Showing posts from February, 2009

Report on West Cumbria Hospital sites

Last year Copeland Council and Westlakes Renaissance commissioned the consulting firm White Young Green to report on the merits of two possible sites in Whitehaven for the new hospital in West Cumbria which had been promised. One was the existing West Cumberland Hospital site, the other was at the Ginns. White Young Green have now produced a report which was presented to councillors this week. The full report can be read here on the Copeland Council website. To some extent this report has been overtaken by events but it makes some good points about the need to keep hospital services in Whitehaven. More comments on my hospitals blog (see link at right.)

The Price of Freedom

Phillip Pullman, the children's author, has written a superb article here in today's Times called "Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms" I rarely find myself in agreement with Mr Pullman, but the warnings he gives about how we are sleep-walking into the surrender of our liberties are well worth listening to. Pullman writes that "It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (200

Gordon Brown refuses to hand back pension ...

The Daily Mash has a parody of the "Fred the Shred" situation here, suggesting that Gordon Brown has refused to comply with requests to pay back his pension. They write that "The prime minister said: "I've been building up this pension since I became an MP, it's all completely legal and now you want to take it away because I've been catastrophically bad at my job and you're looking for a scapegoat." Note - very funny but contains bad language and is unsuitable for children.

New Nuclear plant proposals

The Whitehaven news has a story here about proposals by RWE Npower, the British arm of a German company, to build two PWR nuclear power plants in Copeland. Both proposals would be for sites near the coast which are currently farmland, one "between Sellafield and Egremont" and the other "around Millom." According to the story, the firm has secured an option to buy land at both sites, and the Egremont proposals will be accompanied by a bid for a 3.6 Gigawatt grid connection. On the face of it, this appears to be a very serious proposal, and the fact that companies are lining up to put forward bids for new nuclear build in West Cumbria bodes well for our chances of securing new nuclear facilities. It also disproves the argument by some anti-nuclear campaigners that nuclear power cannot be economic without subsidy. However, nothing can be taken for granted yet. There will have to be full public consultation, safety and environmental impact assessments, the National Gri

Honest Food

The Conservative party is running an "Honest Food" campaign for more accurate labelling of the country of origin of food for sale. When you buy a 'British' pork pie, you probably assume that the pork comes from Britain. In fact, meat from abroad can be imported into Britain to be processed into bacon, sausages and pies which can then be labelled to suggest they are British. We think this is dishonest. People have a right to know where their food comes from. Meat labelled 'British' should be born and bred in Britain, raised to our high welfare standards. Consumers should be free to choose food from any country, but real choice requires real information. So the Conservatives are demanding honest 'country of origin' labelling to restore trust and allow people to choose British food with confidence. - View five examples of bad food labelling here: - View The text of our Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) Bill - View the Explanatory Notes to the Food

Ivan Cameron R.I.P.

My heartfelt condolences to David and Samantha Cameron on the death of their son Ivan. I have been fortunate enough not to experience the loss of a child, but I know that the loss of a parent is worse than any words can possibly describe, and losing a child must be even worse. The dignified way that this sad event was treated on all sides of the House of Commons was a credit to British democracy. Rest in Peace

Labour rejects Tory proposal to freeze council tax

This evening was the budget meeting of Copeland Borough Council. The Conservatives proposed a one-year council tax freeze to be funded from the extra reserves which had been found while sorting out the accounts. Instead the controlling Labour group voted that down and forced through a wholly unnecessary 4.5% increase in the Copeland share of the Council tax. Last year, while setting a medium-term financial strategy, the council had agreed to change its approach to reserves. Following professional advice, councillors of all political persuasions recognised that the council has far more taxpayers' money held in various "reserves" - e.g. sitting in the bank or invested - than is actually needed. In the past Copeland Council kept millions of pounds of taxpayers money in various reserves, sufficient to deal in full with each of all the possible contingencies which might require unusual expenditure. The new policy agreed last year, following the most recent advice from the Audi

Feedback from Millom Neighbourhood Forum

I attended the Millom and Haverigg Neighbourhood Forum this evening in the Network Centre at Millom School. The agenda included presentations on the Millom Economic Development Group, which included the proposals to develop Haverigg Prison as a community prison. There was also a short item on Concessionary Fares. There was a heated debate about various proposals currently put forward by the Econmic Development Group, and also about the Palladium. Some interesting points put forward both for and against several of these proposals. The South Copeland Disabilities Forum had some constructive suggestions about the plans for Millom Town Square and the need to ensure that there was enough disabled parking. Cllr Robin Pitt, the current Chairman of the Economic Development Group, initially responded to questions from the floor about the Palladium by saying that he did not consider it appropriate for him to speak on this issue because it had been dealt with before he joined the EDG. He might ha

No room for complacency

Some interesting and contrasting points of view over the weekend. In the Sunday Times, Michael Portillo warns here against complacency, observing that while Labour seems to be heading inexorably to defeat, the Conservatives must not take victory or the electorate for granted. Meanwhile on Conservative Home, Tim Montgomery looks at the ghastly mess which the Labour government is leaving for whoever wins the next election, and puts forward some suggestions on how the Conservatives can avoid losing in 2015. His argument is that after winning in 2010 a Cameron administration will be forced to take painful and unpopular measures to deal with the toxic legacy from that of Gordon Brown, which could easily cost him the following election I understand what Tim is saying, but we have to concentrate on winning the next election first, or there won't be a Cameron administration. And because the electorate is well aware what a mess the country is in, to win the election we will have to be hone

Millom Nighbourhood Forum tomorrow (23 Feb)

The Millom Neighbourhood Forum will be meeting tomorrow evening in the Network Centre at Millom School. The agenda includes presentations on the Millom Economic Development Group and on the proposals to develop Haverigg Prison as a community prison.

Feedback from Copeland BC's Economic Development Committee

Attended a meeting of Copeland Borough Council's Economic Development O&S Committee on Thursday. Main items for debate were 1) Wind Farms. A motion on the subject from Cllr Norman Clarkson, essentially the same as he had persuaded Cumbria County Council to pass, was referred from the full council. After some debate, an amended version of Norman's motion which has originally been put forward by myself, modified so as that Planning Panel members would not be disqualified from voting on Wind Farm planning applications if they voted for it, was sent back to the council as a recommendation with both Conservative and Labour support. As amended the motion expresses concern that the role given in Cumbria to onshore wind farms under existing energy targets forms too great a proportion of the mix. The amended version essentially calls for a mix of energy, as laid out in the Energy Coast Masterplan, with lower targets in Cumbria for Onshore wind, though it supports nuclear, tidal, and

Don't put the bible on the top shelf

In a post a few days ago, responding to an excellent article by Imtiaz Ameen, I wrote about the problems which can be caused when people who are not themselves muslims manage to be "More Islamic than the Ayatollah." Sometimes, bending over backwards to avoid causing offence, people with good intentions go further than British muslims themselves actually want to avoid offending them. Sometimes, as with the vast majority of attempts to block or rename celebrations of Christmas, the problem is atheists who have a hidden agenda of attacking religion in general as well as Christianity in particular, and who use "diversity" as an excuse. In practice the law of unintended consequences comes into play, and the actual effect is not to reduce religious observance but to boost racism and fascism. Whenever an attack on Christian observance can be blamed, however unfairly, on muslims it does great harm to race relations and is a gift to groups like the BNP. This week we have an

Daily Mail estimates debt + liabilities at two trillion

The Daily Mail has a front page today with a worst case projection of the UK national debt including the liabilities of state-owned or guaranteed banks at two trillion pounds (that's American trillion e.g. £2,000,000,000,000.) You can read the article here. I'm not gloating over this, and I emphasise that it is a worst-case projection, but I find it terrifying.

A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK - Exec Summary

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been reading "A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK" by Professor Ian Fells and Candida Whitmill of Fells Associates, a paper that I believe every politician or person interested in the future of Britain's energy supplies should read. The full document is available on the internet as a pdf file here, but the executive summary reads as follows: Executive Summary 1.1 Security of energy supply must now be seen as taking priority over everything else, even climate change. UK imports of both gas and oil are accelerating, just as the fragility of supplies from Russia and the Middle East becomes more apparent and the UK heads towards the loss of one third of its generating capacity over the next 12 years. A new energy policy must be scheduled to meet the impending energy gap with an overarching long-term vision that will ensure security of supply, protect the environment, and at the same time, be deemed feasible by the engineers, financi

A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK - Foreword

At the suggestion of one of the many people in Copeland who know a great deal about energy policy I have been re-reading the study by Professor Ian Fells and Candida Whitmill, "A Pragmatic Energy policy for the UK." It is a paper that every politician or person interested in the future of Britain's energy supplies should read. We ignore the warnings it makes at our peril. This powerful, well-argued document is available on the internet as a pdf file here. It was commissioned by Andrew Cooke CBE, chairman of Cooke Holdings, who wrote a foreword explaining why he commissioned the paper, which reads as follows " WHY I HAVE COMMISSIONED THIS REPORT I am an industrialist. The company I own makes special steel parts for all manner of machines. It employs 800 people and spends millions of pounds a year on electricity and gas to power the furnaces which make and process the steel. I am also the father of four children aged between 12 and 19. In the course of my business life

Democracy in Cumbria

In a post a few days ago, titled "The Canary in a coal mine" I wrote that the number of people involved in local politics is dangerously low in many parts of the country, that this is bad for the health of local democracy, and that one side effect of this is the potential for extremists of many kinds to have an impact out of all proportion to public support for the things they actually stand for. Copeland is one of those areas. I am concerned that what amounts to a vicious circle of apathy has taken hold. The original "canary in a coal mine" study which I was quoting documents how in all too many parts of Britain there are not enough people involved in some or all of the local political parties. E.g. they are short of enough workers to deliver leaflets and knock on doors to keep in touch with people and deliver a real local choice. This in turn means that the shrinking minority who do get involved find it harder and harder to get round the constituency and communic

Alan Southward R.I.P.

I was shocked to learn today that Alan Southward, head of electoral registration at Copeland Borough Council, died very suddenly this week. Alan had to deal with some difficult situations when running elections in Copeland. Particularly when acting as returning officer for one or two the recent by-elections such as those in Harbour ward in 2007 and Kells & Sandwith in December 2008. A very honest man, he could be relied on to say exactly what he thought but had a remarkable knack for saying things very bluntly and openly without causing offence: he used to joke that he treated politicians of all parties with equal contempt. In terms of how he spoke to us this was true, but he also did his best to be equally helpful to everyone. What I will particularly miss about him is that he was one of the last of those who always did his best to interpret rules and regulations in terms of what the spirit of the rules meant, guided by genuine common sense, rather than sticking rigidly to the let

Top Tories visit Sellafield on “Energy Coast” tour

As mentioned last Friday, shadow cabinet member Greg Clark MP and his colleague Charles Hendry MP visited Sellafield on Thursday and Friday as part of a tour of “Energy Coast Masterplan” related sites in West Cumbria which included the National Nuclear Skills academy, National Nuclear Laboratory, Thorp, the port of Workington, and meetings with the NDA, Nuclear Management Partners, and the Unions. Greg Clark, shadow secretary of state for Energy and Climate change, said it was highly appropriate that Sellafield should be part of the first regional tour by the Conservative Energy and Climate Change team since the team was set up a few months ago to shadow the newly created department. He emphasised that the Conservatives see diversity of energy supply as vital to Britain’s energy security and are committed to removing any obstacles which might otherwise prevent a new generation of nuclear power plants from forming one important part of that diverse energy supply. Charles Hendry added th

Power to the People ...

David Cameron has launched a major policy green paper outlining Conservative plans to give power back to local communities. He explained that “decentralisation, devolution and empowerment” are naturally part of a Conservative approach to government, and stressed the importance of an “empowering state” rather than an “overpowering state”. ‘Control Shift’, our decentralisation green paper, outlines a series of policies that will see powers transferred from the central state to local people and local institutions: * Abolishing all regional planning and housing powers exercised by regional government, returning powers and discretion back to local communities * Creating bottom-up incentives for house building, by allowing councils to benefit more from the increase in council tax revenues from new homes, rather than being equalised away by Whitehall * Allowing councils to establish their own local enterprise partnerships to take over the economic development functions and funding of the Regi

IPSOS - MORI Poll result

The latest MORI poll, out today, has the Conservatives up to 48% - twenty points ahead of Labour who are on 28%. The figures are: CONSERVATIVES 48% (+4) LABOUR 28% (-2) LIB DEMS 17% (nc) (Comparisons are with the previous MORI poll. As "political betting" puts it, "Clearly the past week has been quite dreadful for the government and it was almost inevitable that the polling would pick this up. The MORI top-line numbers, of course, only include those 100% certain to vote and this tends to produce dramatic changes when things are going very bad or very well for a party." Nobody should ever take the electorate for granted but it is clear that a lot of people are very unhappy with the Labour government. And I don't blame them.

Imtiaz Ameen: "Not in my name"

Imtiaz Ameen was Conservative candidate for Blackburn at the 2005 general election, is a former councillor in Dewsbury and writes a regular blog which you can read here. He is also a British Muslim. He argues on his blog and on Conservative Home here that it was not in his name that Geert Wilders was refused entry into the UK. While disagreeing strongly with Mr Wilders' views, Imtiaz argues that, "In refusing entry clearance to the Dutch MP Geert Wilders, the Government has scored a soft own goal. It should have allowed Mr Wilders into the country and let him speak at the event organised by Lord Pearson and Baroness Cox at the House of Lords where his film Fitna was also to be aired." This was a very brave and reasonable piece by Imtiaz and there is an important lesson to be drawn from it: those who wish to criticise the decision to bar Mr Wilders should make sure to aim that criticism at the people who took that decision, e.g. the Labour government, and not at British

Trevor Kavanagh asks a good question

Namely, why is Gordon Brown still prime minister ? You can read his article in today's Sun newspaper here.

Cash Blow to West Cumberland Hospital ?

The News and Star reports here that there has been a major setback in plans for a new hospital for West Cumbria. The paper's article today says that the NHS trust "found out this week that a maximum pot of just £100 million will be available – which may not be enough to deliver the new-build facility they had envisaged. They have now admitted they may be forced to look at a part-refurbishment scheme – using some of the existing West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven – instead." I have been arguing for some time that the local NHS trusts must take a decision quickly, to ensure that we protect staff morale and keep good people at the hospital by giving them a secure future: this has become all the more important with the national economy going into severe problems and £35 billion sliced from government spending plans in the pre-budget report. The longer action is delayed, the greater the risk that the money will no longer be there. Instead we should move forward as quickly

Shadow Cabinet visit to Sellafield

Greg Clark MP, shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, and Charles Hendry MP, shadow Energy minister, have been in West Cumbria yesterday and today on an "Energy Coast" tour which took in Sellafield and a number of relevant facilities including, the National Nuclear Laboratory, the nuclear Skills Academy, Whitehaven harbour, and the Port of Workington. They held meetings with local bodies including the NDA, NNL, Nuclear Management Partners, and the unions. More details to follow.

Voltaire and Geert Wilders

This country used to pride itself on freedom of worship, and of freedom of speech within the law. Subject to the law of libel, and that it is and should be illegal to incite people to violence or other criminal activity, our attitude to the expression of views we dislike, no matter how abhorrent, should be the famous comment usually attributed to Voltaire: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Those who have committed murder or incited others to violence in the name of Islam do not represent the majority of muslims in this country and mainstream Islamic leaders have issued a fatwa making clear that such views and actions are haram and against the teachings of their religion. The majority of muslims should not be denied the right to worship as they choose because the actions of a depraved minority. Therefore I strongly reject the views attributed to Dutch MP Geert Wilders who apparently wanted to come here and argue for the bannin

Sir James Crosby resigns

Sir James Crosby has resigned as deputy chairman of the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The move follows allegations that, during his time as head of HBOS from 2001 to 2006, he sacked a whistleblower, Paul Moore who had raised concerns the bank was exposed to too much risk. Sir James insists that Paul Moore's allegations were investigated at the time and found to be "without merit." However, as the BBC's Business editor Robert Peston argues convincingly here, in terms of the big picture, "No one in their right mind would deny" that Paul Moore was right and Sir James and the HBOS directors were wrong. "HBOS was lending too much." There seem to have been an extraordinary number of people connected with the Labour government who have included in their resignation statement the claim that they have done nothing wrong, and Sir James is the latest in a long line to do so. There is no evidence that Sir James broke any law or regula

There, but for the grace of God ...

A very famous couple, who I won't name but certain tabloids have, apparently had to leave a major event this week because their young children were running wild in a hotel and other visitors were complaining. I suspect every parent of young children who is even slightly in the public eye must dread this kind of thing happening. We live in an age where parents are supposed to be constantly kind and superhumanly patient with their offspring, and yet keep them completely under control. Parents these days get flak from some quarters if they so much as raise their voice when a child misbehaves, and yet they are supposed to teach children discipline when every possible means of doing so is condemned as cruelty by some well-meaning busybody.

Cameron promises to govern Scotland "with respect"

David Cameron has promised to do everything in his power to ensure the SNP don’t split up the UK. He praised the efforts of Annabel Goldie and the Scottish Conservatives in securing £234m of concessions in the Holyrood budget – and stressed that Conservative support for the budget does not diminish our “vigorous opposition” to the SNP. “Surely Scotland deserves better than to have to choose between one centre-left party – Labour – that has failed the country for 11 years, and another centre-left party – the SNP – that wants to break it up?” In an article in Scotland on Sunday, he outlined three ways in which the Conservative “commitment to Scotland and the Union” would manifest itself in government: Backing the constitutional settlement when it comes to devolution – “Whilst Iain Gray and Scottish Labour simply take their orders from Gordon Brown, Annabel Goldie is her own woman. We have a close working relationship but it is about co-operation, not control.” Working constructively with

The Canary in a coal mine

This one is for political anoraks only. Stuart Wilks-Heeg has written an academic study, with support from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and published in "Parliamentary Affairs" into the progress of the British National Party in local elections in England. His argument is that votes for the BNP in council elections tend to be a danger sign, as when a canary in a coalmine succumbs to poisonous gas, of a dangerous lack of health in local democracy. I don't agree with everything he says but I do think he is right that the number of people involved in local politics is dangerously low in many parts of the country, that this is bad for the health of local democracy, and that one side effect of this is the potential for extremists of many kinds to have an impact out of all proportion to public support for the things they actually stand for. (Which is not necessarily the same as the things they claim to stand for.) This point could be applied to a number of extremist organisati

Sarkozy on the recession

Gordon Brown often suggests that prominent foreign leaders are following his lead on how to deal with the world recession. Those leaders, however, often disagree. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has become the latest prominent foreign statesman to disagree with Gordon Brown’s decision to reduce VAT in an attempt to tackle the recession. The French President said Brown’s VAT cut had “absolutely not worked” and stressed he would not repeat Britain’s economic “mistakes”. He joins a host of high-profile figures who have criticised Brown’s economic policy, including the Chief Economist of the IMF, the Finance Minister of Germany, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, and the CEOs of Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencers. George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, stressed, “We said at the time that Brown’s flagship VAT cut would only make things worse and would be an expensive failure. That view is now echoed not just by British retailers, but by foreign governments, including France, Germany and Hol

Another Brown Gaffe

After accidentally claiming to have saved the world, it appears that Gordon Brown has made another gaffe at Prime Minister's Questions. Yesterday afternoon Downing street was spinning that he did not really mean to say that the world was in a depression. Ironically, this came just after he was accusing the Conservatives of talking the economy down. You can read the Sun's take on the story here. ) One gaffe could happen to anyone. Two - perhaps a co-incidence. Any more will start to reinforce fears about whether the PM is up to the job.

Feedback: "Health in Copeland" Lecture

Attended an interesting lecture this evening at Sellafield by Professor Ashworth of the health trust on the subject of health issues in Cumbria, and Copeland in particular.

Don't put Sellafield investment at risk

Those concerned about a fair allocation of jobs on major contracts should pursue this in other ways than strike action. This is particularly in the interests of Sellafield and West Cumbria Well over 90% of people working at Sellafield had nothing to do with Monday's strike. Snow had a far bigger effect on Sellafield than the strike did. But unfortunately that is not what has come through in the media. Only a few days ago we were all welcoming the announcement by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that Sellafield is in the running as a possible site for a new Nuclear power station. But it is not a done deal. Investors still have to be persuaded that this is a good place to invest, which it is. I fully understand people’s concerns about rising unemployment and want to see British firms and British workers win important contracts. There are legitimate questions to ask about the Total power station contracts for energy. But I have never believed that strikes are the answer, let a

Do we give in to snow too easily ?

Obviously for many people yesterday, when parts of the UK had the worst snow for 18 years, it made normal travel and work impossible. Plenty of others, for whom the snow was less bad in their areas, or who are set up to be able to work at home, barely noticed. But it is legitimate to ask whether we have got into the habit of giving up a bit too quickly. I'm not criticising anyone, merely suggesting that each of us ask ourselves the question. Whitehaven had about half an inch of snow yesterday morning. I briefly considered working from home, but decided to walk to the office, finding the streets quite safe as long as one was careful. My children's school was one of those which stayed open, and I'm certain that was the right decision for that school. I am not necessarily criticising the other schools in Whitehaven which closed, as their circumstances may have differed - some of them are on much steeper hills. The school secretary told my wife she spent practically the whole d

A message from David Cameron

This morning Michael Gove and I were going to tour Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham College in Lewisham. We were going to give speeches about the importance of maths, and we were going to announce that Carol Vorderman had agreed to lead a new Conservative Party Maths Taskforce. That's what was going to happen, anyway. Like other parts of the country London virtually ground to a halt this morning as it tried to cope with the heaviest snowfall in 18 years. Hatcham College was one of the many schools that was forced to close, so the three of us played in the snow instead! The snow goes on, but so must the show - we've just launched the taskforce from our campaign headquarters. You can read my speech or watch the webcast here. In the last eight years we've slipped from eighth to twenty-fourth in the international maths league tables. We've got to find a way to inspire more children to learn maths, and bright people to teach it. You wouldn't be able to read this emai

Frank Field on jobs for British Workers

Labour MP Frank Field has an interesting piece in the Mail here about how we can make sure that government capital projects provide a fair share of local jobs. I don't agree with everything he says but some of his points are very well taken, and it is rare to read a former Labour minister and current Labour MP make such a blistering and effective attack on the government.