Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Super casino location

With it being August with little news to report, the last few weeks have been filled with stories about the whole bidding process for a super casino and the location of the casino.

In the original legislation, eight regional casinos were to have been approved before this was reduced to one before the election in order to get the legislation passed. The Tories had at the time gone into puritanical mode before the election on the back of a Daily Mail campaign that in turn has led to this current situation. In order to get the many other important parts in the Gambling Act passed, the Government accepted the amendments as many other important parts were in the act including the issue of Internet gambling.

The whole bidding process is farcical (though we have the Tories to thank for that) why can't we have super casinos located in both Blackpool and Greenwich? They are after all 200 miles apart and clearly could not be in competition. With the geographical spread of the shortlisted super casinos it would have been much more sensible if the figure was at eight. This has now led to a situation whereby if Greenwich is awarded the super casino, you will no doubt be hearing about sleaze allegations from the opposition and the right-wing press. I believe the process is fair but has been undermined by the constant issues surrounding Greenwich’s application. The sooner the Government reviews this legislation the better and I re-iterate my views of an earlier posting that I’ve posted below.

Personally my view is that it should be located in Blackpool, it is a resort that has been in decline for years and it is in desperate need of regeneration. Blackpool relies on tourism more then any other town in the country and I believe this will greatly assist in encouraging more visitors to the resort along with creating more jobs. The Labour party may also be even encouraged to have Conferences again in Blackpool.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Evening Standard price rise & new London papers

Today the London Evening Standard raised its cover price from 40p to 50p, normally this would be no big deal but for the fact that Monday will also see Rupert Murdoch's News International launch a new free evening publication called 'The London Paper’. This will be a free giveaway along the lines of the Metro which is available free every morning at most stations in the London area and from experience is what most people on the train read. The London Evening Standard is also to launch a new free publication called 'London Lite' which launches tomorrow, clearly the price rise is no doubt funding this new publication and with it also publishing Metro it is no doubt subsidising these publications.

With Evening Standard circulation having slumped by 150,000 a day in the last year, this rate can only increase further and I worry that in London we will end up in a few years time with London evening papers being free or the Standard circulation dropping even further to a point where it no longer become viable to publish. Generally, I do find the Standard to be a useful paper as it is the only paper to focus on London issues and cover London in depth even if sometimes I disagree with its journalism and coverage of certain issues. While competition and choice is to be welcome, I worry in the longer-term that major London issues end up being ignored.

With the huge growth of the web over the last five years with increased numbers of people especially in my generation, (18-34) only accessing news on-line, newspapers need to adapt to these changing circumstances. The Economist this week has a very interesting article on this issue. Newspapers should be looking at their market long term, newspaper sales are falling and it is all very well putting up the cover price but long-term the internet including blogs is a huge source of information along with it been readily accessible. With a growing on-line community, this is something that is likely to result in further newspaper circulation falls in future years.

I enclose articles on the new publications and would welcome comments.,,1859651,00.html

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Immigration & Eastern Europe

Much has been made in the past few days about the numbers of Eastern Europeans that have entered the UK since 2004; this is estimated to have been around 600,000 since June 2004(though some will have now returned home). This has of course provoked great debate about whether we were right to have allowed them to work in the UK from day one (unlike most of our European neighbours) and whether it was the right decision. In my own ward of Pollards Hill, the growth of Eastern Europeans especially Polish in the area has been noticeable, attending my local Catholic church in Pollards Hill, I have also noticed the considerable influx of Polish people.

I believe that the Government was right to have allowed them to work here from day one, as a country we currently have pretty much full employment with staff shortages in many areas, indeed recruiting staff too many of the occupations that the Eastern Europeans have filled has proved extremely difficult. If the position had been different or economic circumstances were as they were under the Tories it may have been a different decision and any Government would be right to consider this.

Many of the immigrants from the Eastern European countries are also unlikely to stay here long-term, indeed many, once they have saved enough money many will return to their country. I also know through friends in the Polish community, that many Polish intend to return when they have saved enough, many will not be staying here permanently. With low wages in Poland, they can earn the money that they would have earned in Poland in a fraction of the time. From experience, many of them are extremely hard working and the levels that have claimed benefits after a qualifying period is pretty small. This country was right to impose restrictions on claiming benefit. With both my parents being Irish and having come to England in the sixties to seek a better life and increased opportunities, their motivation to come here and seek a better life is something to be welcomed.

We are also not the only country that has a growing Eastern European population; Ireland has also seen a larger influx with one on ten of the population now from Eastern Europe (a much larger figure in proportion). If this has been replicated in the UK, it would be six million people. This is having an even more profound impact on the country then it is in the UK and in a country where until recently they have had very little experience of immigration

I believe, it would have better for EU members to have lifted controls collectively in 2004 when they joined the EU. Given the state of many European countries, along with many having much higher unemployment then in the UK, this was not possible. I can also understand the concerns in this country about Bulgaria and Romania, two countries that are much poorer then any of the 2004 accession countries. In terms of freedom of labour for both those countries, the Government needs to give serious consideration too what our European neighbours are doing. I suspect that Government will retain controls on both these countries, as other European Union countries are likely to impose work restrictions. The impact in terms of social-cohesion is also something that needs to be considered.

Long-term the whole debate on immigration needs to be conducted in a much more sensible and pragmatic fashion rather then the mass hysteria driven stories that are daily occurrence in the Mail and Express. It is right that Government does have restrictions on immigration but it should also be recognised about the positive impact they bring in many instances to this country and how they have contributed to our economic success over the years.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Darrell Hair

When I heard the story about Darrell Hair, I was shocked and flabbergasted at his offer to resign in return for $500, ooo (£265,000). While Darrell Hair was now doubt suffering the consequences of being in the limelight, his reaction in offering his resignation in return for $500, ooo (£265,000) has to cast serious doubts on his judgement as a cricket umpire and it will no doubt bring to an end his test cricket-umpiring career.

With this new information now in the public arena, it has to cast considerable doubt on the ball tampering allegations that are currently before the ICC. I had doubts about it last week, and clearly the allegations can now have little credibility in the light of the information on Darrell Hair. Maybe he knew he had made a mistake and wanted a way out.

The sooner this sorry saga is brought to an end, the better. It does no good for the reputation of cricket.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

GCSE Results in Merton

The results for Merton secondary schools have now been published in full and I enclose the results below. The overall average for 5 A-C passes in Merton has risen from 47.1% to 48%, still way below the national average and one of the lower figures in London.

Ursuline 5 A-C GCSE's has risen from 72% to 78.4% (Catholic girls)
Wimbledon College 5 A-c GCSE's has risen from 69% to 72% (Catholic boys)
Ricards Lodge 5 A-C GCSE's from 57% to 61% (Girls Comp)
Bishopsford 5 A-C GCSE's has risen from 21% to 28% (Mixed Comp)
Mitcham Vale 5 A-C GCSE's has risen from 19% to 22% (Mixed Comp)
Tamworth Manor 5 A-C GCSE's has remained at 31% (Mixed Comp)
Rutlish (John Major's old school!) 5A-C GCSE's has gone down from 48% to 40% (Boys Comp)
Raynes Park 5 A-C GCSE's has gone down from 52% to 44% (Mixed Comp)

All in all a mixed set of results, the then Labour controlled Merton Council has been fully vindicated in making both Mitcham Vale and Tamworth Manor academy schools, as they clearly needed to improve despite advancement that has taken place in both schools over the past two years, the results are still way below the national average which this year hit 57.1%.

With only 30% of students in Mitcham and Morden getting the basic 5 A-Cs, improvement was essential as clearly the status-quo as advocated by some was not working. The opening in September of St Marks Academy replacing Mitcham Vale and Harris Academy replacing Tamworth Manor, will significantly I believe improve results and opportunities along with giving both schools a new ethos. A new chapter will open on September 11th for both schools and it is something I look forward as driving up educational attainment in my own ward Pollards Hill and the Mitcham area is essential.

Champions League Draw

Liverpool has got PSV Eindhoven which is not too bad, but Barcelona V Chelsea and Manchester V Celtic two huge matches in the first stage of the Champions League. I have to say that I found the Champions League far more exciting then the Premiership, the top teams of Europe coming together always provides some fantastic fixtures.

Hopefully Liverpool will get too the Champions League final in Athens next May, another exciting season hopefully lays ahead.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Woods wins USA PGA and 12th major

With his 12th win in Golf's majors the domination of Tiger Woods shows no sign of ending. This year alone he has won two out of the four majors and is starting to dominate golf again. In terms of players he is a class of his own and I've no doubt that the record of 18 majors held by Jack Nickalus is well within his grasp, he is only 30 years and could go on for many years to come.

As for European golfers, the losing streak in the majors continues, the last success being Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open. This losing streak will end eventually, but this has been a barren few years after the huge success both in the eighties and nineties. Still Europe has won the last two Ryder Cups and hopefully it will be three in a row at the K Club in Ireland next month.

V for Vendetta and American Dreamz fim review

Over the weekend, I have watched two films with a political connection. The first was V for Vendetta, which stars Natalie Portman, Stephen Fry and John Hurt. The film is effectively a political satire based on a plot to blow up Parliament on 5th November. The film is set in 2038 Britain where the ultra-conservative Norsefire party has pursued a reactionary purge since coming to power and is committed to restore order following a series of terrorist events, which led to the loss of over 100, ooo lives in a bio-terrorist incident (which they were actually behind). With all opposition silenced, their High Chancellor Adam Sutler played by John Hurt has led a totalitarian government that has restricted freedom and created a totalitarian state.

A vigilante V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask was a political dissident who instead of being killed at the notorious Larkhill torture centre survived with a vow to take revenge against the regime. This involves the spectacular scenes at the beginning where the Old Bailey is blown up and subsequent missions including further explosions and the murder of prominent regime supporters. He is joined in his mission by Evey who is played by Natalie Portman who has lost her parents because they were opponents of the regime.
The regime corruption eventually comes to light and the people rise up as they realise the Government has been misleading them and the film ends with them all wearing Guy Fawkes masks and Parliament been blown up by a tube train under Parliament.

I would recommend watching the film, but subliminal messages are in the film that is trying to relate the post 911 world as an excuse for Government to introduce further laws curbing freedom (which they are not) which if not curbed by the people will eventually lead to a state as outlined in this film.

The other film, American Dreamz had to be one of the funniest films I have watched in ages. The film stars Hugh Grant who plays Martin Tweed host of an X factor type show which is the US top TV show. The show stars a sleeper terrorist Omar from the Middle East who comes to the States from a training camp for the purposes of activation on a terrorist mission. In a series of incidents, he ends up getting to the final of American Dreamz where an opportunity will exist to blow up the President who will be a guest judge. The film also stars an Ohio girl Sally who cynically gets back together with her wounded ex-boyfriend who is an injured Iraq veteran. Within the film, the US President is played by Dennis Quaid and is clearly based on George Bush. The President is prone to gaffs when he speaks and in the film ends up having an earpiece and saying verbatim what is said to him through his earpiece by a Dick Cheney look alike who is also his Chief of Staff. Incidentally, in real life it was rumoured that George Bush has used an earpiece at events.

In the final itself, just before Omar goes on stage with his suicide bomb, he decides not to go ahead with his mission. The active bomb is discarded the toilet. This is then found by Sally's boyfriend who shortly before the show saw her having an intimate session with Martin Tweed and wants to get revenge as he had planned to propose to her on stage. The film ends with him eventually activating the discarded bomb and blowing himself and Martin Tweed up (the rest escape before it goes off). The whole film is effectively a satire of reality programmes and politics. While the film has some serious messages it had to be one of the best films I have watched in ages and a great deal lighter then V for Vendetta, if you want a few laughs this is a great film to watch.

Test match farce

I have never seen anything quite like the events at The Oval this afternoon. Whether Pakistan have been ball tampering or not (and the evidence does not seem that strong), this does need to be resolved as it will overshadow the whole series. Pakistan was in a good position to win this test match with England still behind Pakistan in their second innings and with only six wickets remaining. I suspect the test match may have come to a premature end, which is a shame, as it could have been an interesting conclusion.

UPDATE – The 4th Test match has been called off and the match forfeited by Pakistan, a very sad way for the test series to end. I hope a full investigation into the events are carried by out by the ICC. I enclose the BBC report.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Appointment as an IDeA member peer

I received the news earlier today of my appointment as an IDeA member peer. I am naturally very pleased at the news as it did involve having to attend an assessment centre on Tuesday and undertaking a number of tasks relating to the competencies required for being a peer.

The role of the IDeA is as an improvement and development agency for local government that works in partnership with all councils, to enhance the performance of the best, accelerate the speed of improvement of the rest, and develop further local government.

Over the whole country, the IDeA undertakes a number of peer reviews, which is to help council’s asses their current achievements and to identify those areas in which they are doing well and those areas where they could improve. With authorities been assessed under Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) each year, it is used by many authorities to asses progress.

A review involves both members and officers visiting an authority and are usually weeklong visits, the members used come from all political parties. This new role will be a challenge if asked to undertake a review, but I believe it will contribute to my development as a member and utilise what I have learned in my four years as a councillor.

I have enclosed an article from the Chair of the IDeA Cllr Ian Swithenbank about the role of a member peer.

A level results

This year has again seen record A Level results along with a record number of A grades. This has been a continuance of an upwards trend that started in the early eighties. For all the students who have achieved these results, congratulations should be the order of the day. Many have worked extremely hard to achieve their grades and I know from experience what a relief it was to get my own A level results and to find out that I had got into the university of my choice.

If you are reading this and have not got the required grades to get into your first choice university, do not give up if you are confident and determined enough you will eventually succeed. Many other options are available and whilst you may be disappointed, other opportunities will exist.

As is usual on the day that the A Level results have been published, we have the usual suspect brigade consisting of the right wing press and so called educational experts who are stating “that the exams have got easier and that standards have been declining.” I believe that this is hearsay, many students know that as standards are getting higher, along with the requirement to get higher grades, they know they have to work that bit harder to achieve. Instead of knocking their achievements, students should be praised for their efforts.

Great Win for England

The performance of the England team last night was a significant improvement over the World Cup, it is a shame it was not replicated at the World Cup. My congratulation goes to John Terry on scoring only his second goal for England and in his first match as captain. Hopefully the performances will continue into the forthcoming European Championship qualifiers, Andorra and Macedonia.

Another great win for Murray

Now I would never have forecast that Murray would beat Federer last night, but he exceeded all expectations last night (including his own) and thus became only the second player to beat him this year (Nadal is the other one).

It seems his game is getting better by the week and his remorseless rise up the rankings is continuing, indeed breaking into the top 10 by the end of the year is not beyond the realms of responsibility. Hopefully he keeps up the good work and develops some consistency along with a good run at the forthcoming US Open.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The rise and rise of Andy Murray

You have to hand it to Andy Murray, beating Tim Henman again today at tennis, now up to no 21 in the latest tennis rankings and improving by the tournament. OK, he needs a bit more stamina but could he be the Brit that finally wins Wimbledon? He is only 19 years old and clearly a star to watch, with his new coach Brad Gilbert he seems to be going in the right direction.

Poor old Tim Henman, I do wonder why he does not just call it a day, it must be really hard to be beaten by a fellow Brit two weeks in a row especially as he dominated tennis in this country for so long.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Liverpool triumph again over Chelsea

Off course I'm delighted with the result of the Community Shield in Cardiff this afternoon, another success over Mr Muriniho. Liverpool have again shown that they are a force to be reckoned with and I hope this year we will see further triumphs to build on the success of the past two seasons.

This year, Liverpool should put in a strong challenge for the Premiership and hopefully win the crown after a gap of seventeen years, though we have a very tough battle ahead. At least Bellamy looks like being a decent buy despite my initial scepticism. Roll on the new season and further success.

The demise of David Beckham

Well the sport pages are full of David Beckham's demise, along with his apparent exclusion from future England squads. I believe that Steve McClaren has made the right decision, his best days were clearly behind him and new blood needed to be brought into the team. Our dismal performance at the World Cup showed that change was needed and it clear that England need to move on from the disastrous Sven Goran Eriksson era.

In terms of the new captain, I would have preferred to have seen Stevie Gerrard appointed as captain, but then again I am biased in that respect as a Liverpool supporter and John Terry is not a bad choice. Both in my view are a vast improvement on David Beckham who was never captain material and both have performed admirably in their roles as club captains.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Child Poverty in Merton

I’ve enclosed below an analysis of child poverty in Merton by Council ward by the Joseph Rowntree. My own ward of Pollards comes in at no 5 in the list. Joseph Rowntree foundation has based the figures on one or more parent on workless benefits as a proxy for poverty. The figures also re-iterate the huge differences we have across wards in Merton especially between the Wimbledon and Mitcham sides of the Borough.

The figures also mask significant differences within wards, I know within my own ward of Pollards Hill that the actual figures would be substantially higher in part of the ward and in the other part substantially lower. Since Labour has come to power 700,000 kids have been lifted out of poverty and the figures within Merton have significantly decreased, while this is a significant improvement we still have a long way to go.

Cricket Green 32.6%
Lavender Fields 32.6%
Ravensbury 31.9%
Figge's Marsh 29.3%
Pollards Hill 28.1%
St Helier 27.3%
Colliers Wood 24.8%
Longthornton 23.4%
Abbey 21.2%
Graveney 16.4%
Trinity 15.5%
West Barnes 12.0%
Raynes Park 11.2%
Lower Morden 9.8%
Merton Park 8.7%
Cannon Hill 8.2%
Dundonald 7.4%
Wimbledon Park 7.3%
Hillside 4.3%
Village 1.9%

Community Reassurance Brief

I have posted a message from Chief Supt Dobson about the ongoing investigation by the Metropolitan Police Anti-terrorsit branch.


You will all be aware of the on going criminal counter terrorism investigation being led by the Metropolitan Police Anti-terrorist Branch. Over 20 people have been arrested in this investigation so far.

We have had a major success, it is becoming harder for terrorist to operate in the UK and all our operations are based on 'Public Safety' first and foremost.

The national threat assessment has been raised to Critical. This means that the UK as a whole is anticipating imminent terrorist attacks. This is a precautionary measure; we are doing everything possible to disrupt any further terrorist activity. This will mean major disruption at all UK airports.

I would like to reassure those that live in, work and visit Merton that the police and Community representatives are working together to try and reduce the fear that many people in the community may feel. As far as possible I want people to go about their business as normal. The arrests in London have been in East London.

This is a criminal matter, not a faith matter. Police will robustly deal with any people who seek to victimise or intimidate others. Our Community Safety Unit continues to take positive action in relation to all forms of hate crime.

Whilst some Merton staff have been deployed to London pressure points such as Heathrow Airport, my Safer Neighbourhood Teams remain on the wards policing their local residents. Business continues as usual.

There are many sources of advice on websites and in libraries such as M15 Security Service anti-terrorist advise and businesses may wish to review their security guidelines in future days. There is also a 24 hour Community Safety Hotline 0800 028 2390.

The criminal investigation focused on intelligence, which suggested there was a plot to blow up transatlantic passenger aircraft, in flight. If you have information about terrorism, talk to you Safer Neighbourhood Teams directly or call the anti terrorist hotline (0800 789 321). For warnings about possible bombs or immediate threats dial 999. Anonymous information can be passed to police on Crime stoppers tel. 0800 555 111.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Freak Out

This evening saw the opening of the Mitcham Status Fair on Three Kings Piece by the Mayor Cllr Geraldine Stanford. This is a fair that has been held in Mitcham for over a hundred years and its opening involves the turning of a key. With a number of fun fair rides at the event, I went on the Carousel and then decided to go on the freak out ride, this was certainly a white knuckle experience and involved going high in the air and practically going down vertically. It was certainly an experience and I'm glad I had nothing to eat before going on the ride, certainly one of the wackier things I’ve done in my four years as a councillor.

I would like to express my appreciation to Cliff Iles and his team from Merton Council along with the fair organiser Jimmy Botton who puts on a splendid event every year.

Airport security alerts

As someone who has passed through airports four times in the past few weeks, I'm only too well aware of the disruption that the new restrictions on hand luggage will cause. For me it is a great relief that I do not have a flight to catch in the next few days or weeks. Clearly anyone having to catch a flight today is in for a pretty chaotic day.

Many will think it is an overreaction, but we have to remember that the threats we face are very well and it is right that we are vigilant on all these matters. It was clear that terrorists were planning a major incident and that their plans for mass murder have been disrupted. Given the world we live in today, it is a threat that is very real and is something that we have to accept.

The Government is right to take whatever action is necessary to ensure the security of its citizens and I find it hard to fathom that some believe it is an overreaction given the events that have happened overnight.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Windmill Trading Estate

An issue that has been on-going for a long time in my ward (currently three years) is a planning application for the Windmill Trading Estate. A public inquiry into another application that was turned down by the Council last year was due to be held on the 28th November; today I received the news that they had submitted another application for the site. This has no doubt been done in order to try and avoid for them the expense of the inquiry because if the Council approved this application they would withdraw the other application or if the existing application got rejected by the Planning Inspector they would have another one on the table.

The newly revised application is for 233 residential units between three and five storeys high (still too high in my view), it is clear that the development will consist primarily of flats given the number. As an application that started at around 300 units when first submitted in early 2004, it has been reduced but it still a high number given the layout of the site. A

I have consistently opposed previous applications, if the application is similar then I will also be opposing the latest application. I will be getting a copy of the plans shortly and will be consulting with local residents on the matter. Hopefully the developers may also decide to become more co-operative, as their attitude towards listening to views of local residents has previously been very poor. With it being August it was no doubt submitted deliberately at this time, as they know many residents are away and hoped that it would not be picked up on. Well I keep a close watch on these matters and residents will be fully informed on the application. I also hope to organise a public meeting on the matter along with my colleagues Zenia and Richard to discuss the issue.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fantastic win for England in the cricket

What a great test win for England today over Pakistan and again by a big margin. With all the difficulties encountered earlier in the summer against Sri Lanka, they really have bounced back in this series. With all our injuries of late this is a pretty impressive achievement. It is our first series win since Australia last summer and puts behind us the series defeat against Pakistan last winter.

Hopefully the good performances against Pakistan will be carried forward to the Ashes series in Australia and that we triumph down under.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tories snub Mitcham

Well it looks like the phrase 'putting you first' does not apply to the residents of Mitcham. Anyway, I enclose a press release from my colleague Stephen Alambritas about the latest antics of the minority Tory administration.

Tories Snub Mitcham

The first negative impact of the new Tory minority administration will be felt by Mitcham residents, following the withdrawal of Grainger Trust plc from the redevelopment of Mitcham town centre.

Labour Councillors are convinced that Grainger have pulled out as a result of the luke-warm approach to the redevelopment by the Tory minority administration.

It is believed that the Tories have reviewed the plans for Mitcham and are proposing to go back to the drawing board in order to install more private housing at the expense of affordable housing; less space for community use; and less retail units.

With Grainger pulling out, this leaves Cantor and Asda, the other members of the consortium, without a partner. The Tory minority administration will now have to begin the search for another partner and this will take months, if not years, to put in place.

Commenting on the appalling news that the Tories are reviewing the agreed plans for Mitcham, Deputy Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Stephen Alambritis said: “This is a real slap in the face for local people. We undertook full consultation with the original plans which were very much supported by local residents and now we see a situation where there has been no consultation whatsoever with either local Councillors or the residents of Mitcham.”

Cllr. Alambritis continued: “My big worry is that if Asda and Cantor also now pull out, then we may be in the realms of compulsory purchase orders being issued which can take years.”

Cllr Alambritis added; “There is an obvious trend in this new administration being very mealy mouthed about positive developments that were on the stocks just before the local elections. Mitcham residents were looking forward to taking advantage of more affordable housing in the area. But now – if the Tories get their way – the private housing that they intend to put in place will be well out of the reach of Mitcham’s residents.”

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Reporting from Ireland

I’m currently in Ireland for a few days break. I’ve now been here for the past day and have made many observations of life in Ireland in that time. Having visited Ireland many times before due to family connections (both parents Irish), and a large number of relatives living here, it is a country that seems to change every time I visit. The growth of the economy here in recent years has been pretty phenomenal, from being a pretty poor country 20 years ago it is now very well off with one of the highest GDP's in the world per person, certainly a great deal higher then in the UK.

In terms of the economy, what has been noticeable in the past few years has been the rapid decline of agriculture and the percentage employed in farming. Recently relatives of mine who have been involved in farming for generations have been selling their farms as they no longer see them as generating enough income in the longer-term or being profitable. Farming in Ireland, unlike in Britain has been based a great deal more on small farmers, thus a great deal more in proportion to the population are employed in faming, even with the decline that is happening this is still the case. Many of the younger generation are now reluctant to enter farming as they see the increased opportunities outside of farming, while once going into farming would have been the only choice for some, nowadays they are finding many other career options more attractive and appealing.

In terms of prices, apart from petrol and cigarettes everything here is much more expensive and that has been noticeable from many conversations I’ve had with people and observations of my own. Indeed where I am staying, very near the border with Northern Ireland, many are crossing the border in large numbers because of the savings that can be made are quite significant (15-20% on many items). Since the introduction of the Euro the situation has got worse, though the current high exchange rate of the pound against the euro partly contributes to this as well.

Despite the price differences, the economic chasm between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is growing wider every year. The huge growth in the economy has not been replicated in Northern Ireland and its economy is growing at a much slower pace. On a whole range of indicators like property prices, income, growth, unemployment, housing, education the figures show the Republic to be in a significantly better position. The gap shows no sign of narrowing.

Recently Ireland has also been undergoing huge change in its population makeup, this has seen the significant growth of black and ethnic minority communities along with a huge influx of Eastern European citizens. A country that had little diversity in the population makeup ten years ago is seeing a massive change and has had to make adjustments to deal with the situation. With Ireland being a growth country, it is helping to fill many of the vacancies that have proved hard to fill due to a lack of applicants and the country having pretty much full employment.

The other gripe I have is that broadband her does not seem as widespread here. The computer I'm writing this from is on a traditional dial up connection and having got used to broadband it is pretty slow. Due to the non-availability in the local area, dial up remains the only option.

Anyway I’m over here till next Monday, I will try and update the blog again if I get the time.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

E-Democracy symposium

Last week I attended the E-Government symposium in Budapest. The event was spread over three days and had a variety of speakers from across the world.

In terms of the event, it helped contribute to my whole thinking on E-Government and communications. This included hearing about best practice within other countries.

In terms of progress on E-Government in relation to Government services, 90% of UK Government services are now on-line and this is similar in local government. In terms of actual use by members of the public, it is still quite low but as a country we are much further advanced in relation to E-Government then nearly any other country.

One of the best speeches I heard at the Conference was from Jules Pipe who is Mayor of Hackney; he gave a presentation about how Hackney had been modernised as a Council and how it has changed over the last four years.

Likewise the session on e-democracy was pretty useful. This included issues like E-voting, electronic voting at polling stations, electronic counting of votes and looking at the whole way elections are run. There are issues that I believe Merton should examine further and I will post further about my thoughts on those issues shortly.

At the conference, I also met many other bloggers and got some pretty useful tips. Geoff Wrigley gave some very useful insights into developing blogs further and what you can do with them. Some of his ideas I am looking at using myself and it was valuable to speak with other council bloggers which included Conservative and Labour councillors about how they themselves have developed their blog as a method of communication.

Finally, I would like to thank the symposium organiser Dylan Jeffrey from Department of Communities and Local Government for organising the event and bringing so many people together. Budapest is a beautiful city, due to it been a working event I got little time to see much of the city but thankfully I had been to Budapest before.

I attach some notes of the Conference which includes seminars.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Within my ward Pollards Hill, mini-motorbikes have been causing considerable problems with kids riding them on the road and causing a nuisance to local residents. . On a number of occasions, I have had to contact the local neighborhood policing team about the matter. Constituents have also made representations to me on the matter about the nuisance (especially the noise) and the wilful neglect of many towards safety.

In recent years, the number of mini motor bikes in my area has surged like it has nationally. The vast majority are only meant to be used on private property unless they are properly insured, taxed and a valid licence held (you can count the number that reach that criteria on one hand). The vast majority in my area are ridden by kids, some no older then 11 or 12 years; along with the safety issue to local residents, many are also causing a danger to themselves by the tricks they get up to on the bikes.

Within Pollards Hill bikes have already been crushed, warnings have also been issued to parents about the behaviour of their offspring. I welcome the Government initiative announced today, it is a shame Merton is not one of the pilot areas. Anti-social behaviour as caused by many of these riders is unacceptable and I am glad the Government is taking action. Hopefully funds will spread to Pollards Hill and help us crack down further on mini-motorbikes.

I enclose below the article from the BBC website on the annoucement from John Reid. I also enclose another article about mini-motorbikes on the BBC website.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Merton Council branding

At Scrutiny tonight we lost the vote about having the Conservative manifesto slogan 'Putting you first' emblazoned across Merton Council headed paper. Naturally disappointed at not succeeding in getting the cabinet to re-consider the decision, but plenty of self-justification from the Merton Council leader David Williams about putting political slogans on Merton headed paper. It was clear that little consideration has gone into evaluating alternatives other then slogans that appeared in the Merton Conservative manifesto. I felt sorry for the officers who had to justify the decision about adopting 'Putting you first' as the Council strapline fresh from the Conservative election manifesto. Not that the Tories will be putting many people in Mitcham and Pollards Hill first, putting you last would have been more appropriate for this side of the Borough. Still for those who live in Wimbledon, the phrase is ideal given that 90% of their Councillors live in and represent Wimbledon wards.

On another note, Cllr David Williams claimed tonight that the Conservative Party political press release with the Merton Council logo has been removed from the Wimbledon Conservative party website and that it was a mistake. Well I checked the website tonight when I got back in and what did I find? Yes, you guessed right the offending item was still on the website. Obviously, Cllr David Williams has been unsuccessful in getting the offending article removed.

Holding the minority Tory administration to account will continue, remember David 60% of the Borough did not vote for you at the election and you only hold 50% of the seats and without the casting vote at full council in the event of it being 30 all. We are all minority parties in Merton!

Interesting times lie ahead, Merton Council is usually pretty quiet during August but this blog has no intention of going into hibernation over the next month.

Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to all the Merton Council officers who serviced and attended the meeting tonight; our officers do a fantastic job and tonight was no exception. As Chair of the Panel their assistance and support is invaluable. This was the first meeting with the newly adopted call-in arrangements, it is a big improvement over the old call-in system even if the outcome was not to my liking.