Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Choosing who should run our schools

It seems that my Christmas wish for Weston Favell School to be left alone and remain outside of the clutches of a Tory County Council and a Labour Governments wish to turn them into an Academy against their will has come partly true!

Certainly the news out today that Weston Favells academy sponsor ULT had withdrawn from their intended take over of the school is good news, and it is the second academy sponsor to withdraw in two years of failed Council consultations on plans that the general public simply just don't want. The latest announcement came after the minister expressed "serious concerns" about the lack of progress at the ULT-run Sheffield Park Academy which is currently in special measures.


But be warned, in the new year no doubt the Council will only redouble their efforts to find someone else to sponsor their unpopular plans and they can then try again to convince us they only have the best interest of our children at heart, rather than simply washing their hands of what they decree failing schools. But with 1 in 3 academies now failing you would think the Council would be more cautious as to its choice of partner, and less keen to tell us that State run schools are always bad and Independent run schools always good

But just how much embarrassment are the Cabinet willing to take on this issue, whilst their sponsors fall like wobbly skittles in a bowling alley?

ULT's latest announcement coming on the back of damning reports of their failure elsewhere to turn the fortunes of schools around were not surprising, anyone with a modicum of common sense (So that obviously excludes the Councils Cabinet) could see their failures and poor record staring them straight in the face. 30 speakers who turned up and spoke to the infamous "were not listening" cabinet meeting and scores of others who wrote letter and emails could have told the Council that ULT were not fit for purpose, even the minister hinted at it but they just didn't want to listen.

(see http://tonyclarkeindependent.blogspot.com/2009/12/brave-stupid-or-simply-arrogant.html below )

So will they be more discearning in their choice in the future? I doubt it, just look at what they are up to just a couple of miles away at Unity College with the help of the Church of England where the school is being offloaded to another academy sponsor, The David Ross Foundation

(see http://tonyclarkeindependent.blogspot.com/2009/07/role-model-but-to-whom.html from July )

David Ross you may be aware is very friendly with one David Cameron, and is a major donor to the Tory Party (So far so good for the blue rinses at Strawberry Hall I hear you say) but he also courts rather a lot of controversy and this weeks press makes the County Councils choice for Unity's future even more interesting. About a year ago Mr Ross stood down from the Board of Carphone Warehouse after failing to declare that a loan was secured on his company shares, soon after this he was further asked to resign as an adviser to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Bad press for someone tipped to be a future member of David Cameron's cabinet following a possible elevation to the House of Lords, and time for a period of reflection and for laying low I hear you thinking.

But this week in what is impeccable timing for Strawberry Hall, Mr Ross hit the national press again. The Daily Mail informs us that "within the next few days he can expect to be questioned by police about a fracas involving a young, blonde, Lithuanian woman. The lady made an allegation of assault after she called the police in the early hours of Friday morning to the Belgravia home of Mr Ross"

The Mail then followed up the story by revealing that "the woman at the centre of 'assault' at the home of David Cameron's millionaire friend David Ross is an escort girl"

"The Lithuanian blonde claims she was cheated out of money 'for services rendered' by a man at the house. She alleges that a scuffle broke out in the early hours of Friday, during which she was assaulted"


In a response Mr Ross, who has been helping formulate Tory schools policy, has told friends that the woman was not invited at all, and he threw her out when she confronted him.

It was suggested that the woman might have turned up at the house with several guests from a party hosted by pr guru Matthew Freud which was attended by Ross, David Cameron and his wife as well as other celebrities and political guests. Sometime later after arriving at Mr Ross's house she was told to leave by Mr Ross after she had alledgedly threatened him.


Now I have no doubt that the Metropolitan Police will get to the bottom of what occurred and Mr Ross may well be innocent of any wrong doing and be nothing more than the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but whilst the national press concentrate mainly on what they say "risks embarrassment for Mr Cameron" the possibility of any embarrassment for the Tory Party in Strawberry Hall is less clear.


Now call me old fashioned, but for me, when picking out future partners to take over responsibility for the education of our children, I want to know and to be assured by our councillors that they are a) up to the job (ULT failed on that score it seems) and b) that the head of any foundation applying to take on such a responsibility isn't going to continue to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.


No doubt the Tory Cabinet on the County Council have asked themselves these very same questions? But up until now they have been very shy in revealing to us any of the answers.


My solution? Scrap these crazy plans to offload our state schools to the independent sector via the "academy" programme and start doing the job you were elected to do in giving proper support to our schools rather than treating them like commodities to be shipped off to anyone who will take them.


And listen more to the pupils, parents, teachers and governors who have a big stake in our schools, rather than government ministers and local bean counters.

Monday, 21 December 2009

HO HO HO MERRY XMAS

For your seasonal delight, and to prove to Carole (my wife) that I am more than prepared to take the p*ss out of myself as well as others, I offer you a yuletide offering all of my own. With special thanks to all those on both councils who who made it all possible.

And just for fun I have added the words underneath so that you can all have a singalong:

video


STRAWBERRY HALL ARE YOU LISTENING?
WESTON FAVELL'S NOT FOR SHIFTING
DON'T TAKE US FOR FOOLS
BY OFFLOADING OUR SCHOOLS
WALKING IN A COUNCIL BLUNDERLAND

A BRAND NEW LEADER ON THE BOROUGH
WOODSIE'S ASTRA'S NOW A GONER
BRIAN HOARE'S THE NEW BROOM
ANDREW SIMPSON'S NOW DOOMED
WALKING IN A COUNCIL BLUNDERLAND

ON THE MARKET WE CAN BUILD A FOUNTAIN
AND PRETEND THAT WE'RE A GROWING TOWN
WE'LL SAY ARE YOU CRAZY?
THEY'LL SAY NO MAN
CUZ L&G'S THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN

IN THE SHIRE OF SQUIRES AND SPIRES
HARKER'S DEALS ARE ULTRA VIRES
WITH CARRILLION GONE
THEY TELL US NOTHING WENT WRONG
WALKING IN A COUNCIL BLUNDERLAND

ALL OUR COUNCILLORS VOTE THEMSELVES A PAY RISE
AND TELL US, THEIR NOT FAILING ANY MORE
MEANWHILE HOMES AND TOILETS ARE STILL CLOSING
OUR GOVERNANCE IS ROTTEN TO THE CORE

GONE AWAY ARE THE SHOPPERS
STILL NO DECISION FOR THE COBBLERS
BRIAN HOARE IS A STOOGE
AND JIM HARKER IS SCROOGE
WALKING IN A COUNCIL BLUNDERLAND

OUR LEADERS HEADS ARE BURIED IN THE SAND

WALKING IN A COUNCIL BLUNDERLAND............................

Merry Christmas

Tony

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Why Local Democracy has lost its way

With Strawberry Hall (Northamptonshire County Council to those who don't buy into the Chief Executives psychobabble ) planning cuts in expenditure of £100m over the next four years. And other local Councils at Borough/District level planning "service reductions" to match, local councillors including yours truly will be in for a busy time defending or opposing budget plans and finding alternative ways of delivering ever deteriorating public services.

So concerned is County Council leader Squire Jim Harker at the task ahead of him that he recently launched his own psychobabble based report to rival even his own chief executives tomes (she probably wrote it for him) In the report he declares that instead of slashing services to children the disabled and the elderly and removing funding from other departments and outside bodies like CAN, as well as scrapping county music service and meals on wheels, and taking away school to home transport he is simply "Helping you to help yourself" The report told us that we needed to "tackle the wicked decisions" and use "tough love" to help people understand that by delivering no services to them at all we are really doing them all a big favour by boosting their self reliance!

It reminds me of the excuses given to me years ago by over sadistic school teachers when they told me "This will hurt me a lot more than it does you Clarke" whilst trying to convince me that by whacking a bamboo cane across the palm of my hand repeatedly, that they were not abusing me, but simply "building my character"
Well it was B*llocks then and its B*llocks now, if people are going to do something that is clearly wrong, but to which they have convinced themselves because of their warped sense of social responsibility that there is a good reason for them doing it, then they should at least have the courage to admit to it rather than pretending its all for our own good.

Meanwhile over the road the Tory opposition on the Borough Council in Northampton will be fighting the cuts imposed on us in the Boroughs budget by the ruling Liberal Democrat Council, before many of the same Councillorsfrom all party's cross that same road over to George Row to change seats so that the Liberal Democrat opposition on the County Council can attack the Tory Administration for doing everything they had just said so unpalatable in the other place. Labour Councillors will of course stay silent in the knowledge that it is there governments national spending cuts that the other two party's are implementing under a veil of supposed local democratic rule

Its the politics of the madhouse, but at the end of the day will it make much difference what anyone says, whilst we have a Labour Government content on slashing public funding and an ever hopeful Tory Government in waiting, trying desperately to out cut them?

Local voters expect their local Councillors to be in control of local spending. not for it to be left to some Mandarin in Whitehall, and yet if they all really knew the whole truth on who really takes the decisions then I believe many would give up on local democracy all together.

A recent study by the "Total Place Programme" (more government money wasted on consultants) tells us that so much of our local decision making is now controlled and financed by Quango's and faceless unaccountable regional boards and local partnerships, and that of every £7,000 per person spent on local services such as health, education and care for the elderly, only £350 of that is controlled by local politicians!

Before you rush for your calculators that means that those you vote for at Borough and County Council elections control between them only 5% of the money spent on all services in the locality.

In addition all Councils of all colours have plans to further "delegate"the responsibility for ever increasing amounts of council decisions to their officers or at the very least to "Cabinet Members" upon their advice.

It is therefore no wonder that even the Local Government Association has now woken up to real concerns over the lack of control local people have over how money is spent in their area.

In a speech to a Total Place summit, David Parsons, chairman of the LGA Improvement Board, said: “It is absurd that people do not have a bigger say over how their taxes are spent in the area they live.

“During these tough times democratically elected councils have a vital role to play if people are to get the local services they demand and deserve.”


Preliminary findings revealed that in one area as many as 49 different organisations spend taxpayers’ money. These include the health service, the police, the probation service and benefits agencies.

A LGA poll carried out in September found that nearly two thirds of people (65%) think local councillors should make decisions about cuts to spending in their area. Just one in ten thinks MPs should make those decisions and fewer than three per cent would prefer officials in quangos to decide.

Our local governance has never been more toothless, I sometimes wonder myself why I bother to stand for election, the reason I do of course though is that whilst the quangos and boards and corporations are more than happy to spend your money, and spend increasing amounts of it on senior management posts and consultants, they have little appetite for representing the public or helping to resolve the problems they often cause to the populous they should serve.

So as individual councillors some of us at least continue to try and fight the good fight, and defend the rights of local voters and service users, but at least personally I no longer have to do so whilst being held back by a party political system which not only protects the above power grabbing agenda but in many cases actually supports it and proposes it.

Increasingly it will be Community Groups and Residents Councils and Service Users and Parents (as they did last week) who will take on the powers that be (and the powers that want to be) at the Town and County Halls but hopefully there will be increasing numbers of Independent Councillors around to lend them some support.

So bring on the budget season and let battle commence.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Brave? Stupid? or Simply Arrogant?

Yesterdays County Council cabinet meeting may go down in history as the day on which Joe Public finally gave up on Northamptonshire County Council ever being able to describe itself as an accountable and listening Local Council.

The decision by seven cabinet members, none of whom represent wards in Northampton to close Weston Favell Secondary and gift it and the surrounding land to the United Learning Trust to be run as an academy had done irreparable damage to the Councils reputation and it is difficult to see just what their motive was.

Rallying against the plans were the pupils, the teachers, the schools governors, the parents, the town's two MP's, the prospective parliamentary candidates from all other party's and none, the entire Borough Council and Conservative County Councillors from within their own group who knew that what they were doing was not only wrong, but that it was also an act of political suicide on behalf of the Conservative Party given the 97% opposition to their plans.

At the meeting 24 members of the public, spoke passionately against the plans, and opposition councillors including myself pleaded with the Squirocracy to have a change of heart and not undermine the community's interests.



References were made to the fact that if the meeting were a boxing match then the referee would have stopped the contest way before its conclusion, but it would seem not one of the punches thrown from the opponents of the plan landed on the 7 Tory members who took the decision. I also pointed out to those in the chamber that boxing matches are about brute force, but Council chambers should more about reasoned argument than simply the Council imposing its will on the community just because they can.

The public however won the day on reasoned argument as well, as speaker after speaker pointed out that the school had met all the targets it had been set and was well on the road to recovery and beyond without having to risk that turnaround with further change and upheaval. But still the recalcitrant seven dug their heels even further into the County Hall carpet.

The outcome was a victory for the anarchists who tell us that no governance is worth defending and it was terminal defeat for local democracy and the future of Education in our town.

I felt powerless in trying to explain to young people who had campaigned to protect the stability of their schooling that the first time they had tasted democracy it had poisoned them. What hope have we ever got of convincing young people that politics really matters when they see such blatant abuse of power being exercised by the Tory elite on the County Council.

And what message does it send to our young people when we try to tell them that Bully's never prosper? These seven "Stalinist's" (as their one of their own Conservative MP's referred to them in today's press) used their block vote to impose their political will on all present and on the general populous as callously as a any bully taking dinner money away from the weak.

It was a lesson in how not to govern, a reminder that hidden under the friendly conservative mask of electoral niceties lies an ugly, rancid and fettered creature of unlistening and uncaring conservatism still waiting and willing to do the bidding of the privileged few at the expense of the needy majority.

After the meeting, opposition Councillors rightfully called in writing, as is allowed for in the constitution for the decision to be decided by motion at Full Council by way of having no confidence in the Cabinets actions and asking for the Secretary of State to refuse to yield to their plans.

So, seconds out, round two in January where no doubt even more people will want to speak and play their part in informing our local democratic processes, but will they listen this time? and if not is it because they are brave Tory's of the "not for turning" fraternity, or Stupid enough not to see a political own goal right before their eyes, or maybe its that they are simply so arrogant they care nothing for the views of the public and care nothing for the future of the children who will inevitably suffer as a result of their continued interference and political dogma?

Finally, a huge well done to all those who took the trouble to speak at the meeting, you were concise by necessity (unlike the 20 questions afforded to the director at the whim of Cabinet) you were competent in putting facts before the cabinet, (unlike the very one sided report placed in front of members) and you won the argument hand and mind over fist.

Its just a pity and an outrage that the seven members of cabinet didn't listen to a word you said.

Monday, 7 December 2009

So just what's is their big plan?

News may have reached Northampton's political family by now that two of their extended cousins Anjona Roy and Geoff Howes were expelled from the Labour Party after a painfully long enquiry into what Labour party staff saw as them colluding with, and supporting people outside of the party (see http://tonyclarkeindependent.blogspot.com/2009/09/shooting-yourself-in-both-feet.html ) None of it is true of course, but since when did that worry the cowards that run the East Midlands Labour Party.

Two and a half years on from my own expulsion, and given the election results since, you may think that I view this latest news with glee? After all the party seem to have endless enthusiasm for smashing itself into ever smaller pieces, but really, I feel more saddened than elated, because despite their party allegiance, both individuals are honest and good people, Anjona is an assertive and efficient campaigner for the rights of those often trodden on by life, and she was an excellent local Councillor, her equalities work across many fields is known throughout the County and beyond. Geoff, a freeman of Northampton, former Leader of the Labour Group and Mayor was the most stoic of Party supporters. Geoff defended the Labour Party tooth and nail, it mattered nothing to him if it was Micheal Foot or Tony Blair's Party it was still his and god help anyone who challenged its values with him.

So why have they both been treated so appallingly? What is the Labour Party's end game? what is their big plan? Alongside the current expulsions there has been a mass exodus of party members in Northampton who no longer can support the peoples party being so much against its own people, both its members and those they have traditionally defended. So just what is it that Emilie Oldknow as the Director of the Party in the East Midlands trying to achieve?

Emilie of course as witchfinder general had her own problems with the truth in her report back to the party following my own expulsion, alongside John Dickie and Peter Evans, and she even accused Muslim and gay members of the party of supporting me at the time because of my gender, (see http://tonyclarkeindependent.blogspot.com/2009/02/why.html ) I challenged them then to put me in a court room if they felt that I couldn't back up any of my comments I made with clear evidence. They didn't do so of course, because as with Anjona and Geoff's case the truth is the last thing they want to have to face up to in public. And so both were put to a modern day party centric version of the ducking stool, if they were guilty then they would be expelled, and if they were innocent then they would still be expelled even though we know they didn't do anything to warrant it.

Emilie's reward for her subservience it seems is to be shoehorned into Paddy Tipping MP's seat in Sherwood at the next election, its 6652 Labour majority may just stand up to the current slide in the polls, but according to yesterdays Sunday Times even her selection in what is an all women shortlist is marred with controversy, where another candidate Helen Holt believes she has been the victim of dirty tricks by supporters of Emilie Oldknow, whose boyfriend Jonathan Ashworth is Brown’s deputy political secretary. Holt said: “I feel I have been totally stitched up. My face does not fit. I believe I am being used in a process that from the outside looks fair but is a way of parachuting a candidate into the position because she has family links to Gordon Brown.” she goes on to say “I joined this party because I wanted to see fairness and justice for everyone and not just the chosen few. I once believed that one day a coal miner’s daughter could possibly be an MP, but now my belief has been shattered,” she said.

Well Helen, the people of Northampton and those who in the past have supported the Labour Party know exactly how you feel, the cowards and traitors are sitting in their high office flinching and sneering along happily to each other whilst those of us with any sense have long left the building. Who they will turn on next is anyone's guess, but locally at least there is hardly any one left for them to take out their venom on.

The other two party's though must not smile too broadly at the Labour Party's discomfort in public though as they to have their "internal issues" and all of the main political party's increasingly seem to want to turn their political memberships into little more than supporters clubs and leafleting crews with decisions taken on candidates and policy being left to the "connected" few, flying in the face of any concept of democratic accountability or local involvement.

And it is for this very reason that Independent local candidates will increasingly find favour with an electorate more ready than ever to declare "A plague on all your houses"

Meanwhile, I remain perplexed at trying to work out just what the Labour Party big plan is? They have an absent candidate in Northampton South who it seems has now even given up himself on the pretence that he is putting up any sort of fighting for the seat, (even his twittering has dried up) and so few people left in the party that meetings could be held in a coffee shop (most of the phone boxes have now been removed) They have imploded and show no sign of resolving any of the problems of the past apart from expelling anyone who was around at the time.

If anyone out there can offer me an explanation for their latest actions, or what their bigger game plan is then I for one would be delighted to hear it?

Friday, 4 December 2009

Just where is the compromise?

Keith Barwell’s recent challenge to Northampton Borough Council to allow him to use retail development to fund ground improvements at Franklins Gardens is understandably reminiscent of the Cobblers similar shelved plans of the past. As a director of the Cobblers I can empathise wholeheartedly with him and with what he is trying to do, as do the whole board at NTFC. But with my Borough Council Hat on, can I view the problem from the other side of the fence?

To a degree yes. No one wants success for our professional sports clubs to be at the expense of harming the future of the Town Centre, but many in our town, like me will be asking just where is the balance? Where is the good Counsel? What are our Leading Councillors doing to find a resolution to these dilemmas?

My directorship of NTFC prevents me from speaking up about Sixfields in the Council chamber as over pompous officialdom makes it more and more difficult for local Councillors to do their jobs without fear of being reported to the Standards Board for not declaring this interest or that. But why shouldn’t I and other Councillors like the new Leader Brian Hoare (a shareholder at the Saints) have an interest? Surely it makes us better placed to understand the problems that both clubs face and for us to use that knowledge to inform and guide our colleagues on the Authority?

Local Government has over a period of years become far too sterile, far too safe, Northampton Borough Council has excelled itself in becoming the leading Council in the UK for not taking decisions. Instead it hides behind its planners, government policies and national developers in forever giving us reasons why nothing is ever “that simple” Well I don’t believe any of it. Did Milton Keynes Council falter in their decision making when using the cash from IKEA and Asda to build Stadium MK for the towns sports fans putting them firmly on the sporting map? Were Swansea, Doncaster, Hull, or Coventry Councils negligent or reckless with the future of their City Centre when planning and building similar Stadia?

Our town, and our Council needs a "Can Do " attitude, whereby we lead by our action and make national policy work in the towns favour not against its combined interests.

I was on Northampton Borough Council when Sixfields was originally built in 1994 and I can say hand on heart that it would never of happened without Councillors being prepared to stand up to those who told us it couldn’t never be done, or because it was against this or that policy or local government rule. John Dickie’s as Council Leader at the time would answer any doubt by firmly, and at times robustly reminding officers that the role of Councillors was to make decisions and the role of officers was to find ways of implementing them. It seems times have changed? Successive administrations since, of all political hues have found solace in excuses and in indecision. And by making no positive decisions they escape the blame for any responsibility, but they were all elected to serve our town and make decisions based on finding common sense solutions to the competing demands of different sections of the community.

Compromise is there to be found if the politicians are willing to court it. For instance is ALL out of town retail bad for the future of the Town Centre? If the Council or for that matter even the Saints or the Cobblers take up no compromise positions then the town itself will be the loser in one way or another. Surely is is now the time for common sense solutions, and round the table talks with all involved to be held. These talks, followed up by firm direct actions are a must if we are to move the projects forward in the best interests of the whole town.
My direct interest bars my involvement on Council in any such talks, but the continued inaction by my fellow councillors to date on all these issues leaves me currently embarrassed to be amongst their number.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Lucky Dip Liberals and Democracy from a Top Hat

Some of you will be aware that the Independent Group on the Council are currently in dispute with the administration at NBC over the Council’s allocation of committee places following the formation of the new group. We agreed with our overall allocation of 6 places on the Councils Committees, (this is worked out proportionately) but we disagreed with the Council then allocating these places themselves without any consultation with us, resulting in Independent Cllrs not having a place on important Scrutiny Committees with the other three main parties and with us being placed on other minor committees such as the Tree Panel and the Appointments Panel.


So we are in dispute, but our dispute has been orderly and measured, we refused to take up our places on the committees until there had been proper consultation and agreement, and we have been increasing our opposition in other areas to make up for our non participation on committees. This has included the group speaking on every item at the last two Cabinet meetings and submitting 104 questions to the Leader and Portfolio Holders (who get paid extra for dealing with their briefs) at next Monday's Full Council. meeting The questions (all approved by the Borough Solicitor) are wide ranging and cover all of the Councils operations, examples include questions on concerns over attacks on Council Staff to the removal of Asbestos within Council Homes.


The above is called opposition, the administration do not like it, but that’s tough ,it comes with the job and is an effective way of holding the Council to account and making your voice heard despite the moves made to silence you.


So have our protests been dealt with in a Liberal or Democratic fashion? Has the new Leader (Cllr Brian Hoare) learnt from the mistakes of his departed predecessor? No such luck. First of all he arbitrarily introduced new rules at Cabinet to limit the number of Councillors who could speak at Cabinet on certain items, not just affecting the Independent group but also cutting off other Councillors from other parties who had attended the Cabinet to represent the views of their electorate.


On the question of Committee places the Council has now decided that as we won’t agree with their allocation or give names for committees they have placed us on that they will now impose these places on us and draw our names out of a hat to determine which of us will sit on which committee.




And on the matter of those 104 questions? Well the leader doesn’t think it is fair that his portfolio holders should be made to work for their extra responsibility allowance and so he has declared, again it seems without any reference to anyone else that they won’t answer them? They will refuse to answer all of the 104 but (and here comes that hat again) they will draw three questions from each of the three Independent members out of a hat for answer unless we inform them of the 95 questions that we should withdraw!


This is not democracy, what do we say back to members of the public who gave us questions they wanted us to put to the council? “Sorry the Council refused to answer?” Or “unfortunately your concerns and problems were not drawn out of the hat”


An excuse given to me by the leader of the Council is that “officers are working too hard on the budget to provide answers” but as the council's Chief Executive told me himself “Questions to portfolio holders are for portfolio holders to answer, not the officers” I also understand that officers are working so hard on the budget that today, the Chief Executive, the Borough solicitor and the Director of Housing all took time out of their busy schedules to oversee and conduct the Leaders prize draw to determine our questions!


This has to be an all time low for a so called Liberal Democrat group to use underhand tactics such as this to deny the properly elected voices of the town the chance to question their record or scrutinise properly their actions.


We will turn up next Monday and expect all of our questions to be tabled and made available to the press and public, and we shall expect answers to all of them as well, and whilst accepting that the 30 minutes allocated to “Questions” on the Council agenda will not be sufficient to answer them all, we will expect that written answers are forthcoming to all 104 submitted.


We will not be bullied into sitting on Committees at the whim of the Council and have our membership selected by being drawn out of a hat, and we will not sit by passively as the Liberal Democrat group bring further shame onto our council and continue to bend and reconfigure the Councils constitution into whatever shape or form suits them.


Amongst their number of Portfolio Holders I am hoping that there is at least one who will have the decency and courage to act and speak for themselves and provide the answers to the questions we have raised with them. If so I will thank them for their courtesy and attention. If not, I and I am sure many others, will be asking just what do they do exactly to earn the extra thousands they receive from the Council coffers for the extra responsibility of their office?


And the next time the Council contact you to tell you that you are late with your Council Tax payment or rent, or that they want you to pay more for parking or Leisure fees, tell them “I will consider your request and pull a number of options out of a hat to decide on whether I follow your rules or not” after all what’s good for the Goose?

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Carry on Carrillion

Thursday's County Council meeting went very much to type with the Tory Party voting en'masse to accept the "draw a line in the sand" option given to them by the Councils Chief Executive leaving most of the public still perplexed as to exactly what had occured and who was responsible, and what they were responsible for in the first place.

Well in order to assist, I will try to explain below. The mammoth report which was heavy on rhetoric and light on facts told us that after a lengthy investigation and many interviews nobody could determine who said what and who did what, and as most of the possibly guilty party's had left the council that we should all just now forget it, move on and make sure it never happens again,

Readers of my last post will know that in 2007, officials from Northamptonshire County Council agreed an £8 million a year deal with West Midlands-based construction firm Carillion to take over the management of the council's buildings.

But earlier this year, the council unexpectedly pulled out of the contract. It later emerged the way the council signed-off the deal may have been illegal and many key documents could not be found at County Hall.

Well it turns out that the QC engaged by the council did think the letting of the contract was unlawful, and who had the ultimate responsibility for letting the contract? Step forth Cllr Robin Brown and Cllr Bill Parker, both reasonably sensible people on the surface it seems, but between them (at different times as portfolio holders) they managed to take a £8 a year contract through all its processes and then award the contract initially for 4 years with a possible 4 year extention without ever bringing the issue back to the Councils Cabinet Meeting (held in public) so that opposition councillors and the general public could judge whether or not it was or was not a good deal.

Of course in the end it proved not to be a good deal and only then, when investigations started as to how the contract was let in the first place, did we discover the uncomfortable truths which have caused such a fuss ever since.

Now if we want to simplify all this, and cut through all the paperwork (most of which is still missing or not to be found) then all we need to ask ourselves is were the rules broken by the two councillors when they proccessed and/or agreed the contract?

And the answer in the report is a clear YES. Cllr Brown initially informed Cabinet of the contract being advertised for tender and promised to bring the matter back in front of cabinet as the matter progressed. He didn't. Cllr Parker who then took over from him as portfolio holder for finance then signed off the contract with a succesful tenderer without any proper scrutiny or agreement by the Cabinet or Council as is agreed within its constitution. Again Guilty as charged.

So why have neither apologised properly for the part they have played in such a debacle, or why have neither felt the need to fall on their sword? Well that is I suppose a personal matter for each of them to ponder and question. But the lack of political courage shown by the Councils Leader Jim Harker in dealing with the whole sorry issue sooner has in my mind only made the situation a whole lot worse.

Where is Cllr Harkers political nounce? surely if he was in possession of all of the facts, then you would have thought he would have pulled one or both councillors to one side after Junes election and said, look boys, you screwed up here, and it looks bad for the council, therefore I am keeping you off the cabinet for a period of 18months in order to show the public that we have dealt with the situation internally. But he didn't do that, instead he put both of the Cllrs straight back into his Cabinet and in doing so rewarded them for their inaction and/or wrongdoing of the past.

The call for Cllr Parkers resignation in April and again on Thursday was inevitable, the outcome of the vote on party lines again predictable, but will this end the matter once and for all?

Of course not, the Carrillion Affair will carry on and on and on, my best guess is that the next stage will be one or two members of the public making a complaint to the Standards Board about either of the Councillors involved, a tricky one indeed as the facts are there for the Standards Board to clearly see. Did the Councillors break the councils constitution? YES should the contract have been let without proper authority and approval by cabinet? NO.

My personal belief is that all involved including Jim Harker may live to regret not dealing with the matter far more quickly and decisively in the first place. Cllrs Brown and Parker who I both believe are decent people caught out by not reading the constitution correctly and listening too officers too much without challenging them, will also have to suffer for much longer as a consquence.

One final sour note from Thursday meeting, the Council leader made some very strange remarks regarding scurrilous blogs and breaches of privilege. I hope he was not referring to this blog? (perhaps it the light hearted separated at birth pictures he doesn't like) But I would never say anything on this blog which I am not prepared to also say in public or at Council, and the open comments box allows all to have their say and agree or disagree with me. Furthermore if any individual is offended personally by my comments and feels I have overstepped the mark then they only have to contact me and I would be more than happy to listen to their view and change the copy if in agreement.

But I guess its the truth which hurts far more than any non truth ever could.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Lost the Plot

When faced with tough questions to answer over the failed £32m Carrilion Contract fiasco on Northamptonshire County Council the ruling Tories come up with a rather unique if not totally plausible defence of saying that they could find no evidence, no paper trail as to what went wrong and therefore they couldn't decide who was responsible!

In 2007, officials from Northamptonshire County Council agreed an £8 million a year deal with West Midlands-based construction firm Carillion to take over the management of the council's buildings.

But earlier this year, the council unexpectedly pulled out of the contract. It later emerged the way the council signed-off the deal may have been illegal and many key documents could not be found at County Hall.

Cllr Bill Parker the portfolio Holder for Finance told the local newspaper that

"There are some big gaps in the investigation where we just can't find the information. But because many officers who were involved in the deal have now left the council, I suspect quite a lot of it went out in boxes when they walked out of the door."

His cavalier attitude to the whole affair was echoed by the Cllr previously holding the purse strings Cllr Robin Brown who said

"I don't think any documents have been lost on purpose and there's no justification for any disciplinary action."

And to sum the whole matter up the leader of the Council Mr Pastry himself Jim Harker calmed our concerns by telling us

"There's no evidence full stop and that's the crux of the problem."

Well not quite Jim, for whilst it might be convenient for the Tory administration that all the evidence has disappeared it leave the public wondering just what sort of show these jokers are running?

Recently when a freedom of Information request was submitted to the County Council questioning the amounts the authority had spent on Consultants we were told "Sorry we can't find the information on our computer" Its the equivalent of the Little Britain sketch where "The computer says no"

No doubt at next weeks Council meeting we will get the opportunity to question how hard they looked and remark at how convenient it is for the ruling administration for evidence to have been lost.

But it won't wash with me nor I doubt the public. An authority which has control of over £400m of our money a year needs to respond a little more professionally when challenged over its malpractice, as it is clear that what has been lost along with the paperwork is the Councils reputation and along with it the already tarnished record of the local Tory's Party in managing the County' finances.

Political fools and the taxpayers money it seems are far too easily parted!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lest We Forget

Rememberance Sundays have always been days of mixed emotions for me. As someone who is too weak to be a pacifist and too opinionated to be a nationalist, I find my anti war sympathies clashing with the basic need to recognise the sacrifice others have given to secure ours and others freedom whilst at the same time also remembering all the victims of war on all sides of the conflict including the millions of civillians who have lost their lives without so much as picking up a gun in defence or anger .

Others of course will understandably think differently, some would be appalled at the thought of showing any respect in passing for the enemy, for others the very act of rememberence is a celebration of their national pride.

Yesterday however at All Saints, I felt the hand of unity fall upon those present as an elderly 98 yr old Pakistani war hero paid his respects at the War memorial, followed shortly after by our old friends the Polish Community resplendent in National dress, reminding us of the reasons we fought facism in the 2nd World War.

The unity of our purpose was a million miles away from the propaganda paraded by the far right with thier shameful use of World War II images to stir up nationalist ideals and to try drive us further apart.

Yesterday reminded us that Britain could not have won either of the World Wars without the contribution made by non-white and non-British soldiers.

This is nothing new. The British Empire had always relied heavily on non-white and non-British troops to secure victory. The largest amongst these was the Indian Army, whose troops served throughout Asia and Africa.

The British Navy also recruited widely throughout the Empire. At the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) there were 187 sailors from the Caribbean, 28 from Africa and 23 from India aboard ships in Nelson’s Fleet. The Death of Nelson, painted between 1859 and 1864 by Daniel Maclise, clearly depicts two black sailors, whom he included after meticulous research to ensure the historical accuracy of his composition. Figures such as James Africanus Horton (1835-1883), Oludah Equiano (c.1745-1797) and Mary Seacole (1805-1881), to name but three, all served in the British armed forces before 1914.


At the outbreak of war in 1914 Britain recruited heavily from her Imperial possessions. Over one million men from the non-white colonies served during the First World War. The greatest military contribution came again from India. Over 138,000 Indian troops fought in Belgium and France during the conflict. More than one quarter of them became casualties. In the first battle of Ypres in Flanders in 1914, a platoon of Dogra Sikhs died fighting to the last man, who shot himself with his last cartridge rather than surrender. After the bloody battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915, the Sikh regiments had lost 80% of their men. Three regiments stood at only 16% of their original complement.


Khudadad Khan Khudadad Khan, from what is today Pakistan, served as a machine gunner with the 129th (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Baluchis, becoming the first native-born Indian to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for bravery.

Fifteen thousand men from the West Indies (white and black) saw active service during the First World War. The British West Indies Regiment was formally established in November 1915 and 11 battalions served in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, suffering 1,325 casualties including 185 killed in action. The racial prejudice to which it was subjected contributed to a mutiny among its troops in 1918. Troops from Africa played an important part in the defeat of the Germans in East and West Africa. Others, from countries including Egypt, Mauritius, Fiji, South Africa and China, swelled the ranks of labour units, providing logistical support for frontline troops.

Walter Tull served in the trenches and became the first black British army officer before being killed in action in 1918 during the last battle of the Somme. Before the war he was Britain’s first black professional outfield footballer, playing for Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town.


Four Indians and one West Indian served as pilots in the fledgling Royal Flying Corps (RFC), which was to become the Royal Air Force. Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy, who was born in Calcutta, served with the RFC and recorded nine victories against enemy aircraft before being shot down and killed in 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). The Royal Navy also received invaluable support from the Hong Kong Naval Special Volunteer Reserve, the Colombo Minesweeping Force, the Nigerian Marine and the Royal Indian Marine.


Vintage historical World War 2 poster of servicemen from the British Commonwealth. Allied War Effort: Together (Pictured Left) is a Vintage historical World War 2 poster of servicemen from the British Commonwealth. Allied War Effort: Together

Over 2.5 million Indians – Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims – served with the British armed forces during the Second World War. The Indian Army (which included recruits from the areas that later became Pakistan and Bangladesh) was the largest volunteer army in the world. Over 36,000 Indian members of the armed forces were killed or posted missing in action during the Second World War and another 64,000 were wounded. Indian personnel received 4,000 awards for gallantry, and 31 VCs. The only VC winner from elsewhere in the Empire was Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, of the Fiji Military Forces, who earned this highest of all commendations in June 1944 at Bougainville.


One of the 31 recipients of the VC was Havildar Gaje Ghale, who in May 1943 was in command of D platoon, 2nd battalion, 5th Royal Gurkha Rifles. Although badly wounded, he continued to lead a charge against the Japanese forces on the Tiddim Road in Burma.


The citation for his VC stated that he had “dominated the fight” with “his outstanding example, doubtless courage and superb leadership … Covered in blood from his own wounds, he led assault after assault”. In total there were 2,500,000 Indian people in uniform during the conflict.


Approximately 6,000 men and women from the Caribbean served with the RAF during the Second World War. Some 300 or so West Indians served as RAF aircrew, and around 90 men received decorations. This included seven Distinguished Service Orders (DSO), and 64 DFCs.


Ulric Cross Probably the most decorated was Squadron Leader Ulric Cross (pictured right), who was awarded both the DSO and the DFC. The citation for the latter notes his “exceptional navigational ability” and the “very large number of sorties” he had flown “against heavily defended targets” in Germany.

Sam King served with the RAF. He returned to Britain on the Empire Windrush and became the first black mayor of Southwark. He was later awarded an MBE.


Some 520 men came from the Caribbean colonies to work, mainly in munitions factories in the northwest. About 80 West Indian women, initially only white women, were recruited for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

By December 1944 around 5,000 black Africans were enlisted in the West African Air Corps as RAF ground crew. A very small number served as aircrew with the RAF. Tens of thousands served in supporting roles such as in the medical corps or as anti-aircraft crew, as well as in construction and other vital war work.


Some 372,500 African troops fought in East Africa and Burma, helping to defeat the Japanese.

Non-white, non-British people also made a significant non-military contribution to keeping Britain going in the fight against Nazi tyranny. Approximately 15,000 colonial merchant seamen brought vital food and raw materials to Britain and transported war material to various battlefronts. Five thousand of them perished. Some are buried in Commonwealth War Graves as far away as Murmansk.


Noor Inyat Khan One of the most famous agents of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which fought behind enemy lines, was Noor Inyat Khan (pictured left), an Indian Muslim princess who worked as a radio operator with the French Resistance. Betrayed by an informer and arrested by the Gestapo, Khan refused to talk. After being tortured and beaten, she was executed by the Nazis in Dachau concentration camp in 1944.

The sacrifice made by many of these troops who helped to restore democracy in Europe was all the greater when one considers that many had no desire to return to the status quo ante, in which their countries were colonies denied self-determination.


Even when independence was granted to these countries after 1945 many of their citizens continued to serve loyally in the British armed forces, producing heroes such as SAS Sergeant Talaiasi Labalaba from Fiji, who was killed fighting in Oman in 1972 at the Battle of Mirbat, and Private Johnson Beharry, who received the VC (the first awarded since 1982 and the first non-posthumous award of the medal since 1965) for his bravery in helping fellow soldiers in Iraq.


During the 1960s an unofficial quota limited the number of ethnic minority personnel serving in the Army to a maximum of 3%. Today, however, ethnic minorities comprise 5.6% of the armed forces and 2.9% of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Civil Service.


Johnson BeharryEthnic minorities and people from the British Empire, later the Commonwealth, have a long and illustrious history of service in the British armed forces, to which they have made a vital and often unsung contribution. The British National Party aspires quite literally to whitewash this history, dismissing the notion that such troops, even if they were born here, are “British”. Indeed such is the BNP’s contempt for the contribution of these troops that Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, even dismissed the Gurkhas, the feared Nepalese fighters who have fought for Britain for generations, as nothing more than “mercenaries”.


The BNP even had the temerity to claim that Johnson Beharry (pictured above) only received his VC because he was black, and further defamed him and his bravery by stating that he was an “immigrant” who had merely driven away from the scene of a battle, implying that he was a coward.


So Lest We Forget, our rememberence has no colour bar, our heroes one and all fought for humankind not nation state alone.


It's a lesson the BNP would do well to take heed of.


(with thanks to Hope not Hate for the source material)

Sunday, 8 November 2009

The most common of all antagonisms arises from a man's taking a seat beside you on the train, a seat to which he is completely entitled.

And so it seems the same antagonism resides in the hearts and minds of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative Leaders on Northampton Borough Council, but not with seats on trains, but seats on Council Committees.

With Cllrs Jean Hawkins, Malcolm Mildren and myself having formed a new Independent Group of three, the make up of the Council changed dramatically and the Lib Dem majority on the Council was reduced from 5 to just 1, and as a consequence the membership of all the Councils Committees needed to be rearranged to accommodate the new groups members.

A simple enough task you would think, but no such luck, I have witnessed in the past the Labour Group fighting over where I should sit in the Council Chamber as an Independent Councillor and also refusing to sit alongside me (and now I understand the Regional Party are asking NBC's Labour Cllrs to sign documents agreeing not to cooperate with me on the Council!)

So I should have known that getting agreement from all concerned as to our rights to sit on committees would always be fraught with difficulty, and so it seems it is.

We have been allocated 6 Committee places as is our right, but what committees we serve on is normally a matter of consultation between all party's. Not so on Britain's Most Undemocratic Council. Here the three leaders of the Lib Dem, Tory and Labour Party discussed and decided between themselves that they should keep hold of as much as they can and then allocated spare seats to the new group as they saw fit!

So no surprise then that instead of the Independents being represented on the 3 main Scrutiny Committees the three main parties tried to dictate that we sit on Committees such as "The Tree Panel" and "The Licencing Committee" Nothing wrong with the business of either of course, but in order to hold the Council fully to account Independents should be represented on all the main scrutiny committees the same as other party's on a proportional basis.

So what are they so scared of in denying us a voice? And what leads them to take a view that consultation through the "Usual Channels" is to be denied to those not in a Party? Ignorance? Indifference? Fear?

As a consequence my group has decided not to take up any committee places until their has been proper consultation. Instead we will attend all committees as we see fit and speak from the Public Gallery. We did so last Wednesday and opted to speak on every item on the Cabinet Agenda. No doubt we will do so again at the next and also find other ways of ensuring our voices are heard.

The three main party's must understand that by trying to play King Canute and holding back a swelling Independent tide that they are simply at risk of drowning a lot quicker.

Myself and my two fellow Independents on the Borough Council will not under any circumstances be party to dictatorial decision making, and old boy network tactics on Council.

Its high time though that the other party's grew up and accepted that we are here to stay.

Monday, 19 October 2009

I wanted you to be the first to know!

NOTIFICATION OF NEW POLITICAL GROUP


Please be advised that with affect from today Monday 19th October 2009 that together we the following members of Council:


Cllr Tony CLARKE


Cllr Jean HAWKINS


Cllr Malcolm MILDREN


Have formed and wish to be treated as a new political group on the council known as “The Independent Group” based on the following shared principles:


INDEPENDENCE: We are not a political party, and we will follow no Party/Group whip, nor impose on our group members any actions other than to respect our core values and principles. We will remain individual Independent voices in Council.

EQUALITY: We believe that all are born and remain equal and all should have equal access to the same life opportunities and experiences, we abhor racism and intolerance and fight the injustices they bring. We will work together to achieve equality of opportunity for all citizens of Northampton and to all users of Council services.

HONESTY: We believe that politics, local and national has become riven with self interest and party manipulation, we will inform the citizens of the town through our actions and through Council the true position of our Town and Council and let the people make their own judgements.

TRUTH: Likewise we believe that the public must always be told the truth, even when it is not pleasant for them to hear, we will therefore be open and truthful in all our dealings.

LOCAL PRIDE: We believe in Civic Pride and we are proud of our heritage and at ease with our future. We want only what is best for our town. Therefore we will work constructively with other members and groups on Council where we feel they have the best interests of the town at heart.

We ask that the Council make the necessary arrangements and alterations under regulation 8 of the Local Government (Committees & Political Groups) regulations 1990 forthwith.


Cllr Tony CLARKE Leader of Group


Cllr Malcolm MILDREN Deputy Leader


Cllr Jean HAWKINS Business Manager




(My apologies for those outside of Northampton who will not know that Cllrs Hawkins and Mildren resigned from the Liberal Democrat whip at the weekend and in doing so made a brave and couragous stand against the way the Council is currently being run. Thier switch to sit as Independents reduced the administrations majority from 5 down to 1)


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