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.