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

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Compost Awareness Week

To celebrate Compost Awareness Week (Sun 1 May - Sat 7 May), the Suffolk Waste Partnership is giving away free compost and offering advice from Master Composter Volunteers to highlight the environmental and financial benefits for those who choose to make and use their own compost.

Green fingered residents will be able to pick up a 25 litre bag of soil improver at Recycling Centres across the county and loose compost will be available at one event. There will also be a number of 'Compost Clinics' during the week where Suffolk Master Composters will be 'on call' to help improve your compost. Find details of times and venues for give-aways and clinics here.

This week also presents another opportunity to remind residents of our fantastic offers which provide an opportunity to purchase a wide range of subsidised compost bins starting at £8.99. Specialist systems designed to process cooked food waste start at £14.99. More than a third of the material in the average domestic waste bin consists of food waste which could be composted at home for the benefit of your own garden! 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Play's the thing....

Waiting for the performance to start.
Nick and I were very lucky to obtain tickets for yesterday evening's performance at the Globe Theatre on Bankside.

Yesterday was of course the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, but it also marked the 'homecoming' of the fantastic Globe to Globe Hamlet.  This production has, since setting off from the Globe in 2014 on the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth,  played 293 times in 196 different countries.  More information and interesting facts about this extraordinary feat of theatre can be found HERE.

Even though there was a certain 'Danish battlement' chill in the air last night,  the warmth of the audience's response and the continued vibrancy and freshness of the production made for a truly memorable evening.

Actors start to assemble for the show, plus screen showing scenes from the production's world tour.
Last week I postponed writing about the third part of another day I spent in London recently.  That was because it was also spent at the Globe attending a preview of this year's Summer season.  The theatre now has a new Artistic Director, Emma Rice who takes over from Dominic Dromgoole very shortly.  Emma has caused some concern among Shakespearian 'purists' in stating that there will be 'changes' coming to the Globe, and, rather alarmingly has threatening to change the words of Fear no More the Heat O'the Sun.  Until now the theatre has in general presented fairly straightforward interpretations of the plays in its historically authentic space and I think that this has been appreciated by many of the Globe's fans.

The truth is however that even in Shakespeare's time plays were much altered, and the idea of a canonical version of the text is a relatively new one.  Hamlet itself had three different published alternatives.   These are often combined in different ways in performance, and, in fact, if one played it in its First Folio entirety it would take over 4 hours, so it almost always cut down.

Directors' comments on the upcoming Summer season that we heard last week sounded fascinating, and, although we were sworn to secrecy last week,  I think Emma and her team should be given the benefit of the doubt!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Happy Birthday Will!

 Pictures taken today, 23rd April 2016, in the St Mary Aldermanbury Garden, Love Lane London EC2

EU Referendum Breakfast in Lavenham

Richard Bacon with Articulate's Jenna Cox

To the Swan Hotel in Lavenham yesterday morning for a ‘Business Breakfast’ meeting organised by Articulate HLC.  The theme was the EU Referendum and the speaker the very erudite and articulate Member of Parliament for South Norfolk, Richard Bacon.

Richard makes no secret of the fact that he is not a great enthusiast for the European 'project', and, although not one of the organisers of the Brexit campaign, he is in favour of voting ‘leave’.  He gave an interesting, wide ranging, talk which rested largely on issues of British culture and tradition.  He argued that our strong democratic roots, and long history as an independent nation state, mean that we will not thrive in an environment where we are ruled from elsewhere.  As a nation we have no reason to fear an independent future and have all it takes to flourish outside the EU. If we remain in the EU we will in the long term be unable to resist the pressure for ‘ever closer union’ and this is not something that will sit happily with the British approach to democracy and way of life.

After his speech Richard was asked questions on all manner of topics, and there is no room here to go into the detail.  However I found his response about the threats of Brexit to farmers particularly interesting.  He conceded that East Anglian grain barons might be worse off financially if their subsidies are removed, and not replaced by the UK Government, but he argued that many are still tempted to vote with their hearts and not with their heads.  For other farmers, and the countryside as a whole, the situation is less clear.   For those interested in the topic he suggested reading a speech made in January 2016 to the Oxford Farming Conference, by Owen Patterson, former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  In this Patterson makes a cogent case that UK agriculture would be better off were we to leave the EU.  The speech can be found in full HERE.

Richard mentioned in passing the two recent BBC documentaries presented by Nick Robinson, Europe them or Us which trace the history of the UK’s relationship with the EU.   Nick and I have watched these and found them very enlightening.  The message that comes across clearly is  that over time British leaders of all political persuasions  have repeatedly been prepared to lie and cheat and generally manipulate the political process despite evidence of clear popular opposition,  to maintain their position within the magic circle of self-generated importance, and to keep the European ‘project’ on the road. Even Mrs Thatcher was guilty of this until she saw the light.  Sadly that lying and cheating continues today.

These programmes can both be watched on the BBC i player, and will be available for 19 days from today.  I recommend them.

At the beginning of yesterday’s event a vote revealed that those present were split pretty evenly between ‘inners’ and ‘outers’ with some ‘don’t knows’.  Another vote at the end of the session showed a clear shift towards support for Brexit.  In part of course this was a vote for the elegance and eloquence of Richard’s performance.  However, he made the case for Brexit very convincingly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

School update; space allocation season.

This week has seen announcements about the allocation of primary school places across the UK.  In Suffolk over 90% of children will be able to attend their first choice school and 97% will go to one of their top three choices. Although full national figures are not yet available enough is already known to recognise that this is quite a good result.
There are variations across the county however with around 90 schools still having to refuse children.  I am happy to say that in the Cosford Division, all 6 schools, Elmsett, Whatfield, Kersey, Bildeston, Lavenham and Cockfield, were able to accommodate all applications for September.

In the case of Lavenham this is a relief since last year around 12 families were disappointed, and this included children from the village living quite close to the school.

Despite the fact that we have outperformed the national picture there is no room for long term complacency as last year's outcome demonstrates.   Demand for school places is likely to continue to grow in the area as a whole and some schools, including some in Cosford, have serious physical space constraints today that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

When the children arrive at their new schools in September, happily they will be entering an improving education system.  It was revealed earlier this month that the proportion of Suffolk schools rated as Good or Outstanding by Ofsted has just hit a new high of 80%. This represents an improvement of 6 percentage points compared to just ten months ago when 74% of Suffolk schools were Good or Outstanding.

Schools in Suffolk are also improving twice as fast as schools across the country as a whole. Over the last ten months the percentage of Good or Outstanding schools nationally has increased by 3% compared to Suffolk’s 6% increase.

If you know a child who has been unsuccessful in achieving the school of choice and whose parents are unhappy about this an appeal is the only possible remedy.  I have information on this for anyone who wants it.  You should be aware however that an appeal will only be successful if the education authority has failed to follow the correct procedures.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Acton Boules Group launch

Needle match, Matthew and Colin

Acton’s brand new Boules pitch was officially opened last week on a lovely sunny morning.

Colin Spence, who gave some of his County Council Locality Budget to the facility, was there to officially inaugurate the pitch.   He is pictured here with the youngest enthusiast that has attended to date, Matthew Holt. 

Boules mornings will be held throughout the summer on Monday mornings from 10.30 a.m.  I believe that there will be other regular organised mornings throughout the week, but the pitch is available to all who have the necessary equipment at the village hall at any time.

Further information about the Acton Boules Group’s activities can be obtained from Sandy on 01787 379741.

Colin in action!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Lavenham Vox 2016

There are to be a series of short concerts in Lavenham Church every Saturday morning this summer, commencing at 12 noon on 4th June and finishing on 13th August.

Each concert will last just half an hour and there will be a retiring collection.

A wide range of music is on offer:  the season starts with a recital for Baroque flute and harpsichord and finishes with operatic duets and solos.  In between there is Jazz and Blues (Swinging in the Nave!,  18th June) an organ recital (30th July) and a programme of songs 'from Bach to Beatles' (23rd July) plus lots more!

I am hoping to go along from time to time, and then, perhaps, enjoy a pub lunch at the Cock Horse opposite!

A day in London, part 3 (deferred)

I have decided to postpone writing about the third part of my day in London on Wednesday.

This is because I will be returning to the same topic, Shakespeare's Globe, next weekend and think then would be the best time to comment about the Season's Preview event that I went to at the theatre this week.

In the meantime here is a picture.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A day in London, Part 2.

Much of the afternoon of my trip to London on Wednesday was absorbed by a ‘Question and Answer’ event held under the impressive portals of the Central Hall in Westminster. The Government has proposed some radical changes in the way that Local Authority Pension Funds are managed, and the aim was to shed light on the progress being made.

This is an arcane subject and I will not dwell on the issues in any detail. Suffice it to say that in insisting on reform the Government seems to have two big ideas, plus one major prejudice.

The first idea is that a good deal of money could be saved were the funds to be ‘pooled’ into larger units by combining with others.   The Suffolk Fund currently amounts to around £2.5 bn. and we are aiming to form an alliance with nearby authorities that will produce a pool of £35 bn.

Whether or not costs will actually be saved by this complex exercise is unproven.  If one takes the not inconsiderable up-front costs of effecting the reorganisation, and understands that  likely savings will only be realised several years in the future, it is not hard to see that the whole exercise is unlikely to offer positive value.

The second idea is that some of the billions currently sitting in the pension funds could usefully be pillaged in order to pay for much needed infrastructure investment across the country.

Here the government really seems to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.  There is no shortage of funds looking for investment opportunities in infrastructure.   Indeed, the Suffolk Fund already has exposure to an international infrastructure fund.  If the Government brings forward the right sort of opportunities (that actually produce an income stream representing an acceptable return for our pensioners) Local Authority funds will be falling over themselves to invest.  There is a suspicion however that these sorts of projects are not what the Government has in mind.

Then we come to the prejudice.  For all the talk of Devolution, there is no doubt that by and large Whitehall holds local authority councillors in contempt.    This is well illustrated by the Government’s clear intention to remove the right of elected Pension Fund Committees to appoint their own investment managers in consultation with their professional advisers.  In future, in the words of one public servant on the panel, this task will be carried out by a committee comprising apparatchiks such as himself, whom he rather inadvisably described as ‘more intelligent’.

Of course, given that the audience was largely made up by elected members and investment managers, this issue generated some excitement.  In the overall scheme of things, apart from the transparent insult to elected members, the change will make little difference to fund performance.  What really matters here is asset allocation which will remain the remit of the individual Pension Fund Committee. 

But the big issue is this: council pension fund Committees meet in public.  Anyone can come along and see decision making in action. I have real concerns about the scope for corruption when a group of unelected officers and City ‘experts’, meeting in secret, wield considerable power over decisions about the management of what is ultimately residents’ money.