Showing posts from 2006

Book Review: The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson

For my last post of 2006: I was given as a Christmas present the book The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson by Ron Ranson and appreciated it so much that I would write a quick review of this wonderful collection of the works of a master. As it says on the back cover, "Montague Dawson is considered by many to be the supreme maritime artist of the twentieth century." Well, I don't claim to be a great expert on art but I share that opinion. This paperback version, published in 2004, updates a hardcover edition first released in 1993. It contains an introduction which describes Dawson's life, work and painting style, and then a collection of his paintings and sketches, including 57 colour reproductions, 21 monochrone ones and photographs, and 14 sketches. Most of these have some explanatory text attached describing the ships in the pictures, the historical scenes portrayed, or how Dawson came to paint them. Several of the photographs show the artist

The real millennium?

Today Christians all over the world, and millions who are not christian but welcome the excuse for a celebration, remember the birth of Jesus. Seven years ago we also celebrated the 2,000th anniversary of that birth: however, there is some doubt over which year Jesus was actually born. Anyone with no interest in either religion or historial detective stories should probably skip this post, and let me just wish you a Happy Christmas. But I find it an interesting intellectual exercise to look through the evidence and try to work out when Jesus was actually born. It's extremely probable that the actual date was between 8 B.C. and 6 A.D. - in other words this year is the last of the likely dates for the real second millennium. It could be this Christmas which is the actual 2000th anniversary. Prior to the reforms introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582, when he corrected the errors in the calendar brought in by Julius Caesar, the idea of a universal system of dating barely existed. Most peo

Only Tony's Cronies need apply for English Heritage job

Tessa Jowell was at the centre of a bitter new row over Labour "cronyism" last night after she vetoed both the recommended candidates, selected by an independent panel, for the post of chairman of English Heritage. The apparent reason was their political leanings. One, Lord Marland, is the Conservative party Treasurer, the other, Lady Cobham, the partner of the former Conservative Cabinet minister David Mellor. The post will now be readvertised at further cost to us, the taxpayers. The move follows controversy over the appointment of Labour supporters to the Big Lottery Fund, which distributes £2.3 billion of lottery money. Last night Lord Marland, who had been told he was the favourite, accused Miss Jowell of rejecting him because he was not a member of the Labour Party. "To have been independently deemed the preferred candidate and then rejected by the Culture Secretary, shows the Labour Party is only interested in appointing one of its own," he said. According to

Christmas 2006 Duty Chemist rota for Whitehaven

A few items of holiday information for Whitehaven and Copeland which I hope readers of this blog from that area may find useful. First, here is the Duty Chemist rota for the Whitehaven and North Copeland area: Christmas Eve: Normal Sunday hours. Pharmacies at Morrisons, Tescos and Boots, and most of those other chemists which would normally open on a Sunday, will all be open. Christmas Day: Emergency rota, 6pm to 7pm: Alliance Pharmacy, 67-68 Main Street, Egremont. Boxing Day: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm Morrisons Pharmacy, Whitehaven Wednesday 27th to Saturday 30th December – Normal hours New Year’s Eve: Normal Sunday hours. Pharmacies at Morrisons, Tescos and Boots, and most of those other chemists which would normally open on a Sunday, will all be open. 1st January 2007: Emergency Rota, 6pm to 7pm W Fare Ltd, 11 Market Place, Whitehaven. In an emergency phone your GP out of hours service or the A&E department at WCH. Urgent prescriptions should be endorsed “Urgent”

Save our post offices

Hospitals under threat: schools facing rationalisation: now the latest vital service under threat is post offices. The Labour Trade and Industry secretary, Alistair Darling, has announced that 2,500 post offices are likely to close because the network loses £4 million a week. People running post offices in Cumbria say they are preparing for the worst. If there are large scale closures of post offices, especially in rural areas, it will be bad news for the elderly and those without cars. It will also be deeply damaging for many villages - as one Cumbrian postmaster said that if the services which local post offices like his are withdrawn it would be a "crushing blow" to the village. One reason for the persistent threat to post offices is that many of us can and do access so many more services through the internet and telephone. But this is not available to everyone. Hence there is a real social need for the post office service.

Public Meeting re Pica Wind Farm proposals

A public meeting is to be held on 8th January to discuss revised proposals to build five windmills at Pica. It will take place at Distington Community Centre on January 8 at 7pm. There have been a number of previous applications to build wind turbines at the Fairfield Farm site over the past 10 years and they have always been extremely controversial. The present set of plans was submitted on 29th September by the company Wind Prospect, which is based in Bristol. Their previous application, for six turbines, was withdrawn last year.

Next Digital TV public meeting will be early 2007

I'm grateful to John Askew of Digital UK for responding to me with some more information about the switchover to Digital TV. Amongst other things he advises that the date of the next public meeting about the Whitehaven TV area switchover will be early next year. This can be read as a comment on an earlier post but I thought the message from John Askew important enough to put up as a post in it's own right so here is what John had to say: "Thanks Chris, for a useful report on the switchover to digital tv. Two small points: Firstly, viewers who receive signals directly from the Caldbeck main transmitter (and not via a relay) can switch to digital tv through the aerial (Freeview)now if they wish as Caldbeck already carries digital signals. The Bleach Green (Parton) and St Bees relay transmitters cannot be switched over early as they rely directly on the Caldbeck transmitter which is being replaced as part of the programme. They will be switched over to digital when the new Ca

How Journalists steal confidential information

In these days of over-mighty government, we need a strong free press which can hold parliament, whitehall, big companies, and councils to account. What we do not need is to add intrusive snooping into people's private lives by journalists to what we already have from the state. If an MP or government minister is shutting my local hospital, wasting money which comes from my taxes, giving contracts preferentially to companies which give money to Labour party funds, or otherwise misusing his position, I want to know about it. But his private life is another matter entirely - if he's cheating on his wife that is her business, but not mine. I'm most grateful to Iain Dale's diary for drawing my attention to a story which should have been in the national newspapers but has not. With the honorable exception of the Daily Telegraph website they appear to have ignored it. Perhaps, since one or two national papers come very badly out of the report, this was too close to home. Earli

Jedi Jamie apologises for his speech

Jamie Reed has apologised for his speech at the "Save Our Services" march on Saturday, but only for taking too long (seventeen minutes, apparently.) However, if he imagines that the length of his speech was the main reason it went down badly, he is still not on the right page. Almost all the letters about the Save our Services march in today's Whitehaven News expressed criticism or disagreement with our MP's speech, as did the Leader column, and the opinion piece from former local health manager Brian Early. (My letter was probably the mildest). None of the letter writers made particular reference to the length of the speech. Examples of the comments were "It is sad that the local MP is still at the "puppy walking" stage of his career and that he had to deliver an approved Labour party diatribe ... " "It is great that our local newspaper is in touch with the community on major issues such as this and just a shame that the local MP is not.&quo

Blair questioned by police

Tony Blair has been interviewed for two hours by police investigating the so-called "Cash for Peerages" scandal. He was not cautioned and did not have a lawyer present. However, this is believed to be the first time that a serving Prime Minster has been interviewed by the police as part of an inquiry into suspected criminal activity.

"Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services" blog set up

From now on I will be running two blogs: this one with the simple title of "Chris Whiteside's Blog" and a second with the title "Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services" I am setting up a separate blog on health issues for two reasons. First, with the threat to hospital services in West Cumbria posed by the "Whole Systems Review" which the local NHS trusts in North and West Cumbria are conducting, support for our hospital services is such a critical issue that it deserves special attention. Second, the health issue is far more important than party politics and it is one where the whole community must stand together. The "Support West Cumbria's Hospital Services" blog will concentrate entirely on campaigning to defend our services in a non-partisan manner, and I will seek to keep party-political comments to an absolute minimum on that site. However, for democracy to work there has to be debate, and there are some instances when polit

Are "Friends of the "Earth" starting to wise up ?

Due to a clash of dates yesterday I was unable to attend a conference for Conservative candidates - I thought it was even more important to attend the "Save Our Services" march to defend local hospitals in West Cumbria. However, I am intrigued to learn from the "Conservative Home" website that Friends of the Earth may at long last be softening their opposition to Nuclear Power. According to the Conservative Home report on the conference, "Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth admitted that nuclear power was an option even if it wasn't FotE's favoured option." This comes a few months after the FoE demonstration at the Drax coal fires power station which is of course Britain's largest emitter of carbon into the atmosphere. It is beginning to look like the debate on this complex subject is going to become more grown-up and less simplistic, which has to be welcome.

5000 people march to defend West Cumbria's hospitals

The "Save Our Services" march was a massive success: it was initially estimated by the police that about 4,000 people attended to support local hospitals. That was the figure was quoted in the rally at the end, and it seems to be the number which has gone into community memory as the attendance. However, the police subsequently revised their estimate upward to about 5,000. The march had support throughout the community from Conservative and Labour politicians to Help the Aged, from Trade Unions in the NHS and at Sellafield to the Rugby Club, the motorcycle club, and everyone you could imagine. People also came from throughout West Cumbria: I recognised people at the march from St Bees to Lamplugh and from Whitehaven through Egremont, Seascale and down to Millom, and I know there were representatives present from local communities in just about every other part of West Cumbria. All of them came to send the Strategic Health Authority and Patricia Hewitt the message that we want

Save our hospital march today - 10.00

Assembly point Castle Park at 9.45 this morning.

Save Our Services - three days to go

The "Save Our Services" march to defend local hospitals in West Cumbria is in three day's time in Whitehaven. Assemble at Castle Park by 9.45 am to move off at 10 O'clock on Saturday 9th December. I hope this march will get the strongest possible support. Tony Blair made a speech yesterday suggesting that the country needs fewer, bigger hospitals as centres of excellence to save lives. In cities and other densely populated areas this argument may not be as daft as it sounds (though it is certainly going down like a lead balloon in Central Hertfordshire where I am serving out my last few months as a councillor.) However, in rural areas like Cumbria where the towns and villages are a long way apart and have mountains and poor roads and public transport between them, this will cause more people to die because of the long journeys to and between hospitals. We need to send the strongest possible message to the Strategic Health Authority and the department of health that th

Save Our Services march - One week to go !

The "Save Our Services" march to support local hospital services in West Cumbria takes place one week from today (on Saturday 9th December). Anyone wishing to show their support for services at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, for Millom Community Hospital, for Keswick Hospital and for other services in West Cumbria should assemble at Castle Park in Whitehaven at 9.45 on Saturday. The march moves off at 10.00 am. The march was called by the Whitehaven News newspaper but also has support from both the local Conservative and Labour parties, from the health service unions, and from people right across the community. We need to send a message to the Strategic Health Authority that the entire community in West Cumbria, is united to demand our fare share of the enormous amounts of money which is going into the National Health Service. An area like this one, where there are substantial distances over bad roads between communities, and which contains important national fac

Digital TV - what's happening to the next public meeting ?

The so called "Whitehaven" TV area - which actually covers most of Copeland - is the first part of the UK to switch to Digital TV. Switchover for this area, which will include turning off the existing Analogue signal, has been brought forward to October 2007. From that date, anyone who gets their TV signal from the Bigrigg arial, or the Gosforth and Eskdale "Self Help" transmitters which repeat the Bigrigg signal, will need a set-top box for each pre-digital TV they wish to use. These cost about £25. Anyone who wants to record one channel while watching another would be well advised to buy a digital recorder. Anyone reading this in the rest of the UK: the same issues which are imminent in Copeland now will still affect you within the next few years when the change reaches your area. Some parts of Copeland around Parton and St Bees are covered by their own transmitters which will not switchover until 2008. Official publicity so far has given the impression that the

Labour Headline competition - the results

A few weeks ago there was a newspaper headline, "Iraq war could be judged a disaster, Beckett admits." I challenged anyone who wanted to take part in a little competition to submit similar headlines consisting of a statement of the blindingly obvious with an appropriate Labour minister or former minister admitting that things could be seen that way. I promised a prize for the funniest suggested headline sent to me by the deadline, which was extended to 30th November. Surpisingly nobody sent me the same headline with "Blair" instead of Beckett - perhaps after appearing to admit that Iraq had been a disaster in his interview with Sir David Frost, Blair then described it as a slip of the tongue. Anyway, here is a combined list of the entries I received and of the suggested examples ... "Taxing pension funds by an extra £5 billion a year could be judged to have left them with less money, Brown admits." "Claiming that your communications officer has resign

The Dawkins Delusion

Professor Richard Dawkins is brilliant at explaining biology in a way which many people can understand. However, his objection to religion sometimes verges on the unhinged. Ironically, both his recent book, "The God Delusion" and his plans, if correctly reported in the press, to send rationalist material to schools, are open to exactly the same charge which he has brought with some justice against the supporters of so-called "Creation Science" and those who want "Intelligent Design" taught in schools. From now on, I shall use the expression "The Dawkins Delusion" to refer to the fallacy that science can either prove or indeed disprove the existence of God. Science is a means of testing how the physical world works. It is a very effective method, and nobody who is interested in the truth has anything to fear from it. The scientific method consists of putting forward a hypothesis which is capable of being tested and disproved by real world evidence

Comments policy restated

Anyone with a presence on the internet which allows comments or response eventually has problems with SPAM, or with silly or offensive posts. The vast majority of posts on this blog have been interesting and welcome. That includes posts expressing views which differ from mine. I am grateful to anyone who posts interesting opinions on this site, whether right-wing or left wing and regardless of whether I agree with them, provided they are reasonably polite. I would prefer that you use your real name but anonymous posts will not be deleted as long as they are polite and constructive. However, I have had a small number of comments posted on this blog from people who have nothing better to do with their time than to put up anonymous insults. I do have better things to do with my time than read rude remarks from people who have nothing constructive to say and don't have the guts to sign their own name. This blog is here to publish and promote debate on views which I consider useful and

West Cumberland Hospital: the penny drops

On today's TV politics show, the Labour MP for Copeland and the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Borders were interviewed together talking about the threat to local hospitals and the need for the entire community to unite to defend them. Credit where credit is due: it was a very good interview. David MacLean MP and Jamie Reed MP agreed with almost everything each other said, particularly about the point that Labour and Conservative MPs were working together to draw to the attention of the Strategic Health Authority that their policies do not meet the needs of Cumbria. I've made the positive point first: but I also noted with wry amusement that Jamie Reed has finally dropped the absurd position which he took at the last election. A few days before polling day, as the Labour candidate for Copeland, he said clearly and explicitly that there was no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland hospital. Today, by contrast, when asked if he could guarantee the future of the local hospital

Support grows for hospitals march on 9th December

Support is building for the "Save Our Services" march in support of hospitals in West Cumbria on 9th December. Meet at Castle Park in Whitehaven at 9.45 am to move off for 10 am sharp. The march has already attracted the support of local political leaders from both the Conservative and Labour parties and of many people associated with the local NHS. The local Rugby club will interrupt their training to come and support the march. If you care about local hospitals in West Cumbria, please make sure that this date is in your diary and try to be there to support West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital.

Younger drivers and road safety

Two things which happened in the last 48 hours have me thinking hard about road safety in general and younger drivers in particular. The Chief Constable of Cumbria was reported in yesterday’s local papers as calling for restrictions on younger drivers, who are involved in a significant proportion of fatal accidents. To underline the point, an elderly man is hospital with serious head injuries after being knocked down by a car on Monday night at the entrance to the road in Whitehaven where I live. Three men, all aged between 18 and 19, were later arrested in connection with the accident. Almost every week I read in the local papers of another fatal accident on Cumbria’s roads, often on roads that I use almost every day, such as the A595. At one point earlier this year, there were two accidents only a couple of weeks apart, which claimed three lives, both on the A595 less than a mile from my home. Of course, every time I read of yet another death on the A595 it rekindles my fury at the i

Help for Fayrepack victims

The collapse of Fayrepack threatens to adversely affect this year's Christmas for many families in Cumbria. But as is so often the case, a problem within a community brings out much of the best in it's people, in both imagination and concern, as people look for a solution. Whitehaven Credit Union, which is a non-profit community savings and lending organisation, has been advertising a savings scheme targetted to to help Fayrepack victims and ensure that their Christmas celebrations are not entirely ruined. And a group of Cumbrian ladies have emulated the W.I. "Calendar girls" by bringing out a calendar to help the Fayrepack victims - on sale now for £5, all of which goes to help the victims as they were printed free of charge by Print Express of Whitehaven. All the local MPs have backed calls from Cumbrian MP David McLean for a criminal investigation into the collapse. While I think this is right, I wonder if the Labour MPs who backed this call have thought through th

An interesting co-incidence

The people who plan the timing of the Prime Minister's diary were presumably unaware that this week Copeland had the annual contest to find the "World's Biggest Liar." Otherwise I doubt if they would have scheduled Tony Blair's visit to Copeland for the following day. This naturally reminded me that it had been suggested last year at Copeland Borough Council - and by a councillor who had originally been elected on the Labour ticket - that the council should officially invite the PM to come to Copeland to take part in the competition. Almost immediately after his visit to West Cumbria, Mr Blair flew to Pakistan, where he told the truth but apparently didn't intend to. In a TV interview today, responding to a suggestion from David Frost that the situation in Iraq is seen by many people as something of a disaster, Tony Blair began his reply with the words "It is." Needless to say, Downing Street insists that this was a slip of the tongue.

Hospital supported at Children in Need meeting

In support of Children in Need today there was a "Cash for Questions" session at St Nicholas's church in Whitehaven. Panellists included the local MP, the leader of Copeland Council, the Rev John Bannister, and various press and business speakers. Anyone who gave some money to Children in Need could ask a question. So I went along and asked how we as members of the community can best support our local hospitals. There were very good answers given on all sides for the need for the whole community to work together accross party political and other lines to defend our hospital services. These include the need to get a good attendance at the "Save our Services" march on 9th December, and for everyone to lobby the Strategic Health Authority and ministers. As was pointed out, the head of the NDA has spoken out about the serious concern for the nuclear industry if there were not a good range of hospital services much nearer to Sellafield than Carlisle or Barrow - we ne

Milton Friedman R.I.P.

Milton Friedman, who died this week, appears to be being remembered as a populariser of free-market ideas, which he was, but he was also one of the four most brilliant economists of the 20th century. It always seemed to me that there were almost two Milton Friedmans - the brilliant academic, who was objective, balanced, nonpartisan, and immensely insightful, and the doughty champion of free markets, who presented a far more simplistic picture and came out with some memorable word pictures. Of course, many of the things which people think they know about Friedman were myths assiduously spread by people opposed to the political message he spread. The classic example was the suggestion that that he supported the Pinochet regime in Chile. I can still remember, pretty much word for word, a Bernard Levin opinion piece from The Times of 30 years ago on the subject: "Professor Milton Friedman (Boo) has been writing to The Daily Telegraph (Boo) about Chile (Boo). The poor devil has been tr

The Death of Common Sense

Earlier this week I was returning to Copeland on the train having been working in London. Unfortunately the West Coast Main Line trains were disrupted by a suicide on the line near Lancaster, causing both myself and a number of other people to miss their final connections home. The railway organised hire cars or taxis for the people who were stranded through no fault of their own due to missed connections. The driver who took me back to Whitehaven was polite, efficient, and in terms of the rules as they exist today, helpful. Nothing that I am about to write is meant as a criticism of him. However, I do think that the way people are expected to operate today is sometimes a great deal less sensible than the way the world used to work ten or twenty years ago. As the delay to the West Coast main line had caused me to miss the last train from Carlisle to Whitehaven, a car was booked to take me to Whitehaven station. This is a journey of about 40 miles, which means that the driver's roun

They shall grow not old

There are some words which seem to mean more to me every time I hear them. One example which seems more powerful every year is the exhortation which precedes the two minute silence on Rememberance Sunday and the Kohima epitaph which follows the silence. Almost everyone who reads this will know these verses but I make no apologies for repeating them. By comparison with these timeless words anything else I could write here today would seem too trivial. "They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them." And after the silence another veteran often a representative from the Burma Star Association reads the words from the Kohima memorial to the fallen of the Burma campaign:- "When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today."

In Flanders Fields ....

Today is the anniversary of the armistice which ended the First World War. For many years this was commemorated as Armistice Day, with a minute's silence at 11 am, which was the moment the guns fell silent on 11th November 1918. Then the commemoration was switched to Remembrance Sunday, which is the nearest sunday to the 11th of November. In recent years it has become common to mark both dates. There has been a certain amount of argument over the past few days about the wearing of poppies. Newsreader Jon Snow has complained in unfortunately robust languange about being put under pressure to wear a poppy while on air: a religious think tank has suggested that Christians should wear a white poppy rather than a red one. No matter how strongly I may disagree with people on this subject, and no matter how tempting it is to come up with clever or sharp rejoinders, harsh language about Remembrance Sunday is never appropriate. Whatever else they may or may not have achieved, the remembranc

Jedi Jamie gets it wrong again

The M.P. for Copeland has been slapped down in the House of Commons again for getting parliamentary procedures wrong. When the government's energy review came out, Jamie Reed M.P. was interrupted by the Deputy speaker when he tried to continue after asking a point scoring question about David Cameron. The Deputy Speaker explained that he had the opportunity to ask one question: by asking a trivial point-scoring question about David Cameron he lost the opportunity to ask the serious question about the nuclear industry which he had apparently intended to put. This week Jedi Jamie asked a question about the government's white paper on "Communities" and the structure of local government. He was concerned about the idea of a single local authority for Cumbria - it appears that his issue was how this would affect the nuclear industry. A good question which deserved to be raised in a more effective manner. It was not to be, however, for this time Speaker Martin himself told

Save our hospitals - March on 9th December

It is confirmed that there will be a "Save our services" march in support of West Cumbria hospitals on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven. I hope as many people as possible will support the march. Assemble at Castle Park at 9.45 am ready to move off by 10 am. The march is already receiving support from right accross the community. Obviously a lot of the focus is on the West Cumberland Hospital but we should remember that all the Community hospitals in Cumbria including Millom Community Hospital and Keswick Hospital are also under threat. The welcome confirmation that this march is up and running comes at the same time as the less welcome, but hardly surprising, news that the government has included both the newly formed Cumbria Primary Care Trust (PCT) and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS trust on a list of health trusts with the worst financial problems. When I was a health authority member in Hertfordshire before moving to West Cumbria, 50,000 people signed a petition,

On Vandals, wreckers and ASBOs

The main concern on my mind at the moment is for the future of our hospitals. However, because of recent events at both ends of the country and the public debate about ASBOS, the issue of crime and disorder has run it a close second. I put down an entry a few days ago about the firework party which a household in Foxhouses Road decided to hold in the early hours of November 5th (between about 2.45 am and 3.00 am.) While this showed an unfortunate lack of concern for the residents of a large part of Whitehaven, it turns out that this was by no means the most inconsiderate thing to happen in the town in the early hours of that morning. Between 1am and 3am the keyholders were called out after at least eight shops had doors, windows or both smashed by vandals. On Monday they were still clearing up the damage, while 300 miles away the school where I was an LEA governor for many years was re-opening after being closed for several days due to an arson attack. We live in one of the richest cou

Save our Hospital - Trust's position clarified

Since their original statement, which indicated that they were still committed to a new hospital in Whitehaven without using the words "acute" or "District General" the Primary Care Trust and the North Cumbria Acute Services NHS Trust has made clear that they still want to provide an Acute hospital in West Cumbria. In so far as it goes, this is very welcome. However, I remain very concerned for the future of all our local hospitals, including the West Cumberland, Millom, and Keswick. The trust have not made clear what services the new acute hospital will provide. There is a strong hint that it will include A&E. My concern is that you cannot provide A&E services without a critical mass of other services and infrastructure. We need a much clearer idea of how this will be provided and how the steady trickle of services away from the West of Cumbria will be stopped.

Labour headline competition extended

Thanks to those who have sent in entries for "The New Labour Headline competition. I'm offering a small prize for the funniest headline consisting of an admission of the blindingly obvious from an appropriate Labour minister. Doesn't absolutely have to be made up - one of the best entries so far was a real one from 2004 "Iraq may not have weapons of mass destruction, admits Blair." Deadline for entries is now extended to the end of November

Some real fireworks

From time to time I have been lobbied as a councillor by people who believe that stricter controls on Fireworks are needed - e.g. more local by laws banning people from setting them off or restricting their use. I do think it is a good thing that safety controls on Fireworks are much more rigorous than they used to be. The health and safety mafia do not get everything right, but fireworks were originally designed as weapons and it does make sense to be very careful when using explosives for entertainment. However, I have been and remain reluctant to go down the road of draconian restrictions on when people can let off fireworks. If people on both sides are willing to exercise a certain amount of consideration and common sense it ought to be possible for those who want to put on a firework display to enjoy their fun while allowing everyone else a reasonable opportunity to enjoy peace and quiet. Unfortunately that kind of consideration was singularly lacking in the early hours of this mo

Conservative Future Nuclear Debate

I attended an excellent debate this evening on the proposition "this country needs nuclear energy". The debate was organised for Conservative members and supporters by Conservative Future (the organisation which replaced the Young Conservatives and Conservative Students) and took place at the House of Commons. There were good speeches on both sides. I was expecting the pro-nuclear side to win, but had expected the result to be closer than it was. In fact the motion was carried unanimously.

Rail Freight Terminal Application - Live Webcast Tonight

The planning application for a huge rail depot in the south of St Albans district comes to the planning committee tonight. The meeting is being webcast from 7 pm on the St Albans council website, see link on right. POSTSCRIPT The meeting took three hours not to make a decision. The massive report to the meeting listed a large number of possible reasons for refusal. However, the Highways Agency had directed St Albans council not to give permission for the development yet as they were still looking at the impact of the proposal on local motorways. It would have been possible to refuse permission at the meeting, but the council's officers recommended that it would be better to wait for a final response from the Highways Agency to see if they proposed an additional reason for refusal. The officers recommended that the council should state that it is minded to refuse the application on the grounds they have identified but will take a final decision when the Highways Agency reports in t

Save our hospital - watch the PFI Costs

Part of the financial burden which may be contributing to the threat to the West Cumberland Hospital is the cost of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) scheme at Carlisle. The new hospital in Carlisle actually cost £67 million to build but over the next 30 years the NHS will have to pay £600 million in interest and running costs. This information comes from the government answers to parliamentary questions tabled by the shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley MP. I must stress that I am not against the principle of using private finance to help fund public projects. Both this government and the last one have done it. But whoever is in power must try to make sure that the taxpayer gets good value for money. We need an audit of PFI schemes to see whether they are providing facilities in the most cost-effective way. An essential part of the campaign to defend hospital services at the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, Keswick Hospital, and all the other threatened hosp

When vandals strike ...

Yesterday and today, special arrangements have had to be made at Garden Fields school, where I was an LEA governor for 16 years and am still an associate governor, to get the children into the school after vandals burnt down a shed on the school site, creating a hazard. For the rest of this week, both Garden Fields and the adjacent St Albans Music School will have to be closed while the damage is cleared - resulting in the cancellation of a special event at the music school for which a lot of work had been done. So the firebugs, whoever they are, have ruined the week for several hundred children. It is absolutely infuriating. The police will never be able to have enough people to solve every crime but we do need to take some of the burden of administration and regulation away so they can spend less time on trivial issues and paperwork and more on solving crimes that matter. And we must make sure that sentences are sharp enough to provide an effective deterrent.

Save Our Hospital - March on 9th December

There will be a march in support of the West Cumberland on Saturday 9th December in Whitehaven. Further details in the Whitehaven News. Please put this date in your diary it is very important that we campaign hard to keep our hospital services.

Save our hospital - where the money is going

It is extremly strange that when such vast amounts of money are being extracted from taxpayers, and a large proportion of it earmarked for the NHS, that hospitals such as the West Cumberland Hospital, Millom Community Hospital, and Keswick Hospital are under threat because of lack of funding. One part of the explanation is the bureaucracy required to operate Labour's 400 NHS targets. Most of the people taken on by the NHS since Labour came to power were administrative staff rather than doctors or nurses, and the NHS now has more estates and administrative people than beds. But another problem is the ghastly failure to manage PFI contracts properly. Let me be clear on what I am and am not saying. Both Labour and Conservative governments have sought to obtain private money for the NHS and there is nothing wrong with the principle of this. However, it must be managed, whoever is in government, in a way which is good value for the taxpayer. And that is not happening. Replies by the gov

Save our Hospital continued

The future of West Cumberland Hospital is still the subject of a great deal of controversy. It does appear that the report by the management consultants Gibson, Freake and Edge, who suggest that retaining two Acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable" has not yet become the policy of the NHS trusts. However, if we sit back and do nothing, there is every chance that it could. It has not escaped campaigners for the Community Hospitals in Cumbria, such as those in Millom and Keswick, that they are also still in jeopardy. There are a number of reasons for this: one of the main ones is Gordon Brown's budget controls. Another is that too much of the money given to the NHS is going on administration - most of the jobs taken on in the NHS in the past nine years have been administrative rather than medical staff. The NHS has more estates and admin staff than beds and is taking on managers even while it is making nurses redundant. If we scrapped most of Labour's 400 NHS

When clever people do stupid things - reprise

Prior to the recent post on devolution which touched off an absolute flurry of comment, the highest level of response I had to a post on this blog was to an item called "When clever people do stupid things" which pointed out that mistakes by clever people can do a lot more damage then less eminent individuals are ever given a chance to do. This week the case which inspired that article was in the news again, and demonstrated the way that we are far too ready to tolerate an inability to understand numbers where we would never find acceptable equivalent consequences caused by, say, the inability to read. My original article was inspired by Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who was one of the most eminent paediatricians in the country, but whose knowledge of statistics, and particularly of conditional probability, was so poor that it would have been disappointing in a V former reading Stats O level and grounds for disciplinary action in a VI former studying the statistics part of Maths

Save our hospital - now the acute trust comments

It is increasingly clear that there is indeed a serious threat to local hospital services in West Cumbria and we need to start campaigning NOW if we want to keep the service we need. Two further developments in respect of the future of hospital services in West Cumbria. The Chief Executive of the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority Dr Ian Roxburgh, has spoken in the strongest possible terms about the need to retain an acute hospital in West Cumbria. As he rightly points out, it would be totally unacceptable if the nearest acute hospital to the Sellafield site were in Carlisle. In his words the need for the hospital is "absolutely fundamental" and he added that he has arranged for a presentation from the trust to the NDA board. Meanwhile the Acute Services NHS trust and PCT still maintain that they will "provide a new hospital in West Cumbria." Marie Burnham, chief executive of the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, made the following joint statement with Alan Hor

Save Our Hospital - continued

As explained yesterday the Whitehaven News has a front page story about a management consultant's report for the "Whole Service Review" by the PCT which appears to suggest three options for the future of West Cumberland Hospital. The report apparently describes the status quo option as "unaffordable" and puts forward two other options either of which mean that we would lose an acute hospital in North Cumbria, presumably the West Cumberland. No explanation yet of how this squares with the parliamentary answer by the junior health minister, Rosie Winterton, that the "Whole service review" will develop proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven. It will be interesting to see what answer the trusts come up with next week. In the meantime anyone who cares about the local health service in Copeland needs to watch this situation like a hawk.

Local Government - here we go again

About six months ago, the government was dropping strong hints that they were about to propose the creation of Unitary authorities replacing the County and District level of government with a single tier of government, and that the May 2007 council elections would be cancelled, with elections to new unitary authorities in 2008 instead. They then got cold feet, and the window for legislation to carry out such a change on that timescale passed with no announcement. Now Ruth Kelly has come forward for consultation with further ideas to reorganise local government, which include the option that authorities which want to make a case for Single Tier councils can do so. There are some major advantages for single tier councils if it is done properly, and when the last Conservative government gave councils a similar opportunity I was in favour of replacing both counties and districts with single tier authorities which would be significantly larger than most existing districts but significantly

Save our Hospitals - the plot thickens

The following parliamentary question was asked at the same time that the Whitehaven News was putting together a story based on information from a source inside the North Cumbria NHS, that a report for a "Whole service review" recommends that the keeping two acute hospitals in North Cumbria is "unaffordable." Question from Jamie Reed (Copeland, Labour) "To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made on the provision of a new acute hospital in Whitehaven." Reply from Rosie Winterton (Minister of State, Department of Health) "North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is currently developing proposals for a new acute hospital in Whitehaven in the context of the whole system review of health services in Cumbria. The North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust expects to carry out public consultation on the new hospital early in 2007." So we have two apparently diametrically opposed statements coming out on the same day, though both ref


READ THE WHITEHAVEN NEWS TOMORROW! I learned today that the threat to the future of West Cumberland Hospital is even more serious than we had feared. Anyone reading this who has any interest in the future of health services in West Cumbria should make sure you get a copy of the Whitehaven News tomorrow (26th October) as they will have more detail. I am advised that the Whitehaven News have been told that the Primary Care Trusts for North (and West) Cumbria have brought in a firm of management consultants called "Gibson, Freak, and Edge" to prepare an analysis called a "Whole Systems Review." This analysis considers three options: the first, which keeps two acute hospitals (at Carlisle and in West Cumberland) is regarded by the consultants as "unaffordable." It appears that both the two options which they do consider affordable would involve Whitehaven losing our district general hospital, and it would not be replaced by an equivalent acute hospital in West