Friday, November 30, 2007

The LibDems Last Post

The final motion of the last full council meeting was one that we could all agree to. The LibDems sought to protect our post offices from the next round of closures due in 2008. After the next 2500 sites have closed, one-third of the entire network will have closed down in the last decade.

There are only two public "servants" that earn more than an eye-watering £900,000. Both work for Royal Mail. These are the people that have denied communities a vital lifeline in closing so many sub-post offices, they oversaw the ill-fated rebranding to "Consignia" increased the cost of stamps considerably and got rid of the second delivery of post.

I have written before about the politics of envy. I don't begrudge anyone earning a considerable amount of money if they can demonstrate their worth. The postal service has been decimated by the direction of the company under guidance from the government.

There was one main problem with the debate. Royal Mail is still losing money hand over fist. They will not change their minds just because politicians stamp their feet. Paul Burstow and Tom Brake have not stopped the closure of a single post office in Sutton over the last decade, in fact Paul Burstow has managed to lose the entire postal town of Cheam in that time. We need to push for alternatives that will allow the post office to be profitable whilst still remaining open for the vulnerable in our society. I suggested a few ideas including one that the Council can do now.

At a time when Sutton Council is cutting back on the opening hours of its Cash Hall, why not have a Council one-stop shop in some of the sub-post offices. This will enable people to access council services without having to travel to Sutton.

Anyway, the final result was a lot of wringing of hands. The motion was agreed as we all want to protect our services. However, there were no further ideas on what to do next apart from start another petition. I suspect the same methods may bring the same results.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Through Gritted Teeth

Full Council was somewhat unusual last week. If you looked at the headlines of the minutes, you would have thought everything was hunky dory, tickety-boo and the two main parties agreed on everything. This didn't cover the whole story.

After a mixed bag of questions, I proposed a motion, graciously seconded by Council Leader Sean Brennan, asking for the law to be strengthened, making the defacing of a war memorial a specific criminal offence. This follows the appalling theft of the yorkstones surrounding the Carshalton War Memorial just before Remembrance Sunday. A stonemason Samaritan stepped in to replace the stones allowing 250 people to commemorate the fallen. The police apprehended the thief. Anyway, the motion was passed and a clear signal was sent by the Council.

The second motion was moved by my colleague Barry Russell, asking for the Union flag to be flown daily above the Civic Offices and the Mayor to sit under the Borough Coat of Arms rather than the European Flag. An exchange of emails between Barry and Cllr. Tope raised the hoary issue of Health & Safety as the wall above the Mayor contains asbestos within the Artex. Despite this, since there seemed to be a willingness to get this change made, we amended the motion to allow further investigation of costs etc. Failing this, I'm sure one or two of our larger councillors can do the heavy lifting with the requsite safety equipment. I'll cover the LibDem motions in the next post which should have been straightforward but became flashpoints despite the fact that we all agreed in the end.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Meeting Carshalton College

Shortly before the full Council Meeting last Monday, I met some students from Carshalton College. The majority intended to follow their course in public services by joining the police.

They hadn't schlepped across Sutton just to see me. Sean Brennan, the Leader of the Council and Claire and Rachel from the Sutton Youth Parliament are pictured as well. They had also met our Chief Executive, Paul Martin, had a tour of the Civic Offices and watched part of the Council meeting (that's dedication for you!).

We told them a little about how we fitted into the structure of the Council and discussed some of the local political issues. It is good that they are able to take the opportunity to see what goes on in their name locally. Although national government grabs all the headlines, local government provides most of the very visible services that people use on a day to day basis. It is the council that empties the bins, maintains the pavements and roads, determines what the neighbourhood should look like through planning and, so often charges you through the nose for this with the annual Council Tax demand. It might not be the sexiest type of politics, but it's worth keeping an eye on. The enthusiasm of their tutor, Phillip Taylor was apparent and I am sure will give his students a grounding in the political basics which will remain with them for sometime to come.

Friday, November 16, 2007

MP Too Busy To Do Her Job?

There was a strange exchange in the House of Commons yesterday. A change to the format has allowed MPs to ask for a topical debate. This takes the form of a general debate about a current issue without a vote at the end. Yesterday's debate was on immigration.

Damian Green, Shadow Minister for Immigration, was rightly highlighting the latest scandal to hit the Home Office when Lyn Brown, Labour MP for West Ham said,

"Could the hon. Gentleman let me know whether he is going to debate immigration today? If he is, I am happy to stay and listen; if he is not, I have letters to sign."

Two things struck me. Firstly does she ever write any letters or merely sign off other people's work. Secondly have her constituents put her in Parliament to sign letters or to represent their views on the important matters of the day.

This was the news that up to 5000 people working in high-profile security positions may be illegal immigrants and the fact that Jacqui Smith, Secretary of State promptly ordered her civil servants to cover up the story.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Seb Coe Explodes at Cost of Olympics

This photo courtesy of the Press Association shows the fire near the Olympic site as shown from Westminster Bridge. With the 2012 stadium costing a cool £496,000,000 to build, no-one would have been surprised to hear "It costs how much?" echoing around Stratford as smoke poured from Seb's ears.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sutton Supporting Our Services

I met Peter Bruinvels at my second remembrance service today, who looks after the British Legion in Surrey and South London. He was pleased with the turnout at the Civic ceremony at the War Memorial in Cheam and the service in St Dunstan's Church. He informed me that the Borough of Sutton collected the second highest amount in his area, raising around £90,000 for our veterans.

This is a fantastic amount of money even if some of us do end up buying several poppies because we lose them or a BBC journalist forgets to return them:)

The Legion has run a very powerful campaign to push the government to honour the 'Military Covenant'. We ask the armed forces to protect our freedom and security by doing things that we just simply would never imagine doing. The government is being pressed to keep its end of the bargain by ensuring that they have the kit and manpower that they require, the family support and accommodation that they deserve, and the best medical care that we can give. This is something that I wholeheartedly back as I am sure that you do.

...And Tories Restore Tradition

BBC London picked up on the story about cutbacks in services ending the traditional marking of the 2 minute silence and put it as their main headline on Saturday evening. By the time ITV called the police whilst researching the story, they were told that the firing of two maroons at 11am and 11.02am would go ahead. Rumours that since they couldn't fire Sir Ian Blair, someone wanted to fire something were wide of the mark. Anyway, job done, sanity restored.

I went to the ceremony at the war memorial on Carshalton ponds this morning and joined around 250 people in paying tribute to those who enable us to have the freedoms that we enjoy today. This blog is one such freedom. I'll finish with a passage that was read by Father John Thewlis of All Saints Church, Carshalton who lead the ceremony. It is the Kohima Epitaph on the World War II memorial for the Allied fallen at the battle of Kohima, a crucial battle in the Burma campaign.

"When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today."

Friday, November 09, 2007

Health & Safety ends Sutton Remembrance Tradition

The Evening Standard reported today of a sad end of a tradition in Sutton. In years past, Maroon rockets have been fired in local parks to signal the beginning and the end of the two minute silence on Rembrance Day. The loud fireworks were lit by members of the Sutton Parks Police, the unit that was axed earlier this year to cut Council costs. They have been replaced by a dedicated team from the Met Police who have claimed that they cannot use the maroons on Health & Safety grounds.

Coming a week after £20,000+ worth of fireworks were lit in Carshalton Park with hundreds of people watching close by, I am more than a little taken aback by this. You can see the whole article by clicking on the picture, but I'll just quote my colleague, Cllr. Barry Russell who said

"I don't know why we are pandering to the health and safety brigade on what is a very important day. The cost is absolutely negligible and I know of very few people who wouldn't say that this is the least we can do when you think about the price that our servicemen and women paid for us.

"I don't think the fact is widely known yet but when it is there are a lot of people who will be truly incensed. I can understand that the Met are concerned about health and safety at the moment but this is ridiculous."

Well, the fact is wider known now. Let me know how you feel.

I Couldn't Believe My Mince Pies

...when I read the list of most ridiculous laws as compiled by the Daily Mail. As we approach December, I'll have to remember to watch out for the Christmas sweetmeats police as I tuck into my dinner on the 25th.

Law abiding as I am, I do try to keep to the first law by not dying at work. This has its origins in the fact that Parliament is still classed as a royal palace. Anyone that is unfortunate enough to keel over in the Chamber or its environs will be reported as dying on the way to St Thomas' Hospital which is on the other side of Westminster Bridge.

Here's the list in full:-
  1. It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament
  2. It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down
  3. In Liverpool, it is illegal for a woman to be topless except as a clerk in a tropical fish store
  4. Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day
  5. In Scotland, if someone knocks on your door and requires the use of your toilet, you must let them enter
  6. A pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet
  7. The head of any dead whale found on the British coast automatically becomes the property of the king, and the tail of the queen
  8. It is illegal to avoid telling the tax man anything you do not want him to know, but legal not to tell him information you do not mind him knowing
  9. It is illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament in a suit of armour
  10. In the city of York it is legal to murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls, but only if he is carrying a bow and arrow

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Collateral Damage at the Home Office

I'm currently reading the Bumper Book of Government Waste 2008 by Matthew Elliot of the Taxpayers' Alliance and Dr Lee Rotherham. It's an excellent piece of research and amusing too (rare for a political tome) so forgive me if I quote a few sections over the next few days. Here's two about the Home Office:-

"Not that its job is always straightforward. It includes keeping a lookout for members of the 14th Waffen SS Division who are still knocking about, sixty years after the end of World War 2. Apparently, there are 1,450 former storm troopers on our streets. As a Home Office Minister explained, "The Metropolitan Police visited a sample of 13 former members in 2005 to ascertain any information about crimes against humanity but no such crimes were disclosed." You don't say."

"The Home Office is also, we understand, the lead department for tackling a number of designated gang units. However, due to Health and Safety risk assessments, members aren't allowed to actually go out and meet the gangs. They leave this to unpaid volunteers, who are deemed expendable."

No Deals in Smoke-Filled Rooms

The Libdems don't do deals in smoke-filled rooms. Mainly on the basis that the smoking ban ensures they have to think again. Last Monday, Sutton LibDems held a secretive group meeting to update their backbench councillors about the deep cuts to services that they
have planned. When we asked for a similar briefing, we were told that there was no such meeting. The master copy of the list of room bookings showed an entry to reserve the largest meeting room for a LibDem update with an additional instruction not to put this up on the screen by the front door of the Civic Offices with details of the other meetings of the day.
It is true that the Local Government Settlement given by the government, which makes up the largest portion of the Council's income is poor. The Chancellor announced a 1% real terms increase in an already low settlement and yet expected Council Tax increases to be minimal. With the spending restrictions that he places on the grants given, he is living on another planet if he truly believes that is feasible. This having been said, Sutton Council's budget has scope for restructuring to cut waste and inefficient spending before even looking at changes to primary services. Years of self-congratulation about how well the LibDems have managed the accounts in better times precludes them from admitting that they haven't got things right in those comparative years of plenty.
If there are to be significant cuts, we should all be told as soon as possible. We can't go on with the usual dance each year, when the LibDems drip feed a few dramatic figures at this of year only to "save the day" in the Spring. Last year we suffered the second highest Council Tax in London. The previous year, only a last minute climbdown by the ruling group avoided capping. What'll happen this year? Who knows? One thing for sure, it won't be pretty.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Staring At The Bottom Of A Bottle

This morning we have woken up to the news that Councils are calling for more cash from the Government because of immigration, Heather McCartney has had an outpouring of emotion on every television channel to explain that she doesn't like her media coverage and, stop the press, the breaking news by the BBC that Gerry McCann has returned to work.

It could have been different. Today is the day that I should have been up at some unearthly hour to remind a few thousand people of the Conservative message. Early tomorrow morning, Ken Andrew and Philippa Stroud would have been able to add the initials MP after their name. Yes, today the day for the Election that never was. The clunking fist has become the ham fist in the last few weeks, resulting in the polls showing a clear Conservative lead that would seriously have threatened Labour's majority.

We will just have to wait for another couple of years, whilst Gordon's vision pans out signing up to the European Constitution Treaty, introducing watered down policies from the Tories and Liberals, failing to tackle immigration and performing a few more u-turns when under pressure such as the reversals on the proposed cash grab on the budgets of prudent schools and the whopping 80% increase in Capital Gains Tax for small businesses.

Perhaps Gordon Brown's biggest mistake was to annoy the Press. His controversial statement in Basra of troop reductions was made to just two broadcast journalists and his announcement that he was not calling an election was made to his "pet broadcaster" as described by Daisy McAndrew, Chief Political Correspondent at ITN. They smell blood and will continue to harry him for sometime to come.