Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Performance in the public sector

I know from personal experience that not all council planning departments are like the one described by "Matthew Walker" recently in the Daily Mail. (Hat tip to Conservative Home) - the article is here. His account begins:

"Monday morning, it's 10am and I'm late for work - but there's no point hurrying because even though I should have been at my desk 30 minutes ago, I know I'll be the first to arrive at the office."

Well, as a planning chairman and later planning portfolio holder I regularly held meetings with officers at 8.00 am. I never had any objections when I asked to have a meeting set up at that hour, and in the process I usually saw plenty of officers in the planning department at their desks well before nine.

And no, I don't believe that people other than those at the meetings came in earlier than usual for my benefit. If a department was determined to pull the wool over the eyes of councillors they might possibly arrange something like that once or twice, but regularly every few weeks over the course of my two years as planning chairman and three years as portfolio holder? Human beings just can't keep up an act that long.

Neither is it my experience that officers at local councils in Hertfordshire or Cumbria cannot be removed.


So I don't think every planning department should be assumed to be like the one described in the Daily Mail article. Indeed, I am quite convinced that most are not.

But here's the problem. If you don't have effective mechanisms in place to ensure that departments of any organisation, be it in the public or private sector are not like this, you will get some departments which become extremely inefficient.

In the private sector, the need to attract and retain customers to avoid going bust provides a strong incentive not to let poor performance develop or continue. I would hope that departments like the one described by "Matthew Walker" are a rare and extreme example. Can we be certain that they don't exist? Unfortunately not. And it's up to the elected politicians at all levels to provide the pressure which in the private sector comes from the market.

The present recession has put a huge strain on practically every business in the country. It has also had a catastrophic impact on the public finances, which the budget earlier this month has finally begun to address.

It would be absolutely wrong to approach public sector efficiency on the assumption that every civil servant or local government officer is assumed to be a slacker. But it would be quite unreasonable to suggest that there are no areas of the public sector where we need to apply the same pressure to reform and improve efficiency which the market has already applied to everyone in the private sector - the people whose taxes pay for the public sector.

Matthew Walker's account continues

Although it's two years since I started working for this authority I've also worked for two other London boroughs in various capacities over a period of 12 years. In that time I've never known anybody be sacked, no matter how inept and unprofessional they may be. I'm not sure what it takes to get fired in local government. I'd say 'murdering the CEO' but, even then, you're more likely to be sent on an 'anger in the workplace' course.

Provided that the contribution of those who are really doing a good job is recognised and rewarded, it is time for the public sector to experience the same discipline which private sector firms have to impose if they are going to survive.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If footballers had to stand for election ...

The tone or the press comment in today's papers about the England Football team, manager, and the FA reminds me of nothing so much of the way they wrote about MPs during the expenses row and for most of the time since.

In one respect however, footballers have it rather easier than politicians - they don't have to go round knocking on the doors of members of the electorate and asking the public to vote them into their jobs.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Proposal for a new book

Military historian Kenneth Macksey wrote a very interesting book a few years ago called "Why the Germans Lose at War."

Perhaps he should bring out a sequel, "Why the English lose at football."

You can buy the book he actually has written at Amazon here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Freedom of Copeland

Absolutely fantastic conclusion today to the Whitehaven Festival

In the morning we had the first ever outdoor meeting of Copeland Borough Council to confer the Freedom of the Borough on the cadet forces and on Britain's armed forces.

It is hoped that next year they will take up that right by marching through the town.

Can I apologise to those who told me they had difficulty hearing the meeting. I have fed this back so that if something similar is organised in the future we can try to get a more powerful PA system.

A wonderful and well supported festival continued, with magnificent weather and wonderful acts. I found the climax to the Red Arrows presentation, when they "Sky-wrote" the image of a heart in the sky above Whitehaven Harbour, profoundly moving.

A great event and a credit to all who helped organise it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Whitehaven Festival

Spent this afternoon with my family at the festival. Glorious weather, great attendance, looks to be another huge success.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Whitehaven Festival gets under way

After a traumatic few months for West Cumbria we have something to celebrate today as the Whitehaven Festival gets underway.

This will culminate on Sunday, Armed Forces day, with a special meeting of Copeland Council held at the Harbour to give the freedom of the borough to the local armed forces units. There will be a Red Arrows flypast at the conclusion on Sunday afternoon.

Details of the festival are as follows (with thanks to the Whitehaven News and the festival committee)

Concert hours

Saturday – 6pm-10pm

Sunday – 4pm-7pm.

Festival hours

Saturday – 10am to 11pm

Sunday – 11am to 6pm

Fireworks

Firework displays will at the harbour from 10.30pm to 11pm on Friday and Saturday

Park and Ride

There is no park and ride service this year. For details of other bus services please contact Stagecoach

Full itinerary

The full itinerary of events with times and locations is only available in the programme - price £1 from Richardson's shop in Lowther Street, The Whitehaven News office or volunteers walking around the harbour. Please support the festival by buying a programme!

Toilets

There are public toilets in the Market Place and there will be extra toilets put up for the duration of the weekend around the harbour.


Show build/breakdown days

Sunday 27th – 19:00 – 24:00

Monday 28th – 08:00 – 14:00


Road closures

The following roads will be closed to the public between 6am on Thursday June 24 and midnight on Sunday June 27:

Quay Street
East Strand
West Strand
Marlborough Street
Duke Street (from Strand Street to the Harbour)

Car parks

The following car parks will be closed to the public between 6am on Thursday June 24 to 6pm on Monday June 28:

Queens Dock
Quay Street East
Quay Street West
Wellington
South Beach

Please also be aware the Old Quay will be closed from 8am on Friday June 25 to 8am on Monday June 28 to allow for the set up and firing of the fireworks and the appropriate clean up afterwards. Additionally, the air displays on Sunday June 27 necessitate the closing of the North and West Piers between the hours of midday and 6pm.

Health and safety

Please be aware that the festival takes place within a working harbour environment whereby there are many health and safety hazards including unguarded edges. Areas of the promenade will be closed during the set up and breakdown periods which will necessitate a pedestrian detour via Strand Street.

Pet owners should be aware that there will be a loud firework display on Friday and Saturday between approximately 10.45pm and 11pm. It is not advisable to bring pets to the festival and during this period, pets should be kept indoors.

Please report any suspicious packages to a member of the security team or the Police.

Festival Organisers will endeavour to keep disruption to a minimum and apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Your assistance is appreciated in helping to produce a safe and enjoyable festival for all.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Feedback on the June meeting of Copeland Council

Copeland Borough council met this evening in the Copeland Centre at 5.00 pm.

The meeting began with prayers and a minute's silence in memory of those who lost their lives on 2nd June.


Highlights of the meeting included

1) This was the first meeting under a new constitution which is designed to create more opportunities for open debate and contributions from the public. It is important that these opportunities are better publicised.

For instance, it has been made easier for members of the public to ask questions of leading councillors at full council meetings and a trial is being introduced of a systen under which members of the public can ask questions at meetings of Copeland Council's executive about matters on the agenda.

We need to make sure that this is properly publicised because those rights are worthless if nobody knows how to take them up!

2) I raised the issue of proposed changes to the fire service in Whitehaven - it was agreed that the council's Overview and Scrutiny committees will look at this issue with a view to feeding in to public consultation due in September

3) Councillors of all parties agreed that it is extremely important that the West Cumberland Hospital rebuild - which has already started - gets the business case approved by September so that this essential work can be completed.

4) I also asked a question about the status of - dare I say it - Whitehaven Golf Course. The government is currently assessing by written representations whether to approve changing the route of the right of way through the site, and the deadline to write in and make your views known for this is 10th September . When the inspector delivers his verdict some months after that point, I was told that Copeland Council as planning authority will assess whether to require a new planning application or take any other enforcement action.

5) Copeland Homes will NOT be introducing any mandatory cleaning charges to clear rubbish from flats.

6) We have finally regained quality status for four beaches in Copeland back after three years.

The Labour council administration made a big fuss about getting quality status for these beaches about four years ago, and then failed to apply to renew it in 2007. Conservatives have been campaigning to get quality beach status back since then: we did eventually manage to get some support for this from the administration and it has now finally been achieved. Now we need to make sure it does not get lost again!

Westminster Hall debate on the West Cumbria shootings

There was an excellent parliamentary debate yesterday in Westminster Hall about the tragic events which took place in Copeland on 2nd June.

This debate showed parliament at it's best. It can be read in full either at the Hansard website or here at "TheyWorkForYou.com"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Peter Walker RIP

Hat Tip to Conservative Home for advising me that Lord Walker, who as Peter Walker was one of the leading moderates within Margaret Thatcher's government, died this morning. They quote the Worcester News as saying

"The former Conservative MP for Worcester passed away early this morning at St Richard's Hospice in the city. He had been suffering from cancer. Peter Walker was MP for Worcester from 1961 to 1992."

"Lord Walker held a number of Cabinet posts during his parliamentary career. He was Environment Secretary and Trade and Industry Secretary under Edward Heath, and Energy Secretary and Welsh Secretary under Margaret Thatcher. The founder of the Tory Reform Group, Lord Walker was appointed a life peer after his retirement as an MP in 1992.

"Lord Walker was surrounded by his family when he passed away this morning."


Peter Walker was one of the few who proved that you could be "wet" (e.g. moderate) in the political sense without being wet in the sense of lacking the courage to stand up for what you believed. He walked a difficult tightrope between disloyalty and failing to say things which needed saying with a great deal of success. As one of the very few who were cabinet ministers under both Ted Heath and Margaret Thatcher he was also one of the great survivors of politics. Peter Walker was one of my political heroes when I was a young man and I will remember him as a great public servant.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feedback on Copeland Planning meeting

About forty or fifty people turned up in Whitehaven civic hall this evening for the public meeting about the new local plan for Copeland.

Under laws passed by John Prescott, the new style set of documents is called a "Local Development Framework" or LDF.

Formally this was a consultation on the preferred options document which will be used to write a "Core Strategy" around what sort of development Copeland as planning authority will promote.

Examples of the proposed planning policies on which the council is asking for comments from residents are guidelines for where in the Borough (outside the national park) housing development should go. The proposal in the consultation document is that the council should aim for the following mix:

47% in Whitehaven

10% each in Egremont and Cleator Moor

12% in Millom

21% in 12 larger village areas which are allocated as "local centres," namely

* Arlecdon/Rowrah
* Beckermet
* Bigrigg
* Cleator
* Distington
* Frizington
* Haverigg
* Kirkland/Ennerdale Bridge
* Lowca/Parton
* Moor Row
* Moresby Parks
* Seascale
* St Bees.

Do you have a view on whether this makes sense? If so please write and let the council know.

Many of the people who came to the meeting were residents of the Bay Vista or Highlands areas who were concerned about some of the sites shown as potentially being allocated for housing in some of Copeland Council's working documents, available on the Copeland Council website. There will be public consultation in a few month's time on what specific sites should be allocated for housing under a process called, wait for it, the

Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment.

Some people call this the "SHLAA". I think that sounds silly, so I call the documents by the stages of the process they have reached. There are three parts to the process: "The first sieve," which the officers have done, to reject the most obviously unsuitable sites, the "Second sieve" which the officers are about to start, to knock out a few more, and the final recommendations which will be included in a public consultation for a "Site Allocations Development Plan Document" in a few month's time.

The document which is upsetting a number of Whitehaven residents is the "First Sieve" document, because a number of controversial proposed sites in North East Whitehaven about which they have concerns have not yet been rejected.

If you have views about any aspect of the consultation, or about the proposed housing site allocations, please do make them known. You can email the council at ldf@copelandbc.gov.uk or write to John Hughes, the council's Strategic Planning manager at Copeland Borough Council, Catherine Street, Whitehaven CA28 7SJ.

Or you can attend one of the remaining public consultation meetings, which are to be held as follows:

Mid Copeland: Thursday 24th June at 7pm, Seascale Methodist Hall.

North East Copeland: Tuesday 29th June at 7pm, Cleator Moor Civic Hall.

South Copeland: Tuesday 13th July at 7pm, Millom Network Centre.

In the area where the Lake District National Park is the local planning authority they will be adopting their own Local Development Framework and will be holding a seperate consultation on what it should contain.

DC: today's budget is right for our country

David Cameron writes:

I'm not going to hide it from you - what the coalition has announced is tough. But let's be clear, it's also entirely necessary and entirely unavoidable. Never forget - Labour left us with one of the worst economic inheritances imaginable. They racked up one of the biggest budget deficits in Europe - with the government borrowing one pound for every four it spends - and they doubled the national debt.

Doing nothing about this isn't an option. Greece stands as an example of what happens to countries that don't deal with their debts. And we cannot afford to be timid either - take just small steps now and confidence in our economy will fall, interest rates will rise, we'll carry on with this debt cloud hanging over our whole economic recovery.

That's why these difficult times call for such decisive action. And that's what this emergency Budget is about. Unlike the Budgets of the past thirteen years it's not a random shopping list of policies to buy short-term popularity. It's a thoughtful plan to pay for the bills of the past while planning for our future prosperity. At the heart of George Osborne's Budget are three principles.

First, responsibility. We will bring some sense and sanity back to the public finances by reducing our deficit by an extra £40 billion over the next five years. The majority of this will come from spending cuts - though as we always said, we will protect the NHS and international aid budgets. But tax rises are required too. I know you won't like that. Believe me, I don't like it either. But there's a high price to pay for Labour's incompetence, so VAT will have to rise to 20 percent to deal with their deficit.

Second, freedom. The economic growth needed to create jobs and opportunities for all will only come when we get enterprise flourishing again, so this Budget sends out a signal to the world that Britain is back open for business. In its pages are plans to cut red tape, stop Labour's jobs tax, reduce corporation tax rates, improve our infrastructure, support a low-carbon economy and spread new industries to every corner of our country.

Third, fairness. As I said, this Budget is tough. But it's also fair. That's what I'm about, what this Party is about, it's what this coalition is about. That's why we have asked every part of society to make some sort of contribution to paying off our debts - with the richest paying most. For example, Capital Gains Tax will rise for top rate taxpayers - but I think most people will agree that 28 per cent is a fair rate.

At the same time, we have also done everything we can to protect the least well-off. So while there will be a two-year public sector pay freeze, we will make sure those earning less than £21,000 still get pay increases. We will also increase the personal tax allowance by £1,000 for low and middle income earners, re-link the basic state pension to earnings and make sure it rises each year and reform the benefit and tax credit system so we reward work and protect the most vulnerable. What's more, we have committed an extra £2 billion in child tax credits for the poorest families - helping to ensure there is no increase in measured child poverty over the next two years. This is what we mean when we say we're all in this together.

In this emergency Budget I believe you have the measure of this government. Will it provoke debate? Certainly. Will it cost our coalition some popularity? Possibly. But is this the right thing to do - for the health of our economy, for the poorest in our society, for the future of our country? I passionately believe it is.

Brown's last budget

The guiding intelligence behind the measures announced today to start Britain on the road to recovery will be George Osborne.

But responsibility for the pain rests with Gordon Brown.

Nobody likes raising taxes. Nobody likes cutting popular spending programmes. And although the coalition government is committed to making as many of the savings which have to be made in administration and bureaucracy rather than front-line services, only an idiot could imagine that a deficit the size of Britain's could be cut without pain.

But it has to be done, because of the mess Labour left behind. Gordon Brown's legacy is a completely unsustainable fiscal position in which the government was spending four pounds for every three it raised in taxes. In which government debt was heading for £1.2 TRILLION. In which the interest the government was paying on that debt was more than it spends on schools - and was the fastest rising part of government spending.

If this problem is not tackled we are looking at having to have tax rises of £70 billion to pay the INTEREST on the extra debt which Gordon Brown's deficit would cause Britain to borrow.

Even Alistair Darling, one of the few Labour politicians who showed even the least degree of integrity or awareness of fiscal reality during the last election, admitted repeatedly that if Labour had won the election they would have had to make heavy and painful cuts - he specifically admitted that they would have been more severe than those made by Mrs Thatcher - to reduce the deficit.


Of course the chancellor has a tightrope to walk - don't cut enough and he will have to cut even more later, cut too quickly and the risk of a double-dip recession is increased.

But doing nothing is not an option.

If the Chancellor is a popular man this evening he has not been tough enough. But everyone who dislikes one of the measures announced today should remember one important fact.

If the outgoing Labour government had not left the incoming government with a huge and totally unsustainable hole in the budget, today's pain would not have been necessary.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Public Meetings: planning for Copeland's future

A series of public meetings are being held on the new "Local Development Framework" which will replace the local plan and set the new guidelines for what does and does not get planning permission. The title is "Help us plan Copeland's Future" and any resident with an interest or a view on whether new development should be possible on particular areas of land in areas of Copeland outside the Lake District National Park should think about attending.

For example, if you live in Whitehaven and think that housing development on one of the fields around the town near your home would be a good idea, or if you think it would be a terrible idea, it might be in your interest to drop along to the civic centre tomorrow night.


Meetings are:

Whitehaven: tomorrow evening (Tuesday 22nd June) at 7pm, Whitehaven Civic Hall

Mid Copeland: Thursday 24th June at 7pm, Seascale Methodist Hall.

North East Copeland: Tuesday 29th June at 7pm, Cleator Moor Civic Hall.

South Copeland: Tuesday 13th July at 7pm, Millom Network Centre.

In the area where the Lake District National Park is the local planning authority they will be adopting their own Local Development Framework and will be holding a seperate consultation on what it should contain.

Osborne asks Hutton to review public sector pensions

Former Cumbria Labour MP and minister John Hutton has been appointed by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition to head a commission into public sector pensions.

Chancellor George Osborne said the projected rise in the cost to taxpayers of public sector pensions was "unsustainable" and must be tackled.

Mr Hutton's review would come up with "early steps" by September, with full proposals in time for 2011's Budget.

The chancellor said Mr Hutton would be "clear and unbiased" in his review.

Mr Osborne added that Mr Hutton's involvement meant that the proposals would have had cross-party input.

In a Treasury statement, Mr Osborne said: "We must consider options for reform that are fair to the taxpayer and to people who work in the public sector.

"I am delighted that John Hutton has accepted my invitation to chair the Commission. John is an experienced public servant, who I know will bring a clear and unbiased analysis to bear on this complex and important issue."


Former Work and Pensions Secretary Mr Hutton said: "I welcome the opportunity to lead a root and branch examination of both the short-term and longer-term options for reform to public sector pensions.

"I am determined that this work should be conducted openly and transparently and that our conclusions will be underpinned with a comprehensive analysis and evidence-base."


The Office for Budget Responsibility report last week suggested that the difference between the amount paid into and paid out of public sector pensions would more than double over the next four years to £9bn.

It is important that this immensely difficult issue is tackled on a cross party basis. I think George Osborne was right to try to broaden the base of his review.

But while some Labour people like John Hutton are willing to put country first and work with a government whose parties both command a majority of the commons and secured between them a large majority of the popular vote, other Labour people show their sectarianism by comments like this one from John Prescott, attacking Frank Field, Kate Hoey, and John Hutton for accepting invitations from David Cameron and Boris Johnson to advise on issues like pensions and poverty:

"I would ask if they can live with their conscience but I’d question whether they even had one to begin with.“

Don't recall Prezza saying that sort of thing about them when he was in government with them. Or about the tories who Gordon Brown involved in his government in a similar way.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Labour's Legacy

The Conservatives have published "Labour's Last Will and Testament", outlining thirteen years of economic failures.

Ahead of next week's Emergency Budget, this sets out why we must act now to reduce the deficit the previous Government left behind.

Commenting on the release of the document, Conservative Party Co-Chairman Sayeeda Warsi said:

"Let no one be in any doubt about the mess that Labour have left behind. We are all in this together and must realise the consequences of their 13 years in charge."

This is Labour's legacy:

Every man, woman and child in Britain now owes £22,400
We now have one of the worst deficits in Europe
There are 2.47 million people out of work
One in five young people is unemployed
£3 billion on benefit overpayments and £10 million on tax credits for the dead
Selling off Britain's gold at a 20 year low in the market.


Sayeeda added, "The cuts that are coming are Labour's cuts."

You can download the full document here.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Iain Dale decides not to stand for parliament again

I was sorry to read that my old University friend Iain Dale has asked for his name to be removed from the list of parliamentary candidates. I understand his reasons, which he explains here, but this is a loss to the Conservative Party and potentially to the country.

For what it's worth I think that both the party and the country generally are becoming much less ageist: plenty of constituencies are willing to select younger candidates but the prejudice against candidates over the age of fifty is much less strong than it was fifteen years ago.

Partly that is because many people are maintaining their health and vigour a lot longer and the selectorate have noticed.

Parliament needs candidates with a range of ages, backgrounds, and life experience. So do local councils. And all parties need more people to come forward.

(Hint - there are elections for Copeland and Allerdale Borough Councils next year. If you're a resident of West Cumbria and think you have something to offer, or are fed up with what you're currently getting from the council and want to stand to make a fuss about it, why not put your effort where your mouth is and approach whichever party you are closest to and talk about the possibility of standing ?)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

False premises, patchy logic, right conclusion

In all my 49 years I don't think I've ever read a piece with so many hugely embarrassing basic errors which still staggers amusingly to a correct conclusion as the piece by Rod Liddle in this week's Spectator, under the title "Monty Hall will change the way you think."

I thought at first that Mr Liddle was making an ironic joke when he argued that what day of the week one sibling in a two-child family is born on affects the gender of the other sibling.

Of course it doesn't: Liddle has messed up a gratuitously complicated conditional probability calculation. The same sort of mistake which Professor Sir Roy Meadow made when he didn't realise that being one of Britain's leading experts in paediatric medicine did not automatically confer any understanding of statistics, leading him to persuade juries to send innocent women to jail for murders which never happened.

But the real joke is that although some of the details of Rod Liddle's article are complete rubbish, this merely provides more evidence that his basic argument is right: even very clever people can make disastrous errors through not understanding mathematical and statistical problems, especially when intuition leads people in false directions.

The "Monty Hall" paradox (which Liddle describes correctly) is an example of a case where the correct answer to a question appears at first to be absurd.

Monty Hall was the original host of a famous american game show, and the paradox is named after him because the problem was originally set out in a letter to the "American Statistician" in 1975 which used games shows as the example.

The idea is that there are three doors: behind one of the three is a prize, behind the other two is something worthless. The contestant is asked to make an initial selection of a door, but the door is left open. The host then opens one of the other two doors, revealing a booby prize, and asks the contestant if he or she wants to open the door originally selected, or switch to open the third door instead.

Because one door has a valuable prize behind it and the other a worthless one, there is an instinctive tendancy to assume that the chance of finding the valuable prize is 50:50 whichever door was opened. When the puzzle was first unveiled, thousands of people who ought to have known better insisted that this must be the case.

And if the host's decision was based on random chance, and Monty Hall just happened to open a door which had a booby prize behind it, this is quite correct.

But if the host KNEW which door had the real prize, and deliberately selected a door with a worthless prize based on that knowledge, switching to the third door doubles your chance of a correct answer, from one third to two-thirds.

This is because the contestant made the original selection from among three options, and therefore there was (and is) a one-third chance of the first door chosen being a correct one. When the host opens the second door and knowingly eliminates a wrong answer, that leaves the third door which must have the remaining probability of hiding the valuable prize - a two thirds chance.

Is your head spinning? Don't worry, you're in good company.

By chance I myself have recently been reading one of the two books which Rod Liddle recommends as a way to avoid confusing yourself by spotting non-existent patterns. It's called "The Tiger That Isn't: Seeing Through a World of Numbers" by Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot, and I can endorse his recommendation.

Monday, June 14, 2010

In praise of Cumbria's police force

I had intended to make yesterday's post "Time to move on" the last one in which I mentioned the shooting massacres.

However, I heard a number of moving stories today, and I think there is a point which, while I have made it before, cannot be made too strongly, bears repeating, and should be the last word on the subject.

On June second a large number of unarmed police officers, firemen, doctors, nurses, and other members of the emergency services knowingly put themselves in danger to do their jobs protecting the community or helping thne victims.

We should be very grateful for the quality of so many of our public servants.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Judging BP

There are two equal and opposite mistakes to make in respect of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

One would be to rush to a premature judgement that negligence or culpable failings by BP were the cause of the disaster before any proper investigation has taken place into whether this is actually the case. There is a case to answer that some journalists, politicians and campaign groups in the States appear to have fallen into this trap.

But an equal and opposite mistake, which some newspapers and politicians in this country have been urging on David Cameron, but which he has wisely resisted, would be to rush to the opposite conclusion that BP is innocent.

There needs to be a proper investigation, preferably when tempers have cooled, into how the leak happened, why, and whether more could have been done to stop it and take corrective measures. This is necessary both to learn from what happened and reduce the risk of it happening again, and to ensure that any blame which is due is allocated justly, not just pinned on whomsoever is the most convenient scapegoat.

It is not in the interests of either Britain or the United States of America for people on either side of the Atlantic to start taking up hardline positions antagonistic to the other without first stopping to make sure we have established the true facts.

Moving forward after the Copeland gun tragedies

For the past week and a half the tragic events of Wednesday 2nd June have dominated events here in Copeland.

All the West Cumbrian communities affected by the shootings are very tightly knit: everyone who did not personally know at least one of the victims of the massacre knows someone who did.

At times the constant presence of the world's TV cameras has verged on the oppressive: at other times there have been moments of black humour. (During Prince Charles' visit a royal protection officer and a couple of local officers called down the manager of a TV business who was sorting out a TV connection on the roof of West Cumberland Hospital: the long drillbit on the Bosch drill he was using looked from the ground like a rifle barrel).

And no, I'm not criticising anyone: they can't be too careful after what happened.

This tragedy will never be forgotten and nor will any of the victims. The very commuity spirit which will enable Whitehaven, Seascale, Egremont, Gosforth, Wilton and the rest of West Cumbria to pull through this means that the blow is more heavily felt.

But it is now time to move on, and for the world's press to give the people of Copeland space to mourn with dignity.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Prime Minister praises West Cumberland Hospital

I arrived home after the Minute's silence today just in time to catch the second part of Prime Minister's Questions.

Consequently I heard David Cameron's responses to a number of questions from Cumbrian MPs, and I also heard him give the strongest possible endorsement of West Cumberland Hospital.

David Cameron was fulsome in his praise for West Cumberland Hospital, which he visited on Friday, and for it's staff: he particularly praised the work of the hospital in caring for the victims of last week's shootings.

Copeland unites in respect

The Ceremonies throughout Copeland today as a mark of respect for the victims of last week's shooting tragedies were very strongly supported.

I attended the very moving ceremony at St Nicholas's gardens in Whitehaven: there were about 4,000 people there. I understand that the other six ceremonies held at the same time from Frizington to Millom were also very well supported by the local communities.

One of the best things about West Cumbria is an incredibly strong community spirit. This area will get through it's grief at last week's murders, as it has come through previous terrible events, though people supporting one another. That was very evident today.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Services of Commemoration tomorrow

There will be civic services of commemoration at mid-day tomorrow, Wednesday 9th June, as a gesture of respect for the victims of the Cumbria shootings and their families. These will be held at

Cleator Moor War Memorial
Egremont War Memorial
Frizington War Memorial
Gosforth Village car park
Millom War memorial
Seascale beach car park
St Nicholas Gardens in Whitehaven

Everyone is invited to take part. You are advised to arrive by about 11.30 for an 11.40 start. Each service will culminate with a minute's silence at noon.

Monday, June 07, 2010

DC: Tackling Britain's legacy of debt

David Cameron writes:

It's been a busy few weeks. I've been spending a lot of time with Ministers and officials, discussing the big challenges facing Britain and what we've got to do to sort them out.

What I've found is getting into government is a bit like buying a car - it's only when you've driven it for a while, and taken a proper look under the bonnet, that you get a proper idea of the condition it's in.

Nowhere is that more true than with our massive deficit and growing debt. For a while now, we've all known how bad things are. Last year, our budget deficit was the biggest in our peacetime history.
And within five years, our national debt is set to double to £1.4 trillion.

But what we didn't know for sure before is how much the interest on our debt is likely to rise in the years to come. We didn't know this because the last government refused to publish the information. Now we've got the figure, I can see why they tried to keep it secret. So what's the figure?

Well, if we carry on as we are, in five years time the interest we will pay on our debt could be around £70 billion - that's more than we currently spend on schools in England, plus climate change, plus transport.

Just think about that. We could be paying more on debt interest than educating our children, protecting our planet, and helping people get around Britain. That's astonishing - and gives us one of the most obvious reasons why we so urgently need to tackle our debts. It's not just that the more we wait, the greater the risk to our economic recovery. It's also the more we wait, the more we waste on paying off the interest on this debt and the less we get to spend on the things we want, like schools and hospitals.

So what do we have to do? We need to cut spending and we need to get on with it straight away. Of course, this will be tough. But as I said in my speech today, the cuts that are coming are Labour's cuts. It's their legacy to Britain. There will be a price to pay for their spending, borrowing and empire-building. All those quangos, all that bureaucracy, all that waste. But we've had to sort out Labour's mess before. We will roll our sleeves up and sort it out again.

But just as we're clear about what we must do, we're also clear about how we must do it. As we've said all along, we will carry out these cuts in a way that protects the poorest and most vulnerable; that strengthens and unites the country; that demonstrates that we're all in this together.

That's what I'm about. That's what this party's about. And if we do this - I know Britain will emerge from this country stronger, better and richer.


Sunday, June 06, 2010

Standing room only as victims are remembered

Today's services to commemorate the victims of Wednesday's shootings were extremely well supported.

I would not like to give a precise estimate of how many people were there this evening at St Nicholas's square, but despite the rain it was definately well into the thousands, and was standing room only all in the gardens and all around.

It was a very moving ceremony.

Services of Commemoration

There are a number of services of commemoration today (Sunday 6th June) in various parts of Copeland to remember and commemorate the victims of Wednesday's shootings.

These include an open air commemoration at the beach near the car park in Seascale at 2.30 pm and another at St Nicholas's Gardens in Whitehaven at 6pm this evening.

Giving the community space to mourn with dignity

Of course one can understand why, like everyone else, the media have been asking of Derrick Bird, "Why would he do this?"

Of course, the tragic events of Wednesday have to be reported.

And of course, after any such terrible sequence of events it is good practice first to establish the facts, and then when the dust has settled to review how emerency arrangements worked, both so that anyone who performed exceptionally well can receive due credit and so that any lessons can be learned to deal with emergencies in future.

We should not be surprised however, if that inquiry concludes that nothing significantly different could have been done. As the PM said, you cannot legislate for a switch going inside someone's head.

The events of last Wednesday here in West Cumbria have been reported to the nth degree. Some of those reports have been sensitive and constructive, one or two have not. Either way, four days on we are reaching the point where the world's press should draw back and give the communities in Copeland affected by this awful tragedy some space and privacy to mourn with dignity.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Service of Commemoration tomorrow

There will be a special service in the St Nicholas's gardens, Whitehaven, tomorrow (Sunday 6th June) to pay respects to those who were hurt in Wednesday's shooting incidents.

The service will start at 6pm.

Matthew Parris on the Labour Leadership election

Matthew Parris has an interesting take on the Labour Leadership election which he summarises in the words "My choice for Labour leader? None of the above."

You can read it here.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Minute's silence on Wednesday 12th June

There will be civic services of commemoration from 11.45 to 12 noon at the venues below on Wednesday 9th June, a week after the shooting massacre, as a gesture of respect for the victims and their families. These will be held at

Cleator Moor War Memorial
Egremont War Memorial
Frizington War Memorial
Gosforth Village car park
Millom War memorial
Seascale beach car park
St Nicholas Gardens in Whitehaven

Everyone is invited to take part. Each service will culminate with a minute's silence at noon.

Advice and information in connection with the shooting tragedy can be found on the Copeland Borough Council website here.

Cameron visits Copeland

Prime minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May visited West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven today to meet victims of the shootings on Wednesday. They then called at Workington police station to meet some of the police and emnergency services officers involved in the tragic events earlier this week.

DC called it an "appalling tragedy" as more details emerged of the rampage. Cameron also hailed the "incredible" bravery of local people and emergency service workers caught up in the killing spree by taxi driver Derrick Bird,

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The morning after

It is still difficult to come to terms with yesterday's terrible events.

This morning on my way to work I passed the Morrison's car park where one of the shooting incidents took place and the scene looked completely normal. A few minutes later I crossed Duke Street, just around the corner from my office and a hundred yards or so from the first public shooting, and the only sign of anything unusual was the flowers at the taxi rank. The lady at the shop where I bought a paper and some milk had heard the shots but assumed it was a car crash.

Copeland is a very low crime area and it will take people some times to come to terms with what has happened. But it is all too real for those who were injured and the families of those who died.

We continue to remember them in our prayers.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Copeland gun massacre

Words cannot adequately describe the horror of today's events in which Rowrah taxi driver Derrick Bird went on a rampage around Copeland.

In the first public incident in Duke Street, Whitehaven, which is literally just around the corner from my office in Whitehaven Telephone exchange, Bird shot several fellow taxi drivers at the taxi rank. He then jumped into his car and headed south, leaving a trail of dead and injured victims at thirty locations including Egremont, Gosforth, and Seascale before finally turning one of his two guns on himself at Boot in the Eskdale valley. At the time of writing it is believed that twelve innocent people have been shot dead and twenty-five injured.

(Postscript: the above figure for the number of deaths is correct - the gunman shot dead twelve other people and then himself - but the number of people who were shot but survived was eventually confirmed as eleven.)

Whitehaven, Egremont, Seascale, and Gosforth are all very tightly knit communities where it is only a slight exaggeration to say that everyone knows everyone else. I don't think the shock has fully sunk in yet, but the mourning is already starting.

Already people are starting to say, first the floods hit Central and West Cumbria, then last week there was the tragic Keswick School coach crash in which three people including two kids from West Cumbria died, and now this!

The Emergency services did a magnificent job, and I am sure that the very strong community will rise to the challenge of dealing with this, as it has risen to so many other challenges, but I hope the national and international press will treat the communities of Copeland and particularly the families of the victims with dignity.

In the meantime our thoughts and prayers are with all the victims and particularly with the families of those who died. And as I've had cause to write things like that entirely too often in the recent past, I am also praying that I have no further need to do so for a good long while.

Shooting Incident in Whitehaven

12.00 noon radio cumbria news
There has been a shooting incident in Whitehaven. Apparently at 10.30am in Duke Street a man fired shots and several people were injured - unfortunately one person has been confirmed dead (bbc news site). A man has left town heading south down the coast and the police have advised everyone from Whitehaven to Ravenglass to stay indoors.

2.00 pm The police are now advising people in Whitehaven down to Millom and west to the Eskdale valley to stay indoors. It is believed that there are now 4 people who have died.

2.04 pm The police have advised that they believe that they have found the body of Derrick Bird in a wooded area in Boot. However the advice is still to stay indoors.

2.50 pm The police are saying that those who were sheltering can now go about their day to day business.