Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Fraud Inquiry at West Lindsey District Council

Investigators are probing West Lindsey's planning department over suggestions of potential fraud and mismanagement.

In a statement, the council said that potential problems in the management of the planning service had been brought to its attention and an internal investigation was being carried out. A spokesman for the council said:
"We are working with the Audit Commission and further investigations are being carried out."
It is understood that the issue was considered and discussed by district councillors in private session at Monday's meeting of the full council, but not until one key member shed more light and possibly increased the heat in public session.

The council has confirmed that a manager in planning services had been suspended. Which has been described as a neutral act to allow a proper investigation to take place.

Simultaneously the council is looking at a review of its senior management structure, which current leader Bernard Theobald said is:
"an exercise in cutting the council's coat according to the cloth.

"This is simply a review of structure and it may be that we need to make no changes or only small tweaks."
But former leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Cllr. Reg Shore, was more suspicious of the motivations and linked the review to the current crisis.
"I believe there are other things going on that are not apparent at this time."

"This council is going through a crisis with serious charges of potential fraud and mismanagement brought to our door."
Cllr. Shore also cryptically referred to
"other issues that may involve major standards breaches"
which he implied directly focussed on council members that could involve the police.
"I am not allowed to go into detail. That's for others as they go about their investigations and we await their outcomes,"
said Cllr. Shore who saw Cllr. Theobald's move as
"ultimately destroying the council rather than strengthening it."
Cllr. Theobald was
"extremely concerned and disturbed"
by Cllr. Shore's assertions as he did not believe there was any evidence of impropriety by members and challenged Chief Executive Duncan Sharkey if he was aware of any acts by members that could be construed as such.

Mr. Sharkey said he had
"concerns about potential breaches in standards, but they are only concerns, not evidence."


Watch the Council Meeting here.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

'Labour's Lost It' - The Sun

The Sun newspaper has ditched Gordon Brown's Labour party and will support the Tories at the next General Election.

The Sun has supported Labour for the last 12 years.

Sky's political editor Adam Boulton described the move as a nail in the coffin of the Prime Minister.

Next the headline Labour's Lost It the paper's front page says:
"After 12 long years in power, the Government has lost its way.

"Now it's lost The Sun's support too."
The Sun's political editor George Pascoe Watson speaking to Sky News said:
"We felt Labour had it within them to change the course of Britain's future.

"But we feel now that they have failed the country and are letting people down."
Watson said The Sun was 'impressed' by David Cameron, but promised:
"We will always be critical friends of the Conservatives, as we were with Labour, we will tell them when they are going wrong."
The paper has backed Labour since 1997 when Tony Blair led the party to victory in the General Election.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said he 'regretted' The Sun's decision to turn away from Labour.

"Newspapers have influence, there is no question about it,

"We would rather have their support, but it does not undermine, however, the committment we have to the British people, nor the fact that I believe they have made a mistake on behalf of their readers.

"I think it is a mistake."


There is of course no hard evidence that newspaper endorsements affect their own readers, let alone the broader public, but they are significant in the battle of ideas.

The Sun newspaper's endorsement is probably the most significant of all.

UPDATE: 08:30 30/09/09

Mr Pickles on Sky News has said that The Sun's endorsement of the Conservative Party would not make them complacent, insisting they would have to work even harder to win the election.
"To get 117 seats [necessary for a Conservative majority] is a big ask, so for all Conservatives around here this endorsement means were going to have to work even harder.

"It's now up to us to persuade the public that we can form the government and can be trusted with the economy.

"Complacency is an enemy when we're so far back."


UPDATE: 13:00 30/09/09
Mr Cameron said he was dlighted by the decision of The Sun to switch its support from Labour to the Conservatives, but maintained that voters would decide the election result.
"In the end elections are decided by people... not by newspapers, but I'm delighted that The Sun, that is a really important national newspaper... has come out and said it's going to support the Conservative party because we are setting the agenda in British poltics,"

"I want to have the widest possible, broadest possible coalition for change so obviously I welcome any newspaper or business or media organisation that comes on and says the Conservatives have got the right ideas."

Swan Songs for Gordon Brown?

It was astonishing to hear that the brains behind the Labour Conference had chosen to introduce Gordon Brown with the song 'Sit Down' by James. If they'd actually read the lyrics, they might have realized what a massive mistake this was:
Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
It’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor
If that last couplet isn't all about the financial crisis, I don't know what is. And then there are the lines that seem to sum up the Cabinet, sitting alongside Gordon Brown:
Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
In love, in fear, in hate, in tears
In love, in fear, in hate, in tears
In love, in fear, in hate, in tears
In love, in fear, in hate.
The finale was to play Gordon Brown off the stage with M People's 'Moving On Up'. I mean, seriously?
You've done me wrong, your time is up.
You took a sip (just a sip) from the devils cup.
You broke my heart, there's no way back.
Move right outta here baby. Go on pack your bags.
Just who do you think you are?
Stop acting like some kinda star.
Just who do you think you are?
Take it like a man baby if that's what you are.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Lib Dems were told to Exploit MPs Expenses System

Internal party documents obtained by today’s Sunday Telegraph show that Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians were being told how they could get the taxpayer to fund ‘material that does not meet [parliamentary] guidelines’.

The MPs were schooled in the use of ‘grey areas’ to get questionable spending through and advised:
“There is lots of scope... so be imaginative!”
The revelations come only days after Nick Clegg told his the Liberal Democrats party conference:
“Only the Liberal Democrats will clean up Westminster [and] reform expenses.”
The leaked documents were produced as recently as March 2008 by officials at the Liberal Democrats national headquarters, including Hilary Stephenson, the party's director of campaigns and elections, who will be running its next general election campaign, Ed Howker in the Sunday Telegraph reports. By that stage, the issue of MPs' expenses had already become highly controversial and the Liberal Democrats leader, Nick Clegg was vocal in calling for reform.

However, the documents show that behind the scenes the attitude was different. One, entitled ‘The Seamless Web’, an extract from the ‘Liberal Democrat Best Practice Manual’, deals with the common practice of sending unsolicited ‘MP reports’ to all local voters at public expense. Under Commons Fees Office rules, such taxpayer-funded material must be confined to factual accounts of the MP's activities. Party political propaganda, campaigning or fund-raising at public expense is banned.
However, the document then goes on to outline how MPs can get around this restriction:
“Many MPs will wish to include material that does not meet the Fees Office guidelines, for example... appeals for help or money”.
In this case, advises the document, MPs should take out adverts – paid for by public funds – in their own party propaganda material. Although the adverts themselves will be politically neutral – giving, for instance, the MP’s contact details or surgery times – the taxpayer-funded income from them will subsidise the party-political content of the rest of the leaflet.

As the document advises MPs:
“You can pay for the report by other means and then pay from the [taxpayer-funded] incidental expenses provision for advertising space.”
Mr. Clegg himself is among the Liberal Democrat MPs to have done this.

Another briefing, ‘MPs’ allowance rules’, tells MPs to ‘be imaginative’ to get a party-political message across at public expense. The
“divide between party political campaigning and MP campaigning”
was described as a
“grey area”
which could be exploited. Other ‘grey areas’ included the use of the party logo on taxpayer-funded material, the use of party slogans and the use of election candidates outside the immediate few weeks of the election campaign itself.

Officially, the document says, party logos can be used only
“a bit”
in taxpayer-funded material, and in a
“proportionate and discreet”
way. But MPs are advised that this is yet another ‘grey area’ which can be manipulated.

The document also advises the Liberal Democrats MPs that they should
“spend up to the limit… [and] should be making full use”
of the various allowances. It points out that the total available for staffing, communications and 'incidental expenses' added together is as much as £125,000 and advises MPs to transfer money between the categories for maximum impact.

It adds:
“Planning will mean that £125,000 of resource will be used to best effect.”
However it fails to mention some restrictions on transfers in the rules – for instance, the stipulation that only ten per cent of the staffing allowance can be transferred into communications.

Last year MPs of all parties spent almost five million pounds under the communications allowance for material sometimes barely distinguishable from their election leaflets.

Most of the highest-claiming MPs under the allowance are in marginal seats, suggesting that taxpayers' money is being widely used for political campaigning.
Gillian Merron, Labour MP for the marginal Lincoln constituency, has produced at public expense a ‘parliamentary newsletter’ posted or delivered to all constituents which appears almost indistinguishable from a Labour election leaflet. The newsletter uses the Labour Party’s standard typeface and the layout and colours are the same as a Labour leaflet.

The newsletter contains nationally-used Labour campaign slogans such as 'Working hard for...'.

A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said the party's ‘best practice’ manual had now been superseded and was
“commenting on a system that no longer exists”.
He said:
“Everything in these documents is designed to make sure that MPs follow the rules and is about helping MPs communicate more effectively within the rules.”

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Pope to Visit Britain

Pope Benedict is to visit Britain next year in what will be the first papal trip to the UK since Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Gordon Brown extended an invitation to visit the United Kingdom to Pope Benedict in February.

The trip is expected to take place in September 2010 after Gordon Brown gave him a formal invitation during a private audience in February.

Pope Benedict is likely to meet with the Queen and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and possibly stay at Buckingham Palace.

A preliminary itinerary includes visiting London, Birmingham, Oxford and Edinburgh.

However, British officials say that a trip to Northern Ireland is unlikely.

The Pope is also expected to be invited to address both houses of parliament in Westminster.

Pope John Paul II died in 2005

Confirmation has not been given by Downing Stree or the Vatican, however, government officials are expecting an announcement soon.

The leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, is yet to confirm the pontiff's visit.
"Any announcement about a possible visit by the Holy Father to this country we would expect to come from the Holy See."
Pope John Paul II's visit in 1982 almost did not go ahead because of the Falklands War.

He met the Queen during his six day stay, but did not visit Downing Street or meet the Prime Minister.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Nick Clegg: Change you can't believe in

Desperately weak stuff from Nick Clegg over the weekend as the Liberal Democrats launched their conference in Bornemouth.
"So the choice before people is the choice between fake, phoney change from David Cameron's Conservatives, and real change the Liberal Democrats offer."
There has definately been some change on offer from the Liberal Democrats - They have changed their line on spending to what the Conservatives were saying when it was not what people wanted to hear. So by making a comparison between a cheap copy and the original item, Nick Clegg might want to consider who's the 'fakes' are.

We can all recognise that the Liberal Democrats are not in a position to change anything. But one option that is open to them is to shift the balance of power across the political spectrum. For instance during Paddy Ashdown's leadership they abandoned their policy of 'equidistance' to side with New Labour against the Conservatives and inso doing they did bring about a small, but significant, realignment in the British polity. They advanced deeply into Conservative held territory, with at least twenty parliamentary seats switching from the blue to the yellow.

Nick Clegg is being cautious: Rather than grab a historic opportunity to challenge Labour's dominant position on the centre-left, the strategy is almost entirely defensive, a desperate attempt to hold on to the Ashdown legacy. It is an approach that displays cowardice, a lack of imagination and hypocracy; an indictment of a party unwilling to stand up for its centre-left convictions.

The Liberal Democrats' Conference cntinues.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

'Nasty' Nick Clegg has Set-Up an Attack Unit to Challenge the Conservatives

As the Liberal Democrat conference opened yesterday in Bournemouth it emerged that Nick Clegg MP, the Liberal Democrat Leader, has established an anti-Tory attack unit.

Mr Clegg accused David Cameron of being a con-man:
“David Cameron is the conman of British politics," he will say, "He’s put the ‘con’ back into the Conservatives, just telling people what they want to hear.

"[H]e wants to fix the broken society, yet he’s promised tax breaks to the rich. He talks the talk on the environment, yet he seeks out climate change deniers as new allies in Europe. He claims he wants a new politics, yet he won’t even own up to whether or not his big donors pay full British taxes. He says he’ll balance the nation's books, yet his most eye-catching proposal is raising the cost of salads in the House of Commons canteen.”
Chris Huhne MP (Home Affairs spokesman) has been charged with attacking the Shadow Chancellor:
"George Osborne who, with the best will in the world, has never done a job, never run a budget, never hired nor fired. He’s someone who has clearly got a very good education but doesn’t actually have that experience of the real world that Vince Cable so evidently does have. His inexperience on the most important issue of the election is going to be a real weak spot for the Conservatives.”
A Liberal Democrat Freedom of Information request was behind Friday's Channel 4 News report that six flagship Conservative pledges would cost fifty-three billion pounds.

The volume of the Liberal Democrat attacks on the Conservative Party reflects an increasing fear that many of their parliamentarians will be ousted by Conservative Parliamentary Candidates next year. The Liberal Democrats leadership has clearly been panicked by the defeats suffered in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset in the local elections in June by an increasingly sophisticated Conservative campaign machine.

The overall strategy thus looks very confused. On Thursday it was reported they were targeting Labour voters but Vince Cable's assertive talk of deep cuts in public spending is unlikely to appeal to Labour's heartlands. Given the weakness of the Brown-led Labour Government it is surprising that they are not doing better.

Liberal Democrats activists are voting with their feet. On Friday James Keeley, formerly Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Skipton and Ripon joined the Conservatives. Fifty Liberal Democrat councillors have defected to the Conservatives since David Cameron became Conservative leader.

It is noteworthy that the Liberal Democrats are going nasty at the same time as Eric Pickles' strategy of 'lovebombing' Liberal/Conservative marginals bears such handsome fruit. Locally we have also seen the nastiness that has been allowed to develop in the Liberal Democrats on West Lindsey District Council which culminated in Jackie Brockway's defection and the Saxilby By-Election last month.

£75,000 pitch on cards for Market Rasen

A £75,000 replacement artificial turf pitch is on the cards for the De Aston School in Market Rasen.

Members of West Lindsey District Council are looking to contribute £30,000 towards the project which eventually be repaid through savings made under a new leisure contract.

It is hoped that the balance of money needed will come from the school and the Football Foundation.

Leader of the Council, Cllr. Bernard Theobald said:
"The County Council paid for the artificial pitch more than 25 years ago and the district council paid for floodlights so it could be used by the community in the evenings.

"It continues to be well used - particularly by football teams - but sadly it now reached the end of its expected lifespan.

"The replacement of the artificial pitch will bring hugh benefits to a large number of people in the Market Rasen area. We will be asking the Council to set aside £30,000 in next year's budget and to recoup it from savings achieved over the new five year leisure management contract."

Friday, 18 September 2009

Eric Pickles: The Conservative Party is the home of Liberal Democracy

Speaking today, Eric Pickles, Chairman of the Conservative Party called on Liberal Democrats to consider supporting the Conservatives. He said:
“I am here today to give a simple message to Liberal Democrat voters - come on home to the Conservative Party.

“Whether you are a Liberal Democrat who, in the past, voted Conservative or someone who has never dreamed of voting Conservative before, there is a welcome waiting for you in our party.

“Liberal democracy has always formed an important part of the Conservative family. From the Factory Acts to 42 days detention, the Conservative Party will always be the home of progressive liberal democracy in British politics.

“It is time for people to come home to the Conservative Party.

“I believe, as many others do, that the Labour Party has failed our country.

“I believe there is growing consensus about the kind of change our country needs - a consensus that unites Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

“Our country is having a tough old time at the moment. We're faced with not just a mountain of debt, but a Mount Everest of debt. We are facing enormous social problems, failing public services, and a terrible loss of faith in our political system.

“That is why the next election is the most important in a generation.

“We are a country that needs leadership - strong leadership that will bring fresh ideas, and hope to people's lives. It's been evident this week that the Labour Government is preoccupied with its short-term survival - rather than taking the long-term decisions that the country needs. We meet today, just a few short months away, from an opportunity to begin the task of rebuilding our broken economy and mending our broken society.

“So if you are a Liberal Democrat voter, you have a very clear choice.

“You could vote Liberal Democrat again - and vote for a party whose leader admitted yesterday that he is chasing the Labour Party's votes and shifting further away from the liberal centre-ground.

“That's one option. Or, you could do something radical - something progressive. You could vote for real change.

“You could vote for a party that shares so many of your values. A party that can form a new government, a fresh government, a strong government.

“If you want a government that will put power in the hands of people, if you want a government that will scrap ID cards, the surveillance state and guard our freedoms, and if you want a government that will bring prudence and honesty back to the Treasury, then there is a party for you - it is the Conservative Party.

“My message today is simple: the Conservative Party is the only party that can bring the change that Britain needs. I believe in my bones that an election of a Cameron government will strike a great blow for the values of liberal democracy.

“I know, if you are a Liberal Democrat voter, this might be uncharted territory for you. You might be really torn over what to do when you get into that polling booth - I understand that.

“But I am asking you to vote Conservative, not necessarily to be a Conservative. I'm asking for you to put your trust in David Cameron and our party to deliver on those things that we all want to see.

“Those things form a common ground that unites us - a progressive consensus if you like - on which we can stand together and bring change.

“We have already shown that when our shared values and common goals are at stake, we'll work with people of any political allegiance to do the right thing.

“When we saw injustice over the Gurkhas not being allowed to settle in Britain, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats worked together to do the right thing. When the Government came out with illiberal, authoritarian measures like 42 day detention and ID cards, we opposed them every step of the way. When there was an opportunity to decentralise and pass power downwards, we worked with all parties to develop the Sustainable Communities Act.

“And on the environment, never before in Britain has there been a leader as determined as David Cameron to put climate change right at the top of everyone's political agenda. So when the Government pushed for the third runway at Heathrow, we pushed against it together. And when the Government gave way to our pressure for a Climate Change Bill, we worked to strengthen it yet further.

“But whilst we have worked with liberal-minded folk in the past, and we've shown the Conservative Party is the home of liberal democracy we need your support to take the next logical step. We need your support if we are going to fix our broken society, decentralise power even more, and provide effective aid for those in need.

“Together, we can bring change to those trapped in poverty.

“After over a decade of failed social policy, can there really be any doubt that in recent years it has been ideas from the centre-right, especially with the work done by the Centre for Social Justice under the direction of Iain Duncan Smith, they have set the agenda on tackling poverty and increasing a sense of social responsibility.

“Together, we can take more power from the political elite, and give it back to men and women on the street. We are committed to giving people more opportunity and power over their lives and moving to a new post-bureaucratic age of devolution from Whitehall to local communities.

“And - last but by no means least - together, we can help those in poverty around the world.

“On Wednesday, David was asked by a journalist how he could justify his commitment to spending more money on international development at a time of recession.

“What did he say?

“He did not take the easy way out.

“He said yes, times are tough and as a country we've got to get through a horrible deficit.

“He said, "We are a generous, outward looking country that wants to see people in the poorest parts of the world have a better life".

“But this commitment to people around the world isn't just shown by our words, it's also shown by our actions too. Over the last few years hundreds of Conservative MPs, candidates and activists have spent their own money and their own spare time using their skills to help people in Rwanda.

“And, although this is the biggest social action project we have done, it is by no means the only one.

“Did you know that up and down the country there are now over 150 Conservative-led social action projects? These projects have become an important part of what we do and who we are as a party.

“I was in Blackpool recently and I saw for myself how much good our party conference social action project had done - and is still doing.

“Social action empowers our citizens to join in the kind of society we want to see. It links to our deep belief that by acting together - not waiting for the state to act on our behalf - we can tackle the challenges that we all face.

“Friends, that's the kind of politics we need right now. And it's the kind of politics that is attracting people to join the Conservative Party.

“As Chairman, I am proud that so many people are recognising that the Conservative Party is a home for the values they hold dear.

“Recent elections make it very clear that all kinds of people in all corners of our great country are pausing, thinking about their options, and deciding to vote Conservative. But it's not just Liberal Democrat voters who are choosing the Conservatives - many of their activists are too.

“Under David's leadership we've seen a steady stream of Liberal Democrats from all levels of the party deciding that the Conservative Party is the best vehicle. In fact, one of the very first things David did when he became leader was give a speech urging our Liberal Democrat friends to join us.

“I am glad to say that many of them have responded to that call. At least fifty councillors have joined us since David became leader. Added to that are nine former parliamentary candidates, and Saj Karim in the European Parliament.

“And I am delighted to announce today that Councillor James Keeley, until recently he was the Liberal Democrat candidate up in Skipton & Ripon and has decided to join the Conservative Party.

“As James has said and I quote: "We have to wake, wise up, and work together in order to make things better for us all. I've come to the conclusion that the only way forward is David Cameron and the Conservative Party."

“James that is absolutely right and I am delighted to welcome you and your talent to the Conservative family. James and many of our other new friends have come down to be with us today - so do talk to them afterwards.

“I know, joining or even voting, for a party for the first time, can seem like a big decision, of course it can. But if you do speak to our new chums - why don't you ask them if they've ever regretted joining us?

“I bet you they'll say NO, because I'm confident that they'll be proud to say that they belong to a party that will bring real change to our country.

“So friends, let me leave you with this thought. If you are a Liberal Democrat voter, ask yourself one important question.

“Which party in government will deliver on those liberal ideas that are so important to you? If like me, you believe that rather than being an agent for change in Britain, the Liberal Democrat party has sadly become a road block to progress, I would ask you to join our new alliance.

“I'm not asking you to become a card carrying member of the Conservative Party overnight. Instead, I urge you to vote for something exciting and progressive. To help form a progressive alliance built upon our shared values of: personal freedom, a commitment to the environment, and a desire to protect the most vulnerable at home and in the rest of our world.

“So join the people in the room today and thousands across the country who have chosen to help the Conservative Party protect our civil liberties and our hard won freedoms. And, by voting Conservative, be part of putting liberal democracy back to the very centre of government in Britain.”

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Lincoln's Conservative-led Council On Course With £1.3m Spending Cuts

Cllr. Darren Drice, Conservative leader of the City of Lincoln Council has announced that the authority has met about fifty percent of its savings targets. In September 2008 the council began a review of services and to date has made £1,300,000 of savings.

The ruling Conservative administration is planning to shave two and a half million off the authority's budget by 2012. Lincoln residents can now expect to see further changes as the authority enters the second phase of improving the authority's financial situation.

Cllr. Darren Grice said:
"The executive would not have wanted to make many of these decisions had financial circumstances been different.

"However, during this challenging period we have a responsibility to Lincoln residents to make sure we make the correct decisions for the future of the council and the city.

"Thankfully we were well prepared for this situation and haven't had to suffer the mass redundancies that other authorities have faced."
It is understood that the second phase of chnges is to include a range of 'back office' services at the council that are less visible to the public.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Three Charges of Sexual Assault Denied by Lib Dem

A Dentist and former Liberal Democrat West Lindsey District Councillor who stood against local Parliamentarian Edward Leigh in the 2005 General Election has denied three charges of Sexual Assault related to allegations that he groped three female patients while supposedly checking their glands, Nottingham Cron Court has heard.

Former Liberal Democrat Councillor, Parlamentary Candidate at his Gainsborough Dental Surgery.

Johnathan Straw prosecuting said that
"He injected her mouth with anaesthetic and asked if she knew she had glands down the side of her neck.

"He asked if she minded if he had a feel and began moving his hands down to her right breast. She looked at him sharply and pulled a face."
He allegedly told one of the women that he needed to compare her breasts and even asked her to undo her trousers after warning: "This is serious."

Dr Heath, who stood for the Liberal Democrats at the 2005 General Election in the Gainsborough Constituency and stood down at the end of his term as district councillor representing the Cherry Willingham Ward in 2008, denies the three charges of sexual assault between June and August last year.

Nottingham Crown Court heard how the alleged incidents took place when he worked at the Genesis Dental Care practice in Gainsborough.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

ConservativeHome Video: Brown's Cuts

Surgical Scalpel not Chainsaw Massacre.

Today the Prime Minister Gordon Brown is going to address the Trades’ Union Congress in Liverpool. If reports that are leaking out are to be believed he is going to start talking about cuts to public services.

Shadow Chancellor, George Osbourne has been on Sky News this morning and said: “Let's remember for months after months I've come into this studio and had a good vigorous debate about why we need to cut spending.

“We have made the argument that the national debt is a huge problem, and this is the huge issue in the recovery - how do we get the debt under control and protect our front line services so we can get the economy growing again.

“It's been a hard fought battle but I think today after months of fighting Gordon Brown's about to give in.”

Labour are desperate to paint a Cameron-led Conservative government as a group who will slash and burn their way through Whitehall. Yesterday Lord Mandelson began to soften the ground for the Prime Minister’s Policy u-turn and lay out the new electoral battleground that Labour must believe they can win on. In an address yesterday to leading left-wing think tank Progress Mandelson said: “The Tories and their friends are yearning for people to think that because there is a need for public spending constraint in the future we face an era of deep, savage, indiscriminate across-the-board spending cuts whoever is in power. The Tories contemplate this with thinly disguised zeal because as a matter of principle they want to create a ‘small state’. We, in contrast, will continue to work hard to create the economic conditions that will enable us to maintain frontline service delivery.”

What a load of rubbish. I spoke to the Rt. Hon. Ken Clarke, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on Saturday afternoon and he affirmed that the Conservative Party would be surgical in their approach of bringing the public purse back under control, that the pledge to increase spending on the NHS, in real terms, by point two percent remained firm and necessary with an aging population. We discussed a number of other issues and I was very impressed at his grasp of what needs to happen, his understanding of the dangers presented by a ‘double-whammy’ of spending cuts from the Treasury and reversal of quantitative easing (printing money) by the Bank of England.

In the final analysis I trust the Conservative who delivered a tremendous economic legacy squandered by Labour in the last twelve years.

Assessment of the Capability Review Programme

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:
“The introduction by the current Cabinet Secretary of a programme of published, external assessments of the capability of individual government departments is a significant advance. The programme has encouraged changes in the way departments operate. What cannot yet be demonstrated, however, is a link between such changes and actual improvements how public services are delivered.

“Assessments currently rely too much on qualitative and subjective measures. A wider range of objective quantitative measures is required. There must be quantitative comparisons with the best private and public sector organizations. And the culture within the civil service of managing the performance of individual staff, with incentives to reflect success and sanctions to tackle failure, must be greatly strengthened. Senior leaders in poorly performing government departments seem proof against dismissal in a way that leaders in local government are not.

“Where departments differ conspicuously from many private sector organizations is in having a much poorer understanding of what their customers want. Without a culture than focuses consistently on the needs of the user, improvements to performance in delivering services will simply not happen.”
Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 45th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Cabinet Office, examined taking forward Capability Reviews to link more clearly with demonstrable improvements in performance, improving leadership and management throughout the delivery chain, and changing the culture of the civil service.

In 2005, the Cabinet Secretary launched a programme of two-yearlyCapability Reviews. They involve published external assessments of departments with the aim of achieving a major improvement in civil service capability. The programme is a significant step forward in how government departments are assessed. To have publicly available commentary, sometimes critical, of important aspects of departments' capability is an initiative of great value, with real potential as a driver for improvement. It is vital that the programme becomes permanently embedded and is developed in line with this report's recommendations. We intend to return to this subject after two years to review progress.

The first-round reviews, in 2006-07, showed that departments had a long way to go. Overall, departments were rated as less than 'well placed' in two-thirds of the assessed elements of capability. In response, departments have made changes in the way they are run, particularly in terms of board and senior executive team visibility and leadership. The 11 departments that have had second-round reviews have achieved significantly higher assessments. However, the recession and a tighter budgetary context will increase future challenges by requiring departments to achieve more with less.

The link between Capability Review scores and delivery performance is not clear because assessments are based largely on qualitative and subjective evidence. The close involvement of the Cabinet Secretary has provided a valuable challenge and check of reasonableness. But it will be essential, in order to achieve sustained improvements in departments' ultimate delivery, for there to be more objective and quantified metrics to link assessments to demonstrable improvements in performance. It will also be necessary to introduce a strong element of external benchmarking to drive greater improvement.

The second-round Capability Reviews show that staff confidence in senior management is improving but is still too poor. Alongside the need for further improvements to senior leadership, Capability Reviews do not yet give sufficient attention to middle management, front-line staff and departments' delivery partners and agencies. And unlike local government assessment, which includes political leadership, Capability Reviews do not consider how well Ministers and senior management work together to achieve desired outcomes.

The Cabinet Secretary intends to use Capability Reviews as a catalyst to change civil service culture so that it is more collaborative, dynamic, customer focused and innovative. We applaud this aim but note that there is a long way to go. Departments need much more robust staff performance management, better insight into their customers' needs and preferences and greater use of innovation.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

SAS Hardman Andy McNab goes after the BNP

Andy McNab has told the BNP,
"give me my books back".
The ultimatum comes after Nick Griffin announced last weekend that the BNP would be auctioning signed copies of Brute Force and Seven Troop, two McNab novels, to raise money for Help for Heroes.

The Nothing British is a campaign against the politics of hate which aims to promote the British values of democracy, tolerance, fair-play and respect for one another. It was founded by James Bethell and Tim Montgomerie.

Andy McNab joined the infantry in 1976 as a boy soldier. In 1984 he was badged as a member of 22 SAS Regiment. He served in B Squadron 22 SAS for ten years and worked on both covert and overt special operations worldwide, including anti-terrorist and anti-drug operations in the Middle and Far East, South and Central America and Northern Ireland.

In the Gulf War, McNab commanded the famous Bravo Two Zero patrol, an eight man patrol tasked with destroying underground communication links between Baghdad and north-west Iraq and with finding and destroying mobile Scud missile launchers. McNab was held for six weeks and was relentlessly and savagely tortured. By the time he was released he was suffering from nerve damage to both hands, a dislocated shoulder, kidney and liver damage and had contracted hepatitis. After six months of medical treatment he was back on active service.

Awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Medal (MM) during his military career, McNab was the British Army's most highly decorated serving soldier when he finally left the SAS in February 1993.

McNab said, when speaking to the Nothing British campaign about the BNP that:
"When someone called me to say that the BNP was using one of my books in a publicity stunt, I was sick to the stomach.

"I served with men of all colours and from many nationalities. They were all equal to me. That’s what the army teaches you.

"Nick Griffin thinks differently. He thinks the British Army should be for whites-only. He thinks heroes like Johnson Beharry, our only living VC, should be sent back to Grenada. He doesn’t understand that what makes the British Army great, and what makes this country great. It’s the way we draw together people from all around the world and give them ideals worth believing in: tolerance, fairness, decency, looking out for the little guy. It’s the British way of doing things that’s why I’ve asked for my books back. Because I don’t want anything to help the BNP promote their poisonous politics of segregation and hatred."
James Bethell, Director of 'Nothing British, said,
“Charities beware. The BNP are cynically using commendable causes to promote the politics of racism and division. Don’t be fooled.”
Andy McNab has written about his experiences in the SAS in two bestselling books, Bravo Two Zero (1993) and Immediate Action (1995). Bravo Two Zero is the highest selling war book of all time and has sold over 1.7 million copies in the UK.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Giles McNeill supports Campaign to Save General Election Night

Jonathan Isaby of ConservativeHome is spearheading a campaign that is calling on local government to save general election night.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday, an increasing number of 'killjoy' councils are planning to postpone their local counts until the Friday after polling, thereby killing any sense of excitement that traditionally surrounds the most important night in the political calendar.

Jonathan has provided first-rate reasons for opposing this move in the Facebook group he has set up (and I would urge you to join).

My reasons believing that election counts should happen immediately after the polls close are:

• No candidate wants to be forced to wait extra (and for the individuals concerned an excruciating) number of hours before finding out their fate. Imagine if Paula Radcliffe having run the London Marathon and set a new world record had been told "We will post your result out to you tomorrow, second class"!

• We want to know who won as soon as possible, once the polling stations have closed. On a constituency level, but more significantly on a national level: if the general election is going to be close, then it is possible that if lots of seats are not counting until Friday (especially marginals) then we will not know who is going to be Prime Minister, form the Government and so forth until Friday lunchtime or afternoon.

• Whilst we may not know how many people have been engaged with politics by the drama and tension of Thursday night election coverage on television I suspect finding out the results the following afternoon when at work (or a couple of days later in the case of the recent European elections) really would kill any fizz.

• In the digital '24-hour media age' when we are used to getting news quicker than ever before, it would be a backward step to delay election counts. If anything, we should be seeking to persuade the few constituencies which historically count on a Friday to bring their counts forward to Thursday night.

• Sitting around the television into the early hours is an election night ritual for people across the land, many of whom do not perhaps follow politics closely on a daily basis. But if there are fewer results to announce - and the potential of not getting a national result to boot - they are less likely to bother tuning in and when the remaining constituencies declare and the national result becomes apparent on the Friday, anyone at work is not going to be able to witness the climax of the electoral process.

• The outside broadcasts at counts up and down the country have provided many a memorable moment over the years, bringing the results to life. However, the reason why broadcasters are able to provide such a variety is that there is no other call on the satellite trucks and outside broadcast units during the night. If there were an increasing number of counts on Friday during the day, fewer of them would have cameras present, thereby reducing the ability of the broadcasters to give full coverage of the results.

• The traditional British way of doing elections is to have people come out to vote and then count the ballot papers immediately afterwards. It's how we do it and what we're used to - I personall spoke to a number of electors during the most recent local and european elections who could not understand why we would have results for local elections on Thursday night for the County Council and Sunday for the European election (granted their is a good reason, but most electors want our traditions upheld).

• Security is a less important concern, but worth a mention all the same. There is somethng very worring about increasingly, millions of ballot papers being left overnight before being counted.

General elections only happen every four or five years. Is it really too much to ask of local authority staff that counts actually take place in the same way they have been carried out for generations?

UPDATE

I have spoke to Leader of City of Lincoln Council, Cllr. Darren Grice who has confirmed to me that it is the council's intention to hold evening counts as has been custom and practice in recent elections.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Nettleham is Best Kept Village - Again!

I am very pleased to inform readers that Nettleham has once again won the Best Kept Village competition, beating Holton-Le-Clay and Heckington.

Well done to everyone who works so hard to keep Nettleham to the high standard we have become accostomed to.