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Labour Council Leaders say Government cuts will lead to public unrest. But the days of passing the buck for a free Pound have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Some Conservative Councillors will quietly sympathise with the difficult decisions being made within almost every local authority in the Country as the result of continuing budget cuts. But that’s precisely where any similarity in view will end with the content tabled in a joint letter to the Observer by the Labour Leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield Councils, suggesting that cuts in local government grants will break up society.

Look at our Country today and it is easy to see that we are already living within a divided society that is split by divisions which go way beyond simple demographics, political bias or the slashing of public services at just one level of Government.

These are problems that are far more serious than any senior politician on any side seems willing to address in any meaningful way. And the reality is that the demise of local authority structures and the seemingly endless range of services that they were once able to provide are only being accelerated by the ‘age of austerity’, and not caused by it as this document would apparently have us believe.

There is in fact significant irony that local authorities are also the victim of the philosophy and actions of the very movements and people who are so eloquently attempting to place blame on the Coalition Government today, for problems which have actually been a long time in the making within a system which has only been sustainable because of what must have seemed like a guaranteed bottom line to a generation of politicians who believe that idealism can be delivered without any thought for practicalities.

In just one respect alone, I found myself completely horrified when I first learned of the gargantuan percentages of Council Tax which go directly into the gold-plated Local Government Pension Scheme. Similar ideology has been rampant within local government decision making throughout living memory and any commercial business run with such an extraordinary emphasis on funding employees and their benefits would be as viable as its existence within in a competitive market.

I have little doubt that just these funds alone being made available for the purpose which the Taxpayer has the right to expect, coupled with the real reforms that every part of Government now requires, would deliver a significantly positive effect on what is today a very gloomy picture indeed for locally-funded public services.

Government and non-Government organisations of all types have for too long been insulated against the real world realities of profit and loss by protectionist culture; by the political correctness of socialist job creation; and by a guaranteed level of income which has now unceremoniously come to an end.

It’s time that everyone in positions of responsibility within all tiers of Government began being responsible, rather than looking elsewhere and expecting someone else to pick up the pieces or to pay the bills with a non-existent stream of infinite credit.

Political idealism is as ideal as it is practical. Politicians from all sides now have to accept and work with this reality. Otherwise, a new reality will continue to write itself which will go way beyond the fallout from wasting opportunities for change and from a failure to take full responsibility within local government.

The days of passing the buck and expecting a free Pound in return have long gone and all politicians must now accept that responsibility has consequences.

Flooding: A truly democratic system should allow for changes in Planning Legislation which will limit the damage which future flooding events have the power to cause

December 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Christmas will not be that merry for many who have been hit by flooding over recent days, weeks and what has now become months. Even today, news that the seemingly freak weather patterns that have haunted the UK in 2012 are staying put will be sending a shiver down the spines of all those who have closely witnessed or experienced the nightmare of being in a flood.

But is the perceived change in weather patterns the only factor we should be considering for future flood protection, or are the issues governing the severity of future flooding events far more deep seated, but with the potential for control?

In July 2007 and less than 3 months into my first Term as a Councillor, Tewkesbury Borough sat at what felt to many of us like the epicentre of a disastrous flood which demonstrated just how the impact of unforeseen water damage and a systematic failure to plan ahead can actually be and how its power can touch the lives of people who would never normally have reason to live in such fear.

Over a period of 36 hours, home after home in areas that had never been previously considered at risk of flooding became submersed by the affects of just 1 days deluge right across Gloucestershire. Whole Villages went under and for some home owners, many months of pain and torment lay ahead as driveway-based caravans suddenly became the only way to live, rather than the home from home that many choose to put on the road every Easter.

Perhaps the most significant consequence of this unpredictable event was the pollution of fresh drinking water supplies at the Mythe Water Treatment Works near Tewkesbury. Residents and businesses throughout Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury were left without drinking water for over two weeks and stories of water thefts and fights at distribution points soon made many aware of just how quickly the civilised facade of our society can begin to break down when the basic elements of daily life that we take for granted are put at risk.

Daily deliveries of bottled water throughout the Ashchurch with Walton Cardiff Ward thereafter and dealing with many flood related issues on behalf of Residents to date has provided an invaluable insight into both the flooding events themselves and the way that the whole issue is handled by organisations as diverse as single-issue pressure groups, local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Central Government.

One of the most concerning elements of that experience has been the illumination of the way in which our centrally-derived Planning Laws and Policies simply do not allow people with local knowledge to exert meaningful levels of influence on building which many quietly agree does not consider either extreme levels of river or fluvial flooding or indeed the more concerning and unpredictable rain-based or pluvial flooding. It is such pluvial events as in 2007 that can present those extreme volumes of water in such short periods of time that  rivers and streams cease to exist leaving an out of control torrent to create its own destructive pathway to its gravity-borne destination.

Most worryingly still is the apparent lack of interest from authorities in these pluvial flood issues, with most prevention work concentrating on fluvial targets and where anything else may be ceremoniously rebuffed with the excuse that such events are so very, very rare and perhaps a only a ‘1 in a 100 year event’. When coupled with such arguable intransigence as the suggestion that built-up land on flood plain by its very nature ceases to be a flood plain – irrespective of where future floods might therefore go; you might see that even politicians like myself have good reason to be concerned for what the future may hold not only for those communities already experienced with floods, but also for those whose experiences may regrettably be still yet to come.

It is a frightening reality that Local Authorities with Planning functions are at this very moment in time formulating policies and projections on building development for the next 20 or 30 years. Development which when even only in existence upon paper is by that very existence arguably irreversible when Councils have effectively been coerced by Central Government to let the development genie out of the bottle, thereby granting the wishes of developers who now appear to be out of control. Developers who have pockets deep enough to challenge any refusal to grant planning permission by those Councils who may go against what may actually be official advice and challenge on the basis of what is right. Councils that may if not already, soon be on the verge of bankruptcy because of other centrally derived and disastrous ‘one size fits all’ policies that are serving nobody but their political architects.

In times when sustainability is a Government mantra, the unsustainable practice of what is in effect unbridled green-field development has to cease.

Housing need must not only be determined by local people at local level; that level of development must itself be based upon what any one local area can support and not upon what Westminster Officials decide as being a requirement.

As a Nation, we simply cannot concrete and tarmac over fields in order to sustain exploding population growth which itself is not contributing either the equivalent or more of what it then demands from a paymaster which continues to function well beyond its means.

Long term housing projections should cease, not only for being the gift that they have become for unscrupulous land-banking developers, but also because we simply do not know what lies in store for us as a population next year, let alone that which may be the case in 30 more.

It is local people and their representatives who should have both the power to decide upon what is and is not sustainable in building terms, along with the right to say no to developers without any fear of unseen bureaucrats undermining or reversing those very same decisions based upon an external and self-serving strategy.

Mankind may not have yet discovered the way to change the weather, but a democratic system should actually allow for changes in Legislation which will limit the amount of damage which future flooding events have the power to cause.

Local people should have the choice to protect their homes, businesses and even lives right now. Not when there is nothing left insurable.

Toll Motorways: No Government can continue to charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

December 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Latest headlines suggest that the DFT is now open to the idea of privatising new roads, and George Osborne is also now considering charging tolls for existing Motorway use too.

Perhaps many of us are mistaken, but don’t we already pay for this in ways such as Road Fund License, Fuel Tax, Vat on vehicle purchases, Vat on Fuel, Vat on vehicle repairs, Vat on Tyres, Corporation Tax on Companies providing the same etc, etc??? To be fair, the list probably goes on a great deal further; and that is about the only great deal that the Taxpayer and businesses seem to get when it comes to road use and transport.

One of the most significant tragedies and missed opportunities of this Coalition Government was the given acceptance on the part of so many of us that the Country’s finances are in a hell of a mess and that we had been fully accepting of the need to implement changes and policies which would have absolutely smashed the age of political correctness that is wrapped around and protects so many of the root causes of our problems. Changes and policies that if implemented, would easily have began to address the real problems which a post 2015 Government may well try to cover up with yet another return to profligate spending.

Few people or businesses can exist or move forward in the UK today without transport and therefore road use entering in to the mix at some point. The financial burden which accompanies road use is already arguably higher than is sustainable. So simply loading further charges on users who cannot earn more or charge more, when every other cost continues around them continues to rise, is simply outrageous.

Before anything else, existing Motorways require better management. Today’s technology may well allow for every vehicle to be ‘chipped’ and for road space to be allocated to keep overcrowded roads moving, whilst purpose-specific taxation is generated on a per mile basis. But such moves simply cannot be adopted as a method of raising additional fees and would have to replace or consolidate existing systems which do not fairly reflect levels of use and do not intelligently support the growth and competitivenness of British business.

Privately built and operated toll roads may themselves bring a timely solution to the hole in funds for new infrastructure, but will again ultimately allow profit to be made from essential services and functions for public use, where focus on the bottom line will only ever lead to even greater problems for the end user.

Top to bottom reform of all areas of Government, Benefits and Taxation are the only way that the true depth of this Country’s problems can ever be addressed and finding politically expedient ways of reducing the thin layer of jam between the bread in the Taxpayer’s sandwich may solve a problem today, but will leave the whole thing tasting rather sour tomorrow.

Politicians must now accept that you cannot charge the Taxpayer time and again for the same things and expect to be taken seriously.

Effect-focussed Government has failed us all. Can we really move forward with a plan of something better for all if we never address the causes of our problems?

December 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Leaps in utility prices touch just about everyone’s lives either directly or indirectly. No less so because of the growing paradox which appears to be a guaranteed bottom line for shareholders, whilst customers continually carry the can for everything that any non-essential business would have no option but to absorb within what are today’s unalterable margins.

Public services such as Trains run under much the same guise, and the question really should be asked if the time has come when any provider of a key or essential service should remain able to have a free reign over charges and their levels of profit when the end user simply has no choice but to buy?

Similarly, margins drawn from the production and retail of essential basic items such as milk, bread, meats and vegetables must surely now be protected from City speculation and the stranglehold of the big retailers who are together endangering various food producing industries in what is little more than an obligation to sustain and build upon profits, laid down by the purely financial motives of their masters.

So what exactly is stopping the long needed change in direction which would embrace a true form of moral or rather responsible capitalism, which in its boldest form would serve to protect a basic and affordable living for all, whilst delivering an arguably much reduced cost for Government?

One of the key failings of many of today’s politicians is a fundamental lack of understanding, will and fortitude to deal with the deep rooted causes of the problems that we as a nation face; instead choosing to do little more than dalliance in dealing with the effects of bad or flawed decisions, then going on to repeat the very same mistakes when that latest remedy itself begins to demonstrate its flaws.

Be under no illusion, this process is not unique to any political genre or ideology. It is a deep seated and inherently progressive condition, made all the worse by a political party system which now serves only to propagate itself and those within it who effectively function to do the very same, placing electability before delivery.

Successive Governments, whether they have been Conservative, Labour or even Coalitions have done the very same things, albeit with a different wrapper. But with little more than a ‘fire and forget’ mentality, the consequences are plain to see and there for us all to share and experience in our everyday lives.

The commonalities within privatisation, right-to-buy, the evolution of the free market and even political parties themselves are that they were arguably all political creations with a great and beneficial purpose in mind for those who were the driving forces behind them.

However, like most great ideas in Government that come to be manifest, they have progressively moved beyond their point of balance or what some might choose to call good, and have gone in another direction entirely. One which has benefited the unscrupulous and cost those of us dearly who have the right to expect the protection of our everyday interests by those who we put in place to take that responsibility on our behalf to do so.

Acceptance that the evolution of policies can and will continue beyond their point of good is no enviable task. This is particularly so when many organisations, NGO’s and even Government Departments have been created simply to deliver upon questionable policies and their lucrative spin-offs. In many cases they arguably continue to exist for the sole purpose of existing.

Trades Unions, Health & Safety Legislation and European red-tape are all examples of well-intentioned principles which have gone way beyond their point of good. Even UK Taxation and Benefits no longer represent the equitable and fair approach that we should all be able to reasonably expect from a 21st Century Western Government and the implementation of truly fair systems such as Flat Tax are long since overdue.

Fear of driving the watershed of change needed in an age where we have laws for the sake of having laws; where blame is a national industry and where everyday people feel that Government of all levels has no understanding of the lives that they lead, is no longer excuse enough in itself to avoid it.

Painful as it will be, somebody will soon have to be big enough to take on big business, the City and the insidious money men who are continuously elevating the breadline, all in the name of profit.

Selfless politicians must set about the change of policy after policy which may well serve their political masters today, but remain lifetimes away from serving those for whose benefit they were apparently intended.

Effect-focussed Government has failed us all and not least the most vulnerable in society and shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted does little to help after the event.

Can we really move forward with a plan of something better for all if we never address the causes of our problems?

Plebgate: Have Police Officers scored a spectacular own goal?

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Watching the report on Channel 4 News last night by Dispatches Reporter Michael Crick concerning the Andrew Mitchell ‘Plebgate’ affair, probably sent shivers down many more spines than just my own.

Only a short time ago, the scornful way in which politicians are viewed today by an understandably cynical press and public, probably left the majority of people assuming that the then Chief Whip must surely have done all as was being suggested by headlines, and like many other high profile MP’s on the rack, was merely making excuses just to save his own skin. After all, is it not the case that our default setting is to trust a Police Officer?

Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing, and considering the obvious questions first is admittedly difficult when the media know they have a great story to run with which is completely jam-packed with all the negative fireworks which are the must-haves of a big seller.

But why was nobody making more of a question of where the major supporting elements of the story had come from back in September?

As a Local Borough Councillor, the topic of Policing often seems like an everyday fact of life. Councillors frequently face what are usually hard discussions, focussing on real-life emotive issues with people in realities that require every bit of resourcefulness for us to effectively continue to support the position of Police Officers doing what we accept to be a very difficult job in equally difficult times. In my experience to date, such discussions have never raised the issue of trust where any Police Officer or PCSO has been concerned. Trust has been a given.

Yesterday’s revelations have served to table the possibility that at least one serving Police Officer could have created a document which may not only have given substantial weight to a series of allegations regarding the conduct of an Elected Member of Government, but also opened the door to seemingly legitimate attacks on that same MP from a Police Association, for reasons which may now only begin to become fully clear.

At a time when respect for the Police seems to be perilously low anyway, any action which could even remotely be seen to endanger the moral authority of Police Officers is a frightening thought for any member of the public who values living in what we call a civilised society. It is a fair bet that a sensationalist media will bring this idea right to the mat or ADSL port at every doorstep.

One of the inherent suggestions made by the programme of motivators for the Representatives of the Police Association involved, related to cuts to Police budgets. These are a regrettable and painful reality at a time when many public servants are in exactly the same position as the Officers who are part of this evolving tale.

However, many people know, understand and empathise with the frustrations and fears that accompany such changes. They equally live in hope that the legitimacy of services which were established and which exist for the public good will remain intact for as long as it takes for real changes to come into being, which will genuinely work for all and to see these services functioning as fully and as effectively as they arguably should.

Today’s MP’s and Political Parties may be hated by many for what are seen to be self-serving habits and actions. But the question may now be asked; have the Police Officers involved actually scored a spectacular own goal?

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