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.