Friday, June 19, 2009

Mill Road set for 20mph limit?

Mill Road could be set for a 20mph limit, after a meeting held a couple of weeks ago involving Petersfield and Romsey Councillors, Mill Road traders and other interested parties invited to discuss proposals for a road safety scheme on the road.

Unfortunately Coleridge Conservatives weren't on the guest list for this meeting, so it is unclear exactly what was 'agreed' at the workshop, but we understand the meeting concluded that a 20mph speed limit, along with some more subtle measures at junctions would be the best way forward.

The County Council are now likely to put such a plan out to wider consultation.

Obviously we need to see some detailed proposals, but introducing a blanket 20mph speed limit on such a major road is likely to be controversial - and potentially unnecessary. For starters, the police could take the problem of darkly clothed unlit cyclists using the road at night more seriously, and issue tickets every day until people get the message that this unacceptable, and then work on driver education so more care is taken at junctions. What is clear is that the accident record on Mill Road, like that on Hills Road is far too high and the pressure to take action is strong.

The precise proposals however are a long way from a 'done deal', and when any proposals go out for consultation, we need to make sure everyone in the City affected can have their voice heard.

Birdwood Road Antisocial Behaviour

The police and Councils need to get a grip of problems with anti-social behaviour in the Birdwood Road/St Thomas Rd area of Coleridge.

For months residents have been complaining of problems from a group of young people, with allegations of intimidation, late night noise, vandalism, underage drinking and drunkenness and various traffic offences involving mopeds.

Sadly last Saturday this escalated into an incident that a police response team was called to, and I understand two local residents were arrested following some type of alleged altercation.

It is clearly now a matter for the police to investigate the incident that occurred, but I am concerned about how effective the police and Council have been in responding to previous complaints about anti-social behaviour. I have already asked the new neighbour Sargeant for East Area to report back on what incidents have been reported in the area recently, and have asked the City Council to deploy its mobile CCTV cameras in the area to try calming down the situation, and hold a residents meeting.

I do know that local residents are very unhappy, and want effective action.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New police non-emergency number

I've had this from e-cops:

"From Monday 15th June 2009 (Today), the non-emergency telephone number for
Cambridgeshire Constabulary is changing. The new number is

0345 456 456 4.

Please save this in your address books for future reference. The old
number, 0845 456 456 4, will continue to operate alongside the new number
until April 2011.

The move will allow people with call packages which provide free local
calls to benefit as 0345 numbers are classed as local calls.

Remember - in an emergency, always dial 999. You should dial 999 if lives
are in danger or if there is serious risk of injury, if a serious crime is
happening or if a criminal is still at the scene. In all other cases, and
for general enquiries, please call us on 0345 456 456 4."

I guess this is part of the backlash against 0845 numbers being used in public services. These calls can be expensive, particularly from mobile phones, and sometimes involve revenue sharing where the party being called actually receives some of the call revenue. An 0345 number should be better from a call cost point of view - but what would have been wrong with an 01223 number...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Interesting Meeting later today

I'll be very interested to see the outcome of the County Council Conservative group AGM on Friday, in particular who the new Matt Bradney in charge of transport in the City will be. Whoever he or she is can expect a phone call - I have a little list...

UPDATE: Sounds like it will be a little while longer before we can see the white smoke...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Council Tenants deserve better

One of the results of the Gr-In group split last month was that I have just been appointed to the Housing Management Board at the City Council. I have long been interested in housing issues, and look forward to scrutinising why the Council is struggling to repair the Davy Road fences, or replace some ancient kitchens and bathrooms in the properties it owns.

Part of the problem is a particularly damaging way in which the Government treats tenants in Cambridge - it basically confiscates a large part of the rent paid in Cambridge, for no particularly good reason as far as I can tell. So I've decided to write to the newly appointed housing minister to ask him to look into this - I'll let you know when I get a response...

To  Rt Hon John Healey MP

Dear Mr Healey

Firstly many congratulations on your appointment as housing minister. This is a very important and often neglected area of policy that has a profound effect on everyone’s lives.

I am a Cambridge City Councillor and have just been appointed to the Housing Management Board – the committee that looks at the management of the Council’s own stock. 

The first meeting I will be attending next week reports the outturn of the housing revenue account budget for 08/09. Out of £27.1m of rents collected, there appears to be an expenditure of £11.9m classified as ‘negative subsidy’. 

As I understand it, this is simply the government stealing a very large part of the rents collected from Cambridge City Council’s tenants, so that it can’t be spent in Cambridge. How can this possibly be ‘fair’? Why do you think it is reasonable to take all this money? What do you do with the money taken from Cambridge Council tenants? Can you please use your powers as minister to stop this immediately? - I have numerous queries where works can’t be undertaken on properties or estates due to lack of money, and I dare say the huge sums being taken each year by the government aren't helping,

I look forward to your response,
Cllr Chris Howell

Monday, June 8, 2009

Cambridge Environment Week

The City Council is holding its 20th annual 'Cambridge Environment Festival' from 12th June to 27th June.

There are a series of events around the city designed to 'celebrate our local and global environment and be inspired to adopt a 'greener' lifestyle'.

More details on the City Council website here.

If you go to any of the events, please let me know if you have any feedback.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who voted for me on Thursday, to everyone who helped my campaign and to everyone who offered moral support.

Special thanks go to Chris Howell for making so many personal sacrifices to try to get me elected and for being such an excellent ward councillor.

I was obviously very disappointed with the result, which was expected to be much closer. However, the electorate has spoken and we have plenty of work to be getting on with following up new issues that have come to light during the latter part of the year as well as ongoing work on older issues.

Congratulations to my opponent, Cllr Tariq Sadiq and thanks to the Labour team for working well with us on issues where we had common ground during the year. I have no doubt that Tariq will work hard for Coleridge residents although we hope that he won't be deserting Coleridge in the run up to his campaign to become the MP for South Cambridgeshire!

The county council remains Conservative controlled, which is great news for those of us who don't want loony Lib Dem policies such as congestion charging implemented. We will be watching the new administration carefully and will do our best to make sure that it serves Coleridge and city residents well in the context of poor grant settlements from the government.

(Pictured: candidate's father helping to get out the vote on Hobart Road.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Labour win Coleridge

Labour has won Coleridge ward County Council election. The full result was:

Tariq Sadiq, Labour 929
Andrew Bower, Conservative 830
Thomas Yates, Lib Dem, 325
Valerie Hopkins, Green, 314
Albert Watts, UKIP, 159

Labour clearly fought a hard campaign in the ward, many congratulations to Labour candidate Tariq Sadiq who has achieved a remarkable result in view of the collapse of Labour elsewhere, and commiserations to Andy Bower, who has worked incredibly hard in the ward for a long period of time.

Without taking anything away from Tariq, there is little more I think I could have done personally to represent the best interests of Coleridge ward - so the result is a slightly disappointing reflection of the work that we have put in. If anyone has any constructive comments as to why it is so many people who voted Conservative locally last year decided not to vote for us this year, or what the big issues were for you at this election that caused you to vote something other than Conservative, please be in touch!

Perne Road Shops

Elections aside, ward work continues as normal.

I have been chasing progress on the redevelopment of the Perne Road shops site. The planners have finally got back to the applicants with some informal advice, and essentially given their proposals for 19 flats on the site the thumbs down. The concerns raised include lack of car and cycle parking, cramped flats, overlooking of neighbours. It is only informal advice, but does suggest that the planners view the developers first proposal as an overdevelopment of the site.

I am pressing for them to get some amended plans together ASAP...

Live Blogging the Count

We will try to do some live blogging from inside the Cambridge City Count.

The process started around 9.30am. 

The first task is to count the number of European ballot papers, to check the number of votes in the box is roughly the same as the number of ballot papers issued at each polling station. This is taking hours - we think other parts of the County are some way ahead. Although there was a separate ballot box for European papers, they are now looking for the few stray Euro papers that found their way in to the County Council boxes.

The European ballot papers will then be stored away uncounted until the European Count on Sunday.

Only when this has been done can they start verifying and counting the votes for the 14 County Council divisions and the City Council by-election in East Chesterton. Results expected to start coming in from around 3pm.

The only information so far is that we think Coleridge turnout is up on last years 39ish % - possibly over 50%

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inside election HQ!

Our campaign room is in full swing as Robert Sturdy MEP drops in before we go out again into Coleridge to persuade people to use their vote!

Polls are open

Polls are now open in the County Council and European Elections.

Polling stations are listed here. Unfortunately the Council is still publishing an incorrect postcode for the Lichfield Road polling station - they have been told...

Note there have been some delays in issuing postal vote packs - see here. If you are affected, your completed postal vote pack can be returned to your normal polling station.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Decision Time!

Polls open at 7am tomorrow (Thursday) for the County and European elections. Remember, you do not need you polling card to vote, just turn up at the polling station if you are on the register. Postal votes (carefully completed per the instructions) can be delivered to you usual polling station as it is now too late to post them - we have heard of some delays in the post so this will be your only chance to vote if you haven't yet sent back the postal vote form.

If you are reading this to help you decide which way to vote, here is some guidance!

Firstly, we are not asking you to take on trust that we are already involved in the big issues in Coleridge - we would urge you to browse the blog postings we have made over the last year to give you an idea of the areas we have been working, and the lines we have taken. Andrew Bower has been actively involved in many of these issues. In no particular order:

Scrutinising the Folk Festival ticket fiasco
Policing and general crime/antisocial behaviour
New mosque plans
Area Committees decision making

And many, many more local issues!

Back to the local elections in Coleridge. Our simple manifesto, Bowers Blueprint, outlines the key issues facing us locally at this election.

1. Keeping Council tax down  A real difference between Labour, who think government spending is the answer to everything, and the Conservatives who think the tax burden is already too high, and government spending must be brought under control.
2. No to a Cambridge congestion charge  Coleridge Conservatives have total opposition to congestion charging in Cambridge, a tax the government is trying to force on us, that will hit the poorest hard. Andrew will do all he can to stop this charge.
3. No to forcing Marshalls off the airport Labour's housing targets are trying to force Marshalls off the airport, with the rapid expansion of the City this would imply, the special character of Cambridge is at risk. Andrew wants the County Council to look forward to a possible Conservative government that will give local people a real say over the future development of Cambridge, and put these plans on hold.
4. A Conservative voice on the County Council - with no Conservatives from the City currently on the County Council, Andrew will be a really strong voice for action in Coleridge if elected.
5. Working hard for Coleridge We have a great track record of working hard in Coleridge ward. Your Labour candidate will have split loyalties, as Labour's parliamentary candidate in rural south Cambridgeshire.

And finally, if you get this far, a bit about the politics of these elections. Coleridge is a very close battle between Labour and the Conservatives. A vote for someone other than the Conservatives will risk Labour winning in Coleridge. UKIP have no chance of winning locally, so if you normally vote Conservative and decide to vote UKIP for some inexplicable reason, you will be more likely to end up with a Labour Councillor (and one who is currently also trying to become Labour MP for South Cambridgeshire, so is likely to have divided loyalties at least over the next year!). 

In Europe, the Conservative MEPs have a fantastic record of standing up for British interests. They are about to leave the EPP grouping, where many members favour the European constitutional treaty (Lisbon treaty) that Gordon Brown broke his election promise to hold a referendum on, and will form their own more eurosceptic grouping. UKIP think they might do well this time in the European elections - its hard to see why. Of the 12 UKIP MEPs elected last time, 1/3 have left or been expelled. One elected in the Eastern region last time has been charged with false accounting and money laundering, anther, Ashley Mote was found guilty of 21 counts of fraud and sent to jail. The ones that have avoided prison have a track record of voting against British interest in Europe, such as voting to allow French and Spanish trawlers fish in British protected waters. They are a truly bizarre choice of protest party for the European elections. 

Whatever you think of what we have to say, please make sure you do vote. It is a bit cliched but people have fought and died, and in some parts of the world still are fighting to bring democracy, the chance for everyone to decide who will govern us - this is your chance to take part. That said, I've know Andrew personally for a while, he is capable and motivated by the desire to do better for local residents. I think he will make a fantastic representative for Coleridge and I urge you to support him!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bower's Blueprint #5 - Working harder

This is the fifth and final of a series of five posts on Bower's Blueprint for Coleridge - a set of pledges to which I would work if elected as county councillor on 4th June.

Working harder
Fighting tirelessly for Coleridge, as we have done over the last year, and keeping in touch on the doorstep, through newsletters and our blog.

If elected as Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Coleridge on Thursday I will focus my political efforts on getting a good deal for the people of the Coleridge Electoral Division. (I am not planning on diverting my efforts to getting elected as an MP in South Cambridgeshire as one of my opponents will be doing!)

Councillors are supposed to work for all residents, not just those who vote for them, and that is how I would operate.

Over the last two years I have been working with Cllr Chris Howell on issues affecting Coleridge. Chris was elected as a city councillor last year. As the only Conservative councillor out of four in the ward and the only Conservative on the city council I believe that Chris has punched above his weight.

We will continue to keep in touch with residents via our regular In Touch newsletters, our blog, on the doorstep and through street surgeries.

Our activities over the last year are sampled on our blog - judge us on our record!

Bonfire smoke

There was huge amounts of smoke from bonfires in the Tiverton Way/Birdwood road area this evening that I think originated from the allotments nearby. This isn't the first time bonfire smoke has been a problem in this area - I've written to environmental health to find out if there is anything that can be done if this crops up in future...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bower's Blueprint #4 - A Conservative voice on the county council

This is the fourth of a series of posts on Bower's Blueprint for Coleridge - a set of pledges to which I would work if elected as county councillor on 4th June.

A Conservative voice on the county council
I want the county council to continue the good work as the fastest improving county council in the country but to give city residents a voice at the heart of county decision making.

The county council has a good reputation for efficiency, especially, so I understand, compared with the days when it was under no overall control. Even opposition councillors from both parties have praised the county council for its record on transport and the quality of scrutiny.

However, no Conservatives have been elected to the county council from within the city boundaries since 1993 (Trumpington) and from within the city constituency since 1989. The seats won in 1989 were: Castle, East Chesterton, Queen Edith's, Trumpington, West Chesterton. (Trumpington is moving into the Cambridge constituency at the next general election).

This inevitably means that important perspectives are lacking within the ruling Conservative group. City residents often seem to get a raw deal, but with loony ideas coming from Lib Dem councillors elected from the city such as asking for congestion charging and development on Marshall's it's no wonder!

Similarly, Labour councillors here have been unable to use influence with the government to get proper funding for concessionary bus fares or free swimming (both eye-catching government initiatives with questionable funding), to remove the congestion charging blackmail for vital transport funding or to curtail the ridiculous housing targets.

Conservative county councillors from the city are desperately needed to represent city residents - councillors from the other parties are simply not getting results in these really important areas.

Folk Festival: Lets keep our fingers crossed

The Cambridge Evening News has a stunning story today detailing the contents of some internal emails sent relating to the Folk Festival ticket fiasco, where over £600k of last year's ticket sales were collected by a company that subsequently went bust after failing to hand over the money.  - the information was obtained through a freedom of information request.

I have read the FOI response (in which the names of the relevant people have been blacked out), and it is jaw-dropping. The emails do nothing to reassure me we have got to the bottom so far of why this was allowed to go on. They indicate the extent to which other departments in the Council knew the risks that were being run in the 2008 online Folk Festival ticket sales contract, but failed to stop the problem.

In October 2007, whilst three bidders were being evaluated, someone in the finance department was asked for a credit check (of the company and its holding company - note that  company names may not be precise in these quotes, and there are other similar sounding companies out there not related to this issue) - they replied:

"One thing is clear – Telsecure carry a very High Risk rating and are not making profits. Secureticket was not listed"

The reply, presumably from the Folk Festival team:

"A reminder to never ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answer. The first one is the one we used last year and wished to use again!!"

"This is a bit contentious as in the money goes into an escrow (clients account) so should be safe even in cases of bankruptcy but a) we would rather not take the risk (it being circa £0.5m). At the end of the day I’ll go with what you and audit recommend.”

So both departments clearly appreciated the scale of money that could have been at risk. (in apparant contradiction of assurances given to Councillors that this contract wasn't picked up as it was only ever considered as a £30k contract for services)

Finance also uncovered the Isle of Man holding company, i.e. the unusual corporate structure, but there still didn't appear to have been a recommendation issued not to deal with the company – instead everything went quiet until a couple of days before go live.

In early May 2008, shortly before the tickets were due to go on sale, it was realised there weren’t proper contracts in place, that there hadn’t been a conclusion to the credit checking and concerns were again raised about the company, one email saying:

“Every bone in my body tells me this company is a wrong’un – but I can’t put my finger on it. It would help if they were transparent… we are stuck with this lot so let’s keep our fingers crossed”

£618k of Council tax payers money protected by keeping fingers crossed - incredible.

Its clear that several departments were fully aware of what was going on and the risks being run, alarm bells should have been ringing in senior management, but still the contract wasn’t stopped.

The City council has agreed to setup a member-led enquiry to look at some aspects of the Folk Festival ticket sales fiasco. Conservatives are calling for this enquiry to look at how finance and legal failed to stop this disastrous contract, and consider wider risk management.

We have a long way to go before we have got to the bottom of how and why the Council let a company go bankrupt owing the Council such a large sum of money...