Sunday, 27 January 2013

My week ahead 28 January - 3 February 2013

Monday 28 January, 4pm, Culture Portfolio meeting,
5pm – Electoral Services Working Group
6pm - Labour Group meeting

Wednesday 30 January, 6pm – Full Council Meeting, Ipswich Borough Council,

Thursday 31 January, 7pm – North East Ipswich Area Committee meeting

Saturday 2 February, 10.30am – Labour campaigning in North West Ipswich

Full Council week and the issue of ‘Council tax’ will be discussed by many, the Tory Police and Crime Commissioner has set a 0% rise but only thanks to using his reserves and the County Council have also decided on 0%, but many will wonder what they will do next year when there is nothing left to get rid of/sell off – will the collapse of the deal to allow Balfour Beatty to take over Suffolk roads put a dent into their budget proposals?

With the cuts in grants being made to local authorities by the coalition government plus the uncertainty of how councils will receive housing benefit money it is hard for councils to not have to make cuts to their services, The bribes of extra grants and then the threats of having to use an expensive referendums to put council tax up leaves council with little room for movement.

Tories in opposition including in Ipswich are quick to call for 0% rise or even a cut but at the same time we had Nadia Cenci asking for the council to spend money by cancelling the contract (agreed to by the Tory/Lib Dem council) with a wind turbine firm. This would have cost every resident in Ipswich money but it seems they are happy to ask us to spend money but do not understand that this will mean having to put tax up or cut another service to pay for it!

The abysmal way the Tories and Eric Pickles are treating local authorities has even led to a number of Tory authorities to write to David Cameron and complain, counties like Essex leading the way in this protest but with Suffolk being led by the likes of Pickles ‘clone’ Colin Noble there is not much chance of Suffolk County Council rocking the boat.

The Suffolk Tory leadership – Cllrs Bee, Terry and Noble were quick to tell the public what a great job they have done and are doing and they still managed to set a 0% Council Tax but last week you would have thought the same three Cllrs must have been out of the country as they left Graham Newman to take all the flak for a second set of terrible educational results for the County.

I will leave the finals words to a Tory Suffolk MP when describing the Tory run County education service – “It is a mess”.

Goodbye the Golden Key

Yesterday lunchtime, I joined Labour colleagues and pub regulars as we said ‘goodbye’ to the Golden Key pub. It has been a regular meeting place when campaigning in North East Ipswich and also for occasional ‘ad hoc’ meetings.

We presented the landlady, Dee with a card with all our best wishes and regulars from the pub presented her with a large bouquet of flowers.

I would now expect Sainsbury’s to move in as soon as possible and we will see what we can do to help the local shops in the area compete with the major supermarket chain.

One positive I will take from the campaign is how the local community came together to try and save the pub, much was made of it being an ‘anti Tesco’ campaign but that is what residents feared and rumours still abound in North East Ipswich that Tesco’s are still searching for a pub to turn into a shop in the area,

Though Labour activists joined local residents in campaigning to save the pub the position of the opposition was harder to gauge. At the first planning application the Tories all abstained – we are led to believe that it was just a coincidence that they all came to same decision and at the next planning application they voted with the majority of labour councillors in turning down the application but even on that application, Cllr Judy Terry the Tory councillor for Rushmere attempted to stop me representing Rushmere residents at the meeting!

So I am still not sure where the Tories stood on the matter, on the first application both the local Tory Cllr for St Johns and Ben Gummer sent in letters to the planning committee arguing against a shop being built on the site but we heard no more from Mr Gummer after that.

A leading Lib Dem blogger also continually attacked us on our stance and the Tories still seem to blame us for the application going through. Very strange that in the campaign to save the Emperor Pub from being turned into Tesco’s, Mr Gummer and Lib Dem Cllr Cann seem very keen to show their support in the local paper whist Lib Dem Cllr Lockington was happy to be photographed alongside campaigners and Labour councillors and guess what? The Lib Dem blogger says nothing!

Even this month Tory Judy Terry uses her ‘Flyer’ column to blame Labour, but seems to have forgotten that she also voted to turn the application down. So whose side was she on – residents or Greene King?

I did learn plenty from the campaign and do feel we were let down by the poor quality of the report from the Suffolk County Council transport department, the same could be said about their report on the Grafton Way development.. We must remember that though the inspector acknowledges his visit took place outside school term he does not believe there will be increased traffic in Woodbridge Road because of the development. I am sure all of those who live near would disagree.

In the end the council listened to residents and refused planning permission, but that in it was an inspector from Bristol who had the final say and sided with Greene King.
So this weekend has been a sad one, we campaigned as hard as we could to save the pub, both on behalf of residents and because we know it is well loved pub. Cllr Terry states that the pub was no longer viable, the only reason why is that Greene King had run it down and have also closed the John Bull, they just want to make a quick kill.
We will miss out Saturday lunchtimes in the ‘Key’ putting the world to rights, Dee and the ‘Key’ will be missed by many.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Education, education, education.

This Week schools in Suffolk were hit with a second set of bad results, leading to education becoming the lead story in local papers over the last few days. Ben Gummer has even managed to get the head of Ofsted along to Ipswich this morning to talk to all Heads. I say all Heads, in fact only Heads of schools in his constituency – this has made a number of other Heads unhappy especially as they teach a number of Ben Gummers residents even if their school sits outside the Ipswich constituency.

The school I am involved with, Sidegate Primary has just had a disappointing Ofsted report and has led Ipswich Spy to be critical of myself (and to be even handed also Cllr Terry) as we are governors of the school and we were also criticised in the report.

There is no doubt in my mind that many Ipswich primary schools will now find themselves classed as ‘inadequate’ or even placed into ‘special measures’. This week we saw Broke Hall School in Bixley (with Tory Cllr Governors) slip from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’

So Ipswich Spy may be right all leaders in education need to be held responsible. I am not talking about Gove (though many would like to see him moved) but let’s look at the Tory run Suffolk County Council – we now have a council that has some of the worst preforming primary schools and now this week we are shown that we have some of the worst preforming Secondary schools- when you take away the City Education authorities from the table, Suffolk as a county is at the bottom.

These poor results have even seen Ben Gummer be critical of the Tory run council – we are normally told very quickly by Tories that when an organisation fails so miserably that those responsible should go- but Cllr Newman is still sat as Head of Education in the County. But I would not like him to go, I find him a decent man who has the best interests of the children of the county as his priority but though he is in the paper every day we have heard nothing from Mark Bee the County Leader, or any other members of his cabinet, the likes of Colin Noble who seem more interested in promoting ‘Free Schools’.

Ipswich Spy may accuse governors in failing Sidegate School what about the County cabinet – of course Cllr Terry sits on both bodies.

But Sidegate is not failing, if Ipswich Spy had been able to see the full detail of the report they may have a different view, on Tuesday we had a parents meeting at the school and over 160 parents attended plus staff and members of the governing body (Cllr Terry could not attend as in London) and the feeling of the parents was that the school is not failing their children and the praise for the Head and her team were most warming.

But Suffolk is falling behind nationally in education standards but the first people to be held responsible should be the Tory County Cabinet.

But what of central government? Mr Gove has been quiet this week but Mr Pickles has now told us that 'Free Schools' can set up in any building they wish and do not even need planning permission- but if a state run school would still need planning permission just to build new classrooms (though not many can afford to build anything under this government).

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tories attempt to destroy the army they promised to enlarge

This week the Government announced further cuts to our Armed Forces – 5,300 redundancies in the Army. Cameron seems very confused, one day he is warning us that the UK must respond to the threat in North Africa by working “across the region”, providing intelligence and counter-terrorism assets to Algeria, a close security partnership with Nigeria, building effective security forces in Libya and appropriate training and support in Mali. This represents a potentially significantly increased role for our Armed Forces across the world.

So one day he said we must be prepared to work across North Africa but at the same time he reduces the army. Some would say that the army has the capacity to be reduced but the Generals are having their hands tied behind their back. To try and stop a public backlash the Tories are insisting on voluntary redundancies but to remain a functional army the Generals need to be able to choose who is made redundant.

But many would say that no redundancies can be accepted whilst we are still fighting in Afghanistan and there is further unrest in North Africa.

Labour has previously argued that the Defence Review should be re-opened after capability gaps such as carrier strike were exposed by the conflict in Libya. But while the SDSR did not mention Libya, Tunisia or Egypt, striking given the events of the Arab Spring, neither did it mention Mali, Algeria or Nigeria. A strategy which was flawed in 2010 looks hazardous in 2013.

The SDSR committed the UK to an Army of 95,000, a cut of 7,000, but while the threats we face have increased personnel numbers are being cut further to 82,000, a total cut of 20,000.

While David Cameron has told us that “we are in the midst of a generational struggle”, he has not told us how the new security strategy can be realised with far less troops. Or is he hoping to get by on the plan of Dr Fox – more TA and Reservists?

According to the Tories the gaps in the regular Army capability arising from redundancies are to be filled by a doubling of the Reserves. A recent survey by the Federation of Small Businesses showed that one in three employers said nothing would encourage them to employ a reservist, and the TA is facing recruitment shortages this year.

Though I have great respect for the TA, there is no way they can replace the Regular Army, not even in high intensity peace keeping operations let alone full scale war like we are experiencing in Helmand Province.

But then again why would you trust the Tories? When they were trying to get elected in 2007 they promised to increase the army and at that time Egypt was just a tourist spot!

What happens to those made redundant? To be honest they will get a good resettlement package and in some cases a good pay off but we should worry about those soldiers who are leaving the army as their time is up, those responsible for organising their resettlement and transition to civie street will be more concerned about dealing with the 5,300 troops being made redundant.

In just over 2 years the Tories are destroying the best army in the world, causing more damage to the Infantry and the regimental system that the IRA or the Taliban could ever dream of.

As the Ipswich Borough Council ‘Veterans Champion’, I will doing all I can to help any Ipswich based soldiers who are made redundant.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sidegate – a school to be proud of.

At the end of 2012, Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich faced an Ofsted inspection. Many of you will have already heard the results. Perhaps because you are a parent with children at the school or through neighbours or from even reading about the results in the ‘Ipswich Star’
There is no way of hiding the fact – it was not a great report – it is not nice to be told that your local community school is described as ‘Inadequate’.

I have been a governor at the school for over four years and have seen over that time the work that has been put in by the leadership team at the school, the teachers, support staff and most of all the pupils. But still the results were not what we hoped for.

It would easy to just become defensive and blame the inspection system but even if the system is flawed (and it is) we are stuck with it. When you find out that the Ofsted inspection team are run by SERCO, it does not give you a warm glowing feeling.

Lessons were just briefly looked at and judgements made after a very short time in the classroom. In the end the school being declared ‘inadequate’ is down to past results. So Ofsted could save money, the school would not have to waste a day being inspected and Ofsted could just write their report in London on looking at past results.

I have total faith in the leadership team at the school to improve the results, and even Ofsted declared that there have been recent improvements.

My own daughter went to the school and has recently graduated from University and hopes to start teacher training soon - and I have no hesitation in stating that Sidegate is a far better school now than it was then.

Sidegate is one of the largest Primary schools in the county but still manages to feel small and friendly; most pupils also seem to have no difficulty in the transition to senior school at either Northgate or Copleston. But this is not what Ofsted is looking at. But from the little experience I have from teaching and instructing in the army not sure how any inspection team can assess the ability to teach in less than 20 minutes in a classroom.

When looking at the results in detail you can see that the majority of lessons were of a good standard or above but of course there is still room for improvement.

I was concerned on Tuesday when at the school that morale of the staff would have been destroyed by this report but when returning Wednesday morning all I found was determination to improve and also to prove that Sidegate is a quality school.

A Right wing Tory blogger took to twitter to attack me for not mentioning the Ofsted report, but it was only right that I did not comment before parents had first received the report and then had an opportunity to question the head and the Governing body. All parents have now received the report and a meeting is planned for this Tuesday. Unfortunately the report became public knowledge after it was reported in the ‘Star’

Kevin Algar was also critical that I had not taken to twitter to criticise the schooll, as he stated that I had been rather outspoken about other failing schools. This was yet another lie from him. I was critical of Tory run Suffolk County Council who found themselves in the bottom three of English counties when it came to primary schools in England not any individual school. Sidegate will get great support from the County through the School Improvement Team but they are handicapped by the Tory cabinet treating education as a low priority with at least two of the Tory cabinet more interested in getting more Free Schools and pleasing Gove than improving the schools they are meant to be responsible for.

But now is not a time for blaming the school, the county of even Ofsted and Gove – it is a time to get behind all the staff and getting the results that will show Sidegate is the great school that most of us already know.

My week ahead, 21 - 27 January 2013

Monday 21 January, 6pm - Labour Group meeting

Tuesday 22 January, 5pm – Sidegate Primary School, Steering committee followed with meeting with parents about OFSTED report

Wednesday 23 January, 6.15pm – Launch of Handball in Suffolk, at Suffolk One

Thursday 24 January, 5pm – Sidegate primary School, Finance meeting

Friday 25 January, 8pm – ‘Stand up for Labour’ comedy event at Westgate Ward Club

Saturday 26 January, 10.30am – Labour campaigning in South East Ipswich

Like last week, much of my spare time will be spent at Sidegate Primary School – as many of you will already know, the school was inspected by OFSTED in December. The report was not we had hoped for, but I have total faith in both the staff and the pupils to make sure the school improves. I will do a separate post about on the inspection and my thoughts on the school.

Wednesday will be a great reminder of the great summer of Olympic fun we had in 2012 as Handball is launched at Suffolk One. Much has been said about ‘Olympic Legacy’ and now we have a chance in Suffolk to make sure we have a permanent reminder of those glorious months as we see that start of a new sports club in the town. The other great parts of Wednesday will that you will be able to get a chance to meet one of our own Ipswich Olympians – Louise Jukes. Not sure if ‘Suffolk One’ will rival the ‘Copper Box’ but I am sure we will all give Louise a great welcome back to the UK.

Then Friday we have a 'Stand up for Labour' comedy event - should be plenty of laughs plus a chance to raise funds to help our fight to win seats off the Tories in the Suffolk County Council elections in May.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Proud to be named as Veterans Champion

Labour yesterday launched a campaign to urge Local Authorities to have Veterans Champions, a dedicated person at each council to help service-leavers resettle in to civilian life.

I am proud to have been chosen to be the Veterans Champion in Ipswich.

At the campaign launch yesterday, Jim Murphy MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, who I have met through my involvement in Labour Friends of the Forces. stated:

“Our country is brilliant at turning civilians into soldiers, but we are not good enough when the time comes to turning soldiers back into civilians.

“Transition from military to civilian life can be difficult and distressing. A one-stop-shop for access to services and entitlements would make an enormous difference.

“A Veterans Champion would help those who have performed heroics overseas find a new home or job back home.

“Each council could take this step in a way that best serves local needs. We want to strengthen the bond between civilian and military communities, making the Military Covenant a reality for everyone.”

I know there are specific issues that face armed services personnel moving back into civilian life. They often have been living in services accommodation, and need to find housing. There are issues with schools, social services – the aim is that there should be someone who can be a focus for their issues and can help them when needed.”

Veterans or armed services personnel can contact me via Ipswich Borough Council, Ipswich Labour Party or email:

Sunday, 13 January 2013

My week ahead 14 - 20 January 2013

Monday 14 January, 6pm - Labour campaigning

Tuesday 15 January, 5pm – Sidegate Primary School, Full Governing Body
7.30pm – Meeting with Ransomes Sports Club

Wednesday 16 January, 9am – Visit to Sidegate Primary School

Thursday 17 January, 6pm – Scrutiny Meeting, Ipswich Borough Council
7.30pm - Southern Taskforce Conference with John Denham MP

Saturday 19 January, 9.30am – Labour campaigning in South West Ipswich

In the week ahead, I will be visiting Sidegate Primary School plus attending a number of meetings with a Rushmere slant including meeting the members of Ransomes Sports Club.

Thursday will also see John Denham MP, visit Ipswich we now are officially a key target seat for Labour at the next General election, this may mean more support from Labour HQ but we have been determined since Ben Gummer won that we campaign hard to make sure that Labour regain Ipswich. I also believe that we should stand in every council seat in the south and the Southern taskforce has been assisting in this. The benefits of this campaign are already there to see with Labour winning seats in places that have hardly ever seen a Labour councillor elected and in places like Ipswich and Oxford we have seen us increase our majorities on councils that we run.

In Ipswich we have always believed we should help our friends in rural Suffolk, a noticeable difference between us and the Ipswich Tories who cannot seem even to work together in Ipswich. The ability to work together was one of the reasons we did so well in the Police and Crime Commissioners election (plus having the far better candidate)

So expect to see Ipswich Labour activists not only campaigning all over Ipswich but in every corner of Suffolk- but just hope it does not get any colder and we have to wear hats every time we are door knocking.

Friday, 11 January 2013

New bid to target empty homes

A new scheme to target long-term empty homes in Ipswich has been launched by the Borough Council.

“Report it empty” allows members of the public to make the Council aware of properties they believe have remained unoccupied for more than six months.

Empty homes can cause problems to neighbours, fall into disrepair and in some circumstances attract anti-social behaviour. The scheme gives residents thepower to help Council staff identify these homes and allow an investigation to be carried out.

Over the past year, Ipswich Borough Council has introduced a number of new tools to tackle empty homes, which have proved to be successful. It is hoped “Report it empty” will help continue this success by providing an extra link to the public to report homes that might otherwise have slipped through the net.

Councillor John Mowles, the Council’s Housing portfolio-holder, said: “We are determined to tackle empty homes in the town. Most could be brought back into use to house families in need of accommodation and we offer advice and support to owners. It is important to remember that an empty property raises no income for the owner; an occupied property provides a home and income.

“We don’t want to see homes remain empty for any longer than is absolutely necessary. The advice and incentives will, wewould hope, be sufficient to achieve this in the majority of cases. However,the Council does have Compulsory Purchase Powers (CPO) that can be pursued if necessary and we are prepared to take that path as a last resort if all else fails. In fact, a decision to serve notice of compulsory purchase has been taken in respect of six properties in the past six months.”

If you own an empty home and would like further information on the schemes to help you bring it back into use please contact the Council’s Private Sector Housing Team on 01473 433000.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

My week ahead 7 - 13 January 2013

Monday 7 January, 4pm – Culture and leisure portfolio meeting
6pm - Labour campaigning

Thursday 10 January, 7pm – Suffolk Fabians Meeting, Paul Geater:“The local press -essential to our democracy”

Saturday 12 January, 9.30am – Labour campaigning in North Ipswich

Often residents remark that they only see us (politicians) when there is about to be an election, maybe what happens in some parts of the country but certainly not in Ipswich as unlike other parts of the country we have an election every year in Ipswich. Plus Ipswich Labour campaign all year and with the police elections at the end of last year some residents may have even seen a local Tory but the last time a Lib Dem was seen campaigning was last May (and in Rushmere about 2004!)

So we now have the ‘long’ campaigns starting for the Suffolk County Council elections in May, we hope that by working hard we will continue the progress we made last May and followed up with a good result in the Police and Crime Commissioners election in November. But we will also be looking to help our colleagues in rural Suffolk win seats and we saw with Jan Basham coming first that Suffolk is no longer the haven the Tories think it is.

But I do expect the Tories to fight hard (in at least some wards) in May, and we may even see Lib Dems campaigning even if only on one ward in the town.

We have already seen a flurry of press releases from Suffolk Tories and Clly Terry is using her ‘Flyer’ column as a personal campaign tool and the Lib Dems have even informed us that someone attempted to hack into their website – seems strange when no local news has been posted for over 7 months!

We do have one election before May, as the Ipswich Tories look to elect a new leader – not that you would know that their last leader has quit if you looked at their website or read any of their activist blogs. One leading Ipswich Tory even complained that he first heard about the Tory leader quitting on the council facebook page.

I will be joining my Ipswich Labour colleagues campaigning hard to make Ipswich a Tory free are of Suffolk.