Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Tweetgate: Ipswich Tories try to ban Twitter

If I were still a member of the Conservative Group at Ipswich Borough Council I’d be doing everything I could to raise the profile of the Conservative Party, its councillors and candidates.

Twitterphobe: Cllr Richard Pope
So it was particularly bizarre to see Tory Cllr Richard Pope at last night’s Borough Council meeting try to ban Twitter from future meetings, thereby denying councillors from communicating with Ipswich residents and I suspect also to ban bloggers from reporting council meeting live via Twitter. Another politician I can think of who tries to suppress social media is a certain President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Hardly a bedfellow of the Conservative Party I would have thought?
Dictator: President Bashar al-Assad of Syria
Cllr Pope asked Cllr Martin Cook, who is responsible for IT and democratic services at the Borough, if standing orders could be updated to include the banning of Twitter at council meetings. Whilst Cllr Pope was saying this, a flurry of tweets were being sent by Morning Ipswich Star political editor Paul Geater, Labour backbencher Cllr Alasdair Ross, a reporter from Ipswich Spy and by myself.
Cllr Cook retorted that smartphones were seen as a tool by many people, including disabled people who use specialised software to help them participate in meetings, and Twitter itself is allowed in the House of Commons where it is used by MPs to allow the public better access to debates.
I just can’t understand the Tory Group’s thinking here and for their youngest councillor to stand up to try and ban social media is perverse. All political blogs and the Morning Ipswich Star have ridiculed their attempt to ban Twitter.
The Tory Group is a shadow of its former self when it was the leading party on the Council between 2004 and 2011 with now only 12 councillors to the ruling Labour Group’s 32 councillors. With political tactics like this and being devoid of any policy they better get use to decades in the wilderness. 
Ipswich Borough Council has made it clear they are a fan of social media, with the appointment of a social media officer, and also with the removal of the dead tree press bench. Therefore, I think we can safely say Twitter will be here to stay at future Ipswich Borough Council meetings!


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Ipswich Borough Council Meeting: 21st March 2012

The last gathering of all 48 councillors of Ipswich Borough Council before the local elections was a short affair.

There is never a full year of Council meetings in local government because of something called purdah, which basically means elected councillors can’t be seen to be influencing the bureaucrats at the council during the election campaign period, which runs from now until 3rd May. It’s another way for Sir Humphrey to really run the show. 
Council Questions

The first question was to Labour’s transport chief, Cllr Phil Smart, from Cllr Nadia Cenci of Stoke Park ward. She queried the service performance of Ipswich Buses on the route from the town centre to Asda supermarket in her ward. A simple enough question but one which Cllr Smart managed to overly complicate by feigning confusion about which route Cllr Cenci was referring to and then he proceeded to mumble about performance statistics. Somewhere in his answer was the obligatory Labour line that “Ipswich Buses are brilliant” and how they were the “most reliable operator”. He didn’t say if their pension fund was going to be propped up by Ipswich taxpayers – I guess we’ll have to wait for that denial or confirmation another time.
Portfolio Holder for Economic Decline Development, Cllr Jones, then received a question about the derelict former Kwik-Fit garage site at St Margaret’s Green from Tory leader Cllr Carnall. He asked what the Council was doing to encourage development on this eyesore. Cllr Jones waffled on about the owner being out of the country, that the Labour dominated Planning Committee had turned down a car washing venture on the site and that local residents had told her they wanted to take over the site and turn it into a “little park”. Ah, how nice. And who will pay for this? 
Cllr Carnall then asked another question to Labour’s Economic Decline Development chief about empty shops in the town centre. Cllr Jones said there were few empty units that remained empty, which to be fair is true. I am big advocate of Ipswich town centre and do not see the doom and gloom said about the high street from local people. As I’ve said before, some northern cities would cut their right arm off to have a town centre like we have.
But then Cllr Jones entered her little fantasy world again and suggested her Economic Development team at the Council had negotiated the sale of the privately owned Tower Ramparts shopping centre and that they had single-handedly filled empty shop units with the likes of the shoe shop Office and the Apple electronics iStore. She really needs to get a grip on reality: the Economic Development department may have promoted the empty units (but the Overview & Scrutiny Committee found they were not very good at that during our analysis in 2010/11) but they certainly did not ensure they were filled – that was very much the result of the private market and investors only.
If the Economic Decline Development Portfolio Holder really wants to encourage investment into our town she should encourage the Labour dominated Planning Committee to give permission to private companies to set up shop in Ipswich, for instance on the Golden Key public house site.
Cllr Judy Terry then asked a question to Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere on what value his Administration puts on the Council’s policy on Consultation. Cllr Ellesmere took the opportunity to read extracts from Cllr Terry’s maiden speech to the council back in 2004 when she said: “…the council should get on with things, not consult.” Very well put Cllr Terry. What is the point of electing councillors to make decisions on behalf of residents if they then just pass the buck back to them? That’s not called leadership.
Next up was Holywells candidate Pam Stewart who asked two questions to Cllr Phil Smart about the topic which interests this parish greatly: the Gladstone Road/Foxhall Road footpath scheme (approved by councillors nearly three years ago!). 
Mrs Stewart asked a somewhat technical question on if “Section 26 of the Highways Act 1980” had been complied with. I am not sure this was the best way of confronting the incompetence and delay of Ipswich Borough Council on this issue – I would have probably asked what the council had been doing since August 2009 when the decision was made by councillors for the footpath creation order to go ahead, but we all have our own styles. Predictably, Cllr Smart said “Yes” to Mrs Stewart’s answer.
Mrs Stewart’s second question was far better when she asked: “When will the process be completed and the path surfaced?”. Cllr Smart shuffled on his feet and and mumbled that the order “had been sealed” and that the next milestone was 19th April when the deadline is reached for any objections to the footpath being created. But then Cllr Smart pretty much summed up this saga when he said if there were objections the process could become “very elongated”, as if it hadn’t been already! The only reason the order for the footpath has been issued and advertised is because myself and Cllr Harsant have been pushing for action from the faceless bureaucrats in Grafton House. Sir Humphrey really is in charge.
Council’s Pay Policy

One of the successes of the Coalition Government is the Localism Act which, amongst many measures, forces Councils to reveal how much they pay their senior staff. This was actually the policy of the former Conservative-led Council before the Localism Act received royal assent but the law has now forced Labour to continue with the policy and reveal what their chums are paid at Grafton House. The headline is Russell Williams, the Chief Executive, is paid tens times the lowest paid member of staff, which is a pretty good ratio. And as Cllr Carnall said: “Ipswich Borough Council is not one of those councils that pays their CEO more than the Prime Minister!”.
Cllr David Ball took the unusual step for a Labour politician and stood up to criticise the writing of the Pay Policy report. To be fair the report was a bit of a shambles with officers lazily duplicating text throughout the document to pad it out and not summarising the content of the report correctly on the front sheet. 
Socialist Cllr Sandy Martin shot up to defend his friends in the civil service and said they were doing a great job on a low wage. Well if £60,000 a year isn’t enough to ensure a report is written correctly, I am in the wrong job!
The report was voted for by all councillors.
Contractors Standard of Behaviour Policy

Labour’s Finance chief Cllr Martin Cook presented a report which said contractors must not bully or harass employees of Ipswich Borough Council. Fair enough.
But I have to say, from my experience, an employee’s knee jerk reaction is to say they are being bullied if a manager tells them they need to improve their performance. But Labour love a policy that keeps people in work but not actually working.
The report was voted for by all councillors.
Ipswich Heart Town

This was a report that shows you how peaceful and prosperous Great Britain is that councils are allowed to bid to become Heart Towns to promote healthy living. This is up there with employing five-a-day coordinators. It’s jobs for the public sector boys and girls to get paid to fill out out paperwork so the council can say we are a heart town, whatever that is.
But this report gave the loony-left on the council the excuse to ramp up the Communist rhetoric. Firstly, we had Cllr Alasdair Ross of Rushmere ward get on the bandwagon of footballer worship and crocodile tears we have seen since the sad incident where a normally healthy young man collapsed on a football pitch having suffered a heart attack. As sad as this is, the gushing grief which it triggered is only comparable to the Diana hysteria or when Michael Jackson popped his clogs. Cllr Ross said Ipswich Town Football Club would be having a minute’s applause in Fabrice Muamba‘s honour later that evening. I’m sorry, what a load of sentimental tosh. It is sad a young man is ill but so are thousands of other young men across the country. A sixteen year old boy collapsed on the school playing field and died only this week. Where are the footballers with their “Pray 4 Luke” t-shirts underneath their football shirts, ready to expose in an ecstatic thrall after kicking a football into the back of a net? Please, less of the tears. There are plenty more serious issues to get worked up about. While Christianity is trashed on a daily basis the worship at football stadiums continues apace. In the words of G. K. Chesterton: ‘When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.’
The Liberal Democrats chose the Ipswich Heart Town report to advocate the banning of everything: cigarettes, alcohol, fun etc. I wish we could ban the Yellow Peril.
For what it is worth, the report was voted for by all councillors. It was difficult to tell though, as some voting intentions were little more than raising the index finger off the desk a couple of centimetres.
Post script

Labour Mayor Cllr John Le Grys, wearing a scarlet red waistcoat just in case his political allegiance had gone unnoticed (chance would be a fine thing), thanked councillors who would be stepping down this year. There are only a handful but he couldn’t be bothered to name them. My wife is one of them so well done to her for serving her constituents for four years – longer than most people spend in one job!


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Ipswich Borough Council Meeting: 29th February 2012

Budget day took place in Ipswich on Wednesday this week, also a leap day, which led to strange goings on in the Council chamber.

Council Questions
Firstly, in Council Questions, Cllr Kym Stroet accused Cllr Jones of being a “scandalous” woman because she was a Labour and Co-operative councillor (fair enough) and because she lived with Labour leader Cllr David Ellesmere, which meant she had a vested interest in her campaign to prevent Tesco from taking over the Greene King pub on Woodbridge Road. The theory being Cllr Jones was a protector of the Co-op supermarket but it was unclear what her co-habitation arrangements had to do with this.  Cllr Jones retorted she was not “scandalous” and promptly sat down.
We then had a couple of questions from Cllr Debman about snow clearance outside residents’ homes and shops in the town centre. Considering we had double figure temperatures outside that evening this was a somewhat surreal set of questions. But Cllr Debman did have a point when he said residents were fearful of keeping the pavement outside their house clear of snow for fear of being sued. Cllr Phil Smart, Transport portfolio holder, said residents should fear not and he would ensure an article was put in The Angle (the council’s propaganda sheet) in time for next winter.
Cllr Carnall kicked off a theme which ran throughout the meeting: jobs and investment and Labour’s hypocrisy. The Tory leader asked Cllr Jones, Labour’s economic spokesman, what she was going to do to make the town centre more welcoming. She listed off numerous schemes, all of which either Ipswich Central (the town centre management company) or the previous Conservative-led administration had done, and tried to carry them off as Labour initiatives. Cllr Carnall reminded her the only thing Labour had done over the last few years was to oppose a major new £70M development on Grafton Way which will create 900 jobs.
Following a planted question from leading Labour backbencher Cllr Alasdair Ross about the Benefits service, which, naturally, Labour’s finance chief Cllr Cook answered by stating how wonderful the performance of the Benefits service now was under Labour, Cllr Carnall asked another question about how the Council was getting on with re-cooping the £5M invested in Icelandic banks which went bust in 2008. The answer was around 90% of the money will be returned, which Cllr Carnall reminded the chamber ran contrary to Labour’s manifesto at the last Borough elections which said the evil Tories had lost all of the money. 
Nevertheless it is another example of how the taxpayer is suffering in the worst recession in modern times.
Cllr Smart was given a kick up the backside by Cllr Tanya Maclure on the late issuing of orders for yellow lines, parking restrictions and the like. She also encouraged Cllr Smart to get on with the verge improvement works in Goring Road which were approved by the Community Improvements Committee over a year ago.
Housing Revenue Account Business Plan
Next up was the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Business Plan which was presented to the council for consideration with any comments being taken on-board by the Executive Committee who will make the final decision on the business plan when they next meet. The HRA is basically a pot of money used to administer council housing and receive rents from council tenants. It is a complicated financial arrangement which under the last Labour Government saw £7M a year being syphoned off to central government for re-distribution amongst Labour heartlands in the north of England. The new coalition government has now stopped this arrangement. 
Cllr Mowles, Labour’s housing portfolio holder, also announced Ipswich Borough Council was going back in time and was intending to build council houses again. Although they would love to build council houses at any time as it is another way of keeping their voters in their place (quite literally) it has also become necessary because Labour’s John Prescott presided over the lowest number of houses being built between 1997 and 2007 since the 1920s. This directly contributed to the housing bubble which means a whole generation of young people cannot afford a home of their own.  Just what the socialists want, of course.
Cllr Carnall quipped during the HRA Business Plan debate that there was no mention of re-instating Ipswich’s Area Housing Offices despite Labour saying in the last election they were “indispensable” after the Conservative-led administration closed the inefficient offices down.
Perversely, Cllr Mowles during the debate said he “apologised for raising political terms in this chamber” before he proceeded to say “Labour party”. If you can’t use political terms in a local government council chamber where can you? A very surreal leap day moment!
Corporate Plan
Then we moved on to the Corporate Plan (keep awake at the back!).
This is the strategy document which sets out what the council will be doing over the next five years. It is stacked full of waffle about bringing in jobs and investment (although Labour vote against any new jobs or investment) and how Ipswich will be looking to benefit from the Olympics legacy. Basically, the corporate plan is a waste of time – it is a typical New Labour document from a by-gone era when councils were encouraged to do everything for their residents and which has created the client state with millions of people dependent on state handouts to live. As Liberal Democrat Cllr Atkins put it succinctly, the council should be providing the basics like emptying the bins and mowing the park lawns and should forget about everything else like ensuring people eat five pieces of fruit a day and looking for non-existent community tensions – because the Socialists can’t afford such luxuries any more. Remember, there is no money left!
The Budget
Next up was the business end of the meeting: the Budget.
May be it was the leap day effect but more likely it was because of Cllr Ellesmere’s ego which meant he presented the budget rather than Finance Portfolio Holder Cllr Martin Cook. Oh, and may be it was because Cllr Ellesmere is the Labour parliamentary candidate as well!
One thing which struck me immediately was how bad Labour councillors are at speaking and presenting: they don’t even try to be coherent but instead mumble on about evil “Tory government cuts” and how their budget was for jobs and investment, despite Labour voting against 900 jobs and £70M investment in Ipswich only very recently. Contrast this with Cllr Carnall’s Chancellor of Exchequer style budget speeches over the last seven years.
There are basically two things in the Budget: Council tax will be frozen this year helped by a coalition central government grant and the socialists will be spending investing £1.5M in new jobs and skills development. Labour failed to explain how they will magically create new jobs in Ipswich apart from appointing an Equalities Officer at Ipswich Borough Council to tackle bullying and harassment at the council. From my experience in line management, bullying and harassment is something that mysteriously starts being reported when an employee is told to pull their socks up and do a better job. 
As Ben Gummer recently said in his Morning Ipswich Star column (not online), it would be far better if the council gave residents a tax cut which they would spend in the local economy and in turn would fuel more jobs and investment. It’s called capitalism. But of course socialists would rather create a bunch of non-jobs tasked with inventing claims of bullying and harassment. It’s like a George Orwell novel.
The Conservatives proposed a 3% tax cut in their response to Labour’s budget, which would pump £400,000 immediately into the Ipswich economy. This would be funded by getting rid of a redundant director (may be the one who never speaks!) and not bailing out Ipswich Buses’ pension fund to the tune of £140,000 (which is probably illegal), transferring the HEARS service to Suffolk County Council who are better placed to deliver an Adult and Social Care service and not recruiting the Stasi Equalities officer.
Tory leader Cllr Carnall, when opposing Labour’s wasteful budget, revealed the Labour administration also planned to let Ipswich Town Football Club off the hook by allowing them to not pay an interest bill of £17,500 on the debt they own the council for unpaid land rent. 
The Conservative Budget Amendment was voted on, with all Conservatives For, Labour Against and the yellow peril abstaining.  Paul Geater from the Morning Ipswich Star then left the press benches in the chamber without waiting to see if Labour’s budget was passed by the Council!
Before the vote, Cllr Maclure interjected in the debate and raised again the issue of the Labour council setting money aside for Ipswich Buses. She, rightly, accused them of being disingenuous by not stating what the money was going to be used for. The council is legally allowed to subsidise bus routes if there is a community need but Labour had not stated in the Budget they intended to spend the money on subsidised routes but instead put the money under the header ‘Support to public transport in the Town’. This led Cllr Maclure and the Conservative Group to suspect the money was going to be used to prop up Ipswich Buses pension contributions. Something which Cllr Smart did not deny. If Labour were to do this it would be for purely ideologically reasons: they see Ipswich Buses as a means to control the masses (their voters) and it must be protected at all costs. The problem is there is legislation preventing a council from running a bus company, they can only own it and operationally it must be kept at “arms-length”. Competition Law may also prevent a council from subsidising a bus company’s pension scheme as this would give Ipswich Buses an unfair advantage in the bus transport market (all bus companies would surely then ask why their pension scheme cannot be propped up by the taxpayer?). If Ipswich Buses is run so inefficiently it cannot service its pension scheme then surely it should go bust allowing a more efficient bus operator to take over the routes. Ipswich Buses is not the Labour party’s play thing: fair competition must take precedent to protect taxpayers and the passengers. This one will rear its head again I am sure.
Finally, the budget vote was held: Labour were For, the Conservatives finally voted Against something and, of course, the Yellow Peril Liberal Democrats abstained. 
Polling Station changes

The Council was asked by acting returning officer and chief executive Russell Williams to note the changes to the polling districts. The Council gave Mr Williams delegated powers to make these changes as Councillors themselves are not allowed to be decision makers in the way Elections are run by the Council, for obvious reasons.

One of the changes is in my former ward, Bixley, where the Broke Hall Primary School polling station is going to be closed and residents will instead be asked to travel to Copleston High School to vote, which is a fair walk from the Broke Hall estate. Cllr Kym Stroet, who represents my old seat, spoke against the proposal but the Council still “noted” the decisions made. To Cllr Stroet’s credit he voted Against the proposals and asked for his vote to be formerly noted.
Post-script
Labour Mayor Cllr John Le Grys doesn’t even try to be non-partisan as the Mayor’s role is meant to be. One case of bias was obvious when the allotted time for each speaker expired. When Cllr Carnall was speaking in the Budget debate he ran out of the time and immediately the Mayor started manically pressing on his microphone button so all we could hear was ding, ding, ding as the mad Mayor tried to stop the Tory leader from speaking.
Of course, it was a different story when Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere ran out of time. The Labour mayor just laid back in his chair and continued to chortle at the Labour leader’s bad jokes and even allowed Cllr Ellesmere to cross the chamber floor and slam a handful of 5ps on Cllr Carnall’s desk as part of a stunt to demonstrate how little the Tory 3% decrease would save residents. I’d rather have my 5p a week actually then give it to the socialist pigs in the trough at Grafton House.


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David Cameron quizzed on Ipswich

The Morning Evening Star had a meeting with David Cameron at their Lower Brook Street offices yesterday whilst the Prime Minister was in the region with his Cabinet.

The interview can be read in full here.

What always strikes me when David Cameron speaks in the provinces is how immaculately briefed he is. It also helps he has a memory like a sponge, as was witnessed in all its glory when he gave a “look, no notes” speech during the Conservative Party conference’s leadership contest in 2005 in Blackpool, which catapulted him to the finishing line and the rest, as they say, is history.

It was good to hear the Prime Minister talk about our dreadful railway line and rolling stock but it looks as if it is down to the rail operator who wins a new 15 year franchise to decide if it is worthwhile giving Ipswich commuters decent carriages and seats (it seems Government cannot force the monopoly operator to give us a decent service!). The East Anglian Daily Times editor, Terry Hunt, who was also present at the meeting with the PM, summed it up well when he said: “It is a deterrent to business growth at the moment. The line has a poor reputation. This town is just an hour from the city yet it can feel a lot longer.”  It certainly does!

I can’t help thinking that a lot of the problems we have in this town is a lack of confidence, not just the economic variety, but in local people as well. Ipswich has so much to offer but all you hear is moaning about the town. The town centre is not as bad as people make it out to be: there are new shops and there has been work done on Giles Circus which undoubtedly contributed to Waitrose choosing to set up shop in the Corn Exchange. And the Council officers have finally got round to launching the Town Centre Masterplan: the brainchild of the last Conservative-led Administration and the best effort so far to help integrate the Waterfront with the Town Centre.

Ipswich does have a problem with attracting businesses. So much so, that if BT pulled out of Martlesham, the impact on the town’s economy would be catastrophic. But why are businesses and employers not keen on Ipswich (even in the boom years!)? The mainline railway service certainly doesn’t help but that can’t be the only thing. When I chaired the Strategic Overview & Scrutiny Committee we did a piece of work scrutinising the effectiveness of the Economic Development department at Ipswich Borough Council. Three weaknesses stood out:-

1. A lack of political leadership required to drive the work of Ipswich Borough Council Officers but also sell Ipswich to potential investors. Cllr Richard Atkins was the Liberal Democrat Portfolio Holder for Economic Development at the time and he told my Committee he “steered” his department and did not “lead”.

2. An ill-thought out strategy by the Officers to sell Ipswich. Officers were quizzed by all three parties on the Committee, with Labour’s Cllr Martin Cook repeatedly asking what sales collateral (brochures, magazines etc) were being used to sell to businesses the benefits of locating to Ipswich. Time and time again there was no answer (most likely because there was no sales collateral). Civil servants by their very nature are lackadaisical but there was something fundamentally wrong with their responses to councillors’ scrutiny of their work. They just didn’t seem to get it.

3. Low educational attainment. Qualifications at NVQ Level 4 or above held by Ipswich residents aged between 19-59/64 years is 17%.  The regional percentage is 27.8% and the national (England only) percentage is 30.5%.  Businesses need skills and will only set-up shop where the skills exist. It’s up to local people to ensure they have the right skills to find work when they leave school. The opening of University Campus Suffolk is a great first step in helping to raise the skills bar in our town.

If local authorities do anything with our money, it should be helping to kick-start areas of the economy and then step back and let the private sector take over. This has been seen recently with the Giles Circus development and the way-finding maps around the town centre (both driven by Conservative councillors).

Today we need action more than ever and less talk from our politicians to get us out of the current economic gloom.