Saturday, July 24, 2004
This morning I meet with a group of Liberal Democrat members in Penkridge and helped deliver over a thousand leaflets. The leaflet is the first stage in our campaign to get the Government to drop it’s plans to build the new four lane toll expressway next to the M6. This road, if it is built would have a devastating effect of both Penkridge and Stafford. In both cases houses are built tight up against the existing road. As you can imagine the possibility of a new road being built is worrying many people so I was not surprised of the welcome we got out on the streets. It’s obvious the majority of local residents feel let down by Tony Blair and his Government. It’s also clear that not many people are supporting Michael Howard either, so for once it looks as if the Lib Dems are going to benefit. I feel rather sorry for David Kidney the Labour MP for Stafford as it appears his Government must feel he can be sacrificed as everything they do means he looses more and more votes.
Next week the campaign team is moving on and another thousand plus leaflets will be stuffed through more letter boxes this time in Stafford itself.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
M6 Toll Public Meeting
Tonight's public meeting at the Friends Meeting House in Grey Friars was organised by a group of concerned individuals who are opposing the building of the new M6 Toll Expressway. About 60 people packed the meeting and heard a representative of CPRE and Friends of the Earth explain why the plan was wrong. I thought I had a good grasp of the situation but the couple of hours I spent there certainly helped me to clarify my ideas and look at the problem from a different angle. However one thing didn’t change – my opposition to the scheme. I really can’t see why a new wider motorway is needed around Stafford. Everyone who uses the existing road agrees the congestion problems are not in the Stafford are but are either further north or farther south. However this fact appears to have escaped the Government who seem hell bent in making the residents of Stafford suffer because other areas have the problems!
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Little Onn Planning
I’m beginning to dread planning meetings! Tonight I attended because I had called in the plan to build a new stable block at Little Onn, Church Eaton. Little seemed to have changed since I last went. One member of the committee again made a spectacle of himself, by shouting across the room, interrupting other members when they were speaking, and laughing at his own jokes, which by the way were far from funny. Once again I sat there wishing the floor would open up and swallow me up so at least I’d be away from the embarrassing situation!
The planning application I’d called in also left me in a tight spot. I’d been approached by both the applicant and the objectors to speak on their behalf and this is exactly what I did. However it was difficult going especially as the officers report was very negative, even though their final recommendation was to approve the plan. I wasn’t happy with this stance and neither were the Planning Committee who have instructed the officers to report to the next meeting with an explanation as to how they can say one thing but recommend another! At least I got the committee to visit the site before they make their decision. However given the comments and the general mood of the meeting I would certainly not put my money on the scheme being approved!
Tuesday, July 20, 2004
Tonight's meeting with the Chairman of the Constituency Party - Paul Brett - was to talk about how we can develop the party in Stafford and what our tactics should be in the run up to the next election. After two hours at least we had a clearer picture of where we are going and the timescale involved. Paul has been Constituency Chairman for a couple of year now and he has certainly breathed new life into the local party. Membership has increased and everyone now has a belief that we can do well in both local and national elections. Only time will tell!
Efficiency Review Working Group
I managed to get lunch today, even if it was provided by the County Council so members of the Efficiency Review Working Group for Development Services could meet. It was an interesting meeting which despite it’s title was really being held to allow members to comment on the cuts in services the Director of Development services was proposing to make to meet the Council’s efficiency savings targets. After several years of reorganising services there is very little slack left in the system and the only really way of making substantial saving is to do away with jobs and the services they support. Trying to save £1.5million is not an easy job and I don’t envy Ron Hilton – the Director – when he comes to make these cuts. In his report he listed a couple of dozen areas that might be considered. To help members he had ranked then in order, starting with the ones that had the least effect on services and ending with the ones that would be really felt by the man and woman on the street. It was clear that once you got to savings of over £500,000 more and more frontline services began to suffer and it was this suffering the committee debated over and over again! However what we did agree on was that we should lobby the Cabinet with the fact that all service area, regardless of the annual budget, were being asked to make the same level of savings and that given that the Development Services Department had the smallest budget of all it was certainly at a disadvantage. I’m sure our pleas will come to nothing but at least we tried!
Monday, July 19, 2004
Age Concern Visit
I spent the whole day today visiting Age Concern in Stafford and Gnosall. The experience as really been an eye opener. It’s obvious that everyone who works in the organisation is committed to what they do and what they achieve. The morning started off with a briefing with Kath Trask and Veron Elkin. Kath is the Manager and is certainly switched on and motivates the staff well. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the organisation and the problems facing the elderly. I was disappointed to learn that she spends a great deal of her time raising money to keep the organisation afloat. This really is a waste of her talents. While a number of the services the organisation provides are done so under contract with the County Council or PCT, the lack of permanent, long term, funding is holding back a number of projects such as extending the facilities at the dementia unit. Without Age Concern Stafford would be a poorer place and the elderly community would suffer.
A Big Rabbit From A Big Hat
To round off the day I attended an meeting of Stafford Borough Council in the County Buildings in Martin Street. This was quite a set piece meeting with the main item of business being to approve the financial plan. Its clear the Conservative controlling group face a bleak few months. Their budget for next year is already over £1million in the red but once again the opposition parties were left with the distinct impression they could balance the books without raising Council Tax, increasing service charges, or by cutting services and jobs. Mike Heenan the Conservative’s Deputy Leader for resources gave a spirited speech that not only laid out the facts about the budget but also supported the party line that there was little to worry about. During the debate I referred the Council to last weeks meeting of the resource Scrutiny Committee when one of Mike’s colleagues suggested that no one should have fears as Mike would put a rabbit out of a hat and balance the books. I had to say I thought he would need a very large rabbit and a very large hat if he was to succeed.
Sunday, July 18, 2004
Sunday Night Meeting
Sunday night is not a good night for meetings, but unfortunately we had no alternative but to hold our Council Group meeting tonight. Luckily Chris Baron offered to host the meeting in her lounge so at least we had comfort, warmth, and free coffee to keep us going. For once the Group members agreed on our stance on a number of items so hopefully tomorrow night we should provide a united front.