Sunday, January 25, 2009
Vicky Ford, featured in the post below, like me, used to be an investment banker, and like me she felt obliged on Thursday to express some light hearted concern about admitting it.
When I read the attack on bankers made by government minister Paul Myners last week, I felt that the current enthusiasm for blaming bankers for all our current woes has really gone too far. A failure of regulation, and yes, perhaps the ‘imprudence’ of the Government, might be seen as in part to blame too. Myners incidentally made millions himself out of the financial services industry so the ferocity of his criticism now seems a bit rich.
The vast majority of people working in the City of London are extremely hard working, not particularly overpaid for the hours that they put in, have little long term job security and are generally decent people who don’t get up in the morning intending to fleece others. They regularly raise money for charity in their spare time or generously sponsor those who do. They also support a huge raft of service industries such as sandwich bars, dry cleaners etc., providing a lot of jobs to a lot of people.
When they leave the City they often feel that they should do their bit for society. Like Vicky, some go into local government . (Vicky is currently a District Councillor in South Cambridgeshire). Others work for charities, or even in some cases go into the Church (my friend Sonia, once a Paper Analyst at UBS, now looks after several parishes near Cambridge.)
The South Suffolk Conservative Women’s Committee ( ‘organised by women but men always welcome!’) held its quarterly meeting at Little Waldingfield Parish Rooms on Thursday.
The guest of honour was prospective MEP, Vicky Ford. Vicky is number three on the ‘List’ for the East of England and so stands a good chance of making it to Brussels in the European Elections in June.
Vicky was very good value, demonstrating a wide knowledge of the relevant issues, along with a healthy dose of Euroscepticism that went down well with her audience. She certainly knows why she is going to Brussels, and it isn’t to encourage the lack of democracy and accountability that seems to be endemic there.
Vicky made us all feel that we don’t have to defect to UKIP in June to make the point that we don’t think much of the vast and intrusive bureaucracy that is the European Community. The Conservatives have seen the problems from within and aim to combat them. Indeed, if plans to align with other anti-federalists from the former eastern bloc come to fruition, the Conservatives will definitely be the people to back if you want to see law making returned to its rightful place in Westminster.
Incidentally, Little Waldingfield Parish Rooms was an excellent venue for the meeting. The kitchen is well equipped and the hall a sensible size.
Friday, January 23, 2009
I can hardly believe what happened to me this morning. I was sitting having my hair cut in Sudbury when I remembered that I had failed to display a ticket on my car. Having spent a lot of time obsessing about the 'Car Parking Situation' in Sudbury I found this oversight barely credible.
The truth is of course that I have lived close to Sudbury for 25 years or so now. I have locked and left my car in Sudbury’s car parks without the need for a ticket for so long, it is simply an automatic reaction not to think about it. After all, one doesn’t go round constantly reading signs, however much improved or prominent they may be.
But guess what! When I got back to the car with a sinking heart I had not received a penalty notice! This is despite the fact that I must have been gone for well over an hour.
Of course it was blowing a gale and pouring with rain. I suppose it must be much more fun issuing penalties for the absent minded when the sun is shining.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We have today been brought up to date by officers with regard to the ongoing Local Government Review.
The timetable has already been upset by a series of judicial reviews from councils in Norfolk and Devon, where antipathy to the scheme seems much more vehement than here in Suffolk. We will probably not now hear from the lovely Hazel Blears until March, which leaves very little time to cancel the County Council elections in June. I understand that an order has to be made by 23 April at the latest. Elections to the new unitary, or more probably, unitaries will probably take place in April or May 2010.
Some people are clearly of the view that due to the potential for further delay, the process will not after all go ahead, and the status quo will be maintained. While feeling pleased at one level since Babergh will be saved and my term of office will not be cut short by a year, at another I feel that it would be wrong to stop the process now. A huge amount of time has been invested by both councillors and officers looking at the financial case for the establishment of unitary arrangements in the county. It also remains true that a small authority like Babergh will struggle to deliver services in a cost efficient way in the longer term.
The best bet remains that the outcome will be two unitaries, as originally suggested by the Boundary Committee. However, the message from the financial assessments seems to be that the main difference will be that Lowestoft will remain in Suffolk, which rather undermines the rural/urban distinction underpinning the Committee's thinking.
Another factor that could be taken into account by the Government is the current economic downturn. Is it really sensible to undertake an exercise that is bound to cause job losses and possible service disruption at a time when unemployment is rising and people are feeling pretty miserable? Probably not, but this Government isn’t really known for its common sense.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Some councillors at Babergh sit on a lot of ‘outside bodies’ in order to represent the Council’s interests. John Sayers for example, sits as the Council’s representative on the Trustee Board of Citizens Advice. As a new councillor I wasn’t considered for one of these posts after the election, but now I do have an additional role! I am one of two District Councillor representatives on the Suffolk Local Access Forum and I attended my first meeting in Kesgrave yesterday evening.
The Forum advises the County Council on matters such as open access to common land and rights of way. It aims to improve and extend footpaths and bridle paths, and has a particular brief to look after ‘non motorised users’ of roads and pathways.
When I saw the role advertised I decided to go for the position because I am very keen on keeping rights of way open, and where possible creating new ones. The English countryside is such a great asset and I am pleased to say that many of the people on the Forum share my interest in conservation and protection of the rural environment.
The meeting was really interesting, ranging from consideration of exclusion orders to prevent dogs from disturbing Suffolk’s nesting stone curlews (pictured above) to the creation of a definitive map of footpaths in Ipswich.
The most dramatic item on the agenda concerned the Forum’s struggle with the Highways Agency in respect of the ‘dualling’ of the A11 near Thetford. The Agency in its wisdom is at present proposing a nine mile stretch of dual carriageway without one safe crossing for pedestrians or horses. This is despite the fact that several major footpaths cross the road. The Chairman of the Forum, with the support of representatives from Suffolk County Council and the British Horse Society, are meeting the Agency shortly to discuss the matter. If a negotiated solution cannot be achieved a formal objection will be lodged which could result in a costly and drawn out Public Enquiry and delay the construction of this important project.
Fascinating stuff! I have to admit that at present I have little but enthusiasm to offer the Forum. However, I do expect to learn quite a lot which should be of use when it comes to considering related issues here in South Suffolk.
Monday, January 12, 2009
(A bit of a political blog, so the sensitive should look away now)
Just before Christmas I discovered that I am not the only Babergh Councillor with a blog!
Liberal Democrat and prospective parliamentary candidate for South Suffolk, Nigel Bennett, started his own site in December. The blog is VERY political, but I suppose it has to be since it is overtly promoted by his political party. It’s also quite boring. Come on Nigel....let’s have some sparkling prose, a few bright ideas to get our teeth into and perhaps a few up to date pictures!
In the spirit of friendship towards Nigel, who is actually a decent chap despite his unfortunate politics, I am giving you, my readers, the link so you can see for yourself
Don’t forget to ‘Bookmark’ it so you can keep up to date with the zeitgeist!
Anyway Local Liberal Democrats aren’t the only people who are turning their attention to the blog as a means of communication. The Labour Government has been giving them some consideration too, and it is clear that they don’t much like them.
Their antipathy is due to the fact that blogs reach parts that their spin machine (now back in overdrive after the rehabilitation of Lord Mandy and Alistair Campbell) can’t . The ‘message’ that they want to convey is thus increasingly diluted and undermined , and, horror of horrors, CANNOT BE CONTROLLED. The Government, who are control freaks par excellence, would therefore dearly love to crack down on blogs.
This was made apparent by Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham who, when speaking to the Royal Television Society last October said "The time has come for perhaps a different approach to the internet," he said. "I want to even up that see-saw, even up the regulation [imbalance] between the old and the new." He added that he would like to ‘tighten up online content and services and ‘lighten up’ some regulatory burdens around the TV industry’. Other Government Ministers have also made comments which can be read as veiled threats against blogging.
Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that blogs from the Right, such as Guido Fawkes, Conservative Home and Spectator Coffee House have been so much more successful than those of the Left. I don’t know anyone who has stayed awake long enough to read more than a few words of the Labour Home site. A new Labour website, Labour List, is to be launched shortly, but since this will be actually controlled by the Party I can’t believe it will be better.
And what about the Lib Dems? I was going to point to a Liberal website, which according to Guido Fawkes ‘shows promise’, but when I turned to it today the current post was so risqué that I decided against it!
Better ignore that one Nigel!
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Before Christmas a number of people in Little Waldingfield got in touch with me because of proposals by EDF to re-position an electricity sub-station on the small green adjacent to Croft Lea on the main street of the village. The site is pictured above.
The Parish Council, along with a number of villagers, have reservations about this and I have to say that I share their concerns. It doesn’t seem appropriate to clutter this pleasant green space, right in the centre of the village and on the main road, with what is effectively industrial equipment.
The land in question is actually owned by Babergh, and I am currently in correspondence with the relevant officers. EDF have to some extent sweetened the pill by saying that since the substation will be fed underground it will be possible to remove the overhead lines that cross the street at this point. This will to some extent improve the appearance of this part of the village, but is this a sufficient trade off?
The rules that govern this proposal are different to those related to planning permission for housing development etc. and I am currently ascertaining who actually makes the decision and what right of appeal is available to objectors.