Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Approved Candidates List

I am now on the Approved Candidates List for local elections.  Who knows, I may appear on the hustings.

Monday, 29 August 2011

For a moment I thought........................

When I read the following I thought, for a moment, that it referred to the Town Hall in Tunbridge Wells.

..........it has always struggled to be a good quality modern office as the combination of listed features and the old layout meant the working space was split up into too many smallish offices on different floors, hindering people working together effectively in teams.

However, the words are taken from a Liberal Democrat website and explain why the party is  moving its head office.  Premises have to be fit for purpose.  Let us hope the Liberal Democrats locally apply the same analysis as their national colleagues when considering the future of the Town Hall. Mind you, not holding my breath.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Advice spurned

Facebook has introduced a feature which publishes 'Status' comments made one year previously. Today the following came up:

From 27 August 2010: The Tory Cabinet controlling Tunbridge Wells Borough Council gives the impression of being intent on upsetting the citizens of the Borough. Is it hubris or a death-wish? Much of the population's ire currently focuses on the future of the Town Hall and adjacent properties. The Cabinet should keep the comment of Dennis Healey in mind: when in a hole stop digging. 

My advice was spurned.  The then Leader of the Council, Roy Bullock, has since  been removed as Leader, de-selected as a borough councillor and was later suspended by the Conservative Party.

Tracy Moore, the then cabinet portfolio holder for economic development  lost her cabinet position when the new Leader appointed his cabinet. She is standing down at the elections in May 2012 and informed the local press that she is disappointed that the Conservative Association will not allow her to stand in the ward where she now lives (Park).  Currently she is a councillor for St John's.

The problem was that instead of stopping digging they brought in more excavation equipment.

The Odeon Cinema Site, Tunbridge Wells

In 2000 I retired as a Tunbridge Wells councillor and in the same year the Odeon cinema closed its doors. The shops on two sides of the cinema closed later and the whole site became derelict.  It is derelict to this day.

It is a prime site in Royal Tunbridge Wells, opposite the Town Hall and at the crossroads of main thoroughfares.

Since 2000 the site has been sold three times.  The latest purchaser states that it is intended to develop the site broadly in accordance with the current planning consent, namely an hotel, shops and a car park.  Interesting word 'broadly'. Cards are being clasped close to the chest. 

This latest turn in the Odeon saga has been greeted with tired resignation, after all, we have been furnished with grand plans before.

The Borough Council has indicated it intends to secure a Compulsory Purchase Order on the site.  Good piece of municipalisation by a Conservative controlled council. Quite what the Council would do with the site is not clear, although the Deputy-Leader has indicated his desire to see a 1,200 seat theatre, an art gallery and civic offices arise from the dereliction. 

A local newspaper has published the following article (see link):


All this has to be considered in the context of the furore manufactured by the Aspic Brigade in Tunbridge Wells  against the idea of demolishing the civic complex.  The Deputy-Leader's proposal has the advantage of taking the heat out of the debate about the future of the complex.  However, if the new purchaser of the Odeon site does deliver, then attention will focus again on the civic complex.

A planning application by the purchaser of the Odeon site will be made within four months according to a press report. This will put it well outside the timescale for the proposed town centre master plan and before the Deputy-Leader has resolved the traffic problems of the town. Resolution of the latter we have been informed by the Council must precede any redevelopment of the civic centre  and one assumes the Odeon site should the CPO go through.

See also:


Speeding vehicles in Rusthall

The road I live on is used as a 'rat-run' and speeding cars are a problem, particularly as the exit from one side road is 'blind' in one direction. Not a problem if traffic is travelling within the 30mph speed limit, but potentially very dangerous if travelling at over 40mph.

The parish council has come up with the idea of installing two 'vehicle activated speed signs'. Not sure it is a good idea as drivers will be distracted simply by looking at them and also by checking the car speedometer against the number flashing on the speed sign.  I foresee some drivers competing to achieve the highest number. One councillor is quoted as stating:

I think the flashing signs are brilliant.  It will draw people's attention.  Quite.

Another parish councillor stated her preference was for speed bumps. I agree: they do slow traffic down although they are not favoured by the emergency services.

The signs will cost £4,500 and does not seem to me to be money well spent and I do not agree that they are better than nothing.  But so what: after all, it is only public money that is being wasted.

Friday, 26 August 2011

European Union: in or out?

Following the Second World War it is understandable that politicians and public alike in Europe pondered on the carnage of the twentieth century and thought 'never again'.  In the east Russia expanded its empire by taking over Poland, Hungary, East Germany etc and installing puppet communist governments.  In the west there was genuine fear that Russia would seek to expand its influence/power westwards.

Eventually the European Economic Community came in to being, with  France and Germany the dominant partners.  The publicly articulated purpose was to form a trading zone free from border restrictions and tariffs.

However it is now realised that from the outset that the founding fathers of the EEC had something different in mind: full political union of European countries. Each step on the road to this goal met with denial as to the intended final outcome.  The collapse of the Russian empire in eastern Europe was welcomed in the west as, apart from the economic problems associated with reuniting Germany, countries formerly under Russian hegemony were invited to join the club: it would reduce the risk of any future Russian intervention.

The EEC became the European Union and continued  to strive for political union. The Brussels dictatoriat issued what has become an avalanche of directives as successive treaties enabled it to increase its power to ensure there was a 'level playing field' for commerce. 

The eurozone was an attempt to draw countries even closer together by having a common currency. Warnings that without fiscal and political union it would fail, were ignored for the simple reason the zone was a major step along the path to full political integration.

Emboldened the EU secured approval to the establishment of a presidency and a commissioner for foreign policy with ambassadors, even securing the right of audience at the United Nations.

Then the wheels fell off.  The eurozone is in disarray as it is clear that the policies of the European Central Bank on interest rates were designed to favour the economies of northern Europe and Germany in particular. The long drawn-out death of the eurozone has been marked by policies which will lead to deflation and negative economic growth in southern Europe.  Faced with guaranteeing bailouts for these nations Germany has taken fright. 

There is growing anti-EU sentiment across Europe, a growing sense of the democratic deficit within the EU and a far more nationalistic outlook.  The sad thing is that the EU and political leaders of the nation states maintained a policy of deliberate disregard of the views of citizens.

What will be retrieved from the wreckage of the EU is anyone's guess.  Greece might leave, Germany might leave, some countries may combine in new currency zones.

Should the UK withdraw from the EU?  My opinion is that we should unless it returns to being a free trade zone and nothing more.  Social, economic, fiscal and  monetary policies should be the responsibility of national governments answerable to their electorates.

There are those who argue that all we need to do is to give the European Parliament more teeth and thereby address the democratic deficit issue.  The problem is that EP elections are fought by national parties in each country and there is nothing approaching a pan-European manifesto by any party.  This is what makes the EU parliament so distinct from the USA Congress which is contested across all states by two parties.

Two stories.

The first is a local issue. Follow this link:


The second story is from Conservative Home and relates to the impact the Liberal Democrats are having nationally on Conservative policies.


Will Morrison dance to Conservatives' tune?

Tunbridge Wells Conservatives have launched a town-wide petition, calling on the Chief Executive and Board of Directors of Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc to take urgent action on their derelict Vale Road site.

The campaign was launched jointly by Greg Clark MP and Cllr Bob Atwood, both of whom signed the petition outside the empty store. (photo above)

Volunteers from the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Association will be delivering 20,000 petition postcards to homes across the town over the coming weeks. Further postcards will be distributed to town centre shoppers and commuters.

Residents are being invited to sign the following statement:

“We the undersigned, being residents of Tunbridge Wells, support this petition calling upon the Chief Executive and Board of Directors of Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc, to make, and then keep, a commitment to either re-open the disused Tunbridge Wells store, or to assign the lease to another retailer who will renovate this town centre eyesore.
We believe the empty building is depriving the local community of a much needed amenity and is inflicting on our Town an eyesore which is detrimental to our quality of life and the local economy.”

Speaking at the launch, Greg Clark MP said:

"Since Morrisons closed its Tunbridge Wells store in 2006 the empty site has
been a blight on our town. Not only have residents been deprived of a building
that was designed to meet their needs, but its boarded up doors and windows
directly opposite the railway station has been a bleak and depressing sight for
visitors arriving to our beautiful town as well as an eyesore for residents using the

Borough Council and Conservative Group Leader Bob Atwood  added:

"Over the last years we have all had to put up with a number of derelict or
deserted buildings which blight out town. One of these is the Morrisons
supermarket site which is in a key position next to our mainline railway station
and close to our historic High Street. I call upon Morrisons to stop
procrastinating and to deal with this site as soon as possible, so that Tunbridge
Wells can benefit from its re-use and the blight can be lifted."

What next?  A sit in at the former Odeon site?

See also: Tunbridge Wells Borough Council press release:

Brothels: should they be legalised?

This post arises from a discussion on my Facebook page.

Prostitution is the 'oldest profession' . Rehab has a mention in the bible, as do the subjects of sodomy and male prostitution. Down the ages literature refers to prostitution.  It is not the preserve of any specific class  and is more prevelant than many wish to believe.

My earliest 'experience' of prostitution was in my home town. A madam sent her girls out into the town to do the business.  She drove around in a convertible car and wore a Davey Crockett hat.  As she passed the school I attended she always 'tooted' her car horn.

Our innocence was destroyed by the Profumo Scandal and the Denning Report. 

When I was reading law a case of considerable importance was Shaw v DPP.  Shaw had produced a 'ladies directory' which set out the services 'working girls' offered.  The importance of the case was the decision by the House of Lord that there existed in common law a power for the courts to protect public morals.

Prostitution is not illegal, soliciting is: as is the situation where two or more people share the same premises for prostitution. To drive prostitutes off the streets kerb-crawling became an offence.

You don't need to  be a Google genius to find a considerable amount of material on the Internet relating to prostitution.  The 'ladies directory' has gone electronic.  Free weekly papers publish advertisements.  Many 'massage parlours' are fronts for brothels.

Although there are news items from time to time of massage parlours being raided, for the most part the police take no action.  When they do it is because women are being trafficked from abroad to work in brothels.

The key issues around prostitution are: much of it is in the grip of organised crime, the violence to women by pimps and clients  and the sad fact that some women are 'driven' to prostitution to pay for a drug habit.    I wonder how many women make prostitution a life-style entered into freely?

So, should brothels be legalised and subject to inspection as happens in some countries?  Some will say prostitution itself should be illegal, others that by legalising and controlling brothels some of the worst vices will be diminished.  However, there will be the problem always of  people who will conduct the business underground.

 I believe we should be pragmatic, accept the fact that the 'oldest profession' will continue, make life less fraught for the women caught up in it and offer advice and support to draw them away from what they are engaged in.

See also: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/8731046/Bonn-prostitutes-to-use-parking-meters.html

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

What is community?

In previous posts I have argued that  'community' is a chameleon word and for the need to be very careful in its use, particularly when making funding applications.  In a given geographic area it is often claimed that there is a community of geography, when on closer inspection it is apparent that people in an area have little in common.

It should be obvious that an individual will belong to a number of communities.  A white male, living in rented accommodation, supporting the local football club, working in a factory and relaxing in his local pub belongs to a different set of communities to a black female, an owner-occupier, attending the local theatre, working in a supermarket and relaxing at home. The fact these two people might live in the same street does not per se make them part of the same community.  They might have an interest in common, for example if their children attend the same school.

It is too easy to lump people together and claim they are a 'community'.  This might explain why community centres are used by only a very small proportion of the residents of the area it is intended to serve.  The users form their own community and the challenge is to encourage non-users to become part of a centre's community.

At this juncture I will throw in an idea.  Suppose we have 30 people .  Analysis shows that all share three things in common: all are white, send their children to the same school and watch the local football team.  Does this turn them into a community?  We then take another 30 people: all black, all send their children to the same school as the white individuals and they are all interested in athletics.

The one thing in common is the schooling of their children.  They may form a community in this regard, but not in any other respect.

So, if we take a given geographic area should we define community by ascertaining common denominators?  If we do, is there an heirarchy of denominators, some of little importance, others of significance? 

The conclusion I draw is that we should seek to escape from the use of the word 'community' and home in on the identification of the number of people faced with the same issue(s).  The use of the word 'community' is not helpful, indeed it slipshod. 

Railway reading

I am reading a book about the career of John George Robinson CBE, Locomotive Superintendent of the Great Central Railway.  I saw his 'Director' class of locomotive in action in the 1950s and 60s.

The Manchester Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, known to its shareholders as 'Money Sunk and Lost' and to its passengers as 'Mucky Slow and Lousy' served collieries in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  It handed over London bound coal traffic to the Great Northern at Retford or just north of Nottingham. 

The company decided to open the London Extension and thereafter was known as the Great Central Railway. Shareholders considered that their money had 'Gone Completely'.  The extension ran through Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby and thereafter via either Aylesbury or High Wycombe to  London Marylebone.  The line duplicated the lines of other companies and was one of the major casualties of the railway closure programme in the 1960s, being closed completely from just south of Sheffield to just north of Aylesbury.

The original MS&L line over the Woodhead Pass was electrified in the 1950s to ease the passage of coal trains between South Yorkshire and Lancashire.  This line was closed also.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Tunbridge Wells' aspirations.

Leading architect and resident Ptolemy Dean, who specialises in historic buildings and designing new buildings in sensitive locations, has raised concerns that the council’s redevelopment plans have shown that it fails to understand what makes the town special.

He said: “It looks as if there might now be a moment of reflection about how and what might be done in Tunbridge Wells. While the emphasis might be placed upon what changes could be made, I would hope that as a first stage this plan might be based upon a sound understanding and appreciation of what makes Tunbridge Wells such a successful place for people to live and enjoy now, when so many of the neighbouring towns are so clearly unsuccessful by comparison.” (link to article)

I concur entirely with the sentiment expressed above.  I chaired  the steering group that published the first Tunbridge Wells Borough Community Plan 2003-11. The first paragraph states:

(The Plan) is built on the main local aspirations and concerns people have identified.

What I have difficulty with is the idea that the emphasis is swirling around the future of the civic complex.  The complex includes a library and museum/art gallery which is in need of improvement and the Assembly Hall which also requires upgrading.  Tunbridge Wells has a thriving cultural life centered on these buildings, the Trinity Theatre and the Forum.  We should be seeking to improve the facilities by going along the path trodden by Canterbury City Council.  To repeat my statement  in an earlier blog:

The City Council has replaced a crumbling converted 1930s cinema, which acted as the city's theatre. The new 1,200-seat auditorium will be able to stage everything from conferences to West End shows and grand opera, and has a state-of-the-art studio theatre. It can also accommodate an 80-piece orchestra for concerts.

Is our fate in Tunbridge Wells to muddle along in outdated buildings for no other reason than nostalgia?   Development, such as that achieved in Canterbury, would add immeasurably to the cultural and economic well-being of Tunbridge Wells.  The cultural activity is a major factor in making the town such a successful place for people to live and enjoy.

We should be concentrating on what makes Tunbridge Wells a good place to live now and how we can make it better for future generations. We must not wallow in the history, nor let it dictate our future. 

See also: http://kentcommunityactivist.blogspot.com/2011/07/royal-tunbridge-wells-and-nostalgia.html

Friday, 19 August 2011


Today, The Courier published photographs of the 37 sites identified for redevelopment by the Tunbridge Wells Regeneration Company.  The company is a partnership between Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and John Laing  and its formation and activities have been controversial.

Photograph 3 claims to display Showfields Hall, but it doesn't.  The photograph is of a different building,  the Number One  Community Centre which is owned by the Number One Community Trust Limited. Showfields Hall is adjacent to the community centre.

Depressing news.....or is it?

The economic outlook is poor.  In the USA and Europe indecisive political 'leadership' has accentuated economic and fiscal problems.

In England the riots and looting of a week ago were disquieting.

A surfeit of  depressing news I thought, then I read the front page story in today's Tunbridge Wells newspaper, The Courier.  More depressing news.

According to the paper, controversial plans to redevelop the Town Hall site have been shelved indefinitely.  The Leader of the Council is quoted as stating: the site cannot be delivered politically.

Whatever happens regarding the  civic complex will be contentious.  The Aspic Brigade wishes to keep things as they are, there is the party which would demolish the whole complex and people who wish to see facades retained but are content with proposals for redevelopment.  It will not be possible to appease all the groups or find common ground.

The idea of forming a panel of councillors and key community figures to have an input to  a new town master plan which will set out policy on road networks and major sites is interesting.  No details have been provided of potential membership of the panel, nor the timescale for its deliberations.  The plan will deal with complex issues, but one would have thought the plan could be published, consulted on and approved by the council within one year.  So it may be that plans have not been shelved indefinitely.

However, there is a more significant obstacle to progress.  According to The Courier the civic complex site will not be considered for redevelopment until borough council chiefs solve the town centre's biggest restraint: it's traffic problems.

That should kill any redevelopment. Remember, this is the council which has given us the Longfield Road industrial and retail parks traffic congestion.  I await with keen anticipation the publication of the Deputy-Leader's proposals to alleviate traffic congestion along with costings, sources of funding and timescales.

However, there may a solution to hand. We need look no further than Canterbury.  The City Council has replaced a crumbling converted 1930s cinema, which acted as the city's theatre. The new 1,200-seat auditorium will be able to stage everything from conferences to West End shows and grand opera, and has a state-of-the-art studio theatre. It can also accommodate an 80-piece orchestra for concerts too.  The city is to have also a new library and museum.

What Canterbury City Council can do for the poorer East Kent, surely it is not beyond the wit of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to do the same for affluent West Kent? I haven't noted any dramatic changes to Canterbury's traffic management and the traffic problems are far worse, thoughout the day, than Tunbridge Wells.  Canterbury has taken a bold approach to make a step-change to the economic, cultural, social and economic well-being of East Kent.

Such a development in Tunbridge Wells would have much less effect on traffic than an office/retail development on the civic complex site.  It would boost the night-time economy and tourism.

The Deputy-Leader of the council published  recently  a proposal to build a theatre,  a museum and an art gallery on the Odeon site.  There was no mention of development being stayed until the town's master plan had been agreed and traffic congestion issues resolved.   The Odeon site is a key site and the council is considering making a compulsory purchase order. Should this happen on what basis will the Odeon site be considered differently to the civic complex site?  The answer might be that it is not a 'sensitive site' in that there is general agreement that it is an eyesore and should be redeveloped.  It begs the questions of the remit of the panel and the need for traffic congestion issues to be resolved before key sites are developed.  

See also:






Thursday, 18 August 2011

Running more trains

The number of trains that can be run down a track in a given period depends on a number of factors:

1. Speed

2. Signalling

3. Stopping pattern

4. Terminus platforms and dwell-time

5. Junctions

The maximum speed a train can travel at is determined by the distance it needs to stop at a red light.  Clearly trains cannot hurtle around at 100 mph if the stopping distance provided by the signalling requires trains to travel at no more than 60mph.  What you can do is change the signalling to permit 100mph running.  The number of trains that can be run depends on the time that has to elapse between a train passing a signal and how long it takes to travel down the track before the signal it passed is able to permit the following train to pass at the same speed.

The number of trains that can be sent down the line is limited by the number of stops trains make.  Thus between Tonbridge and Sevenoaks the number of available 'paths' is reduced by some trains stopping at Hildenborough and between Sevenoaks and Orpington  by trains stopping a Dunton Green, Knockholt and Chelsfield.  Close these stations and capacity would be increased.

Another major constraint is the number of platforms at a terminus and how long it takes between a train arriving and departing.  It is no good sending 20  trains an hour towards a terminus if they have to stand outside a terminus which can handle only 6 trains an hour.

Junctions reduce capacity considerably, particularly if they are 'flat' junctions with conflicting train movements.

The problem in the south-east is that some routes are almost at full capacity:  the London to Brighton route via Gatwick  and the route between Tonbridge and Orpington being the worst.   The problem on both routes is that it only needs minor delays to a few trains or a breakdown to render the timetable a work of fiction. 

The rail industry has not come up with any solutions to alleviate the problem of under-capacity on these routes. It is a ticking bomb. 

Since writing this I have come across this interesting article:


Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Raspberry jam production started

Our raspberry canes have produced a bumper crop, much more than last year. Jam production has commenced.

Southborough Tesco battle invective

It is reported on the Facebook page Say No to Tesco in Southborough  that a councillor (unnamed and not revealed if  he/she is on Southborough Town Council or Tunbridge Wells Borough Council) believes there will not be an increase in traffic should a new Tesco supermarket be opened as people will walk to it several times a week to get their shopping.

I doubt if the councillor is correct as far as the roads leading to the proposed Tesco are concerned.  However in one sense he/she is correct.  People using their car to shop at a supermarket now may divert to Southborough so, no increase in total traffic, merely change of destination.

However the roads through Southborough are heavily congested and a new Tesco can only add to the problem.

What I find dispiriting are the posts claiming that the councillor is corrupt or potentially corrupt. Not a shred of evidence to support the assertion: not fair comment and probably defamatory.  No wonder there is a refusal to name the councillor.  It is a smear and I lose empathy with  organisations which resort to such tactics.

Monday, 15 August 2011

I'll tell all before I am outed

Today I reveal what has been known only to my close circle: I am a member of the Conservative Party and have been for the past four years.  This may shock some of my Facebook friends who may be moved to 'unfriend' me.  So be it.

I have been active in party politics as an agent, a candidate at local elections, a councillor and have held officer positions.  But my real interest has been in policies, not the machinations of political parties.  Not for me the 'my party right or wrong' approach.

Over the years issues change, policies change,  political parties change and our attitude changes.

The Liberal Party of Jo Grimond is not the same party as the English Democrats of Nick Clegg.  The Liberal Party sold its soul when it merged with the Social Democratic Party.  Today the echoes of the old parties exist in  protagonists for and against the Orange Book.

The Labour Party of Harold Wilson was quite different to the Labour Party of Michael Foot.  Then all change to Blair's New Labour and the 'Third Way'. Now the party is divided between Blue, Red and Blairite Labour.

The Conservative Party of Harold Macmillan was not the same as Thatcher's Toryism and in its turn the Conservative Party of Cameron is different again.

In fact, there is little to distinguish between the mainstream of the three parties, such differences as there are are at the edges, as each of the parties seeks to capture the 'middle ground'. What matters to me is not the philosophical or ideological base a party starts from but the practical effect of the policies they promote.

In my time I have been  a political party wanderer in and out of the three parties along with a very brief dalliance with Respect in the immediate aftermath of the decision to go to war in Iraq.

So, why the Conservatives?  Hardly the policy on Europe as I am opposed to EU membership. Hardly on account of the stance on devolution and the failure to answer the West Lothian Question in the fairest way by establishing an English parliament.

Four years ago I was introduced to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and I have been involved with it in a very minor way. For me, CSJ has identified clearly the problems of poverty and deprivation and come forward with sensible radical proposals to tackle the issues.  As I have argued in previous posts the reason we have the problems today is because the party of government over many years, Labour or Conservative, has failed to tackle the issues head on, indeed has in some respects made matters much worse

Out of the lawlessness  of the riots some good may come if dealing with issues of poverty and deprivation shoot up the political agenda.  We have been promised today by Mr Cameron that this is indeed the case and I can but hope it is not another false dawn. Now there is the opportunity to embrace radical proposals and action has to commence now.  We don't need an inquiry to mull matters over, we have to get on with the task of mending 'Broken Britain'.

Pigs frighten the swineherd

The eurozone has proven to be what many feared, a disaster waiting to happen.  The admission criteria were applied too flexibly and countries which should never have been permitted to join nevertheless were welcomed.  Without fiscal and thereby political union the eurozone was bound to fall into chaos .  If ever the political elite created a fiasco, the eurozone is it.

Of course the swineherd, the European Commission, was playing the long game.   As treaty after treaty has bled sovereignty away from nation states, as the European Union set up its own diplomatic corps, a de facto European state entity was being created.  All it lacked was fiscal power to raise direct taxes and thereby political power.  The policy was a simple and effective one, gain power by a slow process of creep.  Along the way nervous electorates were either ignored or told to vote again should they have the temerity to disagree with Brussels.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, the whole process has been blown out of the water by economic crisis in the PIIGS: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.  The people in these nations have realised that the price of being in the eurozone is dictat from Germany.  The European Central Bank and the eurozone is dependent on the German economy to bail it out.  Unfortunately the Germans do not see it that way.  Saddled with the legacy of the unified Germany the German people are hostile to subsiding the soft under-belly of the eurozone.  See:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/8703147/Germanys-Angela-Merkel-faces-eurobond-mutiny.html

France, for so long the junior partner in the Franco-German axis which determines EU policy has problems of its own as its banking system is awash with  sovereign debt of some of the PIIGS.

Soon it will be decision time.  The eurozone in its current form is doomed, the only question is what will follow its demise?  Will it be a split of the zone into two?  Presumably, if this is the course of action, France, Germany, Netherlands and possibly one or two other countries may move to fiscal and political union, but I wouldn't bet on it. 

Whatever happens there will be a two tier, possibly even a three tier EU, the two groups from the current eurozone and the countries not in the eurozone.  Can the EU survive in such a two-ringed or three-ringed circus? 

You may find this article of interest: 


Shocking figures

Over 110,000 people in Kent have no qualifications.  See:


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Social failure is the fault of the political elites.

Many years ago JK Galbraith posited that the problem of the USA underclass could be resolved. Governments had the means to achieve change but not the desire to will the funding to make it happen.

The use of the word 'underclass' raises hackles in some, but it is a convenient shorthand as used by Galbraith in a non-pejorative sense.   He argued that people in well-paid, satisfying employment with plenty of discretionary income needed the underclass to maintain their standard of living.

The underclass undertook the dirty, repetitive, low-paid jobs: care staff, cleaners,  shelf-stackers, lavatory attendants and the like. They live in poor housing, have poor education and often poor health. Raising taxation to improve their lot would eat into the resources of the better off.  Indeed it would be counter-productive as who would do the dirty work if you gave these people or their children a better education?

Galbraith's analysis travels well to the United Kingdom.  The problems in the UK have been well documented.

Somewhere along the line governments gave up on the underclass. Instead of measures to counter the problems successive governments have entrenched deprivation through the welfare system, by permitting sink schools, be making unemployment  more financially advantageous than working and so forth.   I know there are examples of policies which were intended to have the opposite effect, such as the Sure Start initiative, but the position is that problems in deprived areas and of the underclass are no better than they were in 1985 when the Church of England published its devastating critique: Faith in the City.

Life for many is grim.  I have some hopes that the educational reforms of the present government may bear fruit and that the benefit changes will likewise prove positive.  But they are only a start, much more requires to be done.  Unfortunately our economy is weak and we do not have the means, never mind possibly the will, to make the radical changes that are needed, unless taxation is increased.

I commend the article to which I have provided the following link:


I have supported the Centre for Social Justice for some years, having been introduced to it by Greg Clark MP, who is now the Minister for Cities.

Help for heroes event.


Yesterday I attended the Help for  Heroes  Hog Roast event at the Robin Hood,  Sherwood.     Organised by local people, the event raised £769 which will go  to supporting our wounded troops.  Just goes to show what a community can do.  


Time to let go.........

It is not easy to rid oneself of addiction.  My efforts to give up smoking have succumbed to my weakness for nicotine but I have managed to reduce considerably my alcohol intake.  I need to.  I am more than a few pounds overweight.  The past few weeks witnessed a seven pound reduction in my weight: only twenty-on pounds to go!

In recent months I have been spending far too much time tapping away at the keys on my computer.  Facebook has become an addiction - almost.  The problem with Facebook is that it is so ephemeral.  Try finding a post you made six months ago: it is very time consuming .  At least with a Blog it is very easy and quick to bring up postings, no matter how old.

I have decided to close my Facebook page except to post items from this blog.  This is not the first time I have done this. Like the addict I have returned.  This time I shall be strong!!

Friday, 12 August 2011

All change at the Red Lion

Another change of landlord at the Red Lion, Rusthall.  By my reckoning that is eight changes wihin fifteen years. There are three other pubs in the village and the club so I would have thought the brewery would have given up the struggle to keep in open.

Sure Start Children's Centres: targeted intervention?

The link below sets out what children's centres do:


Surely it is not beyond the wit of politicians to understand how important these centres  are if we are to tackle parenting issues?  The first wave of centres were located in areas of deprivation and deliberately targeted parents and children in those areas.  Then some bright spark in the last Labour government decided what was required was a huge increase in the number of centres.  The later tranches of centres had a wider geographical remit and before long the  affluent middle-class realised they were on to a good thing and made full use of the facilities, often driving away low income parents who really did need support, but who felt out of place. 

The whole process became target driven, namely numbers led, rather than identifying and concentrating on those in real need.  Attendance at the centres is voluntary.  There must be a legal obligation to attend: to ensure some sense and knowledge is knocked into dysfunctional parents as well as providing a service for the children.  I know, those of a tender liberal, human rights disposition will squeal with outrage, but what is the point of providing services when the main potential beneficiaries go now-where near?   How else can we ensure there is engagement?  (Whilst I am in this vein, I believe it should be compulsory for parents to attend their child's school's parents evenings.)

I have commented before on a playgroup I was involved with, but it bears repetition in this context.  It provided facilities for children from families living in difficult circumstances. Some of the children had major problems of socialisation, were not potty trained and did not know how to play. We had a high staff/child ratio and employed a family liaison officer.   We targeted our clientele. When the premises we used were demolished it had been hoped to move in to the children's centre.  However, the numbers game came into play, the staff/child ratio would have had to worsen and we would no longer be able to target our clientele.  The playgroup closed.

Targeted intervention is what is needed, not a universal system. Again, squeamish liberals will trot out arguments about labeling, provision for all etc. Let them.  We have to tackle the problems and try to give children in deprived circumstances a better chance of commencing primary school on equal terms with the children of  better off families.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Focus on parenting

Close to my home lives a family: man, woman and five children.  None of the children  has in common  with any of the other children the same biological mother and father.

Not far from where I live are a number single parents: mother and child.  It is clear from conversations that for most of the mothers the pregnancy was deliberate to enable them to secure a flat.

I know first - hand of a primary school which held a parents' evening.  Out of the 28 children in the class the parents of only four children attended.

Welcome to a real world, not the world you or I may inhabit, but a parallel world.  Is it any wonder that children who feel unloved  wander the streets, or worse still, are kicked out on to the streets?

I have witnessed at first hand children from broken homes: children who come to school unfed, tired and in no fit state to be taught.

Quite how the government plans to mend the 'broken society' I do not know. How will it tackle the problem of feckless, uncaring and unloving parents?

The tragedy is that such behaviour has been condoned for many years.  Governments have condoned it, indeed put systems in place to support and maintain it.

See article below:


The death of Welfare UK?

Towards and just after the end of the Second World War great changes were wrought to our society through the Education Act 1944 and the establishment by the post war Labour government of the National Health Service. The Labour government implemented the Beveridge proposals for national insurance.  In theory, the state provided a financial safety-net from the cradle to the grave.  Beveridge considered his proposals would advance the cause of social justice and that governments would follow economic and fiscal  policies to achieve full employment which he defined as no more than 3% of the population being unemployed.

Such was the vision and hope for the post war social settlement. 

Welfare UK, as I dub the post war social settlement,  has been  lurching along the track for years and the riots of the past few days could be  the catch-points which hurl the whole rotten lot off the line and smash it to pieces.

Respect and deference to authority, in whatever form, began to collapse in the early 1960s and has continued relentlessly since.  The heady release from moral, ethical, social and legal restrictions those of us born in the immediate post-war period luxuriated in has been passed on to our children and thence to our grandchildren.  Alongside this has been the development of the concept that people have rights, but scant regard to the existence of duties.  We have seen a boom in consumer expenditure.

Since 1945  there has been an acceleration in immigration, increasing ethic tension,  insistence on multi-culturalism and the zealous application of political correctness.   It might just have been possible to keep Welfare UK on the rails but for the advent of new technologies, loss of manual jobs and periodic economic recession.  The Beveridge vision of social justice has sunk without trace and we have incubated, hatched and seen grow a section of the population in low incomes jobs or benefits, with no educational qualifications, in poor health and in poor housing.  Successive governments have connived at supporting the welfare dependency culture.  Little effort or resource has been put in to tackling the causes of disadvantage, indeed  some policies have encouraged dependency. What we have seen is vast sums expended on maintaining the status quo.

I have spent many years working in areas of deprivation and have met many good people who have been overwhelmed by the system.  Poor schools, poor health, poor physical environment, threatening neighbourhoods, low income.  What has surprised me is that the explosion has taken so long to happen as indicators that it could have been around for a long time.

No-one should seek to condone the outbreaks of violence and looting of recent days, but we do  need to understand  and counter the deep-rooted causes of the problems.  The problems demand attention and would have even if the opportunistic criminality of the last few days had not occurred.  What has happened is that the issues have shot up the political agenda.

Governments of all political persuasions are to blame for the failure to address the myriad causes of deprivation and it will be interesting to see if the parties retreat into their outmoded and useless mindsets or come up with radical proposals for change. In this context the following link is to an interesting article:


In the narrow fields of community development and community engagement I argued last week that policies had failed in particular the people they are aimed at.  The problems to be overcome are multi-faceted.  We need to strike a balance between the welfare model of the past and a purely utilitarian approach.  There has to be a period of transition.  The problems we have created over the last 65 years will take a long time to overcome.  We must avoid knee-jerk solutions,  otherwise the events of the past few days will seem minor when the outpouring of anger at social injustice erupts.

The current lawlesness have been sporadic and opportunistic, but people are learning how to organise.  Next time it will be volcanic.  The post war settlement has broken down irretrievably, not through the fault  of the poor, but as a consequence of the abject failure of the political  and administrative elites: not only have they failed to tackle problems, they have exacerbated them.

Since I wrote this article I have come across the following which may be of interest:



Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Links to articles on civil unrest

I have provided links to articles I have posted previously on this blog or on my Facebook page. The articles refer mostly to underlying causes and possible solutions. Not all the links may work, but a Google search should enable you to bring up the article.















Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A secondary school for Edenbridge:update

Sadly there is nothing in the public domain for me to provide an update.

The group behind the proposal has a website:


From the website:

Lets not get run away with any ideas of what we are, can or want to achieve. An Open school in Edenbridge is the end result. There are many stagesand hurdles to complete before we get there. This is very early days and much to do, and this website and news letters will be the information point. There has been much comment on previous surveys and other websites with misleading information, this is not going to happen here. Honest progress good or bad will be published.We are sure there will be knock backs but with determination we should and can overcome them.

So far nothing on progress,good or bad, has been published.  Time for an update.

Acerbic, cynical, carping, caustic, grumpy and plain speaking.

Had the following said about me on Facebook today.  Clearly I am losing my touch.

You have kept me engaged on a difficult day using a mixture of humour, genuine support & great diplomacy...I really appreciate that.

John, are you unattached? You're such a charmer!

On the other hand: 


Unacceptable behaviour

Most weekends the centres of our towns and cities are despoiled by hordes of drunken people engaging in fights, vomiting and generally making a complete and costly nuisance of themselves. Some finish up in A & E terrorising hospital staff.  We tut, tut, but little is done about it.

Over the past few days we have seen hordes of people causing damage to property and terrorising people.  Understandably people are angry and upset, but why is drunken behaviour tolerated to the extent it is?   Says something about our priorities.   Both are unacceptable.

Systemic failure of our ruling elite.

There is neither justification nor excuse for the criminal behaviour being played out across the country.  No room for special pleading.  It is wrong.  An asinine journalist at  the Guardian tried to make a link with the financial cutbacks this government is making to 'explain' the riots and looting. It won't wash.

The reality is that what is happening on the streets is the product of the systemic failure of the Liberal, Labour and Conservative consensus, aided and abetted  (if not led) by Whitehall, to tackle the problems of poverty in this country.  All are to blame for failing to confront the issue.

The people of this nation have been taken for a ride: the level of immigration, the calamity of multi-culturalism, the failure of our education system, the seeming inability to  tackle poverty, the breakdown of communities:  all have contributed to the mess we are in.  The edifice which the Left and their fellow travellers built has come crashing down.

There will be a welter of recrimination.  Nothing will be the same again.  Consensus round the old  order has gone.

It is not as though we have not had warnings.  The problem of feral children is well documented.  Gangs of children have murdered children and adults, many children leave school unable to read or write, areas of deprivation have had huge sums poured into them with little to show.  The breakdown of communities is there for all to see. These problems have been around for a long time and successive governments have failed to make the necessary step-changes to overcome them.

Since I wrote this I have come upon this article:


JK Galbraith spoke of the underclass, not in a pejorative sense, but to describe those in our society who live in poor housing, have low paid work or no job, poor education and poor health. He made the point that governments had the means but not the will to change things.

Early last Sunday morning before the serious criminality started I wrote the following on my blog:

My concern is that far far too many community development/engagement initiatives are only about making the status quo more bearable. To put it bluntly: this is not what we should be doing. We should be finding and implementing solutions to the underlying problems. So far we have failed to achieve this and wasted a lot of money along the way.

Little did I imagine that the failure would be illustrated in such stark fashion so soon after I wrote those words.  I take no comfort from this. 

We need to find radical solutions to the problems - and very quickly.  What we do not need is more of what has gone before.  The old consensus has failed not just those at the bottom of our society, it has failed us all.

Since writing this I came across articles which resonates with my views: See:



Monday, 8 August 2011

Theft, Arson, Bodily Harm and Riot

Are these the names of the modern day  Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?  I doubt it.  The mayhem in parts of London are the actions of a few people.  The looting, damage and rioting is purely opportunistic and has nothing to do with deep-seated causes of unemployment, poverty and racial tension as the Establishment intelligentsia (?) would have it.  The earnest reporting of the BBC and The Guardian in particular, together the the hand-wringing of a few politicians claiming almost that racial tension, poverty and unemployment are the causes of the rioting is pathetic to behold. Click here for an example of the genre.

Of course there are issues to be tackled, but it has to be done through legitimate political processes, not by damaging the property and livelihoods of individuals.  It is all a matter of discipline.  I don't recall reading that the Jarrow marchers went on the rampage.  It has become almost the expectation that mass marches will attract a few people hell-bent on riot and criminal damage.  It happened most recently during the student protests and I have no doubt my avid reader can think of other instances.

It is not my intention to minimise the fact that there are problems with youth unemployment, poverty and racial tension but it is patently not the way to gain support for change by cocking two fingers at the law-abiding population, although I suspect the gormless idiots in Tottenham,. Enfield, Lewisham, Brixton et al do not give a damn so long as they can steal.

On the BBC news it was mentioned that millions have been spent in Tottenham to improve the area. Some of the expenditure will have been on community development, community engagement, ethnic minority support and the like. No doubt some good has come from these endeavours, but as I have argued on this blog, there have to be doubts as to efficacy of much of this work.  Communities have to be self-policing, or to put it another way there has to be community spirit.   My concern is that the way it has been done doesn't work. the London riots may be the wake-up call not for more of the same, but for a radically different approach to community work.

The following article may be interest in the context of the final paragraph.


Sunday, 7 August 2011

Working in areas of deprivation.......begging the questions?

My previous post on working in areas of deprivation has led me to ask the following questions:

  • Why do it? 
  • Is it worth it?
  • Why do we open community centres in areas of deprivation?

Not many years ago I was an enthusiastic adherent and promoter of community development.  Also, I was heavily involved in a major community centre capital project. Now I am much more cynical, or should that be realistic?

What has brought about this change in my attitude?  Below I summarise some of the factors. I intend to develop my thoughts in future posts.

  • The theory is optimistic, the reality a disappointment. It is as though the people writing the manuals on community development and engagement have no understanding of the reality.
  • Experience in the field of the difficulties involved in achieving anything meaningful and lasting.
  • Under-utilisation of community centres.
However, over and above all this is the realisation that much of the work in communities is tackling symptoms but failing to deal with the causes of deprivation.  I have put in the caveat 'much' as there are exceptions where it is important to deal with symptoms, but these should be used as  stepping - stones to tackling causes.

My concern is that far far too many community development/engagement initiatives are only about making the status quo more bearable.  To put it bluntly: this is not what we should be doing.  We should be finding and implementing solutions to the underlying problems.  So far we have failed  to achieve this and wasted a lot of money along the way.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Working in communities of deprivation

Earlier posts concentrated on the difficulties surrounding community engagement and community development.  In this post I shall look at positive aspects, based on my experience. 

The most important thing is to think small.  The starting point is to set out and find people in the area who are willing to do something, anything, to improve their community.  It is not easy, but with some effort it is possible to find a few people who are prepared to turn up to a meeting.  They might well be people with a range of individual problems, as well as having a catalogue of complaints about the area in which they live and a mistrust of statutory organisations.   Let them rip. From this a number of themes will emerge and the trick is to turn the negativity round to a discussion of what needs to be done and who should do it.

The next step is the most difficult: what do they think they can do?  This is where you can hit the proverbial brick-wall.  Lack of confidence, low self-esteem, feelings of apathy can all rear their heads. An atmosphere of helplessness and hopelessness can develop and once into  that it is difficult to retrieve the position.  This is why it is important to think small, to have an idea that fits in with one of the positive suggestions at the meeting and is achievable.

It is not difficult to come up with ideas. The problems do not change much from area to area.  Walking round the patch, talking to people, looking at the neighbourhood statistics will identify issues that need to be tackled. The important thing is that any suggestion for action that is put forward is seen as a response to what is said at the meeting.  Indeed, it should be possible to tease the idea out of the people at the meeting.

One meeting suggested it would be a good idea to have a Millennium Garden.  A small plot of land was identified.  Then the questions? Who owns the land? Who will pay for the plants and seating?  People at the meeting were happy to draw up a plan, prepare the ground and do the planting. The community worker talked to the owner of the land (the Council), secured funding from the housing association and dealt with the planning issues.  The local garden centre supplied plants at cost and sent a man with a rotavator to start the ground preparation.

Come the day the original group plus a few more arrived with spades, forks etc and within three hours the job was done.  The following week local bigwigs arrived, the mayor declared the garden open and the press published a report.  With a success in the bag, time to consider the next idea.........

Next Rusthall Parish Council meeting

Monday 8th August: 7.30PM at United Reformed Church. Presentation on parish plan.  If the presentation is by Action with Communities in Rural Kent, I surmise it will be my pal Carl Adams leading.

I am outraged.......still!

In the very early hours of Thursday I blogged that it was outrageous the shambles our politicians have created 'managing' economic affairs in Europe.  Little did I suspect that the hurricane that has hit world markets would happen.  It was my Michael Fish moment.

I am outraged still.  We had the unedifying spectacle of the President of the European Commission writing to eurozone governments telling them in effect to 'get their fingers out'.

It has been announced that the USA is to be downgraded by Standard and Poor's, the rating agency.  One sentence in the statement stands out:

"More broadly, the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges."

Governments are supposed to represent us. We are being treated like the poor bloody infantry, being sent over the top to be the carnage of the economic war.

I commend the article in the Guardian.

Redefining the political map

I have been inactive in party politics since the day Tony Blair gained the support of the House of Commons for the ill-conceived war in Iraq.  Nevertheless I have maintained an interest in the machinations of the political parties.

Recently the activities of the 'Right' have come under my scrutiny. Unsurprisingly the small parties of the Right are as busy as the small parties of the 'Left' engaging in turf wars and internecine strife. 

On the Right the only parties of any significance in an English context are the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), the English Democrats (ED) and the British National Party (BNP).

The BNP is a spent force, heavily in debt, hemorrhaging members and losing seats.  Some of its members have joined the ED, not to the universal acclaim of ED members. 

The key policies of the EDs are withdrawal from the European Union and the establishment of an English Parliament within a federal  United Kingdom.   The ED claims not to be a party of the Right, but the pre-occupation with immigration and the 'threat of Islam'  voiced by party members on social networking sites certainly gives the party a 'tinge' which makes it an attractive proposition to disaffected BNP members. Some ED members are heavily involved with the English Defence League (EDL) which is a direct action pressure group rather than a political party.  The EDL is matched on the Left by United Against Fascism (UAF).

The ED is quite excited by the recent statement by the leader of UKIP that he favours an English parliament within a federal UK.  See: http://www.indhome.com/2011/07/farage-calls-english-parliament/  This is a shift from the UKIP policy that English matters should be considered only by English MPs within the Westminster Parliament.  Should the leader's comments become official policy it may result in some ED members joining UKIP.

Within UKIP there is a strand of opinion which emphasises that the party is libertarian, by which it means a party of small government. Is this a Tea Party manifestation?  UKIP has managed to avoid being tinged with racist overtones (but not entirely) so will be attractive to some ED members worried about the growing ex- BNP influence within the ED. 

One could argue, fascinating though all this may be to a political anorak, it is of no interest given the poor electoral performance of the parties at the last General Election. I am not so sure.  The major political event in the next few months will be the future of the eurozone.  Decisions will be taken which inevitably will lead to some form of fiscal and political union. The key issue in the UK is its future relationship with the EU.  The three main political parties are all to varying degrees pro-EU.   A strong anti-EU party could do well at the next general election.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Vision for Tunbridge Wells

In 2003 I chaired the steering group that published the first Community Plan for the Borough of Tunbridge Wells: not it should be noted for the Borough Council.

The following paragraph is from the plan.

A Community Plan is also about vision and opportunity.  It should foster exciting idea and ways that public and private interests might work together to make them happen.  For instance, an issue that might form the subject of future public debate is whether local people and organisations might work together on a specific 'big idea' to enhance the quality of life within the borough.

The steering group disbanded in 2004, having received the thanks of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, its work completed.  Since then I have looked in vain for signs of a 'big idea'.

In a recent post I commended Canterbury City Council for its determination to improve the economic, social, cultural and educational life of the city by demolishing and rebuilding the Marlowe Theatre (1,200 seats) and in partnership with others building a new library and museum. the Council has invested millions in the schemes.  A 'big idea' if ever there was one.

Where Canterbury led, is Tunbridge Wells to follow?  Below is a link to a press report which I believe is most  encouraging.  My only concern is whether the proposal is seeking to squeeze too much on to the old cinema site, but other than that it is commendable.  Congratulations to Councillor David Jukes for grasping the nettle.  Let the public debate commence!


See also:


Social Return on Investment (SROI)

A few days ago I wrote the following:

It never fails to disappoint me the way money is thrown at areas of deprivation by central government, local councils, housing associations, quangos, charitable trusts and the Big Lottery.

There is a method of determining the value of investment in areas of deprivation. It is called Social Return on Investment (SROI).  SROI can be used to scrutinise previous investment and also the value of proposed investment.

The impression I gain is that a lot of money spent already has produced a poor social return.  One effect of SROI should be a greater sense of realism in proposed projects

It is essential proposed projects deal with causes of  deprivation rather than dealing with symptoms. This is even more vital in the current economic climate.  We need  to place emphasis on lasting solutions, not short-term palliatives, although it has to be recognised that the latter will still be essential during the transition from where we are to where we wish to be.

It's outrageous!!!!!

I like to think that I am a calm person, not roused to anger, but my patience is close to snapping.  The cause of this: the politicians and eurocrats who have brought Europe to its knees. Add in the USA moving into recession and the Chinese economy cooling and we are staring down the barrel at a depression of 1930s proportions.

The eurozone was bound to fail and wise heads said so at the time of its inception. Countries were permitted to join which had no chance of meeting the conditions of membership.  Thank goodness John Major and Gordon Brown kept us out.  Why were countries which should not have been admitted permitted to join?  It was part of the grand plan to turn by stealth the European Union into a political union.  As we survey the wreckage, the disaster that has been wrought on populations, can we but not view with anger the actions of those who have 'led' us to this.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Tesco for Southborough? A threat to Rusthall High Street?

In May I commented on the proposal for  a Tesco supermarket in Southborough.  Undoubtedly such a store will have an adverse effect on local shops and will add to traffic congestion.  However, people living in Southborough and High Brooms who wish to use a supermarket will not need to drive through the middle of Tunbridge Wells to Sainsbury's  or visit supermarkets in Tonbridge.

My opinion, if I may inter-meddle in Southborough affairs, is that development should enhance and not threaten current provision.

But what of the effect on Rusthall High Street?  Tesco has two stores in Rusthall, part of the One Stop Group.  An article in The Times last year stated that it costs 14% more to shop at a One Stop than at a Tesco badged store. That is a lot of  extra money to pay, particularly for pensioners and people on benefit or low earnings.

Undoubtedly a Tesco supermarket in Southborough will attract some people from Rusthall, but I expect it will draw people with cars who currently use Sainsbury's in Tunbridge Wells.  There is a bus every 12 minutes from Rusthall to  Sainsbury's, Tunbridge Wells and you would have to be barmy to change buses in Tunbridge Wells (outside Tesco) and journey on to Southborough.

One of the key features of the campaign by candidates for Rusthall Parish Council was  a commitment to enhance the High Street and one expects the Council to oppose the proposals for a Tesco in Southborough, if for no other reason than that it will put additional pressure on the road from Rusthall to Southborough. The catchment area for the proposed Tesco will reach to the west beyond the boundary of Tunbridge Wells. Speldhurst Parish Council may wish to oppose the proposal for the same reason, increased traffic through Speldhurst. People from the west may well be tempted to travel to Southborough rather than to Tunbridge Wells.

Rusthall Village Association will, I hope, oppose the Tesco proposal.  The chair of the Association is Tom Snook, the landlord of the Toad Rock Retreat and the defeated Liberal Democrat candidate at last May's borough council elections.

Communities in areas of deprivation.

It never fails to disappoint me the way money is thrown at areas of deprivation  by central government, local councils, housing associations, quangos, charitable trusts and the Big Lottery. Why am I disappointed?  Mostly because so much money is wasted on short-term projects.  When the money stops the project ceases.  It is all very well for the pompous statement to be made that alternative funding should be sought. The problem is that there is either no alternative funding or such funding as there is has to be taken from other projects.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul syndrome.

However there are other factors in play, the most significant to my mind being: incorrect assumptions upon which so many projects are based, unrealistic times-scales, lack of clear outcomes and dewy-eyed optimism.

One would have thought that before any attempt was made at community development or community engagement in an area of deprivation there would be a detailed analysis of the area.  It is true that statistics are pored over: Indices of Deprivation and Neighbourhood Statistics provide a wealth of information.  However, that is what they are: facts and figures.  To find out what an area of deprivation is like you have to get into the field: walk the streets, talk to local councillors, visit the pub and above all talk to residents.  By such means a far better picture emerges.  But it is not foolproof.

A common misconception is that social housing estates (or council estates when owned by the local authority) are the homes of the poor. Of course poor people live in social housing, but it is not the end of the story.

On some estates a majority of the properties have been bought by residents using the 'Right to Buy' legislation. Some of these properties are owner-occupied but a proportion will be buy-to-let properties.  Immediately you have three distinct types of occupation.  Walk down any road on a social housing estate and it is possible to identify the nature of the ownership of individual properties. 

There will be a very wide range of household income.  Some households will have two or three earners, others will have one-parent families, some households will be living entirely on benefits. 

You will discover factions on the estate, minority groups which have no collective identity, but above all a  lack of community spirit given the divergent groups that exist.  There is often an over-laying apathy at best and from some an hostility to the local council, police and social services.

Whatever the statistics might tell you, pushing through a project will be very hard work.  The process of engagement is very slow, erratic and subject to setbacks.

So, not fertile territory for the bright policy wonks who come up with phrases such as community empowerment, localism, stakeholder engagement, social capital, community participation and the like.  The ground is littered with community fora, PACTS (Partners and Communities Together), community associations/ groups which hardly anyone attends.

However, it is not all negative. I shall look at the positive aspects in a future blog.

Community: what does it mean?

The word community is bandied about a lot: faith community, community spirit, community engagement, local community, European Economic Community, community development are examples which spring to mind.  But what is community?  At best it is a chameleon word, at worst it can be used as shorthand and be meaningless.

My opinion is that there are two major usages: community of geography and community of interest, although there is a third usage gaining traction to which reference will be made .

Community of geography is quite straightforward, isn't it?  The village in which I live is a community of geography in the sense that we share a physical location.  It is a small area.  Would the town I live close to be regarded as a community of geography, or a county, or a nation?  The test surely must be: do the people within a geographic area feel they have a common belonging?  Credit unions have a defined geographic area within which there is a common bond (subject to a caveat: see later) which binds them together, or at least that is the theory.

Communities of interest covers a multitude of things. Members of a church have a common interest, as do supporters of a football club and members of a lunch club.  Indeed any membership organisation is a community of interest. A credit union can be formed for members of the co-operative: the common bond being that of membership of the co-op.  It strikes me that in order to belong to a community of interest requires an individual to take a positive step to join and belong to that community.

The third use of the word community relates to status or condition. There is the gay community, ethic community, disability community, feminist community. It is really a form of categorisation or labelling and I am not sure the word community is appropriate.

Our lives are spent as members of a number of communities determined by where we live, work and play, by our interests and if one accepts the third category by what we are.  During our lives we will join and leave communities.  We leave the school community, we go to college or university and become part of the academic community and a new community of geography.  Our interests change and our inter-actions with other people change.

Before Mrs Thatcher destroyed the mining industry there was the mining community.   At one level this referred to miners, but it referred also to the tight-knit communities in which they lived and included their families and people in other jobs who lived and/or worked in the area.  People working in the post office, the co-op, the miners' welfare were part of the mining community.

Most community development and engagement is around communities of geography, but not exclusively. Working with ethic communities and hard-to-reach groups involves community development and engagement.  Within a community of geography there are a number of communities if one applies the third use of the term community.

The danger is that the term community can be used to lump people in a geographic area together even though they have little in common except living in the same area.

In the final analysis community is a label and the danger is that community development and community engagement presupposes a commonality which does not exist.  The relative failure of community development and community engagement initiatives is rooted in a simplistic understanding of the complexity of  peoples' diverse attitudes, needs and concerns within a given geographic area.

NB: Interesting article on communities - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8693558/Immigrants-love-this-country-more-than-we-do.html#.TkPeY3519JQ.facebook

A lot to consider

The arguments in the United States Congress over the debt ceiling have been resolved in the short term, but the stage has been set for a battle royal leading up to the presidential election in November 2012. There will be much to comment on in the intervening period.

The problems of the eurozone have taken a serious turn for the worse as Spain and Italy totter on the edge of the default chasm.  What direction will response to the crisis take?  A break-up of the eurozone? Will there be a fiscal union?  Will the European Union seek to charge down the road to full political union?  How will the United Kingdom respond?

So much for foreign affairs. In the UK the issue of Scottish independence will continue to demand attention. Indeed, the issue of Welsh independence may arise in view of claims today that Wales would be better off in Europe as a distinct nation rather than being part of the UK.

In Royal Tunbridge Wells the issue of town centre regeneration will plod along to resolution. Southborough will be battling over the proposed Tesco store.

In Rusthall the parish council is getting into its' stride.  Rusthall Village Association's officers include candidates who failed to secure election to the parish council or the borough council.  Will the Association act as a cheerleader for the parish council or will tensions develop?  Hopefully neither.

So, much to consider and just think, we have the Olympics as well!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Volunteering and communities

My plan is to post a series of articles on volunteering, community development and community engagement. I have had involvement with all three and it has taken up much of my life over the past fifteen years.

If I have learned anything, it is how misunderstood and difficult it is to achieve community development and engagement.  My posts will call on my experience in the field and will, I hope, convey something of my frustration and disappointment. 

The Conservative Party's Big Society   and Labour's  Good Society fail to come to grips with the problems surrounding community engagement and community development.  The Localism agenda may have some impact, but I fear the proposed changes do not go far enough.

Monday, 1 August 2011

We live in tense times

The political convulsions in Washington over the debt limit raising issue are unprecedented but not surprising given the success of the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party.  At one time the major problem for the Democrats in Congress was securing the  support of Southern Democrats who would often side with the Republicans. Now it is the Republican Party which has loose canons in its midst. The question Republicans must be asking is how far Tea Party supporters will penetrate the party and will they make it unelectable?  In the UK the Labour Party had a similar problem with Militant.

The current imbroglio will have a profound effect on the next Presidential election. Reports today of fierce attacks by Democrats on President Obama may be followed through by a contest for the Democratic nomination.  Will the Republicans go for a Tea Party supporter?

Since writing this I have come across this article:


In Europe, the euro's problems and the social, economic and political forces that have been unleashed, together with the perception that the European Union lacks democratic legitimacy is destabilising.  There is no clear path to overcoming the problems, rather it is a matter of lurching from crisis to crisis and engaging in fire-fighting.

In the United Kingdom the experiment of a Coalition government is not working well. U-turn follows U-turn. The official opposition is ineffective and ineffectual, lumbered with its recent history of government.  Given the parlous condition of the UK economy, which will take a turn for the worse when the euro collapses and the USA economy shudders, can we really be concerned about independence for Scotland as an issue or for that matter reform of the House of Lords?

Tense times indeed as our politicians, and those of other nations are failing their people.