Saturday, 26 April 2008

Chatham & Aylesford’s Grand Day Out

Croydon Conservatives often come down and help us in our action days so today it was our turn to head up to Croydon to assist their campaign to elect Boris as London Mayor and others onto the Greater London Authority. It was a lovely sunny day and we managed to leaflet two entire polling districts for them before lunch. I hope our little bit helps secure Croydon South and Boris Johnson victory on Thursday.

UPDATE: we actually delivered 4 polling districts – we were split into two and the team I was in did two districts, as did the other team!!

An inspirational day

I had one of those days yesterday where you put your feet up at the end of it and feel totally inspired by the people you have spent the day with.

I started my day with a meeting with Citizens Advice in Chatham. I am a huge fan of the work Citizens Advice does and regularly receive their newsletters but until yesterday I hadn’t been in an advice centre. I met with the manager, one of the Trustees, and one of the specialists and I came away extremely impressed by their hard work and dedication. I felt like I learnt a great deal more about Citizens Advice than I knew already – i.e. how they interact with other agencies and public services, the relationships they have with Councils, the process they go through with a client, and their exciting new plans for the Bureau going forward.

Then after an excellent lunch with the Thames Gateway Chamber of Commerce, I headed over to see a voluntary project run by a local man Mark Spurgeon (pictured) that provides activity programmes for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. I spent a long time talking to Mark about why he did it, what drove him to effectively give up a career and put on the twice-weekly sessions for people and their carers completely voluntarily. His answers were amazing. He was simply fed up with watching people going to sessions where everyone had to do the same activity regardless of whether they wanted to, or even could, do it. When we walked into the church hall where the programme meets, it was chaos. Some people were drawing, others were playing air hockey, some were doing puzzles, and one young man was making a complete racket on the drums. But they were all so happy. And so were their carers. One carer told me that this is the only place she’ll bring two clients to, because they are so relaxed. Another carer told me that it was nice to come somewhere we she could talk to other carers with a cup of coffee – it took some of the stress out of the job for an hour or so a week. Mark’s enthusiasm was exhausting! His dedication however is amazing.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Two thirds of 10p losers in South East still worse off

The u-turn by the Prime Minister earlier this week over the 1op tax band was not only humiliating but has added real uncertainty about the future amongst rank and file Labour politicians. But beyond the “Westminster Village” there remains total confusion about how these so called concessions will work and do they really compensate those who lose out from the change.

So far the Chancellor has only said that the winter fuel payment will be backdated to April – all other tax credits are unlikely to be backdated meaning that people will still lose out on hundreds of pounds. Using figures supplied by the Institute for Fiscal Studies it appears that even after the concessions 3 million families will still lose out nationally.

Locally it was estimated that before any concessions, approximately 708,144 families in the South East would lose out, even after tax credit changes. After concessions, only a limited amount can be compensated using the measures Alistair Darling has indicated. The maximum reduction in the number of losers is 40,084 from any changes to the Winter Fuel Allowance for women aged 60 – 64; the maximum reduction in the number of losers is 22,981 from an increase in the minimum wage; the maximum reduction in the number of losers is 160,334 from changes to the eligibility requirements for the Working Tax Credit; and the maximum reduction in the number of losers is 40,084 from an increase in the Working Tax Credit.

Therefore, this means that based on what the Government have said so far about their strategy for compensating the losers, a best estimate of the maximum total reduction in the number of losers as a result of the package is 263,483 out of 708,144.

These concessions help a third of those who lose out from the 10p tax band change. What about the rest? The change should never have been made, and voted for by Labour MPs, in the first place.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Cartoon of the day

I shall write more later on the Prime Minister’s humiliating u-turn on the 10p tax band debate. In the meantime, Matt from the Telegraph has come up with yet another brilliant cartoon which says it all really!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

When Dickens met the Hoosiers

Watch the Hoosiers’ latest video filmed at Dickens World:

Friday, 18 April 2008

Ed meets Nancy

Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey came to Chatham yesterday afternoon and took a tour around Dickens World. I have been before but yet again I was hugely impressed by the themed attraction, which mixes fun with education about Dickens and his novels. We met many of Dickens’ famous characters, all of whom remain in character when you speak to them, including the above “Nancy” who actually appears in the opening credits of BBC 1’s I’d Do Anything talent show.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

And there endeth the season

This morning Meridian Under 10 Girls played their last game of the season – and lost 3 nil. It is a score line that wasn’t really deserved but that’s football for you! This was the girls’ first season in the Kent league and they have really improved over the course of the season. At the beginning we often watched a classic game of kids’ football with all the out field players swarming towards the ball but as the season progressed we have seen some excellent passing, superb movement on and off the ball, and some fine shots on goal as well as saves from the keeper. Our results haven’t always been great but ultimately at the end of the day the girls have enjoyed themselves and felt some sense of achievement at the end of a game.

I have really enjoyed my first season as a coach and I think I have learned as much as the girls. When you do your FA Coaching badge you learn all the drills with fellow hopeful coaches. So it is only when you put it into practise that you realise how hard it is to keep the attention of 12 young girls, or explain what you want them to do so they understand it…but when it works and you see it happen on the pitch it feels amazing.

I am too old to play now, and don’t get time anymore to go to White Hart Lane, so for me the coaching is my one remaining life line into the game. And more importantly it is a welcome relief from work and campaign – and often my only break from both for weeks on end. Well done girls for all your hard work this season, and for keeping me sane! Next season is ours…

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Bill Bryson joins the fight against litter

The number one issue raised again and again on my local resident surveys is litter. It doesn’t matter where the survey has been returned from – it is an issue that upsets everyone, which is why my team and I have spent many Saturday mornings out on the streets, in fields and along alley ways picking up so much litter we run out of black sacks.

So it is absolutely fantastic to read the Times today, and in particular Bill Bryson’s article about his plans to launch a three year campaign to fight against fly-tippers and litterbugs. He proposes many solutions to the problem including further education about litter – a proposal I fully subscribe to and one that is already underway by the likes of Tonbridge & Malling’s Bash the Trash programme. But one problem he hasn’t mentioned which is something I discovered the other day is that often our over zealous Heath & Safety regulations prevent certain highways for being cleared. For example, Pilgrim Way going into Rochester has a significant amount of litter on it but following a recent fatality in the cleaning services, workers are now not allowed to clear embankments whilst the road is open. My reaction to this is close the highway then. If people will happily throw litter out of their cars, then they shouldn’t mind suffering the inconvenience of the highway being closed for an hour whilst it is cleaned. If they don’t like it, then they should put their litter in a bin.

The other point Bryson makes very well is there aren’t enough bins around. He is absolutely right. Quite often the places we litter pick are completely bin-free. I think there should be a bin at every bus stop for starters and there certainly should be more bins on the recreational grounds – like the football pitches at Coney Banks, where loads of discarded water bottles or high energy drinks can be found.

I am glad there is a “celebrity” involved in this campaign – I hope that it will help encourage others to get involved and ultimately change the general attitude of far too many people that littering is acceptable.

Monday, 7 April 2008

What the abolition of the 10p band means

Further to my post on Saturday, some further research has been published showing what the abolition of the 10p tax band actually means to millions of ordinary people. The Treasury has confirmed that 5.3 million families will lose out in total – even when the changes to tax credits are taken into account, meaning one in every five families will be worse off.

But who are these people and how much will they lose out by? The largest group who will lose out are the 2.2 million single working people with no children who are not getting the working tax credit, because they earn more than £12,500 but less than £18,000, or because they work fewer than 30 hours. They lose about £300 per year on average per family. Other losers include the 1.2 million two earner couples with no children, who may not qualify for the working tax credit, or they may fail to take it up, or because they both lose from the income tax and national insurance changes but there is only one gain from the tax credit which is assessed on the household; and 0.3 million women between the ages of 60 and 64 who do not get tax credits and are too young to be compensated by the rise in the pensioner tax allowance.

So much for these changes being introduced to help lower income groups. David Cameron has this morning promised to challenge the Government on this issue and try to persuade them to re-think this ludicrous policy. I am glad he is going to try but I doubt they will listen.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Today in Snodland

The BBC’s flagship current affairs programme Today broadcast this morning an interview recorded from Snodland about the abolition of the 10p income tax band, which comes into force tomorrow.

Snodland was described as a previously “staunch Labour” area in “the highly marginal parliamentary constituency of Chatham & Aylesford” but that all 7 Labour Councillors lost their seats in last year’s local elections and that a recent town council by-election saw another Labour defeat.

One of former Labour Councillor gave an excellent interview about how disappointed he had been with Gordon Brown and how he had hoped after the defeat in May, the new Leader would help the Party start afresh. But with the bottling of the election in October, and now these tax changes which he said will not help young employed people, he feels let down. An official of the local Labour Party also confessed to being let down but he was more angry about the extra 4p on a pint of beer – and he is not the only one!

The interviewer, rather patronisingly, said unless the former Councillor had briefed the entire town everyone he spoke to was rather well-informed about the abolition of the 10p tax band. The vox pops he carried out found that people realised the new system was fine if you had children but if you didn’t then you were going to end up worse off. I was less surprised than the interviewer that people both knew what was happening, and weren’t happy about it. I wasn’t asked for a comment but if I had been I would have simply pointed out that people aren’t stupid. They are well aware when they are being ripped off, they don’t like it, and no amount of spin will make them any better off.

You can listen again to the interview HERE – it was on at 08.10am.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A century of reserve forces

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Territorial Army, an often forgotten resource of the British armed forces. I never joined the TA but an ex-colleague of mine did and she was posted to Iraq on the first phase of the war. Over 15000 reserves have served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003, and a further 1500 will be deployed on operations this year making up 8% of the total number of troops deployed.

Sadly recruitment is falling and the number of TA personnel is at its lowest level since its formation. The role of the TA has changed and often troops can be deployed several times a year. This naturally has a huge impact on employees who are not always as supportive as they could or should be because of the managerial nightmare that regular and sometimes lengthy absences can bring. However those who look more positively at these matters know that reservists can bring a very different set of skills to their job and organisations like SaBRE try to promote the value of employees in the TA.

I hope that after a 100 years the TA remains a strong reserve force and continues to provide value to the regular army, employers and society as a whole.