Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Defending a few of us in the public sector

As the strike goes on out in the streets of London and across the nation I'm sat inside watching the picket from the comfort of my desk. I have a cold bottle of Doctor Pepper and a comfortable chair, there is hand sanitiser and obligatory foot rests below the desk.

I am one of those evil Public sector workers you hear about, work shy, expensive and unnecessary.

Or am I?

Strikers in Medway
I do work in the public sector, as do all of my colleagues. I do work in an office with the chair, mandatory foot rest (I find them ghastly) and hand sanitiser (if you had to use some of the keyboards after one colleague in particular you'd want it cleaned!!!) but I am not work shy, expensive and nor am I unnecessary to my division.
I agree there are parts of Government and Public sector that exist for the sake of existing and can play fast and lose with public money, I wish I could site examples but for job security purposes I cannot. But this story covers a good couple of examples.

These are the Civil servants and Public sector workers that give the rest of us a bad name.

I work in a non-necessary section of the department of Liesure and Tourism (loosely) in the form of security at a London Museum - hence the desk, comfy chair and mandatory foot rest but my wage is not exorbitant... In fact I'm on £20K P.A with not a pay rise in sight - in fact as of the Autumn statement I will only recieve a 1% increase a clear 4% below inflation so in a very real sense I am getting a pay cut for the next four, five maybe even six years. I am also being asked to put more into my pension so that's more money out of my pocket, tax credits that help my wife and I put our daughter into nursery may come under attack and my train fare is rising by 6% (though this is great compared to the 8% rise that was threatened!).

I agree, to an extent, with the strikers and had I not had REAL issues with the way our local PCS branch was run, I might have been out there with them, though I can't really afford the day's pay I would have lost!
Out there, teachers, bin men, ambulance dispatch, passport officers, security check in, council workers, countless support staff across the entire nation - people you would never think of as working in the public service, toil away for your benefit underpaid and under appreciated.

Yes there are departments (and managerial incompetence) out there which are monetary black holes but not of all of us are on the scrounge.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Medway Council to make elderly suffer to save money

When the great Welfare state was created, under the influence of great Liberals Keynes and Beverage, it was to take care of the population who needed assistance between Cradle and the grave. Those who could not (or could not afford) to take care of themselves would be helped by the state.

Now the state, in the form of Medway Council, is to cut off the elderly, many of whom are not well, to save £2 million pounds now and £1m every year.

Conservative Councillor David Brake, of Walderslade ward, portfolio holder for adult health and social care told the press;

I can understand that people may be concerned about the possibility that things may change but I would like to assure those receiving adult social care services that they will continue to receive high quality care.
We aim to consult on the closure of the Balfour day centre whilst investing in community provision and continuing to provide day care for those that need and want this.
Equally, we are seeking to lower the cost of providing residential care by working with the independent sector in regards to Nelson Court, Robert Bean lodge and Platters farm lodge.
If, following a full and open consultation with users and their families, we do move towards these suggestions we will ensure that we select partners with an established and respected track record of providing high-quality care services and that they have a long-term and stable plan for delivering care and support in Medway.

 The proposals are part of the Council's Better, for less campaign to make streamline expenses but also to maintain excellent services.

Such initiatives include charging for day care and specialised transport to the venues. This could cost up to £175 a week for the care and £2's a day for the transport. With the state of pensions and the cuts in the Winter fuel allowance how are our pensioners supposed to afford this?
Also if we are doing this to care homes in Medway now, what will happen when I'm getting to retirement age in forty years time with little or no pension to speak of?

Also part of the initiative is;

  • Handing Robert Bean Lodge in Rochester and Platters farm Lodge in Rainham to a private provider.
  • Closing Balfour Centre in Rochester
  • Selling off Nelson Court in Chatham
  • Trying to claw back money from Wills of those who had money provided for home adaption.
Privatisation of these homes is never a good move. Councillor Brake says that a high quality partner will be found, which is a good thing as many people will have seen in the News in recent years about the poor quality care that can be provided by companies. However with "Good Quality" comes high prices, prices that can go up and up and up until suddenly elderly care is only for the rich. In fact one user on the Medway Pensioners Forum stated;
When care homes are sold or out-sourced to private sector care becomes secondary to profit.

Closing Balfour Centre has been legitimised by the fact that the figures have fallen by 33% in the last year. This is true as in 2009/10 the number of visits came to 1618 and in 2010/11 it was 1071. The centre caters for 108 people and provides much needed support for elderly and their families. It provides an environment that they can socialise and par take in hobbies such as painting - Without them how many people will just stay at home and wait to die?
It sounds dramatic but it is true. After my Grandmother died my Grandfather spent so much time at home, having demolished all the books of interest from Gillingham Library and with the strains of modern life meaning that we, his family. could not spend as much time we wanted to with him meant he was often on his own bored and watching the clock.
In other cases these centres provide much needed rest for the families of those in need of care, it means they can have some "me" time and do the things they want or need to do.

This is the same with the selling off of Nelson’s Court in Gillingham. This is a SPECIALIST dementia care home for 28 people. With Dementia becoming a more and more common disease it is an important place and the Council just want to get rid. What are the dementia sufferers and their families supposed to do? Is this a case of the council victimising or not caring about the most vulnerable in society?

If this wasn’t bad enough there is also a scheme to recoup money that was given for home improvements from the estates of the deceased! So if your Grandparents were granted money to have their house adapted to make life easier for them and so they wouldn’t have to go into residential care, then the council may be coming after their estate after they have died.
We’re sorry to hear of the sudden death of Mr Petersen... Please send a cheque for £45,000’s to Medway Council c/o Gunwharf...
It is absolutely despicable.

It is doubly despicable that Medway Council are trying to save £2 million pounds, the same amount of money that was wasted bailing out Woodlands school, nearly the amount of money the new Bus station is over budget, a third of what is needed to bring Medway Tunnel up to safety levels, a probable chunk of what is needed to rebrand the future "City of Medway".

The Conservative led Medway Council have a habit of throwing our money around and according to the Audit Committee;

"In the first 6 months of 2011/12 financial year, the investigations team has identified £646,000 of fraudulent overpayments, comprising £325,000 housing and council tax benefit and £294,000 of Department for work and Pensions paid benefits."

Who is losing out? The vulnerable and the poor - the very people that we should be helping in their old age in the same way that we would want to be helped when we reach the age.

There is a demonstration at Gun Wharf at 1.45 today, an e-petition to save Nelson Court and a Facebook group:

and it has the support of the local Liberal Democrats and Trade Unions. Please support the Facebook campaign and sign the petition, no matter what your party allegiance.

Local Libdem message about Conservative cuts to elderly care homes.

Message circulated today to other Medway Liberal Democrats. Its message regarding the closure and privitisation of care homes in Medway is very important and I urge everyone to read it.

I will be publishing a blog post today on the plight of the care homes, such as Nelson Court, in Medway later on today.

Please read Tony's message and please sign the petition attached at the bottem and make a genuine difference to people's lives in Medway.

Thank you.

Tuesday 29th November 2011

Good morning one and all.

Some of you will already be aware of the fact that the Conservative-run Medway Council is about to debate the selling off of the specialist Residential Care Home in Gillingham, known as Nelson Court to the private sector, along with certain other residential care homes.

It is a known fact that the Medway Local Authority-run Care Homes both in terms of being run, managed and maintained, are of a superior quality to many privately owned and run establishments. For that reason and in the best interests their clients, we wish to keep the operation of these much needed homes within the confines of the Local Authority, i.e. maintain the status quo and not subject our town’s elderly and frail to profit-motivated regimes. The fact is, apart from considering the current residents of these establishments, we may need those facilities ourselves one day. Most of the current elderly residents will be too frail, either physically or mentally, to fight for the right to maintain the very high standards of care that they currently enjoy. It is down to us to fight on their behalf.

Please read the attached and please sign the e-petition to save Nelson Court. If in addition you could attend the Council cabinet meeting today to hear first-hand the Council’s deliberations and/or attend the demonstration on the same day outside Gun Wharf, your support would be very much appreciated.

Thank you.

Tony Jeacock

(Medway LibDems)

ePetition Details

Save Nelson Court

We the undersigned petition the council to We request that Medway Council retain Nelson Court Linked Service Centre under Council management and do not outsource this care provision.

We believe that the standard and quality of care provided by the management and staff in Nelson Court is the best in Medway, and that it is in the best interests of residents and their families that the current system remains in place.
This ePetition runs from 23/11/2011 to 10/01/2012.
20 people have signed this ePetition

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Medway Lib Dems AGM - Brighter things to come!

As the out going Chair of Sue Hannant summed up the last year the more I began toquestion the future our party in Medway, this was echoed by comments from Maureen Ruparel the out
going secretary;

We'd lost several Councillors, including Cathy Sutton and Stephen Kearney and the replacements for those who had stood down and we recorded the lowest votes in a long long time. In fact we had been set back to the 1980's!

In 2015 there would be no point in running an MP in the General election and that we would be lucky to hold on to the Council seats we already hold.

The future, it seems, looks bleak.

Then further bad news, we have 95 members and had lost 20% of our members from 2010 and little hope of attracting more.

So... should I pack up and leave? Is it worth even being an active member? If the Medway public are so unreceptive to the Liberal Democrats and the ideals of Liberalism then is it worth just closing down the association or joining with Chatham and Aylesford and fighting with them? (even though they are struggling even more!)

Indeed if you had sat there with me you may have felt the same as I, that the party would all, to the ruin of us all...

But Hope there remains, whilst company remains true.

Geoff Juby, leader of the Council group gave a very rousing speech about issues that faced the group in Council. Pointing out that there was only Dianne Smith, Shelia Kearney and himself were stretched ridiculously thin and couldn't be on every committee or fight every battle, nor be at the council's beck and call for emergency meetings. However there was scope for us, the party members, to get out there and campaign on their behalf be it on train fare rises, the shutting of Nelson Road care
home, cuts to public services etc...

Then came the election of the exec for next year.

Tony Jeacock was appointed as Chair, and this is something I am excited about. Tony has a lot of energy and enthusiasm, we have already spoken in the past and every time I have come away energised and enthusiastic about the party's role and the future.

Already we are talking about working with the grass roots, pushing people forward and campaigning on the doorsteps, finding out what vexes the people of Medway, becoming vocal about issues and not just leave the opposition to Labour. Indeed in Gillingham there is only a small Labour opposition, for the moment, and if we want to keep it that way we need to be the opposition to the Conservatives, we need to be on door steps providing the alternative and supporting our council team.

Within two days he has released an internal Memo for all of the local Lib Dems encouraging them to help the exec and Council teams to go forward and even to turn up at the Exec meetings as the more voices that are heard, the more ideas and possible directions can be taken.

Wednesday night felt like a pivotal occasion, I really felt that we were on the brink of a very exciting time.

Yes, the party is at a low.

Yes, recovery looks like a distant shot,

but it is possible!

When discussing one issue, a member urged us to do nothing rather than risk losing more votes and support and being eviscerated by the Tories in Council.

I responded; "As was stated earlier, when 2015 comes we're already damned... What have we got to lose in standing up for what we believe in and fighting?"

This is the shape of things to come I hope. We won't fade away, eclipsed by the inevitable Blue but continue to fight and be energized and I really believe that Tony, backed up by his new Exec team is the one to lead us to it. I, for my part as the new group Secretary, will do all that I can to assist in this.

It really feels like this could be the beginning of an amazing year where the foundations will truly be laid for greater electoral success.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rehman Chishti - A small retraction by me.

Every great General in History has been forced to give ground, to retreat when he has over extended himself and his line of attack; Blucher withdrew from Ligny before riding to Waterloo to save Wellington, General Howe withdrew from Philadelphia to move closer to his supply bases, even Paulus knew withdrawal was necessary at Stalingrad.

I fear in my last post I over extended myself and stretched my supply lines. A very excellent post from Alan W. Collins has formed an excellent counter attack, as has the flank strike from @GrannyDarley. I am forced to admit defeat and withdraw from my forward position and confess; I was wrong.

Yep, that was an admission, something you won't hear from a lot of politicians or politicos, especially in Medway, but I am not afraid to admit it at all.

Rehman Chishti's record in parliament is indeed impressive and as I stated in my original post he may indeed be beavering away and working damned hard. Indeed it seems he is.
It is exceptionally important that an MP is at Parliament and I agree with Alan that it is their primary purpose and role - Representing the constituents and working on major bills

I will cede this ground gladly- as a constituent I am indeed glad that he is doing what he was voted in (and is paid) to do. I am also heartened that his constituents do have faith in him.

I do, however fall back to familiar land, a spot I do feel comfortable defending and here I will make my stand.

No matter how hard you work in Parliament you need it to be publicised. Normal folk do not watch BBC parliament, keep pace with Twitter, read Political journals (Hell most don't even read the paper) and if you want people to know what you are doing or what you think about key issues you need to have it in the local press. Tracey Crouch and Mark Reckless are often in the Medway Messenger voicing their opinions on national and local issues including the proposed airport at Hoo or in the estuary and some of us know that Rehman raised a question in parliament but the majority of others don't because he's not thrusting himself in the public eye.

I'm not suggesting that he do a Jordan or Kerry Katona and take over the local media until we are sick of him, I'm just saying that keeping people informed is a good thing.
It is better to tell us now as things are done rather than turning up at 2015 when people have already got in mind whom they will vote for and saying;
"But, I've been doing this...."
Better that in 2015 people can look at the pamphlet through the door and say;

"Yeah, Reh Chishti. He was the MP that fought to stop Boris Island, I may not vote Conservative but he has been good for the community so I'll vote him in again."

By not commenting on stories, by not making himself to journalists phone calls (as was reported in today's McGuinness on Monday in the Medway Messenger) he is cutting himself off from the voters. They want to know what he is doing, what his thoughts on subjects are and if they think he is self serving, or not there for the community and primarily in London to secure a ministerial career then he will face a certain amount of backlash from the electorate in 2015.
He also needs to be seen on the streets of Gillingham and Rainham more, go to events like the demonstration outside Gunwharf tomorrow to save Nelson Court, going to or being seen at local events like school fetes, charities or youth groups, actually being at Gillingham or Rainham train station to meet commuters... The odd morning here or there goes a long way in people's minds.

If things continue the way they are then there will be a MASSIVE anti- Coalition backlash and as a marginal seat holder Rehman Chishti will have to impress as many voters as he can now, give people a damn good reason to keep him on and not swing to Labour. (or dare I say it Lib Dem????)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chishti Vs. Twitter in the House of Commons.

Recently, about a month ago, some fraudulent Cad posed as Rehman Chishti MP for Gillingham & Rainham in a fake Twitter account duping over one hundred journalists, fellow MPs and constituents. The tweets were fairly innocent, discussing what he had for lunch, that his printer had packed up etc...

This is significant for two reasons:

1. It was the first time I had seen him in the local press for a long while.

2. After being contacted by Alan McGuinness, a reporter for the Medway Messenger for a comment on the Twitter account he contacted Twitter and had it removed and then brought it up at the House of Commons.

In fact Mr Chishti is quoted as saying (in the Medway Messenger article MP calls for debate after Twitter Fraud, 21-11-2011)

Following a call from a journalist, I discovered that a fake Twitter account had been set up by somebody purporting to be me.
It can happen to anyone across the country and can cause unnecessary nuisance. I ask for an urgent debate on the responsibilities of social media sites.

The response from the Leader of the House, George Young was; I'll raise it with the department for culture, media and sports ministers.

I agree that yes, this can be annoying but in the case of Mr Chishti's "hacker" it has done nothing but actually give him some column space. The hacker wrote nothing libelous or scandalous indeed it was just mundane information like the printer breaking down or eating a sandwich out in the park, if anything this made the whole thing that much more believable!

I've said before that I'd almost forgotten who my MP was and low in the last month he has appeared in two stories locally, both seemingly self serving, this one and the one defending boundary reforms which could be argued was saving his majority for the next election.
 He doesn't sit well in the media that in the same paper (Medway Messenger 21-11-11) there is this article on Rehman Chishti wittering on about a fraudulent Twitter account that did no real harm and in this case is only applicable to him (on page 11) and on Page 7 is a picture of Tracey Crouch doing good in the community of Chatham and Aylesford raising money for Children in need with Freddy the fox. Where was Rehman on Children in need?
Is this just the media being selective of its stories? I'm not really in a position to say (with any proof) either way but in my honest opinion no they aren't. Rehman Chishti does seem to be MIA in Medway and again in Friday's paper (as mentioned here) he was yet again available for comment. A good question would be; would Mr Chishti have brought this up in Parliament if it hadn't happened to him? Could the accusation that he is only representing himself be levelled?

I agree that fake Twitter accounts are a nuisance to people, not only celebrities but also regular people who are victims of hate campaigns by vindictive members of their families or ex friends and maybe there is something that Social Networks could do.
Whether it is for Parliament to debate or not is another question, after all surely the House has greater issues to deal with like the deficit, NHS reform, Human rights, the boundary review, abortion... Where can Rehman Chishti's Twitter clone fit in?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Crouch vs. Balls & Labour's five point plan.

Now, those who know me know that I'm no Mathematician and I loathe Economics which is why so few of my Blog Posts talk about it. However I was sent a Link to Labour's Five step plan

The Basics of the plan are;

1.A £2bn tax on bank bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people.

2. Bringing forward long term investment projects such as schools, roads and transport to get people back to work and strengthen the economy for the future.

3. Reversing the VAT rise giving a couple with children a £450 boost - immediate help for our high streets and for struggling families and pensioners.

4. A one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements -Repairs and maintenance to help homeowners and small businesses.

5. A one year National insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers - helping small businesses to grow and create jobs.

Now I agree with taxing bankers and the extra £w billion would be a definite boost to the country's coffers and could be used to dull cuts in other sectors.
I get hazy around the extra 100,00 new jobs for young people though. Where and how are they created? I am genuinely interested.
It seems to me, a layman, a bit like trying to win votes rather than a policy - after all we all dislike bankers and we all like young people - the next generation.
Also 100,000- only 100,000? And why only young people? I'm 30 (31 on Friday) so will I count?

I also agree with the investment in roads, education etc but I don't know where the money for this is coming from. Surely Mr Balls is not suggesting we Increase the deficit?

A VAT cut would be good, companies and families are struggling and losing money on the 20% rate and the drop would get people spending again although from my family's point of view - Luxuries are a rarity and only food and clothing comes out of the Sams purse.

A VAT cut to home improvements would mean I could look at all the jobs that and doing such as double glazing, central heating, a real conservatory rather than corrugated plastic... Still this is still going to cost money I really don't have and apparently our family income of around £30k is one of the middle.

I do fully support the NI cut for small businesses though. It will do wonders for failing family business and shops.

Last week Mr Balls came to Chatham to see young people and to discuss issues they were facing. This,
 is a move that neither George Osborne or Dr Cable have made and he won't be the last (nor the first) Labour Politician scouting around the marginal seats in Medway trying to recapture confidence.This may have been because Youth unemployment in Medway has doubled to 740 in the Medway towns and nationally to one million.
Here in Chatham the rise is terrible, and if it carries on it's going to be very damaging long-term for this part of the world.
The government choked off the recovery, they tried to cut the deficit too fast. you would think we had learned from the mistakes of the 1980s.
It is very hard for employers when the economy is not growing, unemployment's rising and their own finances are under pressure. Says Mr Balls.

Youth Unemployment didn't start to rise after the general election. We have inherited 97% of this figure. Tracey Crouch returns fire.

Tracey Crouch Vs Ed Balls

This hits the nail on the head.

The Coalition has only been in power for eighteen months. The recovery of the nation's finances will take more than that, after all the original problems started back in 2008-9 whilst Labour were in power, in fact it was their mismanagement of the situation that lost them power in Westminster.

Local Labour politicians (and their National counterparts) have been quick to shout that the Coalition's policies, which I do not necessarily agree with all the time, for not reversing the economic crisis. If you look at history though, no new Economic policy has miraculously reversed a nation's fortunes in such a small period of time.
Economic policy is like agriculture; it takes time. You cannot plant seeds and expect fruit bearing plants straight away. It requires time and nurturing to grow. Quick fixes will not work here.
Further more, like agriculture, the growth is dependent on on external pressures and our economy has been hit by the collapse of the Eurozone and several banks in Europe. All of these are beyond the control of the Coalition Government.

Tracey makes a good point as well that unemployment and economic trends are on going. The nation did not wake up to completely new circumstances on 12th May 2010, in the same way they didn't in May 1997. The unemployment figures, and indeed this whole crisis began under Labour's watch and is why they lost the election in the first place!
It seems rather dishonest for any party to blame or take credit for occurrences. It is nothing short of political point scoring for votes with no substance behind it. It makes me think of the tag line from Alien Vs. Predator;
Who ever wins, we lose.

Mr Balls also commented on the use of unpaid interns by Politicians- something that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have worked against earlier this year.
Even if your family can afford to subsidise you, working with no pay is not good enough. Very true Nick - I mean Ed...

Lets take a brief look at our local MPs. Well predictably Rehman Chishti;
Did not answer requests for comment (see end note reference.)

Mark Reckless has no interns but offers one month work experience students. This actually is fairly vital as employers always want experience so in a way it is worth more than money.

Finally, Tracey Crouch also takes short term work experience staff and has one intern on minimum wage.

Mr Balls has three interns on minimum wage.

I make that 2-0?

Reference: Balls clashes with MP over Youth Unemployment Crisis, D. Bloom, Medway Messenger, 18-11-2011

Is this form of racism allowed in National Newspapers.

One of the things that really annoys me about this country is its bizarre double standards.

On the one hand it is incorrect to call a Chalkboard a Blackboard but in a National Newspaper it is acceptable to caricature the German Chancellor as Adolf Hitler and intimate the nations politics are Nazi.

World War Two ended for Germany in May 1945 and with the collapse of the Third Reich so Nazism ceased to exist as a Political doctrine. The period of the Third Reich is considered as not only a dark stain on the history of Germany but also of the World.
Germany itself has come a long way since those dark days and the German people are very conscious of their history. They however are looking to the future and becoming an industrial power house and strong economy. For them the EU is very important, it brings everyone together in Europe in Peace and in trade with each other. I completely agree with Chancellor Merkel's assessment of the situation.

If the Euro collapses, the EU will fall and their will be wars and the like in Europe again.

This was not a threat thrown out by a sabre rattling Nazi Fuhrer threatening a Fourth Reich that would plunge Europe into a Teutonic style darkness as some of the Press would have you believe. It was instead the concerns of a politician who knows that certain parts of Europe are still not stable and without the EU to act as arbiter we could end up with yet another Balkans conflict.

The British Press seems obsessed with wheeling out the Nazi imagery when discussing the German state or politics. In Euro 96 the press ran images of the German National Football team wearing Stahlhelms and quotes from Churchill to show that Britain could over come the hated "Hun".
Coincidentally as a fan of the DFB, I was over the moon when Southgate missed the penalty, especially in the light of the press reports.

In Germany, Nazi is a banned word, theory and practice but in Britain it is used so frequently you would think that Hitler was still in power. It is thrown around a lot especially by those wanting to portray harsh dictatorial politics or policing - in fact Nazism is a byword for evil and is often used by writers as a quick easy bad guy rather than being creative and thinking of your own villains.
Germany then. Not now.
Even when discussing history it is used unnecessarily. Terms like "Nazi Soldiers" or "Nazi Aircraft" are used a lot. This is an incredibly inaccurate term as they are not all Nazis. es the Nazi party was in power but not every serving Soldier, Sailor or Airman was a member of the party or indeed agreed with their policies - The SS were probably the exception and even then by the latter years of the war with mass conscription and heavy losses in the Waffen SS it would be inaccurate to say they all Nazis.
Indeed one German Pilot said. "We fought for Fatherland not Fuhrer"
The same inaccuracy would be to refer to British troops in Iraq as "Blairite" or US Soldiers as "Republicans". To make it even more stark were all the RAF personnel involved in Libya "Coalitionists"?

The time for racial stereotypes is long gone. We no longer refer to the Spanish as work shy lounging Diego's or the French as Onion eating surrender monkeys - BECAUSE IT IS OFFENSIVE!!!

So why is it still acceptable to refer to the Germans, not just in family gatherings or in pubs - where such racial stereotyping can be rife in the latter, but in National Newspapers read by all! How is this acceptable?

Modern Germany and Modern Germans are not what they were in 1933-45, there is not this drive to reestablish the Kaiser Reich lost at Versailles, or to dominate Europe with diplomacy and economy - well, no more so than any other nation, they aren't a militaristic, anti-Semitic, dictatorship and it is time that writers for the Daily Mail et-al learnt this and stop spreading this offensive rubbish and perpetuating this nasty stereotype.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Is the Medway Valley line fit for purpose?

When Doctor Beaching wielded his famous axe that cut away all the unnecessary railway lines in the country there were some dubious losses and survivors. One such survivor is the Medway Valley line which runs from Strood to Paddock Wood.

It is a beautiful line, no doubts there, that runs through the heart of rural Kent and stops at beautiful Victorian stations like East Farleigh, Maidstone West and Yalding. The only reason that the line probably survived the axe was that it is the only way to connect North Kent lines with the Mid-Kent lines through Maidstone short of travellers going to Ashford or Bromley South and London Bridge and it does act as a handy short cut.

It is also helpful for people, such as myself, who don't drive and want a cheap day out to Maidstone. Some people have chosen to live out in East Farleigh and Yalding (I can't blame them!) in beautiful rural countryside rely on the line to get them to work in London and go to Strood to get a connection or to hop aboard the High Speed Rail link to St Pancreas. On a personal note it also helps me go and visit my Mother who lives in Marden from time to time.

The Line is however fairly ineffective. The trains run every half an hour and if you are delayed by minutes in getting to Strood or Paddock wood then you have to wait around at these choice locations twiddling your thumbs. Also as the trains run down a singular track if there is a problem upon the rail then the whole line is shut down. I was stuck on Strood station awaiting the train which had unfortunately broken down in Maidstone West station, I then had to wait 45 minutes for a Coach service to be organised and then a further 45 minutes for the drive to Maidstone. It is indeed much more convenient although slightly pricey, to catch the 101 Bus from Chatham to Maidstone Chequers centre, on the weekend there is the added bonus that it goes past my house in the evening on its way to Twydal!

Another problem is the nature of the stations. As I have written in past blogs the station at Strood and even Maidstone West station are not condusive to people with luggage, babies or wheel chairs. There are no plans to modernise these stations in the near future and indeed Maidstone West was one of the stations ear marked to be made Unmanned under the McNulty review. So between Strood and Paddock Wood there will be no assistance for travellers such as myself at the rural stations.

The line is also fairly lightly travelled, outside of rush hour, reflected in the two carriage trains that traverse the line once every half an hour and these trains are hardly packed.

This line is a bit of a white elephant with more problems than pro points, it either needs serious investment - Something Southeastern are unlikely to do, or maybe it does need to finally be pulled up and the loss cut. Although as a fan of railways, rural and Victorian lines in particular, I do not condone this for the sake of doing it. Maybe it would be better to convert it to a steam service again and used as a tourist attraction running down the scenic Medway line?

Conservative criticism of Medway Boundary reforms.

I was recently reading Cllr Tristan Osborne's blog post on Boundary reform and frankly I was vexed he beat me to the punch!

Indeed, I also find the Conservative line put forward by Rehman Chishti to be confusing and contradictory to local Party politics.
Locally Medway Conservatives (and Labour) are pushing for the Medway Towns to become the glorious City of Medway, they plug this as the next logical step and the best thing to happen to the towns in decades.

At the same time, at the Boundary Commission's hearings they are arguing that changing the titles of the constituencies to drop the Rochester & Strood, Chatham and Aylesford and Gillingham & Rainham to things like "Medway East."

This will mean the end to the historical and proud names and the heritage of these Towns - They cry.

But if by some act of evil Medway City actually comes into being then surely the title "Medway East" or "Aylesford and Medway South" would be more fitting?
Also, as has been said on occasions, the area has been known by the shorthand of Medway for God knows how long anyway, does it matter?

Now I agree with my Lib Dem colleagues that breaking up current constituencies and communities with seemingly arbitrary lines is a bad thing however I am also swayed by Cllr Osborne's argument on constituencies. He's right, what have the people of Aylesford and Chatham got in common? (Apart from Tracey Crouch) or even the people in Helen Grant's constituency? I grew up in Marden and my concerns in a rural village were completely different to the people of Maidstone. A good constituent MP, such as Miss Crouch, can balance such demands and be flexible and make themselves seen and available to all of their constituents and represent them as best they can. This is the process of modern politics I'm afraid.

The people of Luton and Wayfield will have similar concerns to those in Gillingham South so will not have to worry, in fact I'm sure the people of Wigmore and Hempstead will have similar concerns to those in Horsted and Bluebell Hill have, especially if the City is proclaimed. After all we do all use the same services; Medway Maritime hospital, ASDA, Tesco, Southeastern Railways, we're all under Medway Council... Will it make that much of a difference to their daily lives?

I will say, however, it is better than being merged with Lenham, which had been an original proposal before Medway Lib Dems tried to re juggle the constituencies for a counter suggestion back in the summer.

Indeed Every party is ultimately losing out in some places and winning in others. The Commission is carrying out a pledge from both the Lib Dems and Conservative Parties to make politics fairer and more even - after all some MPs are representing less people than others but getting an equal say in parliament. Is this fair?
This rebalance will save on 50 MPs at £60k a year each... A substantial cut in governmental expenditure. The Commission is a neutral body whose findings are arbitrary and they have done some Sterling work, juggling council wards to try and make its as even as possible.

I suppose the question would be; What are they afraid of?

Is it the loss of Conservative voters and being replaced with Labour voters?

Is it a genuine concern of the voters in those council wards? After all do they feel that Tracey Crouch is not as good an MP as Rehman Chishti? - Something I would severely contest as erroneous and I think the people of Wigmore have got a good deal here!

In the end I find myself agreeing with Cllr Osborne but with a twist. If this is a genuine concern of the voters and residents it should be raised by a Councillor (Not Mr Chishti , who is a councillor but is also an MP also has a vested interest in maintaining his majority for 2015).
However, I think that in reality there aren't that many people who are really that concerned by boundary reform.

Then again a Wise man said to me last week;

In a boundary review, every word that's spoken (by every party, including yours) has big political undertones...

and quite right too, don't take my word alone for it.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Letter to the Queen on City Status.

There is a history of peasantry petitioning the ruling Monarch over pressing issues, usually at the front of a peasants revolt and usually ends in an execution or two!

"Well if Jack Cade and Watt Tyler can do it" I thought.
That's when I did something that was probably a little inadvisable and reached for my Laptop.

Mr Chris Sams,
XXX Sturdee Avenue,
ME7 2HG 
Tuesday 14th June
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,
Buckingham Palace,

If it pleases your Majesty,

            I am writing to you to plead the case for the reinstatement of city status to the Cathedral town of Rochester in Kent. As I am sure your Majesty knows Rochester has historically served the Crown and the Church loyally and with distinction and was a city from 1211 until 1998 when an administrative error occurred as the Medway towns formed the Medway Unitary Authority thus stripping this noble city of its status.

It is a grand old Cathedral city in a similar vein to Winchester and Canterbury with medieval streets and Victorian and Georgian shops set in a peaceful and picturesque high street and was once the home of Charles Dickens whose works are celebrated annually at the Dickens festival. 

As the seat of a Bishop who cares for an entire dioceses, which is the second oldest in England and stretches across a sizable area of Kent, it is deserving of the recognition of Cathedral city whether it fits current criteria for city status or not.

I beseech your Majesty to intervene on behalf of the city of Rochester and please name it on your jubilee year restoring this once noble city’s dignity. The people of Rochester would be eternally grateful to your Majesty for considering this most humble request.

  I have the honour to be, Ma’am, your Majesty’s most humble and obedient servant

And the response...

20th October 2011

Dear Mr. Sams,

        The Queen has asked me to thank you for your letter of the 14th June, and I apologise for the delay in replying, which is due to the high volume of mail recieved in recent weeks.

While careful note has been taken of the views you express concerning your wish to see Rochester reinstated to City Status, I must tell you that this is not a matter which The Queen would personally intervene or comment upon. As a constitutional Sovereign, Her Majesty acts on the advice of her ministers.

I am, therefore forwarding your letter to Constitutional Policy Branch, c/o strategic Communications, Cabinet Office, 3rd Floor, 22 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2WH, so that they may know of your comments.
                                                                      Yours sincerely
Mrs Sonia Bonici
Senior Correspondence Officer

Well it was indeed a long shot, and I cannot expect anymore and am thankful for what I have recieved from Her Majesty, indeed in a way I feel stupid for asking and wasting her valuable time.

I have, ofcourse, no illusions about the amount of attention that Whitehall will pay to the argument but here's hoping, not only for Rochester but also for the people of the Medway towns, so strongly do I feel the whole notion of the City of Medway.

Parking Failures in Medway.

Another continuing problem has raised its head again, the spectre of parking in Medway.

It's attack is three fold.

1. Aldi Car park.

Regular customers at the popular budget super market on Duncan road will have discovered over recent months that the hour and a half free parking was reduced to an hour.
The Supermarket, who subcontracts the monitoring of the car park to another company "parking Eye" took the decision at an above store level possibly motivated by patrons who used the carpark to use Gillingham High street.
Although there was a sign posted, many customers were not aware of the change until the fine arrived in the post!
A recent "Focus" news letter rightly points out that an hour is quite a small amount of time to get in and out, especially at peak times or if you are elderly or disabled.
A source at the store has said that it was out of the control of the Gillingham staff but that people with fines should contest them if they feel aggrieved - though Focus states that "Parking eye" are NOT considerate to the elderly or disabled.
As a private company Aldi and their subsidiaries are free to act as they see fit on their property. A sign was posted clearly, there was a months grace which has now past. Maybe greater consideration could have been taken and reports in the local press have customers who have vowed never to go back but as the recession bites and money gets tighter budget stores, such as Aldi, get increasingly popular, they will not miss the few customers they lose.

*Stop the Press!!!* Just as I was finishing this article my source at Aldi has informed me that ParkingEye and Aldi have changed the rules so that Blue badge holders are now immune to the regulation. Well... that's a bit better but what if you're elderly but not disabled?

2. The CCTV car.

According to an article in the Medway News last week there ,may be a loophole that means the council could have to pay back £1 million at a time when it needs to save £5 million and find money for Medway Tunnel, fund the unwanted Medway City bid...
Anyway, according to Mr Nigel Wise of "No to MOB" who is currently representing a case against a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) claims the certification from the Vehicle Certification Agency is:
"defective and deficient" because it did not list the recording system used on the vehicles as required by law.

Also the operators are not reviewing the footage as they are filming it, rather it is being reviewed by Council staff at a later time which is in violation of the Council's own guidelines!

Mr Wise is representing the case of a Ms Hubbard of Twickenham and has won a similar case against Richmond council is confident that should a similar verdict be returned then it could mean all of the CCTV PCN's could be overturned and a full refund due.
Medway Council have declined to comment until the hearing is complete, however as Medway council seem to make oversights all the time it wouldn't surprise me if this turned out to be a big red face moment for the Council!
[ CCTV car's fines may ALL be void - by Max Evans, Medway News, 3-11-2011]

Further to that in the letters page (p.20) there was a section on parking in Medway about the case of a Mr George Cook of Rainham it appears that he was issued a PCN and found that there was an irregularity in the paperwork. The offence was issued and posted on the 2nd of September but the post mark is dated the 5th. This is a contravention of the Civil enforcement blah blah blah 19/2 (a). Ultimately that PCN was overturned.
In a similar case three more people were issued PCN's. When they consulted the Traffic Regulation Order they discovered that the land was indeed private land and the Council had no right to charge them for parking there!

I would advise people to go to the Strood Parking Services office and ask for a copy of the TRO, it's costs a total of no more than 10 pence. They HAVE to supply it to you or the low rung civil service lackey will be hit with a fine and more likely they will lose their job and in these insecure times who wants to lose their job?
Forewarned is forearmed and 10p to avoid a large fine is much more preferable!

3. Parking on pavements.

How can you get a buggy in this gap?
The standard of parking in Medway, indeed the general Traffic law, is poor. As a pedestrian I've almost been run over on the pavement outside the Cats protection shop in Gillingham, knocked over by Taxi's who speed through zebra crossings when you are on it or just last week by an Arriva van that didn't stop at the red light at Gillingham station crossing...

But it is not the dicing with death at the crossings or the simple walk into town that vexes me, no its parking on the pavement. This happens after hours or on the weekend so the perpetrators are actually immune to the Council's over zealous checks but it renders the routes impassable when you are carrying shopping bags or even pushing a buggy. I've often found walking down "Livingstone avenue" in Gillingham, pushing my daughter along and found I cannot get by. If anyone knows Livingstone avenue they'll know there is a particularly blind bend in the street which is where the parking bays swap sides of the road, this is where you have to cross the road.
I don't mind doing that myself... well I do but I'm an adult and can keep flat against the cars or run across roads but when I'm pushing my daughter I can't and won't risk her life just because some one has thoughtlessly parked across the path.

I know there is a shortage of parking spaces in the residential areas and there are more than one car per household however we, the pedestrians are paying the price. Can the Council do anything about this? In the regeneration plans for Medway can they provide residents with parking so that we can reclaim our footpaths?

To wrap up, there are a lot of questions and problems facing Medway Council and the residents over parking issues and there seems to be no easy solution. I'm glad the Aldi situation has resolved itself but the ongoing CCTV car nightmare and the parking in residential areas are still ongoing and no light in the tunnel.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Giving the under 18's the vote.

A few Tuesday's ago I was lucky enough to be off work sick and able to lay wrapped in a duvet watching Deputy Prime Minister's Question Time and see two of my favourite politicians speak, and on a matter that could be quite decisive.

Tim Farron asked Nick Clegg about the possibility of lowering the threshold of voters down to 16 years old.
He said in words to this affect;

"When can youths who can get married, have children, pay taxes and even serve in the military be rewarded with the ability to vote?"

Nick responded by answering that the Commission will look into it.

Personally I think that it is a valid proposition. Tim has hit the nail on the head in that the nation can send someone out to die to defend our Parliamentary Democracy, or pay to help the state but they cannot have a say on what the state does.

There is the question of maturity amongst 16 year olds and it is true. When I was 16 I was more interested in Galactic domination by the Empire than I was about the political state of our country and the way it was run. However there is a growing culture of young people who are interested in politics and with the growth of the Internet in the last 14 years it has allowed young people (indeed anyone) greater access to politics.

Also over the last few years the Liberal Democrats have played a role in engaging students and with the promise to cut tuition fees brought many who would not otherwise be interested in Politics into the fold. Ok we burnt that bridge last year but the work still remains...

We shouldn't be worried that young people are to immature to vote especially when some "adults" can't be bothered or in some cases spoil their votes by adding a box with "BNP" and marking it with an X. (yep I really saw that!!!)

With the impressive showing of Rory Weal at the Labour conference and indeed from some of the very good and well reasoned Political debate I've seen on Twitter from local Young Labour and Conservatives alike I think it would be fair to say that these teenagers know more about politics than their adult counterparts who vote one way because they always have!

What other way is there to engage the disheartened and disenfranchised youth in Britain than to bestow this right upon them. It is true they could die for their country and pay tax, they are also feeling cut off by society and from Government. The vote might be enough to show that they do have a role within it and that they are trusted.

Nick said that they would look into lowering the voting age and I sincerely hope they do and I hope that the youth can prove their are up to the responsibility.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

An Appeal to Reason - No to City Status

Five towns, not One city.
Before I start this I should make clear that I am not writing this as a Liberal Democrat party member or on behalf of the party. I know as a group the Medway Lib Dems are opposed to city status but I have arrived at this position by myself and just happen to agree with them. I am instead writing this Appeal to Reason as a citizen of Gillingham who was born here, lived the first few years of my life here and the last four years, whose family lived here for at least a century, the Great grandson of Cpl G W Bone whose death is commemorated on the Boer war memorial in Brompton Barracks and Grandson of  (the then) Corp A J Pullen who helped build the defences in Chatham town centre and along the Great Lines in 1940-41 to stave off invasion.

I am writing to urge Medway Council to rethink their plans and bid for uniting the Medway towns into one Medway City.

The Medway towns, as I'm sure many know have long historic Individual identities and have slowly, since the Second World War, been pulled together until eventually formed a Unitary authority but maintained their individual names. This bid would see the last buttresses collapse and see their amalgamation and eventual disappearance.

The five towns have their own individual character, communities and up until the twentieth century boarders. With the growth of the towns the villages of Brompton, Luton, Horsted, Borstal, Wayfield, Hempstead... I could go on! These villages now exist as nothing more than names on a map if not borough's within the larger Chatham, Rainham and Gillingham areas. Is there not a danger that within fifty, sixty years the same would happen to the other Medway towns? How long before I'm supporting Medway City FC instead of Gillingham?

Any city that was created out of the towns would be an artificial construct like the formation of Great Britain from the four original states with their own separate identities and community and that has begun the slow unwind to separation. History shows us artificial unions cannot stay together.
Unlike other City contenders there is a NO campaign based on this. I cannot imagine the people of Reading saying;
"No thanks, we'd rather stay as a town."

I am saying; "No thanks I'd rather be a town rather than several towns masquerading as a city."

So what of Rochester? That was a city and that was OK.

Yes, it was part of the Medway towns, a cooperative group.

But the area is known as Medway anyway.

Yeah, but as a short name. I live in Gillingham, my Grandfather in Chatham, I have a friend who lives in Strood and ministers the Rochester baptist Church. Medway is the umbrella term, a shorthand if you will but we live in individual areas that should remain thus.

It is a glorious waste of money. Medway Council have to save £5 million over the next five years, they have overspent on their original budget for the new bus station, spent an extra 500k on a straight path into Medway park, other finances have been mismanaged and now they want to pay for the City of Medway?
I know we've been promised that it costs no more than 8p each but on a quick stats check;
Rochester pop. 27,000
Gillingham Pop. 99,773
Chatham pop. 70,540
Strood Pop.33,182
Rainham pop.6,394
= 236889 X 8 = 18,952.12 (on 2001's figures.)

This cannot be accurate. I've been through three Company rebrandings in my working life and all of them have vast amounts of hidden costs.

Uniforms, signs, advertisement, leaflets, maps, stationary, motifs, sponsorship etc all need replacing.
Sure some will continue to be used until they need replacement which is fine and relatively inexpensive.

BUT you can't tell me that the road signs, office stationary at Gunwharf and the Council's vehicles won't immediately get re branded? How many man hours will have to go into this? Time is money and wages for someone. Is this an expense that the people of Medway can afford to take on?

I'm all for the betterment of Medway which is why I would love see this money put into the regeneration of Chatham and Gillingham town centres and make them nicer than the current Eastern Bloc-esq ruins they seem to have become rather than pump the money into a massive White elephant. There have been No concrete bonuses for being a city. There is the promise of better business opportunities and investment but there is nothing yet on the books. Also why are these companies not already investing in the Medway Towns? What is truly in the name and is it not the same area? The only plus that I have seen so far is that Councillors will get to call themselves City councillors.

The people of the Medway towns haven't been consulted about this and I sincerely doubt they want it, or are even that bothered.
Yes I know there was a phone survey that spoke to all of 0.01%  of the Medway population (and only found 65% of them were in favour!) but what about the rest of us?
The people of the towns have followed blindly as the Council has taken us by the hand and led us or even dragged us into things we've not agreed to or wanted in the past, like the tunnel purchase, the Medway test, etc.. but now the people need to stand up and say "NO".
Of course if I am wrong and I am the minority I will shut up, stop my campaigning and sit silently in the corner keeping my opinions to myself and let the democracy rule as it should. But who knows if I am the minority?
I know referendum's are expensive, and although it is one option, a cheaper one would be a survey through the door or ask councillors to as their constituents at their surgeries over the upcoming months? That's almost free - a price Medway Council can afford!

So please consult the people and think long and hard about this! It is a big issue, something that needs addressing and local Conservative and Labour Groups to think about... Stop- Listen and think again.

As I said, if it is truly the will of the people then yeah I'll be quiet and go away but until the Council can turn around and demonstrate that I will continue to fight and kick up a stink about this.