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

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Government urged to give rural areas a fair funding deal.

Charity relieving Distress by Thomas Gainsborough, can be viewed in Gainsborough's House, Sudbury. Community action is however only part of the solution in rural areas..

Is Westminster finally catching up with the fact that rural communities are short changed when it comes to government funding?

Last week we read  that the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee had issued a report which points up the inherent unfairness of the way that central government calculates the funding of rural areas.   It costs more to deliver services in remote regions and yet per capita funding for rural local authorities is less than half that received in urban areas.  

The Chairman of the Committee, Conservative MP,  Ann McIntosh said:-

“The Government needs to recognise that the current system of calculating the local government finance settlement is deeply unfair to rural areas in comparison with their urban counterparts. This is unacceptable.
 “Rural communities pay more in council tax, receive less government grant and have access to fewer public services than people in large towns and cities.
 “Defra must work with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that future settlements recognise the premium that exists in the provision of services to rural areas.”

The report’s message will come as no surprise to policy makers.  Rural local authorities have been raising this issue with Eric Pickles for some time now, but perhaps because of the inherently urban focus of most of the cabinet, and perhaps also due to an element of complacency about the persistence of the Conservative vote in the shires, their voices, as far as I can see, have been largely ignored.   The full report can be downloaded or read here.

While they are considering the Committee’s findings I think the Government would also do well to take a look at the evidence that supports  Age UK’s recently launched campaign  ‘to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities faced by older people living in rural communities in England’.  Transport, health and social care, fuel poverty, broadband access, poverty and social exclusion and loneliness and social isolation are all highlighted as being real issues for many.   A link to the campaign web page can be found here.

For Suffolk these issues are of particular importance due to the fact that our population has a higher age profile than the UK average and this will not change in the future.   We must find a way forward if we want to maintain some sort of balance in our communities, keep them alive, and prevent them from becoming the preserve of the comparatively wealthy, second home owners and tourists.

The Chief Executive of Age UK Suffolk, Martyn Green,  came to talk to councillors recently at Endeavour House.  Unsurprisingly his message echoed that of the Age UK campaign.   The way forward lies in a combination of community and government action.  Neither player can resolve the problem without the support of the other. 

However, if the government does not shoulder its share of the burden by treating non-urban areas more fairly the future for the rural vulnerable is bleak.  Ministers should follow the advice of the Select Committee.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lavenham Players present Much Ado.

The stage at Lavenham Hall

We knew when we received the ‘ration book’ tickets that the Lavenham Players’ production of Much Ado about Nothing was to be set during the Second World War.

This approach worked well, since the play is concerned about muddle and confusions that occur when soldiers return home from war.  I think that the audience soon got used to the fact that actors dressed in British servicemen’s uniforms were called names such as Don Pedro and Balthazar, and the backdrop of Lavenham made a more or less plausible Messina.

The quality of the production, by Annie Eddington, was very high.  I have seen less well done versions of this play on the professional stage.   

The work is not actually that easy to bring off successfully,  relying as it does on the clear delivery of the text. The key to Much Ado’s special attraction lies in its language, and the play is probably Shakespeare’s most extended worked example of his age’s passion for wordplay. The personalities of the two main characters, Benedick and Beatrice ( Paul Vella and Gemma Leggett) rely on their innate wit and argumentativeness, and it is the working out of their verbal duelling that forms much of the basis of the plot.  It was therefore wonderful that almost every word was crystal clear, a feat achieved by the first rate cast without losing the pace of the action.

The humour of the play was enhanced by elements of the production that might have come straight out of Dad’s Army, and the arrival of characters in an army jeep coming down the driveway added to the sense of realism.  Dogberry played by Cecil Qadir deserves special mention for his very comic performance.

All in all it was a great experience.  The weather was kind, it was a perfect evening to enjoy the lovely gardens of Lavenham Hall, and the picnic was much enhanced by the delicious ice cream on sale.

The Lavenham Players will be presenting Terence Rattigan’s Flarepath in the Autumn.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Littering Bikers

Recent rubbish in Brighton
When I was a child I must have undergone some sort of aversion therapy with regard to dropping litter.   I simply cannot do it, and occasionally, filled with guilt,  find myself chasing in a most undignified way, after a tissue or other item that has accidentally fallen from my pocket.  I don't think that there is anything particularly virtuous in this....it's just that someone, many years ago, got the message across in no uncertain manner!  I am very glad they did,  because I now do not contribute to what is one of the most depressing aspects of modern life, people who carelessly drop rubbish everywhere.

I was depressed but not suprised to read recently about the daytrippers, who, taking advantage of the first warm weather of the year, flocked to Brighton Beach and left the place looking like a mammoth rubbish dump.  Some 23 tons of litter were collected in one day apparently.

Closer to home at Monks Eleigh Parish Council meeting on Monday we heard about the 2000 or so bikers that had cycled through the village on the annual Dunwich Dynamo cycle ride. This 120 mile overnight ride goes from London to Dunwich (an interesting article about the event can be viewed here, (if you have a Times subscription)). While welcoming the bikers coming through the village concern was expressed by residents at the amount of rubbish left behind by the participants.  As a result, what could have been a welcome visitation to the village was spoiled by bad manners and bad habits.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Half a truth is no truth at all.

What is Truth?

I went to my second County Council meeting on Thursday.

At the beginning of these meetings there is generally a five minute talk from a representative of a Suffolk faith community.  This week the speaker was Reverend Kyle Paisley, who is the Pastor of the Oulton Broad Free Presbyterian Church, and who is also a son of the Reverend Ian Paisley. 

Reverend Paisley spoke on the subject of Jesus’s question to Pilate: ‘What is Truth?’ 

The question of 'truth' was actually at the forefront of my mind on Thursday because on that very day the EADT had run an article that, although purporting to be a true account, was in fact only true in part, and as such effectively not true at all.

The impression given by the article was that the Council has arbitrarily given staff a bonus of £250 at a cost of some £800,000. The EADT believes that this money could be better spent on public services. Critics, the paper said, have described the payment as 'bonkers'.  However, this spin on events only gives part of the story.   I set out the actual position below. 

Staff at SCC will receive a 1% pay increase this year – in line with the nationally-agreed level.  This will be the first such cost-of-living increase in over three years.  At the same time, staff on the standard pay scales (known as single status staff), which amounts to around 3,730 people, will receive a one-off amount of up to £250.  This is a gross, pro rata payment, so that what they receive depends on the hours they work.  As the majority of the affected staff work part-time, only a minority will receive the full amount. 

This one-off payment is part of a move to end the traditional increment system, whereby employees would see their pay increase each year by a set amount.  The last such incremental increases cost £1.3million, so, by ending this system, a significant amount of money is being saved for council tax payers. This one-off payment helps ease the way for this change to happen.

To sum up, staff are being asked to give up a system whereby their wages drift up automatically every year regardless of performance.  To encourage this change they are to receive a one off payment of £250 (pro rata).  The abandonment of automatic incremental increases by staff will save significant money in the future; money which can be spent on the public services that the EADT, and everyone else, hold so dear. I personally do not think that this is an unreasonable outcome.

It is a pity that the EADT would rather run a half true story in order to make a splash than produce an honest report that would actually give its readers a true picture.

The painting above, What is Truth? is by the well-known Russian history Painter,  Nikolai Ge (1831 – 94). Painted in 1890 the work hangs in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Staying safe in the sun

Some hints on keeping safe in the current hot spell have been published by Suffolk CC Community Safety.

To access this click on the link here.

Also, never never leave a pet unattended in your car in hot weather.  Even if the vehicle is in the shade it is a really bad idea and can rapidly lead to the death of the pet, and great distress to pet owners.  If you must travel with pets in hot weather with use air conditioning if available and make sure you take bottled water in case you get stuck in traffic.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Feedback from recent posts.

I am really pleased to say that I got a good deal of feedback from my latest Blog Alert.

I had two contributions about the post on speeding.

One, from a correspondent from Cockfield, had a somewhat contrary view to many, believing that common sense and education is more important than speed limits:

'Re. speeding, there is an issue out there that there are too many unrealistically low stretches, eg. Nowton Hill 40 going in to Bury, where everybody is going at least 50, and if you drive at 40 someone will overtake you.  You then move into a 30  along Sicklesmere Road, which used to be 40, and where everybody still drives at 40!   Unrealisically low limits undermine respect for them.   What is needed is a much improved cultute of "driving with due respect for other users of the road".   IQ needs to be a component of the driving test!!!   I move to the middle of the road to overtake a bicycle, or pass a pedestrian on the road or pavement but nobody ever follows me!!'

Another from Lavenham writes:

Re- speed issues, most of our Lavenham motorists have been invited to attend the excellent speed awareness course offered by the local police. The simple and sensible advice given really works, and many of us now drive in strict observance of the advice given us. It is like having been on an advanced driving course, and can be recommended to all drivers who have not yet attended.

Details of the course are available from your PCSO.

Fran from Little Waldingfield has asked me to inform readers about the Little Waldingfield Flower Festival, which will be held on 14th and 15th September to coincide with the Church's Bike Ride.  The theme this year will be Grimms Fairy Tales to mark the 200th anniversary of their publication.  Lunches and Teas will, as usual, be served and there will be a variety of stalls.

This is always a good event, so put the date in your diaries.

Finally I received a rude comment about Wagner from my old boss in New York! 

All comments are always welcome, whether direct to me by e mail, or by clicking on the Comment tab below

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Speed issues, plus tweets from Babergh police.

I don’t know whether it is because it was once the heart of the car industry  but drivers in the Midlands seem to me to drive more aggressively than in Suffolk.  I was reminded of this on my return from the area yesterday morning.  The complex motorway system around Birmingham is full of people going VERY FAST in large cars.  Country lanes seem to be populated by people taking the concept of an unrestricted speed limit rather too literally, and I understand from friends that in villages, just as in Suffolk, disregard of speed limits is a constant irritation.

In this connection, officers at Suffolk County Council Highways Department have recently worked out a protocol with the Police here in Babergh for people who have concerns about speeding motorists in their areas.  Regular meetings are being held with the Safer Neighbourhood Team Sergeant to discuss that have been raised by the public.

The message is that if you have an issue with regard to speeding the first port of call should be the police rather than the Highways Department. 

Contacting your PCSO or Safer Neighbourhood Team, or, better still attendance at one of the three local Safer Neighbourhood Team Meetings that are held around the District every two months, are the best ways to voice your concerns. If anyone wants further details I can supply you with a complex organogram that explains the new process.  I have been distributing these at parish council meetings, where they have caused some puzzlement, but overall the message is fairly clear.

The only problem with this approach that I can see is that it may be difficult to find out after the complaint has been made the extent of any action that has been taken, and I will be raising this with the police at the next SNT meeting.

Incidentally, Babergh police are now taking advantage of the digital age, and have started to tweet on Twitter.  Follow them at Babergh Police and find out what they are up to. (They are tweeting from the Long Melford Street Fayre this afternoon.)