Friday, 31 August 2007

Questions to the Mayor

One of the few powers remaining to back Bench Councillors such as myself under the elected Mayor and Cabinet system is the opportunity to ask Questions at Full Council Meetings to Members of the Executive and Chairs of Committees and Forums. These of course need to be submitted in writing in advance of the meeting.

Very few Councillors actually take the opportunity to ask questions and the last time I did so the Mayor was very sarcastic and snide during his answers. However, I still think it is important to ask questions and so have put down two for the next Council Meeting obnn13th September. I'll let you know how I get on.

Mr Mayor,

In the submission for the Tall Ships Race it was said

Hartlepool understands that a significant budget will be required to cover the costs of the visit by the Tall Ships' Race.

However, nowhere in the information made available to me is their any indication of what a "significant budget" would actually be. Could you inform this council of the total level of council spending anticipated over the period up to and during the race and the budgeted breakdown spend in each key area e.g. How much is anticipated for personnel costs, construction costs, administration, hospitality for Crews, marketing, insurances, etc.

Mr Mayor

MP’s have recently criticised fortnightly bin collections as inappropriate for urban areas and that there was no proof it increased recycling. Hartlepool Council however is pressing ahead with fortnightly bin collections and to the dismay of some residents these are soon to be introduced to St.Hilda Ward. Does the Mayor have any hard, quantitative evidence that he can bring to this council that shows fortnightly bin collections have resulted in an increase in recycling in

Hartlepool Remploy Crusade

Went along to the Remploy factory today to support their fight to remain open. The GMB Union "crusade" was in town for a rally and it really took me back to listen to some of the speakers. The last GMB Official has a broad Scots accent and addresses the meeting as "Comrades" it was like the old days when Unions fighting the government meant fighting Thatcherism and free market economics that decreed there was no social element to employment, if it could be done cheaper elsewhere then shut the factory!

Remploy does a fantastic job providing work for disabled people who want to work to support themselves and their families and not be reliant on benefits and hand outs. Unfortunately the Hartlepool Factory is one of many under threat of closure so Remploy can become a type of Disabled Person's Jobcentre rather than an actual place of work. There were some harsh words said about Big Charities (which are i my opinion too much like big business these days) and about public sector procurement that placed work overseas to save a few pennies but at the cost of closure of places like Hartlepool Remploy. When will the free market Tories in Westminster, sorry of course I mean the "New" Labour Government, realise that there must be a social aspect to employment and that the few quid saved is soon taken up by having people thrown onto the dole or social security.

Hartlepool MP was there, although as a New Labor Drone he won't be doing anything in the Commons that might threaten his Junior minister job. There were also five Hartlepool Councillors. Five out of forty-seven. These were three independents, one Lib-Dem and myself. Not one single Labour Councillor turned up! Maybe this is something that the attendance watchers at High-Tax-Hartlepool might want to look into?

There was also no sign of the Mayor who is happy to turn up for the annual
Remploy vs the Council photo opportunity, sorry, I mean 5 a side football challenge. I actually played in the very first game back in 2002 when Remploy invited the Council to send a team along to a sports day. In those days Remploy was in St.Hilda Ward and the three ward Councilors, the Mayor and a handful of other Councillors turned up, I seem to remember Carl Richardson went in Goal but we didn't actually have enough Councillors fit enough to get a 5 a side team so Remploy had to loan us a spare man to make up our side. Since then its become much better organised and the Mayor picks the team so I haven't been invited to play again.

GMB crusade rolled off to the next threatened Remploy site, the MP did his bit on local radio and The Hartlepool Mail took a couple of photos. There is probably as much chance of saving Hartlepool Remploy as there is of saving Hartlepool Hospital. However as one of the people at the rally said "closures like this always happen under a Tory Government, and let's face it, in reality we've had one of those for the past 10 years".

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The "Reform Treaty"

The "Reform Treaty", signed by Tony Blair on 23rd June, is acknowledged publically by the leaders of nearly all our EU partners to be virtually the same as the Constitution Treaty.

France and the Netherlands decisively rejected that Treaty.

The "Reform Treaty" transfers yet more substantive powers from Britain to the EU and further erodes British laws and the British Constitution. It will reduce the rights and freedoms of the residents of Hartlepool and of the whole nation.

Therefore I am going to ask Hartlepool Council to debate a motion that calls on Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, to abide by the Government's promise to the electorate in the 2005 Labour Party Manifesto, page 84, "We will put the [Constitution Treaty] to the British People in a referendum..."

The next meeting is September 13th and I need 5 supporters. Wonder if I'll get them?

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Is there anyone out there who wants to cut taxes?

Since Gordon Brown became chancellor in 1997, taxes have gone up and up. Meanwhile, David Cameron has abandoned the Conservatives' traditional tax-cutting agenda, saying, "stability is more important," while the Lib-Dems have flirted both with upping the top rate and putting an extra penny on the basic rate. All this while our unfair and costly tax system gets even more complicated each year. It has been left to the UK Independence Party to champion the hard-hit British taxpayer. UKIP policy is one of gradual tax-cuts with the aim of eventually moving over to a single rate for income and corporation tax, also known as a flat tax. It's simpler, fairer, results in virtually everyone becoming better off, and has brought prosperity to the countries that have adopted it, such as Hong Kong, Slovakia and the Baltic states.

Along with having just one rate, the personal allowance would be raised, and many unfair taxes like Inheritance tax and the tax on share dividends would be scrapped altogether.

But doesn't this sound like a windfall for the rich and a recipe for a public spending disaster?

Experience suggests otherwise. When tax rates are cut, as they were in the 1980's, the rich actually pay more, as they don't bother with tax avoidance schemes. It's those on lower incomes who gain most, by the higher tax-free allowance. As for there being less money for schools and hospitals, yes, there would be a shortfall for a year or two which would have to be covered by extra borrowing. However, cutting taxes has been proven to make the economy grow, so the extra money required would soon be made up. One of the main appeals of flat rate taxation is its simplicity, so why haven't the other parties considered it? Perhaps because if any future chancellor tries to bring in allowances to favour minority groups whose votes they are chasing, or to introduce stealth taxes, they will be easier to spot!

Sadly it seems only UKIP believes in open government these days.

(With Thanks to Gerard Batten UKIP MEP)

9 Minute Meeting

This morning I attended a Contract Scrutiny Committee Meeting. Total time for meeting 9 minutes. Decisions taken zero. Meeting achievements, noted two reports. Of course going along increased my meetings attended percentage and hence showed what a good Councillor I am.

I am all in favour of payment by results, but that is not the same as payment for attendance at meetings. Usually time spent in meetings is time talking about what you should be doing when you manage to escape the meeting and are able to get on with your job. I avoid meetings as much as I can since I have too much work to get on with to sit around talking about it. However, by opening the debate on attendance have the people behind the High-Tax-Hartlepool Website outed themselves?

Surely as the guardians of democracy in Hartlepool they must themselves have faced a ballot box or two themselves. It’s easy to sit on the side lines and snipe about how you think things should theoretically work in an ideal world. It gives you a lot more credibility if you are speaking from actual hands on experience. Those who can DO, those who CAN'T teach, those who CAN'T TEACH become critics!

So if the authors of High-Tax-Hartlepool are qualified by actual experience to comment on Councillors', Allowances, Councillors' Attendance, Councillors' ideas and plans then they must have at some point been Councillors. I am also certain they would not be so hypocritical as to not practice what they preach? Therefore the authors of High-Tax-Hartlepool must be amongst the list of those Councillors with 67% plus attendance. So who are the authors of High Tax Hartlepool? Would Cllrs Hall, Preece, Tumilty, Laffey, James, Fleet, London, Brash and A.Marshall care to come out of the closet.

Is it better to attend anded but remained silent than to never have attended at all?

A website calling itself “High-Tax- Hartlepool” has recently published a table showing percentage attendance at council meetings over the past twelve months. Your truly is second bottom with a 7% attendance. The website has taken upon itself to arbitrarily assign 67% as “acceptable” and recommends I might want to examine the reasons why I became a Councillor!

Well it wasn’t to sit in endless meetings!

Attending formal meetings is the last thing on my priority list. I do more for my ward chatting with people over a coffee and bacon butty in the local cafe than in attending any number of meetings. I am a Councillor for several reasons, a key one being to provide a guide to assist the people of the ward when they need help with Council bureaucracy. I consider every almost formal meeting I attend to be a waste of my time unless it relates directly to my ward residents. (Actually with 17 wards that makes about 5.88% 0f business per ward so with 7% attendance I am above the level I set myself, just shows that you can prove anything you like with statistics!)

Other meetings might be worth going to if they are about a matter I am interested in or where my attendance can actually make a difference (in practical terms I never make a difference since the Labour Group Whip decides everything behind closed doors well in advance of any meetings I or any other none-labour Councillor am invited to).

Attendance at meetings is a total red herring when it comes to evaluating how good or bad a Councillor is at the job. However, it is an easy thing to measure and produce tables, graphs, charts, etc. High-Tax-Hartlepool is falling into the classic trap of equating being there with contributing. A Councillor who attends half a dozen meetings a year but contributes to every one and makes valid points on behalf of their constituents is a much better Councillor, in my opinion, than a Councillor who attends hundreds of meetings but who never says a word.

Unfortunately “Contribution” is not an easy thing to measure and so High-Tax-Hartlepool has taken the easy way out and is “monitoring” what they can easily measure rather than asking what the measurement actually tells them. Try producing a league table of Councillors who have asked questions of the Mayor or cabinet in full session and I suggest the tables would be completely different.

High-Tax-Hartlepool need to be careful what they wish for. If they succeed in driving out anyone they deem to be unacceptable because of their arbitrary attendance calculation then they could very well end up with a Chamber full of Councillors with perfect attendance records but no opinions or with any input other than that approved by their party political bosses.

Performance Indicators, Targets and Tables have been a major contributor to the mess we are in now in this Country. I think web-sites like High-Tax-Hartlepool can be a useful mechanism for discussion and I have contributed to this site myself in the past (I no longer do so, but that’s another story), but they do need to think things through before they get on their high horse and start pontificating about issues like this.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Only for our Children, not theirs!

Big Brother Society comes another step closer next year when a new government register goes live that will store the name, address, family, medical and school details of (almost) all the 11 million under-18’s in the UK. The “almost” is because the children of celebrities and politicians are likely to be excluded from the system.

The data base will be available to an estimated 330,000 users such as head teachers, doctors, social workers, fire and rescue staff. The system is costing £224 million to build and £41 million a year to run. Regulations covering its setting up were rushed through parliament without publicity last month. Children’s rights campaigners have already given warning that when you have more than 300,000 people accessing this database, it will be very difficult to stop information falling into the hands of potential abusers of children and traders of such information. Computer security experts say that the fact that the system allows for a “shielding” mechanism to keep information on the offspring of politicians and celebrities off the main database amounts to an acknowledgment that the database will not be secure.

The government is happy to make it compulsory for the children of ordinary people to appear op the register but the politicians don’t want their own private information available to all and sundry. As with pensions this government shows it operates one rule for themselves and another rule for the ordinary person in the street.

Saturday, 25 August 2007

post democratic era

One of the defining characteristics of the current government (in my opinion) is that it is basically anti-democracy and this is being supported by the Tories and the Lib-Dems to quite a large degree. Peter Mandelson (remember him) has actually said we are in a "post democratic era" and one expression of this is the transfer of power away from democratically elected representatives to people appointed to committees and quangos who have never faced a vote in their lives.

Hartlepool has the “Hartlepool Partnership” A committee of the great and the good (Chaired by the MP) who exercise infinitely more power in Hartlepool than any elected Councillor. What about something like the Hartlepool Hospital Trust board, can you name any of them? All appointees! Regional assemblies, another example of an appointed body with tremendous powers that no-one has ever voted for. In 2004 80% of those who did vote in the Referendum on a North East Regional Assembly voted NO but the assembly is still there and still controlling our lives from behind the scenes. Hartlepool’s representative on the Regional assembly by the way is the Mayor....who has NEVER attended a meeting. Regional assemblies are going to be abolished in 2010 but the small print on the announcement was "abolished, in their present form" and something else will take their place which will allow the same unelected figures to continue making decisions for which they are not accountable to anyone other than the people who appointed them.

The government of the European Union is totally undemocratic and run on the patronage system. Don’t be fooled by the European Parliament or the MEP’s that we vote for every 5 years, these are just window dressing, the most powerful British person in the EU is our "Commissioner" and he is appointed by the Prime Minster for 5 years and cannot be removed until the 5 years is up. Our Commissioner, Peter Mandelson (remember him again) was appointed by Tony Blair and now that Blair has gone Mandelson effectively answers to no-one since Brown will undoubtedly appoint his own crony when Mandelsons's 5 years are up. (As an aside, after 5 years as a Commissioner it as good as automatic that Mandelson gets a seat in the Lords, the ultimate crony chamber. Being a Lord will mean he can be in the Cabinet, a Government Minister and wield power in Westminster without ever having to go through the inconvenience of facing a ballot box again in his life.).

Friday, 24 August 2007

After some considerable effort I have obtained a photocopy of what was no doubt a very impressive Hartlepool Tall Ships Bid Brochure. It is long on generalities, artists impressions and hype but very short on specifics. There were many things that made interesting reading, including the fact that 175,000 visitors created a party mood through out the entire town when the ships came for a visit in 2005. I must have been busy that day! Also, no mention of how this number was arrived at?

Most worrying for me was that throughout the document there were numerous mentions of what Hartlepool would do for the crews and race organisers. We will pay for race paraphernalia, provide trophies, handbooks for captains and crews, chauffer driven fleet of cars, free meals in the restaurants in the Marina Area, free hotel accommodation for race organisers, crew party, captains dinner, ships officers party, full day sightseeing tours for crews to Durham, Beamish, Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick Castle, etc, free admission to historic quay, Mill House Pool, 10 Pin Bowling, Brewery tours, Golf and Mecca Bingo. Hartlepool will pay for all insurance and port fees.

However, the only mention of finance comes almost right at the end.......

"Hartlepool understands that a significant budget will be required to cover the costs of the visit by the Tall Ships' Race. This is why we have involved all economically relevant stakeholders in our bid to STI. We are confident that the required level of funding will be available to host the event and are happy to met with the committee to explain how the finances will be raised through our partners and other sponsors. We confirm that all invoices will be paid by Hartlepool within 30 days"

No actual mention of what a "significant budget" actually is.......

My enquiries at Cabinet level have revealed that they are just as much in the dark as everyone else. Only the Mayor (and one assumes his chosen band of Officers) must be in the know as to exactly “how the finances will be raised through our partners and other sponsors"

No briefing has been offered to back bench Councillors but then that’s not exactly surprising.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. Two major trade unions (GMB and RMT) have joined the UK Independence Party (and the Tories) in calling for a referendum on the new European Union treaty.

Gordon Brown’s spin is that it’s only a treaty not a Constitution, so no referendum is necessary. Unfortunately for Gordon many people have noticed the treaty is almost exactly the same as the discarded constitution.

UKIP wants Britain to leave the EU but we also want more democracy in politics. UKIP want the public to be able to call local referenda on local issues as well as big national issues like the Constitution. However, the GMB’s call for a referendum might just be a cynical ploy to actually achieve greater European integration by puttimg pressure on the government to abandon any remaining UK opt-outs to the European Social Model.

Shorter working weeks, longer holidays, employment protection, etc sound like great ideas but all would need to be paid for. In the global economy the UK is currently more competitive than the rest of the EU. The EU can’t increase European competitiveness, so instead wants the UK to become LESS competitive and remove our “unfair” advantages in attracting global investment. The EU has destroyed our “unfair” relationship with the Commonwealth, the EU has destroyed our fishing industry and EU courts regularly over-rule British Justice. Don’t let Gordon Brown take us into a European Constitution without a fight. The British people were promised a referendum! Let the People decide!

Thursday, 23 August 2007

£60,000 for new consultants to identify cost savings in the Civic Centre! “It’s not a lot of money” being the Mayor’s reported comment. Only last year the Mayor appointed a “Lean Management Consultant” with great fanfare to also identify cost savings in the Civic Centre. What happened to her?

If Stuart Drummond and Paul Walker are so confident that these two new efficiently consultants can save Hartlepool Council huge amounts of money then why don’t they both donate 30% of their own pay to fund the new posts. The Mayor and Chief Executive could then make up their lost money from the savings the two consultants identify?

I was brought up to think that if you look after the pennies then the pounds look after themselves. Of course the Mayor has managed to find £800,000 (including another new Civic Centre Manager on £50,000 a year) for the Tall Ships Race, so I suppose £60,000 isn’t much compared to that. However, when faced with the threat of services being cut, libraries and sports centres being closed, pot holes in the road left un-repaired and inflation busting Council Tax rises are once again being imposed I suggest the residents of Hartlepool might want to ask serious questions about where their money is going.
Several people have asked me about an apparent lack of democracy in Hartlepool council due to the Mayor and his cabinet making all the decisions. Well on October 18th 2001 the people of Hartlepool had their opportunity to decide what system of local democracy they wanted. By a majority of 373 Votes (Yes:10,667, No:10,294, Turnout 31%) the people chose the Mayor and Cabinet system.

Not that it made that much difference. In Hartlepool the majority of Councillors have always been irrelevant as far as decision making is concerned. Party politics have always played a bigger role in Hartlepool Council Chamber than any real representation of the people.

So it isn’t really fair to complain about the Council for carrying out the wishes of the majority of the people (who voted), You might say a majority of 373 isn’t really a mandate for such a major change but 46,655 people in Hartlepool didn’t care enough to vote one way or the other! I wonder if the people of Darlington will display any more enthusiasm in their Mayoral Referendum on September 27th .

Sunday, 19 August 2007

People don’t like outsiders dictating to them what they can and cannot do. Many residents of the Ancient Borough of Hartlepool till think merger with West was a mistake and how many people actually miss Cleveland?

Internationally, the Soviet Union failed to create one nation, Yugoslavia fell apart in ethnic cleansing, Scottish independence demands grow louder every day and now Belgium, the model for the European Union, is in danger of splitting in two.

Before 1830 there was no such country as Belgium. Dutch-speaking Flanders and French speaking Wallonia were merged by the “international powers” as a political compromise and experiment in building one state out of two nationalities. The capital of Belgium, Brussels, is historically Dutch-speaking but it has been deliberately "frenchified” by encouraging immigration from former French North Africa colonies in an attempt to force the Flemings into an ever shrinking minority position.

These tactics are now backfiring. Flemish speaking areas are seeking independence from Belgium. Recent polls revealed even those Flemings, who do not aim (yet) for downright independence, want to reduce Belgium to a confederation of two almost independent states.

Belgium’s problems have been almost totally ignored by the UK media. All three mainstream British Political Parties remain committed to taking Great Britain into a European Superstate. News about the unravelling of Belgium therefore needs to be kept quiet in case it encourages the British people to start to question the need to submerge our nationality and culture into a failing European Superstate.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Reportedly “racist” remarks of a big brother celebrity resulted in outrage in this country and around the world. However the European Union’s Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 have been almost totally ignored. This made it illegal for Commonwealth doctors to complete their post-graduate training in British hospitals, without a work permit, before returning to their own countries.

The European Union’s removal of the rights of citizens of the Commonwealth to work and live in the UK has been slow and stealthy. EU Directives mean Australian and New Zealand doctors and nurses wishing to work in the UK have to demonstrate their ability to speak English. Poles, Latvians, Slovaks, Romanians and other European Union citizens face no such requirement.

Commonwealth Citizens, who have lived, worked and contributed to the UK for many years and who have historic links through the British Commonwealth going back hundreds of years are now facing deportation to make room for East European citizens from countries that joined the European Union only months ago.

The European Union is determined to destroy the UK’s Commonwealth links since once the UK is isolated from its friends outside the EU we will have no option but to accept the rule of Brussels. We have given up sovereignty of our parliament, controls over our own boarders, fishing rights, and many others. It is looking like the British Commonwealth is destined to join the list of things sacrificed by our government in order to show what good Europeans we are.

Picture the hypothetical, scene. A group of senior politicians are discussing party finances. “Right” says one, “we can’t sell any more seats in the House of Lords, so how are we going to raise cash?” The assembled group look glum until one bright spark pipes up” I know, we’ll promised some big potential donors lots of public money in return for private donations to our party. OK so it will cost the taxpayers millions but will raise millions for us” General merriment and good will all round, “Ah” says the top man “but how?” “Simple” comes the reply “We’ll give them a PFI project or two. New Schools or Hospitals should do the trick. A new hospital is best, the developers can make a fortune charging the Heath Authorities to use the facilities, keep all the money from Parking and charge patients a fortune to hire of TV’s or use bedside telephones, etc. The people using the hospital pay the developer and then he can bung us some cash”.

Everyone agrees it’s a good plan, but which hospitals to close? First on the list are those in safe seats held by the opposition parties. Closing their hospitals won’t make any difference to the votes because they are lost causes anyway. Unfortunately not enough of them! So where else to close? Not a marginal seat that’s for sure, too risky. Out come the “Heat Maps” which show the potential risk to votes by closing a hospital. What they need are seats where the people will continue voting for them no matter how badly they are betrayed. “Got it” says one “we’ll close Hartlepool Hospital, they have proved they will always vote for us anyway so we’ve got nothing to loose” Problem solved, all retire to the heavily subsidized members only bar. Of course an imaginary conversation like that could ever take place in a free country like ours, would it!

What do the following places all have in common? Alicante (Spain), Barcelona (Spain), Toulon (France), Genoa (Italy), Arhus (Denmark), Kotka (Finland), Stockholm (Sweden), Szczecin (Poland), Liverpool (UK), Maloy (Norway), Bergen (Norway) Den Helder (Netherlands), Vigo (Spain), Tenerife (Canary Islands), Bermuda, Gdansk (Poland), Karlskrona (Sweden), Helsingör (Denmark), Lübeck-Travemünde(Germany), Rostock (Germany), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Halmstad (Sweden) and Belfast (UK)?

The answer is that all will be hosting a Tall Ships Race in the three year run up to Hartlepool’s turn in 2010.

Hartlepool is the finish port for 2010. Compare this with the city of Belfast (Population approx 5 times that of Hartlepool) which is the final Port for the 2009 race. Belfast appears to have a three year program of events already in place as a build up to the race. In 2006 they inaugurated an annual Maritime festival as part of their “Celebrate Belfast” year. This was judged a tremendous success with 55,000 people descending upon the city’s harbour. (Note that number, 55,000! Hartlepool are projecting 1,000,000 visitors, twenty times as many as Belfast attracted for an event that topped off a months of celebrations).

The Belfast 2007 event was held last month and attracted similar numbers of visitors. The Belfast 2008 event is already being advertised and Stenna Lines are offering weekend special rates on their Stranraer to Belfast Ferry Route for those who want to attend the festival. However, as a press release from the Council identifies “benefits are not reaped without hard work and preparation – and investment. We reckon it will cost somewhere in the region of £3 million to stage the 2009 Tall Ships event”.

If Hartlepool 2010 is to be the world wide show piece we are being promised then Hartlepool Council had better get its finger out!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

UKIP Hartlepool are currently delivering recruiting literature in selected Hartlepool Wards and getting a generally favourable response. However, today I received a reply from a lady who claimed to be the partner of a refugee who would have been killed in his own country had he remained there She didn’t want any more filthy racist literature through her door.

I have written back to her pointing out that UKIP has always supported the principle that asylum seekers should be welcomed in this country and that those in fear of their lives should be able to find a safe haven in the UK. Should UKIP ever abandon this principle then I assured her the party would lose the vast majority of its members, including me!

This lady is part of a huge group who fail to appreciate there is a considerable difference between Asylum and Immigration. Unfortunately the two are used almost interchangeably by many people. UKIP would welcome genuine black, yellow, white, brown, green, purple, blue, red (or any other colour or combination of colours) asylum seekers from anywhere in the world but would expect, for example, an Australian Citizen (of any colour) who wanted to live and work in the UK to obtain a work permit. How is this racist?

UKIP policy is that uncontrolled migration into the UK is not sustainable and we as a country must be able to control who comes here. This is not based in any way on race. It is based on space! We are a relatively small island and cannot absorb unlimited numbers of new residents.

I offered to meet with her to discus these points. I pointed out that she would no doubt react in horror at an allegation that she herself was actually a bigot. However, her attack on UKIP as an alleged racist organisation without any evidence to support this belief other than her own self righteous prejudices is itself an almost dictionary definition of a bigot!

I don’t expect any response to my offer. In my experience people who scream “racist” at every opportunity are so comfortable with their own self righteousness that they refuse to acknowledge any challenges to their prejudices regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Health and Safety.......

According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 50's, 60's, and 70's probably shouldn't have survived,because...

Our baby cots were covered with brightly coloured lead-based paint which was promptly chewed and licked.


We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, or latches on doors or cabinets and it was fine to play with pans.


When we rode our bikes, we wore no helmets, just flip flops and fluorescent 'clackers' on our wheels.


As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the front passenger seat was a treat.


We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle - it all tasted the same.


We ate dripping sandwiches, bread and butter pudding and drank fizzy pop with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.


We shared one drink with four friends, from one bottle or can and no one actually died from this.


We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then went top speed down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into stinging nettles a few times, we learned to solve the problem.


We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back before it got dark. No one was able to reach us all day and no one minded.


We did not have Playstations or X-Boxes, no video games at all. No 99 channels on TV, no videotape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no personal computers, no Internet chat rooms. We had friends - we went outside and found them.


We played elastics and street rounders, and sometimes that ball really hurt.


We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits. They were accidents. We learnt not to do the same thing again.


We had fights, punched each other hard and got black and blue - we learned to get over it. (AND MOVE ON)


We walked to friend's homes.


We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate live stuff, and although we were told it would happen, we did not have very many eyes out, nor did the live stuff live inside us forever.


We rode bikes in packs of 7 and wore our coats by only the hood.


Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.


The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law. Imagine that!


This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Tall Ships

The successful bid by Hartlepool Council to host the 2010 Tall Ships Race has been seen by most people as an unqualified good news story. However, doubts are now surfacing about the actual benefits of the Tall Ships Race coming to Hartlepool.

I asked similar questions in Hartlepool Council Chamber not long after Hartlepool won the bid to host the race. I asked to be reassured that hosting the race would not be a similar experience to hosting the Olympics. Massive expense for a short term gain which leaves local residents picking up the bills for years to come.

I feel a back bench Councillor, like myself, is duty bound to ask difficult questions of the Mayor and his cabinet, to ensure they have really thought through their schemes. The bid to host the race was submitted at short notice after Race Organisers asked Hartlepool Council to apply. That itself should have rung alarm bells. If the race is such a wonderful event for the host town then surely there would be a waiting list to be the host?

The bid was not subject to full scrutiny by the Councillors and in my opinion the maths never added up. Voicing such doubts was not popular in Hartlepool Council Chamber and rather than having my concerns answered I was ridiculed, accused of negativity and trying to pull the town down.

Since winning the bid Hartlepool has received some publicity, the Council has created some extra jobs and the Mayor is off for a "fact finding" mission to study how other towns hosted the race. It is my most sincere hope that the Tall Ships race will be a huge success, but, I worry that when the hype and razzmatazz is over the on-going costs the town's residents will have to cover will massively outweigh any real long term benefits.

Consultation, Consultation, Consultation

As a Councillor I spend huge amounts of time "consulting" with my residents. I prefer to do this over a cup of tea in my local cafe but this of course doesn't tick any boxes on the CPA Assessment which is so beloved by the bureaucracy of local government. I therefore hold regular ward surgeries, too which almost no-one ever comes and every six weeks Hartlepool Council holds a North, South and Central Neighbourhood Forum. Each has a Chairman, a Councillor who receives a “special responsibility allowance” for doing the job and each forum lasts half a day. Take out Councillors, Council Officers, Resident Representatives and people present to make presentations and the average attendance at these forums must be close to zero.

So, why have forums. They use huge amounts of Officer time in preparation. Tie up Officers three mornings every six weeks actually attending the meetings. They cost money to hold, cost money for clerical support to prepare and distribute minutes, agendas, etc and all three tell the same story, three times, to a small group of people, most of who have already heard the presentations in other meetings. So, what do they achieve? Well they allow three Councillors to claim extra allowances and they tick a couple of “Consultation” and “Local Engagement” boxes on the Checklist for “Excellent” Status.

If the box ticking and Excellent Status is actually worth it then why not just have a single “Town” forum. This immediately saves two Councillor’s Chairman Allowances, reduces wasted officer time by two thirds (allowing them an additional day every six weeks or around a week a year!) to do something useful, reduces time and cost for clerical support, again allowing these people to do something useful. Save thousands of pounds and reduce none value adding activity!