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, December 21, 2007

Christmas Greetings

Pietro Orioli (1458-1496) The Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome, Berdardino, Catherine of Alexandria and Francis, about 1487-90. Tempera and gold on panel. (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford)

would like to wish all readers of the blog a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous 2008.

Keep on reading next year!

How to dispose of your Christmas Tree

When my husband was a very small boy he lived in Paris with his parents. At Christmas the family scandalised the ferocious concierge of their block of ‘apartements’ by disposing of their Christmas tree by dropping it into the street from their 5th floor balcony. (Well yes, perhaps not a great idea….but I am assured that care was taken to see that no-one was injured!). I think that Nick’s mother was worried about dropping needles all the way down the stairs, which of course would have also enraged the management.

Residents of Babergh will, I’m sure be delighted to know, that they do not have to resort to such anti-social methods. Instead, on Sunday 6th January you can take your tree to one of 36 recycling points (all baubles removed). The trees will be chipped and composted, so will support the growth of other plants in the future.

Looking at the list, the nearest point for people in Waldingfield Ward is either the car park at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury, or the car park of the Old School in Long Melford.

If it is a nice day I do recommend the walk over the fields that starts from the Long Melford Car Park. A twenty minute stroll takes you to a fairly dramatic weir on the River Stour, and there are good views of the Church on the way back.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Power to the People?

It is the people themselves, who are incessantly called upon to participate personally in the decisions, not merely by expressing opinions about them in innumerable popular meetings; not merely by voting for or against their exponents at recurring elections; but actually by individually sharing in their operation’

Read on to find out who said this about what, where and when!

The course that I have been attending this autumn in Peterborough has been very interesting, not least because the tutors try to bring to our attention new trends and developments in the sphere of Local Government.

A recurring theme has been this Government’s commitment to ‘community consultation and participation’, which pervades their thinking on Local Government reform. The idea is that ‘People should be empowered’ to take responsibility for their own neighbourhoods, and that the role of the Councillor is to ‘lead’ and ‘facilitate’ the people in their role. (It was a course for Councillors, so they couldn’t be entirely written out of the equation!)

The motive for taking this approach is cited as concern about general apathy towards local government, whether evidenced by low turn out in elections or unwillingness to participate in community events. It is thought that by empowering people one will stimulate some sort of community spirit.

In this connection we were introduced to two projects that derive from Government ‘thinking’; ‘Participatory Budgeting’ and ‘Transfer of assets to the community’. The first idea is that local communities should be given some of the public purse (or ‘community kitty’) to manage for themselves, and the second is that a number of assets currently owned by councils should be handed over to local people to run.

In my view there are many problems with these ideas, and I, along with the vast majority of participants on the course, am highly suspicious of them.

There is absolutely no guarantee that money or assets passed to the community as a whole will ultimately fall into the hands of those who actually need them. Far more likely is that they will be appropriated by those ‘usual suspects’ who are articulate and can shout the loudest. I believe it is one of the key roles of the elected representatives of the community (i.e. councillors) to make judgements about resources, and to be accountable to the community as a whole. Anything else would result in an unpleasant free for all.

I believe that these ideas are really an attempt to concentrate more power in the hands of central government by diluting and emasculating the power of Local Councils yet further. In the event that local communities fail to act responsibly the perverse result would be to shift the seat of judgement further from the grass roots

This brings us back to the provenance of the quotation that started this post. It was actually written by Beatrice and Sidney Webb about Stalin’s Russia in 1936. Does this tell us something about the present Government’s mind-set and agenda?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Keep an eye on Chilton Church!

Nick and I went to St. Mary's Chilton on Sunday to the candlelit Carol Service. This is one of the three services held at the Church every year. The large number of people who attended bears witness to the fact that although the church is in theory 'redundant' it is still held dear by many.

In this connection I have received the following e mail

Lead thieves have brought grief to the congregations of a number of Suffolk churches in the past year, the latest being St Gregory's in Sudbury. Often they strip the lead in daylight, completely unchallenged because they are dressed and equipped as if they are bona fide contractors.

If members of the public should see men working on a church roof, please take vehicle numbers and call the police if you have the slightest suspicion that all is not that it seems, with the proviso of first making sure that they are not in the process of replacing stolen lead!

Best wishes from an ex-Chiltonite.

There are a good many dog walkers in the area! Keep your eyes open!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Local Government 15th Century style.

Francesco di Giorgio (1439 - 1501) The Virgin Mary protects Siena from Earthquakes, Biccherna panel, 1467-8. Tempera, gold and silver on panel.

I have just come back from the third session of the Leadership Academy in Peterborough.

On the way I spent an afternoon in London, and went to the National Gallery to see the Exhibition Renaissance Siena, Art for a City. The paintings on display were very lovely, and their history interesting. I generally drive my husband, Nick, mad by insisting on having the 'whole experience' when I go to exhibitions, not only looking at the pictures, but watching the film and also hiring the audio guide. On this occasion it was definitely worth it since my knowledge of 15th and 16th Century Tuscany is a bit hazy to say the least!

Pictured above is what is called a ' biccherna panel'. These were decorated covers used by the local council to protect their account books. At the bottom of the panel you can see the names of all the councillors. At the top is the Virgin Mary, pictured above Siena, which she is protecting from earthquakes.

What a pity Babergh District Council doesn't have the resources to commission something similar!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Shock and Awe in Springlands

Colin and I were up bright and early on Thursday morning to take part in an Impact Day organised by the Suffolk Fire Service. The idea of an Impact Day is that representatives of the public services such as the Police, the Fire Service, the DVLA, Babergh Environmental Health, the Education Service, Babergh Anti Social Behaviour team, Litter pickers etc. descend en masse on a locality to try to sort out problems on the ground, and do some clearing up along the way.

We mustered at 7 a.m. at the Big Apple Bowling Alley. All four Babergh District Councillors for the area participated. After a briefing we set off through the gloom to the Springlands Estate where a happy five hours were spent in the pouring rain generally sorting out the area. We manfully strode about revealing endless piles of rubbish in alleyways and hedgerows and a goodly number of untaxed motor vehicles under the bemused gaze of local residents, who had probably not seen so many police officers gathered together in one place at one time since the last Royal Wedding. Colin, Peter and I managed to unearth a Dyson cleaner and a pool table (pictured above). Unfortunately neither was salvageable.

The police made one arrest (a disqualified driver on the Eastern bypass) and also managed to run a potential villain to earth who had secreted himself in a garage and was making suspicious banging noises. We all were told to keep clear as the officers prepared to storm the premises, but at the eleventh hour the suspect was reprieved when it came to light that he was simply mending the garage door on behalf of the home owner.

There was much that was slightly comical about the proceedings, but it would be wrong to be critical. These operations have done a great deal to improve some of the more difficult areas of Ipswich and Colchester and are particularly helpful when they can be repeated after a few months.

So what were the results of the operation? The list was very long, but included: 14 paper delivery children who were discovered not to have the right papers, and thus were uninsured. One truant was apprehended and one missing child found. Trading standards investigated six roadside vehicles for sale and reported two building firms to Scambusters. Enquiries about 24 vehicles with out of date tax discs were sent to the DVLA and 40 homes were checked for safety by the Fire Service. 22 items of graffiti were reported or removed, 46 incidents of fly tipping were found, along with 7 Tesco shopping trolleys. The police stopped two drivers with no insurance and two overweight lorries and representatives from the Environment Agency stopped 12 lorries carrying waste and found one to be without a licence.

On the whole the day was felt to be a success despite the dreadful weather, with a good time having been had by all, except, probably, the man in the garage.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blears scuppers Ipswich Unitary

When I first agreed to stand for Babergh it was thought very likely that I would not actually serve a full four years as a Councillor because the Government was calling for all areas to abandon the County Council/District Council pattern. Councils were to be rearranged as larger, ‘unitary’ councils which would undertake the services performed by both tiers of government. The Government then changed its mind (I know that you find this hard to believe!!!), and by the time the election came it was clear that Babergh would probably survive for at least a further four years. Babergh were however signed up to the idea of ‘Pathfinder’ whereby it was committed to trying to save money by sharing services with other authorities, and indeed it was looking very likely that a full merger with another District Council such as Mid Suffolk or St. Edmundsbury was a real possibility.

Well all bets are off now. Hazel Blears has spoken: pathfinder has been halted and Ipswich Borough Council has been told to get back into its box and abandon all ideas of unitary status within its current boundaries. It seems that the most likely outcome now is two unitary authorities for Suffolk, either one based around greater Ipswich, and a rural one for everywhere else, or alternatively East and West Suffolk Unitaries just like the good old days!

Objectively, although it goes against the grain to say so, one must congratulate Ms. Blears for this change of heart. There are far too many councillors, a lot of duplication of cost in the current system, and some very strange division of labour (for example the County Council does the roads but Babergh does the road signs!).

I’m not at all sure what this all means for the future political career of yours truly. However, coming from the City I am used to uncertainty. I narrowly escaped being a part of Merrill Lynch’s takeover of Smith New Court in the late 1990’s, leaving Merrill Lynch a week before the announcement that would probably have meant the loss of my lovely office with view of St. Pauls and a new life in a snake pit that contained some of the more exotic reptiles in the City. The thing is to carry on as normal and do one’s best…it ain’t over until it’s over.

P.S. I couldn’t bring myself to put a picture of Hazel Blears on my blog. Instead I have posted a picture of Bury St Edmunds…where we may all be paying our Council Tax in the future.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sunday Feedback

My son Matthew seems to think that my blog is OK as far as it goes, but is distressed that I have switched off the capability for you, the readers, to leave immediate feedback on what I write. It has to be admitted, that although I am constantly surprised at how many people do seem to have accessed the site from time to time, I am aware that regular readers number fewer than 100, and that therefore the number of ‘nil returns’ in the feedback department may be a bit embarrassing.

However, I do get a fair few e mails in response to posts, and thought it would be a good idea to share some with you today. All three were written after the Folly in Folly Road post on Wednesday evening.

By e mail from Acton

‘Thanks for all the latest. The "creep" in density of the Piggeries is no surprise. I fear the same thing has happened with Chilton Woods. Originally it was to be 700 homes. At the public meeting with the developers, hosted by Acton Parish Council back in April, the developer's representative began by saying 700, subsequently said "700 or so, perhaps 750", and by the end of the meeting, if I remember rightly, a figure approaching 800 was mentioned. Ever since then I have taken it that the new development will have some 800 homes on it and I bet that's what it turns out to be. We shall see.’

By e mail from Great Waldingfield:-

'When agricultural land is worth circa £3k per acre – a farmer only has to permit the run down of his holding and hey presto – in a dozen or so years the value will increase a hundredfold. I can remember the pig farm in use and it was not a pretty sight (or site)! The precedent appears to have been set – run down your agricultural holding – do nothing and trust in the Local Plan. There needs to be some real and tangible planning gain for the local community. Ouch – just fallen off my soapbox so must retire for treatment.'

A regular correspondent from Little Waldingfield:-

'I heard it from you first Jenny.

Extra Extra Read all about it here!!!!'

I will post more feedback on the blog when appropriate! If the volume suddenly leaps from a trickle to a flood I will certainly consider turning on the automatic feedback switch.

Any comments will of course be reported anonymously (unless of course you want people to know that you are making a point!). If you don’t want me to publish your comments please let me know.