Friday, 27 July 2007

Over 5000 say NO to A&E; cuts

More than 5110 people have now signed the petition to stop the Government cutting A&E; services at Maidstone Hospital. Let’s hope the Health Secretary is listening…

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

The £3.4bn cost of anti-social behaviour

Yesterday, the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report on tackling anti-social behaviour. I think the full press release from the Committee says it all and have reproduced it in full below but it is quite clear that, as Conservatives have said many times before, the Government’s strategy on tackling anti-social behaviour is a dismal failure. ASBOs are simply seen as a badge of honour and the Government’s attempts to punish offenders with fines are laughable – especially since less than half are actually paid. Goodness knows how many people have become needless victims of anti-social behaviour as a result of this Government’s reliance on rhetoric rather than action.

PAC Press Release, 24th July

Publication of 44th Report of Session 2006-07

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

“After dark our city and town centres are fast becoming no-go areas, with behaviour there ranging from drunken skylarking and intimidation to out and out criminal activity. No civilised country should have to put up with what can seem like an occupying army loose in the streets. The cost of responding to it is currently running at some £3.4 billion a year.

“A barrage of different anti-social behaviour measures was introduced ten years ago but the Home Office has not done any work nationwide to find out which ones work best. The National Audit Office found evidence that, for many tearaways, a simple and cheap warning letter was enough to deter further bad behaviour. But the government has not collected any information on the effectiveness of different measures on different groups of offenders.

“A hard-core of persistent offenders clearly regards ASBOs as part and parcel of its way of life and to be shrugged off accordingly. Enforcement action against these people must be absolutely rigorous and, where they persist in their breaches of Orders, there should be no hesitation in bringing prosecutions, Cases should also be considered for referral to the Crown Court which can impose custodial sentences. And we need to try to head off a new generation of persistent offenders, by directing appropriate support at families whose youngsters are at risk of falling into anti-social behaviour.

“The Home Office is notorious for a number of recent episodes where it provided duff information. The fact that it supplied the National Audit Office with incorrect data on perceptions around the country of anti-social behaviour does nothing to improve its reputation. The department should pull itself together.”

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 44th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Home Office and the Respect Task Force, examined evidence emerging from the sample of 893 cases of individuals receiving anti-social behaviour interventions reviewed by the National Audit Office.
The Committee had also questioned the Home Office about its recent disclosure that a backlog of 27,500 notifications of convictions of British citizens abroad had been passed to the Association of Chief Police Officers for checking and entering on the Police National Computer in March 2006 after being allowed to build up over several years.

Anti-social behaviour by a small proportion of individuals and families brings misery and despair to local communities. Responding to reports of anti-social behaviour in England and Wales costs government agencies around £3.4 billion a year. There are also significant indirect costs to local communities and businesses, as well as emotional costs to victims and witnesses. In 2003 the Home Office formed the Anti-Social Behaviour Unit with an annual budget of £25 million to design and implement the Government’s policy on anti-social behaviour. In September 2005 the Government announced the creation of the cross government Respect Task Force to take forward the anti-social behaviour agenda and in January 2006 the Government published the Respect Action Plan.

Anti-social behaviour measures were first introduced in the mid 1990s, and since this time more powers and measures have been added to give local authorities, the police and others a toolkit of measures with which to tackle incidents of anti-social behaviour. People’s perception of the level of anti-social behaviour varies by gender, area and age, with people most likely to perceive high levels in areas of greatest social deprivation. Comparable local areas use different approaches to dealing with anti social behaviour and there has been no comparative evaluation of the success of these approaches. Nor has there has been a comprehensive evaluation of the use and success of the different measures and powers, making it difficult for the Home Office, the Respect Task Force and those dealing with anti-social behaviour to assess what works best.

Of the sample of 893 cases of individuals receiving anti-social behaviour interventions, around 46% related to people aged under 18 and 54% were over 18. In the absence of central data and national evaluations, the National Audit Office had used the sample to determine the apparent impact of the intervention applied in each case, in terms of whether there was evidence of further anti-social behaviour within the period covered by the case file review, and if so, after how long and what further intervention then occurred. Some 65% of the people in the sample received only one intervention. The National Audit Office review also found, however, that a small core of people engaged repeatedly in anti-social behaviour with around 20% of their sample cases receiving over half of all interventions issued.


Petition Update

Nearly 4,500 people have now registered their support for the petition on the Downing Street website calling to keep Maidstone A&E; open. The petition closes on 3 August with reports locally suggesting a decision by the Secretary of State is expected shortly. Let’s hope the Secretary of State listens to the people of Maidstone and surrounding areas.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

A shocking increase in violent crime

I have taken time out this morning to look through the latest crime statistics, released by the Home Office last week, and was horrified to learn that there has been an increase in violent crime, sexual offences and burglary in both Medway and Tonbridge & Malling.

In Medway, violent crime rose by 4% last year with the total number of incidents recorded standing at 5,536. Tonbridge & Malling saw a 2% increase in violent crime but a massive 24% increase in sexual offences. Kent as a whole saw a 3% increase in violent crime, much of which is related to the relaxation of licensing laws increasing the likelihood of violent behaviour in our town centres late at night.

These new figures continue to highlight the Government’s failure to tackle crime and protect the public. They refused to listen to opposition on the changes to licensing laws, including Conservative calls to pilot the scheme and assess the consequences before implementing blanket changes.

What is most frustrating about these latest figures is that our police are working incredibly hard to combat crime but are constrained by red tape imposed upon them from Whitehall tying them to their desks rather than out on the streets. Furthermore, even when the police do catch them our prisons are so full that many offenders are not being either punished or rehabilitated properly thus seeing them back on the streets ready, and willing, to commit more crimes.

It is time for some proper action on crime. We need more prison places; more, and better, rehabilitation; a better anti-drugs strategy aided by a border police force; and a police force able to get on with doing their jobs rather than sat behind their desks filling out forms. I am under absolutely no doubt that this is what a Conservative Government would deliver.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Maidstone A&E; petition in Top 50

The petition to save Maidstone A&E; posted on the Number 10 website has now received over 3,800 signatures putting it into the top 50 petitions on the website. With only ten days to go it is important as many people as possible sign the petition letting the Government know precisely what local residents think of Labour’s NHS cuts. Sign it HERE.

Petitioning in the rain for a safe crossing to the park

This morning I went out with Princes Park Councillor Pat Gulvin in the pouring rain to get signatures for a petition calling on Medway Council to provide a crossing of some sort across Princes Avenue to get to Downland park play area. Whilst there are two crossings on Princes Avenue they are at either end of a long strip of fast road, with the play area slap bang in the middle. Residents spoke to me during the local elections campaign and said they couldn’t let their children go to the park alone because they were too scared of them crossing the road. Pat and I went out last week and tried to cross the road our self and it was a case of literally running across the road. It was dangerous and convinced us that something had to be done. We collected nearly a hundred signatures today from local residents which Pat hopes to present to the Council this week. Hopefully we’ll see something done soon.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Consultation on cannabis is not enough

The Prime Minister announced today that the Government is going to conduct a consultation on the reclassification of cannabis. This is welcome but a mere consultation is not enough – it is time for action, and it is time they took responsibility for clearing up the mess they created in the first place!

In 2004, the Labour Government pandered to the liberal establishment and downgraded cannabis from Class B to C despite severe opposition from the police and anti-drugs campaigners.

Unfortunately the drugs section in last week’s launch of Iain Duncan Smith’s report on “Breakthrough Britain” was largely overlooked. This is a shame because in my view for society to really change then get rid of drugs from our streets should be one of our top priorities. In the report IDS calls for the reclassification of cannabis to Class B – not as you will note for consultation – as part of a national action plan to discourage cannabis use. It is quite clear, as the report puts it, that our most widely used illegal drug should not be in the category which conveys the impression to parents or children that we need to be less concerned with it than the other drugs classified. Modern day cannabis is a dangerous drug – especially when used regularly by youngsters – but current Government policy sends out mixed messages to children. I hope the Government sees sense and reverses their lunatic policy on cannabis, and if they don’t then it will be one of the first things I propose to do when elected to Parliament.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

“An Election could not come soon enough”

I was out and about in Walderslade this morning talking to local residents about some of their concerns and not one but two people in succession, and completely unprompted, told me that a General Election “could not come soon enough”. People feel tired of Labour and it is quite clear that, regardless of the attempts by the spin doctors, they don’t think very highly of Gordon Brown. And why should they? His attempts to distance himself from the Blair administration are laughable. I listened to an interview with him this week when he said that his new Government was going to increase the number of grants available to University students.

Hold on a second.

Tony Blair’s Government, of which Gordon Brown was Chancellor and therefore controlled spending of every Department in Whitehall, scrapped grants and introduced tuition fees. And now he wants to increase the number of grants available to people, so they can pay the tuition fees, that he introduced, in order to go to University. Announcing on the one hand that he is giving money whilst surreptitiously taking it away with the other hand is Brown trade mark. Thankfully, the public have more sense and are not fooled by this imaginative use of smoke and mirrors.

Inspector renews threat to Capstone Valley

Despite huge public opposition to Medway Magna’s plans to build 9,000 houses in the Capstone Valley, the planning inspector appears to have opened the door to the proposals.

Medway Magna’s proposals would see the building of a new estate as big as Lordswood, Walderslade and Princes Park combined! But since Conservative controlled Medway Council owns some of the land in the valley, the Council has pledged not to sell any council land in the valley for housing development.

However, at a second public examination last week, the Inspector asked the Council to re-write its core strategy for development because, it is reported, he was not satisfied that there was the right mix of homes and employment land in Council plans for regenerating Medway. The Council’s plan is to accommodate new homes in brownfield areas, but the fear is that if the Inspector decides that not enough homes are planned there then other areas will have to be identified elsewhere – and that means Capstone Valley.

It doesn’t help that we now have a Prime Minister intent on concreting over the South East, supported by our local Labour MP! I believe that there are enough brownfield sites in the Medway region to satisfy our housing needs, and instead of spending our time fighting against proposals like these, we should be enjoying and protecting our beautiful countryside for generations to come.

The petition to save Capstone Valley can still be signed online HERE.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

A&E; petition update

The petition on the Downing Street website calling for the A&E; at Maidstone Hospital to stay open now stands at nearly 700 signatories. This is after just one week! Hopefully more and more people will sign it and really let the Government know what local residents think of their NHS cuts.

SATURDAY UPDATE: the petition is now up to 1200 – an increase of 500 since Thursday night. Our local Labour MP has been rather quiet on the issue – maybe because he knows that it is as a consequence of Gordon Brown’s NHS cuts that Maidstone is facing this dilemma. I think it is time to stand up for local residents and their right to be able to access A&E services quickly…not after a long drive to Pembury.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Coach Crouch

I have written elsewhere on this blog about my enthusiasm for girls football and tonight I finally got to begin coaching an under 10s team in Chatham.

Anyone who knows me will testify that outside of politics my passion is sport, particularly football, and that I am a huge advocate of girls football – a concept which simply did not exist when I was at school. However since I don’t want my coaching to be seen as anyway related to my political activity I will no longer write about it on this blog, and instead have started another football and other sports related blog, to comment on the activities and results of the team I am involved in, my rants about Spurs and general musings on whatever other sport I happened to have watched or read about. It can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

A woman on a mission

A few weeks ago I went out graffiti cleaning with new councillor, Pat Gulvin. We went to an area where we cleaned signs, walls and lamp posts but still blighting the area was a doctors surgery covered in graffiti tags. At the time of our cleaning we were told we couldn’t do anything about it because it was private property. Well I am pleased to be able to report that as a result of Pat’s determination, she persuaded the surgery to let her clean it and today the graffiti is gone. The full story can be found HERE. Well done Pat.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Sun burnt in Snodland

After what feels like weeks of rain, the sun appeared today just in time for the opening day of the Snodland Festival and muggins here got sun burnt as a result!

That aside, the Festival was great. It was well organised and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time wandering around the various stalls and the fun fair. The floats were colourful and a lot of effort had obviously been put into decorating them.

Well done to all those who helped make today a success – I hope the Festival goes as well over the next two weeks.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Sign the petition to save Maidstone A&E;

A petition has been tabled on the No 10 website asking for the proposals to downgrade Maidstone A&E; to be reconsidered.

The petition notes that

Maidstone Hospital is to lose its blue-light service, the A&E; department is to be downgraded, and services switched to Pembury. Pembury Hospital is old, inaccessible and in the centre of the town. Parking is difficult, transport to and from it is nigh impossible for those without cars, and there is no helicopter-pad for the air ambulance. Maidstone Hospital is only 20 years old, it has also been modernised and updated during that time, it is only a couple of years ago that the A&E department had an extensive update. The people of Maidstone don’t want it, the Borough and County Council asked for a reconsideration but Maidstone Hospital, which is part of the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust have decided that it will go ahead. We ask that this decision be seriously reconsidered”.

The new Prime Minister says he wants to listen to the people, especially on issues like the NHS. Find out if, like the previous Prime Minister, Gordon Brown is all talk by signing the petition HERE.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Home Information Packs – a Whitehall farce

Despite widespread opposition, the Government is pressing ahead with controversial and confusing plans to introduce home information packs meaning that householders will have to pay up to £600 to put up a ‘for sale’ sign, or else be fined by the local council. Yet in the latest twist of this long running saga, the Packs will only be compulsory for four bedroom homes from 1 August 2007, and then phased in for three bedroom homes at an unspecified date, and then all homes at some point.

The small print of the new Government regulations defines a four bedroom home as a property which is just “marketed” as a four bedroom home. Hilariously, this means that a house which is simply advertised as having “3 bedrooms and a spare room” would not need to spend hundreds of pounds on a Pack so a home owner could just move the bed out of the bedroom to comply with the letter of the regulations. There will be no fall in the potential value of that home if buyers realise that “3 bedrooms and a spare room” is just language for a home with “4 bedrooms” being used to avoid a Pack.

It is quite clear that the Government’s plans for Home Information Packs are turning into a Whitehall farce. Just by moving a bed out of one of your bedrooms will avoid the need for family homes to pay for these expensive and unwanted Packs. Moving home is one of the most stressful things anyone can do. Yet this new red tape threatens to make it worse, not better and I fear these new regulations will cause public confusion and undermine the stability of the housing market. If Gordon Brown wants to distance himself from the last administration he should scrap this chaotic bureaucracy.