Saturday, December 22, 2007

Noak Bridge Parish Council shows how it should be done

First, I must claim an interest: my wife is a Parish Councillor on Noak Bridge Parish Council. Our local paper has reported that the Council has cut its precept, or tax, for the third year in a row. They have done this by not employing anyone beyond the Councillors themselves, not paying themselves anything, and substituting hard work for even trivial amounts of expense. They have an excellent Chairman in Alison Armfield, who is not my wife I hasten to add, and they have managed all sorts of projects in the village, from replacing old and damaged signs, to installing benches and play and recreation facilities for children and teenagers. They don't even brag about it; their Christmas newsletter's headline is 'Merry Christmas' and it is being delivered by the Councillors themselves. If Basildon District Council had managed a tax cut then you would be able to shut us up about it.

The article was wrong about one thing. They didn't get rid of allowances this year. They never have paid themselves anything.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A coup against Brown?

This is a rumour, but it's a good one, that there has been a conference call among Labour backbenchers with the aim of ousting Gordon Brown as leader. It seems to have started in the Blogosphere, on Labourhome no less, and it is also echoed in an article in today's Daily Mail that suggests that a bad result in May's local elections might mean curtains for Brown. One of the few Labour MPs who has allowed himself to be named is Andrew MacKinlay, from just down the road in Thurrock. He thinks that changes have to be made at cabinet level, and he is quite right about that at least. Too many of Brown's appointments have turned out to be duds, from Balls the incoherent to Darling the downright incompetent, but the problem really is the man at the top. Brown's real problem was his coronation; by efficiently seeing off any challengers before there was any kind of a vote he denied himself the mandate that he surely would have won. Now, too many backbenchers can honestly say 'well, I didn't vote for him', cos they didn't. No-one did, not as Labour Leader or PM anyway. Brown's allowing himself a day off for Christmas. He might get rather more than that in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Government Data Shambles, again

Yet more data has been lost by the HMRC to add to that lost by other government departments. With the number of incidents approaching double figures, it is clear that there is a systemic failure of data and records security and management throughout large parts of the public sector. This doesn't just come from a failure of systems, though God knows these seem pretty shambolic, but from a failure of culture. Take the 25 million child benefits claimants on the two CDs that were lost for example. In cash terms this data could not have been more valuable if the two CDs had been made out of 24-carat gold. If they had been made of gold then no-one whould have shoved them into the internal mail, but no-one batted an eyelid about doing that to the data. Was it because no one understood how important the data was? Was it because it is almost impossible to get fired in the Civil Service no matter how poorly you perform? Professionally, I am an expert in this particular field and in my organision, a FTSE 100 company, errors of this kind would get you escorted off the premises by security. Unsurprisingly, this tends to concentrate minds. Now there is talk of adding criminal sanctions to the Data Protection Act. Well, that might help but it isn't actually necessary if management in government agencies were doing their jobs, and miscreants know that screwups of this kind lead directly to a P45.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Times Gives a 13 point Conservative Lead

A YouGov poll in the Sunday Times has voting intentions with changes from their last poll of Conservative 45% (+2), Labour 32% (nc), Liberal Democrat 14% (nc). Read more here and here.

The 45% figure is the one the talking heads seem to think the Conservatives need to get to for a convincing election victory. Now that this hurdle has been overcome it will be interesting to see what the Left establishment line becomes. The BBC have decided just not to mention it for example. Too painful I suppose.

John Baron MP: Traveller plan from Regional Assembly is unfair

Unelected quango says number of local sites should increase by 70%

John Baron MP today criticised proposals from the unelected East of England Regional Assembly (EERA) to increase the number of authorised traveller sites in Basildon from 116 to 197 (a 70% increase) while still leaving some areas in Essex with as few as 15 sites. The plans were agreed this week by the Regional Planning Panel and will be considered by ERRA on 25th January 2008.

John said:

These proposals are completely unfair and discriminate against Basildon District. The unelected members of this regional assembly should come and talk with local residents and gauge for themselves just how angry people are. Basildon has done more than most to provide sites, and so it is absurd that we should now be expected to provide even more.

These proposals would drive a coach and horses through our Greenbelt, as they equate need with unauthorised pitches and therefore reward travellers for illegally developing our Greenbelt land. But these illegal pitches reflect demand – a desire to be close to existing sites – not genuine need.

Instead, the Regional Assembly should be taking a genuinely regional view by obliging all those councils which have done far less to step up to the plate and now share this responsibility.

I would add that I sit on EERA for Basildon and that John's criticisms are entirely justified. If the Assembly was composed of elected members from the various Councils in the East of England then that would be one thing, but it is packed out with appointees from all sorts of unaccountable bodies who can easily push through anything they like. The Assembly has no proper rules of debate and it doesn't even record individual votes, so this could be voted through on a show of hands by people who don't face election and who can later claim 'it wasn't me guv'. Even the Labour government has realised that the Regional Assemblies are going nowhere and they likely face abolition; good riddance. In any case, if this plan goes through then Basildon Council at least will set the process in motion for a judicial review and then the whole stumbling, incompetent mess of the Traveller Review will be replayed out in the High Court. Or maybe EERA will have an attack of sanity and realise that its abject failure to represent the people of the Eastern Region's views on this issue among many others is the main reason that the Assembly is on the way out.