Saturday, December 31, 2011

WCH Business case looks set for approval

It looks like the business case for the £90 rebuild and refurbishment for West Cumberland Hospital is finally set for approval.

The West Cumberland News and Star reports that

"Major progress could be made within weeks on the £90 million plan to rebuild Whitehaven’s West Cumberland Hospital.

The full business case for the landmark redevelopment of the infirmary is currently being considered by regional health chiefs."

The paper says that local NHS bosses are hopeful that the case will be approved at a Strategic Health Authority board meeting in January.

More details on the News and Star website or on my hospitals blog (see link at right.)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Vaclav Havel R.I.P.

The Czech playwright, thinker, philospher, dissident and ultimately statesman Vaclav Havel, who died earlier this month, was a truly great man.

I did not agree with everything he said or did, but as someone who showed great bravery when he suffered under communism for speaking up for the victims of oppression and injustice, became a symbol of the aspirations of the Czech people, and when he eventually became President worked for reconciliation and forgiveness, he deserves a special place among those who are remembered as great human beings.

Former Polish dissident and later President Lech Walensa said that he thought Havel should have received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Rest in Peace.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Emergency Chemists in Copeland over the holiday

The Emergency Chemists in the Whitehaven and Mid Copeland area over the Christmas and New Year holiday period 2011/12 are as follows:

CHRISTMAS DAY (25th December 2011)

5pm to 6pm
Seascale Pharmacy
Gosforth Road, Seascale.

BOXING DAY (26th December 2011)

1pm to 3pm
Boots the Chemist
26 King Street

NEW YEAR'S DAY (1st January 2012)

6pm to 7pm
Egremont Boots Pharmacy
67-67 Main Street

A Merry Christmas to everyone reading this

May I wish a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year 2012, to everyone reading this blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Metal Theft - government acts

The government has today responded to the requests for action against metal theft, the need for which was highlighted on this blog yesterday.

Home office minister James Brokenshire has confirmed that the government will be bringing forward measures to make it easier to catch metal theives. These will include "introducing a new licence regime for scrap metal dealers and prohibiting cash payments" and establishing a "metal theft taskforce" together with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He said that the Home office "is discussing with other Departments what legislative changes are necessary to assist enforcement agencies and deter offenders".

Responding to a question from Gravesham MP Adam Holloway about the financial implications of metal theft, Brokenshire said the cost could be "anywhere between £220 million and £777 million per annum". Holloway asked whether there was "any argument for seizing the entire inventories of metal dealers found to be purchasing what are effectively stolen goods". Brokenshire confirmed that this was one of the reasons for a new taskforce, "to inform intelligence and ensure that those responsible for such crimes are brought to justice".

Craig Whittaker MP (Calder Valley) spoke of the implications for private and social landlords, who had reported "the rising number of instances of houses in between tenancies being totally ripped apart". Whittaker said that "water pipes, gas pipes and ... electric wiring—causing thousands of pounds worth of damage" had been stolen from tenanted property. Discussion was ongoing with other departments on the "most appropriate way" of tackling the problem, replied Brokenshire, who stated that "the only conclusion is that new legislation is needed to tackle metal theft".

Nadine Dorries MP (Mid Bedfordshire) was critical of the current "Steptoe and Son" Act concerning the scrap metal industry, saying it was "time to change the law" on the industry as a whole. Brokenshire replied that "existing regulation of the scrap metal industry through the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 needs to be revised", and once again reitereated the importance of intelligence to allow police to crack down on this crime.

Questions were also asked about the effect metal theft was having on the railway industry, and on local communities. Brokenshire spoke of the "risk, threat, inconvenience and serious harm that can be caused by stealing cabling and signalling equipment from the railways", saying that the British Transport Police has a lead role in the Government's planned taskforce with the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Labour MP Tom Clarke referred to the descration of a monumnet commemorating a coal mining disaster in his constituency. Everyone in the House is united in their condemnation for these "sickening crimes", Brokenshire said, which have occurred where monuments and places that exist to celebrate our war dead or important historical incidents have been desecrated".

Voluntary organisations, as well as churches and schools were the victims of this "invidious crime", said Mark Garnier MP (Wyre Forest), such as the Severn Valley Railway in Shropshire and Worcestershire. Garnier also announced that an all-party group on combating metal theft was set up last week. It is under the joint chairmanship of Chris Kelly MP (Dudley South) and Labour MP Graham Jones.

Hat top to Connservative Home (see link at right) for some of the information in this post.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Crooked Cretins cut off Cumbrians

Thousands of West Cumbrian families, and other people as far away as Lancashire, lost phone services, including the ability to make emergency 999 calls, for part of the weekend after a bunch of idiotic criminals attacked a section of telephone cable near Workington.

The motive appears to have been a futile attempt to steal copper wire - in which they were unsuccessful because copper was replaced by optical fibres in BT's trunk network years ago.

About 13,000 homes and businesses lost all telephone service for a time, the main areas being hit in West Cumbria being Harrington, Cleator Moor, and parts of Whitehaven, though some customers in Lancaster were also affected. BT engineers working round the clock over the weekend made temporary repairs which restored service to all customers by Saturday afternoon, though it took until 2am on Sunday to complete permanent repairs. The damage also caused a reduction in network capacity that caused congestion for customers across a much wider area.

During the period services were affected, Cumbria police advised people to use mobile phones to make 999 calls and stationed an officer at a local pub in Cleator Moor as a point of contact.

Luke Beeson, BT Security general manager for metal theft, said:

“Cumbria has suffered very few cable thefts but this single incident illustrates that when would-be thieves mistakenly target fibre cables in their search for copper, the impact can be felt over a very wide area.

“Thanks to our engineers who worked through the night, the damage has been repaired and we’ll now be doing all we can to help the police in their search for the perpetrators.”

As I have mentioned in a number of recent blog posts, metal thieves - or, as in this case, exceptionally stupid would-be metal thieves - are not just doing a great deal of damage to the British economy. They are also putting lives at risk.

Not everyone has a mobile phone, and some of the exchange areas affected by this week's attack include black spots of very poor mobile coverage. This attack could have delayed calls for help in an emergency.

Unless action is taken to crack down on metal theft and put the people who are guilty of this activity behind bars, sooner or later they will be cause deaths.

MPs on both sides of the House of Commons have recently raised the problems of metal thefts, including David Morris, Conservative MP for Morecambe & Lunesdale, and Graham Jones MP (Labour). In response, Home office minister James Brokenshire said recently that

“The Home Office supports the wide-ranging plan being delivered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Metal Theft working group to tackle metal theft, including the theft from public buildings and memorials. In addition, discussions are under way across Government on whether legislative changes are needed to tackle metal theft."

I think that legislation is necessary, and I hope that the government can find time for it soon.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Veto and democracy

"E.U. Leaves U.K."

These were the first three words of the Indy's headline this morning - the full headline continued with "out in the cold" but I initially saw the first three words which seem curiously apposite. You can take them more than one way. Remember "Fog in the Channel: continent isolated!"

A surprising number of commentators don't appear to get the main reason why David Cameron had no choice but to veto the proposed treaty this week. Some of the Liberal Democrats obviously do get it, which is one of the reasons that, despite all the efforts by some in the media to stir up a coalition split on the subject, I don't believe David Cameron's veto is going to bring down the government.

* The fact that David Cameron thought the proposed treaty might damage the City of London was a very important argument against signing, but there was an even stronger one.

* This was not about bashing Europe. Signing would have given DC a huge amount of grief with Tory backbenchers and some of the press, but that neither would nor should have stopped him signing if he had thought doing so was in Britain's interests.

And preventing a Eurozone meltdown is in Britain's interests provided they don't sabotage key sectors of our economy - there will be collateral damage to British jobs and incomes if the Eurozone slumps.

* Nobody with any sense wants Britain isolated, but actually, if a British P.M. had tried to sign up to what was on offer, the end result would have been even worse - and because of something positive which the coalition did when it first took office.

That was to address the lack of democratic legitimacy in past EU treaty changes by passing the "Triple Lock" legislation under which transfers of power to the EU require a referendum in Britain before they could be ratified.

If David Cameron had signed a 27 member treaty as proposed, the "Triple Lock" law would have forced a referendum on that treaty.

Can anyone in their right mind imagine that a majority of British voters would have voted yes?

Better to be open and forthright, say No now, and let the other nations agree a different solution, than leave everyone thinking the treaty was agreed and having it voted down by the electorate a few months down the line.

Of course, the other EU nations can go ahead and organise a separate treaty with up to 26 of the EU member nations, and we can't stop that. Nor should we try.

But that separate treaty will not damage the UK in the way that the treaty which DC blocked would have.

Friday, December 09, 2011


While a real storim with 100 mile-an-hour winds was lashing Britain, a political storm was raging in Brussels which will have far-reaching consequences.

I am not delighted that David Cameron had to veto the proposed EU treaty but he had no choice whatsoever and he would have been wrong to sign up to what was on offer.

The Eurozone needs to take effective measures to support their currency and deal with the solvency crisis, and it would have been wrong to try to stop them taking such measures, provided it were done in a way which does not harm Britain.

Unfortunately it appears that signing up to the proposals could have harmed the City of London. I know the bankers are not popular right now (understatement of the decade) and I think there is a case for tougher regulation imposed within Britain in ways which make the city stronger rather than weaker. But on their past form I have zero confidence in the ability of the EU institutions to get that balance right, and in the present economic difficulties we need to impose extra difficulties on one of our major sources of income as a country like we need a whole set of bullet holes in the head.

If Britain had signed the proposed treaty it would have also required a referendum, which I don't believe would have been likely to produce a yes.

So we now have a "17 plus" treaty with the Euro-zone countries plus most of the rest of the EU, but not including Britain and apparently at least one other EU member outside it. (Not heard which one on the radio yet, but I suspect it may be Denmark.)

These are uncharted waters. I hope that the Eurozone countries are successful in solving their problems, not least because it is in our interests that they succeed, and I hope we can rebuild a constructive relationship with them. But, to continue with the uncharted waters metaphor, we need to move forward carefully and watch out for hidden rocks.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Lansley: I am committed to West Cumberland Hospital

Health secretary Andrew Lansley confirmed while visiting Cumbria last week that he remains strongly committed to supporting West Cumberland Hospital.

The Secretary of State was in Cumbria to open a new wing at the Eden Valley hospice near Carlisle.

He made his comments to Penrith and the Borders MP Rory Stewart, who had arranged for him to meet a senior local consultant and GP to hear their concerns about services in Cumbria during his visit.

Rory Stewart asked Mr Lansley to consider writing off the debts of the North Cumbria hospitals trust. The minister said that he might be willing to consider this provided the trusts can come up with a strong plan for the future.

I am pleased by the confirmation that the government remains committed to our hospital, but it remains imperative that we keep up the pressure on the trusts and the government to ensure it is understood that we need a comprehensive range of health services in both West Cumbria and Carlisle.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

EU debt crisis worsens as S&P flags credit risk

Last week the Governor of the Bank of England pointed out that the financial crisis in the Eurozone, which he described as a "Solvency crisis, not a liquidity crisis" posed a serious threat to the economies of all trading nations including Britain.

Today we learn that EVERY Eurozone country which was not already at the world's worst rating (Greece) or already under review (Cyprus) has been placed on "Credit Watch"

This means by definition that France, Germany and the other four Eurozone nations which currently have the best possible rating - AAA - are at some risk of losing that status.

I think it is a bit misleading of Sky News to state that Ratings agency Standard & Poor's (S&P) move to place the whole Eurozone on 'credit watch' means that the six countries with AAA ratings "now have a 50% chance of losing that status."

No, it means they are under review.

If the markets really thought that France and Germany had a 50% chance of losing their AAA rating, we would have seen a more extreme reaction : in fact market reaction has been fairly muted, with the FTSE 100 (Euronext: VFTSE.NX - news) falling 0.6% on opening while the German DAX dropped 1.4% and the CAC 40 in Paris Paris lost 0.7%.

On the bond markets too, while the German 10 year debt yield rose slightly countries such as Italy which had been recently under siege saw little damage - falling to near 6.4%.

That may partly be because the traders had already factored into their prices some allowance for the risk of Eurozone countries having their credit ratings downgraded.

Nevertheless this is seriously bad news for the Eurozone countries and bad news for other nations like Britain who are their trading partners.

We may say "Thank God we didn't join the Euro" - and we would be right to say that - but it doesn't alter the fact that what hurts the countries who did join it also hurts us. This emphasises the extreme importance of getting Britain's public finances onto a more stable footing as soon as possible.

Sadly, whoever had won the last general election and whoever wins the next one, the people who are in government in this country will have no easy options, today or for a long time.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bransty Legion site planning application

Until the National British Legion closed all the nine clubs which were part of a particular group of "New British Legion" scheme clubs about eighteen months ago, the Bransty Legion club was an important part of community life for residents of Bransty Hill.

It provided a meeting place which has a venue for all manner of community events, from Neighbourhood Forum meetings to Neighbourhood watch to changing for Bransty Rovers football club. Some of these have moved to Bransty school, which is the only remaining meeting place on the hill: others have been forced to stop or move outside the Bransty Hill area.

This coming Wednesday, Copeland Council's planning panel will consider a proposal to give planning permission for houses on most of the site.

Copeland Council's adopted local plan, with planning policies which are supposed to guide the planning panel, includes a clause to the effect that the council will resist the loss of a community facility unless it is replaced. Since the British Legion started marketing the Bransty Legion club site for sale for housing BEFORE they closed the club, and well before the building was demolished this year, this policy should apply: no developer can accurately argue that the community facility was already lost before the process of trying to turn the site into housing was first started.

I cannot see a good planning reason to object to housing on most of the site, but I hope the planning panel will make permission subject to a planning obligation to provide a replacement community facility.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Boundary commission submission

Tomorrow is the last day for the submission of responses on the Boundary Commission for England's proposals for new constituency boundaries for the North West.

This was my submission

"I support the Boundary Commission proposals for a new Carlisle constituency, but for the rest of the county I support instead the Conservative Party proposals.
The Carlisle City Council area is an obvious community of interests. I support the Commission proposal to make the Carlisle constituency as close as possible to the local authority area. This is far more sensible than a rival proposal to put part of North Allerdale into a Carlisle constituency while associating significant areas of Carlisle City with Penrith.

The North East part of Allerdale has economic, social and historical links with Penrith which are comparable with those they have with Carlisle: these areas were part of an earlier Penrith and the Borders seat when represented by the late Viscount Whitelaw.

Having been a parliamentary candidate in the current Copeland seat in 2010, I and my team called on most of the houses in the Keswick and Derwent Valley area during the campaign.

As the constituency had just changed to include this area, the subject of boundaries came up frequently on the doorstep. The almost unanimous view of the residents who raised the issue with me was that they did not feel they had much in common either with the Workington area (with which they had been associated on the previous boundaries) or Whitehaven/Copeland (with which they are associated on the present ones). They would prefer to be in a constituency centred on Penrith, as under the Conservative counterproposal for Cumbria.

The proposed “Copeland and Windermere” seat would be almost unmanageable because the physical obstacles separating the component parts of such a seat are immense. As most speakers at the public hearing in Carlisle pointed out, these obstacles include the highest mountain in England and the deepest and longest lakes. Whitehaven and Bowness have different newspapers, different TV channels, different local authorities, wildly different economic interests, and no direct routes between them which are not high mountain passes.

A West Cumbria seat based around Whitehaven and Workington would make far more sense in terms of commonality of interest.

If such a seat were adopted, electoral numbers would make it necessary for the North East parts of Allerdale Borough, and the Southern part of Copeland, to be in other constituencies. I have already explained why I believe that North East Allerdale would fit better with Penrith than any of the alternatives. South Copeland would fit better with Barrow than any realistic alternative, and that the best place for the dividing line is at Sellafield.

If Copeland council wards from Beckermet and north were included in the West Cumbrian constituency while Gosforth ward and south were part of the Barrow constituency, this would mean that the Sellafield site, which is by far the dominant employer on the west coast of Cumbria, would have two MPs, one representing the Sellafield travel to work area and routes to the North, and the other that to the South. This would be workable and fair."

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Time to batten down again

Take care if you are outdoors in some parts of Copeland this evening: there is a really nasty wind which is verging on the dangerous.

Beating the Metal Thieves, continued

Further to my blog post a couple of weeks ago about the ten-minute rule bill on metal theft, David Morris MP has also raised the issue of metal theft in the House of Commons.

David, who is Conservative MP for Morecambe & Lunesdale, was disappointed to hear of recent metal thefts in his constituency two of which were very high profile, namely lead being stolen from the roof of the Winter Gardens and the theft of metal from the ‘Picture Frame’ artwork in the West End Gardens.

In his question to the Home Office Secretary David Morris MP asked “What steps is she taking to tackle metal theft from public buildings and memorials?”

Responding on behalf of the Home Office, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP said.

“The Home Office supports the wide-ranging plan being delivered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) Metal Theft working group to tackle metal theft, including the theft from public buildings and memorials. In addition, discussions are under way across Government on whether legislative changes are needed to tackle metal theft.

David Morris MP added, “I want to be clear, it is not just here in Morecambe & Lunesdale such thefts have occurred it is a UK wide issue. I am encouraged by the efforts of the Police to tackle this and I would encourage legislative change to combat this dangerous form of theft.“

I agree - we need to stamp out this sometimes dangerous and often particularly shameful form of theft before someone loses their life because of it.