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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Babergh Matters! Does it matter anymore?

The Coalition Government has been waging war on councils who have produced their own newspapers at the expense of the taxpayer. According to the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, these often amount to little more than ‘town hall Pravdas’ which ‘end up in the bin’ and at the same time undermine local newspapers which are currently struggling to survive.

There are of course extreme examples of this, although research shows them to be relatively rare. Apparently though one London Borough produces a free weekly rag with television listings and restaurant reviews while the commercial local newspaper is experiencing dramatically falling sales.

This seems all rather distant from our own ‘Babergh Matters!’ which until now has been distributed several times a year to all homes around the District. I have always rather liked it, and feel that it covers Council activities, which are often ignored elsewhere, without bias or political spin. However, unprompted by Government opprobrium, it has been decided that, for financial reasons, the latest edition will only be a web-based affair accessible from the Babergh Website.

The budget for Babergh Matters! will now be diverted to special communications to residents about proposed increased co-operation with Mid Suffolk District Council.

I do hope that this will not be a permanent state of affairs, although I am told that at present there are no plans to produce another edition of the magazine in its paper form. Communication over the web is alright as far as it goes, but it remains the case that around 30 percent of households still have no access to the internet. It seems wrong that a lot of people will find it hard to find out, in a user friendly way, how we at Babergh are spending their money.

The latest edition of Babergh Matters! Can be reached by clicking on: http://www.babergh.gov.uk/Babergh/Home/Community+-+people+-+living/Babergh+Matters/Babergh+Matters+Winter+2010.htm

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It didn't add up!

We were excited last week to learn that our Group Leader, Jennie Jenkins, had received an invitation to a reception at Number 10 Downing Street. We think that she received the summons because of Babergh’s efforts to save money and protect services by our co-operation with Mid Suffolk District Council. This project fits in well with the Government’s desire to see ‘bottom up’ solutions to the problems of funding an over-large public sector.

Since the invitation was for Wednesday afternoon last, Jennie had to be escorted by police through crowds of demonstrating students. One of these, a young woman, was chanting words to the effect that £9000 per annum for fees was too high since this would amount to ‘£21,000 over three years’.

I fear that she wasn’t studying mathematics......or at least I hope not.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A national asset

When up in London a week or so ago we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition of works by the Georgian portraitist, Sir Thomas Lawrence.

When buying tickets I enquired whether the portrait shown here, of the poet John Donne, painted in around 1590, was on display. I was told that unfortunately I would not be able to see it since it is currently away on loan to another museum. The person at the information desk was not at all surprised by my question however.

The portrait was saved for the nation through an appeal in 2006 and thousands of art lovers, including myself, gave contributions, in many cases only amounting to a pound or so. Now of course all those who contributed feel a small sense of ownership in respect of the picture and I understand that almost every day someone asks after it. I’m not really sure why but I found the idea that the picture is now cared about by a large number of people very cheering.

The Lawrence exhibition was quite spectacular, and made up for the disappointment of not reconnecting with Mr Donne on this occasion!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Redundancy ruins lives

Lord Young's recent comments about the real effect on the UK economy of expected job losses, together with the suggestion that at Suffolk County Council 'only' 1000 people are likely to lose their jobs in the forthcoming refocussing of the organisation, have led to a good deal of criticism. Some commentators have argued that this criticism is an over-reaction, or even politically based, since, as was shown yesterday, the economy in the UK and beyond continues to recover, and in the overall scheme of things the job losses may not prove particularly significant.

However, except in the situation where an individual receives an exceptionally good redundancy payout, any forced loss of employment can be a disaster for the person involved. It is well known that indebtedness is often caused, not by profligacy, but by the impact of a life changing event that disturbs a family's economic arrangements. Such an event can be divorce, bereavement or the loss of a job. People losing their livelihood do not find much comfort in the idea that there may be a job available in some distant part of the country or even abroad.

At Babergh we are trying as far as possible to rely on voluntary redundancy and vacancy management to achieve the savings in staffing costs that we need to make to balance the budget. It is very likely, however, that the challenge of meeting the cost savings required will result in some forced job losses. I very much regret that this is the case.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Noise from Chilton Grain?

I understand that a number of people in Acton have been disturbed recently by noise from the fans at Chilton Grain.

The grain store is quite a long way away from Acton, and I am wondering if people in Great Waldingfield, which is nearer are also affected?

If you are being kept awake at night, or indeed disturbed at any other time of the day, I would be grateful if you would let me know by e mailing me on


Major planning application in Chilton

Babergh recently received a revised application from Prolog, the UK’s largest privately owned outsourced services provider, in respect of a proposal to develop vacant land alongside Church Field Road in Chilton. The land is pictured here.

An extra meeting of Chilton Parish Council was held on Tuesday evening to consider the council’s response to this. A good number of parishioners attended and many were vocal in their opinions with regard to the proposals.

It seems that the applicant has gone some way to addressing objections to a previously presented scheme, but nonetheless there is no doubt that the two large warehouse buildings, together with a marshalling yard and car park, that are proposed are going to mean a quite significant change to the nature of the area, and indeed to the northern approach into Sudbury.

It is proposed that the facility is open and working 24/7, a radical change for this relatively peaceful part of the Chilton industrial estate which is situated relatively close to a residential area. There are also environmental issues in the widest sense to take into account, plus the proximity to the site of two notable examples of English heritage in the form of St Mary’s Church and Chilton Hall. The applicant claims that some 500 jobs or so are to be created by the facility, which at first sight is a welcome development for Sudbury, but it is important in my view to establish conclusively that this number is genuine and does not reflect the closure of the Group’s facilities elsewhere in the Town. I also personally cannot help but question the quality of some of the work on offer. I find it hard to believe that this development will do anything to improve the District's position with regard to wage levels and educational aspiration.

The chairman of the Parish Council, Peter Clifford, gave a useful presentation in order to demonstrate the main features of the plan, but the fact remains that these are complex proposals, and many reasonable questions with regard to the scheme’s impact on the local community, and also some knotty legal questions, remain unanswered.

In the event, the Council was unable to reach a decision without further clarification of a number of points. Given the complexities involved I do not find this surprising and I will be working with Chilton to try to untangle some of the issues prior to the end of the consultation period.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Should Babergh's Staff pay to park?

Once again recently there was a wingeing article in the dead tree press about how 'unfair' it is that Babergh's staff are not being asked to pay to park their cars in Council owned car parks when car parking charges have been imposed in public car parks for all who stay more than three hours.

When asked I have been very clear with regard to my opinion on this matter, but to re-iterate, I think it would be quite wrong for Babergh's staff to have to pay.*

Do the staff of Delphi have to pay when they use the firm's car park? No they do not. Do Tesco's or Waitrose's staff...again no. If an employer is in the happy position of owning a car park then it is up to them as to whether or not to charge their employees, but it is unheard of for them to do so. Why should Babergh be any different?

Additionally it is worth reiterating that the staff at Babergh, as at many other public bodies in the current difficult financial circumstances, have already made significant sacrifices in terms of performance payments, wages foregone and a limit on promotion potential. Some are likely to be made redundant and lose their jobs altogether. I really do feel that to ask them to stump up to pay to park their cars at this time would be small minded and wrong. Such a move would sour what remains, somewhat against the odds, a good staff/management relationship at the Council.

The article suggested that not just officers but that also Councillors should pay. This raises complexities related to the whole area of councillors' allowances and remuneration. I personally would have no objection to paying on the couple of occasions each month (or rather less) that I am at the Hadleigh offices for more than 3 hours at a time, but it is not really as simple as that since, in theory at least, such parking fees would be repayable to me as a legitimate expense.

I would add that if councillors were 'fairly' remunerated for their efforts, bearing in mind the opportunity cost of not earning money elsewhere, they would be completely unaffordable. But of course councillors do not do the job for the money!

*of course if required to vote in the Council Chamber on this at a later date, I will not come to the debate with a closed mind, and will take into account when voting all arguments and opinions raised in that debate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes

Last week I went to an exhibition in London which is a ‘must see’ for anyone who likes music, ballet, design, the theatre, who is interested in Russian culture, or, indeed, for anyone who thinks they might become interested in such topics.

Running until 9th January at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes is a truly wonderful show. It demonstrates how the ballet company, founded by Diaghilev a century ago, had a transformational effect on European ballet in the early 20th century. On display are lots of beautiful costumes, many of which were purchased by the gallery when the company folded in 1926.

The Ballets Russes managed to dance on through the Russian Revolution and the First World War, but was not able to survive the death of Diaghilev, who provided the energy and commitment needed to literally keep the show on the road.

The exhibition, which is very large, goes beyond the history of the company, showing how modernist artists, such as Picasso and Goncharova influenced theatre and costume design, and how the Russian composers of the time were influenced by western (mainly French) and Far Eastern music. It also gives a good insight into the revival in interest in Russian folk culture that was taking place at the time. There are videos about how composers write for ballet and how choreographers work. In addition there are films showing extracts from Stravinky's Firebird and the Rite of Spring. Up to now I have not been a great ballet enthusiast, but the exhibition as a whole made me begin to have a glimmer of understanding.

If you are going up to London to do some Christmas shopping, or need to cheer yourself up in the early New Year, do try to go along.