Quote of the week

Life isn't about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself'

George Bernard Shaw
If you cannot mould yourself entirely as you would wish, how can you expect other people to be entirely to your liking?
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/wish.html

Friday, July 27, 2007

Reorganisation of grants system at Babergh

So Ipswich is to become a unitary authority. As readers of the blog will know I, in common with all other Babergh Councillors, opposed this. Firstly, it throws into disarray the ongoing efforts of the rest of the County to find ways of working together and complicates any future move towards creating a unitary authority (or authorities) for the whole county. Secondly, I simply cannot believe that having two bodies in the county rather than one delivering the same services (education for example) can possible save money. The actual process of creating the new authority will be expensive too, which is a pity at a time when money from Central Government is very scarce.

Unfortunately the decision has very little to do with economic sense however, and a lot to do with politics. Meanwhile at Babergh the council is trying hard to use scarce resources efficiently.

On Monday evening I attended a consultation exercise at which Council representatives discussed with people from different voluntary organisations how they are proposing to reorganise the way they give out grants. The Council gives £500,000 a year in revenue grants to outside bodies plus a little over £100,000 a year in capital grants. This seems a lot, but in contrast to funding for unnecessary new councils, in the absence of a politically unacceptable rise in Council Tax, funding for local causes is unlikely to grow in real terms in future years. (Yet again one has to question Central Government’s priorities!)

At present these grants are administered by no fewer than 13 different departments. The idea is to pool these funds and reduce the number of programmes to three (Community Grants, Core Grants, and Rate Relief and support). These will be centrally organised under the auspices of a Grant Officer, which should result in efficiency savings at the Council, and also lead to a policy in this area more firmly rooted in the corporate priorities of the Council. Importantly the department which administers the money will also give charities etc. advice on other sources of funding that they can tap

The new scheme does mean that all existing programmes will be discontinued, and all existing grant aided organisations will have to re-apply.

There were sixty or so people at the consultation on Monday, many of whom were wearing at least two hats. If you are involved with an organisation which receives, or hopes to receive a grant from Babergh, you should be aware of the changes, which are due to be debated by the Council in September and October. Look out for information about the ‘Meet the Funders’ event that is to be held in November.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Some thoughts on floods

Those of you (surely there were some?) who read Colin and my election leaflet may remember that many years ago I was a member of the Parish Council in Welford on Avon in Warwickshire (pictured!). Well Welford, which lies between Stratford-upon-Avon and Evesham, made it onto the national news at the weekend due to the fact that people from a caravan site on the banks of the river there were being winched to safety because the Avon has burst its banks.

I have to say that this did not come as much of a surprise to me since the land around the bridge and the river in Welford lies quite low and it was rare that the caravan park did not flood during periods of heavy rain. When I heard the news however I phoned friends who still live in the village and they reported that although the river is very high, as usual, most of the village which is sensibly built on higher ground has been unaffected by flood.

Other parts of the Midlands have clearly been less lucky however, but this, as a Minister for the Environment rather reluctantly admitted on Newsnight yesterday evening, is not unprecedented. A brief bit of research shows that extensive flooding has been reported in the Vale of Evesham since 1816 (‘the year without summer’), 1845, 1850, 1903, 1912, several times during the 1950’s etc. etc

What it seems to me is different on this occasion is that the flooding appears to have penetrated further and done damage to property beyond those homes, such as those on the banks of the river at Bewdley for example, which are regularly flooded during periods of heavy rain. It does seem to me that this is probably due to the careless creation of hard surfaces everywhere, whether embankments, walls, hard-standings for cars in front of houses, or whatever. One of our neighbours recently removed a flowerbed and put tarmac in its place. He is now surprised that he has created a mini-flood whenever it rains and was clearly unaware that the flowerbed, in addition to being attractive and preferable to tarmac, acted as a soakaway for rainwater.

Another good reason perhaps for thinking hard before we concrete over everything green and growing!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Russians in a garden near you.....

Resolutely ignoring the growing international tension between Russia and the United Kingdom, forty people, including myself, are currently spending two weeks at the University of Essex in Colchester polishing up our Russian language skills.

The Russian Summer School at Essex is a rather unique institution which has been a regular feature of the Anglo-Russian scene for many years. 2007 is very likely to be its last year however. Russian, in common with other modern languages is one of those academic subjects that seem to have rather fallen from favour with students, and Essex University has now closed its Russian Department.

Contrary to what people may glean from the media most Russians are cheerful and pleasant people who like nothing better than to have a party, sing a few songs and declaim a poem or two. Most Russians have their ‘party pieces’ which they perform at ‘Vecherinki’ (evening parties), and visitors to Russia are well advised to have something up their sleeves for such occasions such as the ability to recite ‘Daffodils’ or sing ‘Scarborough Fair’.

In the interests of improving international relations I have decided to share with you some photographs of the Vecherinka held on Thursday evening in a garden in Colchester. In addition to some Russian dancing, you can see me with two old pals giving our rendition of the 2005 hit from Moscow ‘I want a man like Putin’ (Ya khochu takoro kak Putin), an absolutely genuine song in which the singer compares her archetypal Russian boyfriend with the non-drinking, non-fighting clean living man that is the President).

It will be very sad to see the end of the Russian Summer School. Ironically it may be coming to an end just as when we need some new trainee James Bonds!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

No Parish Plan for Acton

At yesterday’s fete in Acton we had a last attempt to launch a Parish Plan process for the village. Unfortunately we were unable to recruit sufficient people to help to carry out the not inconsiderable amount of work involved.

On the stall we invited people from Acton to write on a board (pictured) what they think could be improved about the village, and also asked them to say what they liked. We had 42 answers in all, 31 seeking improvements and 11 saying that they liked certain aspects of Acton.

Not altogether surprisingly the big negative was concerned with traffic through the village. Over 20 percent of people who answered mentioned traffic and traffic calming on their ‘post its’, and there was a further related demand to do something about the parking situation outside the former Post Office. Otherwise people seemed to want to see more clubs and other activities, not just for the youth of the village, but for themselves. There were demands for more activities in the village hall, particularly related to history, but also to crafts. There was a general comment that the village needs more active volunteers, and it is these who will be needed if these clubs and activities are to get off the ground!

The two things that people like a lot seem to be the pub and the airfield. It is obvious that people do value both of these facilities. I wonder if it is worth trying to form a ‘Friends of the Airfield’ group? I am sure that it would draw members not just from Acton, but from Great Waldingfield and Chilton too.

If anything is interested in the full results of the survey please let me know and I will forward the file to you. Zoe Murray, the representative of the Parish Council (pictured holding her head (in despair?) above), will communicate the results of the survey to the Parish Council.

With a bit of luck the exercise will at least add some ammunition to the Parish Council’s requests for help with the issue of speeding and traffic in the village. Indeed, a completed Parish Plan would provide hard evidence that people in the community have genuine needs and concerns.

The failure to get the Plan off the ground is not a disaster however. As a village Acton has a lot going for it. As one local notable observed, bus services are reasonable, we have two shops, a school and a pub. This is more than can be said about many villages in the area. Perhaps the lack of enthusiasm for the Plan has its roots in the general contentment of its people?

I do not think that Acton residents should be written off as apathetic because the Plan is not likely to come to fruition. It was clear yesterday that many people do care about the village, and appreciate many aspects of it. However, they simply cannot spare the time to sit on committees and write reports. Although some folks are retired, I was reminded by the number of people who came to vote in the evening during the election that Acton has a high proportion of people that spend a lot of time out at work so that they can feed their families and make ends meet. They also need some time to relax!

Pictures from Acton Fete

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Compost Bin arrives!

Great excitement this week with the arrival of the new compost bin! I noticed the leaflet offering these splendid receptacles at a relatively knock down price when lurking around the entrance to the Planning department at Babergh, and it was delivered to my door bright and shiny on Tuesday.

I have had several attempts at composting over the years but none have been particularly successful. Reading the ‘recipe book’ that comes with the bin I can see that I have not been putting enough paper and ‘brown matter’ into the mix, which has resulted in sludge rather than the ‘rich crumbly’ mixture that one is supposed to get. Additionally, compost heaps that have been too open to the elements have lead to rodent issues, so I am hoping that this new dalek shaped monster can’t be gnawed through! We shall see. It will be useful to have some nutritious and free compost to put onto the flowerbeds. I do a very good line in leafmould already, but this, I understand, is of limited nutritional value and should not be used too widely.

If anyone is interested in these bins details are available from Babergh. There are several sizes and accessories such as small bins for the kitchen to collect vegetable peelings etc. I think that the bins are limited to three per household.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Thoughts on holiday in West Sussex

I suppose that it is natural that when an aspect of your life changes you see things quite differently.

We have just returned from our annual trip to West Sussex. We go to a cottage on the South Downs, just inland from Shoreham where we spend a week going for lovely walks, meeting friends who live in the area and also having a little cultural enjoyment. The weather wasn’t great on this occasion, although we did manage a few walks between showers. I now however don’t seem to be able to look at anywhere in England without thinking about things from a Local Government point of view, (‘sad or what?’ As my son might say)

So the picture on the left above is of a really awful example of fly tipping photographed on the fantastic road that runs right over the top of the Downs between Steyning and Shoreham. I really am at a loss to know what can be done about this problem. We are plagued by it here on the outskirts of Sudbury, and it is clearly a nationwide issue. In the most recent edition of EADT Suffolk, Bill Bryson, the new president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England also fulminates against litter louts. He writes

‘I have said that there should be a shoot to kill policy for offenders – maybe that’s a bit much but I do thing there should be stiffer fines and community service orders for fly tippers’.

In the same feature ( page 152 ) there is a comment from Jo Hart, Enforcement Officer at Babergh about the efforts that the council is making in this area.

But it seems it is still proving difficult to catch the ‘offenders’. From my own observation of piles of refuse that appear on the roadside, it is certain that they are dumped late at night. Most of the waste seems to come from building works, or from domestic gardens, which implies clearly that some people don’t want to pay the extra charges levied for this type of waste disposal. The rubbish is free from paperwork which might be incriminating evidence of who is to blame. Any further suggestions about how to deal with this question would be very welcome!

On a brighter note, the other picture is a shot of the new East Beach CafĂ© in Littlehampton which has been featured in the national press in recent weeks. I do like to see buildings that display innovative and interesting design. It is clear that the way ahead for architecture in the 21st century is a bold shift away from modernist geometric angles towards curves and shapes that are closer to nature. This can’t be a bad thing. When are the people who are planning the built environment in and around Babergh going to catch up with the trend however? The question must be asked. People in Suffolk should be able to enjoy some exciting, energy efficient, well designed contemporary building that dares to break the mould.

The picture posted below shows a more traditional picture of the South Downs. Only two and a half hours away from here on a good day, and a lovely place for a break.

View to Chactonbury Ring, Sussex, on Friday