Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Freedom of Information - Except for our MP's - James Plaskitt Agrees.

Warwick & Leamington MP, James Plaskitt joined Labour and Conservative front benches in the Commons to vote for a special exemption for MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. This brings Parliament into disrepute.

How can we have one law for everyone, except for those responsible for making our laws.
Let me know what you think... Email me at

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Planning White Paper - Nice Words, No Content.

The 2007 Government Planning White Paper was published yesterday. Of particular concern to me was the impact that tinkering with the planning system may have on our environment, town centre economies and not to mention the architecture of our country.

I found the paper lacking in any real content, it includes a lot of nice words about sustainable communities and involving communities, yet fails to outline exactly how this will work. Of major concern to me is the replacement of the 'Supermarket Needs Test' with an impact test, yet I can find no detail of exactly what this is.

I feel we will need to keep a close eye on this one and fear that a quest for faster decisions may result in the wrong decisions at the detriment of local communities and the character of our towns.

I will be involved in the consultation process on this and if you would like to tell me about concerns you have please email me and mark the email 'Planning White Paper Consultation'.

In the mean time you may like to look at these websites.

The White Paper.
Royal Town Planning Institute (discussion on the paper)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Target Culture

I spotted this on the BBC Website this morning. Police Condemn Target Culture. This is Blair's Legacy, too many public services driven purely by targets.

This is not just an issue for the police, people I have spoken to in Education and Healthcare have also told me of a target driven culture that distracts them from doing what we, the public actually want them to do, educating our children each acording to their ability, treating us when we get ill or keeping our streets safe.

Now I am not totally against performance measures, from my experience in commerce and industry I know the value of being able measure how you are doing against a plan or the industry. I also know that when you have organisations incented purely on meeting targets, often with their pay at stake that is exactly what they will do.

I have personally experienced this in organisations I have worked with and seen some appalling decisions that are completely in the worst interests of the business.

This is an example of 'New Labour' style of chasing headlines, lets hope the new political climate on June 27th will put an end to this.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Keep the Supermarket Needs Test.

I learned today that the governments planning white paper due to be published either tomorrow or Wednesday will abolish the 'Supermarket Needs Test'.

These are a set of guidelines that our local council can use to see whether there is a need for a new supermarket. This is important because too many supermarkets in an area can destroy town centre or high street trade. I have personally seen this in the town near where my mother lives, out of town supermarkets and some bad planning decisions have created a ghost town, even the pound shops are closing.

We have a vibrant town centre in Leamington and in Warwick we have a diverse range of specialist shops and traditional stores which are already under pressure.

If our council cannot say ‘No’ to supermarkets when they are not needed, how will they ever be able to stop them undermining our high streets.

I’m calling on the government not to scrap the ‘supermarket needs test’ and to give power back to our local community so we can save our town centre and help it grow into the hub of our sustainable, vibrant community.

Sign my petition. - Keep the Supermarket Needs Test.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lib-Dem's make net gains in District & Town Council Elections.

At the third attempt at conducting a count of the votes from last Thursdays election we have held each of our previously held wards in Leamington.

In one of their target wards, Clarendon where I was standing, we managed to elect 2 new Lib-Dem town councillors and narrowly missed electing a Lib-Dem district councillor by just 6 votes. This puts the Lib-Dem's in control of Leamington Town Council.

This has been a good result for us here. We have held onto our current seats because we have a track record of working hard and getting things done, people have recognised that and have reelected their Lib-Dem teams with very high majorities.

We have elected two excellent Town Councillors in Clarendon and now control the Town Council, we have an exciting program of things we want to achieve in Leamington which will enable us to continue to improve the quality of life in the town.

Well done to all the candidates, some of them elected for the first time in our Town and District. We have an excellent team here born out by this afternoons results.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Warwick District Count Postponed until Tuesday.

So after a disturbing night last night and late night I get up and head into Warwick town square for a cooked breakfast at one of the local cafes. I had been running on adrenaline and then shear exhaustion yesterday and really needed the boost.

I then headed back to Leamington Town hall for the next attempt at the count. I was dismayed to find the machines still in place and after being assured the technical difficulties had been resolved were told that the electronic count would proceed again.

I spent two hours verifying rejected votes with one of my opponents, an activity that usually only takes a few minutes. I started to have serious concerns as to the nature of the rejections and the system as a whole, informed by my understanding of IT and the logic of how these things work. I expressed these concerns to my agent who had a discussion with the Electoral Commission representative. It seems I was not the only one with similar feelings of discomfort. This election is likely to be close in many wards and this is simply not acceptable.

The decision was made therefore to perform a full recount using the traditional method on Tuesday.

This is frustrating for all concerned, however all agree that there must be a count we all have confidence in.

Warwick District Count Chaos

Last night was a bit of an anti climax. Warwick District were trialling a new electronic counting system. Chaos did not ensue as many had predicted, chaos would at least created some excitement. There was nothing to see for hours and the whole thing seemed to be progressing very slowly. Many people were starting to get bored and after the excitement of the day the adrenaline was wearing off.
When the system eventually failed at around 2:30 with no results declared there was a noticeable lowering of the mood. I sensed a cross party rebellion forming. Credit to Chris Elliott the Warwick District Council Chief Executive who called all the election agents into a back room and after a short while they made the decision we all wanted. Go home to bed and start again with a manual count tomorrow at 1PM.
I was open minded about this system, working in IT I am usually in favour of technology, however having experienced last night I do feel we should stick to the traditional method of counting for the following reasons.
  • The electronic system cant be cheaper than employing counting staff, as the cost of the equipment and vast army of Tekkies to keep the thing running must run into large sums.
  • I am not convinced the electronic system is more accurate and as there is little to see provides the candidates and agents with no visible way of actually seeing what is going on. The beauty of the traditional system is that real votes are counted in front of all interested parties who have the power to call out mistakes. People have faith in this as they have an involvement.
  • The count is part of the excitement of an election. Candidates and supporters go through the campaign, months of planning and work, leading upto the final week, election day itself which is immensely busy, then there is the count. It is an exciting time, watching the end of a hard run race, speculation, celebration and commiseration. Only those that have been involved will know what I mean, imagine watching three important world cup matches in one afternoon and compare that to just finding out the result later on in the news headlines.

On reflection the old system is part of the tradition in politics with which everyone has confidence and has evolved over time. The system we tried is so dull as to put people off politics for life at a time when we need to encourage more involvement.

If we are to make changes, which I am sure we need to, lets make sure there is visibility to all concerned which provides the confidence in the result, lets make sure the system is properly tested and finally lets make sure we keep the fun and excitement.