Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Copeland Council features in "Rotten Boroughs"

I gather from the Whitehaven News that Copeland Council featured in the 2007 "Rotten Boroughs" award from Private Eye.

This was - surprise, surprise - over the glass window panels which Copeland Council removed from bus shelters in Millom and Gosforth when the smoking ban came in so that they would not have to enforce a "No smoking" rule. The panels were put back the following day after the Conservative councillors for the wards concerned went ballistic.

NHS "Closer to Home" consultation: one day to go

The "Closer to Home" consultation about Hospital and Health services in Copeland and most of Cumbria is still formally open until 1st February.

I strongly encourage any resident who cares about local health services in West Cumbria (or North and Central Cumbria) and has not already taken the opportunity to feed your views back to the PCT to do so within day or so.

You can still feed in your views to the PCT at www.closertohome.org.uk

Sale of Whitehaven Golf Course

Whitehaven Golf Course was sold by Copeland Council in 2006 before I was elected to the council.

I have some serious concerns about the way the planning issues relating to this site were handled by both Copeland Council and Cumbria County council, particularly the enforcement of the conditions on the original planning application.

When planning conditions are imposed they should be enforced. I would not say that retrospective amendments should never be approved, but they should be considered carefully, and in a transparent way, because they have the potential to bring the whole planning process, including both councils and developers, into disrepute.

A number of issues were posted in the comments section of this blog relating to the sale of the site. I am still asking questions about these, but it may help if I make it clear that

1) There has been a complaint to the District Auditor about the sale if the golf course, from a member of the public.

2) One of the documents requested by the complainant was, in the opinion of the council's officers, covered by one of the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. The officers therefore declined to show this document to the complainant, but they did show it to the District Auditor.

3) Council officers assure me that they have given the District Auditor all the information which he has requested.

4) The Auditor's investigation is still in process and he has indicated that he has another interview to do before he completes his inquiries.

Obviously those who have been following this saga will be interested to see what the Auditor has to say. Regardless of the outcome of the complaint to the auditor, there will, in my opinion, be some important learning points for the council about the history of this site.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NHS consultation: two days to go

The "Closer to Home" consultation about Hospital and Health services in Copeland and most of Cumbria is open until 1st February.

I strongly encourage any resident who cares about local health services in West Cumbria (or North and Central Cumbria) and has not already taken the opportunity to feed your views back to the PCT to do so within the next two days.

You can feed in your views to the PCT at www.closertohome.org.uk

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Cancer patient let down by Government NHS policy

A former nurse and mother of two who is suffering from breast cancer has been denied the opportunity to benefit from a potentially life-extending drug, even though she was prepared to pay for it, because allowing her to pay for the drug would conflict with the government's socialist vision of the NHS.

The NHS is prepared to provide a drug called Taxol, but not an additional drug called Avastin. An American trial suggests that taking the two drugs in combination doubles the chance of preventing cancer from spreading compared with the chances for patients who are just taking Taxol.

When the NHS was only willing to provide former nurse Colette Mills with Taxol, she wanted to supplement this course with Avastin at her own expense. Unfortunately this
would have fallen foul of a ruling which states that any patient who wants to pay for additional drugs should lose entitlment to basic NHS cancer care. Where paying just for Avastin would have cost Ms Mills about £4,000 a month which she might have been able to raise, paying for her full treatment would have cost £10,000 per month.

According to today's Sunday Times the reason given for this policy by the Department of Health was not any question marks over the safety of the drug, but that top-up payments from patients would mean a two tier health service and "undermine" the "fundamental principle of the NHS ... that treatment should be free at the point of need."

Ms Mills took the NHS to court over this, but in the four months since she started to do so, the cancer has spread to other parts of her body and it is now too late for her to benefit from the treatment.

I agree that the treatment provided by the NHS should be free at the point of need. I also think that the NHS should provide as broad a range of treatments as can practically and safely be provided, and should provide them to everyone on an equal basis. But I do not agree that the Department of Health should effectively sabotage the ability of those of modest means to pay for additional care beyond what the NHS can provide.

If Colette Mills had been a millionaire she would undoubtedly have paid for the whole service and her cancer might not have spread. It is not right to adopt a policy under which the very rich can pay for extra care but those who are not wealthy enough to be able to afford to go completely private are prevented from receiving the extra care which they would be willing and able to pay for. Those who adopted this policy may have the best of intentions but the actual impact on real human beings is vindictive and cruel.

NHS consultation: four days to go

The "Closer to Home" consultation about Hospital and Health services in Copeland and most of Cumbria is open until 1st February. I strongly encourage any resident who cares about local health services in West Cumbria (or North and Central Cumbria) to take the opportunity to feed your views back to the PCT before that.

You can feed in your views to the PCT at www.closertohome.org.uk

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quote of the evening

Audience member on "Question Time" speaking of the police

"They probably do deserve a pay rise if only for all the work they're doing investigating the government."

Delayed NHS meeting

The delayed meeting which had been due to be held on Monday in Millom about the "Closer to Home" NHS proposals was held this lunchtime in the Network Centre at Millom School.

About forty to fifty local residents attended, including doctors, nurses, health visitors, and concerned residents and patients.

From the viewpoint of Millom residents there are a number of positive aspects of the "Closer to Home" proposals including the prospect of a "Health Campus" bringing together the community hospital, Nursing home, and other services. However, there are understandable concerns about the fact that Millom Community Hospital is likely to lose five beds under the proposals, concerns about the sustainability of the proposed model, about the ambulance cover, and the Accident and Emergency arrangements for South Copeland.

More details on the "Save West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog: see link at right.

The consultation is open until 1st February: I would encourage any resident who cares about local health services in West Cumbria (or North and Central Cumbria) to take the opportunity to feed your views back to the PCT before that.

You can give your views to the PCT at www.closertohome.org.uk

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Margaret Beckett prize for making a problem worse

Here is my first 2008 nomination for the Margaret Beckett award, for spotting a problem and proposing action guaranteed to make it worse. It goes to those Labour MPs who propose to deal with the issue of parents allegedly "discovering" a religious faith in order to get their children into faith schools, by blocking the expansion of such schools.

Margaret Beckett was the Secretary of State responsible for introducing the Single Farm Payment regime for handing out EU farm and rural support money. Her department identified "Deprived areas" and "Exceptionally Deprived Areas" and set out to make them even more deprived by making disproportionately large cuts in farm support in those areas. (The apparent objective was to drive people out of farming.) Mrs Beckett has returned to the backbenches, but her Single Farm Payments legacy is still causing great hardship to farmers in Copeland and elsewhere and stands as the classic example of identifying a problem and exacerbating it.

However, it appears that Labour MPs have not lost the talent for making problems worse. It is reported in The Times today that large numbers of parents have started churchgoing at the stage in their children's education where this will increase their chances of getting into faith-based schools.

Anyone with even the most borderline capability for rational thought ought to be able to work out that, if parents really are manufacturing a religious commitment, this would only make sense if the parents concerned think that faith schools will offer their children a better eduction and expect those schools to be oversubscribed.

So what do Labour MPs propose? According to The Times, they are trying to stop any expansion of the very schools which parents want to get their children into. A move guaranteed to exacerbate the problem, ensure that they remain oversubscribed, and give parents even more incentive to play the system than might otherwise be the case.

As Jeremy Clarkson might have said, you couldn't make it up!

Any other nominations for the Margaret Beckett award ?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood Forum

It was a busy day today: after a meeting of Copeland Council this afternoon there was a meeting of the Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood Forum.

The main agenda items were

* Youth facilities in Whitehaven

* Traffic and Parking reviews currently under way and involving boh Copeland council and Cumbria County Council

* Grant application by local community organisations.

I raised a request which I had received from a local resident for the condition and maintenance of one of the open spaces in Whitehaven to be put on the agenda. After a short discussion it was agreed that the condition and maintenance of parks and open spaces in the town should form one of the main agenda items for the next meeting, with one of the officers from Copeland invited as a speaker and to answer questions.

The main area of controversy concerned the traffic and parking issues. We were advised that at the moment the responses being submitted to the reviews currently underway are leaning heavily towards the pro-pedestrian and anti-car perspective.

One of my colleagues on hearing some of the proposals observed that they sounded fairly hostile to the motor car, and got the reply from a county council officer "That's sort of the idea."

OK if that's what local residents really want, but if you don't want to see an anti-motorist position adopted - or indeed if you do - make sure you respond to the consultation and let local councils know what you think.

Report on the January meeting of Copeland Council

The January meeting of Copeland council took place this afternoon.

Highlights included

* A debate on the "Closer to Home" NHS consultation. The council unanimously approved a detailed recommendation from the council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee which will now go to the County scrutiny committee and local NHS trusts.

* The recommendation welcomed some of the changes which the Primary Care Trust (PCT) has made to the "Closer to Home" proposals, such as the fact that it is now proposed that West Cumberland Hospital in Copeland will need at least 220 acute beds and possibly up to 250, and the fact that the trusts are no longer insisting that all major trauma cases in North Cumbria will be treated in Carlisle. Patients with significant trauma will be taken to the nearest emergency treatment centre where a decision will be taken where to treat them, which may when that is in the patient's best interest, mean being treated at the West Cumberland Hospital.

* Planning issues affecting the centre of Whitehaven were discussed, including the pull-out of ASDA from the Ginns site, the need for a retail need assessment for Whitehaven and Copeland, and the impact of planning policies on the Whitehaven Maritime Festival and any successor. A number of planning documents including the Statement of Community Involvement were also re-approved.

* The council discussed the Community Package which has been agreed to provide extra services in Copeland and Drigg as part of the planning obligation agreement to go with the new storage facility in the area. The nuclear discussion also included reference to prospects for a new nuclear reactor of further reprocessing in the area.

Other issues discussed included Social Inclusion policy, an Audit of Copeland's Housing service and vexed question of recycling and pest control. An officer recommendation that the council should start to charge residents for rat extermination was rejected by councillors of all parties.

NHS public meeting postponed

The "Closer to Home" consultation public meeting which had been due to take place in Millom on 21st January was postponed at the last minute.

It will now take place this Thursday (24th January) at 12 noon at the Millom Network Centre at Millom School in Salthouse Road.

Comeback of the week

From the discussion at this evening's meeting of the Bransty and Harbour Neighbourhood forum

COUNCILLOR: "Whitehaven is a georgian town with georgian buildings and streets, designed for a georgian population with georgian traffic.

IRATE RESIDENT: "And we have a georgian council to go with it!"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Home Secretary "afraid to walk streets of London alone"

Home Secretary Jaqui Smith said in an interview in today's Sunday Times that she would be afraid to walk alone at night in the streets of many parts of London. As the paper put it isn't it about time she did something about this?

Mind you, considering how the Labour government have behaved towards the police, I imagine she would not be much more comfortable walking with only the company of her police bodyguards.

And not because I am suggesting that her police protection unit would ever be less than professional. The point is that most people would be embarrassed to be dependent on people who they have treated the way she has treated police officers. But perhaps like many New Labour politicians she is beyond embarrassment.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Getting the police back on the streets

I was at a meeting of Conservative candidates this afternoon.

One of the main issues we discussed was crime.

An issue of particular concern to everyone there, expecially those who have most contact with the police, is that coppers these days have to spend between 80% and a sixth of their on-duty time in the police station being trained or dealing with paperwork.

Police blogger "David Copperfield" once wrote about a discussion with a police officer from another country: he spent 80% of his time in police stations, the officer from abroad spent 80% of his time out and about on the beat.

If we could reduce the proportion of time spent on training and bureaucracy from 80% to 60% without prejudicing activities required to bring evidence to court so that criminals can still be convicted, that would effectively double the police presence on Britain's streets.

If we're going to win the battle against crime that is one of two things which has to be done. The other is a far more effective campaign against drugs.

Friday, January 18, 2008

You couldn’t make it up

It has been reported that "more than 70,000 police support staff in England and Wales, including 11,500 community support officers (PCSOs), have accepted a 2.5% pay deal.

The pay rise will be backdated to September, in contrast to that offered to regular police officers.”

(Source: BBC, repeated on "Political Betting")

The arrangements to determine the pay of this group of police support staff are quite different from those of police officers.

The pay of police support staff is recommended by the Police Staff Council directly to the local police authorities amd chief constables. By contrast the Police Negotiating Board makes a recommendation on pay awards for police officers to the Home Secretary.

Nevertheless, to have such blatantly different treatment of their support staff is going to have dire consequences for the morale of police officers, and is not going to make it any easier to achieve a resolution of their disagreements with the government over pay.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Restoring Trust in Politics

The Conservative party's Democracy Taskforce has published a report this week called "Restoring Trust in Politics."

After the events of the past few months, persuading the public to trust politicians of any party is going to take some doing. But we have to make the attempt, and start by acting in a way which justifies trust.

There are some very interesting and positive recommendations in the report, such as breaking any link between party donations and honours by taking all honours completely out of the hands of ministers, including the Prime Minister.

One recommendation which I particularly support, and which in my opinion should also apply to councillors, is to remove from MPs the power to set their own remuneration.

This is very long overdue. As long as MPs and councillors are placed in the invidious position of having to vote on their own salaries or allowances, there will be two dangers, both inimical to democracy. The first is that politicians will be tempted to treat themselves more generously than equally deserving groups. The second is that, even if MPs and councillors do not in fact give in to this temptation, large sections of the public will be convinced that they have.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hundreds attend hospital public meeting

Hundreds of local residents crowded into Whitehaven Civic Hall this evening to attend a public meeting about the "Closer to Home" proposals on local hospitals.

A very strong message was sent: local residents support our local hospital services and demand first class healthcare.

At the start of the meeting it was explained that in the past week as a result of discussions between the PCT, Acute Hospitals Trust, local clinicians, and the Save Our Services group, substantial changes are being made in the proposals. In particular, it is no longer proposed to centralise all Major Trauma care in North Cumbria at Carlisle, and the proposed reduction in bed numbers at the West Cumberland hospital has been made significantly less severe.

More details on the "Save West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog - see link at right

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Nuclear Power - some progress

The announcement on Thursday clearly represents progress in that the prospect of a new generation of nuclear power stations has moved forward.

I remain convinced that it is essential for all nations to take the threat of climate change seriously, and this is not just a matter of global warming. The possibility that the world's oceans, which are acting as a carbon sink, may be turned acid if we do not restrain the amount of carbon we are dumping into the atmosphere is an even more serious threat than the risk of warmer temperatures and higher sea levels. The micro-organisms which release the majority of the oxygen in the atmosphere live in the sea, and if we poison them, we will probably cause an environmental catastrophe worse than the KT event which killed the dinosaurs.

Hence I regard the case for controlling our carbon emissions as overwhelming. As the existing but aging nuclear fleet provides the majority of Britain's low carbont electricity, I have been convinced for many years - since well before I first became PPC for Copeland - that they should be replaced with new nuclear stations.

My personal view is that it is a shame and a disgrace that this decision was not taken at least five years ago, but it is not too late to start putting plans in place for new nuclear build now.

A report on the location of new plants is expected to be published in 2009. It is important to West Cumbria that we lobby for at least one of the plants to be located here.

Hospital public meeting tomorrow

The Whitehaven public meeting about the "Closer to Home" proposals for local hospitals is tomorrow (Monday 14th) from 7pm to 9pm in the Civic Hall.

There have been encouraging signs in the past four days that the logjam of discussion between the trust and local doctors is beginning to move. It is beginning to seem likely that a new consensus on issues like bed numbers may emerge which will address some of the public's main concerns.

However, it is still extremely important that there is a strong turnout to show how strongly the public feels about the need to support our hospitals.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

More encouraging signs about Nuclear Power

A government spokeswoman appeared to confirm this evening that today's cabinet meeting took a positive view of New nuclear build.

Asked if any minister had spoken in opposition when the cabinet discussed whether to give the green light to new nuclear plants, the spokeswoman said: "Not that I'm aware of."

Nuclear and energy issues had been the main items on the agenda at Tuesday's cabinet meeting and there had been a "very good discussion," the spokeswoman said.

An announcement is expected on Thursday.

Nuclear Announcement due on Thursday

A Number 10 spokesman said today that John Hutton would announce whether a new generation of Nuclear Power stations will be announced on Thursday in a Commons statement to MPs.

Ministers have been dropping hints that they will back new nuclear power on environmental and energy security grounds.

Mr Brown told Sunday's Observer newspaper that a decision on future energy supplies was a fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for the new world.

He said: "When North Sea oil runs down, both oil and gas, people will want to know whether we have made sure that we've got the balance right between external dependence on energy and our ability to generate our own energy within our own country, and that's about renewables as well as about other things.

"And so the willingness to take tough long-term decisions, whether it's wind power or wave power, whether it's renewables generally or nuclear, is I think a fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for the new world."

Conservative voices have also been indicating support for new nuclear build. Yesterday Ian Taylor MP, chairman of the Conservative Party's Science and Technology taskforce, issued a statement today urging Britain to embrace nuclear power. The Conservatives have made clear that any contracts for new power stations placed by the present government will be honoured by an incoming Tory government.


Mr Brown's spokesman said that the issue of a new generation of nuclear power stations would be discussed at Cabinet today. The spokesman said firms who build any new nuclear stations - if they are given the go-ahead - would have to fund any future decommissioning costs.

He added: "We have always been clear that the full share of the costs of the long-term management and disposal of waste should fall on the operators."

The then prime minister Tony Blair said in 2006 that the government believed new nuclear stations should be built. That decision was put on hold after the consultation element of the initial energy review was ruled to be "seriously flawed" and "misleading" by a High Court judge, following a challenge by Greenpeace. The government was ordered to start again and is now set to announce its findings on Thursday.

Sources for this post: BBC Website, Conservative Home, speech by Charles Hendry MP at a Conservative Conference fringe meeting.

"Your countdown to the Digital Switchover"

I nearly keeled over in astonishment on getting a leaflet through the door this morning entitled "Your countdown to the Digital TV Switchover has begun"

It refers to the switchover of the rest of the Border TV area to Digital between 5th November 2008 and Summer 2009.

Like most other residents of Whitehaven and central Copeland, my switchover has both begun and finished. Our analogue signals were switched off between 17th October and 14th November last year. My first reaction was that this was obviously a Border TV area wide document, and that Digital UK were wasting a fortune of licence payer's money by distributing this document in the Whitehaven TV area.

My second thought was that they still did need to distribute some sort of warning here, because some residents of Whitehaven and central Copeland can still receive an analogue signal from the Bleach Green transmitter at Parton or the St Bees transmitter. Both these will go digital at the same time as Caldbeck in Summer 2009.

The document includes a timetable for when various area will go digital which makes no mention of the fact that viewers served by the Bigrigg transmitter have already gone over. It says of this area that "If you are in Cumbria or South West Scotland and receive your TV signal from the Caldbeck transmitter or one of its related transmitters, you'll switch from summer 2009."

Digital UK could have significantly reduced the likelihood of confusing people with this document by adding something like "Most viewers in the Whitehaven TV area have already gone over to Digital: if you are one of those who have not, you will switch in Summer 2009."

(Personally I would have put this at the top of the list because such a statement would have the added benefit of emphasising to viewers in the rest of the Border area that the process has actually started.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

Ian Taylor MP supports nuclear power

I am grateful to Conservative Home for the news that Ian Taylor MP, chairman of the Conservative Party's Science and Technology taskforce, has issued a statement today urging Britain to embrace nuclear power. He has also criticised the opposition to nuclear power from some environmental groups such as Greenpeace.

He commented that "Unless the Government moves quickly to boost the nuclear power station rebuilding programme, there is no hope in meeting the non-fossil fuel targets. Wind and wave power alone will not suffice. Greenpeace shows sheer hypocrisy in pressing its objections. Members should resign in protest if they are seriously 'green'."

Mr Taylor's comments can be seen in a video on Conservative Home.

The Conservative Front Bench has stopped using the words "last resort" to describe their position on new nuclear build.

It is now Conservative policy that, as long as there is a fair and equitable financial regime, nuclear power should be an important part of Britain's future energy mix.

Of the three major UK parties, only the Liberal Democrats remain firmly opposed to any more nuclear power plants.

A survey of Conservative party members found that only 12% agreed with the LibDems' opposition to nuclear power, and 85% disagreed with it.

"Closer to home" public meeting - one week to go

The Whitehaven Civic Hall meeting to discuss the "Closer to Home" proposals for health services in North Cumbria will be held at 7pm on 14th January, a week today.

There will also be a Millom public meeting in the Network Centre one week later at 2pm.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Future of Nuclear Power

I am hearing from several sources that a government announcement paving the way for a new generation of nuclear power plants is imminent and may be made within the next 72 hours.

Needless to say the anti-nuclear lobby are having fits about this. That's a good sign.

By chance in a shop earlier today I noticed a set of granite coasters and a pair of granite mats for sale. Regardless of where the granite came from, I am sure that these are perfectly good products.

But to put the radiation impact of nuclear power in perspective, I suspect the miniscule amount of extra radiation which the average West Cumbrian would pick up from these items if he or she bought them is probably more than he or she gets from the presence of Sellafield and the nuclear waste storage facility at Drigg put together. And considerably less than the average tourist gets in background radiation from the underlying granite during a week's holiday in Cornwall.

The real cost of good food

A lot of material in the papers both today and yesterday about ethical treatment of chickens: it would appear that all the major supermarkets are about to stop sale of eggs from caged hens. This follows a campaign from Jamie Olver.

There is a particularly powerful column by Rachel Johnson in today's Sunday Times called "The real cost of good food." She points out that one reason for the barbarities inflicted on many of the animals we eat is the present economics of farming and food production, which all too often crucifies those small farmers who treat their birds and animals in a more humane way.

Of course, one reason for this is the "Single Farm Payment" policy. Although the money it hands out comes from the EU, the policy is controlled by the UK government and was designed by Margaret Beckett. It could almost have been designed to make life as difficult as possible for small farmers, especially in areas like Cumbria. It doesn't help that what support they get is all too aften paid late.

If we want to have a more humane policy towards farm animals, reform of the "SIngle Farm Payment" system and of its "Deprived areas" and "Exceptionally Deprived areas" regime which has the effect of making farming in those areas even more difficult, should be a priority.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

In Memoriam: Hartley Brown

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the 90th birthday celebrations for Hartley Brown, a former Chairman and later President of Copeland Conservatives.

Sadly he died shortly before Christmas.

I cannot better the words about Hartley which Philip Davies, who was Conservative parliamentary candidate for Copeland during his chairmanship, wrote in this week's Whitehaven News, so I will repeat them here.

"SIR – I was saddened to learn of the death of Hartley Brown. I had the privilege of having Hartley as my constituency chairman when standing as the Conservative candidate in the 1992 general election and the good fortune to enjoy Hartley’s friendship for over 17 years.

At all times I found Hartley to be a true gentleman, absolutely and transparently honest, totally caring and a passionate standard bearer for Copeland. He was loyal and generous to his friends, magnanimous in both political victory or defeat.

He was an excellent constituency chairman pushing through many reforms and building an efficient local party organisation.

Under his chairmanship the Conservatives gave all Copeland residents the opportunity of choice, as for the first time they fielded candidates for every council seat. A real plus for local democracy.

Copeland as well as Copeland Conservatives have much to thank him for. He will be sadly missed.

Philip DAVIES"

Thursday, January 03, 2008

County expresses concern about "Closer to Home"

Cumbria County Council's cabinet looks set to express some of the same concerns about the "Closer to Home" proposals, particularly the plan to centralise major trauma in Carlisle, as have been expressed by doctors at the West Cumberland.

I have posted more details on the "Save West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog - see link at right.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

A very happy, prosperous, and successful New Year 2008 to everyone reading this blog.