Monday, 20 February 2006

Ming the humorous

Posted by Chris.

I have mentioned before that Ming Campbell injects quite a lot of wit into his speeches.

His attempt to make a joke about the Dunfermline win at PMQs last week, however, was met with a stony silence - not surprising, of course, that our opponents would not wish to laugh at such a joke.

One old tale that he that he has been telling at the Leadership Hustings has raised a laugh and a little bit of discussion elsewhere. It has more than one version and there may be an element of truth in it:

In one version a Liberal candidate turns up for a public meeting, at which the only other person present is the janitor of the hall. After half an hour, the agent goes out and brings two more chairs into the hall and then they go home. Next day, the candidate is astonished to read a headline in the local paper: “Extra chairs brought into Liberal meeting.”

I understand that this tale may have originated in Orkney in the 1950's and was put about by Laura Grimond, wife of Jo, who brought in the extra chairs but only after first taking them out.

With only three or four more Hustings to go, I wonder if it is worth placing a bet on whether or not Ming will also tell the following old joke:

Five years old little Johnny went to school and said to his teacher, "please miss our cat's had six kittens, three Labour and three Conservatives." The teacher was impressed that a boy of five knew about political parties. A few weeks later, she called Johnny out in front of the school assembly and asked him to repeat what he had told her. "Yes miss," said Johnny, "our cat's six kittens all Liberal Democrats." "But that is not what you told me before," replied the teacher. "Yes miss but that was weeks ago, they have all got their eyes open now."

Saturday, 18 February 2006

Why Redcar deserves a Civic Centre

Posted by Chris.

This picture, lifted from the Simon Hughes campaign website, is not very clear and looks more like an oil painting, but it illustrates exactly what my idea of a splendid Council Chamber is.

The photograph was taken of Simon addressing the Leeds Leadership Hustings on 4th February, in the Grand Council Chamber at Leeds Civic Hall.

Lit from outside by floodlamps shining through the windows, which gives a warm daylight feel to the room, this elegant building, with its two guilded owls on the exterior and Roman columns at the entrance, was opened in 1933 by King George V. It clearly is a fine place to promote Leeds as a city to invest in.

Whilst I would never suggest that we could provide civic facilities on the same grand scale in Redcar, we certainly need something much better than the shabby 1960's, Poulson designed Town Hall that we have got at present. Stuck out, right on the Middlesbrough end of the Borough, in the middle of a housing estate, it gives out the wrong image to those we hope will invest in the area and it dampens the moral of those who have to work in it.

Like most of the public buildings in our borough it has suffered from years of neglect by unambitious old Labour politicians. There are more modern Council offices in Redcar and Guisborough and the cost of travel and time between them is enormous.

The new Coalition has turned the Council from a failing organisation to a four star, excellent authority in less than three years and is keen to change the drab image of the Borough and at the same time reduce the amout of travelling between buildings. Last year we announced that we planned to sell off the old town hall and provide an impressive new Civic Centre in our main town, Redcar (pop 40,000), at a cost of around £3.5m. This is peanuts when you think some Labour Boroughs have spent nearer £100m on civic buildings.

Redcar was a Borough in its own right until 1967. Since then it has had its town hall sold off and has had little capital investment in the town for 40 years. Things are now changing, we are getting new schools, new shopping centres, a new college, a new hospital, a new swimming baths with a separate leisure pool, a visitor centre, a performance facility, new housing, major investment in the racecourse, huge investment in the sewage system and hopefully a new civic centre.

40 years on neglect in the town has bred a cynical attitude in some of our residents and every one of these proposals have attracted opposition, in most cases from the same negative half a dozen individuals who have ulterior political motives for doing so. The new administration is ambitious for the town and we are committed to restoring civic pride and encouraging investment. Posted by Picasa

Friday, 17 February 2006

From slated to feted in less than three years

Posted by Chris

REDCAR and Cleveland Council is now rated as one of the country’s excellent councils – completing a three-year transformation from slated to feted!

Every single service we provide has been rated as good or better!

The excellent four star rating has been delivered by the Audit Commission’s Comprehensive Performance Assessment, billed by the Commission’s inspectors as The Harder Test. The inspection looked at eight main areas and rated the Council’s forward planning as “improving well.”

Its report said: “Services in the Council’s priority areas are improving. The Council has robust plans in place and progress is being made against key objectives. The Council is strengthening its corporate ability and its approach to performance management. The Council’s approach to longer term financial planning is also improving.”

Highspots in the improvements have been are:

*Crime is significantly down, well below the Tees Valley average.

*Recycling has increased and our recent MORI survey indicates that residents are more than satisfied with street cleaning, refuse collection, parks and open spaces and libraries.

*Joblessness is at its lowest level in 5 years and claimant rates are down by as much as 60% in some areas.

*Much improved GCSE performance with the latest results showing the highest overall level of achievement exceeding the national rate of improvement.

*Adult Social care has greatly improved help for older people by enabling more than 90% of older residents to live at home; this is up from 63% last year. Furthermore, mortality rates within Redcar and Cleveland are significantly better than the rest of the Tees Valley.

*Away from the front line, our support services have gained a 3 star rating for Use of Resources, despite Government predictions that most authorities would be unable to maintain such a high level of achievement under a much more robust inspection regime.

Rated on a scale of 1-4, the Council's scores for the eight areas were benefits 3, children and young people 3, culture 4, environment 3, housing 4, social care adults 3, use of resources 3, Council ability 3.

Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Another superb new development for Redcar

Posted by Chris

Glynis and I attended a briefing tonight at Redcar & Cleveland College about the proposed redevelopment of the further education college.

We went expecting to see a rehash of the plans we saw last year to modernise and extend the existing buildings.

Instead we were treated to a 3D concept presentation of a proposed brand new, £24m, state of the art college. Gary Groom, the new Principal, explained that it was not practical to carry out the works on the existing footprint and they propose to site the new building closer to the Locke Park end of the site, on the sports field. The existing building would then be demolished and a new sports field, placed on that site.

Provided the necessary planning permission and funding arrangements are in place, work could start on site in the autumn with completion in 2008. Funding comes partly from the sale of the Connections Campus in Redcar Lane, some borrowing with the remainder hopefully from Government funding via the Learning & Skills Council.

Access would be from Corporation Road and no longer will heavy goods vehicles have to access the site from Sandringham Road and Buckingham Road.

The new building proposal, which is yet to be submitted for final planning permission includes an impressive atrium, increased car parking, a boulevard of trees along Corporation Road, a peace garden, featuring the war memorial on the corner of Corporation Road and Locke Road, landscaping, ample room for deliveries, a coach dropping off point within the College grounds and alterations to the platform of Redcar Station to allow students direct access to the college. We will post a plan as soon as possible.

One thing which we both noticed, during the briefing with local residents, was the constructive questions that people asked. Amongst the concerns raised were the following:

Is there adequate parking? - assurances were given that this was in line with building guidelines.

Will the practice of coaches stopping in Corporation Road be discouraged? - A dropping off point is provided on site plus the roads and turning points would be adequate for a large articulated vehicle.

Other points raised, that were taken on board for further consideration, included - some form of renewable energy plant, whether the Peace Garden might be used by youths as a gathering place, the possibility of additional trees, the need for a barrier on the road access point at night time, whether or not the football pitches would be floodlit, the form of lighting used around the college, the type of fencing along Sandringham Road if any, start times during construction, the cycle track and traffic problems in Corporation Road.

Having attended a number of meetings in the Borough recently, that have been totally disrupted by one or two negative individuals, who continuously trot out silly allegations and nonsense conspiracy theories one after the other, preventing any sensible discussion, it was delightful to listen to our own Ward residents providing such constructive and positive contributions.

Charlotte catches her first fish

Posted by Glynis.

This picture of Charlotte, our five years old granddaughter, was taken during an hilarious day on the Dorset Stour last summer.

Charlotte had us in stitches all day long. When we visited the tackle shop to get our tickets for the Troop fishery Charlotte asked the guy why he had heavy fishing weights on top of the numerous piles of leaflets on the counter. He told her that it was because otherwise the wind would blow them all over the place. Charlotte said: "Why don't you just shut the door."

We have a weekend in the Christchurch area every year because Chris & I love to fish the Troop on the Stour and the Royalty on the Avon and also Hordle Lakes.

This year we had a day on the Troop and day on the Royalty.

We fixed Charlotte up quite happily on the Troop with a landing net pole that had a bit of line, float and hook attached, the bait as she calls them were magnets! This was okay while she was catching little minnows, swinging them over to Chris to unhook and then happily placing them in the white bucket, seen in the pic. She was seated next to Chris, when he heard her say Grandad, it`s pulling me in!" She had hooked a nice perch. After helping her to land the catch, she was horrified by the "holes in it`s head" - the gills! What a performance to get a picture, Chris had to hold it for her.

Next day, at the Royalty, we saw the most enormous salmon lying under the footbridge, opposite Baliffs office. It was all of one metre long and at least 20cms across the back. We did not catch anything impressive. I caught loads of dace and roach and Chris caught the only barbel of the day, our target species, but it was less than one pound.

We stayed at the Marlin Hotel in Bournemouth and highly recommend it. Charlotte, though was not satisfied with the ground floor room we were given. This year she insists we "live" upstairs. Posted by Picasa

A meeting in York

Posted by Chris

Glynis and I were at York last night for a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Yorkshire Ridings Society (YRS).

We stopped on the way at the Riverside Farm on Skipton Road, a Wacky Warehouse eating place. We like these because you always get a huge helping. The soup, however was stone cold and had to go back. I had to chase all over to find a member of staff as they were rushing around the place preparing for their Valentines Night. I noticed they had sprinkled little gold hearts on some of the tables and there was a little girl wandering around scooping them off as fast as they put them down.

The YRS meets at the Black Swan in York. This is reputed to be one of York's oldest pubs and legend has it that at least one meeting held there was attended by a chap known as Guy Fawkes.

We enjoy YRS meetings and have made some good friends, from all over Yorkshire, over the years that we have been involved with this excellent campaign group. Set up following the disastrous local Government changes in 1974 and the creation of the plastic counties, Cleveland and Humbugside, this organisation has kept the fight for recognition of real Yorkshire and its three Ridings alive all this time. Many of the founder members were in their twenties then and are still active members thirty years on.

Led by the ever enthusiastic Colin Holt from Fenwick near Doncaster the society has notched up a number of triumpths over the years. Most notably the abolition of Cleveland and Humberside in 1996, our part, alongside the Association of British Counties, in persuading Royal Mail to restore real Counties to their address data base and to dispense with their own eccentric counties. They used to insist that your county was the one in which their main area sorting office was sited, regardless of whether you actually lived in that county. Now you can use your real County, your administrative county or no county at all, as long as you include the post town and Postcode.

In spite of the fact that Royal Mail's Address Management Centre made these changes to their address data base in 2000 - including deleting Cleveland and Humberside - people in these areas still get letters with these former counties on their address, almost ten years after we got rid of them. The reason for this is simple. Royal Mail's address data base is too expensive for most organisations to buy so they either use an out of date programme or buy cheaper ones that have not been amended to bring them up to date. It is time that they got up to date because all it does is cause confusion.

Tuesday, 14 February 2006

Coatham Links is the start of Redcar's renaissance

Posted by Chris

The Coatham Links project is the most important development in Redcar for decades. It will stimulate the town’s resurgence.

It is a straightforward plan to regenerate a rundown section of seafront, get state of the art swimming and leisure facilities and attract tourism and jobs. It will replace a stretch of coast-line spoilt by derelict land, once part of a golf course, by a dilapidated leisure centre and by boy racers. It is a blot of the seaside landscape.

Vera Baird MP and the protesters are incorrect. We do not qualify for a Private Finance Initiative for a swimming pool because we already have four in the Borough. It is as simple as that. We would have to close a couple of existing pools to qualify. Which ones would the protesters choose?

The only choice we have is between hiking up the Council Tax and saddling people with years of debt or using the receipts from the sale of part of this site for much needed housing to trigger grant funding that will provide us with the leisure facilities we so badly need.

The development agreement will ensure that the leisure centre and swimming pool are provided in the first phase.

The legal opinion about the covenants that the Council received from a barrister is advice for use in court. It rehearses the arguments our opponents may use and advises on the legal challenges to them. That is why we cannot make it public. The covenants protect the Council as the landowner. Why should the Council use a covenant to stop its own project?

Since the Coalition (Lib Dem 16, Con 13, Ind 2) took it over, local people have been consulted time after time. The Council has listened and made several modifications to improve the overall project.

The Coatham Links project will bring more prosperity to the area. It is a brilliant idea to give local people more leisure opportunities.

In future years the Coatham Links project will be looked upon as the start of a real renaissance in Redcar and the surrounding area

Monday, 13 February 2006

Most members endorse Hughes

Posted by Chris

Simon Hughes is still leading the race for member endorsements on his website and now has 257 more than his closest rival, Ming Campbell.

Over the past eight days Chris Huhne has picked up 103 more new endorsements than Simon but still lags well behind.

The latest figures are as follows (figures for eight days ago in brackets):

Hughes.... 1434 (1289)
Campbell.. 1177 (1050)
Huhne........ 987 (739)

Friday, 10 February 2006

What a Dunfermline swing could mean in the north east

Posted by Chris

Following the sensational by-election victory for the Liberal Democrats at the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election last night, Lib Dems in Redcar are keen to point out that the same swing in the North East would win the party 10 of Labour's 28 seats in this region. The seats are:

City of Durham
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North
Blyth Valley
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East and Wallsend
Bishop Auckland

Ian Swales, who stood in Redcar for the Liberal Democrats in 2005, commented:

“This is a sensational victory. The Liberal Democrats have shown that we are the clear challengers to Labour in their heartlands and that we can win all across the country. The same swing would see us take 10 seats from Labour in this region.

“The Liberal Democrat message that we want a fairer, greener and more democratic society is one that wins widespread appeal.”

“Labour have stopped listening to the people who have supported them for generations. The latest example is the attempt to have our local police force run from Newcastle. They have taken the North East for granted for too long – and they cannot expect to win when they do no work. The Conservatives are irrelevant in this region.

“This result has proved that people want a better choice than Labour or the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are the real challengers to Labour in the North East.”

Sunday, 5 February 2006

Lib Dem Leadership Election

Posted by Glynis

Having previously threatened to spoil my ballot paper, by adding Charles Kennedy. I have since watched events unfold.

I always thought Ming was too old, even before his statement that he was a "bridge to the future" and is likely to stand down for another after the election, thereby creating continuous speculation.

Chris Huhne did not come into the equation.

I always thought Simon Hughes was what he lately admitted to - good on you Simon - you have my vote, good luck. It was nice to speak to him and I have invited him to pop in for a coffee if he in the Redcar area.

It was good to see Stan Wilson at the Leeds Hustings. Stan, who was recently awarded life membership of the Liberal Democrat Conference, after twenty years acting as a Steward, automatically took charge of people looking for a seat at the packed Hustings, in Leeds Civic Hall and guided them to the balconies.

The Leeds Leadership Hustings

Posted by Chris

What a superb event the Leeds Hustings turned out to be. Going out at the end reminded me of my days following the crowd out of Elland Road - the room was so packed.

I found myself sitting next to the legendary John Smithson, as the only seat left was next to the Chair's bench. It also gave me a good view of the Candidates and I was able to see who was speaking from the heart and who was reading from a script.

As I looked around the room it was amazing to see so many well dressed, intelligent looking people. It is so different from the days when I lived in that part of Yorkshire, though I suppose we got quite a few people at public meetings in Harrogate in the early seventies. I thought of the day I persuaded Steve Galloway to travel all the way from York, to speak at a by-election meeting near Whitby, only to find that one man and his dog, plus the Labour Candidate were all that turned up.

A huge round of applause greeted all three candidates and the each got an equally loud round every time they spoke.

Simon Hughes, I noticed, was clearly speaking from the heart. The scrap of paper in front of him had no more than about five words on it and he was word perfect. How do they do it?

Chris Huhne had a little note book and was turning the pages as he spoke. Ming Campbell had a written script but it was clear that neither of them had read it verbatim.

Simon again said all the things I want to hear. Chris relied too heavily, once again, on his previous career as a journalist, clearly to make up for the lack of country-wide campaign experience.

"I am pleased to be back in Leeds said Simon" with the air of a man who clearly had campaigned there before. He then went on to list all the places in the north east and the West Riding of Yorkshire, that had elections this year, and pointed out that he had helped in all those areas.

"I am pleased to be back in Leeds said Chris" who then pointed out he had visited the city several times when his eldest step daughter was at University.

Ming made an excellent speech and really does look statesmanlike, particularly when you are watching side on, like I was. He also injects just the right amount of wit, to keep you awake and interested.

The questions, according to his Lordship, William Wallace, the Chair, were going to test the Candidates but they only picked out tame ones and it was less challenging for them than a secondary school forum.

At one stage, in my frustration I muttered to John Smithson, who had kindly let my grand daughter, five years old Charlotte, sit in his seat until the meeting started, "can't you give them some difficult questions?" Perhaps I was only being selfish because there was no sign of my question about the continuing anonymous briefings.

Charlotte was confused looking at a picture of Ming, without his glasses on and did not believe it was the same man who was wearing glasses. I am afraid she also made a derogatory reference to his "bally" head. She also put her hand up, school girl like, when the Chair mentioned questions. A star for the future may be.

I thought they all did well. Ming was impressive and I rated him above Chris on this day. I have now committed myself to Simon as my No 1 and he did not disappoint me.

It was an excellent day for Liberal Democrats in our area. I am sure everyone went away motivated and happy.