Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A hole in the road budget

One of the issues which came out of the Medway Council cabinet was the woeful state of Medway roads and the lack of focus by the Tory administration since 2003. 

It is not a new problem and isn't one unique to our area but we are worse then many; since 2007 I have had constant complaints from residents about the state of our road network and its management. From pot-holed streets, gaping holes next to speed bumps and a real lack of oversight when it comes to the work of private contractors. 

I have tried as a Councillor to chase on this; from asking public questions about questionable work on Downsview / Bankside for which the Council still has not provided a public answer on how many coring samples they are undertaking on reported problems (see Point 231); to challenging the Conservatives on road funding which appears to be skewed towards certain areas which is in my mind utterly inappropriate. Medway roads - and the poor state - has even reached the national level from comments from Labour MP John Woodcock MP in 2011 on a £35m shortfall exposed last year. 

To many it boils over in anger - largely when sat in the road works where no one has been diverted like we saw in Rochester this weekend - or over the summer. Indeed, to many it is not enough that Medway Council focused on multi-million pound transport schemes in Chatham that no one wanted, whilst, yes, other residential roads crumbled, but they also engaged in a bad deal with the Rochester Bridge Trust which may see £2m (according to the BBC Youtube video) per year from the Medway Transport Plan to fund this ongoing transaction, which was never in the medium or long term financial interest to the towns. It will leave a future hole that could have been spent on our residential streets to pay for ongoing revenue-sapping maintenance. 

So now the Tories are going out to borrow money on the market; to be probably spent on roads in very Conservative wards; and which will be left to the next administration as a noose around the neck to pay it back, along with having to deal with a Tunnel which will be an on going liability on the tax payer for future years - and which the Tories have not ruled out a toll pushed onto the lap of the next generation.

Of course Tories will claim money from this budget does not work with money from that budget; but in the end it is taxpayers money and the public care not for process but in how its spent. And it's being spent badly.

It would not have happened of course had the Tories planned for the future; instead it is clear from the report, in addition to known news, that while they have extended their hand to up-front cash offers on tunnels which gave a short-term financial boost but little for the medium term, but they have done so without thinking about the future. They have ignored the increasing problem with poor roads which as everyone knows have got progressively worse in primarily inner city areas, and they now lack the resource to review and manage the quality of workmanship by contractors

If anyone wants to know why Conservative small-government fails having the capability to audit work carried out is the biggest problem; across all areas of government.

Residents know services have got worse under the Conservatives and nothing epitomizes this like our road and transport network with millions squandered on big ticket items of questionable requirement; it is quite frankly a scandal of political incompetence caused by short-termism - a need for a big idea for a photo. When it comes to transport we have an administration with a distinctly dishonest approach to running our towns infrastructure be that roads, bus route cuts, or disowning their culpability in creating a decent cycle network - the problem is that now we are approaching a decade of Medway Tory misrule the holes are not only in the books, but they are quite frankly damaging our vehicles, and that costs the public in MOT bills and insurance repairs.

It is a pity because one only needs to travel outside of Medway to see Conservative and Labour administrations with some competence on transport; alas our Tories do not have any credibility whatsoever.

Monday, 29 October 2012

2M Group Formed

The news today that 2M Group - an all-party alliance of 24 local authorities - has reformed to oppose the environmental impact of expansion at Heathrow should send a warning signal to lazy Medway Conservatives.

I accused the Tory leader Cllr 'Mansion Row' Chambers of dithering at the last Council meeting a fortnight ago because all the evidence shows that other areas are organising to fight aviation expansion in their areas
London's opposition to Heathrow.
The group, which took its name from the 2 million residents of the original 12 authorities, now represents a combined population of 5 million people and was successful in 2010 in overturning plans for a third runway at the airport.
Members are keen to reduce night flights, preserve the relief provided to residents by runway alternation and strengthen noise and air quality controls in the areas around the airport.

It is time perhaps our leadership worked within the LEP to pursue his own grouping against the Estuary airport expansion; the problem is that group of Tory Councils (almost exclusively) has endorsed long term aviation in the Estuary

People are beginning to get suspicious; firstly local Tories oppose a referendum, whilst other Tory Authorities appear happy to endorse them, and now we are being out organised.

Will Cllr Chambers continue to dither or will we finally get a decent and highly visual opposition campaign from our Tories? 

Medway MPs: Vote to cut EU budget

Every country across Europe, including Britain, is having to make difficult decisions about spending — trying to do better with less. And the European Union is not — and should not be — exempt from this challenge.

The crisis in the eurozone and a chronic lack of growth across the Continent mean that EU resources are stretched and priorities must be revised. The challenge for the EU, as for national governments, is to cut spending in a way that is both fair and supports rather than stifles jobs and growth.

That is why the priority for the new seven-year budget must be to promote growth and jobs across Europe. And that is why Labour will argue against the proposed increase in EU spending and instead support a real-terms cut in the budget. We believe these goals are difficult but achievable with the right leadership and the right approach from the UK.

When we speak of budget reform, some will want to focus only on cuts to “EU fat cats” in Brussels. But we should not be distracted by a debate simply about bureaucracy: administration represents only about 6 per cent of EU spending. The big areas for reform lie elsewhere.

Far too much money still goes on agricultural subsidies, instead of on policies to promote growth, cohesion and development or to support the EU’s vital role in international affairs.

So further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must not just be discussed but implemented. The CAP amounts to about £45 billion and the UK makes a net contribution of about £1 billion per year. Although the butter mountains of the past are long gone, the need for reform is no less urgent. The CAP is an obstacle to international trade liberalisation, creates too few jobs and introduces distortions so there is not a level playing field. The EU cannot afford this waste.

EU structural funds — currently used to promote growth and investment in the EU — must be reformed if they are to deliver the vital support that Europe now needs. These funds make up around 35 per cent of annual EU expenditure but are distributed according to overlapping and, at times, competing objectives agreed decades ago. Today that money must be spent on promoting growth and jobs in deprived areas. Schemes that do not meet this threshold can no longer be justified.

We also need urgent action to release money that is currently not spent because poor countries can’t produce the matching funds needed under the existing rules. Co-financing rules must be relaxed, as has been done in Greece, so that these funds can be put to use.

As well as reforming how the EU spends its money, we must also be prepared to reform how it works.
That is why we propose setting up an independent EU auditor whose sole purpose would be to audit every aspect of EU spending in terms of the overall impact it is likely to have on promoting growth in EU economies.

We also need to improve accountability and streamline how the EU supports jobs and growth. We propose one Growth Commissioner to lead the efforts to promote growth, bringing together aspects of this brief currently spread across a number of commissioners’ posts.

The real tragedy for Britain is that at the very time when our leadership is most needed, the UK’s influence has rarely been so marginalised. Our EU partners know that without the British rebate, our net contribution would be significantly higher than that of France. That is why they have consistently accepted in negotiations that the rebate is justified and must be retained.

The issue is not the rebate, which has always been agreed, but long-term reform. And our fear is that the Prime Minister is throwing away a genuine opportunity to deliver a budget that is best for Britain and right for the EU. As a result of David Cameron’s behaviour, those we used to call friends now ridicule the Prime Minister in meetings, shut him out of negotiations and bad mouth him to the press.

Last December we saw him flounce out of negotiations. This month he has resorted to threatening vetoes before negotiations have even begun.

The UK should be arguing for reform in Europe, not suggesting exit from it. British jobs, exports and influence all benefit from Britain’s continued membership of the EU. To contemplate shrinking our home market from 500 million consumers to just 60 million doesn’t make sense.

Historically Britain has often taken a lead in driving forward change at moments when Europe stands at a crossroads.

But sadly for both Britain and Europe, Mr Cameron looks ill-equipped to fulfil that role. A failure to deliver the necessary restraint and reforms will be a missed opportunity for Europe, a setback for Britain and a personal failure for the Prime Minister.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Badgering works

It was positive to see last night Conservative MPs vote against the badger cull after a concerted campaign by farmers, animal rights activists, residents and two years of opposition by Labour led by Mary Creagh.

I had heard in Westminster a few weeks ago that the government was about to undertake a partial u-turn as a response to 'postroom' pressure from activists and a lack of consistent evidence backing the position of the government. 

The government was on weak ground.

I also caught up with a few Conservative researchers (many who I was at University with) who told me that they were sick and tired of the constant post. The 'badgering' as they called is was the only item for some in August/September.

It seemed this campaign hit home and the government was moving as a result in September. It was then, in political parlance, all about how to manage the u-turn and give the Minister some long-grass with which to hide behind for a few months.

It is is palpably absurd for right wing surrogates in Medway to claim local Tories have consistently used science when making judgement on this issue. Up until yesterday the government was still in a gray quagmire of simply postponing the cull... ever to the last moment they were clinging to a hope of pushing some form of it through. 

Lets be candid; up until a few weeks ago the Tory-led government were totally ignoring the science - expressed over two years or more - and their drone-like MPs were in convenient lock-step with the party whips.

I applaud people for changing their minds when in the wrong; but its curious timing which many may see for what it is. A right call yes; but done so perhaps for political, not scientific reasons 

For so many Tories to back down just as the whips were making whispers of doing so; or could it be, genuinely, that MPs who have had two years of unchanging evidence, suddenly changing their minds just as the government was about to manage a change.

I let you decide whether to trust the Tories; but whatever the truth it is the organised campaign on the ground which should be congratulated; it pilloried the Westminster post room and inundated our MPs; well done and well deserved. 

Some of us were always with you.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Britain gets back to work

It's good news that, with the help of the Olympics, Britain is finally out of the longest double-dip recession since the Second World War. Our economy desperately needs an injection of confidence. But this is no time for complacency and wishful thinking.
Today's figures show that underlying growth remains weak and that our economy is only just back to the same size as a year ago - twelve months of damaging flatlining which has seen borrowing rise in the first half of this year.

Labour warned about the risk of a double-dip recession caused by cutting too far and too fast by the Tories. As we see with growth in North America where aggressive early austerity was avoided there economies are in a better place as a result of not cutting too early.

Indeed, a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that Britons are more than £1,800 a year worse off than they would be had the country avoided a double-dip recession. In research conducted for The Times, that annual incomes, including benefits and taxes, would have been 9% higher

And with living standards falling, more tax rises on the way, small business lending down and the eurozone still in crisis, it would be very unwise of David Cameron and George Osborne to just sit back, cross their fingers and hope for the best. The complacent thing to do now is simply to wait and hope things will get better. The cautious thing to do is to act now to secure and strengthen growth in our economy. 

The Tories called it wrong on the recovery and they have now moved towards a longer deficit repayment cycle; so endorsing the Labour strategy. Though you will hear pretty little about this because they cant admit it.

Britain needs a plan to secure and sustain a strong economic recovery, including using funds from the 4G mobile spectrum auction to build 100,000 affordable homes, a temporary VAT cut and a bank bonus tax to fund jobs for young people out of work. We also need action to ease the squeeze for people on low and middle incomes, rather than a tax cut for millionaires. And we need long-term changes to make our economy stronger, including a long-term plan to rebuild our infrastructure and radical reform of the banks.
In the two years since the spending review our economy has grown by just 0.6 per cent, compared to the 4.6 per cent George Osborne said his plan would deliver and growth of 3.4 per cent in the USA and 3.3 per cent in Germany. So the question for the coming months is whether and how we can catch up all the ground we have lost over the last two years and not keep falling behind as other countries move ahead.
A one-off boost from the Olympics is welcome. But it is no substitute for a plan to secure and sustain the strong recovery that Britain desperately needs if we are to create jobs, get the deficit down and make people better off.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Age Concerned after Brooks move

The news today that Age Concern is still under threat is leading to significant concern in the community, especially as members of the trust appear not to be accepting the 'make it' or 'break it' deal on the table from the Council.

This item was raised in Full Council last week and the Medway Conservative Portfolio holder was unequivocal; you either accept the deal or you close down. No 'ifs' 'buts' or 'maybes' was the line I took from the meeting; he was leading those in the audience under no illusion that Age Concern has left itself in this position by failing to 'diversify' its income source and that their was only one offer on the table.

That being said Tories have been known to get things a mixed up. At the previous Council before last they accused me of being a shameful opportunist perched 'behind my computer' on the NHS Centre in Luton; only for me within days to be proved entirely correct that the NHS had withdrawn its interest.

I must declare at this point that I have not had a look at the Charities books but it was only a few years ago that the Medway Tory 'Brooks' regeneration programme led to Age Concern to move from Chatham centre from a building with peppercorn rent, to one with overheads, which in my mind may not have aided to its financial situation. 

At the time an elderly lady was leading the fundraising and it was clear that were it not for one wealthy local 'benefactor' that the Age Concern facility would have closed at the time of the forced relocation. Very luck for all concerned an anonymous benefactor was found.

With regards to this issue I had offered my services as an arbiter on the 12th October which was, it appears, quickly followed by others which is absolutely right and proper; though the journalists at the KM Group missed this in the written paper article.  

I also made clear a potential funding stream from the Members Priority Funds and/or the relatively excessive mayoral budget compared to other areas with Mayors

Arbitration from local politicians was right and proper two weeks ago - and given this facility serves Luton - I did volunteer, but now there is an ongoing dispute between the Conservative administration and the Age Concern trust now which I believe should be settled without party politicians getting involved. 

It is now best if an independent arbiter represent their concerns, and certainly if approached, I'd be happy to suggest some names of those with no vested interest and who will respect the impartiality of both sides. My concern is that a party politician will try and push an outcome in the interests of one side over the other; care must be taken by those negotiating for the Trust.

The interests of the Conservative administration, and all who serve under the same banner, are not the same as the Trust as has been made clear in the Messenger; taking party politicians out of the conversations now may serve to help all sides.

Friday, 19 October 2012

We're backing not sacking Police

Last night and this morning I found it particularly disappointing to see the Medway Conservatives trying to drag the Police into a political dispute about levels of front line cuts and the alleged actions of Andrew Mitchell.

Whatever conditions the Police have to deal with; I know that they will look to fulfill their job as best they can for us in Medway and of course they will have our full support; but it is right and proper that we push for our residents who are concerned about whether frontline cuts are impacting our communities, and also standing up for officers who do feel undermined; whether they can say it out loud or not.

Our Medway police officers do a difficult, vital and all-too-often dangerous job to keeping our streets safe. It is challenging work, often in challenging circumstances, but they operate at their best because of a relationship with the public founded on consent rather than coercion.

This relationship is based on mutual respect – the police understand that they are public servants, charged with the responsibility to protect us and the public understand that police officers are able to do this when they are treated with the respect they deserve.

Unfortunately, last night Conservative Councillors’ and the erstwhile PCC seem to have forgotten this; they have through undermining our motion supported a government that has treated the police with a level of disrespect which is unbecoming of those in authority.

The worst example of this has been the tirade of abuse that the Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell recently subjected a police officer to outside Downing Street. Let us leave aside for a moment the fact that the officer’s role that day was to protect Mitchell and the Prime Minister in one of the most security-sensitive locations in the country. Let’s also leave aside that the Chief Whip swore at a police officer who was simply trying to do his job.
The heart of the matter is surely that a member of the Tory Cabinet believes it is appropriate to treat a police officer in such a way and that the Prime Minister has chosen to keep Mitchell in his job instead of backing the police officer who was verbally abused.

Like my colleague Cllr Vince Maple said last night; what would you expect to happen to someone who swore at a police officer on duty in Rochester or Maidstone town centre on a Saturday night? You would surely expect them to be arrested and rightly so but it seems that it is one rule for cabinet ministers in Downing Street and another for the rest of us.

David Cameron, Andrew Mitchell and the rest of the Tory-led Government simply do not understand the nature of respect and responsibility when it comes to policing and this is why I’m backing our excellent candidate Harriet Yeo for Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) on 15 November.

The PCC elections on 15 November are incredibly important and we simply cannot leave our communities with a Conservative PCC who will be a cheerleader for a Tory-led Government that demonstrates its attitude towards the police by condoning swearing at officers and by cutting their number by the thousands.

Last night the Labour group had a simple question for the Tory candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner and the ‘glass always full’ Councillor Mike O’Brien: Do you think Andrew Mitchell should have been sacked or not?

The answer is important because the arrogance displayed is indicative of this out-of-touch Tory-led government’s general attitude towards the police. Their lack of respect for the police has seen their numbers in England and Wales falling to their lowest level in nine years, including 260 officers cut in Kent Police since March 2010 with the majority of the cuts coming from 999, neighbourhood and traffic response units - the officers we all rely on in an emergency.

The Tories simply cannot be trusted on the police. The PCC elections on 15 November offer an opportunity for real change to make our streets safer - prioritising neighbourhood policing, taking anti-social behaviour seriously, tackling the causes of crime and building strong communities with respect to all and responsibility by all.

Update - 11pm

Well Andrew Mitchell has gone and out come the troop of Tory MPs who believe it was the right thing to do; pity they could not put their constituents first and say this out loud, maybe, four weeks ago.

It is rather sad that neither Cllr O'Brien or Cllr MacKinlay could admit that this man's behaviour towards Police officers was utterly inappropriate last night. Ever the party loyalists...

Taxing the truth

One of the issues which raised its ugly head last was the issue of Council Tax and the potential considerations being given to a rise in next years budget settlement. 

Council Tax is one of those issues which matters and many residents feel that this Conservative Council is simply not giving them value-for-money and certainly not giving them the services that they pay multiple hundreds of pounds for. 

This is an instinct thing for me; do you feel that you get good services for what you pay locally? 

Anyway, the issue stemmed from a report filed to the Business Overview & Scrutiny Committee last month which scenario tested a Council tax rise of 4% by the Tory-led authority; due in part to the ongoing revenue burdens and the fact that the government is cutting the direct grant settlement over the term of the Parliament by some 20-25%

The Council Tax, as it is known, was introduced by a Conservative government in 1993 as a result of the failure of the previous charging 'Poll Tax' Policy which still lives on in infamy due to the public discontent at the time. 

As it was at the time Rochester Upon Medway and Gillingham had largely left-leaning administrations with Labour and Liberal Democrats of what were then borough authorities. Both introduced relatively low Council Tax rates; indeed Rochester Upon Medway under Labour frooze Council Tax such was the position at the time.

As many residents know the level of Council Tax is decided by the local council administration which in this case has been Conservative-led since 2003; it is therefore Conservative Party stalwarts which have final control over the level of tax and present this in the budget process for a vote; it is also worth pointing out that no Tory members have (to my memory) ever objected to the increases in Council Tax which in some cases 8-11% per year. 

That is not to say that Council Tax levels would not have gone up should their have been a Labour administration; in the end the argument at the time was investment in Medway; though I can say that we would not have misspent the millions on the countless projects, and would have opened up the budget setting process to real public consultation and scrutiny; not imposed as is currently undertaken.

Sufficed to say the reason why Medway has a low Council Tax is a lot more complex then is presented by simple-minded Tory folk after a cheap headline for the Ashcroft funded In-Touch leaflet

Structurally, the real reason we have relative low Council Tax is the creation of the Unitary Authority which, and unlike in wider Kent, means our residents largely only have one level of local government; a policy implemented under Labour as we ran the Council and government at time. 

Whilst it is true for the Tories to claim they have maintained this Labour legacy it is not through want of trying to put up taxes; and in at least one year there was a well publicized attempt for them to raise it way above inflation, which had to be capped at time by John Prescott. 

Incidentally the areas with the highest Council Tax rates - due to precepts on Parish arrangements - are to be found on the Peninsula; who are 'seemingly' very happy to pay for an additional layer of service provision [if you speak to Tories]; though it must be said the very (almost hyper-low) turnouts in local elections do make it a moot point about whether residents or just the village elites find those types of arrangements real value-for-money. I judge the usefulness of Parish and Town Councils by whether elections are competitive and by turn out numbers; as do most tax-payers; and on this score some of these Tory-dominated Parish Councils have a lot more work to do for the additional money 'precepted' to their residents in my mind. 

For Tories to label Labour the 'Council Tax' party is not only historically inaccurate but it also a deliberate distortion of the truth.

Labour did not introduce it; we frooze it when it came out; we removed layers of local government which kept it low locally, and in office we have called for a proper and open consultation on the budget process so allowing for people to have a real say on its level.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Revised Boundary Changes

So the revised boundary change proposals have been published and the media is well… not saying very much.

LabList has barely mentioned it; ConHome has ignored it and it seems only a few hacks are really taking it seriously. 

It is dead in the water as a realistic prospect but still worth looking at from an academic perspective… and in politics you never know what the next day may bring and/or the next Clegg flip-flop.

I suspect however that the Conservatives will put it to a whipped House of Commons vote and will make a key part of their manifesto in 2015; to cut the cost of politics and the number of politicians remains popular in the current anti-politician environment.  

The new proposals for the three Medway seats are notably less brave than the previous submissions and in conclusion benefit the Tories almost exclusively; 

On the 2010 cycle:

  • Gillingham & Rainham -   Gain Lordswood & Capstone ward only. This adds an aggregate 1300-1500 Tory voters so giving Rehman Chisthi a notional majority of 10,000
  • Rochester & Strood -  No change. This retains Mark Reckless with a 10,000 majority
  • Chatham & Malling  -  Renamed. Loss of Lordswood & Capstone but gain of East Malling, West Malling & Leybourne, Downs and Wrotham wards. Notional majority for Tracey Crouch increases from 6,000 to 8,500

The Conservatives will be pleased with this outcome; should it ever see the light of day...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Missing the target

With the bus station news today that 16,000 people (equivalent to 7 in 100 for every citizen in Medway) have been fined for breaching the 'clearly marked' traffic warnings at the Chatham 'dynamic' bus facility a keen reader of this blog submitted the linkedin profile of one of our senior Portfolio holders who covers community services 

In the true Friday spirit it seems our Grand Master of the Order of St. Raphael, Grand Master of the Spiritual Order of the Celtic Cross, Knight Grand Cross of the The Supreme Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, Deputy Grand Prior of the Knightly Order Valiant of St. George, Hon. Major-General, Hungarian National Guard, Deputy U.K. Grand Prior of the Order of St. Stanislas, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. James of Altopascio, Knight Grand Cross/Grand Secretary, Order of the Fleur-de-Lys, Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Sao Taotonio, Knight of the Order of St. Joachim and indeed Knight of the Order of St. Michael of the Wing (almost forgot that one) has been caught a little off-guard by how poorly received this bus station have been received. 

The Tories; the party of the every day striver? Well certainly the party of the well connected.

Indeed, this blog thought the award for hoarding titles went to another of our illustrious and ever capable Portfolio holders. How wrong I was.

Cllr Doe (pictured amusingly with Council name badge) is not known on the Labour benches for ducking incoming fire but perhaps he should not be to surprised to wonder why the public feel our cabinet has a reputation for being off-target, and with a habit of shooting themselves in the feet, over major projects such as the 'white elephant' bus station.

p.s. It has been noted that a number of our senior Portfolio holders have an interest in weaponry; not exactly a sport for the 'plebs' 

Shirkers not workers?

So at the end of the three conferences lets just compare what the three major political parties actually did to oppose the Estuary Airport 

Liberal Democrats 

Submitted a contemporary motion to conference where it was discussed on the floor of conference and resolved to oppose the Estuary Airport solution. Attendance Geoff Juby (Leader of the Lib Dems), Chris Sams (Lead activist), Ed Jennings (Lead activist) who pre-briefed and led media interaction. 

It is also likely that to get motion onto agenda required significant backroom dealing and operation with likely other members of the Lib Dem executive both locally and nationally. 


Submitted a contemporary motion to conference receiving the support of 8,000 CLP delegates, though was not selected for conference floor but incorporated into wider debate about sustainable economic growth. 

Labour leader Vince Maple, Cllr Tristan Osborne, Cllr Isaac Igwe, Paul Clark (former Gillingham MP), Cllr Adam Price, Naushabah Khan (Chair of Medway Local Campaign Forum) attended all aviation debates. 

Conference floor speech challenging Medway Conservative MPs by myself to openly challenge airport at a podium 

Which leads me onto the...


No Medway MPs spoke on the conference floor. No updates on any interaction at the fringe events and only one Tory Councillor attended a protest outside the venue, which was likely organised by Friends of North Kent Marshes, who have been stalwarts against this bonkers Boris idea. 

Appreciating fully that local Tories have little credibility in the national party as whole but a very poor effort indeed from our Medway MPs and local leadership on Medway Council

One Tory Councillor even suggested from the sidelines outside of the conference that the Tories were the only ones on the front line. The irony...

Our Tories should have been lobbying hard against this airport threat; though with some Tory Cllr's on the Peninsula (Cllr Rodberg) allegedly backing the idea; it isn't a surprise.

Shirking? I think you can accuse the Tories of failing once again to step up to the plate if you were to make a fair comparison.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Marketisation of Education

One of the areas which somewhat angers me is that Tory 'reforms' are improving education which is not only untrue but also dangerous given the impacts I can see as a local Councillor already.

So let us just look at each of the keystone Gove reforms in part:

Creation of more Academies

The Academies programme was a Labour Programme which was at the time focused at poorly performing secondary schools and injecting focused funding. The strategy behind the programme was to partner with local business and sponsors to give challenging schools the best management, facilities and structures to learning. 

Gove has stolen the 'clothes of our back' but is also engaging in something dangerous; instead of focusing resource in the poorest schools this has been lost in the rush to create more Academies for political reasons; indeed a rush to get numbers over quality. 

I hope we see an improvement in failing schools but the focus is now lost; and this is something the public will be watching.

Creation of Free Schools

Another idea of Gove's which will see parents and other groups being able to set up effective 'independent schools' and be able to take money off the state. 

This is effectively moving towards a voucher system by any other name as it may soon allow parents to take money out of the State System and for it to go private; I suspect we will see a policy before not to long of a 'top-up element' to allow state school pupils to move into the independent sector which is the Tory manifesto for 2001 and 2005 (when Cameron was education secretary incidentally). 

The current trial of Free Schools has had a mixed press; they have taken resources out of already struggling Primary Schools with overheads and up-keep and to moved them into a Free School managed by private companies (and in some cases parent groups) but with very little oversight. I fear many of these schools will fail their pupils and the cost of this experiment will not be only on the pupil but also on the surrounding Primary schools who will be suffering with less resource. I 

 The E-Bac

An idea to toughen standards apparently but is actually a return to 'rote learning' which does not reflect the real world at all; in my company the ability to work in groups on projects is more important then learning 'wrote' for a massive exam at the end of your period. 

Whilst the grade boundaries may be 'tightened' this need not have had a totally new exam system. 

The only positive idea is the de-marketisation of the exam boards which is a rather socialist idea if you ask me... 

Scrapping of Local Education Authorities

 Whilst the Tories claim these are the 'dead-hand' of the state it is ironic that it is Conservative Councillor's who have been managing the large majority of them. 

LEA's are not just bureaucrats; they perform what can be defined as 'Shared services' functions whereby HR, risk, finance, operations, procurement, recruitment and audit functions are pooled by all schools to give economy of scale on control. 

The scrapping of LEA's means schools may have to recruit additional staff to cover these functions and there will be an over reliance on scrutiny / audit by governors of these schools. As a local councillor this is a major red light especially when it comes to capital works that have gone over budget; countless cases in Medway exist and it is Council tax payers left to pick up the tab.

 Education to 18 / Vocational education

 Labour introduced education to 18 and modernised vocational education; it is concerning to note however that many right-wingers label those vocational courses 'mickey-mouse' subjects with a lack of vigour. I do not believe the Tories treat vocational education properly at all; the UTC's are simply replicating what resource-constrained colleges already do and once again lead to imbalances in the system.

I have no problem with parents and pupils having more choice on education but not if the outcomes for them and others are worsened which is what will happen for the majority.

The great education revolution is anything but; Gove has perverted the Academies programme so stripping its focus on failing schools; he has introduced an e-Bac which is out of tune with modern work practice; he is risking KS1 / KS2 education by allowing very lightly regulated schools to manage our kids at a key point in their learning life; and has actually burdened individual schools with more cost as they have to grapple with back-office processes with no centre of excellence or oversight support. 

Let us not start at the total lack of financial audit capability in schools and the scrapping of OFSTED capabilities to ensure rigor of standards.  Oh and education for post-18; the tuition fee rise to £9,000 per year and cuts to Universities. Aspiration in education; not at that price! 

It is true to say education will be on the agenda in 2015; I suspect Gove's record will not be as positive as he thinks.  

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

RPI + 1% Announcement

One of the positive announcements from the Conservative Party conference was the capping of the rail fare increase to RPI +1% which does represent a success for campaigners across Kent, Medway and beyond.

Whilst this is a welcome announcement - it would be churlish of me to say otherwise - it is of note that the Conservatives have waited until this week to announce when they could have respected Parliament and just supported the Motion as tabled by Labour MPs several times this previous year.  

It looks to me like Party interest has once again won the day and not Parliament which is sad and notable given the Conservatives claim to be responsible in government.

To those that get frustrated by the constant raising of this issue by Medway Labour I make no apology at all. It is a working point that it is the responsibility of opposition to keep the pressure on our MPs on this issue and to support a cross-party motion passed at Medway Council in November 2010 which made it starkly clear that we (collectively across all parties) would not support RPI +3% increases.

Tories may claim we are being opportunistic but we believe it is helpful for our MPs to have a vocal opposition on the case (so to speak) because it allows them to make their case more forcefully in Whitehall that this is a real problem locally. 

Incidentally this does not change my opinion on the cause for rail fare increases and the history which Tories airbrush. 

The Tories never really and deeply apologised for the botched privatisation and nor do they accept or ever speak about the Connex franchise which was an unsustainable franchise; though the second of my points people can perhaps review again given what has happened with the West Coast mainline franchise where history was due to repeat itself.  

The Tories have a history with awarding dodgy franchises and though Connex was awarded in 1996 and FirstGroup in 2012 the fact is that Tory fiddling to maximise profit leads to a decline in service (and increase in fares).  

There is also a significant difference from Labour's position before the election in May 2010 and after. The simple answer is that we lost the election so perhaps a reflection was necessary but this is not the only truth. The CSR DFT settlement is the key to the change in the Labour position on RPI +3%; post this settlement direct rail grant subsidy which was matched investment with +3% RPI was abolished. Therefore, under the Tories, the public were still expected to pay more whilst the government paid less; so seeing no real improvement at all. This is a completely different argument to that posed pre-election. 

I appreciate in hindsight history has been re-written by those on the right but the change on RPI +3% is consistent; the economy has not recovered (due to the Tory failure on the economy) and the context of the fare increase has also changed in the direct formula grant for investment is no more. 

I do not support RPI + 3% in the current economic situation and especially as the government is cutting direct grant; this is because services wont improve if all that is happening is the fare payer is covering for a government block grant.

To those that think this issue is parked. It isn't.

If the Tories wanted this resolved why did the government not just cap RPI +1% for the duration of the Parliamentary term?

I sense the Tories are deliberately looking to make this a party political football and their erstwhile Lib Dem allies are not bright enough to see it.

Not responsible and not honest; ever was it thus.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Tories living in la-la land

Not many people take much notice of political conferences but many who are watching have said to me how odd the Tories are acting this year. 

It isnt the fact that the multi-titular Tory Chairman Grant Shapps is being chased through the corridors of the conference venue to conceal his true identity; indeed a bit like the Tory Party they are both running away from the truth which is that they are failing the British people and are entirely fake to boot.

You can tell things are getting desperate when the Tory grassroots are worshiping every footstep that Boris Johnson takes; a man that won a small majority over a very left wing candidate for mayor, lets not mistake, did have a successful Olympics and he is respected (though his idea for an airport here is not liked) but he is not a Prime Minister.

However, the type of fawning adulation, somewhat hysterical it has to be said, seen over the last 24 hours shows the Tories for being partisan sycophants of the highest order; it looks crass and unappealing to the great majority of the public. The man is not an MP and can not be leader before 2015; perhaps he like the public; can see that all is beginning to slip away which is why he gave Cameron a massive bear hug today. Remember those that wield the knife never get the crown.

The truth though is that this dithering shower of a government is split to its core. Arguing with itself over Tory leaders-in-waiting who are waiting for Cameron to be deposed so that they can put themselves forward. Ever the ruthless nasty Tories.

Meanwhile in the real world, in which I work like you, it is the economy that is dominating the headlines.

The country is not recovering and this is a direct result of George Osborne and David Cameron.

Dire figures today as manufacturing output shrank by 1.1% in August alone - nearly twice the rate that was feared - and overall industrial production including in energy sectors  sank by 0.5%. To add to the Tory-induced doom the UK trade gap with the rest of the world soared by £2.5 billion to £9.8 billion during August. Exports fell by 4% over the month and out trade deficit stood at £4.2 billion (the second highest ever recorded)

The simple truth is that the Tories have cut too far and too fast. 

This is the weakest recovery in 100 years and with youth unemployment standing at 1 million it is simply not acceptable for the Chancellor to make a flat speech and move on.

Residents in Chatham and Aylesford are tired of the constant excuses; we need a representative who will put the economy and growth first. A One Nation candidate who can appeal to the centre.

The Tories can talk about an age of enterprize but the only scheme announced yesterday from our finance supremo was a cheap shot. The undermining of individual worker rights in favour of a loony share scheme which the CBI immediately dismissed as being narrow and irrelevent. 

And the only other scheme will see just 1% of tax-payers - the millionaires benefit - as those poorest in society are targeted by Tories. The vulnerable are ever the target

To make matters worse the Tories have failed their own golden rule. A year ago IMF forecast growth of +1.6% and called for plan B if growth came in lower. Now UK in double dip forecast -0.4%. The Tories need to understand that austerity does not work if their is no external demand for our goods; they are living in la-la land while Britain's borrowing balloons

The Tories cant even put a budget together without constant u-turns, dithering and constant splits. 

The country needs a true One Nation alternative to this elitist clique. It is time for a change.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Borrowing binge breaking Britain

David Cameron and George Osborne said their plan would get the deficit down. But it isn't working - and this week One Nation Labour won't let them pretend that it is. 

That's why Labour have created this borrowing counter for the week of Conservative Party Conference. Because the Tories' economic plan is failing, we are in the longest double-dip recession since the Second World War and borrowing is £10.6 billion higher so far this year than last year. 

It means that, compared to the same period last year, in the first five months of this year the UK was borrowing: £69.3 million more a day; £2.9 million more an hour; £48,112 more a minute; £802 more a second.

On the National Health Service, meanwhile, David Cameron’s infamous airbrushed poster in the run-up to the 2010 general election pledged to “cut the deficit, not the NHS” – yet official Treasury figures reveal that, since 2009/10, NHS spending has fallen from £105,073 million to £104,333 million in real terms

The Tories called the recession wrong; they took the wrong path for Britain and the result is a double dip recession. 

David Cameron promised to cut the deficit and safeguard the NHS. This has not happened.

George Osborne has lost the trust of the British Public. The longer he stays in his position - as a pal of Dave - the longer and deeper the recession.

That's £802 higher every second, £277,124,183 higher in the four days of Conservative Party Conference.

Estuary Airport speech

My speech to the Labour Party conference on the Estuary Airport [kindly filmed by Shepway Labour.]

I believe I am the first Labour PPC or MP to address Labour Party conference for almost two decades.

It seems the speech is timely given it is highly likely to be a major discussion point at the Conservative Party conference. I have called on our MPs to stop dithering and shirking their duties and make a podium speech against the idea.

My position on the Airport has been documented from the very first moment the London Conservative machine positioned the first bonkers island years ago. It has since developed with Olsen and Foster being endorsed.

The positive from today however is the addition of Stansted to the debate; it is an airport which has been overlooked.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

One Nation One Britain

So there we have it; the Labour Party has pitched its flag firmly on the centre ground in British Politics after a brazen and politically astute stealing of discourse from the moderate wing of the Conservative Party just as Cameron is being dragged to the right by his neo-Thatcherite extremist tendency 

I have sat and kneeled through eight conferences (I was a lowly Labour Party steward from 2002-2005 for the extra pocket money) and this speech ranked up there with the best of them. 

It set out the man; his core beliefs and values and provided a very neat juxtapose with the elitist team at the top of the Tory party. A party that used to represent the grafters and 'grocer's daughter' is no more...

There are several reasons why Ed Miliband should never be underestimated; his early Red Ed label has died a death and the influence of the Unions was shown this weekend to be more a dispute between partners then a full blown spat; there have been no Blairite explusions despite the heavy right wing spin.  The party is united and ready to turn its energy to defeating a tired and omni-shambolic Tory elite that just lacks any firm grasp on reality. 

One nation conservatism was first conceived by the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli emphasised the importance of social obligation rather than the individualism that pervaded society and warned that Britain would become divided into two 'nations', of the rich and poor, as a result of increased industrialisation and inequality. Concerned at this division, he supported measures to improve the lives of the people to provide social support and protect the working classes. Labour has a strong one nation tradition of reform and has a strong philosophy of aspiration and sense of community.

The discourse is timely as the Conservative Party is being dragged to the extreme right by not only the money trail (where rich banking or Tory clubs are comprised of dogmatically right wing groups) but also by a membership who is more obessional over UKIP then it is about the centre. The moderates can see that an elite has taken over in Number 10 and can also see (and fear) that the only alternative is the Hannan loony libertarian brigade of rabid populists.

The centre ground is ripe for the taking which is where One Nation comes in. 

From a party politcal perspective it goes straight to those Tories who may have flirted with Blair. The moderate centrists who want economic credibility and social liberalism; these are the people I want back in our Labour broad tent. Those that left us in 2010 but who should feel naturally more in tune with Progressive values; not only on social issues but also on building a fairer economy.  These people hate incompetence and they hate extremism; which is why Cameron's reshuffle was the icing on the cake; an overt posture to the right which makes his position so very difficult. 

From a policy perspective it also allows Miliband to set the Policy agenda within the prism he can define because the Tories are vacating the space. It allows Ed to adopt a set of centrist and costed proposals which will see the economy recover. This matters because my electorate in Chatham and Aylesford are fed up with George Osborne excuses; they know this government will increase the debt by £465bn debt over the 5 year term. This is more more than the £319bn Labour added over 13 years.

The Tories took the wrong path as Labour warned at the last election. Labour said that if the Tories cut too far and fast we would go into a double-dip recession; and behold we are one of only 2 economies in the G20 now in a protracted recession.

I am very happy for Tories to move back to their right wing redoubts. I had feared this may have taken a decade or so; but it seems I was wrong. The Tories are about to make the same misjudgement that they made on the 
economy. They are poised to take the wrong path. 

There was also significant content within the speech for young people; elderly and those struggling under the Conservative government.

Ed Miliband is right to move the Labour tanks onto the centre and I can tell you that all our members are utterly united behind him; Labour is the party of government because at our best we represent the broadest possible coalition.