Sunday, March 30, 2008

Support Holborn Hill post office

I spent part of this weekend in Millom with Brian Crawford, the excellent Conservative candidate in the current by-election for a seat on Millom Town council.

Brian is a keen and energetic campaigner who is involved in a large number of activities in the town and would be a great asset to Millom Town Council if elected.

One of the main issues we discussed was the proposed closure of Holborn Hill post office, one of eight in Copeland, 35 in Cumbria, and 2,500 in the UK which are currently under threat.

Post offices provide an essential service to the community and I was delighted to sign Brian's petition to keep Holborn Hill post office open.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Nuclear co-operation with France

One of the interesting things which came out of this week's visit by the French President to Britain was the possibility of greater nuclear co-operation between Britain and France.

I am broadly in favour of this, as it has potential to benefit both countries, but it could be a double-edged sword for Copeland and West Cumbria. So far as the outlook for nuclear jobs in West Cumbria is concerned, greater co-operation presents both opportunities and threats. We need to be ready to exploit the former and be ready to position ourselves so as to avoid the latter.

I specifically do not want to suggest that we should take a kind of Anti-Globalisation luddite line that that international co-operation should be resisted because it means exporting jobs.

However, to make sure that the benefits of job creation are shared, we need a strategy which identifies the areas of work where we have a comparative advantage and make sure we get those areas of work.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

C'est Magnifique ...

I have just been watching President Sarkozy's excellent speech to the British parliament.

I cannot imagine that any of the Presidents which France has had since I have been old enough to follow politics - Pompidou, Giscard, Mitterand, or Chirac - could possibly have made such a positive and friendly speech to a British audience.

A President in office in our nearest neighbour country who is so positive about what Britain has to offer is a potential great help to us in promoting a forward looking vision for Europe - and by that I mean a more decentralised Europe, not a stronger Federal superstate - and we should take advantage of that opportunity.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The great Post Office debate in full

For those who want to read the full debate on post office closures last week, you can find it either on the Hansard pages on the House of Commons website, or at the "Theyworkforyou" website at the following URL

For residents of Copeland who have not already seen this from the News and Star, you may like to know that the following motion to stop post office closures was supported by Conservatives, Lib/Dems, Scottish Nationalists, Welsh Nationalists, and Independents, and also by 19 Labour MPs who were willing to put the interests of their constituencies before their party.

"That this House regrets the proposal to close up to 2,500 post offices;

* recognises the vital role post offices play in local communities;

* notes the concern and unpopularity amongst the general public of closing such a large portion of the network;

* has concerns that the access criteria laid down for the closures consultation do not adequately take into account local geographical factors and public transport networks;

* is concerned that the consultation period is only for six weeks rather than three months, as recommended by Cabinet Office guidelines;

* believes that post offices must move with the times in the services they offer and that options for business expansion and developing business opportunities with local authorities should be explored further;

* and calls upon the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to instruct Post Office Limited to suspend the compulsory closure of sub-post offices while these issues are re-assessed."

The MP for Copeland voted against this motion by supporting a government amendment which deleted everything in it except for the first three words ("That this House").

Then, within hours of supporting the closure programme, his office started to ring round the threatened post offices in Copeland asking them to put up petitions against closure and offering to help them to campaign against the programme he had just voted should continue.

Oh Gord, give me an inquiry, but not yet ...

St Augustine, when a young man, was supposed to have prayed "O Lord, give me chastity" and then added mentally "but not just yet."

I was reminded of this by the Prime Minister's recent comments on a full inquiry into the Iraq war.

If you accept that the government really believed the case they put for the invasion - that Saddam was breaching a UN mandate and posed a threat to his neighbours because he had weapons of mass destruction - then this was the worst intelligence failure for at least 21 years.

Regardless of what Hutton himself wrote in his conclusions, the information which came out during the Hutton and Butler inquiries was certainly sufficient to give a very strong indication of some of the things which went wrong. But if there is to be another inquiry, I can see no reason to delay it other than to spare the government from embarrassment.

One law for everyone

This is the first and last time I will comment on the Paul McCartney & Heather Mills divorce case - all divorces are sad and painful events for those concerned, usually with some right and wrong on both sides, and making comments on such cases usually amounts to kicking someone when they are down.

However, I have been following the newspaper coverage and commentary on Heather Mill's action in pouring a jug of water over Sir Paul's lawyer. There have been a great many jokes about this, and then there have been rows over whether those jokes were offensive. However, with one or two honorable exceptions what strikes me as the most important aspect of this incident appears to have been almost completely ignored. That is that "celebrities" should be treated the same by the courts as everyone else.

Supposing that instead of Sir Paul McCartney and the soon-to-be-ex Lady Heather McCartney, these events had taken at the divorce proceedings between Mr Paul Smith and Mrs Heather Smith, a couple for whom a settlement involving an equivalent share of their assets would have had a value of a few thousand pounds instead of millions.

What do you think would have happened to Mrs Heather Smith if she poured a jug of water over her soon-to-be-ex husband's solicitor?

Well, I'd put money on it that Mrs Smith would have found herself spending a few hours in the cells for contempt of court, during which time she would probably have had a visit from a psychiatrist to see if she needed medical help. And if the professional did consider that the lady had a problem requiring medical assistance and might be a threat to herself or others, there is a distinct possibility that she would have been further detained for treatment under section II of the Mental Health Act. I say that as someone who used to hear appeals against section II orders.

People in the public eye should not be treated any more or less favourably than anyone else. I am surprised and disappointed that Heather Mills was allowed to get away with her behaviour.

Wishing you a happy Easter

A very happy Easter to everyone reading this

Friday, March 21, 2008

The great Post Office debate

I was going to write an article here about how disappointed I was that the MP for Copeland, Jamie Reed, failed to support local Post Offices on Wednesday, and instead voted for the closure programme. Nineteen of his Labour colleagues, including fellow Cumbrian MP Eric Martlew, did vote for our post offices (I don't often agree with Eric but credit where credit is due.)

But the reasons why Jedi Jamie should have voted with us to save local post offices were already so much better put during the debate by his Labour colleague Mr Gordon Prentice (MP for Pendle) that I shall simply quote his speech in full. What a shame the MP for Copeland wasn't paying him more attention.

Gordon Prentice MP (Pendle, Labour)

"I shall be very brief, but I want it put on the record that I will vote for the Conservative motion this evening. I can see nothing wrong with it. I read it through two or three times in case I was missing something. I see nothing in it that my friends or colleagues on this side cannot vote for.

I listened with interest, as I always do, to my friend from Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith), who spent 18 years working in the Post Office. She will be voting with the Conservatives. I am pleased to see my friend from Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who chairs the all-party sub-post offices group and will also be voting with the Conservatives. There is no need for anyone on this side to feel at all frightened about the prospect of voting with the Conservatives. Let me explain that it is the only option left open to us. It is the only option we have left to stop or suspend the closure programme.

Let me tell you this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I participated in a Westminster Hall debate with my Lancashire colleagues, including my friend from Morecambe and Lunesdale. In Lancashire, we face 59 closures and many of my friends spoke about that in the debate. I spoke, too. If I did not vote for the Conservative motion now, I could not look my constituents in the eye; I simply could not, because I railed against the closure programme in that debate. It is no good my colleagues, tucked away in Westminster Hall, speaking with great passion on 4 March only to fail to support the motion before us tonight. My own constituency is losing six post offices. Since I have been its Member of Parliament, we have lost 10. We started out with 28, so the post office network in my Pendle constituency will have been more than halved, which is unacceptable.

Now is not the time to slag off the Conservatives — [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] I spend so much of my life doing that, I know, but this is not the time. Let me say this, however. The Conservatives would get more support from the Labour Benches if they were more open with us about the level of subsidy that they would put into the post office network. My friend on the Front Bench here has told us—he told us in Westminster Hall on 4 March as well—that only 4,000 post offices are commercially viable. We have a network of 14,000, which is going down to 11,500, so post offices will always need to be subsidised.

I believe that post offices are a social good. They are not just about selling people stamps. The network could not be recreated; if it were smashed, it could not be put together again. There are all sorts of exciting, innovative things we could do with a revivified post office network. Let me finish on this point. I hope that my friends swallow the prejudices of decades or whatever and do the right thing, which is to support the Conservative motion.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Post Office Hitlist

The list of 35 post offices in Cumbria which have been proposed for closure is given below.

There will be a campaign against these diabolical proposals - watch this space

The Post Office's detailed Area Plan proposal is available from:
post: Post Office Ltd, Freepost Consultation Team.

The following branches are proposed for closure:

West Cumbria:

Beckermet, Newlands, Beckermet, CA21 2XB
Bigrigg, Springfield Road, Bigrigg, Egremont, CA22 2TN
Gosforth (temporarily closed), The Lakeland Habit, Gosforth, Seascale, CA20 1EJ
Holborn Hill, 49 Holborn Hill, Millom, LA18 5BJ
Lowca, Lowca, Whitehaven, CA28 6QH
Moor Row, 1 Church Street, Moor Row, Carlisle, CA24 3JG
Parton, Village Hall, Main Street, Parton, Whitehaven, CA28 6NY
Tangier Street, 12 Tangier Street, Whitehaven, CA28 7UX
Brigham, High Brigham, Cockermouth, CA13 0TG
Broughton Moor (temp. closed), The Miners Arms, Broughton Moor, Maryport, CA15 7RY
Camerton, Silver Dawn, Camerton, Workington, CA14 1LS
Crosby, 21 Garborough Close, Crosby, Maryport, CA15 6RY

East Cumbria:

Botcherby, 1 Wood Street, Botcherby, Carlisle, CA1 2SF
Denton Holme, 125 Denton Street, Carlisle, CA2 5EN
Great Orton, Great Orton, Carlisle, CA5 6NA
Upperby, SPAR Convenience Store, 36 Lamb Street, Carlisle, CA2 4NF
Bolton, Bolton, Appleby-In-Westmorland, CA16 6AL
Knock, Knock, Appleby-In-Westmorland, CA16 6DL
Melmerby (Temporarily Closed), Melmerby and Fellside Village Shop, Melmerby, Penrith, CA10 1HN
Penton, Bessietown, Catlowdy, Penton, Carlisle, CA6 5QP
Scotland Road, Townhead Garage, Scotland Road, Penrith, CA11 7NN


Anty Cross, 19 Ruskin Avenue, Dalton-In-Furness, LA15 8LU
Bardsea, The Yews, Bardsea, Ulverston, LA12 9QT
Douglas Street, 16 Douglas Street, Walney Island, Barrow-In-Furness, LA14 3QQ
Rawlinson Street, 149 Rawlinson Street, Barrow-In-Furness, LA14 1BB
Swarthmoor, 56-58 Fox Street, Swarthmoor, Ulverston, LA12 0HT
Beetham, Yew Tree House, Church Road, Beetham, Milnthorpe, LA7 7AL
Cark In Cartmel, 112 Station Roads, Cark In Cartmel, Grange-Over-Sands, LA11 7NY
Grange Fell, 20 Fell Cottages, Grange-Over-Sands, LA11 6AH
Heathwaite, 17 Park Road, Windermere, LA23 2BE
Longpool, 14 Wildman Street, Kendal, LA9 6EN

The following branches are proposed for replacement by an outreach outlet:

Bewcastle, Lyne Bank, Bewcastle, Carlisle, CA6 6PW
Brough, Main Street, Brough, Kirkby Stephen, CA17 4BL
Hallbankgate, Penrith Co-operative Society, Hallbankgate, Brampton, CA8 2NJ
Castle Carrock, Castle Carrock, Brampton, CA8 9LT
Hayton Carlisle, Hayton Stores, Hayton, Carlisle, CA8 9HR
Irthington, Irthington, Carlisle, CA6 4NN
Dent, Main Street, Dent, Sedbergh, LA10 5QL
Endmoor, Endmoor, Kendal, LA8 0EU
Greenodd, Main Street, Greenodd, Ulverston, LA12 7RB
Leven Valley, Glendale, Backbarrow, Ulverston, LA12 8RB

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fixing our broken politics

I heard David Cameron in Gateshead today. I thought he was on excellent form.

The proposal to improve on Labour's proposal to support new parents by untrained Outreach workers as part of Surestart by instead re-establishing a proper Health Visitor Network got most of the media attention. But another part of his speech was even more significant - fixing our broken politics and rebuilding trust.

For too long politicians have promised the earth and delivered too little. David Cameron emphasised that we must promise only what we can deliver. One of the things we can and must deliver is clear accountability and tranaparency in the spending of taxpayers money on MPs salaries and expenses. Most MPs do not abuse the system, but some in all parties have done so, and we have to ensure that the few do not drag down the reputation not just of their own parties, not just of those MPs who are innocent, but of the whole political process.

Friday, March 14, 2008

NHS proposals agreed by trust

Cumbria's NHS Primary Care Trust has approved this week the amended version of the "Closer to Home" proposals for the future of hospital services in West, North, and central Cumbria.

The revised proposals include at least 220 beds at the West Cumberland hospital or its successor and that the hospital will continue to provide trauma care.

This is not the end of the story: we must continue to ensure that there is public involvement in protecting a full range of hospital services in Cumbria.

More comments on the "Support West Cumbria Hospitals" campaign blog - see link at right.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Bad News Budget

George Osborne has described today's budget as "A Bad News Budget"

He added that "Alistair Darling is kicking Britain’s families when they are down.

- Darling has added £110 a year to every family’s tax bill. The tax take will be £2.8bn a year higher by 2010 – and if benefits are excluded, it will be £4bn higher.

- The new taxes announced in the budget will add up to £1.5bn extra on all alcoholic drinks, £1.6bn on drivers, and £1.7bn on businesses over the next three years.

Taxes and borrowing are up because Labour failed to use the good years to prepare for the bad years. After 15 years of global growth, Britain has the worst budget deficit in the developed world.

Even with the new taxes introduced in Darling’s budget, borrowing will be up £20bn over the next four years, including a £7bn rise next year alone.

The Government has no room for manoeuvre, so they are kicking families when they’re down."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Should Whitehaven have a Town Council ?

Attended the annual meeting with Town and Parish councils today in the Copeland centre.

Items discussed included the new localities support funds, the unacceptable delays in processing minor proposed changes to parish boundaries, and whether Whitehaven should have its own Town Council.

At the moment the rest of Copeland has Town or Parish councils, or a "Parish Meeting" performing similar functions, but Whitehaven does not. Local functions which elsewhere would be provided by Parishes are provided in Whitehaven, if at all, by Copeland Borough council.

It has been suggested in some quarters that there should be a Town Council for Whitehaven. This would have some advantages, particularly in fairness in respect of the rest of the Borough, but would also cost money, and is only worth doing if local people want it.

If you live or work in Copeland and have a view on this, please leave a comment here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Report back on Keswick Neighbourhood Forum

Attended the Keswick Neighbourhood Forum this evening.

Main items on the agenda were

1) The current consultation on the proposals to replace six Care Homes in Cumbria, this time focussing on the Ravensfield care home in Keswick

2) Grant Applications

3) The North Cumbria Acute Hospital's trust's plan to bid for Foundation Trust status

There was also a brief item from a representative of the National Parks Authority.

Quotes of the Week

Quote number one comes from the Economic Research Council.

Commenting on the government's handling of the nuclear building programme and quoted in The Times on 3rd March:

"Sadly, after ten years, Britain is still faced with a Government that appears to believe that White Papers, rather than private setor companies, build nuclear plants."

Quote number two was a Whitehaven resident commenting on the suggestion on Question Time by a Lib/Dem MP that Prince Harry went to Afghanistan to repair his reputation

"Well if that were true, it would probably be the only publicity stunt in history where the people who organised it began by putting a D notice on it."