Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Meeting of Copeland Council

The March meeting of Copeland Borough Council will be held at 2pm this afternoon in Egremont. It is open to the public.

It will be interesting to see how open the Labour executive are to a full and frank discussion of the Audit reports on the 2006/7 and 2007/8 accounts which were finally signed off on Friday - some of the worst Auditor's reports I have ever seen.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cameron: We will build a more responsible society

In a speech to the Welsh Conservative Party Conference, David Cameron stressed his desire to bring about “deep, positive and lasting change” by building a more responsibility society.

He warned we’ve seen “too many of the ugly things” that happen when people duck responsibility – and promised a Conservative Government would try to put an end to irresponsibility:

“That is our mission: to help build a responsible society where government leads by example and lives within its means. Where strong families give every child a stable, loving start. Where doctors and teachers and police officers are trusted to use their judgement. Where their vocations are valued and where everyone understands that we are all in this together that life is about ‘we’, not just ‘me’.”

David explained that economic responsibility is at the heart of our plans to improve financial regulation, reform welfare, rebalance our economy and tackle Labour’s Debt Crisis – and that professional responsibility is at the centre of our strategy to improve public services.

And he promised to introduce “family-friendly reform” to reduce the pressures that cause family breakdown:

“Families are the most important institution in our society. We have to do everything in our power to strengthen them.”

Copeland Council Audit Reports

Copeland council has just had some very damning reports from the Audit Commission in respect of the accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 which were finally signed off on Friday. These reports are in the public domain and should be of concern to local residents.

The key Audit summaries for 2006/7 and 2007/8 are accessible on the Council website with links from the agenda page for the meeting at which they were presented.

That was the Audit Committee meeting on Friday (27th March 2009).

You can get there by as follows: go to the council website (link at right or type in www.copelandbc.gov.uk).

Follow links for "Council and Democracy" then "The Council" and "Committee Meetings" and then select the Audit Committee meeting on 27th March and click on the agenda.

Or you can go straight to the agenda by clicking here.

There are links on the agenda page to each report. I particularly recommend the Annual governance reports for 2006 to 2007 and 2007 to 2008, and the Use of Resources report.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A government beyond satire

Reading today's papers I am finding the antics of the present government beyond a joke. If a popular novelist wrote a work of fiction in which this weekend's headlines had appeared it would be laughed off as too implausible.

All governments make mistakes, including both Conservative and Labour governments. Although the last Conservative government did get many things right, the tories have had to learn some hard lessons about some of the mistakes that were made, which we have done. The extraordinary thing about the way the Brown government is behaving is that they appear to have copied and exceeded all the worst Conservative mistakes, as well as adding more than a few of their own.

And as a result they are fast becoming a laughing stock, trashing the reputation not just of the Labour Party but of British politics, and dragging everyone involved in politics through the mire while they do it.

As a candidate without a private fortune who is contesting a constituency well over three hundred miles from London I find the situation about MPs expenses particularly infuriating. It is impossible to be a good MP for a seat like Copeland without both a home in the constituency and some sort of base within striking distance of Westminster, and the salary package for members of parliament needs to reflect that.

But the expenses system should not be open to abuse by people from any party, and you can hardly be surprised at the electorate getting angry when ridiculous and inappropriate expenses claims are submitted. It is not acceptable when any MP or MEP, let alone a minister, misuses their expenses. That is why David Cameron was right to de-select, and thereby effectively sack, those Conservatives who were clearly guilty of a serious breach of the rules and it is about time Labour did the same.

And when some people are getting away with murder, one result is that other people who have done nothing wrong are tarred with the same brush. The attack in the Mirror on William Hague, who represents a Yorkshire seat two hundred miles from Westminster, for claiming the second home allowance, is a classic example. It amounts to criticising him for claiming for expenditure which he undoubtedly occurred, which was certainly within the rules, and was for precisely the legitimate purpose for which that allowance was set up, because he happens to be a wealthy man.

As the Spectator puts it, governments can recover from anger but not from becoming a laughing stock. You can read the article here. I just hope the political system as a whole can recover from the same ridicule.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Matthew Parris shreds Brown's Euro-speech

Nearly a million and a half people have watched the Youtube clip of Conservative MEP Dan Hannan tearing into Gordon Brown after his hapless address to the European Parliament. So much so that it has eclipsed Brown's speech itself.

I was interested to read Matthew Parris's take on the original speech to which Dan was replying, which he describes as "one of the worst speeches by a British prime minister it's been my misfortune to encounter in 40 years following politics."


"This hole in the air encased in a suit of clunking verbal armour? This truck-load of clich├ęd grandiloquence in hopeless pursuit of anything that might count as the faintest apology for an idea? Words fail me.

They certainly failed Gordon Brown"

If such a thing were possible, Matthew Parris was even less impressed by Gordon Brown than Dan Hannan was. You can read his full article here.

Audit findings on the sale of Whitehaven Golf Course

There was an objection to the Copeland Council accounts for 2006/7 in respect of the sale of land at Whitehaven Golf Course.

In response to this the Auditor included the following in his annual governance report.

"During the audit I considered issues raised by an elector in respect of the arrangements in place for dealing with a sale of some council property. I concluded that I did not need to exercise my statutory powers in this respect but I made recommendations to the council to improve its arrangements. The council have agreed with all the recommendations and implemented them with immediate effect."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Auditors slam Copeland Council

The Audit committee of Copeland council met today. The good news: a few days from the end of the 2008/2009 financial year, Copeland Council's accounts for 2006/7 and 2007/8 are finally being signed off, months behind schedule.

The bad news is that the Auditors have made a series of absolutely damning reports on Copeland's financial management.

Copeland is officially one of the eight worst district councils in England in terms of management of it's resources.

The last occasions I read a report as scathing about the financial management of a large organisation as the official Audit reports on Copeland Council which were presented today, those reports were about Worldcom and Enron. Here are some extracts from the reports from the Audit commission.

The "Annual Audit and inspection letter" begins as follows

Key Messages

"Overall, the council has inadequate arrangements for managing the use of its resources. In this respect, Copeland was one of only eight district councils in England which were assessed as inadequate for the financial year ending 31 March 2008.

Underpinning this assessment was inadequate performance in three of the five areas assessed:

* Financial Reporting
* Financial Management; and
* Internal Control

The council did not have adequate arrangements in place in 2007/8 to produce its annual accounts in line with statutory requirements and in accordance with professional standards. As a result the council was unable to publish its audited accounts for the year by the statutory deadline of 30 September 2008."

Other comments in the same document include

"Similarly the council continued to experience severe difficulties in producing and publishing its audited accounts for 2006/7"

"The council's published financial statements are a key demonstrator of its accountability for public funds. Failure to publish them on time and to appropriate quality standards can only weaken the coucnil's ability to demonstrate that accountability."

"Weaknesses in financial systems, in 2007/8, meant that members could not be assured that the reports they received were consistent with underlying financial records. Fundamental weaknesses were also found in the council's arrangements for managing it's asset base."

"The Council experienced significant failings in internal control in the early part of 2008/9."

"On the basis of a selected set of service and other performance indicators the council's overall performance in 2007/8 was below the average for all district councils."

"Due to the inadequate arrangements for managing the use of resources, we anticipate giving a qualified value for money conclusion for both 2006/07 and 2007/08."

"There is a particular need for the council to improve its financial reporting arrangements and to ensure that the 2008/09 accounts are produced in accordance with statutory timescales and professional standards."

The Annual governance report on the 2006/7 accounts includes the following

"There were seven material errors in the primary statements for 2006/07 including two material errors in the Income and Expenditure account, three material errors in the balance sheet, the complete re-statement of the Statement of Recognised Gains and Losses and one material error in the cashflow statement."

"I also identified a significant number of other errors within the financial statements and disclosure notes"

"During 2008 the council submitted a number of versions of the 2006/7 accounts, each of which were designed to reflect all of the amendments required to produce a statement of accounts on which I could give an audit opinion. However, my review of these versions of the accounts indicated to me that some of the required amendments had not been made correctly, and that other amendments had been made to the accounts over and above those which had been discussed with me."

"The council's arrangements for managing its asset base were inadequate. The council was unable to reconcile between the register of assets held by the external valuer and that held by the council as its asset register as at 31 March 2007."

"Fixed assets at 31 March 2007 were understated by £3.135 million (9% of the council's fixed asset base.)"

"I therefore propose to issue a qualified value for money conclusion."

The Annual governance report on the 2007/8 accounts includes the following

"There were seven material errors in the primary statements for 2006/07 including two material errors in the Income and Expenditure account, one material error in the balance sheet, one material error in the Statement of Recognised Gains and Losses and three material errors in the cashflow statement."

"I also identified a significant number of other errors within the financial statements and disclosure notes"

"Draft accounts for 2007/08 were presented to, and approved by the Audit Committee in June 2008 ... these accounts were incomplete and inaccurate and were therefore returned to the council as I considered them to be 'un-auditable'."

"I have had to make a number of recommendations in this report to address the weaknesses within the accounts processes ..."

"The council did not identify and incldue all the required items in the disclosure notes on financial instruments"

A list of serious failings identified by the auditors could go on, and on, and on. These reports indicate that the financial management regime over which the present council executive has presided was totally inadequate and it is time they took responsibility.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Save the Great British Pub

With nearly 6 pubs closing every day of the week, and local pubs under threat, Conservatives believe that the Government should be doing more to save the Great British pub.

33% of the price of every pint goes in Beer Tax to the Chancellor. Now the Government plans to increase beer tax further.

We are calling on the Government to help save our pubs and safeguard jobs by:

* Cutting taxes on lower alcohol drinks such as low alcohol beers and raising taxes on problem drinks like high strength ciders and alcopops in order to use the tax system to target binge drinking whilst ensuring that responsible drinkers and the traditional British pub are not unfairly penalised

* Enforcing existing laws to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers & premises

* Trusting adults to make informed choices, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority

* Supporting the British pub as a vital part of local communities

You can sign a petition to show your support for British pubs at


Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Secretary, said that

"We all have our favourite local pub but up and down the country people have been losing theirs. Not only are they a critical part of our heritage but they are often hubs for local communities helping social groups, sports clubs and often even the village shop."

"For too long the Government has tried to tackle binge drinking by punishing responsible drinkers and landlords. With massive tax hikes and heavy-handed regulation, all Labour will succeed in doing is closing down more pubs. This has to stop. We should be proud of our brewers and proud of our pub industry and do what we can to support them - which is why we are launching this campaign."

Mark Prisk, Shadow Business Minister, said

"The future of British pubs are under threat and we must do all we can to save these great British institutions. Pubs are often small, family-run businesses - not only are they the social heart of their communities, they also provide jobs, and support the British brewing industry. Now, in the face of great adversity, we must do all we can to save our local pub."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What the Governor said

Bank of England governor Mervyn King, appeared before the Treasury Select Committee yesterday and expressed his opposition to any further fiscal stimulus.

He said:

"There is no doubt that we are facing very large fiscal deficits over the next two to three years... I think it's right to accept that when the economy turns down and the automatic stabilisers kick in, so the increased benefit expenditures and lower tax revenues are bound to lead to higher fiscal deficits. And it doesn’t make sense to try and offset that.

"So we are going to have to accept, for the next two to three years, very large fiscal deficits. But given how big those deficits are, I think it would be sensible to be cautious about going further in using discretionary measures to expand the size of those deficits. That’s not to rule out targeted and selected measures that may find those areas, whether it’s in the labour market, whether its in corporate credit, that can do some good.

"But I think the fiscal position in the UK is not one where we could say, well, why don’t we just engage in another significant round of fiscal expansion. We could do more monetary easing if necessary, but monetary policy should bear the brunt of dealing with the ups and downs of the economy."

Hat-tip to Conservative Home for advising me that Shadow Chancellor George Osborne responded as follows:

“This is a defining moment in the political argument on the recession. The big debate in British politics about the recession has been whether or not the country could afford a debt-funded fiscal stimulus... The Governor of the Bank of England no less has said Britain cannot afford a further fiscal stimulus. He goes on to say that monetary policy should be the main tool to tackle the recession.

”This is hugely significant, as it completely vindicates the big decision taken by David Cameron and myself on the economy, and it leaves Gordon Brown's political plans for the G20 and the Budget in tatters.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Our strategy to reform financial regulation

David Cameron set out our strategy to reform financial regulation in a keynote speech in London today.

In particular, he took head on and answered a question which a number of commentators have asked: how can the Conservatives, a party which believes in markets and deregulation, deal with a crisis in which markets have failed, partly due to poor regulation? His answer is that we don't want the abolition of markets, but markets that work with effective regulation simply of the things which need to be regulated, bringing "law and order" to functioning markets.

The text of the speech was as follows:

Bringing law and order to the financial markets

"In Birmingham ten days ago, I argued that we have to leave behind the failed economic consensus of recent years, break from the past, and develop a plan to address the four fundamental weaknesses in our economy.

I said that our routemap to recovery will mean solving Labour's Debt Crisis, restoring financial confidence, tackling mass welfare dependency, and rebalancing our economy to stimulate investment in the industries and jobs of the future. Last week I explained our strategy for dealing with the debt crisis.

I was frank about the scale of the problem and clear about our approach: fiscal responsibility with a social conscience.

Of course this message is not necessarily what everyone wants to hear. But what the country needs right now is straight talk and a strong lead. Straight talk on the debt crisis, because we've got to start solving it in order to get our economy out of recession and into recovery. And a strong lead on the economy, because everyone's going to have to take their fair share of the burden for putting right what Labour have got wrong. We must not allow the poorest people in the country pay for the mistakes of some of the richest. Exactly the same applies to the urgent task of restoring financial confidence. And today I want to set out our strategy for reforming financial regulation, as part of our plan to restore financial confidence.

Financial regulation is not the only thing we need to do in order to restore financial confidence - we also need to make sure we have a properly capitalised and functioning banking system. But without proper financial regulation, there will be no lasting financial confidence......and without lasting financial confidence, there will be no lasting recovery.

So proper regulation of the financial markets is vital. By proper regulation, I mean making sure that we can have confidence in financial markets without destroying their ability to create wealth. We must not let those whose incompetent decisions on financial regulation helped create this crisis now make things even worse.


Let's start by getting something straight. Gordon Brown likes to blame all our troubles on America - as though our fundamentally sound economy and banking system were hit by some nasty financial import.

But our banking system is not separate from our economy, it is a reflection of it. The unsustainable debts in our banks are a reflection of unsustainable debts in our households, our companies and our government. So while of course it's true that some of our problems are global......we've got to recognise that the underlying policy failures were national.

The failure to regulate U.S. sub-prime mortgages was an American failure. And the failure to regulate public and private debt here was a British failure. It was a failure that led to our households becoming the most indebted in the world......our banks becoming the most leveraged of any major economy......and our housing boom being bigger than in the U.S.

If we're going to restore financial confidence, we have to be honest about these home-grown failures of financial policy and regulation. If we won't admit that anything went wrong in the past, how can we get things right for the future?


Some people argue that the Conservatives cannot be the ones to take on this task. They say: "Why should we listen to you, the champions of markets, when markets have collapsed?"

They ask: "How can you - the party that believes in deregulation - sort out a mess caused by not enough regulation?" Well let me answer those points directly.

Why listen to us? Because the people of this country don't want to turn their backs on markets. They know that the free enterprise economy is the foundation of so much we want to achieve: our collective and individual quality of life; our social progress; our ability to protect the environment for future generations. People don't want to abandon markets, they want us to reform markets so they work properly. What they want is a sense of order and responsibility brought to the operation of the financial markets. People might not follow the minutiae of over-leveraging or short-selling, but they know that the roots of our current crisis lie in recklessness and greed.

When they look at capitalism today too many people see markets without morality, and that's what's got to change. As I've said before, we need capitalism with a conscience. That is a task for the modern Conservative Party. We are the party of law and order, so we are the party to bring law and order to the financial markets. We are the party of social responsibility, so we are the party to bring social responsibility to the financial markets.

And we understand the intimate connection between these two values - that you cannot have order without responsibility.


It is precisely because Labour do not really understand this that they ended up designing a system of financial regulation that completely failed. The right question here is not light regulation or heavy regulation. It is right regulation or wrong regulation.

The modern Conservative Party understands the role that regulation needs to play. We understand that regulation is a vital part of making sure markets work properly. But it's got to be the right regulation, applied in the right way to the right situation.

Our approach is to cut regulation where the problem is too much of it - like the red tape that is strangling small business. And to reform it where the problem is the wrong kind - like the failed system of financial regulation.

That way, we can bring to the market what we need to bring to society: freedom with responsibility.

And just like bringing law and order to our streets, in financial markets, this culture of freedom with responsibility must be promoted by the right frameworks, policed by strong institutions and enforced with real authority. The difference with Labour is stark.

Their idea of regulation is a list of rules that look good on paper. We're concerned with what works in practice. They think it's about the right bureaucratic process. We think it's about the right professional judgement. For us, it's about the right institutions, the right authority and the right discretion.
That's why with the Conservatives, the Bank of England will be back and we will restore its role in regulating the level of debt in the economy.

This approach - promoting, policing and enforcing order and responsibility in the financial markets - is what I want to explain today.


First, promoting order and responsibility. One of the reasons our banks became so leveraged is because the rest of us were willing to take on more and more debt. So we need to tackle problem debt and encourage personal responsibility. That means taking into account how people really behave - not how economics textbooks presume they behave.

Because, whether you like it or not, people are not always rational. They do not always act in their best long-term interests. And they are often heavily influenced by what people around them are doing.
In the bureaucratic age, that's a problem. But in the post-bureaucratic age, it can be an opportunity.

As Richard Thaler has shown, when you design policy so that it reflects how people think and act, you really can encourage greater responsibility. But we don't just need to promote responsibility among individuals - we need to promote it across the whole financial system.

In 1997, Gordon Brown created a new institution, the FSA, to oversee our banks. Last week, Lord Turner launched a report that can only be described as a withering critique of its failings. They are failings we have long recognised.

For a decade, this Government forced the FSA to obsess about products, processes and procedures, box ticking about who's in place to do what job......while neglecting entirely a bank's business model and what they were buying, at what price and with what debt. This wasn't light touch regulation. It was just completely the wrong regulation. It missed a central insight into financial markets: that they're made up of people, not units of production.

It rises on their genius and innovation but falls down on their irrationalities and over-exuberance. So just as with individuals, creating a culture of responsibility across our financial markets means introducing regulation that responds to the way markets and people actually behave. We need regulation that recognises the psychological levers of boom and bust.

That's why we led the debate in the U.K. when we called for banks to be required to hold more capital during the good years in order to absorb losses during the bad years. I'm pleased that reforms to Basel II and the need for what is known as macro-prudential regulation to manage the credit cycle have now been adopted in the Turner Review and are on the agenda at the G20.

This is about reining in that irrational exuberance that is associated with any boom - the feeling that the music will never stop, so we can keep on dancing. The truth is that it is precisely when the music is loudest - as it was over the past decade - that we need regulatory discipline strong enough to cut through that exuberance and keep banks responsible.


The next question is: how do you police this order and responsibility? In 1997, Gordon Brown removed the Bank of England's historic ability to ensure that banking credit was kept within responsible limits.

In one broad brushstroke, the only organisation with the expertise, and authority, to call time on the overall levels of debt in our economy was taken out of the picture. In its place, the then Chancellor put a Tripartite System which monumentally failed its first test. Because he cannot admit his mistakes, Gordon Brown doesn't understand that the model he pursued for the past ten years has fundamentally failed - so he's unable to recognise that this system needs to change. We're clear that it does need to change.

And we're equally clear as to how. To police responsibility within our financial services, we need to call on the only institution with the authority, respect and influence to keep our banks in check. It's time to bring back the Bank of England and restore its role in regulating debt. When Labour took away this role back in 1997, the Bank of England's banking expertise was allowed to wither away. We will rebuild that expertise by giving the Bank an explicit role in macro-prudential, system-wide, regulation.

We will put the Bank of England back in charge of regulating the overall level of debt in the economy, and allow it to make judgements on what is sustainable and what is not. The Bank will set out any concerns in a letter to the FSA, which in turn will be obliged to take that view into account when setting the amount of capital individual banks must hold.

So if the level of debt in our economy is growing unsustainably, the Bank will instruct the FSA to ensure banks either slow their lending or put aside more capital. But of course, we don't just need policing at national level.

Finance is international - indeed much of the credit growth in the UK over the last decade was channelled from abroad. So we need the right mechanisms in place internationally, as well as at home. As Lord Turner has pointed out, that means greater coordination at a European level.

But in a global economy, even that won't be enough. We need to think truly global. Yes, that means reforms to the Basel II agreement to make it less procyclical - so that banks put more money aside in the good years, to act as a buffer in the bad. And it means a greater role for the IMF in monitoring national economies - as well as a way of ensuring that its warnings don't go unheeded as they did over the last few years.

But the ultimate authority must remain with the Bank of England, as it is British taxpayers who will be asked to pick up the bill if anything goes wrong. So we need international co-ordination......and national regulation.


When it comes to that national regulation, we are clear about how it should be enforced. It used to be said that one twitch of the Governor's eyebrow would be enough to get our banks to behave responsibly. Our plans will restore the power of the Governor's eyebrow.

But as Sir James Sassoon has said in the review he recently carried out for us, the Governor's authority works best when it is backed up by real power. So we are considering the suggestion that we should give the Bank of England further power to go into individual banks...to tell them they haven't got enough capital, tell them there's too much leverage, tell them to sort themselves out......or expect the full authority of the Bank.


When you've got a problem with debt - you call for the people who understand how to control spending and get debt down. And when you've got a problem with law and order and a lack of social responsibility - you send for the party of law and order and social responsibility.

We know what's gone wrong - we've had the wrong type of regulation overseen by the wrong type of people. And we know how to put it right. Promoting responsibility by creating the right kind of regulation. Policing it by restoring the Bank of England to its proper role. And enforcing it by giving the Bank of England the authority it needs.That way, we will bring back proper regulation of the banks and financial markets and help restore financial confidence, a vital step on our routemap to recovery."

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Euro Team confirmed

The full slate of Conservative candidates for the North West in the elections to the European Parliament on 4th June has now been confirmed as:

1. Sir Robert Atkins

2. Sajjad Karim

3. Jacqueline Foster

4. Alex Williams

5. Greg Morgan

6. Anthony Samuels

7. Peter Wilding

8. Andrew Large

What Peter Lilley said about the FSA

I don't make a habit of raking over the history of ten years ago or more, but just occsionally Labour ministers should be challenged on their constant re-writing of history. Usually Labour do this so they can peddle scare stories about the Conservatives which have no more basis as a description of David Cameron's Conservatives today than the new Labour narrative of the past has to historical fact.

A good example was Question Time on Thursday night, when Labour minister Tessa Jowell made a number of wild and inaccurate allegations about the record of past Conservative governments and the comments made by past Conservative opposition spokesmen.

For instance, she said to Ken Clarke something along the lines of

When you were Chancellor there were no controls on the financial system at all.

(I've not used inverted commas because I can't swear those were the exact words she used, but that is definately the meaning of what she said.)

In fact the Bank of England was responsible for the supervision of the banking and financial system when Ken Clarke was Chancellor, and had made a much better job of it for the previous two centuries than the FSA has over the past decade.

It was also alleged that the Conservatives had not seen the present problems coming. Now, although David Cameron has apologised for the fact that the Conservatives did not warn more loudly about the problems we are now experiencing, it isn't true that we didn't give any warnings at all. I am grateful to Conservative Home and Iain Dale for pointing out what Peter Lilley said as Shadow Chancellor about Gordon Brown's decision to take banking supervision away from the Bank of England in 1997:

"With the removal of banking control to the Financial Services Authority...it is difficult to see how and whether the Bank remains, as it surely must, responsible for ensuring the liquidity of the banking system and preventing systemic collapse.

The coverage of the FSA will be huge; its objectives will be many, and potentially in conflict with one another. The range of its activities will be so diverse that no one person in it will understand them all.

The Government may, almost casually, have bitten off more than they can chew. The process of setting up the FSA may cause regulators to take their eye off the ball..."

Seems to me that Peter made a pretty good prediction of what has now happened.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Sun endorses DC's economic priorities

David Cameron made an important speech yesterday about the difficult decisions the next government will face, whoever is elected, and the need to get public borrowing under control.

His speech had a strong endorsement from The Sun today which you can read here.

Two strong endorsements for DC from The Sun in a week: is Rupert Murdoch finally getting ready to give up on New Labour? If so he's not the only one.

Par for the course

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I heard that an Italian Professor, Ettori Gotti Tedeschi, has apparently nominated Gordon Brown for the Nobel Prize for Economics.

But it's only par for the course. How could it be any more ridiculous than the joint nomination of Tony Blair and George W Bush for the Nobel Peace Prize ?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Public Meetings on New Nuclear Build

There were two public meetings today, in the afternoon and early evening respectively, at Whitehaven civic hall. The subject was the nomination process for sites to be considered for Nuclear New Build.

It was estimated that about 300 people attended one or other of the two meetings, which were chaired by David Moore, leader of the Conservative group on Copeland Council, in his capacity as chairman of the local nuclear consultative committee.

Presentations at the start of each meeting gave an outline of the local "Energy Coast" masterplan and the process for nominating sites. It would appear that three sites in Copeland are likely to be put forward as possible locations for nuclear power stations when the deadline for nominations closes on 31st March. The NDA will be nominating land at Sellafield, and RWE will nominate sites near Kirksanton and Braystones. These nominations will be followed by an extensive period of public consultation before the government decides which of the nominated locations would be acceptable as possible sites for new nuclear build.

There is a great deal of further examination of the proposals and public debate to go forward before any of these sites could be chosen for a new power station. A lot of concerns, some raised at the meetings, will need to be carefully considered. But I was pleased to see that the process of looking at sites and options is finally under way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Check your brakes if you live in Egremont Road

I also attended a West Cumbria Police Consultative forum in Mirehouse, Cumbria this evening. A number of issues relating to local policing were discussed.

One alarming item of news raised by a member of the public concerns the fact that there has been within the last 72 hours a rash of vandalism of cars in the Egremont Road area of Egremont Road Whitehaven. Some of the cars affected had their brakes sabotaged.

The police are onto this one: in fact the resident who raised it had learned of the problem via a document put out to local residents of the affected area by the police: he was asking if there was any progress in catching the perpetrators.

It is very important that the dangerous idiots responsible for this outrageous set of vandalism are caught and put behind bars before the matter becomes a murder inquiry. If you live in Whitehaven and you see someone doing anything suspect to a vehicle which could be vandalism, call the police at once. And if you live in the Egremont Road area, it would probably be a good idea to check your brakes before driving anywhere until the perpetrators have been caught.

Feedback from West Cumbria Waste partnership

I attended as a member of the public for part of the West Cumbria MRWS partnership meeting in Cleator this afternoon.

This body has been set up to bring together organisations with an interest in whether the councils in West Cumbria apply to host a new Nuclear Waste repository. It has been set up to advise on whether to make a "Decision to Participate" and will wind up when that decision is made.

(It was an all day meeting, and I was not in a position to attend the whole day, so I went to the session on Public and Stakeholder Engagement which began at lunchtime.)

Positive reactions - pleased to see a wide range of relevant authorities, interest groups and experts there, providing skills from economics to geology. Both Copeland and Allerdale councils were represented, as were Parish councils, and the NDA. The people running the session bent over backwards to get every view represented. They were also serious about trying to get genuine engagement with local people and carry the community along with whatever decision is made.

Negative reactions: I was disappointed that Cumbria County Council is not taking part, despite an invitation. I also felt that a number of participants were too quick to dismiss the idea of a referendum on whether we should have a repository.

There may well be some people reading this, especially from outside Cumbria, who cannot understand how I could possibly consider the option of supporting a nuclear waste respository in my constituency. The answer is very simple, specific to West Cumbria, and should be met head on.

We already have a hundred tons of plutonium oxide stored in Copeland, and many more tons of low level waste. West Cumbria is already looking after the great majority of Britain's existing nuclear waste.

Enormous efforts have been invested in making sure that this waste is safely stored from both the security and environmental perspectives. Nevertheless, after detailed consideration of the issues of geology, transport, security and safety, it is very possible that even from a NIMBY point of view, a properly designed underground Long Term repository for this nuclear waste may be a significant improvement on the status quo.

But there must be clear and transparent public consultation so that the local community can be assured of exactly what is happening and that their safety is paramount. That is part of what today's meeting was intended to be about.

It will be many years before the necessary work has been done to permit any firm decisions to be taken.

Sun supports DC's call to freeze the licence fee

Today's editorial in The Sun, which you can read here, backs David Cameron's call for a freeze in the television licence fee.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cameron: Freeze BBC Licence Fee

David Cameron called today for the BBC licence fee to be frozen for one year.

Speaking at his regular Press Conference today, he said:

“First of all, can I take this opportunity to thank all of you for your support over the death of my son Ivan. Sam and I were very grateful not just for all of the texts, emails and letters from members of the media, but for being given some space at a difficult time.

I’m fully back at work now. At our last press conference here I announced the creation of an Economic Recovery Committee to advise us on economic policy. That’s now up and running - we had an excellent meeting shortly after the launch, and George Osborne chaired another meeting last week. At which David Freud joined the Committee.

Whoever wins the general election, the next government of this country will need to make a clean break with the past and set about fixing our economy. I’m absolutely determined to do that, and it means speaking very clearly and frankly about what’s gone wrong, and how we are going to put it right.

So on Friday I gave a pretty frank speech about the fundamental weaknesses in our economy, and our responsibility to tackle them. That is our route-map to recovery, and in the next few weeks I will be making a series of speeches setting out the new Conservative economic strategy.

First, solving Labour’s Debt Crisis by making sure government lives within its means and delivers more for less. And it’s not just government that has to live within its means – we all do.

So today, I want to make an announcement that shows our expectation that government and all taxpayer-funded institutions should start leading by example. The BBC is one of our most important national institutions. It plays a vital role in bringing the country together, and I want to see it prosper and succeed and continue to be a fantastic cultural asset for Britain . But it also needs to maintain public support, and I want to see it leading by example at a tim e when the whole country is tightening its belt.

And so I can announce today that we would freeze the BBC licence fee for one year. I think that would be an important signal to the country of the need for all public institutions, in these difficult economic circumstances, to do more with less.

The second step in our route-map to recovery will be to restore financial confidence and bring back proper regulation of the banks and financial markets, and I will be explaining our approach to that in a speech shortly.

Third, we must cut the cost of decades of social failure by ending mass welfare dependency.

And fourth, we need to rebalance our economy by stimulating investment in the industries of the future so we’re not so reliant on debt, we’re not so reliant on a few sectors like financial services and housing and we’re not so reliant on one part of the country for our economic growth, and make sure that prosperity is spread to every corner of Britain.

So if we win the next election, that’s how a new Conservative Government would get to work fixing our broken economy alongside fixing our broken society:

Solving Labour’s Debt Crisis.

Restoring financial confidence.

Tackling welfare dependency.

And rebalancing our economy.

This route-map to recovery would move Britain beyond the failed economic consensus of recent years, and towards the hope of a strong and sustainable economy for the country’s long-term future.

So over the next few weeks, in the run-up to the G20 conference, I’m going to be setting out our approach to each of these four areas, showing that the country now has a very clear choice:

* between a Conservative Party that really understands just how broken our economy is, and the nature of the failed economic consensus that has brought us to this point.

* And a Labour Prime Minister who is so tied to this consensus that he cannot escape it and offer the country the economic change we need.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Feedback from Copeland Council OSC Management

Copeland Council's Overview and Scrutiny Management committee met this morning.

Main items of the agenda were reviews of the O&S Committee structure and the council's training programme.

Councillors were of the opinion that to help our staff provide better service to the public we need to offer more customer service training to all employees.

In relation to reported proposals for New Nuclear Build, the committee also agreed to forward a recommendation that the council would support better public consultation about such proposals at an early stage.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How a dozen people disgraced a whole community

There are plenty of people in this country, including large numbers of the indigenous community as well as more recent immigrants, who think that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Nor is this opinion unique to followers of Islam: it is shared by plenty of Christians, Hindus, Bhuddists, Agnostics, and Atheists.

However, most people who don't agree with the war have the sense to focus their disagreement on the politicians who ordered it, not the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who were sent, at the risk of their own lives, to remove Saddam Hussein and try to rebuild order in Iraq when that was done.

So I have no sympathy whatsoever with the dozen or so idiots who demonstrated against the Royal Anglian Regiment in Luton last week. They were aiming at the wrong targets and their placards were silly and offensive. But there are two important points to make before people start over-reacting.

1) One of the differences between Britain and, say, Saddam Hussein's Iraq is that in this country you can express opinions which disagree with the government, big business, the church, the press or anyone else, and and provided you stay within the law, nobody will stop you. That applies no matter how silly the views expressed are or how many people disagree with them.

2) We must not condemn a town of 200,000 people or communities of millions because of the views expressed by a dozen people. There were far more residents of Luton out to welcome the Royal Anglian Regiment than to criticise them: there were far more members of ethnic or religious minorities, including Muslims, who were there to cheer our boys than were there to demonstrate against them.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eric Pickles on the need for Doorstep campaigning

Eric gave an interview with the Telegraph a few days ago which you can read here.

He points out that to win elections you need to have a message which everyone can understand and relate to: the internet is useful but it does not remove the need for doorstep campaigning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Swimathon 2009

I will be taking part in Swimathon 2009 next month to raise money for Marie Curie cancer care.

Any offers of sponsorship would be much appreciated. You can do this online at the Swimathon website here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Attack the guilty and leave the innocent alone

Some MPs and MEPs have brought disgrace on their country and damaged their own parties by misusing the system of parliamentary allowances.

There have been unfortunate examples in most parties of inappropriate behaviour and it is the responsibility of all parties to see that those responsible are dealt with. This cannot be tolerated whoever does it.

That is why David Cameron has effectively sacked a number of MPs and MEPs and he was right to do so.

It is equally important not to blacken the name of politics further by going after the innocent.

It is patently obvious that MPs cannot possibly represent an area like, say, Copeland properly unless some arrangement is made to enable them to live in or near Westminster when parliament is sitting and their constituency when it is not. Equally, there have to be clear rules to ensure that the payments available to support second homes are not abused.

It has also been sadly obvious that some of the MPs - in, alas, more than one party - who have been criticised for the way they claimed the second homes allowance have questions to answer.

It is equally obvious that some of the criticisms made have been blatant smears. Unfortunately one side effect of the bad behaviour of the few has been to make it more likely that people will believe other accusations of similar behaviour even when those accusations are not in fact justified. This article on Conservative Home by Dr Julian Lewis responding to false attacks made against him illustrates the point.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Throwing custard proves you've lost the argument

I am not a fan of Peter Mandelson and am inclined to agreed with those who think Heathrow was built in the wrong place and should not be expanded.

But throwing custard over him was an entirely inappropriate way to make that point.

It just makes those who oppose the runway look like adolescent idiots who can't win the argument - an appearance which is most unfair to those who have put the case against the runway in more constructive ways.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Harman to propose repeal of Law of Gravity ...

A spoof news report on the Daily Mash here suggests that Harriet Harman is proposing to repeal the law of gravity. Note that although the Daily Mash is often extremely funny the site is not suitable for children.

Another comic website here can be used to send spoof letters of apology, supposedly from Gordon Brown.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Carlisle Council by-election results

There were two council by elections yesterday, both held by the defending party.

The Conservatives held Belah ward with a majority of nearly 400 over Labour

The Lib Dems held Castle ward with a majority of 161, also over Labour, who had been in second place when both wards were last contested. Full results were

Carlisle, Belah Ward

Con 700: Cllr Gareth Ellis elected.
Lab 307
Ind 221
BNP 142
LD 79
Grn 61

Carlisle, Castle Ward

Lib Dem 465: Cllr Colin Farmer elected.
Lab 304
BNP 255
Con 143
Green 125

Congratulations to Gareth Ellis, who I was delighted to see elected: he had previously been a councillor in the marginal ward of Botcherby, and I think he will be an excellent representative for Belah ward.

The Farmer family will have to be on their toes when recorded votes take place on Carlisle council: the newly elected Councillor Colin Farmer joins his parents, both representatives for Morton, on the council. (When a recorded vote takes place, the officer clerking the meeting calls out the name of each councillor in alphabetical order by surname to ask how they are voting.)

A "something for everyone" result for all three of the main parties in the sense that the Conservatives are pleased with a hold and a good share of the vote in Belah, the Lib/Dems will be pleased to have held Castle, and Labour will be pleased to have retained second place in both seats and most of their vote share from the previous election.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Of Helicopters and "Helicopter Money"

What an irony that news reports this morning about the Bank of England's proposal to enlarge the money supply, or "Quantitative Easing," were almost immediately followed by the story that the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has criticised the government for inefficent procurement of helicopters.

The reason it is ironic is that what is now called "Quantitative Easing" is extremely similar to what used to be called "Helicopter Money."

An earlier advocate of spending your way out of a recession, the economist John Maynard Keynes, suggested that the government could print large sums of money and bury it down mine shafts. The hope was that intrepid citizens would go and get the buried banknotes and then spend the money, injecting cash into the economy. There were no helicopters at the time he was writing, but his later "Neo-Keynsian" acolytes suggested you could give an equivalent boost to the economy in times of recession by sending helicopters to scatter tenners and fivers from the skies into the high streets of Britain.

Because this was such a striking mental image, the term "Helicopter Money" became economists' shorthand for pumping cash and hence demand into the economy.

And as the Bank of England prepares to issue "helicopter money", our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are finding their job made more difficult through a shortage of real helicopters. While a number of Chinook helicopters bought ten years ago have been sitting in hangars, unable to be used because of poor procurement practice.

If the government wants to inject some "Helicopter Money" into the economy, one quite useful way of doing it might be to buy a few real helicopters, making sure all the right procedures are followed so they can be deployed, and send them to British forces in Afghanistan.

Some loosening of monetary policy is undoubtedly appropriate: I am not suggesting that no action should be taken to get Britain out of recession. The Conservatives have put forward a number of positive steps, listed here, to get Britain moving.

And I would rather see any stimulus managed by the Bank of England rather than the treasury.

But there is a need to keep an eye on the balance of the economy. Whether the method used is government fiscal policy as described in Jim Callaghan's famous speech of 1976, or a monetary stimulous by printing money as agreed today, the long term effect of pumping too much money into the economy can be harmful. To quote from that speech, made when Callaghan was a Labour prime minister,

“We used to think that you could spend your way out of a recession and increase employment by cutting taxes and boosting government spending. I tell you in all candour that that option no longer exists, and in so far as it ever did exist, it only worked on each occasion since the war by injecting a bigger dose of inflation into the economy, followed by a higher level of unemployment as the next step.

Higher inflation followed by higher unemployment: that is the history of the last twenty years."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Crucial Economic measures delayed

The main criticism which the Prime Minister was making of the Conservatives for the first two months of this year was to allege (wrongly) that our policy on the recession was to "do nothing."

Which makes it ironic that, as William Hague pointed out at Prime Minister's Questions today, crucial economic measures which the government had said they would put in place to help businesses have been delayed.

He highlighted the example of the Government’s loan guarantee scheme, which was announced in January and due to be launched on 1st March, but is still not operational.

This flagship scheme, designed to get credit flowing to businesses again, has yet to guarantee a single loan – and, as a result, companies are going under and jobs being lost.

William stressed that there was “a failure to implement right across the Government’s economic policy” and listed other Government measures that have been postponed:

* The jobs recruitment scheme has been delayed until April
* The mortgage support scheme has yet to be worked out
* The guarantee scheme for asset bank securities is not starting until April
* The Lloyds Bank deal has been delayed

William ended by warning that the Government no longer commands the confidence of the British people, and stressed, “The people who got us into this mess can’t be the people to get us out of it.”

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

West Cumberland Hospital to stay on current site

A meeting of the NHS Trust board has agreed that West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven should stay on its current site.

For more details see the Whitehaven News site here or follow the link at right to my hospital campaign blog.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Neighbourhood Forum Meetings

Keswick & District Neighbourhood Forum

Meeting this evening at the Friends Meeting House, Keswick (opposite Booths), 7pm

Bransty & Harbour Neighbourhood Forum

Meeting tomorrow evening (3rd March) at the United Reformed Church Hall, 7pm

Agenda items include

(1) Whitehaven Public Realm Improvements - Civic Quarter & Mount Pleasant.

Sherrie Robinson, Project Manager (Whitehaven Regeneration) will talk about the planned improvements for the area across the front of Whitehaven Civic Hall and the Daniel Hay Library, to be known as the "Civic Quarter" and also environmental improvements to Mount Pleasant Park.

(2) Traffic Update

David Bell, Senior Traffic Engineer - Copeland, Capita Symonds will give an update on work to be commenced following the Whitehaven Town Centre - Traffic Regulation Order Review in the Market Place and other roads in Whitehaven. Plans will be available on the night.

(3) Concessionare Fares

Copeland Borough Council will have a display & information on the Concessionary Travel Scheme.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Great minds think alike ...

Two days ago in my post "The Price of Freedom" I quoted Ben Franklin's words, as slightly modified by Chris Roberts,

"The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance."

Yesterday David Davis made the same point in support of the Convention on modern liberty. You can watch and listen to his excellent interview here where it was posted this morning on PlayPolitical.com.

3000 people queue for 150 Jobs

I am grateful to Dizzy Thinks, via political betting, for drawing my attention to this this story in the News of the World about Twycross Zoo, which advertised 150 vacancies, mostly for unskilled workers, and had a queue of 3,000 applicants turn up to their recruitment day. There was a four mile traffic tailback.

It does bring home to you the seriousness of the situation, and how we need the right action to deal with it.

It seems that long lines of people looking for work are common to the final months of unsuccessful Labour governments. Remember "Labour isn't working?"