Devon County Council: Wasting Money (February 16th, 2010)

February 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

Devon County Council’s decision to try to stop Exeter getting control of its own affairs is a staggering waste of local people’s money.

After the huge sums Devon has already wasted on its own bid for unitary status, which it then withdrew, blowing yet more public money trying to thwart democracy in Exeter is little short of scandalous.

The Tories who run Devon pay lip service to local democracy and devolving power – but not when it comes to one of Englands great historic cities, it would seem!

That Gordon Brown Interview (February 16th, 2010)

February 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

Gordon Brown is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

If he doesn’t reveal the genuine warmth and humanity of his personality that those of us who know him know he has got in spades he is branded “dour”; if he does it’s “cynical manipulation” of the media in the run up to the election. 

I suspect some of those who watched the Piers Morgan interview will have reacted with less cynicism than the journalists who dismissed it. They will have welcomed the chance to see the PM as they haven’t before. 

I hope there will be more opportunities for the wider public to be introduced to Gordon as those who know him know him to be – warm, funny and engaging. 

Tories: Cavalier With The Truth, Again (February 16th, 2010)

February 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

Conservative claims that 54 percent of girls in poor areas are pregnant before they’re 18 shows once again how cavalier the Tories are with the truth. 

In fact, the figure is 5.4 percent, lower than it was in 1997 and the teenage pregnancy rate has fallen significantly as a whole. 

The Tories say they put a decimal point in the wrong place which mutliplied the rate ten fold. But the figure appears 3 times in their latest “Broken Britain” document. The fact that no-one spotted the mistake says something much more revealing about the Tories. They actually believed the 54 percent figure was right – showing how completely out of touch they are with the country they claim they want to serve. 

Devon County Council – Myth Watch! (February 12th, 2010)

February 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

The David and Goliath struggle between plucky Exeter and over-mighty Devon is entering, we hope, its end game.

Since the Government announced this week that it would grant Exeter’s wish to run its own council – restoring to our city the status it enjoyed for 800 years until 1974 – the misinformation pouring out from Devon County Council’s army of spin doctors has been unprecedented. 

Myth 1: “The change will mean a big increase in council tax”. In fact, council tax in Exeter is likely to go down. Single tier councils are more efficient and streamlined because you only need one set of officials. Council tax in unitary council elsewhere is lower than it currently is in Devon. There is no reason why it need go up in Devon either. See below.

Myth 2: “Devon will lose out if Exeter gets its own council”. In fact, those counties like Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire and many more in the Midlands and north whose main urban area has unitary status perform better than Devon as they can focus on their mainly rural and market town nature.  

Myth 3: “Exeter is too small to have its own council”. We managed perfectly well for 800 years before 1974. Virtually all England’s cities of Exeter’s size and importance have their own council and some of the best performing local authorities in the country are smaller than Exeter.

Myth 4: “This is all about Ben Bradshaw”. Why on earth would Exeter Conservatives and Liberal Democrats support the city’s case so strongly if that were the case? Restoring full status to Exeter has been the policy of all the city’s political parties since we lost it 36 years ago. This is about local democracy and local government, not parliamentary constituencies or boundaries. 

Myth 5: “The Minister ignored civil service advice to approve Exeter and Norwich’s bid.” Officials advise, Ministers decide – that is an essential tenet of democracy. It’s a shame that county councilors in Devon don’t stand up more often to their unelected officers. The public in Devon might get a better service if they did. The selective leaking of internal correspondence has confirmed the suspicions long held in Exeter (and Norwich) that London-based civil servants have consistently been biased against Exeter and Norwich and have been firmly in the county camp.    

Devon County Council’s myth watch will be updated on a regular basis. 

Exeter Unitary Success! (February 10th, 2010)

February 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

The decision to grant Exeter unitary status is wonderful news.It restores the self- rule that our city enjoyed for hundreds of years until 1974. 

All those in Exeter who have worked so hard over many years to this end deserve congratulation. They include the business community, university, voluntary sector and all four political parties on the city council. That strong all party unity has been critically important to this result. But more than anything this is a tribute to the people of Exeter who have never given up on their desire to return to running their their own affairs in the same way as England’s other great cities. In means that in future Exeter councillors will once again decide on local matters affecting Exeter rather than councillors from Barnstaple, Kingsbridge or Tavistock. No longer will councillors or councils be able to pass the buck between them. A single council will be responsible for what happens in Exeter with councillors directly accountable to the people they serve.

Regional Cabinet Is A Big Success! (February 8th 2010)

February 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Cabinet colleagues visiting Exeter and other places in the South West for yesterday’s Cabinet meeting were universally impressed. 

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, spent an hour taking questions on a whole range of foreign policy issues at Exeter University’s world renowned Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies. Subjects included Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia and Israel/Palestine. David told me afterwards that he had thoroughly enjoyed the experience and had rarely been quizzed on such a range of subjects in so much depth. Thanks to Tim Niblock and all his colleagues at the University for organising the event at such notice and to everyone who turned up. I’m sorry capacity constraints meant that not everyone who wanted to come could get in. But anyone has any questions or points they would like me to pass on to David please let me know. Patricia Scotland, the Attorney General, was also at the University and Exeter Crown Court. She was particularly impressed by the work being done in Exeter on domestic violence. In fact, Exeter is the best performing area in the country in reducing the level of domestic violence and helping offenders change their behaviour. Lady Scotland said those involved were doing an “absolutely brilliant job – one of the great unsung success stories of the Labour Government” and she wanted the rest of the country to emulate Exeter. 

Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary was at St James’ School at my request. Given St James’ is in the top ten improved schools in the country I thought it would be great if Ed could pop in to congratulate the staff and students. He did and told me afterwards that he thought Helen the head and her team are doing a great job. I was back at St Luke’s School with Olympic gold medallist Darren Campbell to celebrate the students’ achievements in school sport. St Luke’s has one of the highest activity and sports participation rates in the country and has been leading the transformation of school sport in the Exeter area. Some of the students were also doing a sponsored walk for Haiti – good for them!Cabinet Office Minister, Tessa Jowell, who is responsible for the Third Sector, visited Devon Doctors in Marsh Barton – the co-operative organisation of Devon GPs that runs the out of hours service in the county and was recently judged one of the best performing out of hours services in England. Given recent concerns about the quality of some GP out of hours services, Tessa came away convinced that the sort of social enterprise model we have in Devon is the way forward for the rest of the country. John Denham, local government Secretary, was also at the university at the Innovation Centre – but I haven’t had a chance to catch up with him to find out how it went. Transport Minister, Sadiq Khan, met cycle user groups in Exeter to learn how Exeter has achieved the biggest increase in cycling of anywhere in Britain. 

Last but not least, Deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman, did a speech and question and answer session at Labour HQ at Clifton Hill for party members and activists from all over the region. She came away really buoyed up saying: “morale seems higher the further you get away from Westminter.” I couldn’t agree more! There may have been more Cabinet Ministers visiting places in Exeter that I missed. Any info gratefully received!Exeter Racecourse did a great organisational job. The “town hall meeting” before Cabinet went well with members of the public asking questions on issues ranging from food production, the economy, public services, skills and defence. The Prime Minister did a separate round table discussion with readers of the Express and Echo and Western Morning News during which he was asked about issues including drink driving, support for carers and the possibility of moving our clocks to continental European time. The Cabinet meeting itself included a report from South West Minister Jim Knight on the economy in the region and an update from Northern Ireland Secretary, Shaun Woodward, on the deal that had just been struck in the Northern Ireland. Cabinet colleagues said they thought it had been the best regional Cabinet yet – and the food – all local – was certainly the best.Most Cabinet colleagues left by train from Exeter, but travellers at Tiverton Park railway station had a surprise when the Prime Minister arrived to pick up the train there and, with time to spare, chatted on the platform and had his photo taken with passengers using their mobile phones. 

Tory Confusion Goes On And On (February 1st 2010)

February 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

The more Tory policies are exposed and scrutinised, the quicker they unravel. Their major muddle now over the economy comes after climate change last week and marriage the week before. 

In my policy area they have just announced their 3rd u-turn in a year saying they would use part of the TV licence fee to pay for universal broadband. Originally they supported our proposals to save region news on ITV using a small fraction of the licence fee. Then David Cameron told Jeremy Hunt to ditch that policy and they opposed any use of the licence fee except for BBC programmes. At the same time they opposed our plans to fund next generation universal broadband through small levy on fixed phone lines as “unacceptable interference in the market”. They now seem to be recognising what we and everyone else have been saying for yonks – that the market won’t provide high quality broadband to about 30% of homes and businesses – particularly in rural areas. So, they have gone back to supporting some use of the licence fee – not for public service TV in the form of regional news – but for broadband. You couldn’t make it up! And this from a party that has had years to get their policy sorted out. If they are this incompetent in opposition when they have plenty of time to think and plan – just imagine what they’d be like in Government!! 

JobCentres Celebrate 100th Anniversary (February 1st 2010)

February 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Britain’s Job Centres have plenty to celebrate on their 100th birthday today.  As the Financial Times (no other) reported on Saturday, Job Centre Plus has “come into its own” during the worst global downturn since the 1930s.  One of the reasons unemployment is 450,000 lower than people predicted and much lower than in the recessions of the 1980s and 90s is because of the brilliant job Job Centres and their staff have done at getting people back into work or training. 

This is in part thanks to the reorganisation undertaken by the Labour Government bringing the benefits and job seeking functions together under one roof, with benefits tied to looking for work but with active help offered. It is crazy that just as the success of this system is being recognised and copied around the world, the Conservatives are proposing breaking Job Centres up and handing the benefits system over to local government.