Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

Like most of us I'm finding that Christmas has sneaked upon me this year.   You think there are weeks or days left - but then discover there are only hours left!  I found myself this morning with a load of Christmas cards to deliver - so that's what I've been doing this afternoon - rather than peeling sprouts!

I have to say I was pleased to note evidence of gritting on many of our residential roads - obviously some of the Town Council's grit has been spread around!  Frodsham is such a fantastic community with people willing to make the effort to help each other.

This evening I went to the Christingle Carol Service at St Laurence's church - another wonderful Frodsham tradition where so many of come together to celebrate Christmas.   

Have a Happy and peaceful Christmas everyone. 

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Happy Hundredth Birthday Albert

I've just had a life affirming experience.  I've just been to Chapel Fields Care Home to celebrate Albert Wells 100th birthday.  Albert was in fine form and was thoroughly enjoying himself with his family and friends.  Albert grew up in Nottingham, is a Notts County fan and after a stint as a fire fighter and time in Devon came north to Frodsham with his family.  Albert told me his secret for a long life is doing what he was told to do.  That's doomed me then! 

We had a great chat about football.  Albert was a referee and famously refereed an FA Cup game between Ilkeston Town v Rochdale in 1951.  The story is so great it is worth telling here...

'Rochdale, two goals up and desperate to hold on to their lead, cleared the white ball high out of the ground where it became lodged in an adjacent Elm tree. The gathering gloom necessitated the use of the white ball, the only one Ilkeston owned. After more than ten minutes delay, during which time all sorts of methods had been tried to retrieve the ball whilst a mini pitch invasion took place, the referee decided to continue the game with a standard ball which was almost invisible in the darkness. When the full time whistle was blown there was considerable confusion because many people thought that the match had been abandoned. Meanwhile, the white ball had been rescued from the tree but the referee reported Town to the FA because he believed that they had deliberately tried to avoid getting the ball back. The charges were dropped. The following season saw the club sport a new badge depicting the ball in the tree and this became the club emblem for many years.'

You couldn't make it up! 

There was a wonderful celebratory atmosphere in Chapel Fields as his birthday coincided with their Christmas Fair,  Andy the home manager was dressed as Father Christmas!  I had a fantastic time and met 3 retired Councillors in my travels too!  

I spoke with Sandra - she is one of two people who organise the entertainment for the Chapel Fields residents. She told me how grateful the home was for the Town Council's £5 voucher scheme - that money can go a long way in organising entertainment.  Some of the residents used their vouchers to have a meal at the Community Centre a couple of weeks ago,  others have gone shopping with theirs.  Incidentally my wife was in Merricks this afternoon and saw a £5 voucher being spent there too!  Absolutely brilliant - exactly what we intended the vouchers to be used for.

I'm also delighted that Chapel Fields will house a community public access defibrillator from January 2012.  That will make 5 in Frodsham - more about that when we get to it!

So how should the Town Council commemorate a 100th birthday.  I asked Anne, our office manager to ask our local business for ideas for a suitable gift - once we'd set the budget.  Anne chose well - a silver salver suitably engraved.  So if you know any other centenarians in Frodsham who'd like the Mayor to turn up on their birthday - let me know!  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Emergency Services and the fourth estate

I was honoured to be invited to attend the Emergency Services Carol Service at Chester Cathedral last night.  It was a wonderful event celebrating the work of those who look after the community year round.  Many of the participants came from the police, fire and ambulance services as you'd expect - but we didn't forget the others, many of whom are volunteers, such as the RNLI, mountain rescue services.   

The Cheshire Police Brass Band led the music - although there were many other notable performances - all from our half of Cheshire taking central stage.  The Girls Choir from Chester's Catholic High School were spellbinding, Ellesmere Port's 'Fireflies' Ladies Choir was inspirational - and the young drummers from Kelsall Community Primary School were absolutely fantastic.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening - even if I was left with a point of curiosity.  Why is it that so many men are tone deaf - and especially where I was last night amongst the 'great and the good!' Fortunately they are not rated on their singing abilities - rather on the excellent work they do for our communities.

However before the service started I was met by a local chap from Frodsham who drew to my attention an article that had appeared in the Frodsham and Helsby edition of the Chronicle last week - where one FTC Cllr's remarks questioning the value for money of Frodsham's PCSO had received prominent billing.
Now far be it from me to question the prominence the local press gives to the remarks of one Councillor - especially when that one isn't me (yes - I am being 'tongue-in-cheek') - or indeed the headline writer's skill in selling a story - but I do wonder what happened here and how one squares a headline of 'FTC in dispute over funding police community support officer' with wording in the article of 'There was no suggestion ... that the town council may withdraw its PCSO funding.'  I don't see the story there really ... although time alone will tell. The vast majority of us in Frodsham support our local police and very much support the work of our PCSO - and I use the word 'our' deliberately - because Kay is 'our' PCSO - I am sure that we'd be a lesser place without her.

I do think there is an issue about PCSO funding - but not necessarily in Frodsham.  How is it that FTC funds a PCSO, so does Helsby PC and even Tarporley PC?  Tarporley's population is about 1/4 of Frodsham's.  

But isn't it something of a scandal that Northwich Town Council doesn't fund any PCSOs when it is twice the size of Frodsham or that Frodsham and Helsby together provided 2 PCSOs - for the c15,000 people we have - when CWaC provides 2 PCSO's for Northwich?  The Northwich Town Council area has a population of around 21,500.   ... and Northwich Town Council's precept is more than double that of Frodsham - and they have around 3 times the amount of money to spend in a year than Frodsham has and 9 times the amount of money that Tarporley has.

Northwich's PCSO's are funded by CWaC as they are in Ellesmere Port and in the inner part of Chester - however these communities don't have their own parish council... Is this a case of the rural communities having to pay twice for a service or paying for something to make sure they get it? 

It may be ... or does it simply show that it is impossible to have uniformity of provision and especially when there is a mix of parished and non parished areas... but that is another story for another time.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

Dianne and I have just come back from a spell-binding performance by the Frodsham Players of CS Lewis's classic The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe performed at St Laurence's church in theatre-in-the-round style.  The whole performance was atmospheric and utterly brilliant.  The warm stones of the church provided an ancient backdrop to Lewis's allegorical and timeless tale. 

The whole ensemble were magnificient - but I have to make special mention of the actors playing the four children.  Tom Marquand was Peter, Amelia Pendlebury - Susan, Alex Taylor - Edmund and Emily Woodward-Smith played the indefatigable Lucy.  The performance rested largely in their hands - and they carried it off with aplomb.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

So what did you do on 30 November Daddy?

I've just been disturbed at my office by a small rally of public sector workers blowing whistles and chanting 'No ifs no buts no public sector cuts.'  I'm somewhat miffed as it disturbed my concentration on some case papers I was studying.  No doubt that was the protesters intentions - and I respect them for doing that, as that is their democratic right.

In fact earlier today - from as soon as I woke up my day has been 'impacted.' But perhaps not in the way that many would imagine.  Like many households we have the queue for the bathroom in the morning.  I kick off proceedings at 6:50am, followed by my wife 10 minutes later and then the 3 teenage children.  On a weekday I have the pleasure of waking up my wife, once I'm clean and spruced up.  Today however the usual cheery greeting to Dianne to get her moving was met with - 'don't worry I can have an extra 10 minutes today - I'm not taking the children to school.'  I snorted in reply - through jealousy in not having taken the chance of an extra 10 minutes  in a warm and cosy bed - and also in disapproval of what the day was likely to bring.

So far, however, the tally is pretty positive - that is if I ignore the momentary disruption outside my office window and the £80 down - the price of allowing my daughters to go Christmas shopping in Chester for the day.  I imagine the retailers around here are pretty pleased with many 'school refugees' out for a day's entertainment.  Even my son has arranged an impromptu football session with his mates.   My journey to work to Birkenhead was made easier with both Mersey Tunnels closed - the traffic was lighter - and I've noticed the contractors who, seemingly are permanently at work on the approach to the Wallasey Tunnel, have taken the opportunity of doing more work on the flyovers given that there is no traffic to and from the tunnels.

I'm a former public sector worker - indeed I was a public sector worker in the time of the closed shop.  I was ostensibly required to join NALGO - but the Union didn't get its act together, never offered me membership papers and didn't take Union subs from me.  I was however invited to play for the Union cricket team.  They were sufficiently short of talent that my miserable abilities were seen as an asset!  I happily played.  Anyway - in the 1980s local government seemed permanently at odds with central government and the day came for NALGO to strike.

As a local government lawyer who occasionally helped out the child care team I couldn't understand how all the other lawyers could consider strike action and not provide emergency cover.  Whilst I respect the right to strike  its not something, personally, that I'm happy to do.  If you've signed an employment contract - honour it or leave - is my simple philosophy.  So the days came - I went to work... and the price of my obduracy and my personal decision to provide the legal cover for the childcare team - I was thrown out of the NALGO cricket team!  Aaah well I'm pretty sure neither side was particularly affected with my early retirement from the cricket squad.

Whilst I acknowledge that the adjustments to public sector pensions will cost employees - but will ensure that the state can continue to fund them - I am very struck with the double standards that some of the strikers and protesters conveniently ignore.  

Lets go back to 1997 - then Britain had pension arrangements that the rest of the world envied.  There were many final salary schemes in both public and private sectors and increasingly thriving private pension provision.  One of Gordon Brown's first acts as Chancellor of the Exchequer was to tax gains made by pension investments.  That single move (which hasn't been reversed) took and still takes billions of pounds out of our pensions - leading directly to the closing of most final salary pension schemes for those working in the private sector.  The financial gyrations since 2008 have caused further very painful damage to private pensions - especially to the increasing numbers who are shouldering the risk of stock market returns.

So when you consider the disruption being caused today - pause and reflect.  Would you want a secure public sector pension that is going to cost a little more to have with reduced returns for the more wealthy public servants (protecting the lower paid) - or the uncertainty of a private sector pension whose growth has been significantly stunted by Gordon Brown and is now fully exposed to the financial market turmoil?   One colleague of mine has seen his pension pot effectively halved by the financial turmoil.  He was going to retire in the next 5 years.  I think both he and I are committed to a life sentence of work.  I can't envisage retirement - unlike the public servants...

Photo - Protesters in Birkenhead - note the empty parking spaces.  Hamilton Square used to be thronged with cars - until Wirral Borough Council imposed parking charges ... damaging local business.  It clearly isn't a huge revenue raiser either but does leave plenty of room to protest.

And a final thought - 'No ifs no buts no public sector cuts' - Cheshire West and Chester has already saved £58 million out of the costs of running local government in our part of Cheshire since creation in April 2009 - and few have noticed any impact at all.  £11 million has been reinvested in Children's and Adult's services from those savings.  The quality of service delivery is improving.  We were one of the few authorities in the country to increase spending on Adult Social Care last year... There is a better way.  But I don't underestimate that we still have a hard road to tread as a country over the next few years.

Girls in the lead

I was honoured to be present at the Cheshire Forest Girl Guides long service awards last night at Forest Hills.  It was a wonderful uplifting evening paying tribute to the army of volunteer helpers that keep Guiding thriving in our part of Cheshire.   Long service awards from 5 years to 40 years were being awarded to several recipients. - including a few from Frodsham.  Nikki Barker received her 20 year long service award.  I'm sure Nikki won't mind me saying that this ages me (and many others) - as I well recall my two (now teenage) daughters enjoying their time with Rainbows and Brownies with her.

Girl Guiding is held in high esteem - and it was great to see my Mayoral colleagues from Warrington, Halton and from Chester (Lord Mayor in that case) with me in the audience.

I'm encouraging the Guides to participate in the January grant giving occasion in Frodsham.  The Scouts were successful last year - maybe this time its the Guides turn?

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Frodsham Christmas Festival Photos

Helsby Jazz Band

Street Entertainment

Having fun

Katherine Wells who led the CWaC team organising the Festival
Feeding Rudloph!

Lights on
Antique Ladies?

Graham Evans MP and the Mayor
Waving to Santa
Watching the procession
Mayor and Deputy Mayor

Frodsham Christmas Festival

Wow - what a night!  On Friday night Frodsham was packed out with people celebrating the Christmas Lights being switched on and 'Santa's Procession' along Main Street.

I don't think I've ever seen so many people in Frodsham at one time - let alone gathering to have fun.  There was a major innovation this year with the Food Market at the Railway Station - which also included some performance space. 

I was glad I was walking everywhere (other than my ride on the open top bus!) as car parking and congestion was something of a problem!  All the reports I've received (bar one) have been very favourable with revellers, market traders, the police and the organisers all reporting a good evening.  

So, it gives me great pleasure to pass on Frodsham's thanks to everyone who made the event so successful.

There will be a review - so if anyone wants to let me have feedback on the event - please email me

Windfarm Inquiry

Well as most people know the wind farm inquiry started last week.   There is much talk in Frodsham about how the inquiry is going - and what the evidence has been so far.

Wouldn't it be a good idea if the inquiry proceedings were broadcast on the web both live and available for consideration later?  That way there would be less reliance on the rumour mill - and a greater access to the truth. 

You might think, in this day and age, there would be a general acceptance that this level of openness and transparency should be the norm.  The Inspector has given his permission - we are now going through the technical checks that we will be able to broadcast the rest of the inquiry.

Unfortunately web-casting an event such as a planning inquiry doesn't come free.  Someone has to pay for it.   Cllr Lynn Riley and I have suggested that Peel Energy should meet half the costs, with the remaining half being shared between Frodsham Town Council, Helsby Parish Council and the Community Grant Funds managed by Cllrs Lynn Riley, Les Ford and me.  After all this is likely to be the most important planning inquiry in this part of the world in a generation!  The recent Tata Planning Inquiry in Northwich was broadcast - and the figures show there was considerable local interest in what was said.

Peel have point blank refused to make any contribution.  Seemingly they think they've done enough in paying the hotel bill for the inquiry.  Of course ultimate ironies - the venue isn't even in Frodsham, or in Cheshire West and Chester - rather over the border in Halton at the Holiday Inn.  In my view Forest Hills would have been the obvious choice - directly overlooking the application site - or should that be - at a height somewhat lower than the turbines?  And Forest Hills was used for the Ince Incinerator inquiry.

Anyway Peel, it seems aren't interested in making sure that as many people as possible get to hear and see the evidence about the windfarm... but then this is par for the course with Peel.  Frankly their record with regard to community relations and community engagement in this part of the world is beyond poor.  I shouldn't be surprised when they make no effort to engage with the community but I always seem to be.  If they were serious about community engagement I would have expected them to table the need to broadcast the inquiry and for them to pick up all of the costs directly.  After all what is around £10k in the scheme of things - especially bearing in mind the millions to be spent (and received in subsidy) on the windfarm if they are successful and the millions they will have spent in speculative costs in proposing the scheme in any event.

Well done Peel - another snub for the community and another needless own-goal for your media relations!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

We will remember them

Remembrance Day and Remembrance Sunday are our opportunities to pause and reflect about lives cut short by war - and in particular those who have given their lives for our country and in defence of the freedoms that we all take far too much for granted.

For the Mayor of Frodsham I think these dates are the most important in the calendar - as this is the Mayor, on behalf of all of us in Frodsham - acknowledging the debt we owe as a community to those who left Frodsham to fight for us never to return.

Let us also remember that Frodsham has always remembered its fallen and the our Branch of the Royal British Legion is amongst the oldest in the country.

I was honoured to lay a wreath on behalf of all of us at Overton Memorial on Friday.  It was wonderful to see so many people there, youngsters from Frodsham Cof E Primary School, college students, townsfolk as well as our MP Graham Evans and representatives from so many groups.

As a youngster I was fortunate enough to be involved as a chorister at Liverpool Cathedral  in the annual commemorations there.  They moved me as a 7 year old and the commemorations continue to do so more than 40 years later!    Where ever I've been on Remembrance Sunday I've always attended the local commemorations.

I was brought up with the tales of war service.  Where my relatives and my Manx compatriots served and died and the events in Liverpool in both world wars.  I've always been struck by the many acts of bravery and courage and I've pondered many times whether I could have lived up to what they did had I ever been called to serve.  Could I have driven a petrol tanker through the burning streets of Liverpool?  Would I have lived through the Liverpool Blitz and the intensive bombing of the docks? Could I have served on a convoy?  Could I have sailed to Dunkirk like so many Manxmen to rescue the troops? What would have happened to me in Crete where so many Manxmen fell?   Like many I feel pride that when the German fleet surrendered after World War I it was an Isle of Man Steam Packet vessel - the King Orry - the Admiral Beatty gave the place of honour to when leading the German ships into Scapa Flow.  But I always remember how a Great Uncle as a young man was lost after his ship was torpedoed somewhere off the Welsh Coast in a blast so great that no trace was ever found of his ship...

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning we will remember them.  We will remember them.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

So what should we get for our £11,800?

Frodsham Town Council pays a contribution of £11,800 towards its Police Community Support Officer each year.  We've just been invited to confirm that we will continue to pay next year.   We've put it on the agenda to discuss at our next Town Council meeting in November.

Funny thing though, the letter written to FTC by the Chairman of the Police Authority and the Chief Constable seeking confirmation that the Town Council will continue with this arrangement didn't mention the Service Level Agreement - affectionately known as the SLA - which FTC in common with other parish councils no doubt seems to have signed with the Constabulary regulating how the PCSO will work with the community.

I've dug out the SLA - and I have to say it is not a wonderfully worded document.  It seems on the one hand to contain excessively legalistic parts for a document between partner public sector agencies who would be unlikely to sue each other- and then, on the other hand it seems to be full of public sector waffle that makes you wonder what on earth is being contemplated and why is it so complicated.

Now for Cheshire Police PCSOs are important.  There are around 215 PCSOs in Cheshire police with many part funded by public sector partners such as parish councils.  

So as a Town Council what 'bang' do you get for your 'buck'?  Well this is something we are set to explore.
Incidentally I'm on the Police Authority - so I get to see this one from both sides of the fence!


Monday, 24 October 2011

A day of celebration, remembrance and walking the streets

Yesterday evening as Mayor of Frodsham and as a Cheshire West Councillor I attended the Royal British Legion's Last Night of the Proms Extravaganza at the Brindley Theatre in Runcorn.  This was also the local launch of this year's Poppy Appeal in our part of the world.

I was honoured to be present for such a wonderful event and to have helped support it with my other CWaC Cllr colleagues who provided the funding that allowed the event to take place.  It was a wonderful evening of commemoration and music with the excellent Roberts Bakery Brass Band and the Hillfield Male Voice Choir taking centre stage.  Typical of these evenings it was a wonderful event tinged with sadness and reflection remembering those who have died serving our Queen and country.

I was deeply touched to be asked to make a presentation to Ethan - a young chap - whose father was killed in Iraq whilst serving with the Army.  Ethan launched the Poppy Appeal in memory of his dad.

Earlier in the day I was at the beautiful St Chad's Church at Over, Winsford remembering those police officers who died in the course of their duties in Cheshire as far back as the 1790s - when I presume they were members of the local watch.  Cheshire Police's excellent brass performed there.

All in all quite a day of commemoration and lots of singing!

On Saturday and Sunday mornings Cllr Lynn Riley and I delivered letters to about 2/3rds of Frodsham - with the other 1/3rd or so still to go inviting locals to participate in our winter gritting scheme.  With one exception we have been well received on the streets.  I won't name and shame the household that wasn't that receptive on Saturday morning - other than to observe that the unfavourable reception took place at a location where the locals have been most vociferous in wanting something done to ease problems in snow and ice.  We received an invitation to come back when it was colder!

You can't win'em all!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Help save St Laurence Church

Weathered gargoyle
Top of the Tower
Love the beard
A friendly face!
Green man perhaps
Serious jowls!
This morning Cllr Lynn Riley and I attended a briefing at Foxhill about the repairs needed to St Laurence church.  There is a serious amount of money needed - perhaps more than £200,000 and a very long list of repairs required - many to the Tower and the roof.

Those of us in Frodsham know and love our old church and we look set for many years of fundraising.

The present building is (at least in part) over 800 years old although it seems likely there has been a church on this site from Saxon times.  Certainly Frodsham's church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. 

I took some photographs this afternoon showing some of the unusual details of the church - they also show the extensive weathering and erosion.  Sandstone looks warm and inviting - but it doesn't last for ever!

Rumour has it that wooden fillets have fallen from the roof into the pulpit.  Far be it from me to suggest that this could be a sign to encourage brevity!

Why politics has a dirty name

Nothing makes my blood boil more than political lies, disinformation or half truths.  I've always tried to play straight as a politician and hope I will continue to do so. 

So in the space of 24 hours I've seen at least two examples of what could well be negligent comments or something far worse.  

First, last night Cllr Louise Gittins (Labour) tweeted suggesting I was not listening to the communities regarding the preservation of the greenbelt.  Now I take this to be a gratuitous and unmerited attack and one very wide of the facts and indicative of what I, and I suspect many people find unpleasant about politics.

I rarely speak on planning matters - and therefore many people simply does not know what my views are.  However, and somewhat ironically I have spoken out in public about CWaC's proposals regarding Gypsy and Traveller sites.  And I would like to think that if Cllr Gittins had listened to what I had said she would have realised that she had no justification for those remarks at all. 

I very much support CWaC's policy of seeking to provide extra Gypsy and Traveller sites - not only is that the right thing to do for that community - it is also the right thing for CWaC so we regain control of our greenbelt and resist inappropriate development.  Ask the communities in Helsby, Alvanley, Dunham-on-the-Hill about CWaC's control of the greenbelt and resisting inappropriate development and they will tell you straight forwardly and unequivocally why providing G&T sites in appropriate locations is the right thing to do  and how it strengthens our control of the greenbelt.

When I spoke at the August Executive I supported this policy.  When it came to the suggested sites I stayed clear of saying too much - I may be called upon to be involved in planning decisions - but I did urge the Council to push on with uncontroversial sites and to take its time and think long and hard where the communities questioned the proposals.  Incidentally Labour Cllr Don Beckett also said little about the sites - and he explained precisely why - he is on the Planning Committee.

In other words I was saying to the Executive that they should listen to their Communities.  Unfortunately it appears that Cllr Gittins did not seek to check her facts.  These comments are available for all to see on the webcast of the Executive meeting.  Those in the room applauded me.

Now what she doesn't know is that I take democracy very seriously and that I passionately believe in the importance of helping anyone and everyone present their views to Government and Local Government whether or not they accord with my own.  Cllr Gittins - ask yourself the question who was it who advised the local communities in Saughall and Mollington to present to Council earlier this week... You won't know ... it may well have included others - but I certainly helped them!

So, Cllr Gittins I won't bother asking you for an apology ... I'd like to think you'd proffer it once you realise you are wrong.  Let's see shall we?

And the second example - a Labour leaflet is circulating at the moment suggesting that we should all support their 'Bank Bonus' tax and put that money into supporting youth employment.
So what Labour don't tell you is that the Coalition Government's Levy on Bank's balance sheets  has already raised more in revenue from the Banks that their bonus tax did.  The levy will raise around £2.5bn per year when fully in effect.  Labour's bonus tax raised around £2.3bn.

The bonus tax was vulnerable to avoidance.  Former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling said; “frankly the very people you are after are very good at getting out of these things and will find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it”... 

And then Labour's crocodile tears on youth unemployment.  Under Labour, under the apparent years of plenty... when Labour lashed money around ... according to the Office of National Statistics the following happened:

'For people aged 16-24, both the unemployment rate and the unemployment proportion (that is,
unemployment as a percentage of total population of that age group) fell steadily after the peak in 1992-1993, before levelling out between 2001 and 2004. Both measures then increased slightly between 2005 and 2007 before rising sharply in 2008.'  

Channel 4 has looked at the data too - and has said:

'When Tony Blair swept into Number 10 in May 1997, there were 664,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds.  And when Gordon Brown walked out in May 2010, there were 920,000. The Conservatives work this out as an increase of 38.6 per cent.
Our friends at the ONS confirmed these figures were right. And we calculated that the rate of unemployment therefore, rose from 14.5 per cent to 19.4 per cent among 16-24 year olds under Labour.'
Channel 4 pointed out that significant increases in the youth unemployment rate took place towards the end of Labour's tenure.  They link that to the credit crisis.
Now did you notice what I did then - I quoted various sources to back up my arguments and also pointed out material showing an explanation for the data - in other words giving a balanced view.

So you try it with the apprenticeship data.

If you 'google' apprenticeship numbers for the UK you can see that this government has already doubled the expected number of apprenticeships for those over 25... and is committed to another 100,000 of them by 2014.

I respect those who hold different views from mine ... but only when they tell it straight.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Walking with Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Lions Club

I was honoured and delighted to be invited to help Helsby & Frodsham Lion's Club raise money for the Guide Dogs for the Blind this afternoon in Frodsham.   Learner Guide dog Inca (with handler Damian) took me for a walk blindfolded along Main Street so I could experience what it was like to be led. 

I have to say thanks to Inca and Damian I felt safe - although it was quite unnerving.  Inca has nearly finished her training but certainly knew how to lead me!  Now we have our own pet Labrador Meg and I'm used to her pulling on the lead - but Inca's pull was stronger and much more directional.  However,  I have to say it was quite disorientating.    

Cllr Lynn Riley, who had come along, reckoned my walk had changed to resemble her grandfather's!  Margaret from the Lions reckoned I looked like I had a couple of pints!  Now Main Street pavement is in pretty good condition - but when walking blindfolded you felt every joint in the pavement.  You had to concentrate on what the dog, your feet and ears were telling you.  The rain gully was really awkward - and I realised just how valuable the bobbles on the pavement are when you reach a kerb.  It is humbling to be given an insight into just how important sight is.

It was really lovely to see just how welcoming everyone was - and the Lions club were delighted with their money raising efforts.

Incidentally the Lions club of Helsby and Frodsham is looking for more members to help them in their community work.  If you are interested - let me know and I'll pass your details on!

Residential Roads - what speed limit should we have?

So what should the speed limit be on Langdale Way, School Lane, Ship Street, The Willows or indeed any of our residential roads whether or not there is a Primary School on them?  To all of us our children are very precious.  Would changing the speed limit help protect them and other vulnerable road users?

As a matter of law the speed limit at the moment is 30mph.  Now there are a few places on our residential roads where you could, at a push exceed 30mph if you wanted to..  However most of the time, most of us drive around 20mph or less - that's what is comfortable and reasonable bearing in mind all of us, whether adults, children, young, old, drivers, walkers, cyclists share the same road space and we need to look after each other.

The Coalition government is to make it easier for highway authorities to designate 20mph speed limit zones in residential areas.  It has been something of a scandal that the costs of changing a speed limit, going through the legal hoops of publishing traffic regulation orders and then changing the signage has run into £1,000s when most of us would imagine a £50 traffic sign would be all that was needed.

In March this year I got CWaC to change its proposed Local Transport Plan - which sets out our highways policies for the foreseeable future so that when the Council seeks to change a speed limit it must engage in consultation with all relevant parties - such as the emergency services, and in the case of changing speed limits on local roads that the consultation takes place with the local residents.  You wouldn't have thought this was controversial - however at least one Labour Councillor on CWaC wants to impose a blanket 20mph limit on all residential roads in the Borough without consulting anyone.  He thinks consultation with people is 'weak!'  Certainly that was the language he used about this policy in the Council Chamber anyway.  I'm sorry Cllr Robinson you may not realise that in Frodsham we had something of a revolution in our local elections in May - and those that won did so on the basis of wanting to have a dialogue with the community.   I'd like to think blanket policies and diktats wasn't the way anyone would seek to do things any more. 
Frodsham Town Council is to consider the principle of 20mph speed limits on Frodsham's residential roads at our next meeting.  This discussion may well lead on to a council sponsored community wide debate as to whether we would support having a lower speed limit.  Initial indications are that the police would not be putting significant resources behind policing such a lower limit and we know from work done in Frodsham and elsewhere that the people who tend to drive faster on our residential roads are usually local residents!

So would the community welcome a 20mph limit on our residential roads?  Would we support the change, and the costs in doing so - such as putting up the signs and publicising the traffic regulation orders?  Knowing that enforcing the speed limit change won't be a police priority - does that alter things?  You can't drive more than  20mph on many of our residential roads - would that mean changing the standard 30mph limit would be a waste of time in any event?  And then which roads are our residential roads...

However is the bigger prize the change in mindset and improving road safety and protecting the vulnerable.

Everyone is welcome to participate in the debate - please join in!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Voskresenije at St Laurence's church

St Laurence's church was packed tonight as, for their sixth visit, the Russian choir Voskresenije captured the hearts and minds of their listeners.  They performed both alone and with the Frodsham Choral Society.  The entire performance of unaccompanied sacred music was spellbinding.  Voskresenije is an ensemble group of 8 singers with a tremendous vocal range of soaring sopranos and a truly remarkable basso profundo led by their founder Jurij Maruk.  

For the first half of the concert our Russian guests treated us to a performance of mostly Orthodox sacred music.  They concluded with an an a capella version of Caccini's Ave Maria.

For the second half Voskresenije joined the Frodsham Choral Society to sing Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil conducted by Howard Kane.  I've always loved Orthodox music and its mystical sound and have already made a mental note to dig out my John Tavener recordings.

It was wonderful to be present as Mayor of Frodsham and husband of one of the singers.  I was touched when I was told by a couple of people visiting Frodsham just how lucky we are to have such a strong, talented choral society.  Indeed we are.

I've already booked my place for their 17th December concert - also at St Laurence's!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Frodsham meets Chester

Frodsham meets Chester! - 

The Lord Mayor of Chester Cllr EleanorJohnson welcomes the Mayor of Frodsham Cllr Andrew Dawson 
to Chester Town Hall on 6 October 2011

The Lord Mayor of Chester held a gathering at Chester Town Hall for civic and military dignatories from Cheshire. As you can see the Mayor of Frodsham was delighted to be invited!

For one night only there was a little bit more of Frodsham in Chester - other than Frodsham Street!

When you consider the Earls of Chester used to live in Frodsham (on occasion admittedly) it is only right Frodsham pays Chester the odd visit in return!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Community Grants

Each CWaC Councillor has a grant pot of £10,000 that can be spent on local community projects with the minimum of fuss and bureaucracy.  You might think that assessing the grant applications is one of the easiest things a councillor can do - good news all round perhaps?

To be fair my experience in grant giving has been very positive so far in the previous two years that CWaC had such a scheme.

Now, as finances are getting tighter, it is becoming harder.

How do you favour one project over another?  What criteria should you apply?

Without seeking to be 'too hard and fast' over the rules I'm always looking to ensure that Frodsham and its community benefits and, ideally as many people as possible benefit, or could benefit.  Instinctively I don't want to support overtly commercial, profit making schemes or to pass money on to another grant giving body, local authority or charity.

So I'm wrestling with two applications that are troubling me.

One is to provide money to RAW - residents against the windfarm to allow them to produce a professional photo montage of the windfarm proposal.  I was instrumental in obtaining a £1,000 grant from Frodsham Town Council earlier this year for this project.  Unfortunately the work has to be done again as Peel has reduced their scheme to 19 turbines from the original 20.  Effectively this means 'junking' the work already done.

I've asked many of the expected questions - why the company producing the montage can't simply remove the now deleted turbine... and the like.  So is this a good use of a further £1,000 of public money?  Should the inspector be asked to factor in the modest change ... and save the public purse £1,000?

Incidentally I've not come to a conclusion on this one...

And then there is a school that wants money to support overseas twinning.  I fully recognise just how laudable an idea this is, how some pupils would benefit greatly and others somewhat.  However should limited community grant monies be spent in this way? 

I think I have come to a conclusion about this one ... but I'm not in a position to announce that yet.

What this does point to is that the community itself is often the best judge as to whether something should be funded or not and that 'giving money away' is not as easy as it may at first sight appear.

You and Yours?

I was honoured and delighted to be contacted by the You and Yours production team today - enquiring whether I would be prepared to appear on the BBC Radio 4 flagship programme to discuss micro generation - and in particular CWaC's recent decision to refuse permission for a single 15m high turbine at Riley Bank behind Frodsham.

The Producer was very flattering and told me that the local press had given him the impression that it was my 'impassioned' address to the committee on 20 September that had lead to the application being turned down.

Whilst appearing on national radio is a draw for most Councillors (me included) I had to disabuse him - and point him to the webcast of the meeting where I presented the case for local residents who were opposed to the application and where I had expressed that personally I was 'torn' and could see the case for supporting one single turbine in an isolated location.  I contrasted this position with Peel's proposals for Frodsham Marshes - an enormous landscape changing scheme that I in common with most of us living here I oppose.

I encouraged the Producer to speak with the Chairman of the Committee who proposed the refusal of this application on green belt grounds.

Ahh well sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story!!!
If you want to see the committee hearing you can go to  The wind turbine proposal is item 6 on the agenda.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

So where exactly is Frodsham?

Those of us who live in Frodsham know where it is.  If you want the co-ordinates we are at 53 degrees 17 minutes and 33.82 seconds North by 2 degrees, 43 minutes 14.93 seconds West.  We are located by the Mersey Estuary, the Ship Canal and the River Weaver and we are off Junction 12 on the M56.  We shelter beneath Frodsham, or if you prefer Overton Hill and to the south of us there is rural mid-Cheshire with many smaller communities and villages.   More than 9,000 people call Frodsham home.

If we need health services we look primarily to our own GPs and then to main hospitals like the Countess of Chester.  We shop in Frodsham, Helsby, Chester and Cheshire Oaks and on occasion we may go further afield like Liverpool, Warrington or Manchester.  We have our own police and fire stations.  We have largely amicable relations with our near neighbours in Helsby and virtually all our older children are educated at Helsby High School.

Our main links lie along an East-West corridor.

You'd have thought everyone would realise this - especially the powers that be?  Well in my last blog I talked about the Boundary Commission's suggestion that Frodsham should end up in a Parliamentary seat with Ditton, Hale, Bromborough, Eastham and Ellesmere Port.  A thoroughly bizarre suggestion.

This week I've been fighting off those who would use Northwich's needs as justifying decisions for Frodsham.  In CWaC Frodsham lies in the 'Northwich and Rural North Area Programme Board' - a rather curious false geographic construct that has no meaning on the ground - certainly not in Frodsham.

So what do we share with Northwich other than lying within Cheshire and CWaC?
Well our children go to different schools.  If you are ill you go to different GPs and different hospitals.  At the moment we are in different PCT areas - and will be in different GP commissioning areas once those reforms go through.   We are within the Western Division for Cheshire Police together - but then so is Chester and Ellesmere Port - but our community police are based here in Frodsham.  We don't shop in each other's shops.  We worry about different planning projects and there are no direct roads connecting us.  We don't even share the same local newspapers.

Those of us living in and around Frodsham are different and distinct from Northwich. 

So ... a word of advice to those who would make decisions about or for Frodsham - treat us with respect.  Understand we are not a suburb of Northwich.  If you want to change things here based on evidence of need - use evidence of need from Frodsham and its hinterland not from Northwich.  You'll find, if you haven't already noticed, that Frodsham is very independent in spirit and getting increasingly fed up by being ignored and taken for granted.



Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Boundary Commission Review - Mersey Banks

I don't whether to laugh or cry when looking at the Boundary Commission's suggestions for a Mersey Banks constituency.  I have to say this must be amongst the most absurd suggestions that the Commission has proposed - and they've reached this position through what I see as poor decision making, having painted themselves into unnecessary corners elsewhere, and our interesting geography and proximity to seemingly immutable boundaries.  However the commission seemingly can defy the vast expanse of the River Mersey. 

So why do I think this is absurd?  Well how many Parliamentary Constituencies bridge 3 local authority areas - we have Bromborough and Eastham from Wirral, Hale and Ditton from Halton with the remaining areas being in Cheshire West and Chester in this suggestion.  How many Parliamentary Constituencies are divided by a river - and one of the  size of the Mersey Estuary?  When the new Mersey Gateway bridge is built one will have to pay a toll to move from one side to another.  This suggestion strikes me as having been produced by someone looking at a map and not appreciating that the 'blue bits' are water.  The Hale and Ditton portions are physically distant and remote as a matter of geography from the rest of the suggested constituency and other than touching the river they are not even contiguous with the other parts.

This suggested constituency straddles the Merseyside and Cheshire boundary - an inconvenient boundary the Commission has chosen to ignore.  This proposal links communities that have few if any ties.  Do the people of Ditton consider themselves to be similar or linked with Eastham or Bromborough? I suggest that the Mersey Estuary and the few transport links there are over or under the Estuary demonstrate that these communities are not linked in any meaningful way.

However as the Commission has decided that it can't link Liverpool with Birkenhead (clearly tolls or the prospect of tolls are no impediment) even though they are in the same county, and with the Welsh and the North West region boundaries being 'fixed' some difficult decisions are needed.  However the absurdity of straddling 3 local authority areas of linking communities that have little or no contact is going too far in my view. Certainly you don't hear of Weaverham residents clamouring to go to Eastham or Ditton or vice versa.

And then to add to the stupidity the Boundary Commission decided that it wouldn't take account of the ward  changes in Cheshire West and Chester that were used at our last elections in May 2011.  There is no such thing as 'Weaver ward' any more, or indeed any of the Cheshire West wards as shown.  If you want a recipe for confusion for voters in this area this it.

It is interesting to note this proposal is 'oversized' with a suggested electorate of over 80,000 - and this is before one considers that CWaC is 'going for growth.'

Speaking as a Frodsham resident I would be looking to be linked with rural mid Cheshire or to Chester, or perhaps towards Ellesmere Port.  If that isn't possible, and with regret I would consider what we presently have with Weaver Vale at the moment links with Runcorn - although I don't see how Runcorn, Northwich and Frodsham are linked communities at the moment.  The previous MP Mike Hall described Weaver Vale as 'not the best piece of work done by the Boundary Commission.'  Well this is even worse.

I'm sorry Boundary Commission this is Grade U material.  You are failing all the communities in these proposals.  This is simply not fair to anyone and not good enough.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Frodsham Downhill Run

Frodsham Downhill Run September 2011.  Another fantastic Frodsham event - many thanks to Sue and her team at the Community Centre for organising it, Widnes Vikings for sponsoring it and the army of supporters who kept us all on course!   It was wonderful to see around 250 runners with many families and loads of youngsters running.

I'm smiling in the photograph as I was near the finish line.  This was my second year of running and I set a personal best!  Eight seconds faster than last year and 2 places better!  I was 74th in 11:14 - over 4 minutes longer than the first home.  At least I can boast I was the first Councillor and the first Mayor - however I was well beaten by Graham Evans MP.

The long summer is over

Summer is normally a quiet time politically - although this summer we've had a more active summer period than usual.  CWaC's Executive has had a number of difficult decisions to make including whether to continue with subsidised transport for children attending faith schools for faith reasons as opposed to their local school and whether the Council should seek to provide additional pitches for the Gypsy and Traveller communities.

If the summer has been this challenging goodness only knows what the autumn will bring.

Friday, 22 July 2011

What price democracy

We've a Town Council by-election on 11 August.  And how much does this exercise in democracy cost - £2,800 to the Council Tax payers of Frodsham.  Our elections in May didn't cost the Town Council anything as they were run at the same time as the Cheshire West and Chester elections.

Democracy is precious.  Democracy has its price.

What a fantastic Council Meeting

Now that's an unusual thing to say - however we had a really great meeting of FTC last Tuesday.  Those of us there had a strong sense of purpose.  We listened to each other with respect - the posturing and pontificating was limited to one exchange on the budget - but other than that we got on with business.

We made decisions that will point the way for the Council in the year, if not years to come.
We've more than halved our committee meetings from those the old Council had - freeing up our officer resources to actually do things.  We've decided to commission a report on our children's play areas.  We're looking to have a Town Council publication produced and distributed monthly.  We're investing in our Christmas Lights by paying for support brackets to be attached to each lighting column.

We've listened to the community in our consultations and will be offering our over 70s more choice as to how they celebrate Christmas.  Oh and we've changed our logo - to a bee - in fact to look like the bee everyone thinks was our logo anyway!