Wednesday, 16 May 2012


There was a time in Local Government when if you had 10 Councillors in a room then you were sure to get a least 15 different opinions. Then somewhere during the mid 1990s all opinions blurred into first of all three camps (Tory/Lab/LibDem) and then into just one, not a Coalition but it seems at local level a Coatrition.

For this reason as an Independent I often found it nearly impossible to promote new ideas or even question the status quo at Council meetings and when I and other Independent colleagues did so our points of view were dismissed by all parties as scaremongering or trouble making we were left out on a limb, our concerns dismissed as negativity, and our comments often ignored in the press.

So thank god for the blogosphere, here we can say as we please within reason, and be judged on not just the opinion we express but also on whether or not we called it right at the time.

Today in the third of my topical shorts we revisit two earlier blogs from the past to give you an update as to how close we called it at the time:


Most of you will remember my posts on "Enterprise Managed Services" the new company that took over all of the Borough Councils refuse, cleansing and groundworks contracts in a 14 year deal. Praise came from all round the Council chamber from the big three, and in my last post on this subject I reminded readers that even Labour's Leader at the time Lee Mason commented that she didn't care who collected her bins as long as they didn't change colour! The Lib Dems agreed the deal, the Tory's trumpeted it as their own when they came to power, even going as far as to hold a re signing photo opportunity for the agreement.

Only two Cllrs at the time, myself and Malcolm Mildren spoke out, We challenged the figures, said that Enterprise had put in a loss leader as a bid and could not afford to deliver the service at anywhere near the price set. We questioned the long term security of the staff who would be transferred, and warned that 14 years was along long time if they made a mistake. We urged the Council to make its own changes to the in house delivery in order to keep control of the service. And we were ignored.

The warning signs were there, at the time Enterprise told the Council that it couldn't raise the funds itself externally to buy new vehicles to run the new contract and asked the Council to lend them the money to do so! Again Malcolm and myself tried to promote caution but our comments were relegated to the wheelie bin

So Enterprise started the contract, to begin with we had the usual teething problems, and as a result some changes were made, some at times seemed to have an effect, but only over time would we be able to judge the outcome.

That time is now approaching, and it is approaching at break neck speed. Let me tell you what my contacts down at Westbridge have been telling me over the last few days. First of all it seems as if Enterprise have lost money on the contract (surprise surprise) the figure I was told was that they have lost £2.5m in the first year. As a result of the above 15 staff were made redundant last week, with more to follow, refuse collectors, street cleaners, groundworkers all being cut back. The emergency clean up team who was successful in clearing up the mess made by their own refuse and recycling officers gone. 5 of the shiny new vehicles which Enterprise borrowed money from the Council to purchase gone. The Councils flagship recycling unit at Westbridge Depot? Closed and the staff laid off and the waste now being diverted by road to other recycling centres in the country expanding further the carbon footprint.

None of the above has hit the ears of Cllrs at NBC yet, and there has not been as much as a sausage in the local press, but when your bins are not collected as often, or you wonder where the street sweepers have all gone, or why the grass is three feet tall again. You can say I read about this on a blog from a bloke who the council said was talking rubbish when he warned them that this would happen. Rubbish indeed!


The other criticism I receive is that I must be a real anorak at times to know so much about the most inane of subjects. I hold my hand up to this one, when I get my teeth into something I can't let go, and a number of times on this blog and on the Chronicle and Echos website I have warned about the potential dangers of the Council's next to useless fountain on the market square. If you want all the gory details just click here. 

What a load of old tosh they said, its perfectly safe. And yet it seems to have been off more than it is on recently, and anyone who missed in the press the ridiculous exchange between the Chron and the Councils leader over why it was currently turned off will be tickled to hear the story which goes something like this:

Local newspaper contacts Council and says "Is the fountain turned off because of the hose pipe ban"?
The Council responds by saying No not at all and  announcing that  "the fountain would remain on throughout the drought as turning it off would not actually make any difference to the town’s water supply". "So why is it off now then said the Chron two days later"? The Council replied with the following gem

"The water feature on Northampton Market Square will be switched off during the hosepipe ban to avoid causing concern to members of the public who might think it’s wasting water, the fountain was constructed to be very environmentally friendly. It‘s full of water which simply recycles itself over and over again. However, it’s hard to spread that message to everyone who will come into town over the summer, so rather than cause concern, we’ve decided to switch the fountain off until the ban is over.”

The above was all from a spokesperson with not one member of the Councils administration willing to be quoted.

So is this really the reason that the fountain runs dry? or is not everything as it should be? You see following my concerns raised with the council about how all that recycling of water in an area where dogs, pigeons and even humans foul cannot be good for little mites running through the mist ingesting all and sundry the council at least promised to carry out regular testing for a whole range of bugs and nasty's  including TVC, E-coli & Coliforms, Pseudomonas, Legionella and of course Cryptosporidium.

For those who missed my earlier posts, my concern was that the above bugs and their spores are to be found where water has come into contact with animal faecal matter.

The Market Square Fountain is open to pigeon fouling, dog fouling and any organisms transported on the shoes of those walking through the area

These spores where present are easily ingested through the air in mist or through the mouth from contaminated water and attack those with low immune defence such as children and those with HIV

The jets in the Market Square Fountain are of course at just the right height to be ingested by small children playing in the fountain

These tests started in Aug 2010 and took place in Aug/Sept 2010 April/May 2011 June/July 2011and again in Sept 2011.

But no testing has taken place since. More worrying is that the last test for Cryptosporidium was way back in Aug 2010 some 20 months ago!

Of course since September 2011 you can count on one hand the number of times the fountain has been working, but surely nothing untoward was found at that time?

After all Cllr Clarke (as I was told by many) was just scaremongering, the fountain is perfectly safe. And the Council surely would have said something to us if there was any public health risk. And if there was anything untoward we would have read about it in the Chron surely? And Councillors would have been made aware and would have considered it a duty to tell us if there was a problem? So it must be safe.

Safe that is until you discover that the test for TVC, E-coli & Coliforms taken on Sept 2nd 2011 was proven as positive!

Monday, 14 May 2012


"Hi my name is Professor Pongoo, I am a six foot tall penguin, the cousin of Pingu and I have come from another planet to warn people about Climate Change. I am standing as your candidate for Edinburgh Council and if elected I pledge myself to attend every council meeting as your elected penguin"

An unusual, but not altogether bad platform to fight an election campaign on I guess, and it so nearly worked. Pongoo with 444 votes was well ahead of the Lib Dem candidate 370 and also the Green Party candidate  on first preference votes but in a seat determined by the alternative vote he eventually lost out to the big three in Scotland (well big two and a tiny bit) The SNP, The Labour Party and the Tories.

It was brave attempt for the Independent candidate, and the man inside the suit Mike Ferrigan, and a warning to us all that apathy and a total loss of faith with our current political system is still a leading issue even amongst the minority 30% of the population who can still be bothered to vote.

Pongoo's near miss was for me the highlight of a Local Election night that overall was a predictable and completely mind numbingly boring affair all round. OK the Labour Party won a whole shed load of seats lost in previous elections and in fairness they won more seats than even the Tories who were talking their chances up, had predicted, The Tories lost seats and the Lib Dems flat lined.  And as the local government pendulum swings against the government in situ we should by now be used to such changing fortunes.

Meanwhile down in the smoke Boris held off Ken on a "We know he is a Tory, but we quite like having a Mayor who is as mad as a goose" vote.

Proof positive if you like that even the big three revert to farce when their core vote abandons them. In fact I dare say if Boris had himself taken advise from Pongoo and dressed up in a penguin suit then his vote would have been even higher, but then if Ken had donned a Salamander Lizard outfit? who knows the Labour Party might have took the mayoralty as well?
But a 30% turnout! just where are we all heading? I recently researched party membership of the big three in Britain over the last 60 years and found that the Tory Party can lay claim to the highest ever party membership figures of the three main parties (2.9m in the 1950's) followed by Labour (1.1m again in the 50's) The Lib Dems of course are a modern phenomenon but in their various guises they always struggled to reach such dizzy heights (highest found figure 145,000 1980 SDP)

So how does that all fare against today's party membership statistics, surely given the massive rise in population since the 1950's the number of our citizens actively involved in political life must still be quite high? Not a chance, the last estimated  figures in 2010 have the three party memberships as follows;

                     Conservative: 210,000 Labour: 190,000 Lib Dems: 45,000
That's less than 500,000 members between the lot of them! or an even more alarming way of presenting it just 1.5% of the UK population between all three of them. And if you really want a sense of the size of the decline then look no further than a comparison with UK membership of the three biggest Conservation and Wildlife charities. The National Trust alone has more members than all three of the political parties combined total, and when added to memberships of the Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds then the Big Three nature lovers at 5.5m members trump the party hacks by more than 5m paid up subscriptions. Maybe the RSPB vote explains Professor Pongoo's success?

Coming back to local politics, you also have to remember that we currently have 469 local councils in the UK as well as two parliaments (England and Scotland) and an two Assemblies (Wales and Northern Ireland) so given that you have to be a party member to stand for election then roughly around 30% of those combined party members would be current candidates and 10% (1 in 10) will end up being elected. You should also worry that all three of the parties amongst their membership include a proportionately high number of eccentric individuals (best written about in another blog)

New parties are also not making any in roads into the public interest. Of the most successful in recent years and also the most vile UKIP have only ever reached membership high figure of 26,000 in 2003 (now down to 16,000) and the BNP a high of 9800 in 2008 which most believe has now fallen to well below 4000

So to put it bluntly we have one of the lowest political participation rates in Europe, our political system and its parties are tired, irrelevant to most peoples everyday lives and less attractive to most voters than a six foot man dressed up in a penguin costume. One in ten of those in a party will be elected and three in ten stand for election. These are chosen by the other seven in ten who inevitably include amongst their number the politically naive, the retired and inactive and a small bunch who it is best to simply describe as socially odd, nice to be with but frankly as mad as a box of frogs

I am a socialist, those are my political ideals, I am now after 5 years out in the cold able to rejoin the Labour Party if I so wished, they along with the Greens are currently the only parties I could ever entertain signing any membership form for in the future. But before I took such a massive step I would need to know, what were their parties plans for re-engaging with a British public who are currently completely turned off to UK politics.

I don't want a debate with the 30% of the 30% who bother to vote in Local elections, I want to engage with the 70% who don't bother to vote at Local Elections and or say they never will or never have voted.

And fun as it may seem, I don't want to have to dress up in a penguin suit in order to do it.



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