Monday, 31 December 2007

Polly Toynbee

Polly Toynbee was on Start the Week on Radio 4 this morning. Andrew Marr was asking his guests to make predictions about the year ahead.

Ms Toynbee made the prediction that we would become wealthier, healthier and safer next year, as we have done in each of the past ten years.

She also predicted that we would also not feel any of these things and as a result moan more than we had in the previous year.

Surely that's the point. It's not whether we are, according to statistics, wealthier, healthier or safe, the salient point is whether we feel that way or not.

National GDP may have risen and the economy may continue to grow, that doesn't mean that I am feeling any wealthier at the end of this year than I did at the end of last. I also know that my taxes have increased, as has my mortgage, as has the cost of running my car.

I also know that the turnover of my business has decreased, that I am facing greater costs as an employer due to increased legislation, taxation and regulation.

We may be living longer yet that doesn't mean I am feeling any healthier or that my family is any better off health wise. I know that my family might be healthy, but also that access to NHS services has not improved and that my mother is still facing a month long wait for an appointment at her local pain relief clinic.

Crime statistics may show that the level of crime is decreasing nationally, however my experience this year has been to have my car broken in to twice, two more times than in any of the previous five years. I hear daily from people that they feel there is no point reporting minor crime because the police are unable to respond quickly and seem unable to offer any prospect that the culprits will be caught.

Isn't it about time that commentators like Ms Toynbee stopped talking about the national statistics and started viewing the everyday experiences of real people? Then she might understand why people are likely to complain more in the coming year.

500 Binge drinkers admitted to hospital every day

This story about the number of drink related admissions to hospital made the front page headline in the Daily Telegraph today.  
The figures revealed by the Telegraph's investigation are shocking but not surprising.
Their assertion is that the ease of availability and low cost of alcohol have been the main causes of increases in drink related illness.  I'm not sure personally whether an increase in the opening hours of licensed premises has had a dramatic effect on the amount alcohol being consumed.  I am sure, however, that its availability and cost are a major factor in the growing problem alcohol plays in our society.  
I wrote the following article for one of our leaflets back in October:

"Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Nick King, is putting forward a clear agenda to deal with alcohol fuelled anti social behaviour in the area. 

Nick, a member of Dorset Police Authority says: “Much of the problem comes from the inappropriate sale and use of alcohol.  Alcohol costs too little and is therefore too freely available, too much ends up in the hands of young people.  I’m proposing measures that will tackle the cause of the problem rather than spending money on dealing with the symptoms.”

Nick’s proposals include the following: 

  1. Extend the prohibition of alcohol consumption to all unlicensed public spaces.
  2. Give police the power to confiscate alcohol.
  3. Place a levy on town centre bars and clubs to pay for additional policing.
  4. Impose minimum pricing on alcohol sold through shops and supermarkets.

Nick explains: “We have to get away from a culture that says drinking in public is acceptable.  We need also to give the police and local authorities powers to control where alcohol is consumed, to make areas alcohol free and allow the use of others at certain times.”

For me the most important part is the last one.  Drink is readily available and often sold at a ridiculously low cost.  Locally we are lucky that our local authority licensing teams work well with Dorset Police to maintain a standard minimum price per alcohol unit sold through bars and clubs.  This stops many of the irresponsible practices that encouraged dangerous drinking, such as the 'one charge for all you can drink' evenings.  

This kind of intervention should be rolled out nationally and, more importantly, should be extended to all off sales of alcohol too.  There should be no need to increase the taxes charged on alcohol, it should be enough to ensure that the cost per unit is maintained at a reasonable level which prohibits the purchase of enormous quantities.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Success for Parkwood Road

News reached us at the end of November that Dorset County Council has agreed to our local campaigners' requests to take positive action along Parkwood Road on behalf of its residents. The road, located near to Rowlands Hill and the Quarterjack Surgery, has been suffering parking problems and vehicle-caused obstructions for some years now. This has resulted in a situation where waste collection lorries, and even emergency vehicles, have been unable to drive along the road because of some residents' rather problematic parking.


However, back in 2005, the chairman of Wimborne Minster Town Council's Planning and Environment Committee, Cllr Michael Hodkinson, raised the issue with Dorset County Council and called for double-yellow lines to be installed along the majority of the road to alleviate these problems. He began to compile evidence and photographs, and then in early 2007 Cllr Richard Booth joined Michael's campaign and began to canvass residents along Parkwood Road to ascertain their levels of support for such a scheme. Nearly everyone backed Michael and Richard's campaign.


This was passed onto Dorset County Council and now action will be taken. The installation of double-yellow lines has been sanctioned and copies of these plans can be found in the Wimborne Minster Town Hall.


I am pleased that this situation will soon be resolved, but in the future I will be ensuring that such processes are handled with more attention and efficiency by Dorset County Council – clearly too much time passed between the issue being identified and positive action being implemented by the County Council.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

It really is time for change...

Further to my last post, it would seem prudent to emphasise the fact that this Government is smelling of cheap incompetence. As this HMRC scandal deepens – with another six packages unaccounted for and evidence of recorded phone calls being sent on CD to bemused householders across the country – we look back at a Brown premiership that has encompassed an evasive Home Secretary who attempted to cover up the true details of the country's asylum seeker situation. We have also seen the Northern Rock fiasco, a by-product of the credit crunch and of Gordon Brown's haphazard control of the Treasury for over 10 years, and not to mention the latest loans scandal which threatens to undermine further the credibility of senior Labour Party officials.


And, if that wasn't enough, further evidence of Gordon Brown's incompetence can be linked to the aforementioned HMRC scandal. Why did he cut the budget from that agency, thereby minimising the opportunity for proper checks to be carried out to trace data and to ensure that only appropriately-trained staff had access to such data?


Gordon Brown has been prided as a man of strength and of conviction, yet his premiership is derailing fast and it actually seems that he has been a very convincing actor for the past 10 years and a very unconvincing prime minister for the last 5 months.


And in the same way that he has allowed Alistair Darling to remain as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he also found the time to promote Dawn Primarolo from her previous job of Paymaster-General (a post she held from 1999 until June 2007, which exercises direct control over HMRC and made her the de facto minister in charge of that agency) to Minister of State for Public Health. So we have a prime minister who is incompetent, a Chancellor who cannot run his own Treasury, and a minister in charge of our public NHS who has a previous record of laying the (dis)organisational foundations for this HMRC crisis.


Wonderful.


Isn't it time that the citizens of the UK had the chance to vote on this crippled Government? When can we vote for change and for optimism? For real fiscal prudence and free market economics? For sharing the proceeds of growth and cutting stealth taxes? And, above all else, when will Gordon Brown give us the chance to vote for a new Conservative Government that will deliver the fair and just society that Britain desperately needs?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A Matter of Competence

No doubt by now commentators elsewhere are highlighting the horror of the loss of 25 million personal records by the Revenue and Customs.  

Errors occur in every business.  Post goes astray.  These kind of things are often unavoidable.

What is avoidable is allowing a 'junior official' the access to so many personal records, the ability to download them and the authority to send them willy nilly to another agency without there being any system to authorise, track or confirm receipt of the information.

It is a matter of competence.  Yes, Revenue and Customs are a semi detached agency of the government, but the responsibility for their operation still lies, ultimately, with the Treasury.  That means the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

If he has an honour at all he should resign.   

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Gardeners' Question Time and Council Funding

Not normally found together in the same sentence, I fully admit.

I quite enjoy listening to Gardeners' Question Time on Radio 4.  Invariably their are questions asked that apply equally to my own gardening experience.

I was listening last week and heard a question from a member of the audience in Durham about what to do with the plastic plant pots she obtained from the garden centre when buying new plants.  She complained that her local authority, Durham City Council, did not offer a plastic recycling service and wanted some ideas from the panel as to other uses to which the pots could be put.

The panel comprised members who mostly lived in the South and expressed surprise that Durham didn't offer a plastic recylcing services as all their local councils did.

It dawned on me that this is a symptom of the imbalance in funding for local government which we suffer from so severely here in Dorset.

Presumably, Durham City Council don't have the same cost pressures that our local councils do and therfore have not been 'encouraged' to bring in a wider recycling scheme to cut their land fill waste.  The logical conclusion must therefore be that not only is the Government's financial settlement for local authorities unfair, it's also not very green. 

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Fixing our broken society

I have been appalled by the recent headlines which show that gun crime and gangland violence is on the rise. Now some of the victims are not even members of gangs, but innocent bystanders. Nonetheless, gang member or not, these are all children and we must take immediate and committed steps to eradicate this culture of violence from within our society.

When the Conservatives speak of the UK's broken society and how social responsibility is the answer, I tend to agree. But, we must also commit detail and policy examples to these soundbites. For example, there can be no doubt that our society is starting to come apart when violent crime has more than doubled since 1997, which includes gun crime also doubling in the same time. Almost 450,000 more crimes were committed in 2005-06 than in 1998-99 - but just one in four crimes were cleared up by police.

Signs that our society is failing are manifesting themselves in other ways as well. Family breakdown is all too common, social mobility is falling, education is not tailored enough to certain children's needs. For example, why not reform the system to create three tiers of colleges - science-based, arts-based and vocationally-based. That way our children can enjoy self-selection instead of being selected by local education authorities which may neglect individual needs.

To address the problem of crime and antisocial behaviour, we need a two-pronged strategy: judicial punishment and rehabilitation programmes. The former means more police on the streets, more funding for PCSOs, and a system where paperwork and bureaucracy is cut back so the police can actually get on with protecting our communities. After all, statistics show that a police officer only spends an average of 40% of their time on the beat nowadays due to unreasonable amounts of paperwork and hoops to jump through.

Rehabilitation, meanwhile, is more complicated, yet much more rewarding in the long term. We need to really integrate community leaders with those that cause the most trouble, whilst realising that many young drug addicts have a medical condition which must be treated with compassion and with commitment on both sides. Jail is not the only answer, it works hand-in-hand with other forms of treatment.

But how do we reverse the mindsets of thousands and thousands of children who have grown up in a climate of fear and uncertainty? We need to reach out to inner cities and to areas where family breakdown is rife, by launching comprehensive and individually-tailored educational programmes. We need to offer incentives for those who may not be academic, but those who would nonetheless flourish in more vocational professions. All of these activities need to be led by strong leadership figures - perhaps even directly-elected mayors - and more social workers and community leaders, funded by increasing deregulation and sharing the proceeds of growth.

This issue spans decades, not elections. We now need the chance to enact our array of compassionate and comprehensive policies. This is the most important issue facing politicians today - without a society for the future, nothing else can come to true fruition.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Civic honour for former Bournemouth councillor

Last week I was one of the few Conservative Councillors who voted in favour of ex councillor Adrian Fudge being made an Alderman of the town. For me the situation is very simple. While I may have disagreed fundamentally with Adrian over his policies and more particularly over those issues effecting the ward for which we were both councillors, Littledown and Iford, I could not fault his commitment to the role of councillor either in terms of time or energy. I believe it’s necessary to divide the personal from the political and that is why I voted the way I did and will do so again if the matter comes before the Council.

While I was disappointed that a majority of my colleagues did not see the situation in the same way, I was more disappointed by the fact that opposition members chose to boycott the subsequent Council meeting after the vote had been taken. We are all elected to represent the residents of our wards. They expect us to carry out the role to which they elected us and for which we are paid. What more fundamental duty is there than to attend a meeting of the full Council? The vote was, after all, democratic. I may not have liked the result any more than my Lib Dem and Independent colleagues, however by choosing to leave the chamber they left their electorates disenfranchised and failed fundamentally in their duty to the people who elected them.

There are far more important issues facing the town than whether an ex councillor is made an Alderman. We politicians are left in a poor light by the affair and I would urge my colleagues of all parties to draw a line under it and move on to concentrate on the important issues they were elected to address.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Congestion

It took me over an hour to get from Bournemouth to Wimborne last night. If this goes on much longer the whole area is going to become a car park in the Summer.

We need to get the Highways Agency and the Unitary, District and County Councils to resurrect the road improvement schemes for the area, we need to think outside the box on public transport and we need an MP who'll pull all of this together.

Don't we?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

UKIP and the BNP




The BNP web site has this comment at the begining of an article about the number of UKIP candidates standing in this year's local elections:

"British National Party activists and members in all parts of Britain are generally on good terms with local members and activists of the UKIP – having so much politically in common."

That says it all really. It certainly confirms the suspiscion I've long held that UKIP are just the more acceptable alternative for those who would otherwise be more at home in the BNP.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Blogging Breakdown

I thought an apology was in order. I suddenly realised that it has been over a month since I posted anything on this blog.

Time certainly flies doesn't it.

Collapsing buildings, moving house and a poorly dog are my excuses. Hopefully the next few weeks will see me making up for lost time.

Where our money's gone

The Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne has a commentary in today's Sunday Times.

This part of the article stood out for me:

for every extra £100 that Brown has spent since 1997, only £30 has been used to improve frontline public services. Thanks to the way he has run the Treasury, the rest has gone on cost-inflation, bureaucracy and waste.

That says it all about this Government really doesn't it? It also tells you exactly why I am running for Parliament.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

The DVLA - nothing better to do?

My Dad went to get an MOT for his car today.

He went to a small local garage in a village near where they live. It's run by a father and son and provides an excellent service. The chaps are friendly, do the job while Dad waits and, best of all from Dad's point of view, have a good old chin wag with him while he is there.

It's the kind of personal service that doesn't make anyone astonishingly rich, but does ensure customer loyalty and therefore a regular income in the face of larger and often cheaper competitors.

Except today, when Dad went there he was told very apologetically by the father of the pair, that he couldn't really stop to talk until the MOT inspection was completed. The reason for this was that, at the commencement of the inspection, the garage log in to the VOSA computer. They then have a certain time to complete the inspection. If they take longer than this allotted time, the VOSA ring them up and start quizzing them about why the inspection has take too long and what is wrong the with the car.

What happens if there is an issue which needs discussion? What happens if the person doing the inspection is called away?

The whole thing seems mad to me. What possible benefit is there for the VOSA to insist that an MOT inspection take a certain amount of time? More importantly, who is paying for the person to sit on the end of the phone calling these various garages to enquire why the inspection is taking so long?

Talk about the Nanny state sticking its nose in to everyone's business, this really is an example of bureaucracy gone mad.
Update: Thanks to the person who posted the comment to put me right about the difference between the VOSA and the DVLA and to suggest the garage talk to them. Quite right, I'll get Dad to mention it, however it still seems draconian to me; an intrusion and a waste of resources.

Monday, 12 February 2007

New recycling facility in Upton

Lytchett Minster & Upton Councillor Paul Johns has worked with the Town and District Councils to obtain a plastic bottle recycling bank in the Upton Community Centre car park. This is a convenient site for many Upton residents and we hope many of you will find it useful.

The recycling bank was moved, as a temporary measure, from the Upton Oil Company site to the Community Centre and unfortunately it has taken longer to get a replacement unit for the Oil Company site. Therefore if the plastics bank at the Upton Oil Company is full please use the one at the Community Centre.

Bearwood Community Centre - An apology and a correction

Back in January I posted this message which involved a reference to the local church being involved in the refurbishment of the Bearwood Community Centre.

I'm very sorry to say that this was wrong. I misunderstood the information I was given about the refurbishment of the centre. For that error I'm very sorry and I'm pleased to correct it publicly here.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Milhams Recycling Site

I attended the Environment Scrutiny and Review Panel at Bournemouth Council tonight.

One point that was raised was the exclusion of anyone who isn't a Bournemouth Council Tax payer and lives more than 3 kilometers from Milhams Recycling and Waste Centre.

Undoubtedly this policy has helped Bournemouth's recycling and waste targets, but it has inconvenienced people in the general locality greatly.

Milhams is on the edge of Bournemouth, essentially where Bournemouth, Poole and East Dorset Councils' boundaries meet.

I'll be campaigning for this radius to be widened after the local elections in Bournemouth in May. The site is the closest waste facility for people in Merley, Bearwood, Canford Bottom and Colehill, yet many of these places are more than 3 kilometers from the site. If we are really committed to improving recycling and waste management we should find a formula by which people in the wider area can use the facility.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Wimborne Conservatives

Wimborne Conservatives have a new web site. You can take a look here.

Excellent effort from their team.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Conservatives confirm opposition to ID cards

The Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis MP, has today written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell giving formal notice that an incoming Conservative Government would scrap the Government's ID card project.

David has also asked what provision, if any, has been made in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of early cancellation of the scheme.


A similar letter has also been sent to the likely major contractors warning them of our intentions.


This is the text of the letter to Sir Gus...


"I am writing to you in relation to the Government's planned roll outof its national identity card scheme, commencing this year. You will be aware that there is a long standing convention that one Parliament may not bind a subsequent Parliament.


As you will also be aware, the Conservative Party has stated publicly that it is our intention to cancel the ID cards project immediately on our being elected to government. You are now formally on notice of our position and fully appraised of the contingent risks and associated liabilities arising from the national identity card scheme.


In light of these risks, I urge you to consider very carefully the government's position, in advance of the roll-out of the scheme later this year. As a matter of financial prudence, it is incumbent upon you to ensure thatpublic money is not wasted, and contractual obligations are not incurred, investing in a scheme with such a high risk of not being implemented. In particular, I would be interested to know what provision, if any has, been made in the relevant contractual arrangements to protect the Government - and public funds - against the costs that would be incurred as a result of earlycancellation of the scheme.


The Conservatives will be a launching campaign against Labour's ID Cards proposals tomorrow."


Hat Tip: Iain Dale

Sunday, 4 February 2007

I'm voting, are you?

Estonia's General Election is on March 4th. This advert is appearing to encourage people to vote. The people are the well known Estonians in different fields (yes, they do exist).

The message on the shirts means 'I will vote, and you?'.




Perhaps we should organise similar adverts for the next local or general elections. Who would you choose? For me: Johnny Wilkinson, Dame Judy Dench, Cliff Richard, Richard Branson and Lord Coe.

Useless fact and Eurovision Link: Ines (laulja - which means singer) sang the 2000 Estonian Eurovision entry 'Once in a Lifetime', it came fourth.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Family Farms

Iain Dale has a great post about how the changes to UK Farming have effected he and his family here. I highly recommend it to you.

My family are remarkably similar, my mother's family were in farming in North Herfordshire on the Essex border and we subsequently moved to North Devon. The changes Iain talks about and, particularly in the Torridge area, Foot and Mouth, have changed farming and the countryside for ever, and not for the better.

BIC Wedding Fayre

I spent this afternoon helping man the Rubyz stall at the Wedding Exhibition at the BIC. In fact I didn't need to do that much really, Dame Kitty was a draw in her own right and I was lucky if I could get a word in edgeways!

I never knew that weddings were SUCH a huge business. It's the first time we have exhibited there, this is only the first day of two and we have already taken bookings for over 500 people, filling up what available space we had on Saturday evenings throughout April and May.

The range of services and products on offer is astounding. It's a real testament to the ingenuity and entrepreneurialism of people that they should develop businesses that cover such a diverse range of services.

Talking to other business owners there it was apparent though that everyone is suffering under the burden of extra regulation, both directly and indirectly applied by government.

I heard more than once that people were wondering whether it was worth continuing with their businesses and more often that they were no longer keen to employ people because of the regulation and additional cost concerned.

We must make moves quickly to begin to simplify legislation for businesses, take away some of their tax burden and make it easier and more flexible for them to employ people. Rescinding our introduction of the EU's Social Chapter would be a great start.

The place was packed and the organisation was clearly very professional. It's success is a huge credit to the BIC staff and Bournemouth Borough Council's events team.

This week news broke that the Conservative Party would not be coming to Bournemouth for our conference next year. I have to admit to having known this for a couple of weeks. What is heartening is that we will be returning, and more importantly for the staff of the Council and BIC, I know the party chairman has sent a message to them making it clear that the decision in no way reflects on their service, professionalism and the standard of the venue.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Bournemouth Mobile Phone Mast refused on appeal

I've just posted this on my Bournemouth Councillor's blog:

I have received the result of the Inspector’s report about the O2 mast at the back of the houses in Southwick Road.

I’m absolutely delighted to report that it has been turned down and the Inspector has basically told O2 to go and look again at a site on Iford Meadows.

I really thought we might lose this one and can’t tell you how pleased I am that it’s been turned down.


What's remarkable about the decision is that the Inspector based it upon quality of life issues. Our campaign majored on planning grounds, but also highlighted that the stress of having a mast in this location and it not being clear whether there was or was not a health risk effected the local residents quality of life and therefore breached their human rights.

I hope that we might be able to bring the same arguments in to play to help the residents fighting the mast at The Clump in Broadstone and elsewhere in Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Bournemouth Borough Council Post Offices Meeting


Straight off the plane this afternoon and down to the Town Hall to attend a meeting of the Developing Communities and Tackling Crime Scrutiny and Review Panel. The meeting was about the Post Office closure programme in Dorset and a number of councillors and members of the public attended.

I'm delighted to report that a motion deploring the closure programme was passed by the panel unanimously. They also called for Bournemouth Council to approach Poole and Christchurch to organise a joint approach to any proposed closures, starting with Bournemouth offering support to Poole over their opposition to the closure of the Post Office at Adastral Square, Canford Heath.

The motion now goes to Bournemouth's Cabinet for their approval and action.

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

No to ID Cards


Averil King (no relation), who is the chairperson of Mid Dorset and North Poole UKIP has a letter in tonight's Daily Echo making some very good points in opposition to the Government's plans for ID cards.


Good for Averil.


I'm opposed to the ID card scheme. It will be a huge intrusion in to our privacy and it wastes money which could be so better spent elsewhere (for example, helping the Home Office keep track of convicted offenders).

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

No casino for Bournemouth

So, the Super Casino is going to Manchester and the South Western casinos are going to be situated in Southampton, Bath and Torbay.

Am I disappointed? Truthfully, No.

As a Bournemouth Councillor, I voted for the application for the casino to proceed largely because I was persuaded of the tourism and employment benefits of the wider development which may accompany it. I remained opposed to it being situated on the corner of Bath Road and Westover Road and being linked to the Pavilion and the news that it won't be going ahead is no real blow.

It would certainly have been a draw, but the social consequences for the area could have been severe and the scheme did not have public approval, despite some councillors and officials trying to spin the opinion soundings differently.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Police Community Support Officers

My comments about the Government not funding the increase in Police Community Support Officers promised in their election manifesto has raised some interesting comment, I've recieved a number of e-mails and a couple of comments have been posted here.

These clearly come from people who know more than I do about the issue.

I fully realise that the greatest benefit of the PCSO's is their deterrent effect. The posters seem to be suggesting however that the money would be better spent in funding fewer, but fully trained, police officers. I'd be interested in your comments.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Development in Back Gardens

Development in the back gardens of houses is an issue across the two boroughs of Bournemouth and Poole. 'Back filling' as it's known is being encouraged by the Government through their classifying back gardens as brown field sites, thereby making it much more difficult for Councils to reject planning applications on them.

Bournemouth's Conservatives have been fighting this form of development for some time. The Council is currently run by the Liberal Democrats and, reacting to public concern back in July the Council passed this motion:




AT A MEETING OF THE BOROUGH OF BOURNEMOUTH COUNCIL, 25 JULY 2006

c. Residential Development in Bournemouth

Councillor Garratt moved and Councillor Brandwood seconded:

‘That the Council recognises the deep concerns of many residents about the impact on the character of residential areas that redevelopment of house sites as flats may have. The Council further recognises the concerns arising from the loss of back gardens to housing development.

The Council also recognises the similarly deep concerns of many residents that the high cost of housing to buy and rent locally could mean that as their children grow up they will have to move away from Bournemouth in order to afford somewhere to live.

In order to address issues of the loss of character the Council resolves, as part of the preparation of its Local Development Framework, to consider the development of Character Assessment policies.

In order to address the issue of the loss of back gardens the Council resolves to:

1. support calls for garden land to be reclassified as green field land;
2. welcome the commitment of Bournemouth’s MPs towards securing this;
3. express its support for the specific provision within the Local Government and Planning (Parkland and Windfall Development) Bill sponsored by Lorely Burt MP, which would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local planning authorities to the effect that ‘the gardens of private houses should be regarded for development control purposes as green field sites.’

In order to address the need, in particular, of local people growing up in Bournemouth to be able to afford a place to live, the Council resolves to confirm that affordable housing both to buy and rent is one of its top priorities.’

The motion was carried, 34 in favour, 6 against, 3 abstentions.






Simply enough, no?





Then why is there an advert in the latest edition of the Council's magazine, delivered monthly to all residents, for a company offering to buy up back gardens in order to develop them?





Why has the Council not vetoed advertisers who specifically advertise services to which we are opposed?





My own business advertises in BH Life, we have been told that there are waiting lists for advertisers in the magazine throughout the Spring as only a certain number of adverts are accepted. The excuse that accepting adverts keeps the cost down and they have to take adverts from whichever source they can therefore doesn't pass muster.





We should be practicing what we preach and ensuring that adverts of this type are not allowed in Council publications.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

PCSO's

The Government has reneged on its election manifesto pledge to create 24,000 Police Community Support Officers by 2008.

Their plan to roll out the national non emergency number has also been revoked.

I've come across a number of PCSO's in the last few weeks, they undertake an excellent job supporting the local police. People want more uniformed officers on the streets, not less.

Increasingly the attention of the police is centred on Poole and Bournemouth town centres, particularly at the weekend. PCSO's provide a vital service in retaining locally knowledgeable and responsive officers, we should be finding ways to fund more rather than less.

Friday, 26 January 2007

A salutory lesson from the US

I have been to Florida before, but never to the part where I am currently staying, which is the coastal strip to the north of Miami. My previous trip was limited to the Keys and Miami itself.

The one thing that has struck me is that there really are no facilities for pedestrians in this area. The communities to the north of Miami create one huge strip of suburbia, strung out along the beaches. The beach fronts themselves are not disimilar to similar areas in Spain or France, however there any similarity ends.

Unless you have a car I can't see how you can reach facilities. It took us some time to find a grocery store yesterday. There are the odd Seven - 11s, however these don't sell fresh fruit, vegetables or bread. Unless you are able to take your car to the local out of town supermarket there are no facilities to buy food. There are of course the ubiquitous malls, however even these have no food shops in them. How do the elderly and vulnerable manage?

The announcement of the closure of the Adastral Square Post Office in Canford Heath this week brings home again how fragile our local services are. If we're not to become like Florida we need to ensure our local communities retain these services.

We announced on Tuesday the extension of our petition to specifically cover the Adastral Square closure, asking the post office to ensure that the service is retained in this area of the Heath. Local facilities have to be fought for these days, I'm determined we'll lead that fight.

A salutory lesson from the US

I have been to Florida before, but never to the part where I am currently staying, which is the coastal strip to the north of Miami. My previous trip was limited to the Keys and Miami itself.

The one thing that has struck me is that there really are no facilities for pedestrians in this area. The communities to the north of Miami create one huge strip of suburbia, strung out along the beaches. The beach fronts themselves are not disimilar to similar areas in Spain or France, however there any similarity ends.

Unless you have a car I can't see how you can reach facilities. It took us some time to find a grocery store yesterday. There are the odd Seven - 11s, however these don't sell fresh fruit, vegetables or bread. Unless you are able to take your car to the local out of town supermarket there are no facilities to buy food. There are of course the ubiquitous malls, however even these have no food shops in them. How do the elderly and vulnerable manage?

The announcement of the closure of the Adastral Square Post Office in Canford Heath this week brings home again how fragile our local services are. If we're not to become like Florida we need to ensure our local communities retain these services.

We announced on Tuesday the extension of our petition to specifically cover the Adastral Square closure, asking the post office to ensure that the service is retained in this area of the Heath. Local facilities have to be fought for these days, I'm determined we'll lead that fight.

The wonders of wi-fi

Oh dear, I fear my New Year's resolution looks like it has been broken, and we're not even out of January. I am afraid that as I post this message, it'll show up as being posted on the 26th January rather than the 25th, because it is just that now in the UK.

I have an excuse however. Oh yes, I always have an excuse as my friends will gladly tell you (well I am a politician).

The hotel's wi-fi (wireless internet service) has been down until now (9pm Eastern Time), so I am officially blogging on Thursday 25th, although it's only Thursday 25th as a result of my time zone.

The fact that I can bring my laptop, just plug it in and happily tap away updating my blog and web site, effortlessly, thousands of miles from home, is truly wondrous.

I was left pondering about this while I was waiting for the system to come back on earlier today. Our ability to access information, details and one another at pretty much any time must, I surmised, play a part in people's increasing desire to ensure that they retain their privacy in their own homes.

Ten years ago the Internet was in its infancy, mobile phones were only just becoming popular and phone signal coverage didn't extend far beyond our towns and cities, laptops were enormous and no one had ever heard of blackberries. Now, even whilst wandering around Fort Lauderdale I can receive texts, phone calls and e-mails from home on my Blackberry, I can respond to them all, I can access the Internet to change my flight arrangements and I can even post to this blog.

Whilst that makes home, my job (Rubyz) and my vocation (politics) completely accessible, it also makes me totally accessible to other people. Sometimes it's nice (and necessary) to get away from all of that. Increasingly that comes when you get home and shut the door on the world. I can fully understand therefore why people should wish to retain their privacy in their own home and why I return to the opinion that privacy is going to be a huge issue in the years to come.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Interviewed by the Miami Herald

Having arrived in Florida last night I had the rather bizarre experience of being called this morning by the UK Correspondent of the Miami Herald asking me about the chips in bins issue.


She is writing a piece about the strange contradiction in Britons' attitudes to surveillance in public places and our ambivalence to any intrusion in to our homes. She wanted to use the reaction in Bournemouth to the insertion of the chips in our new 'little' bins to illustrate this.


I explained my point of view, which is that we are happy that we are watched over whilst in public because we rest assured in the (largely mistaken) belief that it brings help or intervention closer to us if we run in to trouble. However, there persists a very strong sense of 'an Englishman's home being his castle' and to this extent any intrusion by the government across that imaginary moat we place around our dwellings is greatly resented and swiftly rebuffed.


I also explained that I felt that most Britons perceive their car to be an extension of this home.

This therefore explains our acceptance of the widest degree of CCTV surveillance anywhere in the world, (and our clamour for even more to be introduced); our strong ambivalence towards micro chips in waste bins and the proposal that cars should carry tracking devices to enable road pricing; and our suspicion about the introduction of ID Cards.

The reporter listened very carefully and then kindly asked whether I had read a book called 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox. I said truthfully that I hadn't. Apparently the views I expressed about our national characteristics are almost identical to those espoused by Ms Fox in her book.

I think there is an important message here, that being that interference by Government (at any level) in our lives is of increasing concern to Britons. I believe it is going to be a huge issue in the coming years, one which will begin to differentiate the parties as clearly as the economic and defence arguments of the 1970's and 80's.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Competition Commissioners and supermarket chains

The Competition Commission are carrying out a report in to UK Supermarkets. The initial report is about to be published, a full report is due out next year. The BBC have the full story here.

Publicity is concentrating on the supermarkets holding on to 'land banks'; land they have bought for possible development but that they have not begun building on as yet.


For me a much more important issue is the effect that supermarkets are having on local retail markets. The Commission is looking in to how large supermarkets can effect the economy of their surrounding area, with particular reference to grocery shopping and local shops and shopping centres.


I welcome their investigation, I've blogged before about my concern over the power of out of town stores to neutralise smaller businesses in their surrounding area and local town centres, thereby forming a monopoly.


Support for small town, suburban and village businesses is going to be vital if we are to truly retain and create sustainable and vibrant local communities.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Adastral Square Post Office Closure


I've been contacted by a number of very concerned residents of Canford Heath this evening. It appears that the Post Office in Adastral Square has announced it will be closing at the end of next month.


I'm not sure if this is the first of the closures we anticipated as a result of the Government's restructuring announcement last month. I'm attempting to find out more detail at the moment and will keep you abreast of developments.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Youth Crime

Attending the Crime Reduction Parnership meeting made me think about one of the common concerns raised there, that of youth crime.

I therefore have spent some time today looking out some information from the party and elsewhere about the issue. The figures are quite astounding. The shocking statistics were obtained by Conservatives under the Freedom of Information Act.

· Across the country, a third of all muggings last year were on 11-16 year olds. They are seen as easy targets by muggers seeking mobile phones and MP3 players. In turn, 11-16 year olds were responsible for 40 per cent of all robberies.

· The Government, despite claiming street crime is a top priority, does not properly monitor the level of youth muggings.

· There were a projected 113,000 robberies on 11 to 16-year-olds last year across England & Wales. This is equivalent to over 600 muggings a day for each of the 195 school days.

· In Dorset 23%, or 55 of 239 personal robberies reported were on 11 to 16 year olds.

These new statistics reveal a worrying area of crime that has gone unrecognised. This is likely to be the tip off the iceberg given how few crimes are actually reported.

Secondary school students and their parents will immediately recognise the picture of life these crime figures paint. Having mobiles and ipods routinely stolen, being marched to the cashpoint, seeing their friends mugged – this is the everyday life for too many of our teenagers. Too often these crimes are carried out by people of their own age.

Youth-on-youth crime could be a serious long-term problem and the Government are not properly monitoring it. I believe young people have a right to expect violent crime against them to be taken seriously by this Government.

For that reason I want to work with our local Crime Reduction Partnerships to identify both the victims and perpetrators of these crimes. We should be offering support to the victims and looking for Community involvement in the identification of those who carry out the attacks.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Upton Crime Reduction Partnership

I attended a meeting of the Lytchett Minster and Upton Crime Reduction Partnership this week.

I've mentioned before on the blog how, so often, Conservatives take an unsung lead in local communities. This was a perfect example of this kind of positive action.

Certainly not everyone at the meeting was a Conservative. Indeed, I would suspect that we might have been in a minority, however, Cllr Paul Johns, former Cllr Pam Hindley and Bill Pipe take an active role in the group.

What is apparent is that the group consists of people who are completely committed to their community and its improvement. I have enormous respect for them all and I hope that I might be able to go along to some of their future meetings.

Just being able to sit in and ask questions on occasion gave me a great insight in to the problems facing local people. Most of their issues result from anti social behaviour by young people. Some of the more serious crime is drug related, however the majority consists of vandalism, criminal damage, graffiti and the like.

It has, on occasion, created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for some local residents. The volunteers of the Crime Reduction Partnership are making a great contribution to dealing with these issues. They tie local residents groups, youth groups, Purbeck District Council, Dorset County Council, Upton Town Council and local businesses together.

The work of the local youth club and the County's youth workers has been particularly dedicated in dealing with many of these issues.

I spent some time in London on Thursday talking about community involvement and ideas for linking communities in to local improvement initiatives. I think there may well be opportunities to assist the Crime Reduction Partnership by organising community help in, for example, youth mentoring schemes. It's something I'll be looking in to over the coming weeks.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Jade Goody

So much has been written about Celebrity Big Brother this week that I hardly feel qualified to comment.

Suffice it to say that I have been on the receiving end of prejudice and discrimination. It isn't pleasant and for me Shilpa Shetty has behaved, from what I have seen, with decorum and dignity. Good for her.


As for Jade Goody, well, I think her comments on hearing she was to be evicted were the most incisive thing she has ever said. "I swear to God, I said it would start here and it would end here."


Let's hope it has, for all our sakes.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Traffic England - what a good idea!

I've been alerted to this site by the Dorset Chamber of Commerce.

This Highways Agency site gives you real time traffic information for the major routes in the region. I know the BBC and AA sites also have this kind of map too, but you have to navigate your way through pages to get to them.

Amazing a government site that is easy to use and is of some use! Now, if you're like me and heading out to brave the A31, the M27 and the M3, or even going further afield, you can see exactly what's going on.

Excellent.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Another EU Constitution

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, (right) proposes placing the reintroduction of the EU Constitution at the heart of the German presidency of the EU over the next six months.

Her Europe Minister justified the move on The World at One by saying that while France and the Netherlands had rejected the Constitution in referenda, eighteen countries had ratified it.


From memory, 15 or 16 of these countries, including his own, had ratified the constitution with no public vote nor any real debate. Where the Constitution did come under public scrutiny it was voted down decisively.


The EU Constitution was killed off eighteen months ago, that's where it should stay in my opinion, dead and buried.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

A parliament for England?

This may be a strange topic to raise on the 300th anniversary of the treaty that lead to the Act of Union. However, my attention was drawn this evening to this report on the BBC.

Apparently Tony Blair believes that an English parliament, in whatever form it might take, is "unworkable" and "unnecessary". The first word that comes to mind reading that is "inequitable". Continuation of the current system is unfair and unless it is dealt with the possibility of dissolution of the Union becomes more rather than less likely.


I'm totally with the Prime Minister when he comments that keeping the Union with Scotland is crucial to both national security and our economy.


However, continuing to allow Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs to vote on matters that only effect England must in the long run be untenable.


I'm not in favour of a separate English Parliament, there are already enough layers of bureaucracy and government. I don't see however why the House of Commons can't sit as an English chamber when it decides purely English policy.


Yes, this may prove problematic on occasions when the UK parliament and the English Chamber have different parties with a majority. The Government, Prime Minister and Cabinet would of course be drawn from the majority party in the UK Parliament. Allowing only English MPs to vote on English issues must however be good for democracy and, ultimately, for the continuation of the Union.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Ashley Mote and the Far Right.

I've attended quite a few political meetings in my time. In North Devon the hustings that were traditionally held in Bideford's Panier Market on election eve could be quite robust, even boisterous, but always good hearted and never threatening.

Similarly, I've attended meetings of the Labour Party, Liberals, Liberal Democrats, CND and Green Party, all of whom I disagreed with to varying degrees. I never felt threatened or uncomfortable at any of these either.

Then I went to a UKIP fringe meeting during the 2004 party conference in Bournemouth. For the first time at a political meeting I truly felt uncomfortable. The intolerance and hatred in the room was palpable. Intolerance of anything or anyone that didn't conform to the supporters viewpoint and hatred of the change that was taking society from that comfortable norm the audience wanted to preserve.

The people there were genuinely frightened by the changes in society and their country they were witnessing. Their response was to blame the EU for this shift and to hark back to a country that simply doesn't exist any longer.

To a large degree they are right, the EU has imposed many changes on our country, some for the better, but many more for the worse. We have to reach out to those people who feel this way, reassure them that the pace of change can be altered and that while it's impossible for us to go back, the erosion they perceive of their core values can be reversed.

What makes this task all the more important is the news today that the former UKIP MEP (he was expelled by UKIP for being involved in a court case over alleged housing benefit fraud) has joined the same group in the European Parliament as the French National Front, Allessandra Mussolini's Fascists from Italy and a rag bag of far right parties from Bulgaria and Belgium amongst others. For me this confirms the feeling I had at that meeting two years ago, that it's a very short step from the legitimate concerns many UKIP supporters have to something much much nastier.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

The greatest form of flattery....

I've spent today updating a lot of the links for this and its sister web site.

I'm amazed at the number of Conservative blogs that have developed in Bournemouth, Poole and the surrounding area since I started my Littledown and Iford blog just a few months ago.

Check out the local Conservative links on the right. They include blogs that cover the Bournemouth wards of Moordown, Queen's Park, Redhill & Northbourne, Wallisdown and Winton West, Westbourne & Westcliff and Winton East.

Richard Booth, one of the Conservative candidates for Wimborne also has a blog, upon which he is running a poll on the desireability of allowing Waitrose to build on Wimborne Cricket Club's ground at Hanham Field. I urge you to take a look at his blog and let your voice be heard in his vote.

Finally I should mention Will Burstow's excellent blog, A Young Conservative. Will is from Ulster, hence the posts about the province and its politics. Will lives in Alderney, which is currently part of Mid Dorset and North Poole but transfers in the boundary changes to Bournemouth West.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Merley and Bearwood

I know the Mid Dorset and North Poole constituency quite well, however there is no substitute for being shown around by someone who knows the area really well.

In Merley and Bearwood there is no one better than Katie Hives, who with Leo Belcham provides a superb service as borough councillors for the ward. Katie has lived in the ward, with her husband Richard, for many years. Katie is totally committed to her community and really knows it inside out, down to naming people at different addresses and giving background to the issues she has helped them with.

Yesterday morning Katie took the time to drive me around her area. What a diverse and interesting one it is, from the rural areas of Ashington, to Merley and Canford Magna and then Bearwood, which intermingles with Kinson as the boundary between Bournemouth and Poole is staggered along it's north edge.

We had a cup of coffee in the Bearwood Community Centre. The local church there have done a brilliant job renovating the centre and providing a drop in coffee room for the local community. The centre serves the residents of both Bournemouth and Poole, and while it is in Poole I think it deserves support from Bournemouth too as it's providing support to Bournemouth residents who live within a few hundred yards.

I hope the ward councillors for Kinson South might be able to find some support from their ward improvement fund for the centre.

Huge thanks to Katie for spending her morning with me, there really is no substitute to being shown around by someone so steeped in the area.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Wimborne - twinned with Bratislava?

Full of cold this evening, so a quick post from me tonight.

One thing has struck me, looking at this blog, which is that now that we've passed 1,000 views of the site and there are almost 900 individual viewers, why is it that readers from Slovakia are in second place?


Is there a particular interest about our area in Slovakia? Is there a twinning arrangement I don't know about? Perhaps one of our Slovak viewers could enlighten me.


Anyway, you're all very welcome.

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Helping with the cost of living

The official inflation rate at the moment is 2.7%, I think it's pretty clear to all of us that this doesn't reflect the true increase in the cost of living in the past twelve months.

I've certainly found that the combination of increases in utility costs, the mortgage rate, council tax and fuel duty have hit my pocket.


As many of you may know, I'm one of the owners of Rubyz, the cabaret restaurants in Bournemouth. A night out with us is one of those luxuries people tend to cut out if money is tight, and we've noticed in the last six months that many of our regular customers aren't coming as often as before. The answer from most is that money is tight and therefore they simply don't have the spare cash to go out as much as possible.


Talking to other people with small businesses this seems to be fairly common.


I'm therefore very pleased that the party is recognising this fact with the second update of their 'Sort it' web site. The publicity for the site says:


Life is expensive and the cost of living is increasing faster than our salaries, making our pockets feel ever emptier.

But don’t panic, there are ways to cut the cost of living and live your life for less.

Just click below to check out the sort-it website’s latest issue – ‘live life for less.’

http://www.sort-it.co.uk


The site has links to a number of different web addresses where you can compare the cost of utility companies, find out where the cheapest petrol is in your area and even compare the cost of your weekly shop between supermarkets.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Save Dorset's Post Offices - Update from Oliver Letwin


Oliver Letwin MP, who of course represents West Dorset, is in the process of establishing a task force to look at ways by which sub post office incomes can be increased, thereby enabling them to stay open.


Here's what his office has to say:


Oliver Letwin, who has campaigned vigorously against post office closures both locally (at Toller Porcorum and Bradpole) and nationally, is now seeking to establish a task force. This will consist of representatives of all levels of local government and local bodies, others with expertise in the field, and volunteers willing to lend their support. Their role will be to prepare plans to increase revenues or find imaginative ways of sharing costs for sub-post offices that are threatened as a result of the Government’s new proposals.


It's an excellent initiative and one that hopefully can be extended to the rest of the County.


Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Defence questions

Just back from a meeting tonight in Poole, very nearly missed the deadline for writing something today, which would of course not do, as it would break my resolution about writing something every day.

I was asked a number of questions tonight about the provision of sufficient support to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The concerns raised by people were largely as a result of the C4 documetary last night, which I'm afraid I didn't see.

I was very pleased to be able to relay the statement released by Liam Fox this afternoon:

A future Conservative Government will spend what is required to guarantee the security of the United Kingdom. There is a constant choice between commitments and resources. In the current environment, we will either have to increase the resources reaching the front-line to match our commitments, or reduce our commitments to match our resources.

Personally I feel that the resources for the front line will need to be found. We punch above our weight in the world partially because of our history. More importantly it's because of the professionalism and dedication of our armed forces who we commit to missions on behalf of the international community. Support for our front line troops is vital, as I said on Sunday, there's something seriously wrong when the government spends more on their headquarters than they do on their soldiers.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Community Action

At a dinner party the other evening a friend said to me: ‘Now don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not really the right type of person to be a Tory candidate; you’re too nice and too caring.’ I took this somewhat back handed compliment in the positive light it was meant.

It started me thinking however, particularly in light of our efforts this Christmas Day, swimming in aid of the Mayor of Bournemouth’s charities.

The perception my friend carries with him, that Conservatives are traditionally uncaring and disinterested in those less fortunate than themselves is plainly wrong.

Conservatives have so often been at the forefront of community action. The problem is that they don’t shout about it. How many times have I spoken to Conservative activists who are heavily involved in charitable activities.

In my short time getting to know the members of Mid Dorset and North Poole Conservatives, I am already aware that we have members who are very much involved with the Citizens Advice Bureaux, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Julia’s House, Help the Aged and various cancer charities.

With local authority grants being so tightly squeezed the way ahead in provision of effective community and social support must be through greater cooperation between public sector and voluntary agencies. This could be as complex as social services using the great work that the CAB’s or Relate carry out to enhance their activities. Or as simple as encouragement of the In Bloom committees throughout the area to take over and enhance our roadsides.

Our government, particularly local government, should be playing a proactive role in encouraging and linking in the services of voluntary organisations to their own. There is an enormous pool of good will and support from the voluntary sector on hand in our area. I’d like to see our local authorities sitting down, as a group, with our local voluntary agencies. They should be discussing how our volunteers can assist in further supporting their efforts. Just as importantly, our local authorities should be asking our voluntary services what assistance they need.

The support can be as straight forward as reducing the barriers to collections for their charities. It’s a shame that this doesn’t currently happen in Bournemouth; hopefully a new administration will address this issue after next May.

It's an issue I'm passionate about and one I'll be returning to over time. If you're involved in a voluntary agency in Mid Dorset and North Poole then do please get in touch with me, I'm very keen to find out what you're doing and how I, and the local Conservatives, might help you.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Homes for MOD staff


The Sunday Times is reporting that the Ministry of Defence are spending £2.3 billion on a contract to refurbish and run their headquarters in Whitehall. You can read the full story here.


The Conservatives are requesting an investigation by the National Audit Office in the scheme.


Expenditure on the new home for ministers and civil servants will include:



  • Luxury office chairs worth more than £1,000 for each of the 3,100 civil servants


  • The purchase of more than 3,500 oak doors for a total cost of £3m, or up to £1,200 each

  • The restoration of a “terrazzo” marble and stone floor in the renovated “pillared hall”

  • A restaurant, a coffee bar, three large plasma screens on each of the 10 floors, a gym and “quiet rooms” where staff can take a break.

The MoD expects to spend £75,000 per person working in the building on refurbishment and upgrades over the next ten years. This contrasts with an anticipated expenditure of £25,000 per person for those living in MoD accommodation, this figure includes ongoing maintenance.


This Government has asked our armed forces to undertake enormously challenging missions, while simultaniously cutting investment in them.


Our role as a leading western democracy places responsibilities on us in the fight against terror. It will be our armed forces who are required to fulfill much of this responsibilty for us. We should therefore be ensuring that proper investment is made in those who undertake these tasks, in their equipment and in their welfare.


Spending £2.3 billion on new offices isn't to my mind investment in the right place, we're right to be asking for the whole scheme to be properly audited and reviewed.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Lessons from Reviving Small Town America

The Christmas and New Year edition of The Economist had a fascinating article about attempts to revive small town America.

The problem is perfectly summarized in this paragraph:

Most small towns are still struggling, as a tour of boarded-up Main Streets and closed John Deere dealerships in the rural heartland will show. “Outmigration” has drained their populations over the past century. Agri-businesses have replaced small farms, and shopping malls an hour away (not to mention Wal-Mart and the internet) have undercut local shops. In many small towns only old people are for the most part left, as there is little to attract the young. Just 17% of America's population today lives outside metropolitan areas. Some surviving small towns have simply become bedroom communities for large cities, and have lost their character.

Thank goodness we don't face that kind of problem as yet and probably never will to the same extent. However, the movement of younger people in to our larger towns, forced there not least by the cost of housing (a subject I'll come back to in a separate post later), is having the knock on effect of removing new businesses and entrepreneurialism from our smaller towns and villages.

The really interesting part of the Economist article was here:

Some organisations are trying to help small towns along. One of the most important is the National Trust Main Street Centre, which aims to revitalise central streets by preserving historic buildings. Volunteers staff its local branches; most states have them. Funding is local, but the national organisation provides training and know-how.

One of the biggest challenges, according to Doug Loescher, the centre's director, is that many towns have been trying for years to revive themselves, with little success. “There's usually a lot of scepticism that another approach can really make a difference,” he says. Local officials also have to realise that downtowns have changed for ever. Clothing and hardware stores will never return to the town centre. Rather, says Mr Loescher, restaurants and bars, government offices and even private houses should be given a place near Main Street.


State aid for small entrepreneurs also helps. Montana, which has a notably populist governor, has been pushing especially hard. In its last legislative session, the state legislature made even the tiniest of businesses eligible for aid. But Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Centre for Rural Affairs in Nebraska, says it is expensive to provide small business development services in rural America, even if there is a good return on investment. Rather appealingly, he proposes that the federal government shave 5% off its enormous farm-subsidy programme—which goes mostly to mega-farms—and give it to small businesses. “You could quadruple what the federal government spends on entrepreneurial rural development,” he says.

You can read the full story here.

I think there are lessons in that statement for the UK, for farm subsidy payments read the Common Agricultural Policy. Funding for start up and small business in rural areas would bring dynamism and life back in to our rural and suburban economy. There are very many people doing great things in business in Dorset. Just think how much more they could do, how many more people they could employ, how much more money they could inject in to our local economy if they were given a little more help.

I think that's a goal worth fighting for, I'm committed to doing that.

What the government don't know......

First it was the number of failed asylum seekers still in the country, then the number of illegal immigrants in general. Now it's the number of prisoners to have absconded from Open Prisons. The Government doesn't know how many people there are in each of these categories?

And yet this Government has an obsession with collecting data on everything else. It's created an army of bureaucrats to collect data on business, on the health service and on our schools just so they can quote their beloved targets and tables.

It absolutely beggars belief!

A suggestion: Let's spend more time scrutinising those who break the law and leave the rest of us who are law abiding to get on with working hard to improve our communities and our country. Wouldn't that solve the problem?

Friday, 5 January 2007

Things you didn't know about me

I've been tagged by Justin Hinchcliffe who has a very good blog here, to tell you five things you didn't know about me. So here goes:




I have a very large collection of videos and DVDs of the Eurovision Song Contest, so much so that a few years ago Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson (If you're under 60 you'll have no idea who I'm talking about) got in touch to ask for a copy of my video of the 1959 Contest. They had performed 'Sing Little Birdie' live that night and, in the days before video, had never seen themselves. I was of course very happy to oblige.



When I was 9 I had a guinea pig called Skippy, you guessed it, I really wanted a bush kangaroo.




Jeg snakker norsk/I speak Norwegian




When I was 4 I appeared for a week on 'Romper Room' which was a childrens TV show on Anglia TV hosted by Miss Rosalyn.
I'm horribly claustrophobic: I'd rather climb stairs than take a lift, I avoid the tube if possible and my idea of hell is a windowless room with the door closed (I'd never last as a prisoner). I also have a dreadful phobia of rodents, particularly rats... shudder!
I now have to 'tag' other people to do the same thing apparently, so it's over to you Will, Richard and Jeremy.




Thursday, 4 January 2007

Can a company grow too large?

Jonathan Sheppard, who runs the excellent Tory Radio site, has alerted me to this article in last weekend’s Sunday Times.

It suggests that half of all the new retail space created in the UK last year was taken by Tesco. That’s over 2 million square feet of shopping space, more than the entire Bluewater shopping centre.

Can that be healthy? For competition and for consumers? As a Tory you might expect me to be open to the market and accept that this is what market forces dictate. Well, in this case I’m not.

The increasing dominance of out of town shopping centres concerns me greatly. I believe that we must safeguard our town centres and most importantly local shopping centres. Not to do so is to be very short sited.

At least Tesco, through their Tesco Metro network, seem to recognise this too. However, in Fordingbridge where my parents live, they immediately disposed of the post office from the One Stop store they took over. It concerns me that, in this case at least, they put retail space and therefore profit before community need.

Providing easily accessible local facilities, not least shops and of course post offices, is essential to the sustainability of communities. In time, as environmental and energy conservation issues discourage us from such frequent travel, these facilities will be vital. We need to look to the long term and find ways by which we can support and protect local shops and shopping centres.

It's a theme I'm passionate about and to which I'll be returning in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Festive Debt and Job Applications

There are two reports out today, which in my mind are linked if not in their cause then in a way to resolve the problems they highlight.

The first is from accountants Grant Thornton, predicting that 30,000 people will declare bankruptcy in the first quarter of this year. They estimate that 10,000 of these people will need to do so because of excessive spending in the lead up to Christmas. You can read the full report here.

The second is from the Recruitment and Employment Federation for the BBC, which found that 47% of job applications contained spelling or grammatical errors. You can see the details of the survey here.

The issue in both these cases to my mind is education. Our curriculum should be focussing on the basics of good English, both spelling and grammar.

Similarly, the curriculum should be looking at basic life skills, not least personal economics. I wasn’t taught any basic money management skills in school, I learnt about handling a budget largely through my parents, I was lucky, they were in business and therefore basic finance and economics was part of my upbringing.

There are now two generations who have been educated since the freeing of credit controls. Very many people of my and successive generations have no education in how to handle money, it’s a matter of learning from experience.

Freeing credit was a Conservative policy and its effects have been to invigorate our economy and provide enormous personal freedom. With that freedom comes the need for responsibility and the danger of living beyond your means. Teaching the basics of money management and how credit works would in my opinion go some considerable way to tackling the problem of personal debt.

The Conservative Party have made a good start with the ‘Sort it’ campaign. That’s just the kind of initiative that should be transferred to our schools.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

School Sports - bad for you?

Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrat MP for Romsey, has spoken in Parliament about her opposition to competitive sport in school. Apparently her preference is for activities which focused on "personal improvement" like skipping, dance and games.

Now I can speak with some considerable experience of this issue. You see, I was always one of the tubby kids who was last to be picked for the teams on either side.

Only once did I ever succeed in playing well at something, in the final of the inter house cricket competition and, in a Hollywood style 9th wicket stand, I managed to somehow scrape the winning runs for my house that won us the house cup. (This I have to admit was an additionally impressive feat as I have always hated cricket with a passion).

I therefore consider myself to have been one of those disadvantaged and traumatised children Ms Gidley is talking about. Did competitive sports in school do me any harm? Of course they didn’t.

They taught me two lessons, sometimes hardly learnt, but well learnt none the less:

You can’t be good at everything, but there are always opportunities to play to your strengths and that life is essentially competitive and therefore you’d better get used to losing as well as winning.

We should be encouraging more competitive sport amongst our children in my opinion. For these very reasons, let alone the need to encourage exercise in our young people who are lured to sit in front of the TV far more than my generation ever was.

Monday, 1 January 2007

EU Expansion

Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union at midnight. So now we’re part of a community of 27 rather than 25.

I welcome the accession of the new states and the continued expansion to include, in time, Croatia, the other Balkan states and Turkey. Not least because I firmly believe the bigger the Union the less likely moves towards political integration.

One of my first political memories is of my Mum stopping in at the polling station to vote in the 1975 European Community referendum on her way to take me to school.





My parents voted ‘Yes’ to staying in the Common Market as it was then called. They voted to stay in a trading block, not to confirm an eventual political Union.

I’ve seen the effects of the gold plating of European legislation by this government on my business. It’s caused an incredible increase in bureaucracy and cost.

The Liberal Democrats favour greater European integration and the ultimately the introduction of the Euro.

I see no benefit in either of these courses.


We need to engage constructively with Europe, with the goal of renegotiating our membership. We should obtain more opt outs, not fewer, from the Union in order that we can return to managing the majority of our affairs. If this agreement isn’t forthcoming then reluctantly I’d support a referendum on our future participation in the Union itself.

The balance needs to be shifted back in our favour, the sovereignty of the UK’s parliament must be paramout when considering the laws that effect us all.