Huhne , apparently no better than the rest of us

The ongoing farce that is Chris Huhne’s game of cat and mouse with the police over his alleged speeding offence, rather sums up the moral degradation issue our country is currently wrestling with.

Those of us who have been elected are regularly told that public service is an honour. We are also told that those of us fortunate enough to gain the public’s trust, through the electoral process, should be prepared to be held to a higher standard of behaviour in office. Chris Huhne’s personal integrity has clearly been called in to question and yet he continues to plead his innocence and desperately hang on to his position as a government minister.

Whilst such behaviour is not exactly the equivalent of rioting or looting, it could be argued that it is actually a form of high class anti-social behaviour. It could also be argued that it should receive the same zero tolerance approach now being demanded for ‘ordinary’ citizens. If it’s good enough for them, then it should be doubly so for those in public office and required to be held to a higher standard.

One could of course argue that Chris Huhne is innocent until proven guilty, but is that an acceptable approach for somebody in a high profile public office? Would not an honourable man, sensitive to the repetitional damage of such grubby goings on, consider his position? History is dotted with the names of honourable politicians who, when their personal integrity was called in to question, stepped aside until their name was cleared – I think David Laws is potentially the most recent example. In doing so, they should be seen as setting an example for other public servants to endeavour to follow.

Unfortunately, Chris Huhne appears to consider himself too important to take such an honourable course of action. Either that, or his moral compass has titled in the same way as all those rioters and looters who took to the streets 10 days ago. Whatever his reasons, it sets a pretty poor example to the rest of us ordinary folk.

Police or community? Why not both?

As MPs go through the motions in Parliament today, I hope at least a few of them, including those on the Tory benches, take the opportunity to ask David Cameron how, given the events of that last 7 days, he intends to put his Big Society vision in to practice.

Surely, the recent horrifying and depressing events across England, are a confirmation of what David Cameron has been saying since he became Party leader. His biggest problem now, is being seen as all talk and no action. Can he really expect all those people who turned out on the streets of London, armed with brooms and bin bags, to keep on being so community spirited, without something more than words of encouragement from his government? If he does, then his vision is doomed already.

Just like a train needs a track to run on, Big Society needs the right sort of infrastructure to support it. People are demanding no more cuts in police budgets, so that more officers can be put on the streets – that’s one solution. However, the heavy hand of authority is the way regimes such Syria, Lybia and Zimbabwe control their populations. I don’t think any right minded citizen would wish to see the UK go down this route, if only because it fails completely to address the underlying issues. Policing is the answer, but not neccesaraily high police numbers. Policing focussed on and based in the community, in other words, a return to a form of the good old village bobby.

If David Cameron believes that the Big Society can work, he could do worse than start by reintroducing genuine local policing. This could be in the form of a proper community based police officer, complete with office and house – sound familiar? Or, as works in other European countries such as Holland, community wardens living and working in their communities. Recent events in Japan also highlighted their system of community based officials. I also understand that it is common practice to see mini-police offices on many street corners in Japan, providing genuine community based policing. The key to this approach is ensuring that there are enough boots on the ground, as they say in the military – over to you Dave.

Ed Miliband – one trick pony?

Apparently Ed Miliband is being given plaudits for kicking the open goal that is the phone hacking scandal. Surely, unless he actually came out in support of Murdoch, it would be difficult for him not to be heard saying the right things wouldn’t it? Heaven help us if picking easy targets is all it takes to become a political leader.

A credit card non-story and easy street for MPs

Two stories have caught my attention this week. The first one strikes me as something of a non-story once you scratch the surface and is about the amount government depts spend on credit cards. The very terms credit card and government seems to cause Daily Telegraph reports to break out in a hot flush and grab for the nearest keyboard.

Putting aside the claims of 5 star hotel rooms and Michelin star restaurant meals and you see that the majority of the spending is on legitimate items. Using a credit as opposed to the incredibly bureaucratic and expensive claims system I remember from my military days, can only be seen as an improvement. Despite its bureaucracy, that system was open to wide spread abuse, something that is much less likely with a credit card.

The other story that caught my attention is the ongoing storm surrounding public sector pensions. Apparently public sector workers are going to have to pay a lot more in to their pension scheme in order to maintain the levels of payout currently enjoyed. The list of those affected included, doctors, teachers, civil servants and no doubt just about every other public sector worker who gets their pay from the public purse. However, there appears to be one notable exception – Members of Parliament – what a surprise!

Another day, another ‘sell off’?

I see from the latest Planning News that the government now thinks that council planning services are fair game when it comes to competition – is there no limit to what they will try to ‘sell off’, or should I say more accurately, off load?

How do you convert what is currently an impartial process, that is all about achieving the best outcome, into a profit making business, without it becoming biased and open to accusations of corruption?

The big question for me is, what damage will they do to the current system in order to attract these competitors?

Half measures could cost council taxpayers dear!

Whilst I applaud the government’s proposals to make it slightly easier for teachers to do their job by restraining unruly or even violent pupils when needed, I fear this could prove to be yet another piece of bad legislation by a government that, like its predecessor, is often in too much of hurry to please.

To date I have not seen any proposals to prevent the restrained pupil’s parents, who can often be more badly behaved than their off-spring, from reaching for the Yellow Pages and setting the whole no-win, no-fee gravy train in motion.

What’s the point of telling teachers that they now have protection at one level, if in fact the education authority that employs them can still itself be sued by self serving parents?  It’s also worth remembering that it is local taxpayers, through their council tax bills, who will ultimately be picking up the bill for the avalanche of law suits that are likely to follow as newly empowered teachers begin to flex their new found muscles.

Government now needs to finish the job by offering the local taxpayer protection from the often unruly and sometimes ‘violently’ greedy parents and lawyers, who could soon be stalking the corridors of town halls up and down the land.

An expert’s view of the wind farm issue

New laws could boost onshore wind farm approvals, say experts

Borrowed from http://www.planningresource.co.uk article by Susanna Gillman Monday, 09 May 2011 (hope they don’t mind!)

New planning legislation could be used to boost the approval of onshore wind farms under a recommendation from the Government’s climate change committee.

The committee has told the Government that further approvals will be required to deliver the onshore wind ambition in its renewable energy strategy.

The Government has set a target of 15 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020.

But approval rates for onshore wind projects have historically been low, with less than 50 per cent of schemes getting the go ahead and the planning period taking around two years.

In its renewable energy review, the Committee on Climate Change said even with a push for more community-led wind farm projects, there is a “significant risk that onshore wind and transmission investments will not gain local public support, given high levels of resistance from some groups”.

It concludes that achieving higher rates of approval will need central government decisions, “possibly under new planning legislation that explicitly sets this out”.

The committee, which was requested to advise on the scope to increase ambition for green energy, said renewables should make a 30-45 per cent contribution by 2030. More than 6GW could come from onshore wind through the 2020s, it suggests.

Onshore wind is also likely to be one of the cheapest low-carbon options, according to the committee. Offshore wind schemes are still expensive and should not be increased unless there is clear evidence of cost reduction, it warned.

Nuclear power is currently the most cost-effective of the low carbon technologies, and should form part of the mix assuming safety concerns can be addressed, it added.

Nick Medic, spokesman for Renewable UK, trade body for the wind and marine renewables industries, said rather than creating more legislation a better approach would be to make a case for the economic benefits of onshore wind to local communities.

A DECC spokesman said energy secretary Charles Hendry has stressed the need for greater local ownership so communities can see the benefits of wind farms as part of the future energy mix.