Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

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Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Chancellor George Osborne announced £0.5bn improvement to Great Eastern Mainline today (Picture credit: Ipswich Spy)

Chancellor George Osborne announced £0.5bn improvements to the Great Eastern Mainline today

Conservative Chancellor George Osborne was in Norwich today to announce a £550 million package to improve the Great Eastern Mainline shortening journey times between Norwich and London with a promise for services to and from Ipswich taking just 60 minutes.

Mr Osborne praised Ipswich MP Ben Gummer and fellow Tories in the region, Chloe Smith (Norwich North) and Priti Patel (Witham) for the work they have done to date lobbying transport ministers and their Railway Manifesto published in conjunction with local councils. In keeping with Coalition protocol, the Chancellor also gave a nod to Liberal Democrat Simon Wright (Norwich South). Today’s announcement looks like it is putting the flesh on the bones of the announcement made by the Government in January, which stated Network Rail (owned by the taxpayer) would be spending £1.4bn on the Great Eastern mainline infrastructure improvements between 2014 – 2019. Back in January, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin was yet to green-light the scheme. It would seem today’s announcement in Norwich tells us half the budget has been approved.

The Chancellor, speaking today at Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, said: “East Anglia is one of the fastest growing regions in the country and is establishing itself as a world leader in science, technology and manufacturing. To support this growth we need to have modern, efficient rail services and improved connections.

I am absolutely behind the region and that’s why I’ve set up a taskforce to see how we can build on the excellent work by Chloe Smith, Ben Gummer, Priti Patel and Simon Wright.”

Ben Gummer along with his regional parliamentary colleagues mentioned by Mr Osborne will sit on the taskforce. I am sure Mr Gummer’s focus will be on introducing “Ipswich in Sixty” (hat-tip on the phrase: Ipswich Spy), ensuring Ipswich commuters’ journey times into and out of London are reduced to 60 minutes, which will make a big difference. It is not clear from today’s announcement by Mr Osborne how that will be achieved.

The Department for Transport has also asked Abellio, parent company of the Greater Anglia franchise, to start refurbishing their rolling stock, including making them more business-friendly by introducing power sockets into carriages to charge laptops and mobile phones.

£550 million is a lot of money so some improvements are going to happen – the key is for local MPs to explain how those changes will reduce journey times.


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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.


The irony of Cameron’s EU speech

The EU wants more of your money

Pro-EU: Ben Gummer MP

Despite the MP for Ipswich adding his name (as reported by Ipswich Spy) to a pro-European salvo dispatched a few days before David Cameron’s historical speech, Ben Gummer, ironically, might win a few votes off the back of the PM’s promise to give the British people an In-Out referendum on our membership of the European Union.

That’s if he doesn’t draw attention to his opposing letter and rabidly pro-European views…can he rein himself in?

But then Ben Gummer is a canny political operator as we saw with his anti-immigration leaflet during the 2010 General Election. If needs must, eh Ben?


Ipswich Politburo vote themselves a pay increase

A drag on Ipswich: The market in front of the Town Hall

Apologies for not blogging lately but I have been out of the country on business and have had to spend an exorbitant amount of time working to pay my taxes to keep the Ipswich Labour Party in the comfort they are used to (despite their party causing the worst economic recession since the 1930s) to pay for the Indian Navy’s new warship and the new tourist attraction in Iceland.

But I did manage to get to the meeting of all 48 (well, it would have been if they had all turned up) Ipswich Borough Councillors at the Town Hall on Wednesday evening last week. When I arrived, I did have a chuckle to myself when I saw the press gallery had been removed and the Morning Ipswich Star’s political editor Paul Geater had been forced to slum it with the ordinary voter and bloggers in the public gallery. Needless to say Mr Geater didn’t look impressed. The price of democracy, eh?
As I wrote recently in the comments section of Ipswich Spy, the quality of minute taking at any meeting at the Council is woeful. If the minutes are to be believed, one would think we all turn up to the meeting, there is a prayer, the mayor tells us what a jolly good time they have had over the last six weeks, the councillors raise their hands seven times and then we all go home. Hardly Hansard. Fortunately, democracy is a bit more active in Ipswich but the actual goings-on at the town hall are only starting to be revealed after a number of local political blogs, including this one, started reporting proceedings over the last two or three years. Borough chief executive Russell Williams is to be congratulated for his excellent decision to make the reporting of council business more transparent.
After the “non-denominational prayers” for “those with faith and those without” (seems like a contradiction in terms) and the Mayor’s Communications we moved on to a perverse announcement from Labour Mayor Mary Blake that a junior clerk was leaving the Council, which was bizarrely followed with gushing praise for this unelected bureaucrat – I was half expecting a standing ovation to follow. Look, I am all in favour of thanking someone when they have done a good job but what is it with councillors, especially Labour, falling over themselves to praise unelected civil servants in a public setting? You never hear, say, George Osborne, standing up in the House of Commons, listing all the Treasury mandarins who have helped him pull the budget together (that’s what their Whitehall managers are for). That’s because we live in a democracy and the person publicly responsible for anything the Government does in his portfolio is the politician. May be Labour just don’t understand democracy or perhaps they can’t distinguish between Labour councillors and Labour-supporting officers?
Then to the business-end of the meeting and Council Questions.
I’ll report on the key themes that came out of the questions to Labour Portfolio Holders. A hot topic at the moment are the roadworks in Fore Street, which are not being caused by the Travel Ipswich programme but by National Grid. A huge crater has opened up in Fore Street to fix the gas mains. The works have been going on for months and have overrun. Ipswich Borough Council – at least until April next year when the County Council take back control of the roads – are responsible for giving permission to contractors to dig up the road and for ensuring the utility works are completed in a timely manner. On the latter point, they have patently failed. 
Therefore, Conservative Cllr George Debman asked Labour transport chief Cllr Phil Smart why the Council were not being more proactive in bringing these roadworks to a close so local businesses can start to recover from the horrendous impact the works have had on their takings during the last six months. Instead of showing some leadership, Cllr Smart just passed the buck to National Grid and deployed the stock excuse for socialists: we can’t help businesses in the area because of “health and safety”. 
Tory Cllr Chris Stewart then asked a good question to economic decline development portfolio holder Cllr Carole Jones on what the Labour administration intended to do to further promote the town during the Ipswich Maritime Festival next year. Again, there was no rhetoric from Cllr Jones about her vision for developing the town’s economy through events like this and instead waffled on about the new Travelodge and Premier Inn hotels being available for visitors to stay at next year. Cllr Stewart in reply tried to help Cllr Jones by suggesting the marina water itself be used as a platform for promoting the town’s history and future. Cllr Stewart also made a good point about inviting the marine industry to attend the Maritime Festival and for civic leaders to bring businesses in this sector together during the event. Instead of welcoming his comments, Cllr Jones just snapped back that he should attend the Economic Working Group to raise these ideas. It later transpired in the meeting that Cllr Stewart is not on the Economic Working Group but he said he would be delighted to attend if the ruling Labour Party invited him!
Conservative Group leader Cllr John Carnall followed with a stinging question to Cllr Smart on how Labour intended to spend the £140,000 earmarked in the budget for “public transport” and asked if the £140,000 which is Ipswich Buses’ pension deficit was just coincidentally the same figure? In typical form, Cllr Smart just side-stepped the question and said he wished the “bus war” (where First Group are legally competing with the inefficiently run Ipswich Buses) would end soon. Cllr Smart needs to be careful here: if Ipswich Borough Council were to use the money to fill the pension gap black hole this is likely to be illegal under the Transport Act 1985. Therefore, I’m glad to see the Tory Group have not forgotten this suspicious budget item from earlier this year. This blog will continue to watch how Labour spend this money like a hawk. Propping up Ipswich Buses’ pension pot with taxpayers’ money so the Labour council can satisfy an ideological need to own a bus company is not acceptable.
Visionary: Sir Stuart Rose
Earlier this month, as reported on this blog, former Marks and Spencer boss Sir Stuart Rose attended the Ipswich Beacon Conference to advise the Borough Council on how to improve the town centre environment to attract more shoppers. One of his key ideas to get more money into Ipswich is to remove the market from the Cornhill. He said it obviously should still trade but it would be better to move it down the soon to be pedestrianised Princes Street/Queens Street and up Lloyds Avenue, thereby freeing the only remaining large open space in the town centre. The Cornhill could then be transformed into an attractive focal point where a café al-fresco style culture could prosper in the same vein as Exchange Square in Manchester. After Sir Stuart’s speech at the business conference on 14th September, Labour council leader Cllr David Ellesmere sprung to his feet to tell the former M&S boss that this was a great idea and he would implement it immediately. Sir Stuart had not even managed to battle his way out of Ipswich before Socialist David Ellesmere had changed his mind and the market again became a sacred cow that just could not be sacrificed for the greater good of Ipswich. Weak leadership of the highest order!
This predictable volte-face, reported by Ipswich Spy a couple of weeks ago, was confirmed at the Council meeting on Wednesday when Cllr Ellesmere answered a question from Cllr Carnall asking him to confirm the plans for the market. Cllr Ellesmere, instead of reiterating his praise for Sir Stuart’s vision, as he had done only a few weeks before at the Beacon Conference, instead said he thought Ipswich Market’s location was a positive to the economy and that retail guru Mary Portas agreed with him. What he failed to mention is Mary Portas had praised a market in another town which was not cluttering up the only free public space left in Ipswich’s town centre. I think Cllr Ellesmere’s back-pedalling might have more to do with the fact the Labour Party receives funding from the market traders through their union subscriptions!!
Labour ideology is to ensure their own friends come before the greater good of the town.
Allowances: Councillors don’t do it for the money
This neatly takes us on to the main report of the evening, which was on councillor allowances. The Council had ordered a report from an Independent Remuneration Panel on councillors’ basic and special responsibility allowances. The report was ably presented by panel chairman Mrs Sally Wainman, a retired nurse who, when she is not campaigning for Broomhill Pool, now writes at the Ipswich Spy parish. The panel recommended the overall allowances budget should not rise but basic allowances – which are some of the lowest out of any council in the country – should be increased to bring them more in line with other local authorities and to reflect better the hours backbench councillors put into their roles. A backbench councillor receives £3,745 a year. Some back-bench councillors are working 30 hours a week attending meeting and dealing with case work in their ward. A junior civil servant will be earning SIX times as much for doing similar hours but councillors are the most senior people in the Council. Tory frontbencher Cllr Richard Pope said he had calculated he earned £3.75 a day after tax as a councillor. He said: “I don’t know about everyone else but I have come straight from work and £3.75 wouldn’t even buy me dinner in one of the fast food establishments of Ipswich.”. Quite. Anyone who says a councillor is doing it for the money is either mad or bad.
But there are some who say we are equal, but some are more equal than others. Cue the Labour Party. When they took back control of the Borough in May 2011, they immediately gave special responsibility allowances to five of their backbenchers by creating five new chairmanships when they replaced the Area Forums with Area Committees. The Area Committee chairmen – all Labour councillors – chair a formal public meeting a few times a year to discuss community issues in their respective area of Ipswich, of which there are five: North West, North East, South East, South West and Central. The meetings were initially to be held in Grafton House which has security doors and guards and is difficult to access by the public (may be that was the point?) but after an outcry from opposition councillors the meetings were moved into the community, such as school halls. At the time these new chairman roles were created, Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere promised at a Town Hall meeting their allowances would be decided by an Independent Remuneration Panel.  
Well, that Panel has now reported and recommended the Area Committee Chairman allowance be reduced to pay for a rise in the basic allowance. But has Cllr Ellesmere accepted this. No. 
The Panel’s recommendations would be cost neutral – i.e. the taxpayer would not have to cough up a penny more. The Tory Group voiced their favour for the recommendations, even if there were holier than thou moments, especially when Cllr Debman said he would give any increase to the hospice. But contrast this with Labour’s Cllr Ellesmere who shot the Panel’s report down in flames, accusing Mrs Wainman and her colleagues of not understanding the role of Area Committee Chairmen and stating the Labour Group would not be voting for the recommendations and instead would INCREASE the councillor allowances budget to ensure his Labour backbenchers continued to pocket an additional £3,745 a year on top of their basic allowance of £3,745. This means 18 out of Labour’s 32 councillors receive £7,490 a year – over half their Party. The allowance is hardly “special” any more, or may be just special for Labour. The amount of money, in this instance, is not the issue (no one should work for free), it is the hypocrisy of Labour: on the one hand they deplore basic allowance increases and then on the other hand they vote the majority of their members a nice little increase, whilst the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors are not awarded a penny more.
This is a sign of classic socialism: ensure the party hierarchy get their money and then pull the ladder up to stop the general population from benefiting the same way. And guess who foots the bill for this socialist ideology – yes, you and me as the taxpayer. If you don’t like socialism, never vote Labour.
And neither did the Liberal Democrats come out of the allowances debate smelling like a bed of roses. One of the recommendations was to get rid of the special responsibility allowance for the leader of the Liberal Democrats, who now only have four councillors with even less expected to be returned at the next Borough Elections in 2014. This sparked Liberal Democrat leader, Cllr Inga Lockington, into life (after arriving late because she was attending the Liberal Democrats conference in Brighton) making a passionate plea to keep her extra cash. But when it came to the vote on the Panel’s recommendations, the only two Lib Dem members who could be bothered to attend Wednesday’s meeting abstained! This rightly triggered groans of derision for the yellow peril.
Heros: British Army in Afghanistan

A sombre moment in the meeting then arrived with the presentation of the report on the Armed Forces Community Covenant, which local councils across the country are being encouraged by central government to sign up to as a statement of mutual support between the civilian community and its local people who serve in the Armed Forces. Ipswich Borough Council have a good track record on this. The Borough has been demonstrating their support for our Armed Forces, not just in thoughts but deeds, for some time and were in fact spurred into action by Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall last year when he suggested the council provide free leisure passes (I-cards) to members of the armed forces who live in Ipswich. This allows soldiers, airmen and sailors to use the council-owned swimming pool and gyms for free when they are not on a tour of duty, including in Afghanistan. The Conservative Group continued to give their full support by backing the signing of the Covenant at the Council meeting.

Labour’s Cllr Alasdair Ross, who has served in Afghanistan as an Operations Warrant Officer with 2 Rifles, made a moving speech supporting our Armed Forces and the work they do defending our country. The speech was non-partisan to the point Cllr Ross even praised Cllr Carnall for his motion last year to give free I-cards to armed forces personnel in Ipswich. As Cllr Ross said, the Borough have subsequently gone further and provided free tickets to shows at the The Regent theatre. Cllr Ross also eloquently highlighted that the headlines may focus on the tragic deaths but British soldiers in Afghanistan are also being badly wounded in double-digit figures every day, some losing limbs. The sooner we get out of Afghanistan the better – why we are there, I do not know.
Cllr Inga Lockington of the Liberal Democrats also pressed for the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust to sign the Armed Forces Community Covenant as well as the NHS Primary Care Trust. This was a powerful point because, as Cllr Ross stated in his speech, mental health issues are very prevalent amongst former members of the armed forces: more men who served in the Falklands War have committed suicide than died in combat. The same statistics are true for the ongoing Afghanistan conflict as well. In response, Labour leader Cllr Ellesmere said he would work to ensure the local Mental Health Trust were are also signatories to the Covenant. The report was voted for unanimously.
Roadworks: Traffic chaos has begun in Ipswich

After this serious and constructive item, the Council meeting then descended into farce. I was almost late to the meeting because of the roadworks which have begun as part of the £21 million Travel Ipswich project. And as the roadworks get started in earnest, for reasons unbeknown to anyone other than himself, Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall decided to put forward a motion supporting the current transport works and thereby linking the Conservative Party with the traffic chaos which will be experienced by all who live and work in Ipswich over the next twelve months. That’s going to help bring the votes in at the County Elections next year isn’t it?

It also doesn’t help that the Travel Ipswich project is a deliberate central government policy to reduce traffic volumes in Ipswich town centre by creating a road network which causes more congestion thereby hoping people will take the bus or cycle. This is supposedly to mitigate against non-existent anthropomorphic climate change. The problem is public transport in Ipswich is piecemeal, commensurately expensive and regularly late. In other words, making it harder for people to drive into the town will not see a shift to public transport use: it will just make it even harder for people to drive into Ipswich and spend money in our shops. To the extent they will travel to Norwich or Cambridge instead. Hardly, the best plan of action to help our struggling economy. It is unsurprising Sir Stuart Rose said Ipswich should make it easier for drivers to come into the town centre: this is a man who gets business unlike Suffolk County Council.
The Tory motion slipped in a commendation for Ipswich MPs Ben Gummer and Dr Dan Poulter (whose constituency also encompasses North West Ipswich) for securing the £21 million funding. All true, but again why try and link the Conservatives with mass roadworks and a scientifically flawed “green” policy? 
Labour have a huge majority on the Council and they predictably crushed the Tory motion. Was it really necessary Cllr Carnall? No one outside of the Council chamber heard the praise for our Conservative MPs. And after you take the mainstream media, bloggers and the Independent Remuneration Panel out of the room there were only two or three members of the public present.  It would have been far better to wait for the works to be complete, hope they are a success and then bask in the glory. If the Conservatives are to ever win back power at the Borough Council, they have to do much much better than this.

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UPDATE: Ipswich Beacon Town Conference

As reported yesterday, the second Ipswich Beacon Town conference took place at the Corn Exchange on Friday with keynote speaker Sir Stuart Rose, former boss of Marks & Spencer.

Sir Stuart listed a number of ideas on how to improve the welcome to Ipswich and it’s town centre retail offering. First up was making the railway station more inviting and to erect clear signposts to the town centre from the station rather than visitors first being greeted by three lanes of traffic. He said: “The railway station would not be out of place in Siberia! It is a depressing station that you want to get out of – and there is nothing to say ‘Welcome to Ipswich.’ There is not even a sign to the town centre and when you get out you straight away have to dodge the traffic.”

However, he did praise the map-based monoliths implemented by the previous Conservative-led Borough Council which have popped up around and within the town centre.

Tatty: Ipswich Market

The retailing guru also reiterated what right-minded Tories and also a former Labour mayor have being saying for years: move that tatty market! The Cornhill is the last open space in Ipswich town centre (when the Del Boy market is not in town) and should be permanently liberated in the style of Exchange Square in Manchester, which was transformed into a continental-style piazza after the IRA bomb in 1996. Exchange Square also just happens to be outside the largest M&S in Europe…

As has been reported on Ipswich Spy, Michael Foot, aka Cllr David Ellesmere, went all starry-eyed in front of Sir Stuart and leapt up to say that moving the market was a great idea. Let’s see if he follows through now the conference has wound up. We don’t have to get rid of the market – well not the nice bread and olive stalls – but just move it up Lloyds Avenue, down Princes Street and Queen Street (which will be pedestrianised in the next year as part of the ‘Travel Ipswich’ project) or down the Buttermarket. But getting rid of it from the Cornhill and then transforming this space with tiered seatings and cafe style outdoor seating will do wonders for the town centre retail experience – we might actually get a tenant for the now-closed Clinton’s store.

We’re just fine: Cllr Carole Jones

Fellow bloggers and of course the Morning Ipswich Star seem to have conveniently forgotten something that happened at yesterday’s Beacon conference. My spy at the meeting tells me Michael Foot’s Labour party is still alive and well in Ipswich: cue Labour’s Economic Decline Development Borough portfolio holder. Once Sir Stuart had finished his speech explaining what was wrong in Ipswich and how it could be fixed, up popped Labour’s Cllr Carole Jones (and partner of council leader Michael Foot David Ellesmere) to say Ipswich “was fine” and Sir Stuart “just didn’t know it well enough”. My source tells me it was “embarrassing”.

So unlike Ipswich Spy, I won’t be dancing a jig to the bright new dawn just quite yet. Let’s remember Labour have form when it comes to the Council helping to kick start the economy. They moaned profusely about the Giles Circus development implemented by the former Conservative-led Council, which undoubtedly attracted Waitrose to Ipswich town centre. Are they really going to do one better and transform the Cornhill in the same way?
I hope so but I wouldn’t put money on it.


Ipswich hears from former M&S boss but will Labour be listening

Successful: Former M&S boss Sir Stuart Rose

Today the second Beacon Town Conference is taking place in Ipswich at the Corn Exchange. The conference is organised by the Morning Ipswich Star and brings together local business leaders and politicians to discuss how to improve the economy of Suffolk’s county town. 

This time round Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has managed to persuade the former boss of Marks & Spencers, Sir Stuart Rose, to attend the conference as a keynote speaker to offer his thoughts on how Ipswich can improve its retail offering. The conference delegates will also discuss how to get their hands on £24 Million of the government’s Future Cities fund.

Earlier in the week during the Star’s promotion of the conference, I noted how Ipswich Borough Council leader David Ellesmere tried to hold on to Mr Gummer’s coattails when he was quoted in the local paper saying it was a “real coup for the town” getting Sir Stuart to attend the event.

Socialist: Cllr David Ellesmere pursues Michael Foot policies

The fact of the matter is that without an MP like Ben Gummer who has connections far and wide through the family business of politics, Cllr Ellesmere would never be able to attract the likes of Sir Stuart Rose to come and speak at a provincial town business conference. 

But the Council can’t rely on the MP to develop Ipswich’s economy. That is not the MP’s job. Ben Gummer is tasked with representing Ipswich in Westminster and bending the ear of ministers and mandarins in Whitehall to get the best deal for Ipswich people. 

However, the political local leadership must come from the local authorities who are at the coal-face in the town day-in, day-out. Council leaders must be the primary drivers of change and development. This is where we are distinctly lacking in Ipswich. We don’t have such a leader. Borough chief executive James Hehir, before his untimely death, came close but he was a civil servant and should never have had to step into the shoes of a political leader. But he had to because no political council leader was a-coming. 

Ipswich has many things going for it, including a shopping centre which is actually quite good with a wide variety of retailers, the largest UK base for Willis insurance brokers outside of London and Europe’s largest research and development centre on its doorstep: BT Adastral Park in Martlesham. And even with dreadful rail infrastructure and chronic overcrowding, Central London is one hour, fifteen minutes away. But more must be done to develop Ipswich fit for the twenty first century: there are very few big private employers with public sector employment heavily relied upon which in the present “cuts” environment is not good for the local economy’s medium to long term health. And the transport links are more akin to the Victorian age rather the Digital age.

Things can be better but it requires local political leadership from Ipswich Borough Council. At the moment we have a Labour council leader and a Labour Administration who yearn for the 1970s, who are rabidly anti-enterprise and anti-aspiration. Cllr Ellesmere fits the bill of a old-style Labour leader – he has everything other than the donkey jacket. Is central government really going to part with £24 Million with this man?

For Ipswich to move forward to the next level, we need a dynamic leader who gets economics, aspiration and growth. Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many high profile retailers, entrepreneurs and other successful leaders appear at provincial town business conferences if, when the keynote speakers go home back to the home counties, there is no one left back in Ipswich who can absorb the ideas and then lead a team to implement them. 

Representative: Ipswich MP Ben Gummer 

Don’t look at Ben Gummer to do the Council leader’s role. The MP is doing his bit: ministers and Whitehall mandarins know for the first time in twenty years where Ipswich actually is on a map. Our health services at Ipswich Hospital and our schools have directly benefited as a result of Mr Gummer’s work representing the town in Westminster. But that isn’t enough if we are to attract investment to Ipswich. Without a go-getting council leader, Ipswich will only ride the economic wave rather than chart a successful course. 

We are certainly not seeing any spark or vision from the current Labour administration and leader. Even before they got their hands back on the levers of power in 2011 they colluded to turn their backs on 900 jobs and £70 Million of investment when they voted against Tesco’s proposed development of the old B&Q site on Grafton Way. Then once they were in power they continued their anti-enterprise agenda by voting against the conversion of a closed Green King pub site on Woodbridge Road into a new retail unit with new jobs. Labour’s campaign slogan should be: “Against jobs and investment”.  

It is not as if Labour can’t deliver growth and prosperity to a town: look at Reading in Berkshire, a town not so dissimilar to our own. The electorate consistently vote a Labour administration into their council but here the Labour councillors actually showed some leadership back in the 1990s and attracted millions of pounds of investment to turn what was a run-down dump of a town centre into one of the best retail environments in the country with The Oracle Centre. Their can-do attitude and strong leadership undoubtedly also attracted some of the biggest IT firms in the world – Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco etc. – to setup shop on the town’s periphery. Ipswich PLP take note!

Back in Ipswich, the Borough Labour leader might not have a donkey jacket but the similarities with Michael Foot are there for all to see. The sad thing for Ipswich is I think Cllr Ellesmere might quite enjoy the comparison.

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Ben Gummer should know better

Ben Gummer’s latest missive to the Morning Ipswich Star (not on Star website but is available here) was not his finest hour. I cede to no one in my admiration for Sir Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony, which was frankly the best artistic production I have ever seen. It was, and this is not too strong a word, a masterpiece and he should be duly honoured by Her Majesty for this service to his country. 
I won’t bang on about the Opening Ceremony too much (I have written a full review here) but I do have to take umbrage with the MP for Ipswich, who could only say the most obvious thing any politician would say – post-Aidan Burley tweet – about the ceremony, choosing deliberately to concentrate on the last third of the show:

“..what came through clearly was the pride we have in the diversity of our country – both in our different nations and in the multiplicity of the people who call themselves British and name Britain their home.”

Really, is that the best a Cambridge double-starred first historian could say about the three-hour spectacular tour of British history and the massive contribution we have made to the world? 
How could historian Mr Gummer not say anything about Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Boyle’s genius depiction of the Industrial Revolution, which brought mechanisation and great wealth to Britain and then the rest of the world? How, with the biggest research and development centre in Europe on Ipswich’s doorstep, could Ipswich’s MP not mention that the Opening Ceremony celebrated how the World Wide Web was invented by a Brit, with Sir Tim Berners-Lee taking a bow in the Olympics Stadium and to the one billion people watching world-wide?
Yes, the Olympic Games were about sport but to brush aside the extraordinary geopolitical event, which London 2012 was, is at best naive and at worst very cynical (if he thinks Ipswich people don’t get politics!).
Mr Gummer says: 

“These Olympics have not so much celebrated the Olympic movement, or Britain, or buildings, but pure competitive endeavour, which is what it should all be about.”

You are kidding, Mr Gummer? Equestrian was deliberately moved by Lord Coe – a politician of the grandest order if there ever was one – from Windsor Great Park (a perfect natural habitat) with a shack called Windsor Castle as a backdrop to Greenwich Park in built-up South London. Why? Because it offered  a superb backdrop of the economic powerhouse of Great Britain across the river: the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, with television pictures beamed across the globe. Now that’s soft political power or hard political power, whichever it is.
I am disappointed in Ben Gummer for segwaying in his piece from stock praise – rightly – for the diversity we have in the UK to racism. That is the classic rhetoric of the Left. Mr Gummer wrote the below when describing a dispute in a restaurant between a customer and a waiter over the bill (something which takes place thousands of times up and down the country every day):

“Frankly, I doubt that they [the customer] would have behaved like that had the waiter been white.  So we butted in and suggested they be more polite.

Speaking to the waiter afterwards, he said that although he was born and bred in Britain, worked hard in Britain and contributed to Britain, the way some people treated him made him doubt whether everyone accepted that fact.  He was making a subtle point and we all knew what he meant.

How sad that should still be the case.  We should take Danny Boyle’s idyll as an injunction as much as a pat on the back.”

Ben Gummer really should have taken a step back before writing this. It is quite possible that the disagreement the customer had about their bill would have still taken place if the waiter was white. Unpleasant people can be unpleasant regardless of race: some people just don’t know how to behave respectfully to people of the same or different colour. Perhaps, Mr Gummer should remember this before he starts firing off allegations of racism?
If Mr Gummer’s final paragraph in his article was an attempt to link the legitimate opinions many have on multiculturalism (including Prime minister David Cameron) and diversity with a non-subtle allegation of racism then this is quite disturbing to hear from a a representative in Her Majesty’s Parliament. This only serves to stir up tensions and is divisive and those in positions of influence should steer clear of such rhetoric.
My wife and I had a wonderful time when we visited the Games to watch the Mens’ Trampoline: we were all mixing together – irrespective of nationality, race or creed – and helping each other out as we navigated through the transport system, security and the Olympic arena. The London 2012 Olympic Games were such a positive and inspiring time and it’s a shame the MP for Ipswich has used his article to put a negative gloss on this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Mr Gummer should not let his left-wing prejudices cloud his highly intelligent mind like this. And if they do, he should not write them down. We all have off days and I am sure the Ben Gummer I selected back in 2007 will resume normal service again soon.


Are Ipswich Borough Council incompetent?

Sorry to sound like Jeremy Paxman but Ipswich Borough Council have some serious questions to answer over their dreadful promotion of the Olympic Torch Relay due to take place through Ipswich this week. The biggest show on Earth is about to take place in our country: the Olympic Games. And as part of that biggest show on Earth, there is the traditional torch relay through the host country. Ipswich is receiving the Olympic torch through our streets this Thursday 5th July and it will also stay overnight in Suffolk’s county town.

And how does Ipswich Borough Council cover this event on their website?
Not one mention of this once-in-a-lifetime event on their front page.

Three days to go: No mention of Olympic Torch Relay in Ipswich on Council website

I had to search through several pages to find details about the torch relay route and even then the details are incomplete with no link to a route map showing which streets the torch bearer will run through.

Luckily, I was passed an email sent to businesses from Ipswich Central – the town centre’s management company – which provides details of the torch relay route, timings and maps of the torch procession on the 5th July and 6th July. The communication also tells me which roads will be closed and provides answers to a host of frequently asked questions. This sums up the difference between business and the public sector. Why bother to think if the money just keeps on flowing in from the public, who will go to prison if they don’t pay? Why bother indeed!

I am lucky because I used to be a councillor and still keep in contact with many Conservative councillors on Ipswich Borough Council. It was one such councillor who provided me with the torch relay promotion email from Ipswich Central. The vast majority of residents in Ipswich would not have access to such information.

Now to be fair, much of the information Ipswich Central provided in their email to businesses came from Ipswich Borough Council but it’s the Council’s communication and presentation of this information on their OWN website which is very concerning. Why bury the details in the bowels of your website? Why not promote the world’s biggest show, which descends in Ipswich for a short while this week? Are Ipswich Borough Council averse to Britain’s achievements?

The two Labour councillors in charge of promoting the Olympic Torch Relay are Culture and Leisure chief Cllr Bryony Rudkin and her deputy, Olympics-mad Cllr Alasdair Ross. I trust they will have a word with the Council’s communications chief first thing on Monday morning.

As I service to those who are finding it difficult to find information about the Olympic Torch Relay in Ipswich taking place Thursday and Friday you can find information buried on Ipswich Borough Council’s website at here and here.

UPDATE – 2nd July: Ipswich Borough Council have now updated their website’s front page to include a story on the Olympic Torch Relay which links to a description of which roads the torch will pass along and the outline timings. A map of the torch relay route can also be downloaded. However, the new page does not contain all the details of road closures and the excellent host of answers to frequently asked questions which the Ipswich Central email to businesses contained.

I am sure it was purely coincidental the Council’s website was partially updated after my above post was published last night…


Ben Gummer wins more money for school re-building

To add to his achievement last year in gaining Academy status and a new building for Holywells High School – now renamed Ipswich Academy – Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has scored again by ensuring Chantry High School is also re-built by ensuring it is in the Government’s Priority School Building Programme.

Mr Gummer may have his faults, especially on his agreement with the fantasy science of global warming and somewhat perverse views on Europe, but he is an excellent advocate for Ipswich in Westminster. He genuinely cares about the town and its people and this is borne out by the effort he puts in to bending the ears of ministers to ensure money flows East to our hospital, our schools and I hope in the future our dreadful railway.

Public money coming to Ipswich doesn’t happen by accident. I would bet most Whitehall mandarins and probably a fair few Government ministers wouldn’t be able to place Ipswich correctly on a map of the UK. I personally had to look Ipswich up on a map when I got an interview at BT’s R&D labs back in 2000. So I know Mr Gummer has to work very hard to get the decision-makers in the Coalition Government to take Ipswich seriously. And by taking that logic further, it shows how little effort the former Labour MP Chris Mole put into his primary job of representing Ipswich people. Mr Mole was more concerned about climbing the greasy pole and representing the Government in Ipswich (remember the scrapping of Heart Care services at the hospital) than fighting hard for his constituents.

I now expect Alasdair Ross and other Socialist apparatchiks to start telling me in the Comments below that Chris Mole worked through thousands of cases, answering countless letters etc etc. All well and good but that is the level I expect from a Councillor. I expect my MP to possess exceptional skills of persuasion and communication and then use them effectively within the Whitehall machine to work the system for the benefit of his or her constituency. Frankly, Mr Mole didn’t have those skills whereas Mr Gummer has them in spades. Even when Chris Mole was made a junior transport minister, he spent more time looking at the modern West Coast mainline than the dilapidated and awful Great Eastern line! The guy couldn’t have done less for Ipswich if he tried.

With a new school building for Chantry High School and the new Ipswich Academy combined with Education Secretary Michael Gove’s reforms, we may be able to reverse the decline in educational standards in Ipswich and Suffolk. Labour, of course, don’t want this to happen. They would prefer it if children still left school with poor literacy and numeracy skills as then it is easier for their councillors and activists to dampen their aspirations to better themselves.

People who have ambition and the skills to match tend to swing towards Conservative values of thrift and hard work as this eventually pays good dividends – and I don’t mean the Co-op variety. But Labour do not want people to have a good education – as they might end up voting Tory!

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Ipswich will always be a backwater until the railway improves

My wife today had an important job interview in London but because of the incompetence of Network Rail and Greater Anglia (owned by Abellio) her train was cancelled. Supposedly there is a points problem at Liverpool Street. In private businesses, problems happen which affect customers but no where near to the same extent as the number of problems Network Rail and Greater Anglia create for the very high-paying public.

I work for a company with a massive network infrastructure used practically by the whole country every day (not everyone travels by train every day and some never do) and the number of problems which affect our customers are minuscule compared to the problems Network Rail and Greater Anglia inflict on their customers. I work for BT and if our business had the same woeful customer service as Network Rail/Greater Anglia I guestimate there would be a 50% chance your telephone (both mobile and landline) wouldn’t work on any given day or a 50% chance your debit card transaction in the supermarket wouldn’t work on any given day. If that was the reality, BT would go bust very quickly. It isn’t the reality because we are an efficiently run private business.

Why are the rules of commerce different for Network Rail/Greater Anglia – perhaps it’s the massive tax subsidies which keep on coming however badly they perform? This model doesn’t work: look at the NHS for instance – hardly the bastion of efficiency and good service.

As a result of the woeful rail infrastructure in the East of England, Ipswich will never become a regional centre, which the Borough Council pretends it already is, unless the Great Eastern mainline between Norwich and London Liverpool Street is overhauled. As regular reader Stephen points out, the track is only a single track each way north of Shenfield, which is over 50 miles from Ipswich!

Basically, by definition Ipswich is still a backwater because of our railway line. This IS damaging Ipswich economically. I like Ipswich, which has been my home for eleven years – it has a feel of a Northern England town in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with a strong sense of community. It’s compact size means it is easy to move around and although the shops and restaurants could be better it is still has most things one needs in terms of leisure facilities.

But it takes for ever to get anywhere else in the UK either by road and, of course, rail and this stops Ipswich from growing. Companies don’t want to be based far from anywhere – there is a reason why so many global businesses are based around the M4 corridor!

Unless a miracle happens and Ben Gummer and his fellow MPs win millions of pounds of investment for upgrading the Great Eastern mainline, more and more young people will know their futures do not lie in Ipswich.

UPDATE 12:35: Things have just gone from bad to worse. Some poor person has just jumped in front of a train. The trains which were still running have now also been cancelled.

How long will it take Greater Anglia, Network Rail and British Transport Police to “clear up” after this incident? It usually takes hours. My wife reports Liverpool Street station are telling the public the police have not yet been able to find the body!