existing contracts must be kept to'. There would not be any contracts, there would not be any salaries, there would not be any bonuses if the taxpayers had not stood behind some of these institutions. The bankers have got to have one of those 'wake up and smell the coffee' moments. The government appears to have been asleep on the job. It is not so much that they shut the door after the horse has bolted. They have shut the door after the horse actually won the 3.20 at Uttoxeter."

Fast forward to 2012

Whilst it is welcome news that Stephen Hester has decided to wave his bonus, this was nothing to do with the Tories.

Up until the weekend Downing Street insisted that the government’s hands were tied because of a deal signed by the previous Labour government, which meant RBS shareholders could only advise on bonuses, not veto them.

This is of couse a complete fib. Multi-year guarantees are illegal and all bonuses are discretionary, as they themselves only admitted when they said that the bonus has been awarded by the board. To imply that he was getting a fat bonus because of the previous government is and was desperate.

RBS is still failing to support businesses properly despite signing the Project Merlin deal with the government to help boost growth. In addition, RBS’s shares are worth less than when Mr Hester took the job in November 2008, after Sir Fred Goodwin was forced out.

Yet, Cameron did nothing; even though he said in 2009 he would act.

Meanwhile, Chancellor George Osborne said the only alternatives would have been more expensive for the taxpayer. He said ministers could have blocked the bonus only by tearing up the “arm’s-length” arrangements drawn up when RBS was saved from collapse in 2008 and taking over day-to-day operations.

“Either there would have been a much larger bonus, of the kind he would have got a few years ago, or the British government would have had to take over complete ownership of RBS and over-ruled the board, and I think that would have cost the tax-payer more as well.”

Where was George Osborne in 2009!?

Subsequent to this position Labour tabled an emergency motion on the bonus and Stephen Hester decided to wave the bonus.

Labour has shown leadership once again; Cameron has been exposed as two-faced.

Friday, 27 January 2012

School Data Re-visited

Have spent the last hour or so churning into the numbers and some concerning trends have been revealed which show just how stark the system of education we have in the Medway Towns has become.

Find below the breakdown of some key indicators which you may find interesting. I have picked three indicators which will become clear:

This is the sort of analysis a good researcher or analyst would undertake

This blog does not advocate any top-down re-organisation of our education system without the consent of parents; so I want to say at the outset that this is not a campaign pitch for the Comperehensive cause. I actually believe in good schools and do not want to tinker with any that work. I do however have a seething dislike for failure and as you would expect from someone of the centre-left; how it impacts those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

  • Grammar Schools were the only schools to get above average GCSE results. All other publicly funded schools; whether comprehensive, secondary modern, community, academy or sponsered were below average performance
  • The average cohort at grammar schools was 148 pupils. At other schools cohort was 195 (and that is including Rochester Independent College (ony 24 cohort so a statistical outlier). We know that those with smaller cohorts did better overall
  • 72.5% of all pupils in Medway taking GCSEs attended schools that are below average performance.
  • Grammar School pupils are on average wealthier then those at all other schools in the area if you take into account free school meal %. On average grammar school pupils (3.98%) v non grammar pupils (15.48%). From a social mobility perspective this is important.

Adding in the statistics from the Centre for Cities analysis which shows that Medway has noticeably poor education with only 22.8% with a higher qualification (ranking Medway 51/64 for same sized cities in UK) and 13.6% with no formal qualifications at all (43/64). How much of these same statistics are influenced by school performance? It is of note that on all the other indicators on the CfC analysis we performed above average.

This blog is not seeking a political outcome from the above points merely to point out some statistical realities. The decision for education in the area must be for its residents to decide.

Incidentally the above also highlights why anyone managing the education department in Medway Council has a very very tough job. Unlike in other areas our team have to work within a very difficult environment and context; one which you could argue is inherently skewed.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

GCSE results below average

Medway is amongst the worst performing in the South East region under Medway Tory LEA

The failure in political leadership in the education department is once again in the spotlight as the GCSE result league tables show that Medway schools continue to suffer under the management of this lacklustre Conservative controlled Local Education Authority

One school, Bishop of Rochester Academy, which sits in a neighbouring ward to Luton & Wayfield, and whose catchment is in my ward now sits in the top three worst performing schools in the UK, with only 16% achieving five good GCSEs

Medway is also below average with only 55.7% achieving five good GCSEs when compared to an average of 58.2%.

There are many good schools in Medway and they should be allowed full autonomy from the hand of Cllr Wicks. They do not want, nor desire, the attention of the Conservative cabinet.

It is however an abject and utter disgrace that despite all the complaints by residents in Luton & Wayfield and Chatham Central that their children are suffering a substandard education and have done so for such a long period of time.

We also continue to see poor results at other schools and the public expect better.

The Tory in charge, Cllr Les Wicks, has now overseen GCSE league-table results below the national average, with several schools amongst the worst in the UK and yet there is no apology on any Conservative website.

He has lost the confidence of the public over the botched 11+ test and the Primary school re-organisation fiasco's. He should do the honourable thing and stand aside for someone with an intellectual grasp for education and that can inject new leadership.

Not my words; but from his own Conservative colleagues.

It is time the administration relentlessly focus its attention on the failing schools from Hundred of Hoo, Robert Napier and Bishop of Rochester. Focused resource and political attention on the schools which need to do better.

In addition, would have at least expected a detailed statement today on the School results with an acceptance that they were not good enough. Yet there was nothing accept one casual remark to the press saying the results were good; below average performance is not good!

It is almost as if the league table results are not of any importance.

This school, and the others which have worsened under the Tories, have the responsibility to educate hundreds of young people to a good standard and yet the administration have put out no public statement as to how they will improve. It is a lack of direction which worries parents.

It is simply unacceptable to have a number of our schools amongst the worst in the UK. Medway is not a poor area and has significant areas of affluence; it is the lack of political leadership which has led us to worsening SATS and now below average GCSE results in many of our schools.

Cllr Les Wicks should go and new dynamism injected immediately

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Why Tories are wrong on airport referendum

The Medway Tory Council opposition poster to an Estuary Airport... and you wonder why it has reached consultation stage!

It seems a number of the Medway Conservative cabinet are still in denial about the referendum which is receiving significant support, not only from the Campaign for Rural England, but Conservative voters across Kent & Medway.

Support from phone-ins and even the Chair of a Conservative Club in Chatham.

The idea of a referendum is not pie-in-the-sky. It is a considered and sensible position which took into account the move by government to fully consult upon the idea of an Estuary Airport - subsequently seen to be entirely correct after last weeks leak.

Referendums are common on matters of civic interest, be they for elected mayors, a change in local government or even on major infrastructure projects like we observed in Dover. Incidentally; many of local MPs are on record in calling for referendums and at no point over the last 18 months has any Conservative Councillor stood up to mention cost on the local tax payer. It would seem some referendums are ok, others are not.

It is sad that whilst Tories are calling for more direct mayoral elections today, and Scotland is setting out the agenda for its referendum, that our Conservative administration is on poor ground on direct democracy.

I do not support referendums for every issue; we had one on Europe in the 1970s and back Cameron on this. On matters of signficant civic interest however; they do have an important place.

Remember the reasons why a referendum is necessary. The problem is that the 'pie-in-the-sky' campaign (which Cllr O'Brien uses in his background) has failed. No one knows who Cllr Chambers and Jarrett are beyond our Authority borders which is why six MPs today have written to Cameron requiring an audience which got little attention on ConservativeHome and nothing in the major broadsheets. Our local Council leader is a non-entity which is why we still have not had a reply from Justine Greening MP to our enquiry for a meeting last week.

It always was a low octane campaign, which has allowed local Tories to laugh this airport off as a Boris gimmick; only sadly for them it never was a gimmick and the government are now about to spend thousands of pounds of tax payers money on a consultation exercise. Not such a pie-in-the-sky that lobbyists have been over George Osborne and that funding sources have been warmed up from China to the Middle East.

MPs refusing to listen to the public last year is the reason why we are in this position in the first place and that is the simple fact. They should have sought meetings in November as this blog and many others made very clear.

The issue of an airport on the Peninsula will keep coming back, and will continue to do so, until the government (and in this case Conservative Government) get it that we do not want it. A referendum will allow people to finally have an opportunity to say No (overwhelmingly I suspect) to the idea once and for all. An idea which if allowed to grow will pose an existential threat to our towns and civic fabric.

On an issue which has significant and tangible impacts on our towns it is wrong-headed to say that people are not responsible enough to have a say on a project which will have fundamental impact on our civic nature.

I am particularly interested to note the arguments positioned against the airport from Cllr O'Brien which I have to say are very weak indeed.

Firstly; He has picked out a cost of £250,000 - which is unsubstantiated - but then contradicts himself by saying it could be cheaper, but without a figure, if we were to use a November window. I would suggest he has picked the total cost for an election and has not mentioned, probably deliberately, the smaller cost for an additional ballot box on an existing election. A November election would be sensible for staffing and cost; the next election after this would be the Euro-elections in May 2013.

However, taking account of the £250,000 cost for a single election; Given this scheme would take ten years, cost £50-70 billion and result in the destruction of villages, and fundamentally alter our civic environment, I would perhaps suggest that it is a price worth paying.

The £250,000; could have come from the overspend on the Chatham Bus Station or countless other programmes this Tory Council has mismanaged. His party have zero fiscal credibility, as is about to be exposed on the supposed balanced budget which is anything but. This Tory Council has well documented overun spends on Aveling & Porter, Stoke Crossing, Brook Regeneration and in the Education department on botched school building projects.

Or we could accept that a Council with a multi-million pound turnover could afford and may feel obliged to consult people on an issue of this significance.

Secondly; the suggestion that our staff would have a ‘logistical’ difficulty in two ballot boxes, despite the fact we had two at the last local election.

The actual time taken to count the Yes and No votes is miniscule when counting multiple split votes as we see with candidate ballots. To suggest it could be overshadowed by the Police Commissioner election is like saying the local elections were overshadowed by the AV vote; and implies voters are stupid and do not have a clear understanding of what they are voting on. People would grasp the difference and it would add an hour, maybe two, to an existing election night.

Thirdly; He suggests that a referendum in November would sit at the ‘end’ of a consultation exercise, after he admits he does not actually know the start and end dates. He also incorrectly implies that none of the parties wont have pre-existing campaign positions as if the AV vote never happened and the Conservative Party sat quietly on it. The Council has a responsibility to frame a sensible question asked in an appropriate fashion; it does not mean the administration and parties cant have a stated position and pursue them as I am sure everyone would. It is true that Council resources may not be used for overt campaigning until the result is clear, but then the parties should accept responsibility for this. In addition, once a mandate is received, the Council can act with full knowledge of a mandated result.

The timeline he has suggest is also unfeasible; I suggest that the aviation review is likely to be longer then six months, and that any primary legislative process would take at least 12-18 months; this ignoring the likely judicial review that Medway Council would call if it were to be accepted by government. To imply, as Cllr O'Brien has, that this could all be rubber-stamped by the government before November is irresponsible, unsubstantiated and just finger in wind speculation.

Lastly; the people were not given a substantive decision on the airport in the local election. The local election is a chance to elect a local Councillor to represent you across Council services more generally. It is a vote on a collection of policies which at the time did not involve any major discourse on the airport, because the government had no plans to consult! Not only have the proposals become more detailed but I would suggest, as did many callers on BBC Radio Kent last week that Local elections and referendums are not the same.

All in all Tories are clutching at thin straws in rejecting the referendum. Straws which will get strained more over the weeks and months to come.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Centre for Cities Analysis

Click to enlarge

Some very interesting analysis from the Centre for Cities think-tank on how Medway compares with the rest of the United Kingdom

It makes a bleak read in some ways and a positive in others.

Medway comes out very poorly on education with our area amongst the worst in the region for the level of people with high level qualifications in comparison with areas with a fully comprehensive system. We also have very few knowledge-based jobs in our area which means Medway is disproportionately impacted by cuts to manufacturing and the public sector (ratio is 2:1 private to public).

Medway also has concerningly high business churn but with a low start-up in comparison to other areas. This means not enough is being done by the Council to encourage and start-up new business in comparison to other sized conurbations

The loss of income is also pronounced with average weekly earnings falling to £488 which is a real terms reduction of £6 but with inflation is likely to be significantly higher.

Overall Medway is in a fair position in comparison to cities in the North East and Midlands; but does not fair well in the region and on indicators where the Conservative administration could have had influence; business growth and support, they are failing in comparison to other nearby authorities.

Danger of Care Home Privitisation

Letter sent to press below by Cllr Teresa Murray

Dear Sir,

The concerns raised in the Messenger article about Friston House and Winchester house care homes provide us with a timely reminder about the dangers posed by the Medway Council Cabinet's proposals, currently out for public consultation, to privatise Robert Bean Lodge, Nelson Court and Platters Farm. These popular and high quality homes are owned by the council and while this is the case it's much easier for the standards of care they provide to be monitored.

As your article shows even though private homes are subject to inspection by the Care Standards Commision, many more of them fall below acceptable practice when compared to those in the public sector. This is because the only other monitoring private homes have is that by relatives of users and annual visits from the Council who fund places in the private sector too. As accountability in the private sector is less regulated many private homes refuse potential clients and their families the right to drop in unplanned when trying to choose a home.

In the course of the consultaion I have heard relatives say that that they were even refused visits to see their loved ones already in private homes, if they didn't call first to say they were coming. Those who work at private homes are just as kind and caring as those who work in our council homes but they are paid less and there are fewer of them, reducing the time they can spend with those they look after. This results in higher hospital admissions where the neglect resulting from lack of time causes more presssure sores and infections. The consultation meetings have been well attended and I have now lost count of the numbers of people at the meetings or who have contacted me separately ,who tell frightening and moving stories about the way their loved ones ,now comfortable in our council homes, have been treated in the private sector.

Their stories include poor hygeine,the eviction of patients whose condition worsens, bad food and lack of feeding, regimes with few meaningful activities for residents and constant staff turnover. Privatising these much loved homes in Medway will leave the council prey to the private sector, vulnerable to uncontrolled pricing of care and weakened in terms of being able to uphold a gold standard or secure a safe place when things in the private sector go wrong.

Even the Parliamentary Public Accounts committee has recently issued a report saying that it's hard for councils to control standards of care in the private sector and intend to issue guidelines for tightening things up. I hope that the Conservative Cabinet of Medway council will listen carefully on February 14th to what the consultation has told us all and keep the homes in public ownership. Why let a good thing go when we could build on our success?

Privatising the homes is short sighted and the savings resulting from doing so are anyway very unclear, our older people have worked for all of us, they deserve the very best we can provide.

Cllr Teresa Murray
Labour spokesperson on Medway council, Health and Social care.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Tory Chairman endorses referendum

A very interesting post which shows the wheels are falling off the Medway Conservatives over the airport with a former Chairman of a Conservative Club endorsing the referendum.

There is enough evidence to suggest this is a genuine comment which highlights the Medway Conservatives are engaged in a dithering display over the principled position by the Labour Group of a referendum.

The Tory faction fighting is now open with Tory Councillor's on the Peninsula using Labour as a proxy for their own internal fights against colleagues.

"I will say right now as the former Chairman of a Conservative club and a die hard Tory Rodney Chambers does not represent my views on this matter. Rodney's views have come across as very insular and give the impression of intransigence based on a very narrow view of his vision of what the island of Medway should be achieving which I assume includes independence from the rest of the United Kingdom

Nowhere does he seem to possess any vision of the practicality of politics which embraces the future of jobs, progress, and future prosperity for Kent and Medway citizens. Medway has currently one of the largest unemployment problems around with 8 people announced competing for one job

Rodney Chambers cannot continue to bury his head in the sand. Sustainable jobs are badly needed in Medway now and for the future and we have to think of the interests of all of Medway's population not just a few who will likely undergo the horror and tragedy of relocation for the greater good of all. Using arguments that may have been valid 10 years ago does not augment your case in my view but diminishes it. The Cliff aiport protest fielded something like 100 and 2000 protesters marching. That's not a lot out of 250,000!

As regards getting the support of Medway's MPs I haven't forgotten that 2 of them the Hon(s) Reham Chishty and Mark Reckless were former Councillors and that shortly after the election in 2010 chose to remain in their old posts (I think one still does). So of course they are going to back their former boss as their future seats may depend upon it!

As regards Tracey Crouch who is my MP she is the only one who has come up with a sensible alternative to just no and that is Birmingham. I would agree wholeheartedly with her except that I think that the London area has been stipulated as the preferred site. Birmingham is easy to get to now only being an hour away by fast train from Euston(I used to get the 7:45 shuttle in 95) It'll be quicker when the high speed link gets in.

Neither Rodney nor the MPs can safely state that they represent a quarter of a million Medway citizens on this particular issue as they have not asked them.

A referendum might produce some interesting results on this matter. By that I mean a fair and impartial referendum which poses an objective question not a highly emotive one. Listening to Rodney on the radio the other day, It didn't appear that Rodney wanted the electorate asked in any other way but a subjective one. "

This Conservative is now endorsing the Labour referendum and we believe many others do so as well.

Only dithering Tory Councillors on the Peninsula; who voted against the referendum on a recorded vote; stand against the overwhelming majority who believe that a authority-wide or parish-led referendum campaign would give people a final say on the proposal and would be a shot in the arm to the anti-airport campaign.

Such is the desperation that they have now changed tack; suggesting that people may even vote for an airport; in a display of disloyalty against local campaigners there is no polling evidence to suggest this is remotely feasible.

Meanwhile today Tories continue to play local residents like a football; Cllr Chambers yesterday admitting that the people of the Peninsula are being pawned like a 'boiling pot' in a disgusting attempt to curry support for West London voters.

If you were living in Hoo, Cliffe or Grain; you must see that this is overt Conservative Party posturing at the expense of your house prices and businesses. It is simply outrageous and its spilling out into the open.

The message of splits highlighted yesterday with lack of core message from MPs.

Rehman Chisthi claiming that there were 'no plans' was straight from the DfT statement but was totally out of sync with context; Tracey Crouch MP stating that a consultation would be tedious and unncessary (clearly not in agreement with the above) in a rushed tweet which could, and will, be taken out of context. Mark Reckless MP now stating that if a consultation were to be conducted (but no apology at the volume of spin he put saying it wasn't going to be) that it would be good to reject the proposal - despite ignoring the fact that most of the options have been discounted in advance.

The Conservatives are an absolute and total mess. The ferrets are quite literally scratching each other to death.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Estuary Airport Consultation

Well the gloves are off and the proper campaign begins across Medway, Gravesham, Sheppey, Thurrock and Essex to oppose the London Conservative plan for a mega-airport in North Kent.

An idea, which three years ago started as joke island off the Isle of Sheppey, has morphed, slowly but predictably, to onsite options at Grain and Cliffe on the Peninsula area of North Kent. A mega-airport which will impact hundreds of thousands of residents and change the community fabric of towns and cities across the Estuary.

The community in Medway has seen this fight before, but this time the plans are more detailed and being led by the Cameron Conservatives. Plans which if not opposed would uproot communities, destroy sites of significant ecological interest and land North Kent with ten years of transport chaos as the most beautiful part of North Kent and the Peninsula becomes a concrete slab. Surrounding areas would be blighted with noise and pollution.

So says the NIMBYist who would be opposed?

And you would be right, but this is not because I dont support public consultation on aviation; it is because the consultation itself has ruled out too many options before it even starts. No cross-party aviation group, a rule out of Heathrow (November 2011), Gatwick expansion (May 2010) and Stansted (May 2010) and you end up with very few options left.Birmingham has support but would require a link with HS2, which is itself under review and opposition. Kent has access to Europe, HS1 already built and nearby, two major motorways (M2 and M20), employment prospects and a working proposal for a further crossing East of Dartford. No surprises to anyone where this government is angling which makes it important that a proper campaign is run now.

Residents here have spent three years of being played as pawns by the Tories as proposal after proposal is released and trailed in the press, and this consultation I believe will be just the same if it is led by the Tories alone.

It is a test of local resolve across the Estuary to send a very clear message to the government.

And this clear message should not just come from a band of unknown grey-beards in the Council chamber, irrespective of composition, but by the collective voices of residents.

In Medway, we have been here before - less then a decade ago many Tories worked with Labour MPs on the anti-Cliffe airport campaign. The idea of Cliffe was even less developed then, but the Council resources were used to send posters, fix lamp-post placards and support local groups. This was right because it worked; the airport was dropped. The subsequent election saw Labour defeated locally and a Conservative administration formed.

The point is that this time, despite the plans being even more developed, the ruling Tories have not endorsed any formal strategy. They have waited too long and have been exposed by their own admittance to a woeful ‘pie-in-the-sky’ campaign, which was simply a low-cost way of not campaigning.The simple truth is that residents in North Kent owe no loyalty to a ruling Tory elite, and especially not now when there are questions about why more is not being done.

It is important for strong Labour groups to organise at the County, Unitary, District and Parish level. This means it is ever important to have a strong, capable and nimble opposition ensuring that pressure is applied to ensure that the Tories represent residents and that MPs are held to account in representing resident interest. An opposition which can work with partners in government and the region and which can effectively articulate itself to residents.

This does mean being robust and being engaged. Being in close contact on any campaign requires tenacity and perseverance.

Last week, before today’s news, Labour proposed a referendum on an airport in the Thames Estuary, at a full Council meeting, because we believed (correctly) it would be in the government proposals. We believed that a Unitary Authority wide referendum would allow residents across Medway to finally give a say to the idea once and for all, which on all polling currently would be a resounding No. An outcome to a consultation based on votes rather than the opinions of a distant elite who thus far have seemed incapable of doing anything against their own. A referendum which would send a message to Westminster that you cant just impose a solution because of three years of attrition, and/or because you want to play a game of chess between East and West London for votes. A referendum which would send a message that if you want to proposed mega-solutions you need to work in government with the opposition and groups on solutions and engage in a proper consultation of all the options.

The referendum was opposed by the Conservatives in the Council chamber and dropped, but the message was sent to residents and that is unlike ten years ago the Tories are closing off solutions and not suggesting any. A mistake that showed they do not trust the electorate to give a say on something that will fundamentally alter our civic environment.

Labour meanwhile are seen as leading on ideas, and that is where we need to be if we are to regain the trust of people for the future.

We will continue to campaign locally as part of a cross-party group but the public expect results and they expect action.We can not have the next six months be the same dithering and delay of the last, because withour a clear resolve and local leadership a poor campaign will send a green light for the bulldozers and that is not in our interest or yours.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Not one of ours

Interesting to see the Council looking after it.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Salt Bins

One of the most contentious issues in the winter of 2009/10 and 10/11 was the number of salt bins in the ward and whether they were stock filled.

Luckily this year we have not had the same level of snow and ice as in previous years but as ward Councillor's we are expected to be responsible for ensuring all our bins are replenished and where requested new bins be placed.

In late October, the ward team surveyed every bin, after we were sent maps, to ensure that stocks were high and most importantly where identified new bins were placed.

Some examples below from Wayfield.

Alamein / Cherbourg Corner



Ironside / Roosevelt Road corner



We have also moved a salt bin after request in Lawn Close in Luton and have replaced grit in several other roads including Mill Lane.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Vox-Pop on Care Homes

Friday, 13 January 2012

Thames Estuary Airport Referendum

Another day, and another article, in the editorial leader in the Times making clear the government is looking very favourably at an Estuary Airport proposal in the Thames Estuary.

It seems the ceaseless drip drip of national press coverage coming from leaks in government and the London Conservative spin machine is nothing short of managed. Pravda would be proud at the manner in which the public expectation is being managed by the Tory government; slowly but surely changing the goal posts and the psyche of the public.

This blog has been clear; it has never, and shall never, support an airport on the Thames Estuary.

The idea would destroy and uproot communities, undermine years of planned regeneration, cause ten to fifteen years of transport and roadwork chaos (as if we dont have enough), and lead to the re-definition of Medway as a place. Our civic fabric would be for ever be altered.

Whilst this above point is agreed across all political groups, the manner in which we have ended at this point has not.

The simple fact is that the Medway Conservatives are exposed as never before. Exposed by government policy changing and the goal posts moving. Exposed by the mutterings that Kent County Council can be bought off and that Cllr Chambers was none too pleased about being foisted onto a regional LEP forum. Exposed by our MPs running for the hills after the u-turn in November. It is clear that whilst they dithered others moved on... the moving slide from island to on-site.

This blog has been vitriolic in its opinion that Conservatives are being two-faced on this issue.

This is reality not fiction; the London Conservative Party and many in government, including Stephen Hilton and George Osborne, are continuing and actively pursuing this policy; meanwhile local Tories are running lack-lustre campaigns, in their own words 'verbal grenades' to try and 'contain' the threat.

The local Tories have finally accepted that verbal 'grenades' from Chambers and Jarrett have, not unsurprisingly given no one knows who they are beyond our Authority borders (believe me), had any impact in Whitehall. It is, and always was, simply naive to think that non-entities from a Local Authority in Kent can compete with the weight of the elected offices in London, and thus in November it reached a crunch point - on the movement of Philip Hammond MP.

Now a cynic would not suggest that putting an anti-Heathrow expansion campaigner as Transport Secretary was planned; the Kremlinology of this could twist the logic in most people. However, what we all know is George Osborne, after sustained lobbying from the London anti-heathrow campaign, the public near Heathrow airport (who were mobilised) and Justine herself the idea of expansion was ruled out of the aviation paper.

The point of note; the Thames Estuary was categorically not ruled out, despite that being the line-in-the-sand for local MPs set by the opposition and public

And yes, our MPs cant absolve themselves; they were happy to take the credit for challenging Cameron, and spinning letters to the press, but when the proverbial 'brown' hit the fan in November they ran for the hills. They have consistently failed to grasp the nettle and have accepted on face-value bland utterances from the Tory leadership; I believe they are also ignored in Whitehall as being either extreme or naive. I am angry at their failure... too right given the warnings and the known history of government undermining local MPs on this issue...

I was attacked last night by Tory Councillors not because I was wrong but because I challenged them with fact and set out their failures which are documented on this blog over time; and the simple fact is they have misjudged the politics. I was accused of being a 'silly child' and of being young (coincidentally both Tracey and Rehman are of the same generation), accused of grinning at the plight of residents and callously playing a partisan hand. I was staggered and bemused by the utter level of contempt from politicians who have braved local politics for decades; who are happy to have elections on Police Commissioners and on the EU during the Eurozone crisis, but not on something which poses an existential threat to our towns.

Simple truth; it sometimes takes someone who has not been blinkered by years of Council bureaucracy and compromise to see the wood from the trees. A fresh set of eyes not inwardly facing but outwardly looking; I am not an 'insider' run tired by years of officer-driven compromise, and I am proud of that. It seems a few too many of those exist; apologizing for a lack of ambition not pushing for the possible.

So it came to our amendment for a referendum last night which was rejected by the Conservatives.

Labour proposed the referendum with the full knowledge that on the latest Council poll that the majority nationally oppose the idea. Given the fact the local population will be most impacted and against, we felt a public vote would give a massive mandate and democratic punch to the no campaign and challenge the government and the Mayor of London head on. Not taking into account the potential impacts on the Peninsula in the future and the current ongoing impacts of dithering (house prices, business investment) we thought it necessary to give people a voice and stop this once and for all.

The referendum was to happen, but the question itself, and this is important, was to be referred to a cross-party forum for consideration. That is important because Tories still objected to giving the people a forum to oppose, despite the fact they could help write the question. Interventions from my colleagues making rational cases for its inclusion with their input were rejected as mischief.

Ruling out a future referendum was a mistake. The Conservatives rejected allowing the people a say; rejected the idea of Parish referendums and whilst accepting that 'pie-in-the-sky' had not worked refused to acknowledge the public any stake in deciding on the future for our towns.

Despite the amendment being rejected I did vote to support the establishment of the anti-airport cabinet group; my parting message was that this can not just be a forum for endless dithering and delay; and that a full blown lamp post poster campaign be set up as soon as possible to galvanize opposition.

In reality the public wont grasp, or care, who is sitting on what sub-cabinet group, but it will be important to see whether the Tories water-down proposals for campaign activity on this body. Watch this space.

I hope that in the future that the Parishes can take our idea and run with it; I will be suggesting to them they pursue localised versions of it. Despite the groans from two in the audience there is a worrying lack of understanding about the proposal; let me clear, this is to give a democratic mandate and add weight, and recognition to the anti-airport campaign. A vote would confer weight in London and the corridors of Westminster.

My closing statements were clear; the Tories rejected the idea of giving the public a say, they have mismanaged and underplayed the threat and have been caught exposed, our MPs have been woeful in Westminster and it is clear that ongoing dithering, will only lead to the public perception that one lot of Tories are saying one thing and other lot in Medway another. This is the history; the future is for them to finally grasp this issue and fight for our residents tooth and nail; I suspect and fear the weak leadership they have already shown will continue.

I hope this cross-party cabinet works but the proof is not a pie-in-the-sky but on a lamp post near you.

Will they step up; I really hope so for all those living in Medway

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Back Birmingham Hub Airport

We should back this immediately as stated on Monday.

They want an aiport; we dont.

Rail Fares at PMQs

Splitting Image warning of Tory privitisation...has to be watched...

Ed Miliband was on the right track today when he stood up and attacked Cameron over the increases in rail fares.

Rail fares are a contentious issue and this blog has been at the vanguard of exposing the absolute and eye-watering, vomit-inducing, hair-wrenching Tory hypocrisy over fares and most importantly why the Conservatives have fibbed and duped the commuter by cutting the rail grant and increasing direct cost, making the choice (and it was a choice) to scrap flex-caps.

I fully admit that Labour did not get it totally right and there is an argument for saying that fares for many were too high in 2008 and 2009.

But the argument at the time was clear; the investment to introduce HS1 and speed up rail times (which Tory Ministers now conceed is necessary in terms of HS2) and to improve rolling-stock, stations and security after years of chronic under-investment under the Conservative-awarded franchise Connex.

And dont let the Tories fool you on rail fares; because they are the culprits.

Remember within seven years of the Conservative privitisation the railway was costing the taxpayer three times what it had cost before de-nationalisation (up from £1.3bn to £3.7bn). In the 1980s, fares covered 76% of rail costs, in 2006 42%.

The reason why fares in the UK are so eye-watering when compared with Europe is directly because of the Tory privitisation in the 1990s mentioned above. Other countries have state-owned rail and were able to manage cost; the Tory design of a myriad of complex Whitehall sub-contracts and punitive get-out clauses made it too expensive to re-nationalise (deliberately designed by the way). The establishment of a separate track company destroyed management discipline, unleashed a nightmare in infrastructure costs and proliferate litigation and regulation and your fares have gone up ever since.

The privatisation was the biggest Conservative failure on a national infrastructure programme ever.

Add into this mix the conveniently forgotton Tory-driven Connex franchise; many of the Tory Councillors in Medway moan about service now, but forget (mainly as many arent actually from Medway) that it was truly god-awful under the previous franchise.

The full scale of the Tory-franchised incompetence can be read here in a special Parliamentary report no less. This report is utterly utterly damning on the franchise, made all the more real by the fact it has been the only franchise in history to require re-nationalisation. These people were fiscally inept and duped the public; and they were quite literally playing with commuters lives.

Essientially the Tory franchise deliberately and maliciously hid the state of its finance which led to the SRA compulsory termination of the contract. It was operating at a loss with massive irregularities caused by an unsustainable model over 10 years. If you read reports at the time was putting passengers lives at risk; one only need to take a look at the Health & Safety record,

The Tories are so very happy to ignore history; to conveniently forget that SouthEastern inherited a network woefully starved of investment which had been fragmented and weakened because of there own botched incompetence.

Fares did go up; but the utterly shameless Tories then had the nerve only one year later to jump on the fact that Connex was allowed a concession for RPI+3% to invest in the same railways the franchise they awarded had just destroyed.

It is so utterly shamlesss that you have to admire the audacity

Fast forward to this week and you can see a genuine attempt by Labour to re-evaluate fares; we called for SouthEastern to return to 1% RPI and it happened after lobbying. The pledge to re-introduce fare-capping on all services in addition to the Labour transport five point plan on ticket pricing is a genuine and plausible alternative in the current climate. I suspect the Conservatives will steal all our policies but the fact remains that it is Labour that are raising this up the agenda with the support of commuters and the Trade Unions.

The fact that Ed raised the issue today on fares is symbolic. To Labour the improvement and best management on the railways has always mattered. We opposed the privitisation in the 1990s and we inherited a mess which had to be fixed. The reason why fares are and remain high is because of the Connex franchise and the mess left.

Lastly, the spin that Labour had planned to lift fare capping is utterly trite. The Conservatives had a choice in the Comprehensive Spending Review on rail to suggest another agenda (remember at the time the rumours of RPI+5% or RPI+7%).

The Tories chose to remove the cap and that was a government decision; just as the Conservative government has been pushed by opposition to reduce fares to RPI+1%.

No matter what the Tories spin on rail the independent facts stand for themselves.

Only a fool would not learn from history. This mess is the legacy left by them from the 1990s and for that they can be never forgiven

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

MPs back Care Home cuts

Well it is not as if this blog has not given enough time for our local MPs to make it clear where they stand on the privitisation of Nelson Court, Platters Farm or Robert Bean and the closure of the Balfour Centre.

Our MPs have failed to make any public statement that I can find online about whether they back the cuts to Care Homes or not.

Now it has been revealed of sorts. Mark Reckless, Tracey Crouch and Rehman Chisthi back the closure and privitisation of these homes not because they are right, but because they are being led by Conservatives.

It is clear that the Conservative Council has pre-budgeted the closures and privatisation and it is also clear they have not, or at least publicly, considered the not-for-profit limited company or partnership model which is followed elsewhere in the country. Lastly, it is disengenuous to claim closures on the back of statistics which they themselves have manipulated on thresholds which have been changed to reduce numbers.

I can therefore cut and paste the comment from the Nelson Court Facebook page from Maureen Ruparel who has been organising the anti-closure campaign after I put in a request to find out the MPs position on the closure.

Tracey Crouch MP definately backs the closures

Some people cant understand why I have been quite so tenacious (or rude) in pushing for a response. A recent debate with local blogger Chris Sams, explained the logic of why I made a request, a quite assertive one, that they make a public statement on their position.

Members' of Parliament are in the end there to represent the people they serve and are beholden to them to make representations to government agencies, including the Council.

I requested that they make clear in public, to stop any confusion and allow their constituents to see a clear position, how they would react and respond to the consultation by the Conservatives on the Council to cut care services for the most vulnerable.

It is totally reasonable request to make; most MPs would have said that they were backing or not backing it and a link to a reason why. Given the media and press coverage, and ongoing debate and consultation, you would think that not only would a public position be sensible, but actually there would be an expectation of MPs to respond

The public really do deserve a better.

It is particularly eye-brow raising because meanwhile some of our MPs have rightly supported a cross-party Parliamentary Group to discuss care in the future; and yet in the same breath Tory Councillors ignore local Labour Party suggestions for a limited partnership under local authority control. Listening but only when told. Saying one thing and doing another.

Public and the residents deserve to know where our representatives stand so make it clear when requested.