Thursday 31 October 2013

No Toll Tax on Suffolk

At last nights Ipswich Borough Full Council meeting, councillors unanimously backed a motion proposed by Labour Council Leader, Councillor David Ellesmere, in opposing the Government proposals to toll the A14.

In moving the motion, which welcomed improvements to the A14, but rejected tolls, David described the toll proposals as a tax on jobs in Ipswich and Suffolk. He criticized the government for its failure to understand that the A14 improvements represented more than a bypass for Cambridge, but had wider implications along the route of the A14, but especially for the economy of Suffolk.

David's position received cross party support with all councillors voting in favour.

The full text of the motion was:

This Council notes the Government’s recent announcement of its proposals for the upgrade of the A14 Trunk Road between Cambridge and Huntingdon.

This Council believes that there is a need to upgrade this important transport route, this Council is extremely concerned about the economic impact the proposed toll charge would have on Ipswich, Suffolk and especially at the Port of Felixstowe, given the lack of a viable alternative route for road users who do not want to use the toll road.

This Council resolves to oppose the proposed tolling of the A14 and to support Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s “No Toll Tax on Suffolk” campaign.

It is a pity that the Tories and Lib Dems did not support the motion put forward by our own Rushmere Cllr, Sandra Gage and the County Labour Group at the Suffolk County Council meeting last week - and that they voted to still give £1 Million pounds of Suffolk money towards the building of the Toll Road. They seem to be the only groups not fully behind the work of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, even Mt Gummer has got behind the campaign (but like Dan Pioulter does not seem to be that vocal in his oppostion to the Toll Tax)

Inga Lockington, who is both a Lib Dem Cllr on the Borough and on the County Council voted with us yesterday but did she support the County Lib Dems stance last week?

Sunday 20 October 2013

Hills and goulash

A few days away from Ipswich coming up so no ‘my week ahead’ today.

In the morning off to Wales taking a group of teenagers to Wales to train for their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award. Returning Friday just for a few hours then off to Budapest for what I hoped was a weekend off football and goulash, but the Hungarian FA have decided to play the MTK – Upjest Derby game on a Friday night. As most Ipswich fans will know the MTK ground was used as the setting for the climax of ‘Escape to Victory’.

The MTK ground was used to replicate a ground supposedly in Paris as the Nazis played the Allies in a football match. Both sides had a smattering of Ipswich players in their ranks, with Pele getting the winning goal, a bicycle kick beating the German (Ipswich) keeper, Laurie Sivell.

Still hope to visit the MTK ground and maybe see a Hungarian third division game in the ground next door.
Getting back to politics, been a quiet week that saw Ben Gummer move to education and bag carrier to Mr Gove, I did wonder (and tweeted) if this meant we would hear nothing from Mr Gummer about the proposed A14 Toll road, this led to Mr Gummer to give one his seemingly patronising answers. He said if I had been paying attention, I would have noticed he had been talking about it for a while.
Funny I hadn’t noticed – will be interesting as it now seem everyone in the county is against the idea of a toll road if the Tory run County Council still provide the funding for the road that they had promised.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Gummer and Gove- new best mates?

As many may know and sure to understand, I am not the greatest fan of Ben Gummer, our Ipswich MP. But one action I will credit him for, his is almost weekly visit to a school in Ipswich, I know he has visited the school I am involved in- Sidegate Primary and was at my local High School- Northgate- on Monday.

I am also sure that at every school he has attended, the majority of teachers and staff he has spoken to have been critical of the measures that Mr Gove is bringing in.

There is no doubt that education needs both improving and changing, but that will not be possible unless you take the teachers with you- as we see more industrial un rest in our schools, low morale and staff leaving the profession - it is obvious that Gove is not gaining the support of the teachers who have to implement these changes.

So will Mr Gummer tell his new boss - his plans are not working? Have a feeling the answer will be no. Will be interesting to see if Ben Gummer continues with his weekly visits.

Mr Gummer also mentioned that Education now has a number of East Anglian MP's in the Department- strange when Norfolk and Suffolk are two of poorest counties when it comes to education our young people, with a report this week highlighting the poor attendance record at Suffolk schools.

If Mr Gummer continues his visits, and when teachers mentioned to failing OFSTED inspections - they will now expect a detailed response and not 'I will take it up with the Minister'.

Suffolk schools need as many friends and allies in the Education Departments as they can get, lets hope Mr Gummer can now help deliver the improvements that are needed. First thing Mr Gummer needs to tell his new mate Mr Gove is - you have not yet persuaded teachers that you are right and without their support your plans are doomed to fail and it will yet again be the pupils who will suffer.

I will expect the usual Tory blogs to attack me as I work in Private Education - but I am also a Governor at the largest Primary School in Suffolk and my daughter is currently training to be a teacher.

Monday 14 October 2013

And then there were four Tory blogs

This Saturday the once neutral but now obviously Tory Supporting blog, ‘Ipswich Spy’ mentioned myself twice in its ‘Saturday Diary’ column.

The first was a result of my post where I commented about the accusation made by Ipswich spy and a Tory councillor that I had regularly attacked Lord Deben (John Gummer) in order to get at his son, Ben. I indicated that I had only mentioned John Gummer in 4 posts out of over 500. Ipswich Spy did apologise (in a way) for using the word regular:

Spy blogged this: “I would like to retract the accusation that Cllr Ross regularly attacks Ben Gummer MP by using his father, Lord Deben. In fact, as Cllr Ross tells us, he has only done that four times, out of more than 500 posts. In contrast the Daily Mail only smeared someone through their father twice out of more than 500 articles a week.”

Now there is an apology the Mail would be proud of, still trying to link me with the way the Mail attacked Ralph Miliband! My four mentions of John Gummer were not 4 attacks on him, if fact you could hardly call any of them an attack on John or Ben Gummer. Then to say the Mail only attacked Ralph Miliband twice out of 500 articles in a week, trouble is the other 498 articles were probably attacks on other people or made up facts on ‘global warming’ ‘how to catch cancer’ or their latest ‘fact’ telling us how many EU nationals are in the UK working- a fact they got wrong as it included the grandparents, spouses and children of working EU nationals!

So to repeat, I have not regularly attacked John Gummer to get at Ben.

Then I was mentioned again in a comment about a leaked council document, I had foolishly it seems replied to a tweet by Ipswich Spy after they ran a story about the possibility of part closure of some of our sports centres.

My tweet mentioned that the ‘Spy’ story had missed an important fact in why Maidenhall Sports Centre was the main topic of much of the discussion.

When we were in opposition at Ipswich Borough Council (but the largest group) we were not included in any discussion on how the budget was set or what money would be spent on. Since we have regained the Council we have included opposition councilors in discussion on the budget. Asking them to be members of Working Groups covering each portfolio. These groups are set up to work out where savings could be made. With the current state of the economy, there is no secret that savings have to be made and some quite difficult decisions especially after the quite savage cuts to our grants being imposed on us by Pickles and central Government.

Some Working Groups in the past have failed to see opposition councillors turn up but on the Culture and Leisure Group we have not only had opposition councillors attend but also participate in meaningful discussions, that is why it seems very disappointing to me that someone it seems decided it was best to leak the budget document. There were a number of cost saving (and in fact revenue producing) measures discussed at the meeting and all those that went forward from the meeting seemed to have all party support.

Now, I will not go into detail on what budget proposals were put forward but where I do believe ‘Ipswich Spy’ to be correct is that I have no doubt that staff were upset when they read of some of the proposals in Ipswich Spy, But that blame should lie at the door of the person who leaked the document and then again maybe Ipswich Spy should have asked the person for more details before just publishing the list of money saving measures that were in the document and they were just that- topics for discussion not concrete measures to be taken.

Going back to my ‘tweet’, I indicated to Ipswich Spy that they had missed an important fact out from their post which concentrated on the discussions about Maidenhall Sport Centre. As I was at a Charity Event on the time, I did not want to mention something that may not have been public knowledge so on Saturday, I put Stoke High School (location of the sports centre) in google and the answer came straight up!

On October 1st, Stoke High school joined the Ormistion Trust as an academy – this is public knowledge but what it does mean that currently Suffolk County Council are handing over the premises to the Trust and that will include the agreement with IBC about the sports facility, so the line that Ipswich Spy put in their blog is far from accurate: Spy wrote this: “It is run on behalf of Suffolk County Council, who own the site,” A simple bit of research would have shown Spy that this will no longer the case, it will be owned by the Ormiston Trust so this may mean changes in how we operate the centre- so this why Maidenhall was discussed in depth.
Now Ipswich Spy I am sure will reply and ask me a number of questions about what was discussed – he will not get an answer from me, proposals have gone forward and will be looked at again by Officers, managers and councillors of all political groups. Then savings will have to be found from all parts of the Borough operation, these will be laid out in the final budget, again a piece of work that we hope to see all political groups get involved in, then that budget will be put to Full Council.

Just remember this that when Labour took power we found that the Tories (and Lib Dems) were in a very advanced position in their plans to offload both Whitton and Maidenhall sports Centres – we stopped that and have since seen improvements made to all our sports centres- that would not have happened under the last administration – and we get far less money from central government than they got!

So is Ipswich Spy still neutral or just another local Tory blog? There used to be a time where the blog did seem to attempt to be neutral and attack what they thought was wrong and that still occasionally happens but far less than on the past. This week it rightfully attacked those who had jumped on the bandwagon over IBC having to knock two council houses together to house a large family (it seems that Mr Gummer ignored the criticism on Spy has he again today uses the issue to attack Labour over the benefits system) but more often or not the posts (and tweets) seem to be anti Labour- so often that a large percentage of Ipswich Spy posts are now re- blogged on two further Tory blogs- 'A Riverside View' and the new ‘ A Political Overview’ – not sure they would be re-posting so much if Spy had kept to its original aim of being politically neutral.

Sunday 13 October 2013

My week ahead 14 - 20 October 2013

Monday - 14 October, 4pm - Meeting with Suffolk County Council on ‘Travel Ipswich’

Wednesday – 16 October, 11am – Meeting with the Managing Directors of Ipswich Town Football club

Friday - 18 October, 4pm – North East Area Committee agenda setting meeting at Grafton House

Saturday 19 October, 10am - Labour campaigning in South East Ipswich

A good variety of meetings this week plus more football and a trip to the New Wolsey – but it is important even with all these meetings to continue to try and get out and meet residents – and not just in your own wards, but to campaign all over the town.

New ways are always being found to connect to voters, social media is now well established as one way of connecting and twitter in particular is both effective as a way of getting our message over but also to listen to the concerns of residents.

But the best way still is and always will be just getting out knocking on doors. Yesterday I was in Gipping and the other bonus of being out on the streets is discovering new sights and also some hidden gems. One tip is to look up – in particular in some of the older parts of the town, you will see reminders of local shops that have now been turned into homes.

Yesterday it was the old bakery sign on Elliott Street and Gibbons Street corner. 30 or 40 years ago, residents would never have thought these corner shops would close, proving how hard it is to decide how you think the town centre will look in the future.
Now the nights are drawing in, the weekends still give us an opportunity to get out round the town but even on dark nights we plan to talk to residents by phone.

I also have a meeting at the football club this week, not in my role as a councillor but as a member of the Supporters Trust. Ipswich are playing better, Mick has managed to put smile back on the face of the fans, but attendances are still disappointing – why? The cost of tickets seems to be the answer that most fans come up with. It will be interesting to hear what the joint MD’s have to say.

Even before I became a councillor I was involved in supporter’s organisations and currently I am contributing to a new Ipswich ‘fanzine’ – Turnstile Blues. But back in the late 80’s I stated a fanzine- Dribble! Portable typewriter and some pritt stick- seems very amateur now but it was fun and also helped get the message over in those ant-football days of the Thatcher government that not all fans were hooligans. So it was great to see today that a copy of Dribble! Is on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester. Part of a new exhibition – ‘State of the Zine’.

Sunday 6 October 2013

What is regular? - Yet another 'pop' at Ben Gummer! (Not John)

Recently, Ipswich Spy has started a regular Saturday Diary column- I say regular because as the name of the column indicates it comes out each Saturday - you could call that regular.

In this weeks column, Ben Redsell mentions that I do not have the best working relationship with our local MP, the Tory Ben Gummer. That point I can't or would not want to argue with but where I will be critical of Ipswich Spy is their comment which seemed to wish to compare my criticism of Mr Gummer with some of the attacks the daily Mail has made on Ed Miliband in the last week.

Ipswich Spy wrote: "Cllr Ross used to regularly target his father, Lord Deben, in an attempt to get at his son. He doesn't do that anymore, which is just as well given recent events."

Now I know I have mentioned John Gummer in the past but was certain that I had not made a regular habit of targeting Lord Deben.

Now Ipswich Spy is not the first to accuse me of this act this week, Tory Councillor Nadia Cenci, used twitter to say that I had attacked John Gummer to get at Ben, this tweet was in a conversation about the attacks on Ed by the Daily Mail - which Nadia Cenci seemed to be defending.

I did email Ipswich Spy, as I thought they would have checked all my blog posts to see how many comments I had made about Gummer Senior. No answer so I decided to check myself.

I first mentioned John Gummer in a blog post in 2007 and since then have mentioned him another 3 times, so that is 4 posts that John Gummer is mentioned in, the same period has seen me post 530 blog posts - so is 4 out of 530 regular? Two of those mentions were in 2007, one in 20010 and I repeated a 2007 post in 2012!

Now did Ipswich Spy just take Cllr Cenci's tweet and think there had been a series of posts about John Gummer? Now I have not checked all my 18,000 tweets or comments on other blogs but I would think you will find that even on twitter the number of tweets mentioning John Gummer would be less than 20 (out of 18,000)

The other point on the blog posts the four posts were not all attacks on John Gummer. One did show a picture of him feeding a burger to his daughter and in another post it mentions that Ben Gummer was one of the few Tory candidates attempting to get elected for the first time who did not mention the expenses scandal- I indicated this maybe was because Chris Mole was never accused of mis-using his expenses whilst John Gummer did seem to spend considerable amounts on looking after his garden, including a claim for removing Jackdaw nests!

So I think the comment from Ipswich Spy is wrong- and to try and link it to the attacks by the Mail on the Labour leader is just in poor taste. So the only real link with the Daily Mail is the poor research that has taken place with the original Ipswich Spy post, something the Mail might be proud of!

Looking back through all the posts that mentioned Ben Gummer there had been critical posts, and even apologies plus a well done (for getting Chantry school back on the rebuilding programme.) The attacks on Ben had been on various subjects, from his silence on NHS matters, use of interns and his own attacks on the capabilities of councillors. But there was one recurring theme and that was the poor quality of his MP website. Now in his defence it is not paid for by public money but I for one would be happy if it was - as long as it provided Ipswich residents with a service and source of information.

In the past I have criticised him for the website being so out of date, when I mentioned that his performance data was over a year out of date this then caused Cllr Cenci to attack me, claiming it was due to all information being wiped clean at the start of the year, not for the first time she was wrong. We were then told that his campaign manager was going to take the role on and we did suddenly see the data on casework updated but she never did get round to updating the information on 'Ben in Westminster'. But since August they now seemed to have again stopped updating the performance data on the website, maybe his campaign manager is now spending time campaigning?

But maybe it is time for Ben Gummer to either tell his staff to update the website, or remove the sections that have not been updated, or even inform people reading his website that it is not up to date as he saving public money by not spending on it. Ben can be congratulated for not using any public money on his website but I am sure many residents would be happy to see public money used as long as it is correctly claimed for and the website provides a service to Ipswich constituents - something it current does not - and I can't even blame John Gummer Senior for that!

My week ahead, 7 - 12 October 2013

Tuesday 8 October, 5pm - Sidgate School Finance meeting
6pm - Culture and Leisure Working Group

Thursday 10 October, 6pm - Area Committee Chairs meeting at Grafton House

Saturday 12 October, 10am - Labour campaigning in South West Ipswich

We are now back into the full flow of meetings with an extra meeting last week as the North East Area Committee hosted a public meeting about the NHS Trust proposals to develop the St Clement's Hospital site into a housing estate. Over 100 residents attended and the Trust, IBC and councillors were able to answer a number of questions from residents. IBC Officers and councillors will now also be aware of the many concerns residents have when the proposal comes to the Planning Committee in November.

The ability to get this meeting arranged quite quickly was yet one more reason why the Area Committees provide a better service to residents than the previous area forums - I am certain that most Tory councillors are also agreed on this but not many are prepared to say that in public as they keep up a display of opposition to the idea of area committees, how much longer they will keep up this futile battle is anyone's guess as there still seems to be little direction or leadership coming from the Tory group.

This week we start a series of working groups where we look at the budgets and spending plans for next year. We have the Culture Working Group on Tuesday evening. these working groups are all party - so councillors can work together to make sure the best decisions are made for residents in what are difficult times as we face yet again a massive cut in our government grant. Previous years we have seen the opposition contribute in the discussions at the Culture Working group but in other working groups the opposition have not even attended.

When the Tories and Lib Dems were in power, the Labour Group were not asked to contribute even though we were the largest group- but we have always wanted contributions from all three groups, but again the Tory response seems not to be inconsistent, with some councillors willing to join in with meaningful discussions whilst others can't even be bothered to attend the meetings.

We will not know for a couple of weeks what the Tory stance is this year.