Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally


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Travel chaos in and out of Ipswich

Major arterial route through Ipswich still closed 24 hours after windy conditions

Major arterial route through Ipswich still closed 24 hours after windy conditions

You really have to question the competence of the public sector on a day like today.

I took my wife to the railway station at 07.00 this morning and found one of the main East-West arterial routes through the town closed. The same stretch of road, Key Street/College Street on the Waterfront gyratory, was closed yesterday due to the wind blowing some fencing down and a lamp post during Monday morning. Almost 24 hours later, the same stretch of road was still closed.

Traffic is being taken down half the Waterfront-side gyratory heading west and then is swiftly diverted north up on to Star lane and through Waterworks Street and Bond Street, taking all East-West bound traffic through the north side of the town centre along Crown Street. As would be expected, this has caused gridlock for traffic coming from the East of Ipswich.

Ok, I understand if a lamp post comes down, it needs to be removed. But how long does it take to do this? I have also received reports the police believe – they don’t know – there is structural damage to one of the buildings adjacent to the road. At the time of writing Ipswich Borough Council’s Building Control team are yet to assess if the building is safe and Ipswich can be re-opened for business.

This question needs a serious answer from Borough Council chief Russell Williams: why weren’t your Building Control team on-site 24 hours ago? Why haven’t they made their assessment yet? Can they not work overnight on some measurements?

It is not acceptable for a bit of wind to bring Suffolk’s county town to a halt. It is regrettable four people died in the storm yesterday across a population of 66 million but we cannot use the weather as an excuse for the public sector to ramp down their work even further than they do when we have calm conditions. Britain’s climate is warm, wet and WINDY! We should be better prepared to respond to our own climate, experienced in these islands for millennia.

In London over the summer, a skyscraper was melting cars and anything else that stood under it’s gaze because the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building in central London was magnifying sunlight on to the road and pavement below. What did the City of London authorities do? Did they close the road? Err, no! They ordered the building owner to put up some material on the windows causing the reflection pronto, which was duly done with no disruption to Londoners, no road closures, nothing. We just pitied the poor man who came back to find his BMW melted.

Why in the provinces do we have to put up with a ‘third-world’ standard of public service? Perhaps, because the majority of people don’t moan like ambitious, confident Londoners would. Either way, it’s not acceptable for Health and Safety to be used as an excuse for the public sector to be even more inefficient than they usually are, which takes some doing!

Oh you pay us £6,000 a year for a train service? Sorry, get the bus!

Oh you pay us £6,000 a year for a train service? Sorry, get the bus!

Things then got worse once I was finally able to drop my wife off at the railway station. Greater Anglia and Network Rail – the paragons of railway incompetents – found 24 hours was also not enough time to lift a few branches off the line and fix some signalling and so Suffolk’s county town still does not have a railway service to London, with all trains suspended to Liverpool Street. Instead, my wife, who pays Greater Anglia £6,000 a year to travel in worse conditions than cattle, had to queue for a bus to Manningtree then a ‘bus on rails’ to Colchester before finally being able to take an inter-city service to the capital. It took her three hours to get to work! This is frankly completely unacceptable and again would seem to be incompetence and inefficiency on behalf of the publicly owned Network Rail, heavily in hoc to the Unions who can’t wait to find an excuse to down tools (look at Grangemouth!) and Greater Anglia who, like the big six energy firms, can do what they like because where else has the hard-pressed commuter got to go?

What is wrong then? Is it all down to ill-judged health and safety concerns? Is it because we have lost our stoicism as a nation which saw us win two world wars? Is it because we have such an imbalanced economy that our infrastructure can’t cope with London being the only place to actually make a decent wage, bar a few exceptions? Or is it just public sector incompetence? I’d love to hear your views in the comments.


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New law could see councils forced to allow webcasting

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end?

Is the day which sets bloggers free to fully report on local councils coming to an end? Carmarthenshire blogger Jacqui Thompson was arrested in February for filming her local council meeting

As regular readers will know I have been campaigning through my blog, along with Ben Redsell of the Ipswich Spy parishto persuade the Executive committee at Ipswich Borough Council to enhance democracy in local government and start webcasting their six-weekly meeting of all 48 councillors and key committees such as Planning and Overview & Scrutiny.

Cllr Martin Cook

Luddite or just anti-democracy? – Labour Councillor Martin Cook

In February this year, I took my campaign in person to the Town Hall and exercised my democratic right as a resident of Ipswich to ask a Council Question to the councillor responsible for IT, Cllr Martin Cook (and fellow employee of technology giant, BT). I asked Cllr Cook if the Borough Council would follow the lead of other English councils and start webcasting their public meetings. Unfortunately, and in a obscure roundabout way, Cllr Cook refused.

Despite the rebuttal I and fellow bloggers haven’t gone away. We are not campaigning to enhance our readership figures or ‘play with’ technologies.  We are campaigning for local government decisions to be made open and transparent to benefit the democratic process in this town. Up and down the land, including in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, bloggers have been refused permission even to tweet council meeting proceedings and at Carmarthenshire County Council when local blogger Jacqui Thompson tried to film a public council meeting, the Council called the police and had Mrs Thompson arrested. Anyone would think we were in East Germany or the People’s Republic of China based on the behaviour of local government officials.

But now local council mandarins are being brought to book. The Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, is bringing forward a law to enshrine a blogger’s – or any member of the public for that matter – right to tweet, record and report the proceedings in town halls in England. Unfortunately, the law will not have jurisdiction in the devolved assemblies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland so our fellow blogger in Carmarthenshire may have to lobby her Welsh assembly politicians a bit more on this one.

The news laws will be part of the Local Audit and Accountability Bill, which is set to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons on Monday 28th October, having completed its Lords stages. You can follow it’s passage through parliament on the UK Parliament website.

It is not acceptable for councillors to close their doors on the people who have elected them and effectively take decisions on their behalf with no reporting by the media. Only last month at the Town Hall meeting of councillors in Ipswich, no one from the mainstream media turned up to the meeting. The only reporters were bloggers who are unpaid volunteers providing a free public service because of their commitment and passion for local democracy. During the meeting, three Conservative councillors walked out of the meeting in protest at how the ruling Labour administration were answering the public’s questions. This is a very serious matter – as it goes to the heart of how the democratic process is conducted in Suffolk’s county town –  but the local newspaper – the Ipswich Star – took almost a week to report this story. It was reported within minutes by the bloggers in attendance.

The introduction of webcasting would have ensured the decisions taken or public points swiped away by the ruling Executive were known to the taxpayers and electors of Ipswich in real-time. In Westminster we rightly have televised proceeding of all House of Commons debates and Committees (no one is asking for that in local government) but webcasting is a proven technology and relatively cheap to implement and will go a long way to closing the gap between voter and councillor in local government. Many decisions taken at Ipswich Borough Council actually have a greater impact on the day-to-day lives of Ipswich residents and businesses than those taken in Westminster, which may not have an effect on the town and in many cases have a very long lead time before implementation.

I would ask Ipswich Borough Council’s ruling Labour Party to look again at their decision to refuse webcasting of their Full Council meetings (in the first instance) before Parliament forces their analogue hand into our digital world.


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Cornhill re-development catalyst for Ipswich renewal?

Cornhill: It's seen better days

Cornhill: It’s seen better days

I recently walked through Ipswich town centre with my parents and I was pleased by how much “good” I could point out. We walked from Christchurch Park through to the Novotel roundabout (we had eaten a couple of nights before on the Waterfront) and during this short walk I first pointed out the map-based monoliths and associated signposts. These were implemented by the last Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, spearheaded by my wife (can’t forget that!) Cllr Tanya Maclure – Labour were opposed to the scheme. My parents replied they had used them a few times to help them navigate the town centre when my wife and I were not around. They also recalled they were given a map of the town centre by their hotel receptionist (part of the Council’s signposting scheme). All good stuff.

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

Ipswich potential is not far below the surface

We quickly darted past Carr Street (undoubtedly a blot on the town centre landscape) and headed for Buttermarket where we ended up at Giles Circus, transformed under the previous Tory-led council (again Tanya was heavily involved!) to make it more pedestrian friendly and to make it look aesthetically pleasing –  Labour were opposed to this economic growth scheme as well. Waitrose, happily, were not. They set-up a Little Waitrose shop shortly after the renewed Giles Circus was completed and have been trading since.

We didn’t walk across the Cornhill, which was a shame because the market wasn’t operating that day. But I hope when my mother and father visit next time, Ipswich Borough Council will be getting on with redesigning the Cornhill to make use of this fantastic space. This was the brainchild of Marks & Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose, who when speaking at the second Beacon Town Conference in Ipswich last September, challenged civic leaders to do something with the Cornhill and get rid of the tatty market. Cllr Ellesmere, being the schoolboy politician he is, glowed and jumped up and down when Sir Stuart made his recommendation. His partner, Cllr Carole Jones was less impressed and suggested in front of Sir Stuart Ipswich was “fine” and he “just didn’t know it well enough” – by all accounts her intervention was a touch embarrassing, but then when did Labour politicians get business and enterprise?

But Sir Stuart is a wily operator and knew his very public recommendation would have to be taken up. So Ipswich Borough Council over the last year put out to tender proposals for a re-designed Cornhill. The proposals are now in and have been whittled down (not sure how this was done and using which process – hopefully it was councillor not officer-led) to five competitors for public consultation. The architects’ designs can be viewed at the Town Hall or online (naturally) at http://www.ipswich.gov.uk/cornhill. Sir Stuart set an original budget of £200,000 to make the changes but local government being local government the budget has increased to £3 Million (which will come from various tax payer funded pots). To be fair even Sir Stuart’s estimate was somewhat unrealistic for a town square redevelopment but for £3 Million I expect a very good result indeed!

My choice for the Cornhill renewal

Concept B: My choice for the Cornhill renewal

I prefer Concept A or B and at a push I’d probably choose B. Concept C looks like the opening scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey so I’ll pass on that one!

However, I’m not sure what Lloyds Bank think of their front door being turned into on-street cafe in Concept A and B?

I’d recommend Ipswich residents reading this to go to the Council website and choose your favourite design. This is a great initiative kicked off by Sir Stuart and once implemented will boost our town centre, which means more people with spending money and more people with money leads to better shops and places to visit. This is what the Council is here for in my view: create the environment for economic growth, then get out of the way and let private business and enterprise do the rest.


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Ipswich Borough Council breaks political impartiality rules

For all the world to see, a civil servant or civil servants thought it was appropriate to re-tweet several Ipswich Labour Party propaganda tweets from the official Ipswich Borough Council twitter account.

Ipswich Borough Council re-tweets Labour Party propaganda

Ipswich Borough Council re-tweets Labour Party propaganda

As reported first in Ipswich Spy, Ipswich Borough Council civil servants seem to have a habit of re-tweeting Labour councillor tweets and even a tweet the Labour Party had sent out advertising a canvassing session. And then yesterday they decided to not only promote Labour councillors but the Labour parliamentary candidate (and Council leader), David Ellesmere, who is fighting sitting Conservative MP Ben Gummer at the next General Election in less than two years time. The re-tweet linked to an article Cllr Ellesmere had penned for the Ipswich Labour Party website. The re-tweet has since been deleted but the internet remembers everything (see left)…

Now forgive me if I am wrong but isn’t the cardinal rule of being a civil servant to be politically impartial? Doesn’t the civil service pride itself on its impartiality thereby ensuring mandarins can be trusted to implement the policies of the day whichever political party is in charge at Grafton House or Downing Street?

It seems Borough Council Chief Executive Russell Williams needs to ensure his staff are fully up-to-date with their mandatory training. And perhaps the Council needs to limit the number of people with access to the Council’s official Twitter account.


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Huntingdonshire Council allows filming of public meeting after lengthy battle

Citizen journalist Richard Taylor battled with civil servants and the Council Chairman Cllr Barbara Elizabeth Boddington (who called the civil servants her “elders”!) for half an hour before they reluctantly agreed to allow him to film a PUBLIC meeting.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Local Government, has recently ruled that all councils should allow filming of their public meetings and the question citizen journalists and bloggers should ask on their arrival in the chamber is not to ask permission to film but to enquire what facilities the council has for citizen journalists like Mr Taylor (e.g. WiFi, power point for charging equipment,  toilet facilities etc).

As you can see from the below footage the Chairman Cllr Boddington and the Head of Democratic Services and the Monitoring Officer (the person who keeps the the council inline with their Constitution), Colin Meadowcroft,  spent a fair bit of time trying to stop Richard Taylor from filming a public council meeting. In the end, after what looks like an intervention from a UKIP councillor, the Conservative Chairman Cllr Boddington relented and allowed (somewhat discourteously) Mr Taylor to film the meeting.

The fact bloggers have to fight tooth and nail for one of the basic tenets of democracy (i.e. transparent reporting) shows how secretive our local councils have become (more akin to the USSR than the UK). It’s time for councils to open up and show taxpayers how their money is being spent and how decisions are made in their name.

I hope Ipswich Borough Council will be making arrangements for their public council meetings to be filmed?


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Ipswich Borough Council cause chaos by failing to grit arterial route

Too late: Ipswich Borough Council needs to focus

Too late: Ipswich Borough Council needs to focus

Labour-run Ipswich Borough Council seem to have forgotten that since the Council made Back Hamlet a one-way road, drivers now use Devonshire Road to get into the south-side of Ipswich town centre from off Foxhall Road.

I say forget. I think they did remember: at 11pm last night if the flashing orange lights outside my house was anything to go by. But by then it was too late.

As a result of the Council’s nonchalance, this morning chaos ensued on Devonshire Road as cars slid all over the place with the infamous steep hill down on to Cavendish Street (and the main route now available from Foxhall Road down on to the Star Lane gyratory) being exceedingly dangerous with one car precariously perched side-on on the hill.

I tweeted the Council first thing this morning but their response was Devonshire Road was only a P2 route. I doubt this classification has changed despite Back Hamlet now being one-way forcing drivers to turn on to Devonshire Road to get to the town centre via Fore Hamlet instead.

I was speaking with a fellow motorist this morning who lives on Devonshire Road and she tells me Ipswich Borough Council had four gritters at ASDA in Whitehouse going round in circles for over an hour last night de-icing the supermarket car park. No wonder they couldn’t get to the public highways until nearly midnight!!

It begs the question what do we pay our council tax for? The same council tax which will go UP – thanks to the Labour Party – by 2% on 1st April!

The majority of council taxpayers only ever use the bin collection and road gritting service. Labour councillors and senior Council officers should spend less time feathering the nests of their union members and wasting money on ideological council house building projects and focus on delivering basic services to the people who pay their mortgages.

Disgraceful…


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Ipswich Borough Council refuses to webcast meetings

webcasting council

Last night, at the meeting of all councillors on Ipswich Borough Council – also known as Full Council –  I took the opportunity to take my campaign for webcasting this meeting and other council public meetings directly to the Labour Administration leadership.

At the beginning of every Full Council there is time set aside for councillors and members of the public to ask Executive Committee members and Chairmen of Committees questions – this is called Council Questions.

I asked Councillor Martin Cook, Labour’s Resources portfolio holder including responsibility for IT, the following question:

Jacqui Thompson, a political blogger in Labour-dominated Wales, was arrested for filming a public meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council.
Hopefully in England we value democracy a little more but could Cllr Cook tell me if Ipswich Borough Council intends to follow many English local authorities and start webcasting their public meetings?

Cllr Martin Cook

Cllr Martin Cook

Cllr Cook said the idea of web-casting meetings was “conceptually attractive” but the borough’s webcasting equipment (what equipment!?!?) was not adequate enough and therefore it would be “difficult to see and hear councillors”.  The cost of purchasing and installing equipment was something Cllr Cook felt was not possible at the present time. The portfolio holder went on say Ipswich Borough was located in a “narrow geographical area” and residents were no more than 15-20 minutes away from the town hall. There is also supposedly no demand from the public for webcasting meetings.

Council Questions are strictly controlled within tight procedure rules so a debate on web-casting cannot be started, only a question asked with an answer received.

Therefore, I am replying to Cllr Cook’s comments for the first time.  Cllr Cook’s initial comment about existing equipment was a bit bizarre. I have no idea what he is talking about. From my understanding, the Council has never purchased web-casting equipment. Please do feel free, Cllr Cook, to use the Comments below to clarify this.

From the research I have carried out, the cost of purchasing the necessary equipment and installing would be £20,000 – £30,000 : this is not a bad price for bringing more residents into the democratic process. Once set up, equipment maintenance would be minimal. The public gallery at Full Council is almost empty with, in the main, the people attending being ex-councillors, Suffolk County Councillors, bloggers, Mr Geater from Ipswich Star and council civil servants. Increasing participation, albeit electronically, has to be a good idea.

On the comment the borough is constrained within tight boundaries where most people can reach the town hall quickly, I don’t see that as a valid reason for refusing to introduce web-casting. Many boroughs in London have similar boundaries, albeit with larger and more concentrated populations, and places like Camden and Haringey webcast their public meetings.

I don’t believe Ipswich Borough Council have conducted a survey asking residents if they would like to see meetings webcast. Perhaps they could use the Council’s propaganda sheet, The Angle, to ask residents what they think of the idea. They may be surprised by the results!

Local democracy is frankly not as transparent and accountable as Westminster politics, primarily because the media tend to focus more on national government rather than on town halls. Webcasting helps to strengthen democracy at the local level and should be embraced by all councils to ensure corruption and wrongdoing is kept at bay. It is particularly worrying that Cllr Martin Cook works for BT but still thinks it is not a good idea to deploy tried and tested technology into the council chamber to help local residents become more connected to the decisions being made in their name at the council.

The campaign goes on.


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Full Council report: Labour increase your council tax bill

Labour increase council tax

Labour increase council tax

As reported two weeks ago, last night Labour easily carried a vote to increase your council tax bill from 1st April.

The Labour Administration at Ipswich Borough Council used their massive majority to increase the borough’s part of the bill by 1.98% claiming the Coalition Government are “taking an axe” to the council’s funding. In fact, the Government had continued their scheme to offer a grant to pay for a council tax freeze – but Labour turned it down.

More please: Labour's Cllr David Ellesmere

More please: Labour’s Cllr David Ellesmere

Council leader Councillor David Ellesmere introduced the borough’s budget for the next financial year telling the chamber his party were forced to ask hard-pressed taxpayers to cough up more money – for no new or improved services –  because of the “gathering economic gloom” and as a result of Westminster treating local government as the “whipping boys again”.

In fact, the reason Cllr Ellsemere gave for needing the extra money was to meet Labour’s ideological goals. He will use the extra money from you to build new council houses and to increase pay for council staff, many who find it very difficult to hide their sympathies for the Labour Party. Gordon Brown’s client state is very much alive and kicking in the People’s Socialist Republic of Ipswich.

The Labour council leader foolishly tried to claim credit for the economic development which has taken place in the town over the last two years. This prompted former Conservative council leader Councillor Liz Harsant to respond with a tour de force of political rebuttals.

Former Council leader Cllr Liz Harsant

Attacking: Former Council leader Cllr Liz Harsant

The former Council leader tore apart Labour’s statements in the budget report where they claimed credit for Little Waitrose setting up shop in the Corn Exchange, despite opposing the planning application. Cllr Harsant pointed out there was no mention of the transformed Giles Circus in the report, which she was not surprised about as this expanded pedestrianised area using high-quality materials was driven through to completion by former Tory Transport portfolio holder, Tanya Maclure, against fierce opposition from the Labour group at the time. Little Waitrose sits on the corner of Giles Circus and undoubtedly the revamped area attracted this major retailer to the town centre.

Cllr Harsant went on remind the meeting what Conservative Cllr John Carnall said last month about Labour being against £70 Million of investment into Ipswich by Tesco through their development on Grafton Way. The new ruling Labour administration made their reluctance to take Tesco’s money so abundantly clear, the supermarket giant reduced their inward investment to £50 Million. Cllr Harsant echoed Cllr Carnall by saying Labour managed to lose £20 Million “in one fell swoop!”.

Labour were floored by Cllr Harsant by daring to suggest they attracted John Lewis Partnerships to open a John Lewis At Home store and Waitrose supermarket on the former Cranes site off Nacton Road. She reminded the Council this was achieved through the hard work of her former Administration, in particular the Economic Development portfolio holder at the time, Councillor Richard Atkins.

And the punches kept raining down: “The £6.6 Million flood defences weren’t achieved by your Party, they were secured as a result of lobbying by Ipswich MP Ben Gummer”. “The Regent was turned into one of the most successful publicly owned theatres in the region by the former Culture chief, Tory councillor Judy Terry”. “And the reason you can build council houses, is because of changes to the law made by the Tory-led Coalition Government!”.

Cllr Harsant rammed home her points: “Labour left this country bankrupt. This year they will rise council tax by 2%, next year they will raise it by 2%, the year after by 2% on so on.  I shall not be voting for this budget!”

This was undoubtedly the best speech of the evening and quite possibly Cllr Harsant’s best speech of her political career.

The soaring rhetoric was a needed boost to a flagging Conservative Group. Unfortunately, there was no alternative budget offered up from new Tory Group leader Cllr Chris Stewart. Firstly, let’s not forget Labour never put up an alternative budget in the seven years they were in opposition, displaying arrogance encapsulated by one Labour councillor who said the Tories “were just keeping our seats warm”.

But Cllr Stewart should have been better prepared for this budget as Labour announced in a press release on 12th February they would be increasing our bills by 2%. However, the Conservative group leader did not present an amendment to officers until 21st February, hours before the cut-off at noon on Friday 22nd February.

Sources tell Gavin Maclure’s Musings, the civil servants at Grafton House, for some reason, didn’t get round to viewing the Tory amendment. To compound matters, it has been alleged the S151 officer (the legally required local authority civil servant responsible for proper administration of the council’s financial affairs)  was off sick and the council had not made any provision to cover his role. This is potentially illegal under the Local Government Act 1972.

The upshot is the Conservatives did not get an approval for their alternative budget prior to the deadline and the start of the council papers print run. This gave plenty of ammunition to the Labour group with Cllr David Ellesmere branding the Tories “financially illiterate” and leaving the Conservative Group somewhat embarrassed they had not put aside enough time to navigate the civil service machine. I am sure lessons have been learnt.

Let’s just hope Ipswich residents learn quickly why their council tax is going up this year. Not because of Tory-run Suffolk County Council, who have frozen their precept and not because of the Police & Crime Commission, whose new Commissioner, Conservative Tim Passmore, has ensured their budget stays the same. The reason more of your income – in the worst economic climate since the 1930s –  will be spent on government is because Labour now run Ipswich Borough Council again. Get used to it. Until they leave office, it will go up every year, guaranteed.


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Labour hike up Council Tax in Ipswich

Labour increase council tax

Labour increase council tax

As Ipswich Spy reported last night and in doing so scooped the dead tree press, aka the Morning Ipswich Star, Labour run Ipswich Borough Council have decided in the worse economic times since the Great Depression to put up your Council Tax in April.

Cynically, Labour are increasing it by 1.98% because if the council increased the tax at 2% or above they are forced by legislation to hold a referendum of local taxpayers.

More money please: Labour council leader David Ellesmere

More money please: Labour council leader David Ellesmere

Labour Council Leader David Ellesmere said:

“Government funding cuts, which are far greater than originally expected, have forced us to bring in this increase to protect services for the residents who rely on them.”

What a load of rot. This is the second budget Labour have controlled since winning back power of the borough in May 2011. Last year they accepted the Coalition Government’s offer of a grant to cover a council tax freeze. The government announced in October last year they would be extending this offer for a third year but Labour would rather raid the pockets of hard-working Ipswich residents than find savings at Grafton House and decrease money given to their vested interests partners.

Good housekeeping: Tory group leader Chris Stewart

Good housekeeping: Tory group leader Chris Stewart

New Conservative group leader at the borough told Ipswich Spy:

“The net benefit of the proposed rise in council tax of 1.98% is less than 1% because of the rejection of the tax refund from the treasury. Even after the savings claimed by the administration this sort of money could be saved by some careful housekeeping. Sound management would do more to protect services and jobs in the long run.”

In short, Labour cost you more money. At least Labour council chairmen of Area Committees with their beefed up allowances won’t go without whilst low-paid local residents have to stump up more cash to fund them.

Disgraceful.


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Ipswich Borough Council Meeting: 30th January 2013

Ipswich Borough Council Town Hall

Ipswich Borough Council Town Hall

Whilst the borough council continues to keep the webcams firmly switched off, I and fellow bloggers trundled down to the Town Hall last Wednesday to witness another meeting of all the councillors on Ipswich Borough Council.

Sorry for the late publication of my musings but David Cameron needed some more money off me.

New Tory Group Leader Cllr Chris Stewart

New Tory Group Leader Cllr Chris Stewart

Anyway, it was the first council meeting for the newly elected leader of the Conservative Group, Cllr Chris Stewart, who defeated Nadia Cenci for the top Tory job at the borough council. As regular readers know, I backed Nadia for the role. Unfortunately, Cllr Cenci was not given the deputy leader post by Cllr Stewart, instead that went to Cllr Robin Vickery.

It didn’t take long before those who backed Cllr Cenci had their heads in their hands. Smack bang in the middle of Council Questions, Cllr Stewart, for reasons only known to himself, hurled himself out of his seat and decided to interject. It was the first time I had seen that done and was toe-curling embarrassing. The Mayor, Cllr Mary Blake, responded by asking under which Standing Order (the rules of council meetings) the new Tory Group leader was interrupting proceedings on. Cllr Stewart didn’t have an answer and to groans from those present he was told to sit down by the Mayor. Not a great start to Cllr Stewart’s first day at the office.

Council Questions were on a mixture of topics but there were four on the now Time to bust open the Energy Cartelubiquitous subject: Wind Turbines in south west Ipswich. Until now I have not been too fussed about the policy by the council to allow Partnerships for Renewables to build two wind turbines on their land at Thorington Hall. But as I have learnt more about the facts I’ve become firmer in my view: the Conservatives were strong-armed by their coalition partners the Lib Dems into agreeing to this policy when they were in power during the noughties and now Labour have no intention of representing Ipswich residents who are madly against having two 130 metres tall windmills roaring over their heads for the next fifty years. You see the turbines will be sited in the Babergh District Council area but the lands happens to be owned by Ipswich Borough Council. The people affected by their monstrosities will live in Ipswich Borough Council and, therefore, you’d have thought it reasonable for their local councillors (mostly LABOUR councillors) to represent their views to planners in Babergh. But Labour don’t want to do this because they love anything with a Communist Green tinge. Wind turbines, as I have written before, don’t actually work very well: they either can’t turn because the wind is too strong or won’t turn because the wind is too weak. There only purpose is to stand as monuments to anti-capitalism, hopefully blighting the view of Tory country-dwellers or causing ill health to the “peasants” in urban estates. And that’s another reason for the public being so mad with Labour over this decision: the windmills are going to be a few feet away from hundreds of people on Ipswich estates. Even hardcore environmentalists suggest it might be good to put the wind turbines offshore but the borough council wants them erected in the back gardens of Ipswich residents! Crazy.

Ipswich Spy's Sally Wainman

Ipswich Spy’s Sally Wainman

The Gavin Maclure’s Musings award for “standing one’s ground” at the council meeting on Wednesday must go to Sally Wainman (of the Ipswich Spy parish) who asked one of the Wind Turbine Development questions. Mrs Wainman took her position at the podium and began asking her primary question, which must be approved by the council’s top lawyer (the Monitory Officer) prior to it being read out. Sally Wainman had hardly finished her fist sentence when the elf-like major, Cllr Mary Blake, shouted out “ask a question!”. Mrs Wainman thought she was, I thought she was, fellow bloggers thought she was and as Mrs Wainman forcibly told the mayor the Monitoring Officer had approved the question as well. Cllr Blake back in her box, Mrs Wainman proceeded to make chief of wind Cllr Sandy Martin uncomfortable, comparing him to Pontius Pilate. Very apt.

The arrogance of Labour can’t be quantified. They even have an arrogant script now for responses to anything wind-related, which basically says it’s nothing to do with them, it’s a planning matter for Babergh District Council. In other words nothing to see here, move along peasants. Just like the behaviour of the politburo of the USSR.

There were other questions, most too boring to mention. It was left to Cllr Inga Lockington of the Liberal Democrats to ask something of substance which dovetailed into the Economic Strategy report later on in the meeting. Cllr Lockington asked what the council was doing to ensure the Greater Ipswich’s biggest employer, BT, would be continuing to invest in the area over the next twenty years. Cllr Carole Jones, who couldn’t sell water in a desert, mumbled something about senior council officers talking to senior managers at Adastral Park. I really hope chief executive Russell Williams keeps Carole Jones away from Martlesham as much as possible for everybody’s sake in Ipswich. If BT were to leave their base in the East of Ipswich (highly unlikely considering the new housing, hotel and school development taking place over the next few years) Ipswich would economically collapse overnight and would experience what real austerity looks like, a la Spain-style.

Cllr Stroet helpfully mentioned new Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore would not be increasing the police precept on our council bills in April, unlike the Labour Administration who are rumoured to increase the Borough Council precept by 2% in the spring.

Then we moved on to the council reports. As Labour have such a huge majority, there is never any risk of these reports not getting approved for implementation by civil servants unless two thirds of the Labour group collectively dropped dead just before the vote. The Housing Rent Increase report (yep, LABOUR are putting up council houses rents to pay for their new council houses) was approved. Regrettably, the Tory front-bench lost their backbone and abstained. Even the yellow peril voted against. The debate around this report was noticeable for Conservative Cllr Richard Pope and Shadow Housing spokesman exposing Cllr George Debman as a serial meeting absentee: supposedly he is the Tory representative on the Housing Panel but has never turned up.

The report on the Council Tax Base is purely administrative. It is just a calculation of how many households are going to have to pay the tax so the council can work out how much they will rake in. As I learnt in GCSE maths, there is only one right answer. The report was duly approved on the nod.

The next two reports on the Agenda were waved through as well.

Then the business-end of the meeting arrived. Cllr Carole Jones, Labour’s economic decline development chief, introduced the Council’s new Ipswich Economic Strategy. It was fair to say it was torn apart by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Tory economy spokesman, Cllr Kym Stroet, asked about a million questions, highlighting gaps in the report. His speech was a bit Jackanory in places but Cllr Stroet had clearly ready every word, which was impressive.

For the Lib Dems, Cllr Andrew Cann was scathing. Cllr Cann told Cllr Jones it was a document written for the sake of it. “Take it away and write it again!” he thundered.

Cllr Stewart advised Cllr Jones to introduce free parking in the town centre. The new Tory Group leader didn’t elaborate how that would be paid for? Increased council tax perhaps?
Cllr Stewart continued his lesson by saying all would be well if we turned the clock back thirty years and had a thriving manufacturing industry once again in Ipswich – again, he didn’t elaborate on how he was going to overhaul the entire national economic model which now means Britain’s economy is based on the service sector. The Tory leader ended his lecture by declaring Ipswich had the “blitz look” about it. Nice.

Rescue: Former Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall

Rescue: Former Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall

At this point former Conservative Group leader Cllr Carnall had heard enough. The Tories’ big beast rose from the backbenchers to explain to his own group never mind the ruling Labour administration the key points to make. As in every economic development taking place in Ipswich right now is a result of Conservatives:-

1. The Tesco development on Grafton Way, set to bring in £50 Million of investment  – APPROVED by the last Conservative Administration, voted against by Labour councillors. This is down from £70 million as a result of anti-Tesco Labour taking back control of the council. As Cllr Carnall put it, Labour managed to lose £20 Million “in one fell swoop!”.

2. Travel Ipswich £21 Million investment: road layout improvements on Princes Street and other roads, new cycle facilities, re-developed bus stations etc – PUSHED for by Conservative Suffolk County Council. Lobbied for by a Tory MP, Ben Gummer, and APPROVED by a Conservative Secretary of State for Transport.

3. Flood defences – £6.6 Million: Lobbied for by Conservative Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and approved by Conservative-led Coalition Government

4. New Waitrose and John Lewis on former Cranes Site – supported and APPROVED by the last Conservative Administration. Also the little Waitrose in the Corn Exchange was also APPROVED by the last Conservative Administration. Cllr Carnall forgot to mention the Giles Circus re-development, which was dragged kicking and screaming to completion against fierce Labour opposition by former Tory councillor and transport chief Tanya Maclure.

5. University Campus Suffolk: Supported since conception with lobbying to central Government for grants back in 2007 by Conservative-led Ipswich Borough Council.

6. Culture economy: Masterminded by Cllr Judy Terry, the Regent Theatre was turned from a dilapidated failing operation into one of the most successful publicly-owned theatres (not easy to do when civil servants are involved) in the region.

We miss you Cllr Carnall.

This was a masterclass from John Carnall and encapsulated perfectly that it is the Conservatives who bring economic development to our town, whereas Labour in Ipswich are anti-enterprise and would rather see everyone living in a council house working in a nationalised industry. They are a dangerous bunch.

MP wannabe: Cllr David Ellesmere

MP wannabe: Cllr David Ellesmere

The Labour leader Cllr David Ellesmere’s response was to bang on about the “shocking skills deficit” referring to Suffolk’s appalling position on the GCSE results league table, announced last week, which Cllr Ellesmere is doing his damndest to pin on Tory Suffolk County Council ahead of the County Council elections in May. He was almost Bennite in his rhetoric. I have never seen so much passion in his speaking. I thought Mr Gummer has a real fight on his hands in 2015 then a fellow blogger reminded me the Labour candidate didn’t really need to fight for victory in two years’ time – in fact, Cllr Ellesmere might as well go and sit on a beach for the campaign and then fly back just in time for the count.  Unless Ben Gummer finds a hospital-esque subject to hook on to that is.

But just like with Tony Benn, once you have come down from the soaring rhetoric, you realise what utter rubbish Cllr Ellesmere was talking. It is the Labour-infested teaching unions which have caused the horrendous GCSE results with their anti-aspiration rhetoric in the classrooms. Funny how the independent sector doesn’t have such miserable results.

When it came to the vote on the Economic Strategy report, the Administration pushed it back to Executive for further work. I.e. a re-write.

And that was the end of another full council meeting, attended by three bloggers, some windfarm protesters and dead tree press Morning Ipswich Star Paul Geater, who had to stay to the end of the meeting because Labour cleverly put the Economic Strategy at the end of the agenda.

And with that, we headed off to the pub.