Friday, 31 December 2010

ACT NOW forges ahead

Readers of my Facebook page will note that I have changed my profile picture to include the ACT NOW logo. ACT stands for Autism Campaigners Together.

A group of seven from across the country set up ACT NOW as a pressure group to improve the well-being of people with autism and their carers. Working in a voluntary capacity they published an excellent Impact Assessment Report, launched it at a conference in London and delivered a petition with 6,000 signatories to 10 Downing Street.

ACT NOW currently is engaged in a mammoth task - drawing together information on cuts being made by local authorities and NHS trusts to services which relate to autism. 

ACT NOW is engaged also in opposing the changes being made by the Department of Work and Pensions which impact on those with autism and also the problems that cuts in Legal Aid will bring when appealing against decisions by statutory bodies.

All this has been done at the personal expense of the Founders of ACT NOW.

Much needs to be done, not  least campaigning against the woolly guidance issued by the Department of Health to local authorities and NHS organisations to support implementation of the autism strategy.

Have a look at the ACT NOW pages on Facebook and please feel free to join the campaign

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Who is running the Council?

Tunbridge Wells has a lame-duck Leader. Councillor Roy Bullock has lost a vote of confidence and the Conservative Group is meeting in January to elect a new Leader.  As many as seven candidates have been mentioned and it may be that the Leader will stand.  The new Leader will be voted for at the next full Council meeting in February.

The Cabinet has been one member short for some time.  There is a vacancy for the Policy & Partnerships portfolio.  The post was held by Cllr Frank Williams who has declined to say if he resigned or was pushed.

The Deputy-Leader of the Council has resigned.

All this at a time when the Council should be concentrating on where it will make cuts in next year's budget. Instead we have intrigue within the Conservative Group. One councillor, who is the chairman of the Conservative Group has been de-selected for supporting the Leader, another is under threat of expulsion/suspension from the Group.

The Borough of Tunbridge Wells is not being served by its Tory councillors who are more concerned with navel gazing and jockeying for position.  Is it too much to hope that the electorate will give its thumbs down to this fiasco next May?  I fear it is, if the Sherwood  Ward by-election result is anything to go  by.

The Borough is at a crossroads: will it go down the nostalgia route as the Aspic brigade wishes?  Or will it go down the Modernisers route which believes that without change the Borough (and the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in particular) will suffer major economic decline.

The irony is that the current Leader made the correct diagnosis but failed to communicate with the electorate. His downfall will play into the hands of the Aspic brigade unless the Conservative Group understands that policy and communication must not be conflated.  Sadly the electorate sits on the touchline as the battle is fought out within the Conservative Group.  Which route will the Borough go down after the Leadership election in February?  Who knows, your guess is as good as mine.

Oops a daisy!!

Rosemary is forever telling me to be careful as I walk to and from work in the snow.  Then what does she go and do?  On Christmas Eve morning she slips on ice and breaks her hip. Ambulance takes her to hospital and she has an operation on Christmas Day!  Some present.

The good news is that she is able to sit on a cbair and take a few faltering steps with a zimmer.

We have postponed Christmas.  The turkey is in the freezer, cards and presents are unopened.

My thanks to the many well-wishers and those who have visited her in hospital.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The future of the town is at stake.

Roy Bullock has suffered a further setback as  Leader of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.  The Conservative Group has ratified the decision of no confidence. However he remains Leader until the new one is voted in at the next meeting of the council.

Will he stand as a candidate when the Conservative Group meets to elect a person to put forward to the Council as the next Leader?  Press reports indicate that there could be up to seven candidates.  Should Roy join the hustings then, if the election is by the first past the post method, he might even win if those opposed to him split their votes.

Whom the next Leader of the council is is of immense importance.  Not only does the Leader select his/her cabinet, but also sets the 'tone' of the administration.  Not only that, the new Leader may have the ear of those opposed to any redevelopment of the town centre 'The Aspics' or of those who wish to secure the long-term economic and social well-being of the borough: 'The Modernisers'. For my part, I fall into the latter group.

There is a lot at stake but sadly the decision on the new Leader will be made behind closed doors.  The citizens will be in the street pressing their noses against the windows, whilst inside the decisions are being taken.  I have to say that I have little confidence in the runners and riders so far announced.

Under the Labour government local authorities had to meet many targets and spend ring-fenced money.  They were little more than agents of central government.  Under the Conservatives targets for the most part have been scrapped and ring-fencing abolished.  This will give far more discretion to local authorities. 

It is indeed ironic that the town's MP Greg Clark, has been at the forefront of the localism agenda. The future direction of the borough will be decided by the choice of Leader, yet we, the electorate, whom councillors are supposed to serve are frozen out of the debate as to what that future should be.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Groucho Marx: political comment, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

The following reputedly was said by Groucho Marx:

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies."

Now why was it that when I read the quotation I thought immediately of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and the civic complex?

Maybe some of the members of the Cabinet in Tunbridge Wells see the wisdom of another statement attributed to him:

"I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me as a member."

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Proposed Rusthall Parish Council: Asset or Albatross

Some anxiety for those pushing for a parish council that there has not been a rush to participate in the second stage of consultation.  Letters to the local press indicate that there is some opposition to the creation of a parish council for Rusthall.  Nevertheless I expect one will be created as it fits the current government's localism agenda and it is intended to give parish councils greater powers.

In the local press this week there is a report of  a Rusthall councillor on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council stating that the costs of Christmas lights in Rusthall could be met next year by the parish council precept.  Could they now. What other bright ideas has councillor Edwards for lumbering Rusthall residents with expenditure?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Tunbridge Wells' Battles

Across Tunbridge Wells battle lines have been drawn, hostilities have broken out and there is no clear picture as to where it will all end.  Chaotic sums up the position.

The origin of the current problems is in the town hall.  A number of difficult and, to some, unacceptable decisions were taken: demolition of the Calverley Grounds bandstand, closure of the tourist information centre and moving operations to the Gateway, the abortive bids for the former Odean cinema and Land Registry sites and the associated funding, closure and potential future use of the Cranbrook council offices  and the formation of the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company (TWRC). Opposition to these decisions has come from a number of sources including members of the ruling Conservative group, the Liberal Democrats and leading members of the Civic Society (although maybe not from the Society itself).

The main accusation made against the Council is one of secrecy and thereby failure to undertake appropriate consultation. It has to be said, the Council could and should have done much better. 

The flash point for the current imbroglio was the decision by the Council (or TWRC) to consider the future of the civic complex in the heart of the town.

For those of you who do not know Tunbridge Wells, the civic complex is a set of buildings within which are housed the council offices, library, museum, assembly hall (theatre), police station and the adult education centre. 

Proposals for the civic centre complex are to be developed by TWRC and in recent months rumours were  rife that the Council had decided to move and was planning demolition of the civic complex. There is an alliance of Liberal Democrats and leading Civic Society members which unfortunately or deliberately has conflated two issues, namely: the process of consultation on the future of the civic complex site and what in fact should happen on the site.

The 'save the civic centre complex' party has made the running so far, but there has been a reaction from people concerned about the future economic prosperity of the town. One individual stated in the local press that the town runs the risk of becoming a creche for the post World War 11 baby-boomers. The Civic Society (or Aspic Society as I dubbed it in the 1990s) is perceived as seeking to preserve the town for the benefit of a few, rather than grasp the need for change.  It has been pointed out (as far back as the late 1990s by the current Deputy Leader of Kent County Council) that the West Kent economy is fragile.  There are suggestions that the Society is distancing itself from the statements of some of its members.  So, a  battle line has been drawn between those who wish to conserve and those who are progressive. What is at stake is the future economic well-being of the town.

Within the Conservative Group on the Council there is a battle for the position of Leader of the Council. How much of this relates to the issues of consultation and the future of the local economy and how much of it is driven by a desire of some for political revenge or political advancement is unknown. However, what is becoming apparent is that the Group is realising that prostrating themselves before the 'save the civic centre complex' party does not make political sense.

The third battle line is between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who view each other with loathing.  Clearly, in my opinion, the Conservatives have made a mess of the consultation process and the Liberal Democrats have been correct is their criticism. However, as this matter has been conflated with the 'save the civic complex' issue, the Liberal Democrats run the risk of being wrong-footed on their response to the economic issues facing the town. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

Town Hall Blues

The turmoil within the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council continues.  Details are spread across two pages of the local newspaper.  How much is hard fact is difficult to gauge.  It is reported that:

  • The Group split down the middle on the vote on no confidence in the Leader.  The paper understands the majority was one.
  • Ratification of the decision at a meeting of the Group next Monday is uncertain. There is a move to suspend a councillor from the Group for allegedly breaching Group rules by failing to support Tory policy and for leaking information.
  • The Conservative Mayor is quoted as saying that in his twenty years on the council he has never known it to be so fractured.  The Liberal Democrat Group when it controlled the Council had its fair share of splits and factions, so if it worse than that it must be very bad indeed.
  • Two councillors have indicated they will stand should the vote go against the Leader on Monday. One is Councillor Atwood who, as mentioned before in this blog, is ambitious and has a high regard for his own abilities.
This is a sorry mess.  Under the present constitution the Leader of the Council is decided by the members of the majority group. The Leader selects members of the Cabinet.  All this is done behind closed doors.

How much better if the people had a say in whom the leader should be.  Tunbridge Wells should have an elected mayor as leader, elected by the whole electorate.  The town's MP, Greg Clark, is a minister in the Local Government Department.  The Department is pushing a bill through Parliament for elected mayors in a number of cities.  The shambles in his own back yard should encourage him to put forward legislative proposals for directly elected mayors in all first and second tier local authorities.

Sherwood Ward election result

So, the Conservative candidate held the seat for the Tories with 47.6% of the votes (422). The  Liberal Democrats came second with 174 votes followed by Labour (124), UKIP (92) and English Democrats (75)  Turnout was 18.6% which, given the weather was wet and very cold, is not surprising.

Low turnout usually favours the Tories in Tunbridge Wells, particularly as they are reputed to have the best postal vote organisation.  However, given the turmoil the party is in Tunbridge Wells over de-selection of candidates and a vote of no confidence in the council leader by Conservative councillors they did well to hold the seat with a big majority.  The Conservative candidate castigated the Council for being 'arrogant' in its handling of proposals for the regeneration of Sherwood.

The Liberal Democrats did reasonably well as did Labour given the traumas in both parties nationally.

The surprise was 8.4% of the poll going to the English Democrats contesting their first ever seat in Tunbridge Wells.  The ED candidate has a long history of successful community activism which undoubtedly helped the party's showing in the poll.  

UKIP has fought this seat before and made no progress.

Overall, the Tories will be pleased to have held the seat with a very comfortable majority and  the English Democrats will be happy with their share of the poll.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats were not humiliated but have a lot of work to do if they hope to win the seat at the May 2011 election.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Church in Society: will it arise like Lazarus?

The avid reader of this blog will recall my venting my ire at the Church of England Rochester Diocese for closing Church in Society earlier this year.  I never received a response to my e-mails to the Bishop of Tonbridge on the subject.

The new Bishop of Rochester informs us that his major interests are in matters of justice and social housing.  How he intends to exercise this ministry we have yet to be told, but there is talk of partnerships.

Will Church is Society arise as did Lazarus?  The  sheer stupidity of those responsible for the demise of Church in Society will become apparent as the church seeks to mitigate the effects of government cuts on the vulnerable in the diocese.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Interesting By-election in Sherwood

Next Thursday is election day in the Sherwood Ward by-election in Tunbridge Wells. The seat was for a number of years a safe Labour seat, prior to that the electorate succeeded in voting in a Conservative, a Labour candidate and a Liberal Democrat.

Following a borough-wide revision of ward boundaries Sherwood became a relatively safe Conservative seat and in the normal course of events the Conservatives would be expected to hold the seat which is vacant following the death of a councillor.

However, we are not in 'normal' times.  The Coalition parties are coming under pressure as the effects of the Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review begin to trickle through.  The Liberal Democrats have had a bad press over the tuition fees 'broken pledge'.  Labour is suffering as it seeks to shake off the albatross of the Brown government and also the problem of a new Leader who so far has failed to make any impact.

Nevertheless, I would have expected the Conservatives to hold the seat, particularly as they have organised postal votes better than the other major parties.

UKIP is fielding a candidate but has not made much impression at previous elections.  The new kid on the block is the English Democrat party which is fielding a well known local community activist whom I imagine will secure a goodly number of personal votes.

The recent divisions in the Conservative Party in Tunbridge Wells has, in my opinion, thrown the election wide-open. The selection process for Conservative candidates at next May's elections has proved to be divisive.  It is reported that one councillor was deselected because he supported the Council Leader!  Put it another way - party loyalty was not a deciding factor.

This week, the Conservative Group on the Council passed a resolution expressing no confidence in the Leader of the Council.  The Leader has not resigned, so presumably he will remain Leader unless he loses a confidence vote at a full Council meeting.  The Conservative candidate in Sherwood seems to be distancing himself from the Leader.

The shambles will no doubt exercise the minds of the electors of Sherwood when they vote next Thursday or post their ballot papers.  To  whom will disaffected Tories  turn, or will they refuse to vote?  My very informal soundings in Sherwood suggest that the Liberal Democrats and the English Democrats will be the main beneficiaries and UKIP will pick up a few votes.  Labour will be fighting hard to maintain its 'core' vote and has a strong candidate who is a former Labour councillor for Sherwood.

Too close to call?

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The worm has turned.

So, the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has passed a vote of no confidence in the Leader of the Council. What we don't know is the name of the proposer of the resolution.  We do not know how many voted for or against the resolution or for that matter abstained.

What happens next? The press report states that Roy Bullock has not stood down as Leader.  Should he refuse to do so what is the process to remove him?  I assume the Tory Group will elect a new Leader and that the next steps will be for a vote of no confidence at a full Council meeting followed by the full Council electing a new Leader?

What has surprised me is that it has taken the Tories so long to do what has been obvious for months, that Roy Bullock has become an electoral liability, and has to go.  The Tories nationally are renowned for being ruthless in disposing of unwanted leaders.

Tunbridge Wells civic buildings

The majority Conservative group on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has got itself into 'a right old state' over the future of the civic buildings in Tunbridge Wells. The deep divisions were highlighted at the recent special Council meetings.  There is ferment in the local Conservative association: news of moves to de-select sitting councillors has spread across the pages of Facebook.

An unholy alliance of Liberal Democrats and the Civic Society has been making hay, mostly as a consequence of the deplorable failure of the Council to communicate what it is doing or planning to do in regard to the civic complex.  The Council has made other mistakes - the demolition of the Calverley Grounds bandstand, the abortive bids for the old cinema site and the former Land Registry building and the re-location of the tourist information bureau to the Gateway.  Add the Leader of the Council's description of the residents of the borough: natives - and it is obvious there has been a breakdown in communication with and response to the concerns of the public. Why is this? Has it anything to do with the fact that the Conservatives have  a huge majority on the Council and therefore feel immune from criticism?

The Council has stated that should re-development go ahead there will be a replacement for the Assembly Hall, the library & museum and the police station.  How can this be afforded?

I do not doubt that the Council could be housed in smaller premises, particularly if joint working  with other councils and outsourcing of services continues. Should the Council go down the path being cleared by Suffolk County Council which it is reported is seeking to outsource virtually all its services, then the Council would require far smaller premises.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Magnificent Display

A magnificent display by England to win the second test against Australia.  Time to crow, but only for a few days. Next stop Perth.  The Aussies may be down, but they are not out...yet.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snow, snow and more snow

Amazing the problems a bit of the white stuff causes.  Roads blocked, trains stopped, airports closed and horror of horrors the newspapers did not get through!  At least the power lines are not down.