Thursday, August 31, 2006

Massive roll-out of SureStart is great news...

One of the greatest legacies of the Blair Government will be SureStart, a fantastic achievement which has already given a better start to hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children since 1997.

When it was set up, SureStart was aimed at the most vulnerable children in the most deprived areas of Britain - including Lincolnshire.

But it has been such a huge success that the Government is now rolling out SureStart to every community. In Lincolnshire, the Government rollout means a massive £34m plan to build 23 children's centres across the county.

By 2010 every parent in Lincolnshire will have access to a SurStart facility - delivering on a key promise in Labour's 2005 General election manifesto.

Tonight's Lincolnshire Echo splashed the good news across it's front page - particularly timely in view of Tony Blair's speech today on the need for early intervention to identify and support potentially "problem" children.

Government doesn't raise children but SureStart offers parenting classes, learning activities, community projects and health and education schemes.

Eco-warriors in the news

Protests over nuclear power, so thought it was interesting that today's action by eco-warriors was against a coal-fired power station.

Wonder how pure the action was: for example how many of the protesters arrived by car?

Or are the protesters as genuine as Tory Leader David Cameron who went to the Arctic for a media photo-call with a dogsled to demonstrate his concern for carbon emissions - arriving by a less than environmentally friendly aircraft!

Good news for cider drinkers?

Good to hear on the BBC that drinking fruit and vegetable juices at least three times a week could cut the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers in the USA (where else!!) who monitored 2,000 people for up to 10 years found the risk was an amazing 76% lower for those who drank juice more than three times a week, compared with those who drank it less than once a week.

According to one of the experts who was interviews on 5Live, the fruit that has most of what seems to stop Alzheimers is apples.

Great news...Must get down to the Waterton Arms and get my daily ration of cider.

Or maybe I should celebrate with a Bloody Mary...!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Box for Smokers

Smokers at a village pub will have to sit in a glass box if they want to enjoy a cigarette next year reports the Lincolnshire Echo in this story.

The Echo informs its readers that The Becke Arms, in Cherry Willingham near Lincoln is preparing for next year's national smoking ban by putting up the unusual structure.

I'm probably the last person to comment on this story as a smoker who had my last drag 25 years ago.

I'm delighted that smoking is to be banned in pubs.

But I couldn't help thinking that rather than a glass box, a wooden one would have been more appropriate.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is this really the most urgent call on taxpayers hard earned cash?

The first sod was turned today to deliver a by-pass for Burgh-le-Marsh. You'd be forgiven for asking where Burgh is - it's a small village just outside Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast.

After years of campaigns for a Burgh by-pass, earlier this year the Government was heavily lobbied by Lincolnshire County Council - and in particular Neil Cooper, Conservative County Councillor for Burgh-le-Marsh.

While it's good to know we have a listening Government which comes up with the cash for such worthy schemes, I do wonder how Burgh came to be top of the list for a major road scheme.

I'm rather fond of Burgh (pronounced Borough by the locals), having spent many a happy hour there in my younger day (but that's another story!)

True, heavy traffic to and from Skeggy blights the local village during the summer months.

But there are towns in Lincolnshire far worse snarled up by traffic than this relatively small coastal village.

Lincoln for example, our county town, cries out for an Eastern relief road to take damaging thundering heavy traffic away from one the nation's most beautiful historic city centre.

Not to mention other appalling traffic gridlocks around the county like Grantham or Boston.

Even if the priority was easing the journey times for day-trippers to the coast, logic suggests sorting out snarl-ups in Grantham or Boston would come far higher up the list than the small village of Burgh-le-Marsh.

But if concern about the developing the economy of Lincolnshire was important, there would be no contest: Burgh-le-Marsh wouldn't make the shortlist in the by-pass stakes.

I'm reminded of a debate at a county council committee a couple of years ago when Labour councillors were questioning the Conservative administration about the lack of logic on how road schemes around the county seem to get prioritised.

Suddenly, former Conservative Leader of the Council Bill Wyrill (who had given every impression of being asleep until that point) sparked into life. In his latter days as a councillor, Councillor Bill didn't say much, but when he spoke, you could hear a pin drop.

Councillor Bill contributed this telling gem:

"In my day, it was simple," he said. "The councillor who shouted loudest won the money for his local scheme."

So well shouted Neil Cooper.

Bill retired from the Council at last year's elections.

It seems, however, that little has changed.

Charles Kennedy: a personal tragedy

Tell me I'm going soft in my old age, but on a personal level, I'm feeling sympathy towards Charles Kennedy who was forced to quit as Leader of the LibDems over his battle with alcohol.

I deplore his politics which I believe have more to do with opportunism than principle, and have no truck with his loyalists trying to spin a story of how brave he was to confront his problem. He wasn't. It was forced on him and he let down his Party.

But it's a personal tragedy all the same and I hope he's able to recover from his alcoholism.

Just when he's starting to pick himself up after the New Year revelations about his drinking led to his resignation, a book comes out trawling over every detail of his life - and his drinking.

Actually, the book by Times political journalist Greg Hurst won't be published until next month - to coincide with the LibDems annual Conference, where Mr Kennedy is said to be planning something of a come-back onto the political stage.

But damaging extracts of the book in The Times today may well dampen those plans.

Of course the public have a right to know that the man the LibDems hailed as "The Real Alternative" at the 2005 General Election was not fit for high office due to a serious illness called alcholism.

On the other hand, being Leader of the LibDems is not exactly the highest office in the land...

And there was never any real danger of Champagne Charlie actually getting his hands on the keys to 10 Downing Street. So the risk to national security was minimal.

From what I've seen of Greg Hurst's biography, it seems worthy but hardly sensational (though there may be more to come of course).

The media - and maybe some rival politicians - will no doubt seize on Hurst's revelation that the LibDem heirarchy confronted Kennedy in 2003 about his drinking when he admitted to them that he was an alcoholic.

There will be questions over the judgement of those at the top of the LibDem Party, specifically why was he allowed to continue leading the party into the 2005 General Election.

At one stage, he'd apparently decided to "come out" about his problem at a press conference, publicly admit he was having treatment, but try to carry on as Leader. But at the last minute he backed out and refused to go through with the planned press conference, insisting instead that he'd deal with the problem his own way.

He even went on Newsnight and denied his alcoholism.

That is maybe understandable - denial is no doubt part of the illness. But he was happy to repeatedly and wrongly accuse the Prime Minister of deliberately misleading the House of Commons over Iraq.

Senior LibDems must have known this was double standards at the time.

I was fascinated to learn from Hurst's book that Kennedy's tipple was not whisky from his native Highlands, or even champagne as previously rumoured, but gin and tonic or wine.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Widdy and the Goat

Strangely, I couldn't find a flattering photo of Ann Widdecombe yeterday to include in my post about an imaginary episode of Love Island hosted by Ann and Deepings MP John Hayes.

But the blogworld has come to the rescue. So thanks to the intriguingly named The Virtual Stoa for pointing out this photo on Ann's own website which she calls The Widdy Web.

For the purposes of clarity, it's a photo of Ann (right) with a goat.

As far as I'm aware, there's no suggestion that the goat should co-host Love Island.

Radio4 goes silly on cream teas

Woke this morning as usual to the Today programme on BBC Radio Four.

At least I think I was awake.

Top presenter Jim Naughtie was covering the story on everyone's, not the explosion in a Turkish resort which has injured an unknown number of British holidaymakers, nor the latest British soldier killed in action...

In a prime spot on the nation's premiere agenda-setting news programme, the subject under scrutiny was...scones. Or more precisely - and bizarrely - what goes on them. And when.

I kid you not.

Jim Naughtie spent several minutes interviewing a panel of "experts" who argued whether strawberry jam should be spread first on the scone, followed by clotted cream, or vice-versa.

I know it's supposed to be the silly season with not much real news around, and I don't want to be a grumpy old man...

But surely the time and place for a debate on scones is not prime time Today programme.

At this rate, tomorrow Jim could fill a few minutes with: the great British cuppa, milk or tea-bag first.

Next day: Jim Naughtie discovers which came first, the chicken or the egg...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Close encounters of a two-legged variety

My daughter laughed when she saw my post on the silly-season story in the Lincolnshire Echo Invasion of the Super, or not .

Claire went to University in Lincoln far more recently than I grew up in the city, so she is much more of an expert on the night life of the place than I.

Claire chuckled at the Echo quotes from Ms June Belton who was wheeled out to regail the story of her "close encounter" with a rat on Monks Road.

Ms Belton told the Echo she still gets goosebumps thinking about the time a rat looked at her before scurrying off (that's the rat scurrying, not Ms Belton).

It seems that Ms Belton has led a sheltered life. Claire tells me she has experienced much closer encounters than this on Monks Road.

She assures me none of the offenders had four legs.

It's a matter of debate, however, whether they could be categorised as "super-rats..."

Another Cameron flip-flop, but has his Party changed an inch?

So, the fifth Tory Leader since Margaret Thatcher believes she was wrong to condemn Nelson Mandela and the ANC as terrorists and wrong to support the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The strategy of the failed fourth Tory Leader since Thatcher - Michael Howard - seemed to be that the only trouble with Thatcherism was that the country hadn't had enough of it and was begging for another dose.

David Cameron happily endorsed Howard's approach. In fact he was the architect of it.

Cameron was the author of the Conservative Party 2005 manifesto, the most right-wing ever Tory platform which was rightly rejected by the British people.

For the past nine months, Cameron's strategy has been to persuade us that he's changed his spots.

Catching up with the rest of the world and publicly recognising that Nelson Mandela's ANC were not terrorists as Thatcher declared was the latest stage of the rebranding operation.

Cameron's agenda has been boosted by Thatcher's chief spin-doctor Sir Bernard Ingham who sniffily reacted to the Mandela endorsement by questioning whether Cameron is really a Tory.

Outrage from Ingham, Tebbit & Co is all part of the Cameron script and exactly the reaction he was banking on from the hard-right grandees. Cameron wants to portray himself as any colour you want him to be - red, yellow, or green.

The truth is he can keep changing the branding: but when you scratch off the surface, the product underneath only comes in one colour - Tory blue!

The question now is how far will Cameron go in his attempt to distance himself from Thatcherism?

Perhaps his next move will be to tell us he won't be following Thatcher's example of inviting the ruthless dictator General Pinochet for afternoon tea...

A slur on our MP

In a made up list of programmes you'll never see on the BBC, blogger Iain Dale suggests a midnight show: "Conservative Love Island with Ann Widdecombe and John Hayes."

Of course, that is rather unkind to our MP. As it is to Ms Widdecombe, famous for her "something of the night" quote commenting on her fellow Kent MP Michael Howard.

I'll be watching Iain's blog to see which other well-known characters are up next to co-host his imaginary programme: maybe Doris Karloff and Shrek...?

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Invasion of the Super, or not

Great headline on the Lincolnshire Echo's story tonight about a new generation of 'super rats' apparently invading the city of Lincoln, fattened on a high-protein diet of dumped fast-food kebabs and burgers.

As the Echo says, it sounds like the stuff of nightmares - giant rodents invading our homes on the hunt for food.

A silly season story?


The most convincing (not) horror story of rats the Echo could muster was retired civil servant June Belton who says she still gets goosebumps after what the paper hypes as as "a late-night close encounter with a rat on Monks Road".

Apparently, the rat looked at Ms Belton before scuttling away. "It was horrible," she said.

Spine-tingling, I'm sure.

But I wonder who was more frightened by close encounter: Ms Belton or the rat...

What evidence was there that it was a so-called "super-rat" and do they even exist?

You have to trawl through 19 Echo paragraphs of rat horror story, nightmare anecdote, and descripton of an cinema advert of a couple in bed with rats crawling over them before you get to this gem:
Meanwhile, professional rat catchers in the city have dismissed the 'super rat' claims as rubbish
Ian Spraggins, of Eradicate Pest Control Specialists, said: "Every year you get stories of super rats and there is no such thing.

So, there we are then.
Not really a story at all.

But never mind. The prize-winning headline which almost justifies the story: "Town Rats Boom"

Silly Season Search for Top Donkey

Another classic contender for silliest story of this year's summer silly season...

A national donkey charity is on its way to Lincolnshire in a hunt to discover Britain's finest beach donkey.

Experts from Devon Donkey Sanctuary are to meet a group of beach donkeys in Skegness tomorrow (Sunday) to see if they have donkey world's X-factor.

Skeggy's finest will then go up against rival donkeys from Blackpool, Barmouth, Gunnislake (wherever that is), Rhyl, Scarborough and Weymouth.

National judge, Maggie Taylor, said to be an experienced donkey owner, is already hyping up the stakes.

She says: "I have heard from previous years that the standards are extremely high between resorts and there is healthy competition.

"I shall examine their hooves, teeth, eyes and I'll also check the condition of their tack. I will be looking for strong, well-conformed donkeys with gentle and placid natures and above all, to see that they are happy in their work."

I suggest that anyone wanting more information about donkeys - and who wouldn't - should visit the Donkey Sanctuary's website HERE.

You too can visit Donkey World, find out about AdoptaDonkey, learn about Donkey Therapy and even see Donkeys Live...

More Defects in Derby Defectors story

Tonight's Derby Evening Telegraph faithfully reports the apparent defection of 39 members from the local Labour Party over Lebanon...but close examination of their "mass-walkout" photo tells another story.

The Telegraph gives the impression that the photo shows a group who switched from Labour to the LibDems yesterday. In fact, just one member of the Labour Party can be identified on the photo - a gentleman called Masud Aktar.

However, several long-standing members of Derby LibDems can be clearly identified - as well as one ex-Labour member who defected a year ago, and another who changed sides two years ago.

Remember, recent events over Lebanon was supposed to be the reason for the "mass defection".

Likewise, on television pictures broadcast nationally last night as evidence of 39 defectors, there appear to be more long standing members of the LibDems than defectors from Labour.

No doubt there were some defections yesterday - but they were nothing to do with the war in Lebanon and everything to do with a failed bid to take over Derby Labour Party by a few individuals trying to grab seats on Derby City Council.

The overwhelming feeling in Derby Labour Party is one of relief that they have gone.

Of course, half a dozen defections in a local spat over council seats would not have made such a good story.

A train of two halves

Hundreds of Peterborough commuters had a nasty shock on their way home last night when the train they were on split in two at 90 miles an hour.

The accident happened on a packed First Capital Connect (formerly WAGN - West Anglian Great Northern) train service from King's Cross. Ten minutes into the journey the back four carriages decoupled from the front four.

Fortunately, no-one was hurt.

Hundreds of passengers in the back four carriages which came to a halt some way behind the front four, were given no information by rail staff about what had happened - which I suppose is understandable if the guard was in the front four!

Amazingly, the two sections then carried on as two separate trains and completed the journey to Peterborough - arriving an hour late.

When the Tories privatised our railways they fragmented the system so much that it could never be re-nationalised.

But even the Tories stopped short of splitting the trains themselves...

Unlike the Tories, First Capital are clearly living up to their promise to deliver more trains!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Labour defectors: What TV doesn't tell you

Tonight's news broadcasts are leading with the defection of Labour Party members in the Foreign Secretary's constituency "over Government policy in Lebanon".

Mohammed Peeno and his new found friends in the LibDems Leader are of course happy to exploit the Lebanon angle to push their own agenda.

But tonight, Labour bloggers such as Luke and Crazy World of Politics are questioning whether the media are telling the full story.

They are absolutely right.

Last Wednesday, Mr Peeno was rejected by local members of Normanton Labour Party in his bid to become a Labour candidate at next May's local elections in Derby.

24 hours earlier, local members of the Labour Party in Arboretum rejected Abdul Majeed, another of today's defectors in his bid to be Labour's candidate in Arboretum ward.

Both attended recent meetings of Derby South Constituency Labour Party attended by their MP, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Strangely, none of them raised the Lebanon question, the reason the broadcasters tell us is why they have joined the LibDems. Seems to have slipped their minds.

No prizes for guessing the subject on which Mr Peeno and Mr Majeed had lots to say at the meetings.

All they actually talked about wasn't Lebanon at all, but issues on how they could secure the nomination to be Labour candidates.

Today’s defections have nothing to do with what's happening in the Middle East and everything to do with a failed attempt to take over a local Labour Party.

But that's not such a good media story, is it?

Commoonicating with Cows

Couldn't resist checking out this week's 'silly season' theory suggesting that cows have regional accents.

I asked this cow what she thought, but was blanked out. Probably didn't help that she's a Scottish cow and quite frankly I might have been talking double-Dutch.

Must have been me Lincolnshire accent me duck.

Could cows with accents be silliest silly season story?

Could this win the prize for ‘silly season’ story of the year?

The headline writers at the Lincolnshire Echo had fun, coming up with: “Cows with Accents? It’s udderly ridiculous!”

The story begins:

“Farmers in Lincolnshire today claimed that cows can communicate their feelings by the tone of their moo….”

It goes on to talk about cows with regional accents and prize-winning classics such as:

"The phenomenon was noticed by members of the West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers Group,who put it down to the close bond between farmer and cow..."

Er, too much information for a family blog thank you.

Then there’s the Gainsborough farmer who doesn’t seem sure whether the whole thing is a wind-up, before getting into the spirit himself. He tells the Echo that his cows “have different moos depending upon their different moods.”

The good farmer says he’s never heard a cow with a regional accent, and anyway, his 200 diary cows are all bred on his farm so wouldn’t have different accents…

..Clearly proving the earlier point about close bonds.

And then this:

“You can certainly tell if a cow is happy or sad or if they are going to calve by the sound of their moo.”

So now we know how farmers tell that their cows are about to give birth.

Pull the udder one!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

No Sense driving on the footpath

Driving on the footpath is illegal, dangerous and down right rude. But I never cease to be amazed at who does it. The latest offender to bump up the kerbs on our street was none other than SENSE, the Deepings-based charity that campaigns for the rights of deafblind people.

Their mini-bus straddled the pavement right outside my front window on Church Street at lunchtime today. And for the next ten minutes, its engine belched out exhaust fumes while a young female helper queued for a sandwich in the bakery.

It was clearly obstructing the footpath which is regularly used by parents with push-chairs - as well as a local resident who is blind.

Ironically, the sign on the back doors of the SENSE minibus warns drivers to show courtesy to disabled people by not parking within three metres of their vehicle.
SENSE does an amazing job for deafblind people. I'm proud that Sense are based here in the Deepings - which is why I have a link to their website here.

I was delighted a couple of years ago to see their work firsthand when I visited their Deepings premises with former Member of the European Parliament, the late Phillip Whitehead. We were both in total awe of the work they achieve.

But campaigning for one person's rights while infringing someone else's is not on.

GCSE results: Investment bears fruit

Early indications show another bumper year for GCSE results out today across the country. Locally, Chris Beckett and his team at Deepings Comp are celebrating another record year with a big jump in the number of students achieving five grades between A* and C.

Don't listen to the merchants of doom and gloom who claim that exams have somehow been "dumbed down".

What we are witnessing here in the Deepings, across Lincolnshire and around the county, is the fruits of huge investment in schools in recent years, a determined drive to raise standards at every level with harder work by teachers and students, more accountability and much sharper focus on individual needs.

How things have changed since my school days!

Save Garth School campaign wins support

The campaign to save Garth Special School is quickly building momentum.

Today's Spalding Guardian HERE carries news that 2,000 people in Holbeach have already signed a petition and angry parents are appealing for more community support.

I met parents last night and will report here later.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Garth parents deserve better than this

Following the PR debacle over Garth Special School, I've made the following statement to the Spalding Guardian, calling on Cllr Patricia Bradwell to come clean with parents and staff:

“I hoped that Cllr Mrs Bradwell and the rest of the leadership at Lincolnshire County Council had learned lessons from the disgraceful chaos created last year when a shock hit-list of infant and junior schools earmarked for merger was leaked.

“Teachers, parents and community leaders were treated with contempt - at least one highly regarded head teacher quit in disgust - and elected members who made reasoned arguments against ill-thought out school closures were labelled rebel-rousers.

“When I heard concerns of Garth School parents, and Cllr Mrs Bradwell’s response in the Guardian, I thought ‘oh no, here we go again’.

“Sadly, Garth parents are right to be worried by the uncertainty fuelled by Cllr Mrs Bradwell’s behaviour.

“At Spalding Goodfellows School a couple of years ago, within weeks of a rumour starting that the school was to close, most parents children found other schools for their children, making the decision to close easy for the county council.

“But in Garth's case, the alternatives are much more limited and letting rumours fester on unchecked for another month is not acceptable.

“Cllr Mrs Bradwell needs to come clean now, face the parents and staff at Garth School without further delay and tell them exactly what is going on.

“She needs to make a full and frank statement to the Spalding Guardian now, so the whole community can know the truth.

“When you make decisions affecting the future of the most vulnerable children, parents and teachers deserve openness and honesty, not off-the-record secret chats with the press excluded.

“Our county council needs to make huge strides forward to repair the damage of the Speechley/Croft era. Treating council taxpayers with breath-taking arrogance does nothing to restore confidence and trust.”

Cllr Phil Dilks, Deeping St James (Lab), Shadow Executive Member for Children's Services on Lincolnshire County Council.

Green light at city bottleneck

Good news for frustrated drivers trying to get to Lincoln on the A15 from the south of the county.

Work was finally completed earlier today to replace corroded traffic lights at the bottom of Canwick Hill at the South Park junction which has long been a bottleneck.

There's been massive tailbacks and long delays over the past month.

But if the county council didn't do the job in August when traffic flows are lowest - holidays and no school-run - the jams could have been much worse!

Parents win MP support

Angry parents determined to save their special school have won the support of Tory MP John Hayes.

The South Holland and Deepings MP has requested an urgent meeting with Lincs County Council to find out what's happening.

The Spalding Guardian reports that John has pledged his "full support" to the newly formed Garth Action Group.

As Shadow Executive Member for Education, I've also been lobbied by the Garth parents.

Before commenting publicly, I wanted to know the facts. But I've drawn a blank on getting information on the issue. Two weeks ago I was promised a briefing from the county council's Head of Special Needs. I'm sure it's on the way.

Meanwhile GAG has launched the Save Garth School website HERE

To see the Guardian's story We won't let you close our school CLICK HERE

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tory schools boss tells angry parents: You've let me down

The Executive member under fire earlier this year for her handling of school closures is in hot water again with parents.

This time she has accused parents of special needs children of letting her down!

Patricia Bradwell hit the front page of this week's Spalding Guardian after pulling out of a meeting with parents at Garth Special School declaring: "They let me down."

Cllr Bradwell, in charge of primary schools on the all-Tory Executive at Lincolnshire County Council, had arranged to come to the south of the county for what she described as "a small chat" with parents at Garth School.

The parents were fired up by rumours that Garth Special School is under threat of closure and Cllr Bradwell no doubt hoped she could calm their anger.

But one of the parents upset her by inviting the Spalding Guardian. The paper's reporter offered to wait outside and ask Trisha for a quick comment after the meeting.

But Cllr Bradwell said no, pulled out of the meeting, and accused the parents of letting her down.

Talk about oil on troubled waters...

Click HERE to read this week's Spalding Guardian story

Dognapping in Deeping!

Lock up your dogs! Local builder Stuart McCabe has just reported on the DSJ Exchange site that two Jack Russells were taken from outside his farmhouse on Deeping Fen on Sunday.

There's a link to at the foot of my blog....hopefully!

Tea or coffee?

Two tasty beverages culled from BBC FiveLive's mid-day news today:

1. News story on rise coffee prices. But don't worry, we're told, on average the cost of the beans in a cup served up by coffee houses is...just five per cent of the price we pay!

Presumably we're paying 95 per cent for the froth.

2. News on a British Army officer serving in Basra who has been sent a year's supply of fine teas by Fortnum & Mason's after writing to complain that troops couldn't get a decent brew in Iraq. The soldier's name...? Captain Lipton.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Red-faced Tories promise to be greener

The red-faced Tory leadership at Lincs County Council have promised to become greener after my story on the rocketing mileage bill.

The Stamford Mercury managed to extract a promise from Councillor Nick Carter, a member of the all-Tory Executive, that the council will become more environmentally friendly.

I hope it's more than empty words.

Cllr Carter says work is underway to improve the council's computer network and video conferencing and webcasting will reduce the need for travel.

He told the Mercury: "I would want explanations if the bill continued to rise."

It's a start and hopefully the story has helped focus the issue. But I think Cllr Carter should say why the annual mileage bill has already risen by almost a million in the past two years.

Sorry, I can't provide a link to the Mercury story as it does not appear on their website. I only managed to get a hard copy of Friday's Mercury yesterday from Tesco's after it had sold out in my local newsagents - probably due to the spectacular front page picture of a tornado hitting Baston.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Not my idea of a tight ship...

The monthly propaganda sheet put out by Lincolnshire County Council claimed last March that the ship had never been tighter.

Oh yeah?

Why then has business travel by officers and elected members shot up by almost a million miles over the past two years.

As the Lincolnshire Echo pointed out, the annual miles covered by the council is equivalent of going to the moon and back - 15 times.

I invite Council Leader Martin Hill - or any of his top Tory team - to leave a comment here to explain to Lincolnshire council taxpayers what's gone wrong.

Question Time?

Just spotted Boston Grammar School for Boys in The Times table of all state schools, some way below Deepings Comprehensive.

When an all-comers Comprehensive that loses some of its most gifted potential students to the 11-plus achieves better "A" levels than a selective Grammar School, isn't it time to ask questions?

Deepings Comprehensive is one of nation's top 100

The Deepings School is one of the top 100 Comprehensives in national league tables of "A" level results.

The Guardian national newspaper places Deepings Comp 88th against Comprehensives right across the country HERE scoring an average 317 points per student.

Considering the vast majority of schools are Comprehensive, coming in the top hundred is no mean achievement.

Meanwhile, in The Times combined list of Grammar and Comprehensives, HERE, Bourne Grammar is 151st, scoring an average of 315.8 points per student.

In the same table, Deepings is 350th with 270.3 points per student.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A grades against the odds

Following my rant yesterday (see 'What buys a Uni place'), I was delighted that the Stamford Mercury proved me wrong in their "A" level results coverage by highlighting two astonishing stories of real achievement.

First there is Jemma Clarke HERE who gave birth during her studies at Robert Manning School in Bourne. She battled on to complete her "A" levels despite further setbacks of sleepless nights and endless trips to hospital with her baby who eventually needed an operation.

Then, when baby was six months old, her boyfriend was sent to prison.

Jemma overcame every setback thrown at her and has been rewarded with A grades in all her subjects. Now she's off to the University of the Arts in London.

Then there is Nigel Mabvuure HERE also celebrating A grades in all his subjects taken at Rutland College after arriving in this country from his native Zimbabwe just two years ago.

But get this: every day after finishing school, Nigel did a three hour shift at a local a supermarket before going home to revise from 11pm to 2am...

Nigel is hoping to study medicine at Imperial College, London.

Thanks to the Mercury for two wonderfully inspiring stories of achievement against the odds.

Lincs County Council drives 20,000 miles - every day

The Spalding Guardian has picked up on my call for action to stem the spiralling mileage driven by officers and elected members at Lincolnshire County Council. HERE

The Guardian calculates the mileage travelled on official business for the County Council is almost 20,000 miles EVERY day.

Of course, Lincolnshire is a big, rural county. But the number of miles driven is soaring out of control and needs urgently gripping.

We have to remember who's picking up the £3.3 million tab each year - the council taxpayers of Lincolnshire.

And as the biggest employers in Lincolnshire, we have to set a better example. No-one will listen to the county council bleating on about saving the environment if we can't get our own house in order.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Another Lincs soldier shot at dawn

Private Kirman was not the only soldier of the Lincolnshire Regiment to be executed for cowardice in the First World War (see my blog yesterday).

I've been surfing the net and found the tragic story of another Private soldier, 20-year-old George Collins HERE

The account does not say which part of our county Collins was from. He was serving with the First Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment in November 1914 when he disappeared after getting completely drunk while preparing for the trenches.

When caught, his trial lasted 15 minutes. He was not represented and he was sentenced to death.

The day after his execution, the Adjutant General, General Headquarters, circulated a memorandum giving reasons for agreeing to death sentences.

Ironically, The Adjutant General said:

"The Commander-in-Chief wishes to be assured that a good fighting man is not shot for absence arising out of (for example) a drunken spree."

So even by the draconian rules of the day, Collins never should have faced the firing squad.

But the real disgrace is that it has taken more than 90 years for Private Collins - and 300 other Tommies who faced the firing squad - to be offered an official pardon.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

What buys a Uni place?

No doubt tomorrow's Stamford Mercury and Bourne Local will focus on the high-fliers who have been awarded a hatful of "A stars" for their efforts.

Every teenager who has worked hard to achieve their potential deserves our congratulations, regardless of whether they studied in Stamford, Bourne or Deepings.

In Lincolnshire, the odds are stacked against Comprehensives. Schools like Deepings - and the excellent Robert Manning at Bourne - don't cream off the brightest eleven year olds as Bourne Grammar or Stamford Endowed Schools do.

Deepings School of course accepts all-comers with no entrance exam.

So when you compare the results from schools in our area, remember that some of the brightest 11-year-olds who live in the Deepings are selected for places at Bourne Grammar.

That process has to lower the average ability of any cohort of 11-year-olds at Deepings School.

I wonder how many teenagers who would have failed the 11-plus are today celebrating success at passing their "A" levels?

I'd be interested in taking a sample of students with identical "A" level results and comparing their University placements.

What difference, if any, does it make if you achieved your "A stars" at:

1. a true Comprehensive like Deepings,
2. a state Grammar School like Bourne or
3. a private Grammar School such as Stamford Endowed Schools (er, private but subsidised by the public!).

Do individual results count, or do old school ties still buy red-brick University places?

Just a thought...

Deepings "A" Team

Excellent news from today's "A" level results at The Deepings School with every student achieving a pass rate in 24 out of the 30 subjects taken.

Without General Studies, a subject most Universities ignore when allocating places, overall Deepings School results are:
98% pass rate.
21% at grade A.
70% at A-C.
Average points score per pupil 317.

With General Studies included, Deepings results are:
96% pass rate.
17% at grade A.
62% at A-C.
Average points score per pupil 270.

I'm grateful to Chris Beckett for the information. Chris has just completed his first year as Head of Deepings School and it is clear that under his leadership, our local school will continue to do us all proud.

Celebrating "A" level results

Just popped over to the house of a teenage neighbour to see how he fared with his GCE "A" level results which are out today.

He's chuffed to bits with his two A grades and one B: his well-earned passport to the University place he's been promised subject to today's results and a credit to Deepings Comprehensive School where my own two daughters were taught before they both trained to become teachers.

No doubt there'll be the usual doom mongers who explain ever improving results by saying exams are being dumbed down.

That's an insult to every young person - and their teachers.

The fact is children and teachers work harder and more effectively and deliver education more focused on individual needs than just a few years ago.

Standards are certainly far higher than when I left a so-called Secondary Modern School in the sixties with a couple of "O" levels.

Lincs Soldier Shot at Dawn

Lincolnshire men are among the First World War soldiers given formal pardons this week by the Government, 90 years after being shot at dawn.

Private Charles Kirman of the Lincolnshire Regiment was executed for going absent without leave - yet he had previously fought in two of bloodiest battles of the War - Mons and The Somme.

Pte Kirman was from Fulstow near Louth. He was 32 when he was shot on 23 September 1917. He'd been called up to fight in 1914, after previously leaving the army after nine years' service.

During the war he was injured several times - including at the Somme - and sent home to recuperate.

But back in the trenches, one day in September 1917, he felt he could not take any more and went absent.

After just two days he handed himself in to the military police but was court martialled and shot at dawn as an example to others.

Some say that the Labour Government are attempting to re-write history by giving more than 300 soldiers formal pardons after almost a century.

It's not re-writing history. Merely closing an unfinished chapter.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Rugby Boot Sale

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Deepings Raft Weekend

Best of luck to the organisers of Deepings Raft Race for their tenth event this weekend.

The annual Raft Race has become established as the biggest event of its kind in Britain over the past ten years.

It's a great annual event which attracts hundreds of visitors for a great day out in the Deepings.

As well as putting Deeping on the map, the event has raised thousands of pounds for local good causes - this year Age Concern is the main beneficiary.

Fingers crossed for good weather, particularly for the main event on the river on Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

To the moon and back – 15 times

I worked it out to 290 times around the earth.

But the Lincolnshire Echo prefered to express the over seven million miles of journeys claimed by our county council in terms of To the moon and back - 15 times.

Whichever way you express it, seven million miles travelled on official business by our county council officers and councillors is almost a million more than they claimed just two years ago.

Of course, Lincolnshire is a big, rural county, but it hasn't got any bigger in the past two years and I have not heard anything to justify such a huge increase.

Even the Executive councillor responsible Nick Carter agrees that the massive rate of rise is simply not sustainable.

The Echo splash their front page tonight with the story - complete with huge graphic of the moon!

And on for those interested in the financial costs (ie, all of us who pay the bill!) the follow up on page 2 with: Taxpayers forking out £3.3 million for staff travel.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

290 times round the world: council expenses exposed

I'm demanding urgent action after discovering that Lincolnshire County Council employees and councillors clocked up enough miles on the rates last year to drive a staggering 290 times around the globe.

The 7.2 million miles driven last year by council employees and councillors on official county council business has shot up by almost a million in just two years – the increase alone is enough to drive an additional fleet of 34 cars around the earth.

The shock statistics had to be forced out of the council in response to a question from an Opposition Labour councillor - just weeks after the ruling Tories banned written questions at meetings.

I believe we must get an urgent grip on this mileage bill which has been allowed to spiral out of control, costing the tax payer hundreds of thousands of pounds extra and causing countless damage to the environment.

The biggest shock is that mileage has gone up by almost a million miles in just two years from 6.3 million to 7.2 million miles yet no-one seemed to know or care until the Labour group asked the right questions.

It’s a sign of how our council is run that these shocking figures only came to light thanks to a written question from a Labour councillor. The Tories may have shamefully banned printing such questions and answers in official council papers – but the people of Lincolnshire who pay the bills deserve to know the truth about how their money is spent.

The question was posed by my colleague in Lincoln, Lindsey Cawrey who is Chair of the Council’s Environmental Well Being Scrutiny Panel.

She said today: “These shock figures demonstrate why we need urgent action at all levels at the county council.

“At the last full Council meeting, the Tories refused to accept a Labour motion calling for the Council to set targets for each directorate to reduce energy use.

“Instead, they passed a long-winded resolution more concerned with scoring political points and attacking Government energy policy.”

“Responsibility for reducing energy consumption starts at the top and we need to be setting a better example.

Question from Councillor Lindsey Cawrey to the Portfolio Holder for Resources

Can you provide information please on the number of car miles travelled and claimed as an expense by County Council members and Officers on official business in each of the last three financial years.

Could you also say what efforts are being made to reduce the number of car miles travelled on official business.

Answer by Councillor Nick Carter

I am not aware, to date, of any official efforts to reduce work mileage. However, the formation of the Sustainable Communities Department and our commitment to reduce carbon emissions via the Carbon trust has highlighted this issue and the need to address the increasing mileage.

To make significant changes will require changes in HR policies as well as attitudes to travel. There could also be capital costs if we decided to use video-conferencing, pool cars etc.

There needs to be a detailed study into all these issues as rises of approx. 500,000 miles per year are obviously not sustainable.

Lincolnshire County Council
Annual Mileage Figures

Financial Year April 2003 – March 2004

County Councillors : 282,230 miles
LCC employees : 6,098,802

Annual total : 6,381,1032

Financial Year April 2004 – March 2005

County Councillors : 253,296 miles
LCC employees : 6,493,259 miles

Annual total : 6,746,555 miles

Financial Year April 2005 – March 2006

County Councillors : 302,582 miles
LCC employees : 6,931,022 miles

Annual total : 7,233,604 miles

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

John Kettley is a weatherman...who lives in Lincs

The man who was made a legend in the hit song
John Kettley is a Weatherman
has moved his family to live in Lincolnshire.

He was interviewed on BBC Look North tonight when he revealed that he now lives in a Lincolnshire village.

John's a Yorkshireman, who made his mark as a BBC TV weatherman based in Nottingham in the eighties.

He became a household name when a pop song about obscure "C" list celebrities made the charts in 1988 for an even more obscure group called "A Tribe of Toffs"

Apparently, John now does a regular turn as a BBC Radio Lincolnshire presenter. If you don't believe me, tune into 94.9fm tomorrow morning at 9.30am. Posted by Picasa

Money machines in church?

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Cash machines could be installed in local churches - like our very own Priory Church in DSJ - if clergy take up an idea by the Arch Deacon of Lincoln.

The Venerable Arthur Hawes has suggested in BBC interview that installing ATM - hole in the wall - machines would help increase usage of churches.

Puts a new meaning on collections in church.

SKDC invest in Grantham

Grantham based South Kesteven District Council took another step this week towards achieving its priority of making Grantham a sub-regional centre (see my blog last week on Grantham: centre of our Universe).

According to the Grantham Journal, SKDC has given itself planning permission to build a £2 million multi-storey car park in the town.

HatTip to the excellent Bourne Forum site run by former journalist Rex Needle.

Strangely, I can't find anything about it on SKDC's own website, so can't say how the project is being funded. But the artist's impression has SKDC's logo emblazoned on the side of the car park.

Doesn't it make you proud to be an SKDC council taxpayer?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Sat Navs: Leave no trace

As one of the few motorists still on the road without the latest SatNav gadgetry attached to the windscreen of my car, I'm unlikely to be victim of the latest wave of thefts.

Local police are warning motorists with SatNavs to leave no trace of them when they leave their car after eight attempted thefts in recent weeks in the Deepings, Bourne and Stamford area.

Only recently, police were warning us to take the SatNav out of the car when parking up.

Now the villains are apparently targetting cars with SatNav cradles still in the window (even if you've taken the SatNav with you, a hot cradle will make a thief £20 on the black market).

Police are now telling local motorists to even remove the mark on the windscreen left by the suction pad when the cradle is taken out and which is a tell-tale sign to the thieves

The good news is that local police have arrested an 18-year-old who has been remanded to prison.

The thieves can't nick my SatNav because I don't have one. But when they came snooping round my driveway a few weeks ago, the thieves didn't just taking what was inside my car - they nicked the entire vehicle!

County Council first to podcast

Lincolnshire County Council is claiming a world technology first today.

They say they have world's first government website to provide podcasts of the latest news, events and job opportunities.

The podcasts automatically download audio to subscriber's media players - PCs, laptops, PDAs, mp3s or even mobile phones.

Haven't tried it out myself yet - it all looks a bit daunting for my luddite-like knowledge of technology - but I welcome any new ways of increasing communications between taxpayers and those who make the decisios that affect our daily lives.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

PrayerWatch the Cartoon

It only had to be a matter of time before the cartoonists such as this one joined in the PrayerWatch fun.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Never mind the facts, look at the headlines!

They say that a lie can be half way round the world while the truth is still lacing up its boots.

And the headline writers at newsdesks around the world are proving the old saying correct by having a ball with the "PrayerWatch" story, which wrongly suggests that Lincolnshire Police are calling on God to help solve crime.

Truth is (see my blog yesterday on the subject) the police have not asked the clergy to pray to cut crime. But since when did the media let the facts get in the way of a cracking headline...?

Here's a few of my favourites:

The London Times thunders:
Police enlist the power of prayer

While the Daily Telegraph informs its readers:
Let us pray to solve crime, say police
A rural police constabulary is calling on the ultimate special constable to help in its fight against crime: God.

The Guardian tells its followers:
Policing on a Prayer

The Yorkshire Post hails:
They've tried everything else but now police have turned to the power of prayer as their latest crime fighting tool against vandals and thieves.

Around the world, the headline writers have also joined in their fun:

The Edmonton Journal in Canada came up with:
Officer, how can we catch criminals? Err, let us pray

The Mumbai Mirror in India says:
Cops in Lincolnshire are turning to the power of prayers to nab criminals

New Zealanders read:
Cops pray for help catching crooks

Aussies are fed with:
Dear Lord, please help cops catch crooks

South Africans reading the SA Independent see:
A lower crime rate? Amen to that, say police

And Malaysians are served up with:
Dear Lord, please help cops
catch crooks. Amen

But our very own Daily Mail, always desperate to score a political point or ten, takes the biscuit for this offering:

With fewer than one in 10 burglaries being solved, the reign of law seems to be fading fast in Lincolnshire. So the police are turning to the power of prayer instead.

Priceless. But way off beam.

Truth is crime in Lincolnshire, particularly burlaries, has been consistently cut over the past few years.

And that's due to hard work by the record number of police we now have on the streets of Lincolnshire - ably assisted by the ranks of police community support officers.

But you won't read that in the Mail.

The truth doesn't fit their agenda.

Lincs Police, God and the silly season

Lincolnshire Police are not amused with media reports flashed around the world over the past 24 hours to the effect that they are resorting to prayer to catch criminals.

It all started with this report in the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper two nights ago (click on my blog headline to see the report).

As you can (hopefully) see, the Echo splashed the story with a banner headline: Police ask God for help

The story began: Christian police officers want to harness the power of God to fight crime.

The Echo even ran a reader's poll, illustrated with a crucifix - posing the question: Does crime pray?


Within hours of the Echo appearing, the regional, national and even international media were having a field day.

First I knew about it was a rather bizarre telephone call from the London-based free commuter's paper, the Metro. A rather over-excited scribbler said he was contacting me as a member of Lincolnshire Police Authority and wanted to know what I thought to the "plan to use God to catch criminals"

Sounded like one of those strange wind-up calls to me, so I duly referred the gentleman to Lincolnshire Police press office!

By yesterday afternoon, the story was growing legs of its own and getting bigger and bigger.

Lincolnshire Police thought it wise to put out a statement in an attempt to calm things down. The police claimed the original Echo headline was both misleading and unhelpful.

So what's the truth?

Lincolnshire Police are looking at how to better engage all sections of the increasingly diverse community within the county. And Prayerwatch, as it's been dubbed, is just one idea to improve links with different religious faiths across the county.

The idea is to pass information through church congregations, with the aim of giving crime prevention advice and preventing people and organisations from becoming victims.

Sounds reasonable to me...but is it using God to catch criminals? Er, no.

"At no time have we called on the population of Lincolnshire to pray for a reduction in crime or anti-social behaviour," says the police statement.

August is known as the media "silly season" due to lack of real news with half the country away on holiday.

Now Lincolnshire Police knows why!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Deepings News Service Resumes...

Deepings News is back online after being wiped out earlier in the week (see my blog below 'War declared over Deepings News).

Roy Dennis pulled the plug on his service in a row over who owned copyright to photos on the site. He declared that his seven years hard work was destroyed in an instant.

If you go to

you'll see that normal service appears to have been resumed.

As Samantha at

points out, seven years work has apparently been recreated just as quickly as it was 'destroyed'.

Isn't technology wonderful!