Friday, 28 September 2007

Who will lose their right to vote....

I've just been talking to the elections officer.

She in the middle of putting together the new electoral register, effective from 1st December. (Have you returned your form?) In my rural district there are about 105,000 voters, she currently estimates that 10,000 people have changed their addresses or are new on the role. But currently those new details don't stand. i.e. approx 10% of the voting population in this area are affected.

If an election is called now Gordon Brown has to give 18 working days notice. Each of those 10,000 people will then need to be written to asking if they want their new details to be the ones that stand. If they do they have to write back with a deadline 11 working days before the election. (Not a lot of days there...) If someone has moved within the polling area they can still vote as if from their old address - but many may not have.

The postal votes will be complicated too. Under new rules every postal voter's signature has to be crosschecked with their application form - the computer program to do this is not finalised and where the constituency boundary crosses a district district boundary each vote will need to be hand checked. From my own experience over the past year this covers a lot of constituencies.

Sounds like a paperwork nightmare and room for quite a lot of people to lose their vote.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Update from Grantham and Stamford

I've been up in Grantham and Stamford quite a bit this week....Spending time meeting local people and listening to their issues.

At Grantham Hospital I spoke to members of staff. It is clear that the uncertainty has had a huge affect on morale. It's a great hospital. I saw where my sister-in-law had her first breast lump removed (she's now clear), where my nephew goes for his ENT appointments, and where the midwives cared for my niece.

As a local councillor I'm used to fighting the government for services in our rapidly growing towns. Grantham is planning to be a growth area. It is utter madness to be building thousands of new homes and then cut our most essential service.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Another Spin

Gordon has become famous for announcing money that isn't really new money at all. I just recieved this from the council tax collection team.

You may have heard on the news that the Government has announced a Council Tax 'rebate' for personnel serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is actually going to be in the form of a payment of £140 made direct to the personnel by the MOD at the end of their tour of duty, rather than a discount against their Council Tax account. Which means that we will not be involved in the administration in any way.

Question: Who is paying for this? ... sounds like it might be coming from the MOD budget which means that it's money off other things like buying decent equipment. Just spin...

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Fighting for the NHS

So Gordon says he will fight the next General election on the NHS - You bet he will. Hospital closures, hospital cuts, 10,000 doctors marching through the streets of London, mass protests outside Westminster and all over the country. He's been in charge of all the money for the last 10 years has he really spent it well?

He will also have to fight the next general election on crime and policing, the economy, and the failures of immigration. Back into your Red Corner Gordon .....

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Thank you to the police....

Thank you to chief constable Julie Spence for
putting her head above the parapet today
. Even the Guardian agrees that pressures of immigration are putting huge new stresses on our public services. When a professional police officer says we have a problem we should listen.

Cambridgeshire has the 2nd lowest funded police service per head - followed only by Lincolnshire. Last night I attended a packed meeting of a "community neighbourhood policing panel" in Cambridgeshire. There were representatives of 18 parishes from tiny villages to city outskirts. Everywhere there were stories about escalating antisocial behaviour, needless vandalism, dangerous driving, syringes on the football pitch etc. A small minority of people causing increasing chaos for others.

Yet again there were many stories of people just not bothering to report crime anymore... and the number crunching statistics don't reflect the problems that are seen by residents.

Judging from the bags under their eyes, our handful of police officers are working their socks off .... but there simply aren't enough of them to cope.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Where's Goodtime Gordon Gone?

In the past few months we have seen Gordon everywhere but suddenly he's gone. We are in the midst of the first run on a UK bank in memory and Mr Prudent has disappeared ...

I actually feel sorry for Alistair Darling who has looked (literally) like a badger caught in the headlights. I hope that the guarantee offered tonight does stabilise the immediate crisis. But whether or not the queues at the Rock disperse many homeowners across the UK are facing mortgage increases they never contemplated and the trust of ordinary savers has been broken (again).

No doubt when England win the Rugby world cup (ever positive here) Gordon will be back... Has Mr Prudent become "Goodtime Gordon" - your fairweather friend?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Not Again

We are all keeping our fingers crossed for farmers today but Foot and Mouth affects are widespread. Jo's new business offers "local food" to restaurants - she has enough supplies for just a week. The butcher's shop say they have enough British produce for the next two weeks - then they need to start importing.

Interestingly, whilst the bigger farmers have been kept in touch by regular messages from the NFU some others have told me about a silence from Defra. Down the road Robert has half-a-dozen pigs. He has had no letter, email or any other correspondence at all warning him what precautions to take if, god forbid, the disease becomes more widespread. It is now 7 weeks since the first case .... you would have thought a letter might have been sent. I wonder if there are others in Robert's shoes?

Monday, 10 September 2007

Cash for Pregnancy?

The latest suggestion that the government is going to give pregnant mums up to £200 cash towards "healthy food" received heated debate on comment boards yesterday. "Definitely not", "total stupidity", "another ruse to get people to vote Labour" were just some of the early thoughts.

The policy is mad.

It is medically flawed. If the aim is to get pregnant women to eat well then the critical point is the first 3 months of pregnancy - but the suggestion is this money will be given at 29 weeks ie for the last 3 months.

It provides no guarantee that the money will go where it is needed. Why give the money as cash? When I was pregnant with number 3 all I craved was chocolate - I would probably have spent it all on Dairy Milk, would that have been a good use of tax-payers money? There is already a "healthy start" voucher system for people on low incomes. This has replaced the old welfare food scheme whereby mums were given free formula milk and is helping to encourage mums to breast feed.

It's hugely expensive. I've seen estimates from £70 million to £140 million EACH YEAR. Why give a professional mother on £60k a year an extra £200? Why not direct the help to those who really need it? By the time a mother-to-be reaches 29 weeks pregnant they should have seen their doctor or midwife at least twice. I can see complete sense in giving some help, for medical reasons, to mothers who are seriously struggling to feed themselves properly at this stage but that is a small minority.

There are much better things to do with this money. Brown could buy decent equipment for the troops in Basra or Afghanistan. He could use it to keep our maternity wards open or to recruit some of the 5,000 midwifes that the Royal College of Midwifes say are needed over the next few years. Incidentally, I spoke to a senior midwife this morning. She was rushing off to do extra hours covering sick leave because yet another of her colleagues has broken under the stress of overwork. As a midwife she said this policy sounds like complete madness - yet again the government is not listening to professionals.

However, if you view this policy as a nice populist Brownite election bribe, helping all those cute little babies ... then you completely understand why he is doing it.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Should children be forced to re-sit a year?

Applogies for fewer blogs recently but as every parent knows those last few days of the summer holiday can be rather full on.

Back at the school gate today I spoke to mothers about the Conservative suggestion that if a child fails its final year at primary school they should retake the last year. We already know that 4 out of 10 children are not reaching basic standards by the age of 11. Last week we heard news that standards for 7 year olds also appear to also be dropping.

The overwhelming reaction from parents I spoke to on the proposal for "retakes" was positive.

One teacher I spoke to went on to explain the boredom that many first year secondary school pupils face when they have to "waste a year waiting for others to catch up". She agreed that some children who are capable of doing better but not really trying may benefit from this additional pressure. She also pointed out that some pupils will always struggle for various reasons. They also need to be cared for - but there are fewer options available with fewer special needs schools.

Over the summer I spoke to French teenagers. Pupils in France are often made to "redouble" a year. It was clear that these teenagers didn't want to get left behind by their friends. They said the threat of retaking a year spurs them on. It also allows a pupil who has been unwell or missed school for other reasons the chance to catch up. I was impressed.

I like this policy - whats your view?