Wednesday, June 28, 2006

£2 million scholarship scandal to end?

First with the news...

The controversial scholarship scheme which costs more than £2 million a year to pay the private school fees of a few Stamford children could be scrapped within two years following a vote at a council meeting this week.

A proposal to end the scheme was approved by an all-party policy development group at Lincolnshire County Council yesterday (Tuesday).

The Council’s all-Tory Executive will consider the recommendation next Tuesday (4th July).

I've campaigned to end this scandal for the past five years - and I'll carry on campaigning until it is finally scrapped.

I hope that this time the Executive will listen to the policy development group for the move, which had Tory as well as Labour support.

For years, the Tories who run the county council have been scrabbling to find ways to make their unfair scheme legal, but the game is now up. Such a scheme simply cannot be justified in the 21st Century.

I believe it is obscene to force every parent in Lincolnshire to pay the private school fees for a few Stamford children and it is an obsenity which cannot be justified.

It is wrong to force every council taxpayer in Lincolnshire to pay for a privilege that the vast majority are barred from even applying for, no matter how talented their children. And every other school budget in the county is top-sliced to pay for this scandal.

It costs Lincolnshire council taxpayers £9,100 extra to send a child to Stamford Endowed School than it does to a state secondary, comprehensive or grammar school.

It adds up to more than £2 million a year which should be used to raise standards for every Lincolnshire child – not just a few Stamford children.

Councillors were told that falling birth roles mean that surplus places will be created at Bourne Grammar School and free transport would be offered to Stamford parents of children who pass their 11-plus.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Stop! Thief!

Did anyone see my old white Ford Capri disappearing down Church Street this afternoon?

It was parked in my drive and some toad has nicked it.

I've been out all day, but a painter and decorator working across the road saw it parked up in its usual spot - behind the former nursery - as usual early afternoon.

By the time my wife arrived home from work, there it was, gone.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Farmers: it's another crisis.

Catching up with the local papers, I see that farmers in our area aren't happy.

It seems that their Government hand-outs have been late arriving in their bank account this year.

Our MP John Hayes has taken up their cause.

Apparently, with only 80 per cent of hand-outs received so far, farmers are facing financial difficulties.

Two questions:

1. Why do we taxpayers hand farmers bags of cash year after year?

2. Have you ever seen a farmer on a push-bike?

Blog off!

Sorry my blog has not been active in recent days.

I've been away - working in the South Wales valleys.

More later....

Police Mergers on hold

Good news that new Home Secretary John Reid has put the proposed police mergers on hold at least until the autumn.

The original time-table was simply too condensed.

As a member of Lincolnshire Police Authority, I want to be sure that any change produces the best policing possible for our county.

The whole idea will be up for debate next Friday (30th) at a meeting of Lincolnshire County Council.

Watch this space!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Police Mergers: a few thoughts

This week, Lincolnshire Police Authority is inviting people to vote by text on whether our county police force should be merged with four other county forces to form a "super" East Midlands force.

Given the headlines and level of debate on the issue so far, it's difficult to see how anyone can make an informed judgement on what's best for our county.

As a member of the Police Authority, we've been wrestling with the idea of merger for some months now and want to be sure that any changes improve policing for the people of Lincolnshire.

I hope the following blogs help anyone thinking of taking part in the text vote.

Police Mergers: whose idea?

The media – national and local - frequently portray the proposed mergers as the brainchild of former Home Secretary Charles Clarke. This is not true.

The idea originated in a study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies titled “Closing the Gap”.

The report by Denis O’Connor, former Chief Constable of Surrey identified a disturbing gap in the ability of smaller police forces – such as Lincolnshire’s – to deal with serious organised crime and the threat of terrorism.

He argues that larger police forces would lead to better shared intelligence to tackle organised crime and terrorism and at the same time enable delivery of neighbourhood teams to provide the local policing and visibility we all want to see.

Serious weaknesses had already been highlighted in the present structure following celebrated cases including the Soham murders.

One concern is how a small force deals with a big enquiry. In Lincolnshire, for example, the recent “Trusthorpe murders” enquiry led to a huge drain on local policing.

(Worth noting that the Trusthorpe murders were apparently “spill-over” crimes originating in Nottinghamshire).

O’Connor suggests that with a larger merged force, there would be fewer “extractions” from local policing teams to major enquiries.

Charles Clarke accepted the findings of the Report.

I wonder what the media would have said had he ignored it!

Some media have reported that new Home Secretary John Reid is forcing through the mergers, despite local opposition.

However, The Guardian reports that Reid has made it clear mergers are now on the back burner – and with the challenges on immigration and asylum in the Home Office, that’s hardly a surprise!

In fact Reid has said that he will listen to local views before coming to decisions and that the process will move “at a different pace”.

But he has also stated that given the need to keep up with the changes in criminal activity, the status quo is not an option.

Police Mergers: the Lincolnshire view

The media locally says that our local Police Authority are strongly against merger.

This is not quite true.

The Authority is not against change, but wants to be sure that what is proposed is the best solution and actually improves policing in our county.

Some Police Authorities have volunteered for merger.

In Lincolnshire, we have serious concerns for example, including costs of the merger, how it would affect council tax, the length of time before we would see any benefits, and future arrangements for local accountability.

None of these concerns have yet been resolved.

Our position is that we want to keep negotiating with the Home Office to get the best for Lincolnshire.

Police Mergers...or stand alone?

I attended the Association of Police Authorities annual confererence last autumn, when Denis O’Connor presented his findings.

He was adamant – as suggested by Paul - that in his experience cooperation between neighbouring forces tended to be awkward, bureaucratic and not as effective as full-blown merger.

He suggested that police forces of below 4,000 officers were simply not able to close the gap he identified.

Lincolnshire has less than one third of this number of officers.

Police Mergers: How much will it cost?

The Bourne Local reported this week that the mergers would “cost the county £100 million”.

In fact, £100 million is the estimated cost of merging all five existing East Midlands police forces into one.

It is of course a huge cost, and the Police Authority are naturally looking for the Home Office to foot the bill should the mergers go ahead.

Police Mergers: What does our own Chief Constable say?

Tony Lake accepts the finding of the O’Connor report that Lincolnshire Police is no longer “fit for purpose” and that larger forces are the way forward to help “close the gap”.

However, Mr Lake also shares the concerns of the Police Authority on how the change should be funded and how the larger forces will remain locally accountable.

Like Lincolnshire, Warwickshire is one of the smaller of the current 43 police forces covering England and Wales.

Warwicks Chief Constable has said: "The proposed new force, with 15,000 officers, would be better equipped to share intelligence, deal with serious crime and the threat of terrorism.

"If we are going to improve policing in this part of the country we need to be part of a strategic force because it is the only way we will have the capability to deliver local policing while also tackling crime and major incidents."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Why did the Puffin cross the road?

Deeping St James has its rather quaint "Ducks Crossing" signs by the river.

Now Langtoft is going one better with a Puffin Crossing!

That's what the road works are all about on the A15 just north of the Deepings.

After years of complaints by villagers, whose community is split by a main road, a Puffin Crossing is being installed.

I've heard of Zebra and Pelican crossings, but Puffins seem to have passed me by.

So I looked them up.

Puffins are similar to pelicans, but can detect when people are waiting to cross. Detectors "watch" the crossing and control the signals, so that slow-moving pedestrians have time to cross in safety.

The good news for drivers is that if the good people of Langtoft cross quickly the lights will quickly change to green.

And if someone presses the button and doesn't cross, or crosses before the lights change, the traffic will not be stopped.

It seems to be a major advance, as it's really frustrating waiting at a red light when it is clear no-one is using the crossing.

Whether or not the Puffin works, we'll have to wait and see.

Or, hopefully, not!

Our MP rejects the "A" team

Deepings MP John Hayes is apparently leading an attack on David Cameron’s plan to get more women and ethnic candidates at the next election.

In an attempt to drag the Conservative Party into the 20th Century, David Cameron came up with a much publicised “A-list” of preferred parliamentary candidates which local Tory constituencies could choose from.

Just over half the “A” list are female and one in ten are from ethnic minorities.

Seems very modest to me, since women make up more than half of the population.

Here in Lincolnshire, all five Tory MPs are men.

You only have to watch Prime Minister's Question Time to see that women are seriously under-represented in Parliament, particularly in the Tory Party.

But the modernisation plan has come under fire from the so-called Cornerstone group of right-wing Conservative MPs chaired by John Hayes.

John described Cameron’s plan as a "bizarre theory of someone who spends too much time with the pseuds and posers of London's chichi set".

He says the “A” list would work against “local” candidates and would mean parachuting in "insubstantial and untested candidates" from London.

Unlike John himself, of course.

Ten years ago was hardly the local choice. He was parachuted in from Nottingham!

Full story at:$441356.htm