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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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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Ipswich not served well by Number 10 media machine

This would have been a better backdrop for Ipswich

This would have been a better backdrop for Ipswich

The national media rode into town yesterday for Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech laying out the Government’s vision for controlling immigration into the UK. Things were hopefully planned with the best intentions by Number 10 and I trust Ipswich MP Ben Gummer also made sure Ipswich would get a good press.

Although things do not always go to plan and yesterday was no exception. The first impression the PM and the travelling media pack got of our part of the world was the appalling Great Eastern mainline. True to form, the train would not move further north than Essex which meant David Cameron and his entourage had to alight one stop before Ipswich at Manningtree and continue their journey by car to Ipswich’s Waterfront. I presume David Cameron’s vehicle security detail had to rush down the A12 to pick him up considering they were expecting him at Ipswich railway station? It’s not as if this hasn’t happened to him before; I recall a visit from Mr Cameron when I was the Conservative Party Ipswich constituency chairman in the noughties when the then Leader of the Opposition had to get off his train at Colchester (even further south) due to Network Rail’s incompetence.

But if that memory didn’t cross over into Government, Mr Gummer surely could have reminded the PM that the railway service in East Anglia is horrific? Then the Prime Minister could have just done the entire journey by car and stuff the green movement for a day.

Once David Cameron arrived (late) into Ipswich he was whisked into the back entrance of University Campus Suffolk and straight upstairs to deliver his keynote speech to the bored journalists and a few hand-picked Tory members (those who wouldn’t ask awkward questions, hence I wasn’t invited!). But whilst the speech was being heard, the national broadcast media had teams out in Ipswich trying to find the “immigrant community” and they slyly found the least attractive part of Suffolk’s county town: St Matthew’s Street. This area of Ipswich is known for it’s row of immigrant-run shops from Turkish Kebab houses to Polish delis and unlike in some of the “diverse” areas of London, St Matthew’s Street is also known for its run-down appearance. This was the perfect backdrop for the likes of Sky News, ITN and the BBC for their reports showing vox pops asking if immigrants are claiming benefits without ever working, how the Government intends to stop this (if the EU allows them) and the new coalition proposals to ensure recently-arrived immigrants cannot get a council house. It wasn’t exactly an advert for the Visit Ipswich tourism board!

Image

David Cameron rushing back to his car after delivering his speech – Image courtesy of Ipswich Spy

The media cannot be told what to report (well, the Royal Charter might try and do that but its not law yet) but Number 10 and Ben Gummer could have done a better job at ensuring David Cameron did not just use University Campus Suffolk as a warm place to deliver a speech but also as a way of promoting Ipswich to a national audience during this recession-hit cold Spring. When the Prime Minister finished his speech (and had the obligatory photos with the select Conservative Party members) he practically ran to his armoured Land Rover, not even stopping for the freezing newspaper and blogosphere photographers kept outside. I am told by a reliable source that the editor of the Morning Ipswich Star, Terry Hunt, desperately tried to get David Cameron to stop somewhere with a backdrop that said Ipswich rather than any old building somewhere in Britain but he was running late (thanks to Greater Anglia and Network Rail!) and needed to get back to London.

And so the dreary side of Ipswich was what made the national news yesterday evening, which is a real shame for a town that finds it difficult to be confident at the best of times.