Monday, 24 August 2009

Daily Mail and the Truth

The more you are involved in campaigning the more you realise how the press doesn't always get a story right. The other week in my job at a CAB, I got an email about managing spam from our national body. A bit oddly it had a sentence about calling things "blocklisting" rather than "blacklisting". It was a bit odd but the comment of one person.

The next thing I know the Daily Mail is running a story over the weekend about how the CAB service across the county has banned the use of the phrase "blacklisting" in another example of PC madness. The CAB service is a network of fiercely independent charities and that the thoughts of one person does not automatically make it policy across the network. The Mail also showed a lack of knowledge of the service in that it described it as a "government funded Quango", a description it changed on its website today. Cue lots of outraged comments from people on the Mails website automatically assuming that this was emblematic of a country going to the dogs and that this disgusting service should be scrapped. This is how the reputation of a charity helping the most needy in society is attacked needlessly for the sake of a headline. If this is how the CAB service is treated then it makes it hard to trust any articles in the paper.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

In the NHS QIPP is no joke

A busy weekend but not with the usual campaigning. Instead it was off to Bury in Lancashire to visit my in laws. My wife's grandma has been treated by the NHS and has received excellent care. It made me reflect. 10 years ago the NHS was on the ropes, a chronic lack of underinvestment made many to question the value of the service.

But now we have had many years of record spending in the NHS. Although not everything has been done right, most people would admit that the level of care has increased. It's done this on the back of massive increases in NHS spending over and above inflation. Post 2011, the NHS faces a return to the days of real terms stagnation, with settlements unlikely to go above inflation. That is the case under any potential government.

The NHS has been instructed by the government to look for efficiency savings and push money into prevention. It's little known QIPP programme (Quality, innovation, productivity and prevention) has instructed NHS Primary Care Organisations to look for savings in other areas to move money into Prevention. Essentially this means that some departments will have to make cuts. I hope for all our sakes that the NHS manages the leaner times better than the boom times.

As a non exec director of a Primary Care Organisation, I would say that it's important that politicians of all sides stop accusing the other of cutting the NHS and look carefully at how we can continue to increase patient care without it costing a lot more. A lot more difficult than throwing money at the problem. My preference and that of the Liberal Democrats is to decentralise the NHS and make it accountable to local people through local authority scrutiny. It is very top heavy at the moment, with the Strategic Health Authorities having a lot of power. That is a good idea in an NHS region with underperforming trusts but this is not the case in the NHS, where most of the hospitals and primary care organisations get good reports.

The policy I advocate opens up the potential for the NHS to be more responsive to local needs and to develop innovative solutions. But it does require local politicians to raise their game and for local people to hold them to account. It is infinitely superior in my view to the pseudo democracy of foundation trust boards. However, we must acknowledge that local choice means different service levels across areas and that fans of top down, lowest common denominator politics will start to scream "postcode lottery"!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Whickham campaigning

After yesterdays campaigning I decided to move into a different part of the constituency, well to the neighbouring estate on the Broadway in Whickham anyway! A good reception and a good response to our survey.

It was interesting to read two things in the newspapers, both about the (distant) third party in Blaydon - the Conservatives. It was interesting to see their solution to widespread discontent to the current league table system to schools, tweaking the league tables! ( They intend to award more university points for "harder" subjects and less for "soft" subjects. It's easy for the Tories to pick on Media Studies but I think there will be a lot of subjects where this easy headline will be hard to translate into policy. The problem is not the relative merits of league tables but the fact that league tables do not give you a real picture of the schools performance. Neither will the new Tories league tables.

The other interesting article was in the Observer ( , where senior Conservatives have been revealed to as signing up recently to a book which advocates removing much of the current NHS system. The NHS is not perfect but it delivers world class healthcare at a reasonable price. The recent spat with US right wingers over the NHS has highlighted the national support or the NHS. The Liberal Democrats support it. Despite David Cameron's support, it is clear there is a large percentage of the Conservative Party that does not.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Oakfields Road Shop Development

This morning I joined councillors Peter Craig and Jonathan Wallace for a street surgery on Oakfields Road in Whickham. There is a proposal to turn an unused shop into a NISA convenience store. Residents have two main objections. The first is about the light pollution from a proposed illuminated sign. The second is that the applicants have sought an alcohol licence until 9.30, after withdrawing an early application for even later hours.

We were there to listen to local residents, the first duty of politicians. The overwhelming view was that residents didn't object to the new shop but wanted it to close earlier in what is a very residential area. It goes shortly to Gateshead Council but there is still time for residents to give their views.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Government Decent Homes Programme is Indecent

I have been having a number of conversations with Brenda Osbourne ( , our excellent councillor for Winlaton and High Spen, about the half hearted nature of the "Decent Homes" programme in Blaydon, which is due to be rolled out to Winlaton soon.

Government funding has been released to Councils/Almos/ in order to bring Council Housing up to decent standards. There is concern that in Blaydon and Winlaton, being at the end of the programme in Gateshead appear not to be receiving anything like the investment made in homes at the commencement of the programme several years ago.

Decent homes includes bathrooms, windows, kitchens, electrical wiring, and heating systems. Most of the properties in Gateshead were originally installed with back boilers many of which are now quite aged and inefficient but these will not be replaced with efficient combi boilers if spare parts can be located regardless of age. Insulation is also being carried out by Warm Zone. The windows are not to be replaced under 30 years as long as they are in a repairable condition. Many of these properties are in very exposed areas and the windows are extremely draughty which often results in huge fuel bills for some of our poorest citizens. We had reports that last winter several constituents in Barlow Village were obliged to pay approx £900 PER MONTH in order just to keep the chill off their homes. These properties are to be fitted with double glazed windows and have already been cavity wall and loft insulated but there is actually a cold breeze when a door is opened to the hallway.

It is apparent that many of the houses in the next phase with the same windows are not to receive double glazing or new boilers and that their heating bills are also high. It is simply unacceptable that the Labour government doesn't appear to be helping the most vulnerable and meeting their obligation to bring all housing stock up to the right standard. I suspect that this situation exists right across the region, not just in Blaydon. I will be raising this issue with our MEP, Fiona Hall, who leads on energy efficiency for the Lib Dems in the European Parliament. I will also be working with Brenda and other Lib Dem campaigners to campaign for improvements.
I would value feedback from residents on this issue.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

lovely day great response

Out campaigning in Whickham today and a great response from residents. There is still a lot of anger over expenses but a recognition that the Liberal Democrats are the challengers to Labour here and are the only party which has active local councillors working all year round for them.

I can't help but pay tribute to Gateshead Thunder's tremendous result in France last night. Despite having problems getting to Toulouse (, the team won convincingly 20-48. This gives our local Rugby League team a great chance of staying in the Championship. The "six pointer" next week against Leigh will be key!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

another full term assessment

Parliament is now in recess. The length of holidays our MPs take does somewhat beggar belief. Still an opportunity to review the performance of Blaydons current Labour MP. Has his record changed?

Here's the latest summary of ghis voting record on the nuetral website

  • Voted a mixture of for and against a transparent Parliament. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for introducing a smoking ban. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for introducing ID cards. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly against an investigation into the Iraq war. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for replacing Trident. votes, speeches
  • Voted very strongly for equal gay rights. votes, speeches
  • Voted for laws to stop climate change. votes, speeches

Read about how the voting record is decided.

More on well-known issues (from the Guardian) & their full record

That would appear to be a case of "no change"then