Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

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Tweetgate: Ipswich Tories try to ban Twitter

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

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


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.


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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EXCLUSIVE: Press Gallery scrapped at Ipswich Borough Council

Last week I reported on the important announcement that Ipswich Borough Council are to appoint a social media officer at Grafton House.

This prompted me to ask chief executive Russell Williams why the press gallery at the Town Hall only allows access to traditional print media journalists and the Council’s communications chief. I was also keen to know the process I should follow to gain access to the press gallery as I felt bloggers should be treated equally with the dead tree press.
Well, today the blogosphere in Ipswich has won a victory of sorts. Mr Williams has acted swiftly and this afternoon he informed me the Borough Council have decided to scrap the “press gallery” – actually just one table and two chairs – and move the Morning Ipswich Star’s political editor, Paul Geater, and the Council’s communications chief to the public gallery. So in effect, bloggers and traditional media journalists will now report on Council proceeding together in one place. Very cosy.
In related news, Mr Williams also tells me bloggers and other social media outlets will now receive press releases from the Council along with the print and broadcast media. I am told Ipswich Spy have been waiting months to get on the press release list so this will be most welcome in that parish. Gavin Maclure’s Musings intends to request receipt of future press releases and all bloggers can apply to be placed on the list by following the instructions on the Council’s Press Office webpage.
Despite the new social media officer not yet been appointed with the vacancy open for applications until tomorrow, it seems the Council’s top officer team is taking social media seriously now. Ipswich Borough Council should be applauded for facilitating full and transparent reporting of the Council’s activities – a core tenet of democracy – by ensuring both traditional journalists and bloggers are now treated equally when all 48 councillors meet to represent Ipswich residents at the Town Hall.
I look forward to reporting – alongside new and traditional scribes – at the next full meeting of the Council on 26th September.

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Ipswich Borough Council joins the 21st Century

Ipswich Spy has written a good piece today on Ipswich Borough Council’s appointment of a social media officer to their communications department.

I understand Tory Group leader Cllr John Carnall’s point about additional spending when the public debt pile is rising – with the national public debt increasing by £600bn under the present Government alone – and I certainly could find a hundred ways to save money at Ipswich Borough Council, having been a councillor there for four years.  However, I feel Cllr Carnall’s reaction to the social media officer appointment was a little knee-jerk; would Mr Carnall have used the word “disgraceful” in the context of social media if he was in his 30s and not his 60s? 
Social media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube and a plethora of web-based communication applications are empowering millions today (including people over 60!)? Look how much further Cllr Carnall’s comments now go because of social media. He made his comments to the Morning Ipswich Star but I read them on the blog Ipswich Spy and was no where near a copy of the local paper. The so-called mainstream media is quickly becoming not very mainstream at all – as the Morning Ipswich Star circulation figures clearly show. Undoubtedly, social media is a force which will only get stronger as more people consume their news and debate electronically.
However, I can’t believe the Council could not recruit for this position internally. Are they really saying out of the hundreds of people they employ, not one had the requisite skills to take over the running of the social media function at Ipswich Borough Council? It is not a full-time job, surely? What will they need to do? Send out a few tweets, keep the Facebook site up-to-date, create a guide for less IT-literate civil servants on how to communicate with the public via Twitter and Facebook. A couple of days a week, maximum.
Perhaps, the new recruit could make a start by tweeting when the Area Committees take place? I asked for this, as a resident, back in March but it has still not happened.
Ipswich Spy also made the very pertinent point about how Ipswich Borough Council treats bloggers over the dead-tree press, such as the Morning Ipswich Star. Let’s hope their new social media recruit tells the Borough communications chief that Archant’s circulation is going DOWN whereas blog readership is going UP year-on-year. It makes you wonder why the Council puts Morning Ipswich Star political editor Paul Geater on a pedestal, quite literally, at town hall Council meetings. Mr Geater gets his own table and chair (and, of course, a jug of water) high up with the councillors whilst bloggers like myself and Ipswich Spy have to squeeze into the public gallery.
If I was in charges of communications and the media at the Council, I’d be a little more concerned the future of journalism – the blogosphere – were being kept sweet rather than the dead tress press. Of course, I might not be aware of the Council’s open-all-doors media policy so I’ve today emailed the chief executive, Russell Williams, to ask for a copy of the process for gaining access to the press gallery. I’ll let you know his reply in due course.


Morning (Ipswich) Star circulation down by 10.7%

The Morning Ipswich Star’s publisher Archant put out their circulation figures at the end of last month which they say showed a small increase in circulation. Unfortunately for them they have been busted as the figures are not what they seem. Archant included what are called in the trade ‘bulks’ – i.e. stacks of free newspapers left in fast food outlets, hotels, even UCS in Ipswich. These should not be included in circulation figures as circulation is a test of reader popularity not how many papers they can dump in a public place. 

If you take out the ‘bulks’, the Morning Ipswich Star’s circulation has in fact dropped a whopping 10.7%. July-December 2011, was 12,526 compared with 14,034 in the same period in 2010. Oh dear.
Now, I am no fan of the Morning Ipswich Star. It’s a rabidly bias publication towards the Labour Party and all things left-wing with an almost perverse love for Ipswich, which in my view gives false hope to the people of Ipswich. One of the reasons Ipswich performs poorly economically compared to our neighbours in Norwich and Colchester is, as I have written before, because of a lack of confidence in Ipswich people. Despite the town centre shopping precincts (Tavern Street, Buttermarket) being of a good quality with a wide range of retail outlets all I heard as a councillor from in fact fellow councillors and the general public was how diabolical the shopping experience was in Ipswich. Believe me, when you have visited places like Leigh in Greater Manchester, our town centre is like Paris in comparison.
Anyway back to the Morning Ipswich Star. Andrew Grant-Adamson over at Media Wordblog picked up a tweet from Tim Youngman who is Archant’s head of digital marketing saying he would be in Ipswich today to meet with editorial staff at the East Anglia Daily Times (EADT) and the Morning Ipswich Star. Andrew writes: 

“I wonder what he had to say to the staff of papers which seem to be in denial about recognising the digital revolution and its impact on newspapers.
Looking at the papers websites (they have a joint staff so the content is very similar) there is little sign of awareness of the way things are changing. Yes, stories have social media buttons and there are blogs.

But look at those blogs and start wondering why they bother.

The two Suffolk papers have six blogs that appear on both sites plus two with appear only on the Star site and two at the EADT. Here is a list of them with the dates when they were last updated: 

Dominic Castle, Deputy Editor EADT  (Dec 22, 2011)
Penelope Parker, EADT only (Jul 11, 2011)
Nigel Pickover, Editor Star (Jun 22, 2011)
Paul Geater, Political reporter, Star (Nov 4 2011)
Anthony Bond (July 11, 2011)
Wayne Savage  (Mar 12, 2012)
Dan Gooderham (Nov 21, 2011)
Josh Warwick (Jul 27, 2011)
Mike Bacon (Feb 15, 2012)
Mark Heath (Feb 14 2012)”

Compare the above to the plethora of blogs which now exist just on Ipswich politics and you can see why Archant have got a real problem. There is Kevin Algar’s A Riverside View, Cllr Alasdair Ross’s blog and James Spencer’s Bridge Ward News. And, of course, there is Ipswich Spy, which when they publish (not as regularly as I would like) is head and shoulders above the drivel written by the political commentators at the Morning Ipswich Star.
As a blogger, I attended Ipswich Borough Council’s budget meeting on 29th February and took my place in the public gallery. Paul Geater, political editor from the Morning Ipswich Star, arrived late and sat in the prestigious press bench. Unfortunately, Mr Geater left the meeting before the vote took place on how Ipswich taxpayers money was to be spent from April this year. This lack of attention from Mr Geater showed when it came to his article in the paper the next day: it was probably only 100 words buried at the bottom of an inside page and covered next to nothing of the proceedings. Compare that to my coverage – for free.
I stopped buying the then Morning Evening Star when I stepped down from the council in May 2011 as apart from the odd bit of intelligence I found about the council (as a humble backbencher you know about as much as the public do about how the council is run) it was stacked full of absolute tosh about either a cat stuck up a tree or a man who couldn’t get out of his own house because he had eaten too much. 
It seems many readers agreed with me and stopped buying the paper last year as well. I now find out all I need to know about local stories in Ipswich from free blogs. If the real circulation trend continues at the Morning Ipswich Star, the paper will soon be confined to the dustbin permanently. I can’t say I’ll miss it.