Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I am not overwhelmed by Esther Rantzen's announcement that she will stand as a parliamentary candidate for Luton South at the next general election.
She says that 'everyone she meets' says that she should stand. Well Esther here's one person that definitely thinks that you shouldn't! Furthermore I think that your motives for doing it are very suspect. You say that you will stand because of 'MP's expenses', but the MP for Luton South has already said she will stand down at the next election and therefore the object of your oppobrium has effectively gone.
I am particularly sorry because I recently met the young man who is standing for the Conservatives in Luton South. He is very able, clearly honest, and was the first person from his comprehensive school to get into Oxford...so is hardly a 'toff'.
I am grieved to see his chances of getting into Parliament being jeopardised by an attention seeking celeb.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
On Friday evening we went to the Town Hall in Sudbury to see Peter Clifford, who is among other things the Chairman of Chilton Parish Council, receive the first Betty Bone Award. This is an honour awarded by the Sudbury Society, celebrating an outstanding campaigner in the community.
Peter is shown to the left speaking after receiving the award.
As someone who has from time to time struggled along as a footsoldier in the rearguard of one or two campaigns with which Peter has been involved I know how much he deserved this recognition. Peter is unbelievably tenacious and will always go the extra mile to get a telling point across or to uncover some piece or other of corporate or official duplicity.
So well done Peter!
I have very fond memories of Betty Bone. She was an avid supporter of Gainsborough's House. Not so long ago I organised a trip from the House to see mediaeval churches in and around Kings Lynn. I had rather overestimated the stamina of the participants and by the time we reached Walpole St Peter many were starting to flag and some even decided to stay in the coach. But not Betty! She was right up front to the bitter end, asking questions and thoroughly enjoying the wonderful architecture and the day out.
We shall not see her like again!
Friday, July 24, 2009
After a quick inspection of the drains that have been causing flooding problems in Acton this morning, I went down to Tesco’s to have a quick look at how the community mural project is progressing. The project is aiming to decorate the subway that leads from the Tesco filling station under the by-pass.
In the words of Babergh officer Ann Scott (pictured below):
‘The project started several months ago with workshops at Sudbury Upper School, All Saints and Uplands Middle School, along with a workshop in the community. The sessions covered the history of graffiti and the consequence of doing it illegally. Students and members of the public were then encouraged to draw up some designs for a community mural. Up to 70 people have had their designs chosen to be put on the subway walls and they are all helping to apply it this week and next.
The subway which has been chosen has been hit with graffiti and criminal damage for several years now, but it has increased in its frequency and severity over the last few months. It is hoped that by involving some of those who have caused this criminal damage and the local community that it will reduce or even eradicate the illegal graffiti. ‘.
As you can see from the pictures the results so far are very exciting.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
In this connection I was sad today to have a last meeting with Robert Lavell, the Head of IT at Babergh, who is soon taking well deserved retirement.
Robert has made my role as Babergh’s E Government Champion and Chairman of the IT Management Task Group a lot easier. I have learnt a great deal from him over the past two and a half or so years, not just about IT but also about how the Council as a whole operates. I shall certainly miss him.
After my lunch with Robert I went on to meet members of the East Suffolk Local Strategic Partnership to talk about the project that I have been pursuing with Bob Southgate, the Head of Customer Services at Babergh. This is aimed at improving access to the internet for those who do not, for whatever reasons, have on-line access.
It is a remarkable fact that over 30 percent of households do not have access to the web and as internet provision of information and services becomes more and more widespread this becomes a source of potential social deprivation and exclusion.
This is a complex subject, not least because there are an awful lot of unco-ordinated programmes going on all over Suffolk with the same aim, few of which seem to be talking to the others. Just today we learnt about several further initiatives that we had not previously known about.
While the best schemes of this type are probably local initiatives that suit local needs, a little bit of joined up thinking seems to be in order in this area. The project continues.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
To Long Melford to participate, as a representative of Subury Citizens Advice, in the annual Street Fair
The volunteers at Citizens Advice in Sudbury may be good at giving advice but they are not very good at erecting Gazebos! The first construction, kindly lent by Muriel Levine, was after half an hour of wrestling with un-marked poles and dodgy fittings, discarded for a simpler model, purchased from Argos by forward thinking trustee, Helen.
Our problems were exacerbated by the fact that the afternoon was typical for an English July with heavy showers interspersed with lighter rain and sunshine. Nonetheless a good time was had by all during the period that I was on duty, although next time I think we do need to think up some more creative ways to attract the general public to our display. Extracting loose change from all those sheltering from the not infrequent storms is not going to contribute much towards office expansion.
Although not particularly financially rewarding, the effort was a good flag waving experience for the bureau. It was well worth doing and we have learnt a few lessons for the future.
The Street Fair as a whole was fantastic as can be seen from the photos. I am posting most of these separately to avoid technical hitches. Morris Dancers and mediaeval characters, plus a great marching band, contributed to a truly English scene. Without the rain it would not have been the same, and by the time I was going home even the skies were brightening up.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Since Saving the Environment is a high priority for the Council, Babergh has been marking Climate Change week.
Yesterday officers, supported by the Energy Saving Trust, were running an event at which, among other things, people were able to find out how ecological their driving is by trying a computerised driving simulator. I have to say that, unlike the occasion that I was mad enough to drive a racing car round Brands Hatch (in my far off and generally rather unecological Banking days) I did not shine. I was much too keen on the accelerator, only finding the brake a few minutes into the process. My gear changing was pretty awful too since the simulator was rather quiet and in real life I generally change gear when the engine starts to complain. In fact, overall, my performance was pretty awful. Matters were not helped by the fact that despite the fact that the contraption was completely stationary no sooner than the screen had started to ‘move’ I started to feel terribly sick! A feeling of slight nausea continued all afternoon, and even now I feel a little green.
Rather more satisfactory, from my perspective at least, was the Babergh ‘light bulb library suitcase’. This gives Babergh staff and Members the chance to try low energy lightbulbs before they go out and buy them, a scheme that has proved effective elsewhere. Many people are suspicious that low energy bulbs will be like the old neon lights of old. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. We have gone over to them almost entirely at home and one can barely see any difference.
Pictures from the event are shown above. Babergh officer Jonas Grist and Gillian Hurding of the Energy Saving Trust are showing off the light bulb library and it’s me on the simulator.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I feel that I cannot ignore the fact that the Local Government review process has once again ground to a halt. According to the East Devon District Council website (which has published by far the most cogent article on the issue so far) a High Court judge found on Friday that the Boundary Committee has misdirected itself over its legal powers. Despite the fact that there have now been two consultations neither of them appear to have been carried out properly and the net result is that they have to consult all over again. The judge was very critical of the Committee, saying that it had ignored alternative proposals for unitary arrangements from local authorities who represent over 50% of the population of Suffolk. The Committee has been given leave to appeal.
As I have said before, I am not opposed to unitary government, although I remain concerned about the democratic deficit that could result from the establishment of an over large authority. Unitary arrangements should be more cost effective, and having all council services under one roof would help those members of the public who are never quite sure which council has responsibility for what.
This came to mind yesterday evening when I was at an event at Gainsborough’s House. I met a very nice person from Long Melford who, hearing that I am a Babergh Councillor, started to complain about the fact that the council had not helped with her drainage problem. I pointed out to her that actually, unless the drain that was giving difficulty was on Babergh’s land it isn’t actually their responsibility to assist. The County Council Highway Department, or even Anglian Water would probably be the right body to contact. Asking Babergh to help is a bit like asking Sainsbury’s to give a refund on goods from Tesco. Perhaps Babergh’s ‘signposting’ wasn’t too good when she telephoned, but I don’t really think that they can be blamed for not assisting on this occasion!
In a unitary world such confusion might perhaps be avoided.....
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I am going to ignore the news about the further postponement of Local Government Reorganisation since firstly this is very well covered in the EADT and secondly something far more interesting happened this morning.
Our new pond has attracted quite a lot of wildlife at once! We looked out of our bedroom window to see the duck who has been visiting the pond on a regular basis now has eleven ducklings, pictured above.
I fear that local cats and other predators will make their future rather uncertain. The first task is to persuade Rendle the Lurcher that he shouldn't regard them as playthings.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
It could be because he uses a different browser from me, but I am not sure.
I would be grateful to hear from any of you who have experienced the same sort of problem and can only apologise for the vagaries of blogspot!
Last weekend was very busy. I went to both Acton Fete and also visited a number of the Open Gardens in Great Waldingfield.
The Fete in Acton goes from strength to strength. This year there were some 30 stalls etc., plus the horticultural and other exhibits, Officers from Babergh were manning their recycling tent and selling composting bins etc. They were giving away some remarkable devices which measure out helpings of spaghetti, thus avoiding the waste caused by cooking too much!
I managed to forget to take my camera along to the fete, but I did get some good shots of the Open Gardens.
Pictured above are Mike and Ann Stone, whose garden was very interesting with many unusual plants; other gardens that we visited, one of which is conserving an older type of telephone box; and also one of the other attractions in the village enjoying herself in a large puddle.
I am sorry that we did not manage to get round all the open gardens, but there simply wasn't time to do justice to all 10 venues.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
It was thought by some that the political demise of Hazel Blears would mark the end of Local Government Reorganisation in Suffolk. I felt that this view was mistaken. The only thing that will halt what is, after all, a well defined process would be a Conservative victory at a General Election. Since the current Government is determined to cling on to power as long as possible, a General Election looks unlikely, although a defeat for the Government today on the 10p tax rate might be yet another nail in the coffin of confidence.
The most likely date for a General Election remains Spring 2010. This gives ample time, judicial reviews aside, to put the legislation in place. I was not surprised to discover recently therefore, that under the auspices of the new Secretary of State, the Department of Communities and Local Government has written to Babergh setting out their proposed timetable for considering the revised views of the Boundary Committee, to be announced on 15th July. After that date he will himself undertake a two month consultation before making a final decision in the autumn. If he decides to go ahead with reorganisation the necessary legislation would be enacted by the end of 2009.
In many ways I will welcome unitary government, although interestingly the Secretary of State has said that, in addition to the Boundary Committee's recommendation, he will also be looking at the original Ipswich Unitary/two tier option for the rest of Suffolk that was rejected as uneconomic last year. However, I was given pause for thought last week when I sat as a substitute on the Development Committee.
I do wonder whether Planning Applications will get the same detailed consideration and attention under a unitary system. The Committee by definition considers the more tricky issues, but last week a good deal of thought was given to a number of particularly controversial proposals. Should permission be given for a building that looks completely different from the submitted plans but which is in fact very attractive? Should exceptional permission be given for a new country mansion outside the village envelope in order to provide funds to maintain a walled garden of great historic interest? Should a front extension be allowed in a conservation area where there is no room to extend at the back of the property and more space is sorely needed? Some of the veterans on the Committee brought years of experience to bear on these issues, and I hope that those of us who are relatively new to the game challenged some old assumptions. On the whole I think the right decisions were reached, but the process took almost six hours!
Unitary government will save money and therefore must be welcomed in these cash strapped times. However, with fewer councillors and a much broader range of responsibilities for service delivery, I think that it will be very hard for a unitary council to replicate the level of attention to detail in the planning process that is currently provided by the District Councils.
For those who are concerned to preserve Suffolk’s built and natural environment this is a worrying issue.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Earlier in the week, along with the other Trustees of the Braithwaite Trust, I went on the annual inspection of the allotments in Great Waldingfield.
The weather was fantastic, and as we entered the Folly Road allotments the scent of ripe strawberries on the still summer air was almost overpowering.
Most of the plots looked fantastic; well ordered and flourishing. In comparison with last year a lot more vegetables are being grown, which is perhaps a sign of the times. Another indication of the current economic environment is that there are actually no vacant plots in the village, the last three having been taken recently.
I understand that pigeons have been a particular problem this year, and as a result we saw a good number of scarecrows that demonstrated the creativity of their owners. One of the more colourful is shown above. Also shown are some raspberries (delicious!) and some fine onion sets drying in the sunshine.
I am happy to report that the finances of the trust are in good shape and that, in accordance with tradition, funds are to be made available this year to service the church clock if necessary .