Exeter Unitary Status Approved by Parliament! (March 26th, 2010)

March 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

Exeter’s 36 year campaign to have its unitary council status restored cleared its final parliamentary hurdles this week. In a hotly contested debate on Monday in the House of Lords, an attempt by Liberal Democrat Peers to kill the legislation was overwhelmingly defeated. 

A motion from the Cross Bench Peer Lady Butler Sloss expressing regret at the move and asking for a further delay was passed, but not with as big a majority as had been expected. The only other two cross benchers who spoke, supported Exeter’s case, as did the Labour Peers Lord (Larry) Whitty and Baroness (Brenda) Dean. The orders was also approved easily both in committee and on the floor in the House of Commons. It was a great tribute to the hard work of everyone in Exeter over so many years. An all-party delegation from the city last week, led by Conservative Lord Mayor Cllr John Winterbottom and including Lib Dem, Liberal and Labour councillors did a brilliant job at persuading cross bench and Tory Peers not to support the fatal amendment. 
Now that the orders for both Exeter and Norwich have been approved by Parliament, after lengthy debate in both Houses and are law, it is far less likely that the outstanding legal challenge by Norfolk and Devon will succeed. Parliament is sovereign and the courts are usually very reluctant to overturn such a strong democratic mandate.
Also, one of the effects of the legislation has been to postpone the city council elections that were due to take place in one third of Exeter wards in May in order to hold all out elections to the new unitary authority next year. So those councillors who would have faced elections in May have been told they can continue for one more year. By the time the court sits it will be too late to reinstate those elections so the court will want to be very mindful indeed of the consequences of any ruling on the democratic process.
Meanwhile David Cameron has been embarrassing his local parliamentary candidate in Exeter today telling local Tories they were wrong to support Exeter’s bid. Cameron is either incredibly ill-informed or astonishingly insensitive or both. 
Exeter Tory leader Yolanda Henson has fought for years for unitary status and was ably supported by John Winterbottom, Norman Shiel and Jeff Coates among others for last week’s lobby of the Lords. Cameron said a Tory Government would reverse the decision. But as doing so would require primary legislation. Could anyone really see an incoming Tory government making this their first priority and upsetting Exeter Conservatives in the process? 
When can we expect the Conservative parliamentary candidate to finally speak up for Exeter, support local Conservative councillors and call publicly for her national party to allow Exeter to fulfil its ambition and call on Tory-run Devon County Council to drop its costly and futile legal shenanigans?

Sun on the economic horizon? (March 10th, 2010)

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

The narrowing of the polls, the better economic news and Tory turmoil over Lord Ashcroft and policy have all served to put a spring in people’s step. The bright crisp sunshine also helps. The acknowledgement by the British Chambers of Commerce that both unemployment and borrowing will be far less than people predicted should boost confidence and help further reduce the deficit. 

With Germany going backwards and other EU countries like conservative-run Sweden going back into recession, the next few months are going to be tough. All the more reason for sticking with the support the Government has been giving our economy, rather than withdrawing it prematurely as the Tories advocate. 

Unitary bid in the House of Lords (March 10th, 2010)

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

As Exeter’s bid to have its self-rule restored reaches the final lap all eyes are on the House of Lords. A legal attempt by Devon and Norfolk county councils to thwart Exeter and Norwich’s aspirations was rightly put on the back burner by the High Court who said Parliament should take precedence. 

The House of Lords is full of Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters of the powerful county lobby in this David and Goliath struggle. A very experienced cross bench Peer tells me the Lords has only rejected a Government order 3 times since 1945 and never one relating to local government organisation. It would therefore be a constitutional outrage if the Lords were to block the Exeter and Norwich orders – which enjoy strong support in those two cities. If unelected Liberal Democrat or Conservative Peers try to block the will of the people of Exeter and Norwich and the democratic Commons, all pretence by those parties to support the democratic principle and a reformed Lords would be exposed as a sham. It would also create a precedent the Conservatives might regret should they ever form a future Government.

Potholes are in Exeter, Cllrs are from Bideford (March 10th, 2010)

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

Potholes and the state of the roads is one of the main complaints I get on the doorstep. Another good reason for Exeter to run its own affairs. It’s ludicrous that councillors from Bideford and South Hams decide how much money to spend repairing Exeter’s roads and which roads to repair when. 

We need Exeter councillors who are accountable to local people making those decisions and given the money to do so. Exeter would then get our fair share of resources, rather than it all going to the rural areas.  

(Elected) House of Commons Supports Exeter Unitary Bid (March 10th, 2010)

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

The House of Commons voted decisively last night to support Exeter’s bid for self rule. A motion tabled by the Conservatives opposing Government plans to restore unitary government to Exeter and Norwich was defeated comfortably. 

Conservative MPs from rural Devon and Norfolk lined up to criticise the plans. But the proposals were strongly supported by Labour members including the former Home Sectretary and Norwich MP Charles Clarke. The Chairman of the influential Commons local government select committee, Dr Phyllis Starkey, also supported Exeter’s case pointing out that is enjoys all party support in the city, including from Conservative councillors. The Minister, Barbara Follett said the Government was restoring the full local government status Exeter had enjoyed for 800 years until it was taken away by the Conservative Government in the early 1970s. 

The Northcott – In The News Again (March 1st, 2010)

March 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Exeter’s Northcott Theatre is in the headlines again. It would seem the Trustees came across some past accounting problem that led them to declare the Northcott insolvent on Thursday. 

I hope that with some effort and good will, the problem will be addressed and overcome. From what I hear the theatre management, their main funder the Arts Council and the Adminstrator are working constructively together on both a short and long term solution. Meanwhile, the show goes on. Theatre Alibi launched their new national tour of The Ministry of Fear at the Northcott on Friday. It is a great production and was a superb performance. The opening night was packed out with a diverse and quite young audience. That should encourage the Northcott and its fans about its future. 

The Big Decision Nears (March 1st, 2010)

March 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

It seems just possible that as people take a long hard look at the Conservatives and begin to give the Government some credit for its handling of the global downturn, the election is no longer the foregone conclusion that some people, including most of the media, have been assuming for so long. Labour are still the underdogs and we must keep fighting like mad, but the narrowing of the polls is certainly putting a spring in people’s step and boosting morale at a vital moment. 

It is extraordinary that after 5 years at the helm, Cameron has failed to change his party or develop a coherent and robust set of ideas and policies. Labour must hold our nerve, keep working hard, campaigning hard, reminding people of what we’ve achieved, of Gordon and Alistair’s sound stewardship during the downturn and focus people’s attention to the fundamental choice the country will face when the election comes: the same old Tories or radical and progressive change with Labour.