Saturday, September 25, 2004
Voluntary Service Funding Crisis
The voluntary organisations are vital to the well being of Stafford. Today Stafford Voluntary Services were celebrating their 50th Anniversary. To mark the occasion they had arranged for a number of voluntary organisations to put on an outdoor exhibition in the Market Square. I was intrigued by the wide variety of organisations that were there. Having toured the stands which included amongst others Stafford Volunteer Bureau, Southern Staffordshire Carers Association, Stafford & District Community Link, and Stafford Furniture Exchange. What was obvious from talking to a number of the of representatives of these organisations was just how short of funds the voluntary sector is! This year this situation has been made worse by the Borough Council cutting its grant to many of the organisations. Helen Dart, the Voluntary Services Chief Executive summed it up by telling me that at least one organisation was on the brink of going under next year unless other sources of income could be found.
On The Surgery Trail Again!
This morning saw me back on the surgery trail, this time at Hyde Lea Village Hall. One visitor who came to see me was John Eaves – The chairman of the Parish Council and a Trustee of the hall. The main thing on his mind was the long list of repairs the hall needed to bring it up to standard. As County Councillor I get £10000 which I can recommend the Council spends on community projects. John had come to see me to discuss the possibility of me using some of this money to support his project. Top of the list of work is an extension to the hall to accommodate new toilets. These are desperately needed as the current toilets are in a wooden building some distance from the main hall. As you might imagine he left with a copy of the grant application form. Like many small rural villages the village hall at Hyde Lea is important to the local community and as such is a most worthy cause to support.
Friday, September 24, 2004
Where Is The Money?
Over the last few days I’ve been trying to find out who in the Borough Council holds the budget for trimming back trees on housing department land. Since the reorganisation of the Housing Department no one seems to know who does what. I started my quest with a telephone call to Ernie Tillet in contract compliance. Ernie is one of the Council officers I have a great deal of time for. He is really serious about the quality of service the Council provides to its residents, and will try his best to help out with any problem. I always consider Ernie as “Mr Tree” as he is the officer in the Contract Compliance Section who oversees grounds maintenance. However on this occasion Ernie was not able to help but suggested I try the Housing Department. That’s were my quest began to fall apart. Everyone I tried listened carefully to my request but them said their budget id not include tree maintenance and gave me the extension number of someone else to try. The fifth person I spoke to once again said they couldn’t help but suggested I rand Ernie! No wonder local residents are complaining about the service the Council provides!
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Charles Kennedy's Speech
The conference has finished on a high note with Charles Kennedy given an outstanding leaders speech. It clear the party has come a long way this year and Charles was more positive and more confident than I have every seen him before. His entrance was through the body of the Hall and not from the back of the stage like in previous years. It was more like the entrance of a leader of a major political force than the leader of a third minor party!
His forty-five minute speech concentrated on policy and the future of the party and apart from a couple of fluffs early on was delivered in great style. It certainly gave everyone the will to go back home a redouble their efforts in gaining more seats at the next General Election.
To round it all off Charles left the stage to an eight minute standing ovation almost drowned out from where I was sitting at the back of the hall by loud music which promised everyone in the hall that “today was the beginning of something good”.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Guantanamo - Time For Action
The highlight of today for me, was a fringe meeting in the Highcliffe Marriott Hotel titled simply “Guantanamo – Time For Action”. The panel for this meeting was Chaired by Vanessa Redgrave, and included Azmat Begg – the father of the detainee Moazzam Begg, Jamal Al-Harith – one of the UK’s released detainees, Victoria Britten – the writer and playwright, Conor Gearty – Professor of Internation Law from the LSE, and Sarah Ludford MEP.
The room was packed, with people standing around the walls and sitting on the floor. From the start the atmosphere was electric. Vanessa’s introduction set the scene for the rest of the contributors. By the time Azmat Begg had spoken a lady in the front row was visibly in tears. Every speaker got a warm and long round of applauses, as they explained the plight of those detained in Guantanamo and the breaches in human rights they were suffering.
Without doubt this meeting will remain with me for a long time and only helped to confirm my views on the both illegality of the war in Iraq and the way the USA is not treating those British Citizens imprisoned in Guantanomo.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
This afternoon I went to the Wessex Hotel for a training course run by the Parties Central Campaigns Department. The place was crawling with police. Its not unusual to see police during the conference, but the numbers here were exceptional. Their presence was supplemented by a couple of sniffer dogs. It was clear that either they were there for a “policeman’s packet holiday” or that something big was happening. It all became clear later when I was reading the fringe events diary, and found the Pakistani Ambassador was to addressing a meeting later that night. No doubt he was intending to stay in Bournemouth and the police were not taking any chances with his security.
It is activity like this that made me think just how much the Party conference was costing the local community to stage. The policing bill alone must be huge, before you consider the disruption to normal life.
Monday, September 20, 2004
John Thurso Supports M6 Toll Objectors
This afternoon I managed to raise the issue of the proposed M6 Toll expressway with John Thurso the Parties Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. I’m pleased to say that when the consultation was announced in the House of Commons John and his Parliamentary colleagues spoke out against the plan. I’m pleased to say that John is still of the same mind. We discussed the effect the road would have on Stafford and the fact the town would hardly benefit from the plan. Although John flies between London and his Scottish Constituency he did agreed he would try to find a slot in his diary when he could visit Stafford and see for himself the problems the proposed road would cause.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Conference Opening Rally
The opening rally at the Liberal Democrat Conference – this year in Bournemouth – was certainly designed to rally the troops. It focused on the Party’s successes over the past year. First on stage was Chris Rennard – the Lib Dem Chief Executive and election guru. He explained the rise of the Party over the year and outlined the successes and the strategy behind them. He was followed by a line of successful candidates each of whom gave a short rousing speech which finished by reminding the audience that the bye-election in Hartlepool could be the next success with a little more help. One at a time they trooped out and took their place behind the microphone. Saj Karim – the successful MEP from the North West; Parmjilt Gill – the winner of the Leicester South bye-election; Fiona Hall – the new Lib Dem MEP from the North East; and Sarah Teather – the victor in Brent East. You can imagine the high the audience was on by the time these five had finished, but this way raised either further by Charles Kennedy who brought the house down by his witty, but thought provoking speech. It was almost an anti-climax to leave the theatre and take shelter in a Chinese Restaurant – but even politicians have to eat!