Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Community service offenders are above picking up litter

There's been a lot said about rubbish recently - bin taxes, fly-tipping etc.

The verges have just had their autumnal haircut. Far from leaving the area neat and tidy the mowers have uncovered the trash discarded by motorists - bottles, bags, and I can't politely describe what else. This evening I spotted 4 rats in 400 yards.

I stopped and picked up some rubbish myself. I asked the council to send in some extra manpower. They will send bin bags and neon jackets for a community litter pick. I suggest contacting the probation service to see if some of those on "Community Service" sentences would help.

I'm told litter picking is 'demeaning' and 'beneath what offenders should be asked to do', and not therefore appropriate for those on community service.

So its OK to pay a council employee overtime to collect litter, its OK for those who care about their community to collect litter. But for law-breakers who are told to serve the community it is "demeaning". I guess that's why there is so much rubbish.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Feedback from the Marginal Seats

Today I went to Harlow where the Labour MP's majority is only 97 votes. Robert Halfon the Conservative candidate has been in the press this week pointing out the huge amount of public and trade union money that Labour MP's have to help defend their tiny majorities.

There are two council by-elections in Harlow this week. I arrived to find a wonderfully well organised Conservative campaign HQ. Great candidates, well marked canvas cards, many various leaflets and good coffee. One team was running a street stall collecting support for a EU referendum, others were canvassing and delivering leaflets.

On the streets I met committed Conservatives and long term Labour voters who want a change. Sadly I also met two families who say they've had enough and are emigrating. One was a GP taking his family to Australia.

The issues were the same as I find everywhere, immigration, crime, underfunded roads and services, young people with drugs and alcohol in the woods, families struggling to make ends meet.

Over lunch, I met up with Robert and Alistair Burt MP (he's just such a nice man). Alistair reminded everyone that all council by-elections are critical at the moment. If Gordon won't give us a general election then at least this is a chance for people to send him a message. If you want to make a difference, get out to your target seats and join them for a day - you will return home happy!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Where did all the nurses go?

The reports that have appeared about Maidstone hospital have been utterly shocking. Many months ago I wrote that bed cuts were adding to C-dif mortality rates but I have struggled over the past few days to understand why nursing standards appeared so low.

Until I looked at the numbers.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Staff

2004/5 1,722 2005/6 1,543 2006/7 1,420

Thats a 20% cut in nursing staff in two years. From a hospital that claimed "cuts would be made by reducing use of bank and agency staff" How many times have we heard that across the country?

As one nurse has blogged recently "My ward is 35 beds general surgery, general medical, high dependency as well as 10-15 care of the elderly beds. We get one nurse and one or 2 assistants. Five years ago it was 4 and 3 and all the patients were taken care of." I know its more complicated than this but I would like to know what has happened to nurse/bed ratios across the country.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Petty Party Bureaucracy of Local Government

At the beginning of August the council received a letter from our local regiment explaining the losses that they were suffering in Afghanistan. They wanted to set up a fund to help victims and families. I spoke to the council's cabinet and we agreed on a £5,000 donation. A small amount of money but a start - it would have been nice to get the money committed before the rest of the battalion returned home... and the head of the army has asked local councils to help welcome troops home.

I discussed it with my Lib Dem opposition who thought there was nothing wrong.

Skip forward to end September, after weeks of bureaucratic dithering, I'm told the donation is outside "policy" but that I, as portfolio holder, have the right to go outside the policy. So I approve the donation.

8th Oct (yesterday) - I am told that my decision is being "called in for scrutiny" by various Lib Dems and Independents - This will delay the decision until earliest November 16th.

Today, after begging for the decision to be scrutinised earlier, it is clear that the only way to make a quick decision is if I renege on my original decision and bring the whole issue to a full debate of all 59 councillors on Oct 18th. The Chief Exec is going to need to write a full paper for the full council.

All we wanted to do was send a message of support to our troops on the ground.... but even this is tied up in red tape, petty squabbling, time wasting and over-complicated protocols.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Postoffice Closures

My local Cambridgeshire postoffice is a key part of my life. Every morning I buy my paper and pick up a loaf of bread. I join local businesspeople in the queue to send letters or parcels and, as we are 10 miles from the nearest bank, the cash facility is vital. Older people collect their money and the doctors' arranges for prescriptions to be dropped off there too. Last Christmas I wrote about the bravery of the post-master when they were robbed. The shop and the postoffice are joined at the hip. I, for one, am prepared to pay slightly over the odds on each transaction for this service and I know many others would too. It saves me miles of travel.

Today I visited post-offices in Lincolnshire that are on the list for possible "closure". The public have been offered a 6 week consultation... but one postmaster told me he thinks the decisions have already been made. The option "let us know how much it might cost to keep our post office open" is not available. How can something be called a consultation if there is no means to negotiate?

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Enjoying Party Conference

Its been a busy couple of days at the party conference in Blackpool.

Yesterday I spoke in the health debate about hospitals. After all my parents were hospital doctors, my sister is a hospital doctor and I even sleep with a hospital doctor (my husband!). I therefore join patients in fighting for our hospitals.

I was incorrectly introduced as being from Grantham (not my mistake and sorry) - but I did want to tell the conference about hospital cuts in Grantham, where the Conservative MP recently switched to the Labour party. I said "Emergency surgery's been cut, A&E severely cut, the stroke service is facing cuts and as for the maternity service - they are still talking about those cuts. If that's how Gordon Brown treats his new friends I'm staying right here."

It is utter madness to be building thousands of new homes and then cut our most essential services. We have had similar cuts threatened in rapidly growing Cambridgeshire.

I was delighted to hear that the Conservative manifesto will include a promise not to close maternity or A&E services. My husband, a cancer specialist, is regularly frustrated that he can not prescribe the latest drugs to patients. He was pleased to hear the promise that the approval process for cancer drugs will be speeded up.

I went to a very poorly attended fringe meeting on Immigration. This is a huge concern all over the East of England. I said "We know how valuable migrant workers have been and don't want to send people back to persecution in countries like Burma or Zimbabwe but it already feels that our roads, housing, hospitals, police can't cope - uncontrolled immigration is a great worry for our services." I'm pleased to hear our pledge to bring back immigration controls.

On tax it was good to hear that first time buyers should be excluded from stamp duty up to £250,000 and inheritance tax thresholds raised to £1 million. This will help young and old. They are policies that I played a part in forming when I worked on the tax reform commission last year.

At other fringe meetings I heard about the disgrace of our prison service - It's not working when 2/3 of those released re offend within 2 years. We need not only to solve prison overcrowding but also to make sure those released are not just sent back into their old ways. I spoke to a PC last week who had just re-arrested a criminal with 26 previous convictions - and this was a 23 year old.

Finally I gave David Willetts a gentle handbagging on grammar schools. I know that in many parts of the country pupils don't have access to grammar schools and we must make sure they all get the benefits of education that fits individual pupils - however in many other parts they are working and if it ain't broke don't fix it!

Election or no election

I never thought that Brown would call an election for Oct 25th -- it is half term and the last thing busy mothers need. He knows that those mums votes are preciously sought after. November 1st though is after half term and the children will be back at school.