08/06/2011

The new localism bill

I was at the Parish Council meeting last night and the new District Councillor gave a brief summary of the new localism bill which is going to hand down more powers, and money, to Parish Councils. As one of the more cynical PCs said - I'll beleive that when I see it, and so will I.

Anyway she reckons it will be a lot more than just planning that will be deregulated and we'll get to know more at the next meeting. This got me pondering the whole role of Government again the one where the idea is that we hire the state to do the things we can't do ourselves. So lets just say they devolve planning power to PCs, apart from being a NIMBYs charter what would it mean?

Well we wouldn't need a planning officer full time but we would need access to one to ensure that any submitted plans do follow basic planning laws, I presume we won't get carte blanche, so how could we organise that? Well we could get together with a few other Parish Councils and hire one or two. We could even delegate this task to a central body that coordinated a few other tasks, say bin collection, libraries and other services we want to pay for. That would make sense as we could get economies of scale.

So how would that be different to now, you may ask? Well the money would be flowing up through the system and we would be paying for the service by writing cheques and if that service wasn't good enough we could withhold payment until it is and ff we don't like it we could buy from somewhere else, maybe a private company and inject some healthy competition in to the market.

Now there's a good reason I use this as an example. About 3 months ago plans were received for some work on a house in the middle of a road triabgle. Its a really wierd situation but somebody chooses to live there. They wanted to remove a fence and build a wall amongst other seemingly cosmetic changes. The plans had come from the planning officer with no objections so we have to assume that the plans met building and all other statutory regulations, don't we? Anyway, these were passed and the work began a couple of weeks ago.

What nobody had spotted until we all realised that the junction had become seriously dangerous was that the new wall was a meter outside the old fence and now completely obscured the view to the left unless you got the front of your vehicle in to the middle of the road. However, the view is fairly blind to the right as well as it is up a short hill and when getting out of the junction you need to be a bit sharpish.

The PC is going to take this up with the highways department and see what can be done. My view, and bearing in mind I am not a Parish Councillor, is that a very stiff letter should be sent to the planning office asking them what the bloody hell they think they were playing at? They are the professionals and should be picking up this sort of thing and advising the PC of the likely impact or at least referring to the highways department at let them decide.

Under the new localism bill I would certainly be withholding payment for that piece of work.

Whales to devour Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland

The LPUK tale: Racoongate

The worst legacy of Richard Nixon is the way "gate" is now added to every scandal just so that we all know that it is a scandal of huge proportions, but that's a different story.

The next part of the sorry tale is the blog post on Anna Racoon's website that laid in to Andrew Withers that kicked off the mess that LPUK descended in to. I don't intend going through it in any detail, this isn't the point of this tale, but I will make a couple of general comments.

When the post was first published I did read it and when asked to summarise it by someone who didn't have the I said it described Andrew Withers as a bit of a Walter Mitty character who had financial problems. Readers can judge for themselves whether of not my description was accurate.

I should also say that prior to the post I had been advised by Andrew that he and Anna had fallen out and that I should be wary of her. I took the view then that I still hold, most of these allegations were of a personal nature and I didn't want to get involved. I was also contacted by Anna and didn't call her, although I did offer her my email addresses. I suppose she wanted to warn me of what was to happen and maybe with hindsight I could have called her and might have been able to mitigate some of what was about to happen. But that's speculation with the benefit of hindsight so I won't be losing sleep over my decisions.

Its fair to say that when the post hit the blogoisphere it generated rather a lot of interest, especially from members and supports demanding answers. The response of the Party was right then and still is: Andrew Withers stood aside while Nic Coome investigated. I have a lot of time for Nic, he's a good steady guy, maybe wasn't going to set the Party alight but, I beleived than and still believe now, his integrity is irreproachable.

While Nic was carrying out his investigation the blogosphere was running wild and with hindsight it was obvious that no report was going to satisfy some unless it summarily found Andrew guilty of all charges and called for him to be hung drawn and quartered. It was not a pleasant time and some of the accusations and counter accusation were quite vitriolic with claims of libel being bandied about. This hardly created the atmosphere for an objective investigation and report but Nic did as well as anyone could do, IMHO.

In hindsight I suppose it shouldn't have came as any surprise that Nic's report just added to heat of the debate both internally and externally, for by now there was lots of emotive accusations flying around within the NCC. The split boils down to those who believe there was a cover-up and those, like me, who accept Nic's report. I am not here to justify anybody else's motives only to discuss my own position in this sad affair so I won't be voicing any of those accusations.

Why did I support Nic's report? There are a number of reasons but he main one's are that it may be old fashioned but I believe in Cabinet responsibility and there was only one issue worth worrying about, the allegations of wrong doing with the accounts. Having trusted to Nic to write the report I don't have a problem with his argument that most of the affair was personal between Andrew and Anna Racoon.

The point about the accounts is a bit more complicated. Firstly, the allegation that there is a secret second account just shows a lack of understanding of how an HSBC business account works. When you open up a business account you automatically get a Business Money Management (BMM) account. This is like a savings account but you can only move money in and out from the current account so I didn't have a problem with that one.

As to the allegations that Andrew had been using the accounts for his own benefit I had a fairly simple approach. Andrew was in the process of handing over the accounts to John Watson and it had been Andrew who had been looking for a new Treasurer. That hardly seemed to be the actions of someone who was deliberately defrauding the Party and if he was then he had either got John involved in a cover-up or it was all going to come out. From what John was saying I really couldn't see this being a cover-up, so all we had to do was wait.

Unfortunately the debate had now degenerated in to mud slinging, denials, counter mudslinging and counter denials with threats of libel and police involvement. Emotions started to run very high, as they do when debates and argument are conducted by emails and blog post. A minority report issued by Ken Ferguson added more fuel to the fire and the debate degenerated even further, if that was possible.

By this time Andrew was getting ever more defensive and John Watson was getting frustrated that the accounts weren't being handed over, which led to even more accusations, denials and defensiveness.

During this I was getting disillusioned and wondering what to do as there appeared no way out of the mess. I decided that I would cut my losses and rather than tender my resignation at the end of the year would do it now. However with all this going on I didn't want to add to Nic's immediate problems so I said that I wanted it to take effect from the end of June or before then if they found a replacement. As that email went to Andrew and Nic on 15 May I judged that 6 weeks was enough to find a replacement.

If I had known what my resignation was going to trigger I would have taken a different approach, but again that's hindsight.

07/06/2011

Wrong question on IVF

Radio 5 is asking the question: Is IVF a right? With the sub text can the NHS afford IVF?

This is based on the latest report from MPs that claims that:
More than 70% of NHS trusts and care providers are ignoring official guidance on offering infertile couples three chances at IVF
..
Others are placing tough restrictions on who can qualify.
The problem with this and any other debate on the NHS is that they rarely start from the premise that it is a rationed system. We might not like the idea but with modern treatments, especially treatments that extend the life of cancer patients by weeks or a few months huge expense, we will never be able to afford everything that everyone wants. These means that expectations are set way too high and the debate never addresses the real issue, how to apply rationing.

Furthermore, if IVF is a right it means someone else has an obligation to pay. This can be done in one of two ways: either we increase the health budget so that everyone gets all the treatments they want, irrespective of its impact on the economy, or someone else foregoes treatments that aren't a right.  In the former case we eventually end up with nobody getting treatment as the whole economy collapses under the dead weight of the increased taxes or we end up with a battle of "rights". For example, is the IVF treatment of one person more important than keeping alive a young mother so that she can spend, say, an extra six months with her young family by prescribing very expensive cancer drugs?

I don't know the answer to this one but what I do know is that MPs aren't helping with the debate by not being open and honest about the problem.

And then we move on to one of my favourite subjects, the postcode lottery. All 3 main parties keep talking about localism and the need for communities to take more control of their lives. This is something I loudly applaud but it does have a consequence. We here in Dorset may have different priorities to the people of, say, Newcastle. We may not like the rationing choices that are made but again its the local communities that make the choices and here are a few:

For example, Bury PCT only allows women to be treated between the ages of 39 and 40, with a similar picture in many Welsh Health Boards.

Others have restrictions on access for smokers, those who are overweight or if one of the couple already has a child - even if that child does not live with them.

At the time of the survey, five PCTs - Warrington, Stockport, North Yorkshire and York, North Staffordshire and West Sussex - offered no IVF at all.

As long as these restrictions are consistent within the community and published for all to see then what is the problem? And as West Sussex NHS spokeswoman says:

"Now we are in the new financial year, the decision we made last year on fertility treatment has been reviewed and funding has been reinstated for all eligible cases."

Exactly.

And do we really want MPs making the decisions from their ivory towers, especially when that decision is most likely to be based on the latest vote winning survey for their area?

"It's clear that many PCTs are not giving IVF the priority they should. There are instances where it is being lumped in with tattoo removals.”

Gareth Johnson MP

Do we really believe that  Mr Johnson's judgement that IVF is more deserving than tatoo removal? Me, I'll go with the local communities decisions rather than Mr Johnson's or any other MP for that matter.









06/06/2011

I'd like to go to this but....This appears to be typical of this area - no time or place. .

Members of the public are invited to take part in a ceremony to honour the country’s service men and women as part of Armed Forces Week.

Members of the general public are invited to join representatives of all three Armed Forces, local dignitaries and councillors around the flag pole at North Dorset District Council on Monday 20 June to honour the country’s service men and women as part of Armed Forces Week.

Chairman of Council Lt Col Mike Oliver will welcome everyone to the ceremony. He will then hand over to Col Garry Hearn, Blandford Garrison Commander, who will give a brief resume of Blandford Camp and its links with the local community.

The Reverend Tim Storey, Rector of Blandford Forum and Langton Long, will lead the assembled group in a few minutes of prayer.

Armed Forces Day will take place on Saturday 25 June. The day is an annual opportunity for the nation to show its support and thanks to the service men and women who make up the Armed Forces community, from currently serving troops to service families and from veterans to cadets

This seems to be typical of this area. You get lots of notices without start times, including the Parish Council meeting, but this one excels, not only no time but no place.

How much do we pay these people?

The problem with this is the jobsworth syndrome

Dorset County Council will take up new enforcement powers under the Traffic Management Act 2004 from tomorrow (Wednesday 1 June 2011).

The new powers relate to three areas of parking enforcement:

1. Service of penalty charge notices by post:

The legislation now allows penalty charge notices (PCNs) to be sent by post.  This could be done if:

  • The civil enforcement officer (CEO) has started to issue a PCN and the driver of the vehicle returns and drives away before the CEO can attach the notice to the windscreen
OK, somebody's got to do this otherwise the roads will be choked so I don't have a problem with the principle of devolving it down to the Council and driving away shouldn't allow someone to avoid a penalty.
  • Or if the CEO is prevented from issuing the PCN due to the threat of physical violence and/or extreme verbal abuse
And this is a criminal offence, so stuff the penalty charge and bring them to court. The Magistrate/Judge can deal with the parking infringement at the same time.

But this:
2. Double parking or parking more than 50cm from the kerb:

The new powers mean that CEOs will be able to deal with inconsiderate parking causing congestion and road safety problems.

and this:

3. Parking at Dropped Kerbs:

New powers of enforcement will help deal with inconsiderate and selfish parking at pedestrian dropped kerbs and dropped kerbs outside someone’s property.

Is where I have a problem. Not that double parking and parking by dropped kerbs isn't a problem, no its the "inconsiderate" bit. It like one of those irregular verbs: my parking is OK, your parking is a bit dodgy, his parking is downright inconsiderate.

And who do we ask to be the arbiter of what is inconsiderate? Yes, some local council employee, for that is what they are no matter what the title, and in this country local council employees have a deserved reputation for being "jobs-worth's".

A low ranking official who follows their instructions and procedure to the letter. Often just to piss you off and to make them feel important. 

Most people will be pissed off but accept it if the police pick them up for bad parking, but will be outraged if it is some local council employee making what they believe to be an arbitrary and even capricious decision about whether of not their parking is inconsiderate.

I'll be watching out for more cases of CEOs being verbally assaulted.





The LPUK tale: Andrew Withers

I suppose that before I write any more LPUK saga I should give my opinions on the central character, Andrew Withers.

Andrew's blog was one of the blogs I read that attracted me to LPUK.  In the early days it showed a good understanding of politics and someone who genuinely wanted to change the way our politics is structured and delivered. I first met him, albeit briefly, when he talked at the inaugural SE Libertarian meeting. What he said made sense, that we are unlikely to get any LPUK MPs elected in his lifetime (and as we are the same age that means mine as well) but that doesn't mean we shouldn't start the process and start to change the debate. He came across as someone dedicated to the cause of freedom and fighting the authoritarian tendencies of the Labour Government.

What really inspired me at that meeting was the number of young, intelligent and committed members). Indeed the SE leadership had an average age of about 23, but that's a tale for another day.

As I said in a previous post, I next met him at a meeting to discuss how I could help the Party and I've subsequently met him on a number of occasions, including over the traditional pint. I've also had numerous email exchanges and telephone conversations so think I have got to know him reasonably well.

There is no doubt that Andrew has worked very hard for LPUK and has been a driving force. He was instrumental in getting a lot of people involved and working for the Party. He came across as having boundless energy. Not only was he setting up and trying to run a political party (with others), he was fighting a court case and trying to set up his own business. As the old saying goes, if you need something doing ask a busy person.

This bit I haven't discussed with anyone else,  but having said all the above I did feel that he started to lose his way. Some of his posts were erratic and he seemed to be losing direction and his leadership started to lose direction. Maybe it was me and maybe it was the general situation but we were drifting. We had a new Government and with the loss of a focus for the Party, the authoritarian Labour Government. People seemed to be willing to give the Coalition a chance, especially as the Orange Book elements of the LibDems were holding so many places in the Government.

The slow decline of LPUK is not necessarily Andrew's fault, there are others in the Party, including me, who could have been doing more. But as one Regional Coordinator said recently, there is a lot of apathy out there. However, it is in difficult times that organisations look to their leaders for direction and inspiration, unfortunately that wasn't happening.

As I didn't want any front of house role (see previous post) I decided that I would complete the year in office and stand down in November. There was no reason to make life any more difficult for the Party than leaving part way through the year so I would continue to manage the membership databases and help where I could.

I Andrew's defence I should say that managing a libertarian party is never going to be easy, everyone knows how the Party should be organised and run and what the policies should be and how the party can grow. Unfortunately not every wanted to stand up and take on the leadership. If you want to understand how difficult any leader will find the job just look at the  the proposals for the Party's future, as you will see there are N+1 opinions, where N is the number of people offering opinions. It really is the proverbial herding cats.

In conclusion, I would say that Andrew is to be applauded for the energy and effort he has put in to the Party but perhaps we should consider the Party like a business. Those who set up businesses are rarely those who can take them on and run the successfully into the medium and long term and perhaps, through no fault of his own, Andrew was never going to be the right person to ensure that Party continues to grow.




05/06/2011

Why I got involved with LPUK

Anyone looking at what is going on with LPUK will know that I am at the centre of a lot of the recent discussions and disputes. Up to now I have tried to keep my own council while I tried to keep the Party alive for the sake of the members. I have tried to limit my comments on other blogs to correcting what I believe to be a blatant factual error or someone putting words in my mouth. One of the main reasons for minimising my input is that  the whole affair has been very emotional and lots of comment sections have just degenerated into flame wars and I have been trying, unsuccessfully, to negotiate a way through the mess.

So as this is my gaff and my rules I'll put my point of view here and will not allow the comments, if I get any, to contain any emotional or inflammatory comments.

Its probably best to start with why I got involved with LPUK and took on a role within the NCC. I have always taken a keen interest in politics and current affairs, by this I mean from as long as I can remember discussions about news with my father, which is some time in the 60s. Having left school at 15 and joined the Army I never really had time to get active and it somehow wasn't appropriate while still serving. On leaving the Army in 1990 building a new career became the priority so I contented myself with shouting at the TV.

Although my father was born and raised in the slums of Bradford, a strong Union and Labour area, he was always scathing of them and often described them as the working man's worst enemy. That doesn't mean he was a Tory, he could be scathing about them as well. He tended to vote on the basis of the least worst politician theory and I am aware of him voting for all 3 of the main parties. Indeed he once used my proxy vote to Liberal, against my wishes, but he judged them the best bet for the local election. Sadly he died not long after Maggie Thatcher was elected but he did support a lot of her economic policies but not ncessarily the social ones. He did back her over the miners strike, having suffered the 3 day week trying to run a pub. He hated Heath and Wilson with equal measure.

I tended to support the Conservative Party but this was more of an anti Labour position than a pro Tory one, although I was and still am a fan of Maggie Thatcher. However as I had the time to read more widely I realised this was more to do with her relatively liberal economic policies as much as anything else.

It was the confluence of New Labour's authoritarianism and the rise of blogging that really taught me that what I had come to figure out for myself was actually well grounded theory. The biggest influences were Tim Worstall from who I learned  a lot about classic liberalism and basic economics,  more on Tim's influence at a later date, and the Devil's Kitchen for the introduction to libertarianism.

I joined LPUK with the intention of helping out financially where I could and to do a bit of campaigning, although at the time I was very busy with work. In August 2009 I took redundancy with the aim of taking a year out to do a few personal projects and to have a long relax while still young enough (53) to enjoy it. As the wages were going I said to the then Treasurer (Andrew Withers)  that I couldn't make any more donations but as I had a lot of experience with setting up organisations I would be more than willing to help out where I could.

Andrew took me at my word and arranged a meeting with him, Gregg Beamann (who was to become Chairman) and another guy who I haven't met or heard of since. At the meeting Andrew asked me to take on the role of Membership Sec and Nominations Officer. I agreed although not sure what that involved. I was to find out later  that it was whatever I could make of it.

One of the things that the Party did want was renationalisation and I set about defining regions where they didn't exist (this in its self was contentious and caused a few arguments), idendfying members who lived in those areas and trying to persuade someone to step forward as a regional coordinator when we didn't have one. There were a few other tasks but it wasn't a difficult job, although time consuming to start with.

The role suited me, I'm always quite happy working in the background and as I'm no political theorist I didn't want an outward looking role. During this period I met some very good people, certainly not the selfish baby eaters that the left like to portray libertarians. I also recognised that I am very naive when it comes to active politics and political parties as were a lot of members but we were all willing to learn.

So this is how I got myself in to the middle of a dispute that although minor in real world terms has seen some of the most vitriolic and emotional arguments I have ever seen, and I've seen a few.

04/06/2011

So MPs think they work too hard

New MPs are finding the combination of long hours and a heavy workload a struggle, and worry the job is harming their family lives, research suggests.

A survey by the Hansard Society of the 227 MPs elected for the first time in 2010 suggest the new intake are working an average of 69 hours a week.

One said the demands of Westminster and constituency work had a "devastating" impact on their private life.

Absolutely no sympathy from these quarters. There a re plenty of people queueing to do the job. But lets think about one of proposed solutions, more daytime business hours.

There's a very good reason Parliament sits in the afternoons and evenings. It is to allow Ministers to do their Ministerial duties in their departments in the morning and then be able to attend Parliament, hopefully to be held to account, in the afternoons and evening. I'll bet Ministers would just love to be able to hide away in their departments and not have to do the dreary bit of accounting for their actions.

Of course there is another solution. Stop passing stop legislating the minutiae  of our lives, stop bringing new legislation every bloody year to update or correct the crap you got wrong in the last legislation.

PS Suddenly I feel a desire to start blogging again, although I suspect it will remain sporadic.