Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Slow Down And Everyone's A Winner

Just over a year ago, I posted a couple of videos showing Nudge theory at its best,with a staircase being converted into a keyboard to encourage people to exercise and a bin that plays a falling sound when something is thrown into it to push people into putting their rubbish where it belongs. Volkswagen created these videos and ran a competition to find a new idea. The winning entry, shown above is a fantastically creative way of looking at something that is the bane of many people's lives. Swindon showed that speed cameras on their own are not effective. Maybe committing to the carrot rather than the stick is a better way forward after all?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tuition Fees - Difficult But Correct Choice

There has been a lot written about tuition fees in the last few weeks and there will be plenty more next year when the rest of the changes are brought in. At the moment the only change in regulation has been the increase in fees to £6,000pa and £9,000pa. Separate amendments will need to be made to alter the interest rates, maximum repayment period and the minimum salary before repayments are collected. Despite the protests and newspapers' column inches, there still appears to be a lack of understanding about how the changes will affect students and why the changes are being made.

I was opposed to the original introduction of tuition fees for many of the reasons that people are now up in arms about the increase. Since that time the number of students has increased by 44%. The choice to have as many students studying fulltime for a University degree is a political one and one that seems to be set in stone. Assuming that this won't be reversed, the original Lib Dem position of scrapping tuition fees is simply not affordable.

Neither is the status quo. The Russell Group which represents 20 of the leading Universities suggested that they may have needed to go private, should the Browne Review not have recommended an increase in fees. This would have meant that they could charge what fees they wanted and demanded them up front. The London School of Economics, despite having a reputation of being a home for left-wing firebrands and having one of the largest banners at the protests, went one step further in commissioning a report on going private which was presented to their board.

This leaves two choices, an increase in fees or a graduate tax. The latter was looked at by Vince Cable but dismissed in favour of the former. Alan Johnson, the Shadow Chancellor originally called a graduate tax 'unworkable' until whipped in by his fledgling leader. There are a few problems with a tax. This would be become payable at the ridiculously low salary level of £6,475pa and would remain with you for the rest of your life; far more punitive than the current system. Any other change would have been difficult to collect. A tax would not be payable if the graduate moved abroad to work and there is no link between the amount payable and the service that the student received at university. The tax would lead to the richer paying less and the poorer paying more.

So we are left with an increase in fees. There seems to be 3 main concerns.

1. Will this stop poorer people going to university?
The BBC reported that a survey by Nat West showed 40% of sixth formers saying that tuition fees made them consider not going to university. The date of this response? 13th June 1999, the summer after David Blunkett first introduced fees. Since this time student numbers have increased substantially. Although £150million has been found to reduce the amount of fees payable by the poorest 20% of the population, no parents will need to pay as fees are not payable up front, students will only pay when they earn more than £21,000pa and the monthly amount payable will be less than at present.

2. Will it affect social mobility?
Social mobility starts at school. Poorer people are often held back from going to university because they don't get the grades at A level in the first place. We need to ensure that opportunity exists far early in a student's life. OECD figures show graduates earn around 50% more in their lifetime than non-graduates, with female graduates earning double their counterparts who finish education at secondary level.

Allowing the money to follow the student will allow them to consider their choice of course more carefully and make the university more accountable to them as a customer. People have been concerned about the future of some institutions. However, should it be right for one London university to be able to claim £50million in funding for students that don't exist?

The higher £9,000 tuition fee charge will only be allowed if the university can clearly demonstrate that they are taking measures to further encourage social mobility. It was interesting to note a letter in the Daily Telegraph written by 18 Vice-Chancellors and Principals, expressing their fears of the effect on social mobility should the increase in fees not go through Parliament.

Is it fair?
In a word, yes.
It is only fair to taxpayers that students make a contribution towards their education. (Education can be considered a right, but further education is exactly that; education to further one's development).
It is only fair to students that neither they nor their parents should have to find any money up front.
It is only fair to graduates that they should pay less than at present with many being £45 pm better off.
It is only fair to poorer students that they should only pay when they start earning a reasonable income, some 40% higher than under the present system.

There has been some concern about the effect on graduates getting mortgages. The Council of Mortgage Lenders has confirmed that lenders will not take the total debt into account when considering how much to lend. Unlike a personal loan, it is very difficult to default, with payments being taken at source, it is not repayable if unemployed or taking a career break and is automatically written-off after 30 years. The only effect that it will have is that repayments reduce disposable income. This is the case at present but since repayments will be lower, graduates will have more disposable income with which to service a mortgage.

Another concern has been the timing of the introduction of the higher fee structure. This will start in 2012 for new students. Existing students will not be affected as they will have already entered a contract with the university. Similarly the repayment structure will be introduced to come in later, as the 2012 students graduate so they will be coordinated.

The actions of a significant minority of students on the protests have done them no favours. They have good reason to debate this difficult issue but it needs to be done in an informed, sensible way. Smashing windows, pulling policemen off their horses and throwing fire extinguishers from a roof into a crowd does the student's cause no good whatsoever. Instead, they should acquaint themselves with the facts on fees from this excellent website and then let us have a grown-up debate about this important decision.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peers Getting Their Pleasure

Working in the Houses of Parliament often throws up something new and something surprising. A number of us were slightly perturbed when we saw this on one of the screens known as annunciators which lets everyone know what is happening in the House of Lords.

Thanks to the BBC website, I can tell you that it is not as fruity as it might suggest. The Lords has a dinner break and if nothing else is happening, they will 'adjourn during pleasure'. Similarly if the Lords has sent a Bill back to the Commons, they may adjourn during pleasure, waiting for the Commons to debate the matter and refer it back. This sometimes happens with controversial pieces of legislation that are debated long into the night, with the two Houses playing ping-pong. The Commons usually gets its way in the end.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Joining Up The Loss Of Life

I am heading out shortly to Belmont to attend the Civic Act of Remembrance and the Remembrance Day Service. Following that I am going to a fundraising lunch for Help for Heroes.

Whenever we reflect on those that have fallen, we cannot help consider the massive waste of life that war brings, not least the two World Wars when families, villages and towns were ripped apart. However, as General Sir David Richards has just said on the Andrew Marr Show, it is important to remember the achievements that our armed forces have made in various conflicts including those still underway. This is not to glorify war, but to rationalise and determine its place in the history of the world.

I have been on the edge of my seat watching and waiting for news of the release of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, an inspirational lady who I have written about before and will again. Meanwhile, my uncle has sent me another part of the jigsaw of my family's history in Burma. Last year, he found records at the Rangoon Memorial of the death of my great-uncles Patrick and Terence. This year, he has found a poignant memorial placed in The Statesman newspaper in India on 25th June 1945 by my great-grandparents. I will dedicate my silence to them as well as those fallen in Afghanistan.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

LibDems Say "Budgeting is Not An Exact Science"

At the meeting of the Executive of Sutton Council on Monday, Cllr Graham Tope spoke about the business plan for the controversial £8.5million Sutton Life Centre. As expected, the business plan was, to quote one Sutton insider, "optimistic". Bearing in mind this is only to break even, Sutton taxpayers have every reason to remain worried about the burden that they will have to carry to hide the embarrassment of the Liberal Democrat administration.

Cllr Tope explained that "budgeting is not an exact science", something that will come as news to business people up and down the country who realise that this is the polar opposite of the truth. Homeopathy is not an exact science. Budgeting, however, is a detailed appraisal of the future using case studies, market research, and an assessment of how best to use a certain amount of capital and income. Assumptions can be kept to a bare minimum by taking a pragmatic, not dogmatic view, something that does not come easily to the administration in Sutton.

The original budget for 2010-11 required £131,000 of taxpayers' money to keep the fledgling Life Centre open. The latest update shows that they will have spent £190,000 over and above this, a whopping 145% over budget. This is largely put down to an 'underachievement of income', a euphemism if ever there was one. One-off costs covered the remaining overspend. One of these costs was £40,000 for a website. Apart from the fact that this is an extraordinary amount to be spending in addition to the £208,000 Sutton Council spent on their main site, why is this an overspend? It is not beyond the wit of man to realise that a decent website would be needed to market the Centre. Why was this not included in the original budget? It is oversights like this that show why the Council believes that budgeting is not an exact science. You can't just put a wet finger in the air before undertaking a massive project like this. The business plan has more space given over to 'One Planet Living' than spreadsheets. There is nothing exact about 'One Planet Living' It really doesn't matter how many planets you need to live on if they are all bankrupt.

Since the original concept came about, the Council won a Government grant of £4million. Following this, the scheme doubled in size to fit this extra money, rather than the sensible approach of keeping this vaguely within reason. The builders were already booked to start digging the day after the council meeting which approved the decision. After even the most intransigent fan of the Centre realised that most schools realised that parents did a better job of teaching their children how to behave and so failed to book places, other activities have been brought into the Centre to justify its existence.
  • Ex-offenders will come along to be told not to re offend (could the money have not been used for Job Clubs and drug rehabilitation?)
  • Council meetings and other community meetings will take place at the Centre (taking important income away from schools and other community facilities)
  • A Life Clinic will be set up (No, I don't know either?!)
  • Some School Governors' training will be held here (threatening the future of the Glastonbury Centre that has already been saved from imminent closure once)
Nick Clegg opened the centre at an event which was mainly attended by the senior management
of Sutton Council and Liberal Democrat councillors. Half a dozen children from nearby Glenthorne School came along as guinea pigs. It would be interesting to know quite how many thousands of pounds of lost productivity it took to have the great and the good at this corporate backslapping exercise.

The Sutton Life Centre is being held up as an example of the Big Society as part of Sutton Council's status as a 'Big Society Vanguard Council'. People are struggling to understand what the Big Society concept actually is and this project pushes that understanding further away from the truth. Big Society should be about people taking back areas from the state to be under their own control. It is about people not buildings. The Sutton Life Centre is anathema to the Big Society, instead standing as a paternalistic, patronising monolith that illustrates the real centralising views of Sutton's Liberal Democrats; Power coming down from Whitehall is fine, as long as it stops at the Civic Offices, where politicians know best. That is not localism. That is not freeing individuals. That is just bringing the nanny state closer to home.

Have a look and judge for yourself if the £40k website is worth it and the £8.5million (10% of council tax collected in the entire Borough for a year) was well spent

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thanks For Your Support

I'm always really grateful for the support of friends and regular readers in my attempt to keep Sutton residents aware of what is happening in Sutton politics. I am especially glad for the support whilst I try to continue alongside a busy job in Westminster. So thank you to all who voted in the recent Total Politics Blog Awards. Your support helped me to achieve:
Yes, I am aware that I am no longer a councillor! However, since most of the entries were written when I was in office, I think that's fair enough. Anyway, thank you again for sticking with me whilst posting is slack. It all goes towards helping me rediscover my political mojo. There is plenty left to do in Sutton.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Paying People To Hang Around On High Street

Recently Sutton Council held an event, 'The Art of Suburbia' to reopen the High Street. The funding for the 2 day event was £81,300 of which £36,000 was from the Arts Council, meaning that taxpayers living outside Sutton were helping the Council to indulge itself. The relaunch was not exactly as described with lighting columns left disconnected and lumps of tarmac crudely filling holes left along the pavement. Work was not due to be completed for another week, having run overtime.

The headline act 'Trans Expresse' (pictured right) were a French troupe of drummers whose piece de resistance was to attach themselves to one of the biggest cranes in London and drum in middair on a giant children's mobile. This was witnessed by about 250 people on a cold, dark Friday evening. That'll be £162.50 per person to watch someone hanging around on Sutton High Street, something people can do for free on most days.

On the Saturday, an extraordinary claim by the Council that 25,000 came to see the launch. I'm not sure who counted nor if the people that just came to shop (or even just hang around) were included in that figure. Nonetheless, even allowing for the most rose-tinted of spectacles, this appears optimistic. Those that did come witnessed a giant robot, some giant painting and a giant accident when a lady in a motorised scooter drove off the edge of a raised platform on the new Trinity Square.

Meanwhile the main local paper, the Sutton Guardian, were hugged closely by the Council who made them 'Official Media Partners', thus ensuring that the headlines that followed were favourable. Fortunately, the Guardian followed up the next week by asking residents what they thought of the overall expense.

The irony was not lost when reading the launch day programme which explained that one of the groups of performance artists were named "The Bureau of Silly Ideas." (Too many jokes, too little time so I'll leave you to add your punchlines.)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sutton Council Just Don't Get It - Part 1

From the Council which gave you £25k totem poles sited opposite a cash-strapped hospital, comes the latest wheeze in how to spray taxpayers' money around on 'art'.

The wooden menagerie pictured opposite has been concreted into the pavement on Sutton High Street where there was previously an open space. The metal globe sculpture has been relocated so that people avoiding the wooden fish to go to All Bar One and the Civic Office crash straight into it.

Lest we forget within the apparent benefits for this £3million splurge of your cash was the statement "Wider footways, better road crossings and less clutter will create a people-friendly zone."

I'm not sure that mocking laughter was the reaction first envisaged by the Lib Dem Council cabinet who approved this project, but that is what appears to be the first reaction of those walking by.

We are still waiting for the 'green wall' to be installed on the face of Wilkinsons, which involves a lawn to be laid vertically up the front of the shop. When challenged over such expenditure, the Lib Dem administration claim that the £3million would have just be spent in another borough. That's just not good enough. Whilst we all reevaluate the services that we receive and our own personal incomes as a result of the massive deficit created over the last few years, it is not acceptable for councillors to spend such amounts on needless projects. How many wooden fish will it take to fill one of the many empty shops on the High Street? How will a grass curtain on the front of one of the busier shops on the High Street help the hot dog seller that is being thrown off the pitch that she has held for the last 15 years? The north end of the High Street will remain largely a ghost town, with the lion's share of the investment within yards of the Civic Offices. It is a case of out of sight, out of mind for the councillors that have been embolden by their win at the last election leaving them another four years to rack up the bills for Sutton's taxpayers.

Leaving on a largely positive note, I am glad that another one of the Conservative manifesto commitments was adopted by siting recycling bins next to normal bins along the High Street. It's just a shame that the brushed metal used makes them look a decade old already.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Society to Save Sutton From Big Mistake?

The Leader of the Council in Sutton has joined David Cameron on his trip to India to tell people there about his very own white elephant, the controversial £8million Sutton Life Centre.

Sutton has been picked as one of four councils to pioneer the Big Society as a Liberal Council, alongside Labour Liverpool and Conservative-run Windsor & Maidenhead and Eden Valley. Sutton have picked four projects to trial

1.give people influence for transport decisions and allowing greater local choice in schemes that suit them

Essentially this is keeping Smarter Travel Sutton going now that the £5million Transport for London funding has been spent.

2.train a new generation of community organisers

In a serendipitous move, a team of 'young advisers' will meet in the Sutton Life Centre attracting another revenue stream for the building that still has no meaningful business plan and an uncertain future. Ostensibly this is to help 'continue' to allow the Council to consult local residents. Sutton has one of the poorest records in London when residents ask whether they feel if they can influence local decision making. Promotional banners were put up along residential streets telling people that they can influence decisions last year so that the Council could help boost their survey figures and so hit a government target that attracted some funding. So they spent some taxpayers money to get some more taxpayers money. Not the most efficient way to do things.

3.give communities the power to green their neighbourhoods

This will help fund the Hackbridge project, which aspires to make this part of the Borough 'the greenest place to live in the UK'. This ambitious project has struggled for funding since its inception.

4.give people a greater say in local health provision

The Council is a major commissioner of services from the National Health Service, in particular for Adult Social Care. It is right that health provision should be moved away from the great monoliths of the Primary Care Trusts and closer to local people but I wonder if this move has been superceded by the Government's plans to scrap Primary Care Trusts, putting the power and decision-making with GPs.

You'll see a thread with the first three. Sutton's LibDems are saying that the Big Society has already started in Sutton. I say that they've found three projects that were struggling for cash and have latched onto a sugar daddy.

The Big Society is a great concept, that has not been discussed widely enough yet to be understood by many. However, this isn't it. Handing down power to the Local Authority from central government is just a first stepping stone. Free schools, giving spending decisions to GPs, giving voters the power of recall, these are all examples of handing power back down as close as is possible to where decisions are made and should be the way ahead. Instead, here in Sutton, we'll see the majority of residents shrug their shoulders at best and continue to rightly complain about why decisions are made about paving the High Street for £3m and putting up the Sutton Life Centre at £8m without them being consulted first. Sutton could and should have been bolder in putting forward ideas. Maybe, and whisper it quietly now, they could have asked residents how they would see the Big Society manifest itself in Sutton?

Local Government Around The World - Part 2

An interesting council story comes to me from Singapore. Friends staying over there were disturbed by the host family's dogs barking at a cobra, rearing up and hissing at them near the front door. They called the local equivalent of pest control who are adept at getting rid of snakes.

The next day, the snake man came all kitted out ready for anything...except one thing. He refused to step into the house because of the dogs.

Their bark was definitely not worse than the snake's bite. Is this Singapore's equivalent of Health & Safety?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Local Government Around The World - Part 1

Maywood, California: The Independent reports that this small bluecollar town has outsourced all of its services to other councils and private contractors. Everything: policing, bin collection, school crossing. Everyone got the sack and new teams came in from various parts. The City Treasurer said "You have single-handedly destroyed this city" before getting the tin-tack but a month later the view has changed. The gangs have moved on, the parks and leisure centre are still open and doing well. The insurers of the old police service had refused to pay out on public liability claims because of the amount of compensation claims relating to police misconduct. Quite some change.

Clearing out the Civic Offices would be extreme and unneccessary but there is always scope for Councils to concentrate on what they do best and leave other activities to those who can do things better. We already have plenty of other companies and organisations running services for us in Sutton, from bin collection to another council running our communication department. We need to do more of this, market-testing the contracts on a regular basis.

However, should the Council be teaching children how not to take drugs at the Sutton Life Centre? Should the Council have a paternalistic view on Youth Services rather than allowing organisations with great track records across London the freedom to offer something more relevant to young people? Should the Council be paying people to tell us how to 'live on one planet'. The Council has a key role as a facilitator but it doesn't need to remain after making the introductions, becoming an obstacle for people to cross to get things done. Councils like Sutton need to know when to simplify and when to let go entirely. There's plenty of scope here before we do a Maywood.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

'This Is Going To Hurt You More Than It Is Us.'

Sutton Council met as a whole to discuss business for the first time last week, more than two months after the election. The first debate was to vote on the first decision that the LibDem administration took in the first week of office, to increase the total cost of councillor allowances.

They attempted to soften the blow of taking on two more cabinet roles at £34,440 between them by trimming the amount paid to local committee chairs (We'd proposed halving this) and totally scrapping the Opposition Deputy Leader's allowance (So one Conservative takes almost as big a hit as five LibDems.) To their credit, the Conservative Opposition rightly accepted this cut as unlike the LibDems, we could not look residents in the eye whilst cutting frontline services, knowing that they are paying for increased allowances for politicians. We are residents too.

Their final sleight of hand was to include the removal of political assistants from both parties. Again, this is fine as a separate decision but somewhat duplicitous to say that they are taking a cut. The Conservative Political Assistant left at the end of their contract in May. The Liberal Democrat Assistant has now morphed into a 'neutral' council officer...looking after the Liberal Democrat administration. Political assistants came to Sutton after a previous holder of the Head of Leadership post was overtly political whilst being bound by the restrictions of being a Council Officer. Now, it'll just be swept under the carpet again.

Cllr Tony Shields made the valid point that increasing the number of cabinet members of the Council equated to 10 pay rises. If you do less work for the same money, this is an improvement in your working conditions that is equivalent to a pay rise. Ask anyone that has been in negotiations with a union.

Lord Tope in his speech at the meeting, expressed the view that it is an unedifying sight to watch politicians arguing about their own pay. I have agreed with him on this on several occasions. However, he then went on to argue that it is not just about how much money councillors get as individuals but how much they value the job as a councillor, saying if we did not value the role then how could they possibly expect anyone else to value it. So says someone that has been in politics for 30 years and has earned more than £100,000 per year from politics for several of those years until recently stepping down from one of his many roles. Meanwhile, those who have run a business know that this is a specious argument. Yes, we ought to market-test our allowances, benchmarking them against other authorities. The recent independent review of allowances in London did this. However, we need to pay a rate that is commensurate to the job at hand.

The reason that I wanted to halve allowances for Local Committee chairs is that £9,000 was far too much for the majority of them who chaired 5 meetings a year, attended two other short meetings in advance of each committee and took a few phone calls (say, one hour per week for this). Beyond this, they were taking up the slack of less-effective ward councillors who should be capable of covering ward specific issues. Lord Tope may put a value of £125 per hour on this role (the equivalent of an annual salary of £260,000) I certainly don't. This is what is allowed to happen if you get disconnected from real life and start talking about arbitrary values rather than commonsense.

Competition: Song for Sutton

This brilliant video based on Jay-Z's song 'Empire State of Mind' has been all over the news this weekend after attracting 1.2million viewers on YouTube. I especially liked the reference to the fact that Newport is twinned with Guangxi Province in China, (there's no province finer.)

With the dicy economic climate at the moment, we need to attract people and investment into Sutton and, quite frankly, we need a laugh. So, put your thinking caps on. Give us your best lyrics for the next big thing, 'Sutton State of Mind'.

Tackling the Pothole in the Age of Austerity

Sutton Council are still manfully trying to keep up with filling in the potholes caused by the icy weather in February. This was after the LibDem administration slashed £20k from the Highways Winter Maintenance budget whilst roads were still icy in 2009. Park Hill has just been resurfaced. Hopefully this will
a better job than in Beeches Avenue where residents have complained that the repairs made the road more bumpy than when it was full of potholes.
The entire roads maintenance budget for 2009-10 was around £500k. A single road in St Helier needs some £450k worth of work to bring it up to scratch. Removing speed bumps whilst resurfacing would have released tens of thousands of pounds to add to this meagre budget. The new LibDem administration are unlikely to go down this route so how will they ensure that this important frontline service is kept up whilst the overall Council budget is reduced by 25%? As ever, I try to be helpful so here's some suggestions.
1. Guerilla gardening. UK Design student, Peter Dungey suggests filling in potholes with plants "like oases in asphalt deserts." Sutton likes to bill itself as a 'green' council but this might be a step too far. The flowers will quickly be more pressed than Alan Partridge's slacks Verdict: Quirky but rubbish.
2. Pothole Adverts. KFC has offered to fill in potholes in 5 cities in America for free, putting a chalk logo over the repair advertising the fried chicken restaurant chain. This has not been without problems. PETA have offered double the money to put their own logos attacking KFC Despite promising to fund a portion of Sutton Scene through advertising, Sutton Council continue to fail to get to grips with advertising sales so they may struggle with this one. Who would advertise on Sutton's roads. Answers in the comments please. Also how off-putting would these be to drivers. Verdict: Interesting but dangers ahead.
3. Partnering with GenShock. A new invention takes the energy released from hitting a pothole and converts it into electricity. At the moment shock absorbers simply protect us from bumps. GenShock allows the jarring experience to power the windscreen wipers. Now I can see this appealing to the LibDem administration, renewable energy and embracing speed bumps and potholes at the same time; three birds with one environmentally-friendly stone. Forget filling the craters, make it your civic duty to stress your spine. Verdict: Clever invention but no-one tell the LibDems about it unless we want to see a Council grant go on this.
4. Get the holes filled cheaply. Market-test the contract for road maintenance, ensuring that quality and a high service level agreement is bound into the contract. Then take the cheapest contractor that puts in a tender and get more holes filled for the money. Divert funds from unneccessary road humps due to be replaced. Verdict Commonsense but...Nah! Not a chance.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Total Politics - I Need Your Vote

Now I'm going to be a bit cheeky. For the last two years, I've asked you to vote in these awards and you have been kind enough to help me become one of the leading political blogs in the country. I've hardly posted in the last few months but I'm going to ask once more anyway. I want to help bring you the news of what is happening in your name in the Civic Offices and in Westminster, so I'll gradually make the time to blog more often. In the meantime, I would be grateful if you would vote for me as one of your top political blogs, instructions below:

1. You must vote for your ten favourite blogs and ranks them from 1 (your favourite) to 10 (your tenth favourite).
2. Your votes must be ranked from 1 to 10. Any votes which do not have rankings will not be counted.
3. You MUST include at least FIVE blogs in your list, but please list ten if you can. If you include fewer than five, your vote will not count.
4. Email your vote to toptenblogs@totalpolitics.com
5. Only vote once.
6. Only blogs based in the UK, run by UK residents or based on UK politics are eligible. No blog will be excluded from voting.
7. Anonymous votes left in the comments will not count. You must give a name
8. All votes must be received by midnight on 31 July 2010. Any votes received after that date will not count.

I can't help prompt you with my favourites, apart from pointing you to the blogroll on the right hand side of this page. Happy voting and thank you.

A Bit Unneccessary

Since starting a new job in Westminster, I've found it both hard to get the time to blog and to see much evidence of anything happening in Sutton bar increases in councillors' allowances. Having got out of the habit of thinking about council work as soon as I woke up, a few text messages received this week from a single anonymous texter (07812 984365) brought it back.

5am, 14/7/10

8.39 14/7/10

8.50 14/7/10

18.38 14/7/10
(all capitals, punctuation and spelling, sic.)

I don't know why someone feels so moved to start having a pop at five o'clock in the morning, two months after the election, but it is intriguing that people feel that people who volunteer for public service are fair game for this, though I admired the poetic sign offs. At least they got it off their chest and I hope that they are happier for it.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

Experts predict that Councils across the country are going to have to cut their budgets by 20-25% over the next 4 years. Sutton will not escape the difficult times ahead. There will be some tough decisions ahead.

The new LibDem administration took their first decision within days of resuming power. As is often the way, they got an unpopular decision through early whilst everyone was watching the coalition Goverment in Westminster come together. They have now increased their Cabinet from eight councillors to ten. This means that their chosen few collect an extra £34,440 between them in allowances. This is in stark contrast with the Conservative plans to reduce the cost of councillors by £13,000. This leaves Sutton taxpayers more than £47,000 out of pocket each year. That's about 50p from every household, two new teachers or resurfacing 1 mile of road.

Just last month, it was revealed that Sutton Council was keen to be a pilot area for the previous Government's plan to introduce bin taxes for people who they decide do not recycle enough. A second attempt to introduce fortnightly bin collection is being planned for next year. It's a shame for all of us that rather than learn some humility, the large majority acheived by the Liberal Democrats has emboldened them to ensure that residents take the brunt of the cuts. They are happier to cut jobs and services as long as they look after themselves.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Time To Get Over The Election Loss.

It's been a few weeks since the General and Local Elections here in Sutton and I've had a bit of time away from blogging to lick my wounds, gather my thoughts and get a job having been unceremoniously dumped out of office. It's a hollow feeling, one minute making plans genuinely believing that we might take control of the Borough and wanting to be able to start work the day after and then another minute realising that not only did we get stuffed, I lost my own seat. There are plenty of others across the country in the same boat.

It's a shame in so many ways. There are many unsuccessful Conservative council candidates that would have made brilliant contributions to the future of this Borough that will not be able to. It is clear that there are a few reluctant councillors on the Liberal Democrat side who did not expect to get elected and are now going to have to step up to the plate. I hope, as a local resident who has to live with the consequences of their decisions that they do. I know that the Conservative group remaining on the Council will work well, but it won't be easy to provide a loud enough Opposition voice with 80% of the councillors belonging to one party. It is predicted that the Local Government budget will be cut by 20-25% over the next few years. Now is a bad time to let poor decision-making go unchecked.

I have really enjoyed serving as a councillor and working as Leader of the Opposition. Sutton is fortunate to have some great council officers who keep things on track despite the politicians. I'll miss working with them and the many friends that I have made from both sides of the political divide. The kind words that I have received from all quarters mean a lot and soften the blow.

What next? I've started working with a newly-elected MP. It means a long commute until his Westminster office is sorted. I've done it before so it is largely familiar territory apart from the new terrible expenses regime. Which brings me to my last point for this post, what to do with this blog? Posting might be light for the next few weeks whilst I am travelling, but I daresay there will be plenty of Sutton news to talk about and the wider political scene. It'll morph into something soon. In the meantime, I'm still twittering away. It's easier and more immediate. Either way, I expect to be around in some shape or form, working for a better Sutton.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Don't Just Hope For A Better Sutton

The news is all about the final stages of the closest General Election for a generation but there is another crucial decision for residents in Sutton to make this Thursday. Council elections mean that we also get to vote for our three local councillors and ultimately, who runs the Council.

After 24 years of Liberal Democrat control, the ruling party have become a tired, complacent administration, forgetting why they sought election in the first place. We need fresh thinking in Sutton. The difficult economic times will bring tough decisions and we will need strong leadership to protect key council services.

Sutton Conservatives have spent 3 years researching their 100 pledge manifesto. Our collective experience in running small businesses, employing people and working at the highest level in public services allows us to tackle this situation head-on, bringing new angles to problem solving and steering us all through difficult times.

We cannot reward years of taking residents for granted. The green garden waste charge cost us all £800,000 to reverse, the Sutton Life Centre is sucking up the equivalent of 10% of the entire annual Adult Social Services budget for the Borough to build and the repaving of Sutton High Street is costing us the same as four years' worth of road resurfacing.

I don't know about you but I'm simply not rich enough to afford the Liberal Democrats here in Sutton. Don't just hope for a better Sutton on Thursday - join me in voting for it.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Scully on Tweety Hall

Among the hard slog across my ward and the rest of the Borough, I met Arun from Tweety Hall who interviewed me outside my house about social media and how it might affect this election. The interview looks very professional, so well done Arun.

I'm not convinced that this is anywhere near the 'Internet election' that some had hoped for, heralding new media as a game changing force. However, Twitter in particular has proved to be a fast way of spreading news and giving momentum to stories that may have been lost in a small diary column in a newspaper.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cable the Fall Guy

Whilst Nick Clegg is giving his best blokey approach to politics the truth is somewhat murkier. The Liberal Democrats took a £2.4m donation from Michael Brown, a man living in Majorca through a company that was registered in the UK but has never seemingly traded. Instead the money came from Brown defrauding people. The Electoral Commission inexplicably ruled that the Liberal Democrats did not need to return the stolen money because they accepted it in good faith.

In the video above, John Sopel gives Vince Cable a roasting over his claim to want to fix politics whilst holding on to stolen money. It seems that Nick Clegg is being allowed to sail through whilst Cable takes the flak on the real background of the Liberal Democrats.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Vince Cable Exposed

It'll be interesting to see how the Chancellors' Debate gets reported in the media with Vince Cable's foresight exposed as more Mr Magoo than the Oracle at Delphi. Andrew Neil and Stephanie Flanders grilled Cable about his flip-flops over the past couple of years showing how a third party politician with little prospect of having to deliver can appear polished without sufficient scrutiny of their track record, but will wilt under the heat of the spotlight. The quote of the interview was from Andrew Neil: "Isn't it true Mr Cable, that the biggest myth of this campaign is your reputatation."

I doubt if Adam Boulton needs too many lessons from Andrew Neill but we'll see if tonight is the day that Nick Clegg understands that you can't form a government simply by stepping away from Westminster and joining the finger wagging alongside the crowd. Even the most optimistic polls for the Liberal Democrats suggest that they will form a coalition with Labour. This either gives us 5 more years of Gordon Brown with him having come a distant third in the election or a second successive unelected Prime Minister if Brown resigns. This is hardly a good start in fixing our broken politics.

Hat Tip for video: Guido Fawkes

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sutton Conservative Manifesto for Council Elections 6th May 2010

Over the last few weeks, I've shared our thoughts on 11 key issues from Council Tax to grit bins. However, the Councilin its entirety is much more than that with a budget exceeding £400 million each year. We have spent a number of years, speaking to residents, collating local statistics and researching good ideas from nearby Councils. Our Manifesto is the result of this with 100 costed ideas for positive change here in Sutton. You can read it in your browser by clicking on the image above or download a copy here.

Despite the economic climate, we remain ambitious for Sutton. We all live in the Borough and so know that Sutton is a good place to live, but we also know that it could be so much better. Our collective experience in business and the public sector gives us the knowledge and confidence that to better services do not automatically follow ever-increasing budgets. We want to see a Council working smarter, using our money more effectively, directing more of it to making a difference to residents rather than meekly meeting Government targets. The 100 pledges contained within will start the reintroduction of fresh-thinking in Sutton.

Let me know what you think and join us in changing the future of Sutton.

Pledge No. 11 - Aim To Freeze Council Tax For Four Years

Times are tough economically. Local residents are feeling the pinch of the recession and unemployment has risen sharply, yet we still have one of the highest council tax levels in London. Since council tax was introduced, the Liberal Democrat-run administration has increased council tax by over 205%; four times the rate of inflation.

Quality services and real value for money can, and should, go hand in hand. By making adjustments to the way Sutton Council is managed and by working with a Conservative Government, a Conservative-run Council intends to freeze council tax
for the next four years.

Our Commitment:We believe in real value for money whilst seeking to reduce the burden on taxpayers. We aim to freeze council tax over the next four years.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pledge No. 10 - Closing Down Nuisance Pubs & Clubs

So much crime and antisocial behaviour in our Borough is fuelled by alcohol. Whether it is being sold by careless landlords to binge drinkers or by irresponsible shop owners to underage children, we need to bring this to a stop.

In the first 100 days, a Conservative Council will begin to review the licences of troublesome pubs and clubs in the borough and if they are seen to be the catalyst for crime and antisocial behaviour, we will shut them down. We will keep under review closing times to ensure that we are not importing disorder from outside the Borough carried out by those attracted to late-night drinking in Sutton.

Our Commitment: Within the first 100 days of a Conservative Council, we will start a review of all licenced premises known to be trouble spots and if necessary, shut them down.

BBC Politics Show

Last Sunday, the Politics Show on BBC featured Sutton as a Council in London pioneering Smarter Travel Sutton. This is an initiative from Transport of London, with money bid for using the support of both parties in Sutton. It fits with our philosophy of encouraging people to do the right thing rather than using the stick. It fits less well with the rigid anti-car policies of the Liberal Democrats.

My main issue with the Liberal Democrat Council is that they have run out of their own ideas, living off their legacy of past glories rather than building on it. There comes a time for nearly every political adminstration where they forget why they sought election in the first place, complacently defending their actions from an ivory tower. We have reached that place in Sutton. The political administration is buffered by an excellent team of officers running the corporate council on a day to day basis. Many of the mistakes when residents see red are as a result of political interference. Councillors should be elected to enhance the Council not hinder it.

I hope that you see with the pledges that I am posting and the full 100 pledges of the main manifesto that we want to build on the good things that the Council do, eliminating the bad including the waste within the Civic Offices and the poor decisions made without consulting residents. Sutton is a good place to live, but it can be so much better. We need some fresh thinking to make this happen. The Conservatives have the new ideas to bring positive change to Sutton.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pledge No. 9 - Rewarding Residents Who Recycle

As a Borough, Sutton sends 70% of its waste to landfill and recycles and an unimpressive 22% of all produced rubbish. With landfill tax set to reach £40 per tonne on top of the actual cost of landfill, it is time the council took real action.

A Conservative administration will tackle this unsustainable statistic. Our responsibility is not to settle for a Borough that feels good about recycling, but one that is actually good at recycling. We believe people should be rewarded for doing the right thing. We believe in the carrot, not the stick. This is why we will introduce incentive-based recycling. Drawing on successful examples from elsewhere, we will offer financial rewards for residents who help the Council and help the environment.

Land fill taxes are increasing rapidly. The Council faces swingeing fines by the Government if we miss our target to reduce the amount of waste disposed of in landfill. This will fall on the taxpayer in the form of increased Council Tax, so we need to tackle the issue now. The Council saves money by diverting waste away from landfill; we will pass on savings to residents.

Our Commitment: We will develop a system of financial rewards and incentives for people who help the Council and the environment by recycling more of their waste.

No Joined Up Thinking in Sutton

Apparently Sutton's gully cleaning machine has just gone past my house. The drips of water on the road demonstrate the problem of lack of preparation as they show that the machine is spending more time cleaning the white lines in the middle of the road than it is the gullies.

In another move, the Council are looking to introduce a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ) around Carshalton Beeches Station, including Salisbury Road where I live. Now, either the Council believe there is a parking issue in the area, in which case it would have been sensible to have given advanced notice to ask people to move their cars, or they don't in which case, why waste money on a consultation about a CPZ? We live in austere times and this is one small example where smarter working would give residents more for less. The process would have cost less and the gullies would have been cleaner.

You may wonder why there is a picture of a big cat here? It is a Snow Leopard, a rare animal that has never been filmed until recently. It took David Attenborough's team three years to get a glimpse. Still, it's easier to get a picture of this than it is of Sutton's solitary gully cleaner.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

David Cameron Comes To Cheam

The traffic wasn't the only thing congesting the crossroads in Cheam last Saturday with a massive crowd packing the centre of the village to get a glimpse of David Cameron.

He came the day after his announcement on transferable tax allowances for couples either married or in a civil partnership who pay the basic rate of tax. Philippa Stroud has had an enormous influence on our family policy and so it was fitting that the future Prime Minister followed up his announcement with a boost to Philippa's campaign to join him in getting elected in Sutton & Cheam.

A pack of journalists surrounded him from the moment he arrived. He flew through being on a tightly managed schedule but he did meet 'real' people, not just hand-picked party apparatchiks and supporters. I was with a number of families. David Cameron spent time talking to the younger children. The media were keen to speak to David Cameron; not the future PM, but the owner of David Cameron Hair on the Broadway. The two Daves had chatted about the Scottish roots of their name. Apparently Cameron the hairdresser thought Cameron the politician needed 'funkier hair'.

The atmosphere was positive and uplifting giving us all a feeling that the election campaign had really kicked off well here in Sutton.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Pledge No. 8 - Supporting Our Armed Forces

Junior ranks fighting on our behalf in Afghanistan are among the lowest paid public sector employees in the country with basic pay as low as £15,000pa. Some young married soldiers are below the poverty line, yet we ask them to do things without question that we couldn't even imagine.

Sutton Conservatives are committed to give soldiers, normally residents in Sutton, deployed on active service overseas a 50% council tax rebate. As well as basic financial support and cover for services that they are not using, such a commitment is symbolic in honouring the Military Covenant and acknowledging the risk and sacrifice that these men and women take on behalf of us all.

Our Commitment: We will give British soldiers and reservists deployed on active service overseas a 50% council tax rebate as a small token of our support for their commitment and sacrifice.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Last Straw For Sutton Residents

New figures recently discovered by Sutton Conservatives puts the cost of the Liberal Democrat straw café pet-project in Manor Park at an eye-watering £196,000.

The initial cost agreed by the Liberal Democrat-led Sutton Council in September 2009 was £116,000 but by 18th March 2010, the cost had risen by almost 70%.

Liberal Democrat council papers boast that the straw café is expected to generate a rental income to the council of £6,000 per annum. It would take nearly 33 years with full time tenancy to reimburse the council’s coffers with the amount spent on the café.

Lack of affordable housing is a key issue in the London Borough of Sutton. If the £196,000 sum wasn’t spent on the straw café, Sutton Council would be able to use that money to build four new properties from scratch thereby alleviating the pressures of the housing waiting list.

Hot on the heels of the Sutton Life Cente, it's unforgiveable to waste almost £200,000 of taxpayer’s cash in this current economic climate on building a café made from bales of straw. With the chronic shortage of housing in the borough, it is inconceivable that such a large sum of money is being wasted in this way. £200,000 would pay to take four families desperately in need of permanent accommodation off the waiting list and into new purpose built affordable housing units.

Sutton’s Liberal Democrats have made their choice, its own pet projects before people. The controversial Sutton Life Centre was reported last week to be making a loss before it has even opened. This straw café is also destined for that list of failed projects. It is high time they understood that taxpayer’s money isn’t their plaything; the council are privileged to be the custodian of resident’s hard earned cash and with that privilege comes the responsibility to manage funds properly and offer real value for money. This is another sign of a tired administration taking residents for granted and forgetting why they sought election in the first place. In another introspective project, we are told that Sutton is to be a 'One Planet Borough' by 2025. I'm hoping we'll acheive something similar after the local elections on 6th May, when a Conservative Council returns to live on the same planet as Sutton's residents.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Pledge No. 7 - Supporting Our Small Shops

Businesses and shops play a vital role in breathing life into our local areas. The recession has taken its toll on chains like Woolworths and Threshers, but there are areas in the Borough that have suffered in the good times. Big companies like Canon, Homebase and recently Zurich Insurance have moved out of the borough to go somewhere that offers them more, in their bid to remain competitive. Small shops have also gone, leaving empty shells behind. Wallington Square has had several empty shops for nearly two decades. North Cheam is scarred by the eyesore that is Victoria House. South Sutton has another landmark building, Sutherland House that is gradually crumbling with the retailers below struggling to attract sufficient numbers.

Sutton High Street has been allowed to develop without a tight strategy. You know that the target market of the High Street has changed when Poundland gets undercut by the 99p store. It is not all about Sutton. The Borough is made up of a collection of villages each with their own characteristics, all surrounding the busy town centre. These villages each need a solid plan to make the most of their features.

A Conservative Council will not be satisfied with a strategic plan for the borough. We will aggressively market the borough to businesses and retailers, actively encouraging the businesses that residents want to see and use, to come to the Borough. We will tackle the landmark buildings that are falling into disrepair. They are the first view of the Borough that many visitors see. We will ensure that easy and affordable 'stop & shop' parking is available in our smaller High Streets to attract passing trade for smaller shops, working with local businesses to involve them in a sustainable solution to parking issues. Finally, we will use planned changes to Business Rates under a Conservative Government as a marketing tool to give incentives to businesses to relocate and send a clear signal that Sutton is open for business.

Our Commitment: We will actively approach and encourage businesses to come to Sutton and will ensure that affordable 'stop & shop' parking is available in our smaller High Streets.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Celebrating 13 Year of Effective Waste Maximisation

The Guardian is running an advert from a hitherto low-key Government Department, the Department of Government Waste. It begins "The Department of Government Waste was set up in 1997 with a remit to make Britain a world-leader in spending public money from inception, our strategic objective has been to maximise expenditure and minimise frugality, in order to deliver sweeping cost inefficiencies for taxpayers."

The Department has its own website and video from the Secretary of State, the ubiquitous Robin Ewe, both worth a look.

H/T Conservative Home

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pledge No. 6 - Putting Sutton Residents First

We need to ensure that Sutton residents get the highest priority from the Council and its partners in the services that they provide. With 40% of residents commuting to London, it is important to encourage the use of local shops, businesses and services in order to ensure their long term viability.

We will explore a priority card, allowing residents discounts for some council services and more convenient access to services. Uses can include reduced parking costs, access to leisure centres and libraries and proof of residency for access to the council dump.

The card will always remain voluntary with the privacy of residents being at the forefront of our thinking. Beyond council services, we will work with local businesses to provide discounts and other offers to help boost the local economy, especially in the smaller shopping areas such as Cheam, Carshalton, Wallington and Worcester Park.

Succesful projects in Hillingdon, Camden and Kensington & Chelsea have demonstrated the benefits in both promoting local enterprises and ensuring residents get the best deal from the very services that they help pay for through their Council Tax. Oyster card and micropayment technology can be added at a later date when appropriate, affordable and reliable should residents agree.

Our Commitment: We will put residents first by giving them a priority card, placing them at the front of the queue for council services and work with local businesses to provide discounts and benefits.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Strikes and Brown's Out

Up until today the 'Spring of Discontent' was limited to a double whammy of strikes by BA staff and the threat of a nationwide rail strike at Easter. Today Civil Servants of the PCS Union joined them with a budget day strike.

Whilst Alistair Darling puts off dealing with the country's deficit until another day, the public sector are getting nervy ahead of inevitable cuts. Whilst the Labour Party are reliant on money from Unite, they are getting a kicking from the same union whilst they string along their members by being in denial about the scale of the problem and refusing to tackle it until way after the election.

Looks like the boxing analogy needs to change to a baseball one; three strikes and you're out.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

David Cameron Unplugged

David Cameron's visit to Lewisham showed a start contrast between him and Gordon Brown. No stage management, no hand-picked audience. Instead he faced a few questions from some feisty students and journalists. Cameron was open and honest about the hard choices that the government faces, not backing away from tackling any of the questions thrown at him. We need more of this, instead of pet interviewers being rolled in to impart set messages.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pledge No. 5 - Transparency

Trust in politics is low. We will make a start in changing this by being open and transparent, publishing every item of council spending over £500. It's your money; we'll be straight with you. We should be accountable when spending your money.

I've seen this work in other authorities. People consider their actions more carefully when they are laid open to wider scrutiny. The very act of publishing the figures is likely to help drive down costs. Looking back at a list of items of council spending from the previous year might also be an enlightening experience for residents who are paying their council tax without much idea where their money is going.

Our Commitment: We will publish all council spending over £500 on Sutton's website.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Liberal Democrats Reject Council Tax Cut

Last night, Sutton Council’s Liberal Democrat establishment rejected our fully-costed plans to cut the council tax by nearly 2% this year, and to freeze the tax for three years in a row thereafter. In a stunning act of arrogance one longstanding Liberal Democrat councillor said it was “a privilege to pay council tax” in an embarrassing outburst.

Above, you can read the budget response given by the Conservatives’ Finance and Value for Money Spokesman, Councillor Tim Crowley as he presented a costed Alternative Budget with details to cut the council tax by 1.75% and to provide a raft of new ground-breaking proposals.

Among the new positive proposals in the Alternative Budget were plans for a rewards scheme to pay residents for the amount of waste they recycle, an Armed Forces council tax discount of 50% and a new priority card for Sutton residents providing discounts in local shops and businesses, plus preferential rates for council services such as leisure centres, parking and theatres.

The Liberal Democrats’ budget provision for a council tax freeze was described as an election ploy after years of punishing above inflation increases. But an extraordinary outburst from Wallington Liberal Democrat councillor Richard Bailey left the Council’s leadership team red-faced when he described the payment of council tax as a “privilege”.

Councillor Crowley outlined savings which included reductions in the Council’s reliance on outside consultants, streamlining communications work, making Sutton Scene magazine entirely self-funding, and a freeze in additional staff recruitment with net savings of £1.472m – the same amount needed to cut council tax by 1.75%.

Commenting Tim Crowley said: “When the Liberal Democrats voted against our Budget they voted against a cut in council tax, against increased investment in training for adult social services, against a residents’ priority card for services and shops, and against a 50% discount for British soldiers on active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We know what they are against but what are they for? Our Budget provides positive plans to put more money in residents’ pockets and to roll out a range of new popular proposals. It’s a shame that the Liberal Democrats could not put residents first and politics second to vote for this forward-thinking budget.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Sutton Conservatives to propose 1.75% cut in Council Tax

Tonight sees the last Council budget before the local elections on May 6th. The LibDems have taken our advice a year late and frozen Council Tax. In those last 12 months, whilst waiting for them to catch up, the Conservative Councillors having been continuing their research with the result being our alternative proposal that the Council should cut tax by 1.75%. This is based on the most conservative figures provided.

Despite reducing the money that we would take from taxpayers, we have found money to introduce a number of policies including an incentive-based recycling scheme, the reintroduction of 200 visitor hours for those living in Sutton's Controlled Parking Zones and a 50% Council Tax discount for residents in the Armed Forces whilst serving overseas on active duty. We have even doubled the amount put aside in case of overspend at the controversial £8.5m Sutton Life Centre since it is clear that this will be a burden to local taxpayers for sometime to come.

Getting accurate figures about how many consultants that we employ and how many vacant posts, which are budgeted for but not filled, has been incredibly difficult with different parts of the council saying different things. Our savings mainly come from 3 areas.
  • We will reduce the number of consultants. All too often, someone leaves the employ of the Council to step back into the Civic the next day on an inflated fee based on a day-rate.
  • We will change the approach of the Council to move away from day-rates toward specific results and time frames so that jobs cannot be spun out.
  • We will remove unnecessary vacant posts from departmental budgets and freeze additional staff recruitment for two years whilst shielding primary council services from any cuts following a comprehensive staff review.
  • We will reduce communication costs. We have a contract to provide communication services. We should not be paying others to duplicate effort.
  • We will make Sutton Scene self-financing.
  • We will reduce the overall amount of allowances that councillors take and freeze allowances across the board for one year.
So, to summarise, we will reduce our dependency on highly-paid consultants, get rid of non-jobs, spend less on telling residents how well we are doing and reducing the cost of politicians whilst still improving services.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cameron Sets Out The Election Choice

The Conservatives met in Brighton this weekend for their last gathering before the General Election. David Cameron set out some of the changes that could be expected from a Conservative Government. The essential message was a stark choice of 5 more years of Gordon Brown's tired government making things worse or David Cameron and the Conservatives with the energy, leadership and values to get the country moving.

An accompanying leaflet summarises the position:-

We can’t go on like this. Vote for change and:

1) Change the economy. Back aspiration and opportunity for all. Gordon Brown’s debt, waste and taxes are holding us back and threatening the recovery with higher interest rates. We need action now to cut the deficit, help keep mortgage rates low and get the economy moving.

2) Change society. Mend our broken society by encouraging responsibility and backing those who do the right thing. Make Britain the most family friendly country in Europe. Back the NHS, which matters more to families than anything. Reform education, with new schools - and standards and discipline for all. Tackle welfare dependency and the causes of

3) Change politics. Give people more power and control. Sort out the mess of MPs’ expenses, cut Parliament, Whitehall and the cost of politics. Make politics more local, more transparent, more accountable.

Governors Disappoint Cheam Park Farm 105

Governors of Cheam Park Farm Junior School voted to keep the lower admission number at a specially convened meeting on Thursday thus denying 15 local children a place at the school in September.

The comments section of my previous article shows the passion and anger of parents about this decision. I've been fortunate that my two children have had the school places that they wanted throughout the various stages but I well remember the worry at each stage. I can understand the frustration of the disappointed parents and the concern as to what will happen next.

I am an advocate of headteachers and governors having more individual control of their schools. Local Authorities, Government and OFSTED place a huge bureaucratic burden on schools with directives and new policies coming in at an unbelievable rate. However, this doesn't mean a free-for-all. Schools need to understand their communities and serve them, not divide them as has happened hear. The school has confirmed its desire to work with the infant school to bring them closer together over the next couple of years but that will be scant comfort for those who will have to look further afield for a place for their children.

Diana, Sue and Juliet have led a fantastic campaign, bringing so many people together. Having seen their grit and determination, I suspect the battle isn't yet over.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Pledge No. 4 - Zero Tolerance Policing

Crime remains at the top of residents’ concerns in Sutton. We will give no-nonsense political leadership to get police officers back onto our streets, doing the job that they want to do and making the arrests to end anti-social behaviour.

We will work shoulder to shoulder with our local police by giving them extra powers to do their job properly including ‘dispersal orders’ to break up and move on intimidating gangs and groups of youths.

We will also extensively use the ‘Community Payback’ scheme to make convicted offenders repay the community for their crimes.

My ward colleague and our Spokesman for Crime and Disorder, Councillor Eric Howell says: “Every resident has the right to feel safe at home and on our streets. That’s why we want to give strong political leadership. Too much violent crime has been driven by alcohol and drugs. Our approach is simple, those that offend will be arrested.”

Our Commitment: We will use all available powers to push for real zero-tolerance policing.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Parent Pressure On Cheam Park Farm Junior School

I joined concerned parents and grandparents outside the Civic Offices in Sutton this morning who are protesting against changes to the admissions to Cheam Park Farm Junior School. Eliza Philippidis (pictured), one of our excellent Stonecot ward candidates for the local elections on May 6th showed her support as well holding one of the many signs designed by the children.

Philippa Stroud and the local MP have worked with parents on a cross-party basis seeking to get the school to reverse their decision to reduce their intake to 90 from 105. The junior school works closely with Cheam Park Farm Infant School but the reduction in numbers means that children now in the infant school are not guaranteed a place and with massive pressure on school places, they may need to travel some distance to get to school in the future.

I am glad to say that the pressure opened a small chink of hope. We went into the Schools Admission Forum which had this as a topic of discussion. The Forum is only an advisory body as the school, as a foundation school, is in charge of its own admissions.The Chair of Governors told the Forum that she was calling an extraordinary meeting of the governors to consider taking in all children from the infant school who wanted a place, at least for this year. Hopefully they will see sense and go back to the higher number permanently. Smaller class sizes are all very well but if your child can't get into that school, they are not much good to you.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Panic Spending Before Election

Public services are in a bit of flux at the moment. With the political debate in Westminster being about how deep cuts are going to have to be rather than whether they will happen, the various public bodies are running around looking busy.

Here in Sutton is no different. We are slowly grinding to a point that we might be able to put a spade in the ground and build a new school. We are still waiting to buy the land from the NHS Primary Care Trust. The Epsom & St Helier NHS Trust are seeking planning permission to build a new wing on the St Helier hospital site. Sutton Housing Partnership, having acheived a two star rating from a government inspector, are looking to start a major repair plan for the social housing in the Borough. All of this is to be done using government money, £38m, £220m and £112m respectively. What's the common link, they're all competing in trying to push the projects forward to demonstrate progress before Whitehall comes a-knockin' and looking to see who's is the first budget to cut. It seems to be a super version of when roads and parks around the borough get spruced up before the end of the financial year.

The whole process remind me of an old joke when two hunters see a lion eyeballing them. One starts putting on a pair of Nikes. The other explains that they wouldn't be able to outrun a lion even with a change of shoes. The first hunter says, "That's fine. As long as I can outrun you."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pledge No. 3 - Protect Our Family Homes & Back Gardens

Sutton is the 4th highest of all of the London Boroughs for the development of brownfield sites which includes back gardens. Brownfield sites are those which have been used for another purpose before rather than, say greenbelt. Back gardens are included in this definition. In 2005, 30% of all brownfield development was in fact, on back gardens. In Sutton, this figure soared to 41%.

The Liberal Democrats talk a good game on garden grabbing but have forced through permission against residents' wishes to build 21 houses on council-owned back garden land in Harcourt Road, Wallington.

There are several policies within the existing local planning framework known as the Unitary Development Policy and its successor, the no more snappily title Local Development Framework to protect our family homes which are being demolished to make way for flats and other high-density developments. We will use those powers to stop inappropriate back garden developments and to protect the suburban nature of our area.

We will also campaign for further powers through central government, asking them to stop including back gardens in their definition of brownfield sites. We have an ally to help campaign in City Hall, in the shape of Conservative Greater London Assembly Member Steve O'Connell who has said that he would "die in a ditch to protect our green spaces."

Our Commitment: We will use all policies to stop developers from relentless garden grabbing.