I’m having a colour crisis!

There’s an advertisement running in cinemas at the moment, for Orange mobile phones, that has relevance to the way I’m seeing my politics at the moment.  The advert has an animated parrot in it that starts off blue and is then turned orange by the off screen voice that’s controlling things.

My emerging association with this piece of imagery comes about because of statements from ‘call me Dave’, about how he’s going to revolutionise local government (for revolutionise read, kick the guts out of it) and the words of caution from Nick Clegg in today’s Daily Telegraph.

In other words, my Tory blue, whilst not quite turning into LibDem orange, is definitely feeling a bit on the pale side at the moment.  Nick Clegg has gone on the record today, saying about Dave’s latest idea for privatised policing, “Replacing a public monopoly with a private monopoly achieves nothing but reduced accountability” – I wish I’d said that.  All that education hasn’t been wasted after all.  Seriously and somewhat annoyingly, I find myself in agreement with Nick Clegg’s views on this, hence my colour clash.

It may seem somewhat simplistic on my part, but I still cannot see how a shift from an organisation that only has one goal – delivering services, to one that has making a profit by delivering public services, is a sound way forward.  As Gordon Brown once said, I agree with Nick!

Clearance Sale Now On!

For Sale! One set of well cared for public services – any offer considered.

David Cameron intends to break the state’s monopoly on service provision by opening it up to the commercial and voluntary sectors.

As a science fiction geek, I can’t help but find parallels from the world of film in real life and what is being proposed by David Cameron, especially when it comes to big business taking over some of ‘the states’ functions, is one of them.

Even is you’re not in to sci-fi, I’m sure most of us can think of at least one film where the story revolves around big business pulling the strings of government and government appearing to be unable (or unwilling) to do anything about it.  One of my all time favourites is Harrison Ford’s Blade Runner, where the big corporation is run by a shadowy genius, who never leaves his penthouse, whilst wielding power over almost everything and everyone (including the police).

Today’s reality is not so stark.  However, spare a thought for all those services that used to be, but are no longer, controlled by government.  Gas, electricity, water, telephones, the post office, and the railways – I’m sure readers could think of a few more.  Most people would immediately say that things are far better now, as these private companies bring the much needed investment to industries starved of it by government.  I would agree with the last point, whilst questioning the first.  Apart from the pathetic telephone services that existed in this country prior to privatisation, just about everything else seemed to work pretty much as advertised and just needed leadership and investment.  Even more worrying and call me xenophobic if you must, many of the companies with their fingers on the light switch are now owned by foreign interests.

Government now wishes to farm out all the remaining services, whilst at the same time believing it can keep some level of control over the quality and cost to the end user.  Standby by for more Ofwats, Ofgems, Ofcoms, etc, etc.  Anybody think these regulators are doing a very good job for us?

Even more alarming is the government’s record on doing deals with the commercial world. The private finance initiatives used to build hundreds of public buildings, such as schools and hospitals, would be worthy of the world’s greatest conman, Bernie Madoff and his $50billion Ponzi scheme.  Likewise, the MOD was a cash cow for the defence industry, that is only now being culled.   This government bailed out the banks, continues to own large chucks of them (on behalf of taxpayers remember) yet remains unable to control their behaviour effectively.  When it comes to dealing with the commercial world, time and time again, government seems to take a tiger by the tail, without having a clue how to get to the business end to put on the collar.

A bit like the Royal Air Force, this latest proposal means that local government has probably had its day.  Of course central government will still need a local mechanism to deliver its agenda, but this will be no more than a contract monitoring office, staffed mainly by lawyers, bean counters and clerks.

Elected members can then be dispensed with, as an unnecessary encumbrance to what, without their interference, would be a straightforward set of business transactions.  After all, if localism is about giving local people control, why would you need elected members to be advocates on behalf of the people who now have control?

The public service ethos will be maintained by exploiting the willingness of local voluntary groups to deliver those services the commercial world finds unattractive, because they don’t make the right level of profit.

Finally, any political representation required, to give the few people that actually bother to vote something to do, would be provided by the directly elected mayors, that will be imposed on us at some point in the future.  This role will involve glad-handing, pretending to listen to the community and keeping an eye on the lawyers as they churn out all the contracts.

Just to finish on the sci-fi theme.  David Cameron has said that the judiciary and security are not up for grabs.   Robocop is all about an outsourced police force, where the dedicated cops on the street spend all their time being dropped in it because the greedy corporation that employs them, starves them of resources in order to increase profits.  Never say never Dave!

Network Rail – not our job guv!

Having tried and failed to get Network Rail to actually do something with the sub-standard Stepping Stones Bridge they dumped on Spalding last year, it now seems that the one solitary light that serves the bridge is the responsibility of the Lincolnshire County Council Highways Dept, even though the lamp-post itself is inside the Network Rail fence.  Likewise, even though the bridge’s top walk way floods and freezes in the cold weather, or just simply floods in the rain, this is again the county council’s problem not Network Rails!

So, as well as all the potholes around the district, county highways will have to add Stepping Stones Bridge Spalding to their list of things that need sorting even though their budget keeps getting smaller.  Meanwhile, Network Rail can smugly continue to do things we don’t want them to do and then pass the buck when it starts to cause a problem!

Meanwhile, Bill Bryson the Anglophile American, who now resides in England and leads the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE), has come up with a bright idea on how to kick organisations such as Network Rail, when they ignore their duty to keep their house in order.  Something called a Litter Abatement Order appears to be a good tool for the job according to Bill and although it’s all a bit tedious to do, the simple threat of doing it can have the desired effect.

http://www.cpre.org.uk/campaigns/stop-the-drop/litter-and-fly-tipping/litter-campaign-update

I will be taking this to the next meeting of the Spalding town Forum to see what they think about threatening to use these on some of our more uncooperative companies.

No Big Society for Network Rail

In my long running battle to get something done with the new ‘second-hand’ Stepping Stones Bridge in Spalding, I have been communicating with Network Rail, the company that installed this poor excuse for a pedestrian link across the railway line.

Two issues have been raised time and time again by residents since the bridge was installed and in an effort to get these resolved, I registered a formal complaint with Network Rail’s customer contact line.  Up until now, the people I spoke to on the phone were polite and helpful, as was a Community Relations Advisor in our email exchanges.

However, I have now run in to one of those faceless, self important bureaucrats, otherwise known as a brick wall, that one sometimes encounters in these big organisations.  Below is an email response this person sent to me tonight (Tues) and I think most reasonable people would find its tone extremely high handed and completely dismissive of the concerns that I have raised on behalf of Spalding residents.

Dear Mr Gambba –Jones

Thank you for your comments on the replacement steppingstones footbridge which is a standard design used extensively across the infrastructure.

Regarding time scales for a response to your queries.

I will be in a position to respond regarding the weep holes in 2 weeks

Regarding the lighting I would suggest you note my earlier comments, the light is the responsibility of The Council, Network Rail has no obligation to light public footpaths, you should make contact with the relevant Highway Department, neither am I prepared to permit you sight of agreements between Network Rail and The Council without a formal request from the relevant party in The Council.

Should the Council wish to access Network Rail land to repair this light arrangements can be made through our Asset Protection team, again I would be happy to provide them with a contact on request.

Regards *** ***** (name removed to protect the guilty)

Having re-read this person’s email (note that I’m avoiding any reference to their gender), I actually find their tone pompous, arrogant and mildly offensive and can almost picture them at their desk in a stiff, anal retentive posture, punching out this dismissive missive.

This individual has obviously failed to catch the drift of David Cameron’s Big Society and its drive to give local people the backing to make a difference in their communities.

Not to be beaten on this (yet) I have now contacted a colleague at the county council, to get their view on these issues.  I will update this blog with any outcomes in due course.

Meanwhile, if anybody else wishes to annoy Network Rail and let them know of their dis-satisfaction with this bridge, please feel free.

Network Rail National Helpline 08457 114141. The reference number to use, if they ask, is: 2779146. Or you could start your own complaint and get a new number.

Spalding Post Office on the move again

How disappointing it was to see the Spalding Post Office once again under threat of extinction, following a commercial decision by person or persons unknown.

When the current location, within the Co-op centre in Winsover Road was first proposed, I made my reservation clear, particularly with regards to its location within the bowels of the building. When the proposals were first made public, I asked what would happen if the Co-op decided to move on and what guarantee would there be that any new owners would want to continue to run a Post Office slap bang in the middle of their retail operations? As it happens, I have been proven right, with the new owners wishing to evict the Post Office operation.

Also, not only was it a far from obvious location, sandwiched between the food and furniture departments, it was also one of the most uninviting and depressing places I had ever seen a shop located in. It was bad enough just being a customer waiting in line and staring at the blank magnolia walls, what it was like to work in that windowless tube day in day out, one can only imagine. A plea to the management to put up some posters and place the odd artificial potted plant fell on deaf ears, like most communications with Post Office management.

The loss of the experienced, dedicated and well liked staff of the original Sheep Market Post Office was immediately noticeable, as was the apparent under-staffing, as queues regularly formed well beyond the opening – entrance is too grander term.

We are now told that the Post Office is to move next door to No 7A Winsover Road, a modest shop front previously home to an insurance broker. We are also told that the nearest car park is only 50 yards away. What they don’t mention is, that this is the old the car park, but is now around the back of the building and without direct access.

Given Spalding’s current lack of any meaningful parking enforcement, I imagine it won’t be long before we see traffic backed up due to drivers pulling up in front of 7A in order to just ‘nip in’ to post a parcel. 

As I said, the shop front is modest and it is difficult to judge exactly how much space will be available to customers. However, I’ve a strong suspicion that at busy times, queues could well be out of the door and on to the street.

On the plus side, the place will now have some natural light from the shop frontage, so the staff should find it a much more pleasant place to work. I just hope the rest of us find more pluses than minuses come from this latest move of our Post Office.

Check the Conservative Group website for the latest
information on what’s happening in the Spalding Wygate ward
  

Big Society – if the price is right

David Cameron is refusing to give up on his Big Society idea, with a speech tomorrow (Monday) to remind people of what it’s about.  One TV commentator was cruel enough to inform viewer that, if this were a film launch, it would be billed as Big Society 4.

I can’t help but wonder if David Cameron hasn’t already missed the boat on this in terms of public attitude?  How many volunteer led activities have folded in recent years, because of a lack of people willing to give up their time?  Scout, Guide and Brownie groups, along with numerous social clubs and community run halls, to name but a few.

Surly, if there were so many willing people out there, wouldn’t they already be doing it?  What is it about Big Society that’s going to bring all these potential volunteers out of the closet?

Even if it does succeed, this drive to turn us in to a nation of volunteers, (now that we’ve pretty much killed off all the shop keepers) has its fair share of negatives.  Just like his ministers, David Cameron seems hell bent on subjecting this country to a local government bypass operation.  It’s as though councils are being blamed for all the ills in our communities and that bypassing them to recruit a new set of volunteers, will somehow bring these communities back to back to health.

I say new set of volunteers because central government seems to have forgotten that local government already has a large number of volunteers.  They’re called elected members and they were put there by their communities.

Until the last government started interfering with the process, local government was very much something you got involved in because you wished to make a contribution to your community and were willing to make some financial sacrifices in order to do so.  Now, with the advent of members’ allowance and special responsibility payments that often run in to the tens of thousands, the clarity of this aspect of being an elected has become decidedly blurred.  Given the Pickles drive to cull local government senior and middle management and give the job to the members, this blurring can only get worse.

My second gripe about the Big Society idea, is that many of the charities that are apparently going to become the saviours of everything the public values, are often run like full blown businesses.  Many have chief executives and senior managers employed on a purely commercial basis, with pay packets to match.  I doubt if these people agree to take a reduced salary just because it’s a charity that’s employing them.

So, as with elected members, the public service ethos of volunteering to provide a service to communities, will become more and more blurred over time, as the big charities and their army of well meaning volunteers burrow their way in to the various local government service delivery areas.  As we see more and more services transferred from the stewardship of one set of elected volunteers and into the hands of those who are unelected and therefore far less accountable, a major question comes to mind.

Unlike those employed in local government, the senior management of the big charities bring none of the public service ethos that is currently present in local government, but do display much of the commercialism of the private sector.  How long will it be before it is impossible to tell the difference between a service delivered by a ‘charity’ and that delivered by an outsourcing company?

Not a major problem in itself you might think – who cares who delivers the service, as long as it’s delivered?  The problem is, once you’ve killed off the competition, in the form of the current local government structures and the only providers in the market are the privateers, it becomes a sellers market.  The defence industry has already done this via the MOD, now it would seem that it’s the turn of local government.  Come on Down The Price Is Right (for those old enough to remember the TV show).

Spalding, Wygate Park road works

Residents who are putting up with a fair amount of disruption at the moment, may be interested to know that this is all to do with getting the road ready for adoption by the county council highways department. 

I had cause to go and have a look at what was going on Weds night, following an email from a resident who had suffered a nasty shock, when his car received a severe jolt as he drove across an unmarked drop in the road surface.  The one he was referring to was particularly bad, because it was a trench some 50mm deep by 40 or 50cm across.  This was just about the right dimensions for your wheels to drop into and then jump out of it in quick succession – definitely something to make your teeth rattle!

As there were no signs warning drivers of this particular ‘trench’ in the road, I took it upon myself to seek out an unused (surprisingly given the state of the road) ‘Uneven Road Surface’ sign and placed it at the corner of Claudette Ave.  I was later told via email that I should not of done this as I wasn’t properly trained!!  However, I must have done something right, as it was still there 3 days later.

The email also told me the signs that were being used, were the authorised ones and were used throughout the country.  I agree, signs saying ‘Ramp’ are used on road works all over the country.  However, Wygate Park is the only road I know that has ramps at every junction along its length.  Is it any wonder then, that drivers who are familiar with the road might not think that these particular ‘Ramp’ signs referred to completely different ramps – or in this case drops – in the road surface and therefore received a very nasty shock when they hit them.

Having done my bit for road safety, I returned home and tried to contact the local police, to see if they could out some slow down signs overnight.  I eventually had to phone the non-emergency number for Lincolnshire Police, which of course took me to a remote control room and an operator who didn’t have a clue where Spalding was let alone Wygate Park. Having spoken to the duty inspector, I was politely told that, because the road was unadopted, they weren’t interested in responding to any road safety issues!  I then asked them if they had an emergency contact telephone number for the highway authority, no we don’t came back the reply.

Having failed to get help there, I decide to look at the LCC website.  This very helpfully told me that, if I had any out of hours highways emergencies, I should contact the police in the first instance!  Round and around we go!

Incidentally, thank you to a particular Wygate Park resident, who turned in to Wintergold Ave at about 8pm on Weds night.  Upon seeing me watch his car to see how the uneven road surface affected it, he decided to stop his car, wind down his window, ask me if I wanted a picture and then gave me a foul-mouthed tirade about finding something better to do with myself, than watch him driving (speeding) past me.  When told, ‘I am just doing my job sir’, he shout back, getting a different f*****g job!’.  Guilty concsience me thinks.  I don’t suppose I’ll be getting his vote in May then!