Some insight into why our competitive edge will always be blunt

A couple of weeks ago now, I was in the company of a number of senior people from one of of our major national developers.  We were all at attending a conference and  they were representing the sponsor of that evening’s conference dinner.

it was fast approaching midnight in the bar and the mood was jocular and relaxed with plentry of banter between politicians and developers present, as one might expect.  The conversation turned to the skills shortage and in particular the shortage of bricklayers in their industry.  In another life one of the politicians had been a builder, so was quick to agree with the developers’ complaints about the national apprenticeship scheme used to train brickies.

I won’t bore you with the details of their complaint, but suffice to say, that anything involving the principles of good bricklaying, was totally pointless when it came to training bricklayers, in their collective opinions.  As far as those in the know were concerned, it should only take a couple of months at the most to ‘knock out’ a capable bricky.

On the face of it, many people would sympathise with any employer who objected to paying for staff to be trained to a depth they believed would never be used ‘in anger’ so to speak, which of course is why these developers were complaining about apprenticeships for bricklayers.

However, if the belief that the absolute minimum will do when it comes to skills training, is common across all industries that make or build things in this country, we will always lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to increasing national productivity and therefore competitiveness.

The Germans have a far greater respect for non-academic skills than there has ever been in this country.  A qualified engineer in Germany is given the title Herr Doctor to acknowledge their skill and training for example.  Of course I’m not suggesting that all our young Waynes, Jacks, Jills and Johns should now be trained to the level of Herr Doctor Bricky.

However, if you give a young person a good grounding in their chosen career, then they are more likely to aspire to go further than where they started when they first started work.  There are plenty of 30+, or even 40+ tradesmen and women out there doing exactly what they were doing when they were 20, but could now be doing so much more, had they had the right training at the start of their careers.

Teaching somebody more than just how to lay one brick after another in a straight line, until somebody tells you to stop and go back to the beginning and start again, should be welcomed as an investment in our country’s future, not resented as an annoying delay in building your bottom line at the end of the financial year.

Short-termism infects every area of government and private industry in this country – at least government has the partial excuse of the election cycle for this.  This continues to put us on the back foot when it comes to competing with the competition globally.

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Is it that the public recycle more when they have no choice?

Well done to Bury MBC for having the courage to introduce 3 weekly waste collections.  I would however like to know what sort of figures they have for contamination of their recycling stream and how the public feel about recycling in principle?  Are residents recycling because they have no choice, or are they doing with enthusiasm, because they feel it’s the right thing to do?  

If the public are recycling more, because they have no choice – you can only get so much in a 140 litre wheelie bin – then it rather proves the theory that the carrot and stick approach works just as well when you only have the stick!

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online
Three weekly collection boosts recycling rates7 August, 2015 | By Jack Loughran

Bury MBC has announced a 10% jump in recycling rates following the introduction of three-weekly collections for non-recyclable waste.
Latest figures from October 2014 to May this year show that residual waste was down by almost 4,000 tonnes and the overall recycling rate had risen to 57.5%, LGC’s sister title Materials Recycling World reports.

This led to an increase of around 1,500 tonnes of recyclates collected: paper and cardboard up by 454 tonnes; metal tins and plastic (466 tonnes) and organic material (644 tonnes).

Cllr Tony Isherwood, cabinet member for environment, said the figures showed that the new system had been successful.

“Residents should be proud of the part that they have played in improving Bury’s recycling rates,” he said. “The cost to dispose of one tonne of grey bin waste has risen by £24 to £308 per tonne, huge costs which we can avoid if we recycle all we can and put the right waste in the right bin.

“This is vital, when the council is facing yet another year of multi-million pound cuts. Every penny that we save through recycling is a penny less that we have to cut from other frontline services.”

In March, Falkirk Council became the first in the UK to fully switch to three-weekly residual collections.
As a result of the new regime, food waste collection increased by 75% with up to 9,000 tonnes of food waste diverted from landfill. It intends to introduce four-weekly collections in 2016.

Timely and welcome support from my fellow ward member

This is the text of a letter submitted by my fellow ward member, councillor Christine Lawton, to our local press.

“I am pleased that something amuses Mr Cronin, although I did not find his unhelpful attitude at the steering group which looked at the possibilities of building a community centre for Wygate at all funny. On the question of delay perhaps he should consider “motes and beams”.   

As to his central question “Why are the residents being restricted to a building?”, the simple answer is that the 106 money from developer was for a community building.  Like my predecessor (before your time Mr Cronin) I too am a simple soul – I believe that a facility which could accommodate such excellent groups as cubs, WI, dancing classes for children, a meeting place for the retired would be in principle a fine idea.  That is why the Wygate community is being surveyed  (by an independent charity) to ascertain the wishes and desires of the local residents.  That sounds pretty democratic to me!

I value team-work and loyalty and wish to associate myself with the efforts of Cllr Gambba-Jones and others in this attempt to discover the appetite for a centre for Wygate residents.  Let the people decide – it works for me.”

I’ve taken the liberty of adding the link to Wikipedia for those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with the parable, or just read the panel below.  I couldn’t have said it better myself – no actually, my education doesn’t stretch that far, so I couldn’t have said it at all; thank heavens for Christine!

Top Tory leaders admit doubts over right-to-buy extension

For all those people who think we dance to the Party’s tune on every issue, below is an article that tells a different story.

I echo Gary’s concerns and fear that the ordinary working class people, that the cities depend on to run it’s services and pander to the needs of the rich and powerful who can afford to buy a home, no matter the price, will soon be banished to locations, not even classed as the suburbs, by this sort of policy.  London will undoubtedly lead the way, with social housing within the M25, often falling foul of the ‘most expensive on the books’ category.

Without stringent controls on these proposed sales, such as a profit claw-back clause, if the house is sold into the private sector with a certain number of years, or changes to the capital gains taxation rules, the only social housing available, will be on remote sink estates, in the back of beyond and populated by people that have no other choice available to them.  Underlying all of this, is the implausible suggestion that the sales will fund their replacement with modern, cheaper housing.  The numbers don’t add up, especially as the proposal is for the government to manage the redistribution.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle online article of 21 April, 2015 

By David Paine

 Two senior Conservative politicians have expressed doubts about their party’s proposal to extend the right-to-buy, as it emerged housing minister Kris Hopkins had previously warned the policy could mean a huge cost to the public purse.  The Conservative manifesto, published last week, said the party would force councils to sell off their most valuable homes to pay for a new right-to-buy for housing association tenants.
However, the proposal was met with widespread opposition with the National Housing Federation claiming it would make it more difficult for housing associations to borrow to build more homes. These concerns appeared to be shared by Mr Hopkins in a letter he sent to Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Wells, in October 2013.
In it he said if housing associations were “obliged to consistently sell off their stock at less than market value they might find it difficult to borrow” and added that could “impact adversely” on investment in existing properties and “affect the future provision of affordable housing”.  Mr Hopkins’ letter added the government at the time did not “consider that it would be reasonable to require housing associations to sell these properties at a discount” as extending the scheme could result in “a high liability for the public purse”.
In response, Mr Hopkins said his letter showed “we would look at expanding home ownership through extending right-to-buy” and added his party’s “sensible, affordable” proposal would “ensure that housing associations are compensated”.  The maximum discount under right-to-buy on council properties is £77,900 across England, except in London boroughs where it’s £103,900.
Leader of the Local Government Association Conservative group Gary Porter told LGC he had “not fully bought in to the party’s position” while Kent CC’s leader Paul Carter told LGC he had “some empathy” with housing associations that face losing homes.  Cllr Carter said he was “a great believer in home ownership” but thought the way to “encourage more housing to be built” was to invest in infrastructure, especially transport.
Cllr Porter, leader of South Holland DC, said the right-to-buy was a “great idea and long overdue for homes that were built with public money” but added: “If they weren’t built with public money then they shouldn’t be touched, it shouldn’t apply.”  Catherine Ryder, head of policy at the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, told LGC legislation would almost certainly have to be amended or introduced as housing associations are currently exempt from right-to-buy due to their charitable status.
Ms Ryder said extending the right-to-buy could impact on housing associations’ ability to borrow “even if the discounts are funded”. She said: “If you’re selling off your assets the certainty of your income is more difficult to predict so it’s going to be more difficult to borrow money to build new affordable homes.”  She also questioned how quickly high-value properties sold off by councils to fund the scheme would be replaced and where they would be built.
A recent survey by the Local Government Association, Chartered Institute of Housing, and the National Federation of ALMOs found only half or fewer of homes sold under the existing right-to-buy for council homes had been replaced.

There’ll be no enlightenment from this Dark(ness)

litter chase not text

‘An officer of the district council, should follow somebody they see carrying a drinks can and when they drop it, they should give them an on the spot fine’. Cllr Graham Dark at a full council meeting.

According to this weeks edition of  Spalding Voice Graham Dark wishes to enlighten people on the subject of litter.

Using the letters page, this independent councillor and dedicated navel gazer,  has decided to get an early start to his 2015 re-election campaign.  He does this with a very brief offering of praise for the litter picking efforts of a young Conservatives group, all with Sandra and Tony White, dedicated and tenacious Spalding residents.

However, the real purpose of his politically motivated letter, is to attack the council’s Conservative group and in particular myself, as the cabinet member for waste and recycling.

Councillor Dark appears to be obsessed with use of tickets and fines, obviously a left over from his days as a police officer.  Unfortunately, his time as a cop hasn’t given him any understanding of the difference between having a robust policy and actually having sufficient resources to apply it regularly – certainly not to the extent he desires.  In fact, this desire is so compelling, he seems willing to see other council services suffer, in order to satisfy it.

Cllr Dark, having seen his previous obsession, a bandstand in Ayscoughfee Gardens gain financial support via Springfield’s s106 monies, has now turned his myopic gaze towards litter and the catching of those who drop it.  His repeated references to one thing in particular, enforcement, is becoming a little tedious.

I accept that, some years ago, an undertaking was made to empower certain council officers, to serve fixed penalty notices on littering offenders.  In practice, this was never a realistic option, given that few, if any, of our officers were ever in a position to witness, let alone act, when such offences occurred.  I am of course assuming that cllr Dark wasn’t expecting these officers to do this enforcement in their lunch breaks, but one can never be sure, when it comes to a member of the Independent group, as they seldom allow reality to get in the way of a bright idea.

I may of course be wrong on this last point because, if memory serves, at a recent full council meeting, he made the quite extraordinary suggestion, that potential litter droppers should be ‘stalked’ by suitably empowered council officers.

Graham Dark considers it acceptable for a professional Housing, Planning, or Environmental Health officers, to wander the streets of Spalding, looking out for anybody with a drinks can in hand.  The officer would then follow that person, keeping a careful watch on them and this potentially source of litter.  Should that person discard their can improperly, the officer would pounce on them, book of fixed penalty notices in hand, no doubt crying, ‘your nicked’, or something similar.  How far and for how long this stalking had to take place is unclear.  Suffice it to say, this procedure will not be written in to the council’s robust littering policy, anytime soon.

Incidentally, Graham Dark and his partner in crime Roger Perkins, are both members of a committee that has the role of scrutinising the council’s performance.  Despite this, at no time in their ‘years’ of allegedly banging on about it, have they bothered to get the issue of litter enforcement placed on the agenda of that committee, so that the council’s so called, ‘abysmal performance’ can be properly scrutinised.  I wonder if Graham Dark would care to enlighten me on the reason for this?

Littering is a serious problem and  a blight on our towns and villages. With its larger population and busier streets, Spalding suffers the most problems and presents the greatest challenges.

Finally, can I enlighten you as to what the future might hold.   There has been a major reduction in local government funding, due to the previous Labour government’s mismanagement of the economy.  As such, I cannot promise to commit any more resources to this problem, than those currently available.  We are however, doing our best to encourage and support the sort of community involvement and pride displayed by Jack McLean, young Conservatives, and Sandra and Tony White.  If you would like to offer your help, please do get in touch.

Exorbitant spending on Overseas Aid hasn’t made us any safer

One of the reasons given by David Cameron for his year on year increases in the Overseas Development budget since 2010 – well beyond that of any other European country – is that it will make our country a safer place, by helping those in foreign countries, improve their lot and become less radicalized by political extremists.  It has in fact, done nothing of the sort and will never do so, as long as we give the extremists reason, in their eyes, to see our country as their enemy and oppressor.

Some might suggest that our history as a colonial power, exploring and exploiting the world over many centuries,  had already done the damage, but I don’t believe that, given that many of our previous colonial conquests, remain members of the Commonwealth.  What has done the real damage and made us especially vulnerable, is our much cherished special relationship with the USA and our willingness to march shoulder to shoulder with them, into recent middle eastern conflicts.

Whilst successive Westminster leaders of all political persuasions, have viewed this relationship as the Holy Grail of international politics, giving the UK much great influence and kudos than it might otherwise have, I see it more as putting a target on the backs of every British citizen living and working in some of the most volatile areas of Africa and the Middle East.

Multiculturalism, a legacy of the Blair years, but again eagerly pursued by virtually all administrations, has opened our doors and left us vulnerable within our own boarders, something the Americans have bent over backwards to eliminate, post September 2001.  Live and let live, when those you are letting live in their own extremist ways – Sharia law is a very good example of this, along with female genital mutilation, is an irresponsible and ultimately dangerous political doctrine to pursue.

The upshot of this government’s single minder pursuit of international glory, often described as, ‘punching above our weight’ – a rather unfortunate term to use when you are supposedly trying to be everybody’s friend – is that an increase in spending in one area, has to be matched by a decrease elsewhere.  This applies even more so, when you are in the middle of a global financial crisis, but still determined to spend, spend, spend!  Which brings me to my point and the reason I have borrowed the article below.

Before anybody starts telling me that, despite all the cuts in local government funding, taxpayers haven’t noticed any reduction in services, I’d like to put that in some context.

Yes, most, if not all the essential services have been maintained to a good standard and residents won’t have seen their bins left un-emptied, streets knee deep in litter, or grass too long see over, let alone walk through.  Council houses are still being allocated and maintained and benefits are still being paid out on time.

However, what is suffering and will be cut even further in years to come, are those things we call discretionary – the things councils do because they believe their residents would like that service to be provided, even though the law doesn’t require it.  Leisure centres, youth clubs, play equipment, sports pitches, libraries, public toilets and maybe even usable, or at least affordable, burial grounds, could all disappear from localities, as cuts in local government funding continue for years to come.  Remember, all this is being done under the banner of deficit reduction, whilst the overseas aid budget continues to grow and grow, year on year.

Copied from Local Government Chronicle – 23 August 2014

Author – Tony Travers, director. Greater London Group, London School of Economics

The government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as councils can on highways

Under cover of mid-summer, the government has published two sets of figures about public expenditure.

The Department for Communities and Local Government revealed local authority revenue spending and income totals for 2014-15, while at the start of this month the Treasury belatedly released the annual Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses volume. Together these publications show how the years of austerity have affected individual services.

Although some parts of central government, notably the Home Office, defence and transport, have seen reductions of 100/o or more in their cash budgets, all the biggest programmes have been protected.  Council spending, by contrast, has been forced down at a remarkable pace.  The UK government will soon be spending twice as much on international development as English councils can afford to spend on highways and transport. Housing, roads, environment and planning have seen their cash expenditure fall by almost 30% in four years. In real terms, the cut is over 40%.

Council productivity increases must be among the greatest ever achieved by the public sector.  Planners appear to be processing as many applications in 2014 as in 2010 with barely half the resources. [What the planners are probably doing, is giving up the fight to maintain standards, given that the NPPF was written by developers, for developers and just passing applications to meet the targets set by Whitehall]. 

The government and opposition have no choice but to find additional money for the NHS: fear of public opinion will open the Treasury’s vaults. Pensions, as the biggest part of social security, are triple-locked into inflationary increases. Schools cannot be denied cash.

By 2020, many council spending programmes will have been halved within a decade.

 

CENTRAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPENDING CHANGES

  2010-11  £millions 2014-15  £millions Change %
Local government
Housing

2,733

1,945

-28.8

Highways & transport

6,661

4,814

-27.8

Environment, planning, culture

10,959

9,029

-17.6

Social care

20,851

22,090

+5.9

Central government
International development

5,930

7,870

+32.7

Social security

164,512

184,380

+12.8

NHS

97,469 109,650

+12.5

Education

50,387 54,500

+8.2

Spalding Today website infested by trolls?

internet troll – Web definitions
In Internet slang, a troll is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, either accidentally or with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response …
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_troll

It seems the last place to go, if you want to get an insight into what people in South Holland think about a a local issue, is the website run by our local newspaper.
Oh don’t get me wrong, you’ll get plenty of opinion, but only from a very small element of the population – six at the last count. However, these opinions won’t be from what one could call right minded, or informed people, hence my inclusion of the above definition.
Although the screen names are different, the tone of their comments are not. To a man and possibly woman, they all display the same uninformed, spiteful, small mindedness.
Indeed, I’ve yet to read one that doesn’t sound like it’s come from somebody holed up in a darkened room and fermenting on the conspiracy theory that, all councillors are corrupt and the district council is out to destroy South Holland, one piece at a time.
Unfortunately, these trolls display little, or no grasp of even the basic facts behind the online stories they comment on – all they know is what they read on their screens – so it would be pointless to enter into any sort of constructive online debate with them. Indeed, I don’t think they even care about the content of story, they just see it as an opportunity to snipe and sneer at others.

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