Friday, August 31, 2007

Princess Diana - 10 years on

The day Diana died I was on holiday in West Cork and did not hear the news till lunchtime, I was shocked like most other people to hear the news and over the next week it did have a massive impact across the country. In terms of people dying you probably not look for a more recognisable figure who had a huge regonition across the world and added a bit of sparkle to the royals.

Hopefully the 10th anniversary of Diana's death will allow the media to move on and focus on other more important issues. The death was a tragedy caused by a drunk driver who was driving recklessly through the streets of Paris, I do not believe it was an MI5 set-up or that she was murdered by dark forces. Sadly though the inquest next year(how the hell can it take ten years to have an inquest) is likely to see another media circus along with the latest Daily Express story(a paper so obsessed with Di that it would be more appropriately called the Daily Diana). This death like JFK will probably linger on for years to come with conspiracy theories most of which are outlandish but surely the time has come to accept that this was a tragic accident.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Merton Council leader has rant at the disabled

This article from Diana Pilkington was in last weeks edition of Wimbledon Guardian and included the views of the Tory leader of Merton Council David Williams. Judging by the comments you can assume that the All Saints' Centre in Wimbledon is destined for the chop in the budget, it's future does not look optimistic. Coupled with closure of Bond Road in the last budget round along with the massively increased social services charges the attack against vulnerable people continues.

The comment "I don't see we should allow a special interest group to hold the rest of the council taxpayers to ransom" is particularly worrying, there is no evidence of this at all and does this apply to every single group who campaigns against cuts in the Council?

Disabled group hits back after leader’s ‘rant’
By Diana Pilkington
Disability rights campaigners and users of a day centre in Wimbledon have expressed outrage at the council leader's "appalling" attitude to the service.

In light of fears that the All Saints' Centre could face the chop as the council reviews its adult social services, Councillor David Williams said: "We have a very difficult budget round coming up and we will look at all the options.

It's very easy for those who receive services to say we should have everything we want.

"We have to keep things in balance. Some of these services are provided at an enormous cost."

He added: "Who's to say we can't provide an equally good service elsewhere? I don't see we should allow a special interest group to hold the rest of the council taxpayers to ransom."

“These services often provide the means of keeping disabled people alive, and maintain their dignity and respect. Disabled people are taxpayers like everyone else, so why should they not have access to services which promote their independence?”

His remarks have angered users of All Saints', many of whom depend on the facility to allow them to leave the house and to give their carers a break.

Roland Dawson, 64, has visited the centre regularly since suffering two heart attacks and a stroke.

He said: "I am amazed and disappointed that he attacked disabled people in this way. All we are guilty of is trying to save the club that we need."

Simone Aspis, spokeswoman for the United Kingdon's Disabled People's Council, said: "This is appalling. Would the leader have had similar sentiments for parents needing educational services for their school aged children?

"What he has failed to recognise is that too often disabled people do not have the choice other than to rely on essential social care services provided by the local authority.

"These services often provide the means of keeping disabled people alive, and maintain their dignity and respect. Disabled people are taxpayers like everyone else, so why should they not have access to services which promote their independence?"

The All Saints' Road centre is used by about 75 people aged 16 to 65 with a physical disability.

It offers a range of services and activities, including physiotherapy, computer classes and cross-stitch, as well as organising trips and other social events.

More than 200 names have been collected in an online petition to save it

Denis Healey turns 90

One of the greatest politicians of Labour post-war history Denis Healey turns 90 today. While he was not without his faults, nevertheless he made a huge contribution to politics along with service over many decades to the Labour party. This is a politician who served for over 25 years in Shadow Cabinet and Cabinet including being Defence Secretary in 64 Labour government and as Chancellor in the seventies when he had to face economic problems on a scale unimaginable today.

The great shame was that he never became leader of the Labour Party, whilst he was unpopular in many sectors of the party I believe the party would never have suffered the crushing defeat that we did in 1983. I still think we would've have lost as the party was divided and Thatcher was making the most of the Falklands success but it would never have been on the scale it was and the Liberal/SDP would certainly have suffered(which is why some defectors voted for Micheal Foot in 1980 as they would not have had an excuse to defect under Healey). His success in winning the Deputy Leadership battle against Tony Benn in 1981 was now looking back a turning point in the parties history. While Dennis Healey was no angel himself and was a bruiser at least he generally spoke commonsense and had a sense of realism. If the party had been united behind Dennis and not spend so much time on internecine warfare over that period we might have got back into power earlier.

A few years ago I bumped into Denis Healey on a train to Victoria and managed to have a chat to him about the Labour Party and his career. The conversation was fascinating in terms of how far he went back along with his observations on new Labour.

Denis Healey is truly one of the great politicians of his generation and I wish him a Happy 90th Birthday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Nelson Mandela statue

To have a statue unveiled of yourself in Parliament Square in a testament to the work of Nelson Mandela in fighting injustice in South Africa and all his campaigning against the evil of the apartheid system of South Africa. While he came out of prison in 1989 he worked to reconcile South Africa and allow the country to put the past behind, he is in my view one of the worlds greatest statesmen and I admire his courage and his tenacity that he has displayed as a person.

One of the greatest moments of my life was at my degree ceremony at Essex University when Nelson Mandela was in attendance with his now wife Grace Michel was receiving a honorary degree for all the humanitarian work she had undertaken. The announcement today of her receiving a honorary dame hood is recognition of her work. Nelson Mandela is a legend in his own right, the like of whom we're unlikely to see again.

Harris Academy Merton GCSE results

I returned from holiday today to hear the good news that the Harris Academy in my Pollards Hill ward had seen significantly improved GCSE result with 39% achieving A-C at GCSE, a significant improvement on the previous figure of 31% under the old school Tamworth Manor.

While the school still has a way to go before reaching the national average, the school has improved significantly over the past year and goes into the new school year with full intake something this has not happened for many years and is a far cry from the previous position where the school under subscribed and parents would do anything not to send their children to the school.

With a new sixth form opening this year which will link up with the other Harris Academies it will hopefully also improve staying on rates which are still way below the national average. Giving students the life chances to succeed in life is crucial and under the Harris Academy I believe increase number of students will be given that opportunity.

My congratulations also goes to the Head Andy Halpin and all his staff on this improved performance, likewise my congatulations extend to all those students who achived success in their GCSE's.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Travelling round Ireland

Well today I saw the Ring of Kerry in Ireland which has some spectacular scenery and was extremely picturesque. The immense beauty of the Atlantic coastline with jagged cliffs and mountains is wonderful to see and the Ring of Kerry is certainly worth visiting even though it is a 100 mile drive on roads that are very narrow along wit containing many twists and turns. Tonight I'm staying in Killarney and thankfully the hotel has wireless access.

Over the last week I've travelled to many places in Ireland. This has included visiting the medieval city of Kilkenny and seeing the historic castle which has been restored after being allowed to do into a state of disrepair over many years. The only downside of the place is the way that cars are free to go where they want, one of the great things about most British town and cities is the way that we've pedestrianised centres which have significantly improved the environment of the local area, in Ireland cars are seemingly allowed to roam free in major towns and cities which is a great shame.

Over the weekend I was in Cork, every time I go back the city has changed with it having been European city of culture back in 2004 it received a face lift and the whole place has improved enormously, further changes are afoot and the centre is being regenerated along the lines of many British cities have in recent years. I was also in Clonakilty, West Cork which has fantastic beautiful and is immensely beautiful.

Tomorrow I'm off to Limerick before I fly out of Shannon to Heathrow on Wednesday morning. Over here it has been big news that the route is to be dropped by Aer Lingus with it being replaced by flights to Belfast. Over here it has caused a furore and calls for government intervention, how things work so differently here! personally I believe it should be a role for airlines to determine what routes they operate but people see it differently over here even though Ryan Air have a large number of flights from Shannon to London airports.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Visiting Ireland

I have been in Ireland for the past few days(thus the lack of blog posts) after travelling over on the ferry on Monday I'm currently staying on my uncle's farm in County Monaghan(I might be a city dweller but I certainly have a love for the countryside and try to get over here regularly). My holiday also allows me the opportunity to get away from it all and with it being August an opportunity to have a rest. Where I'm staying at the moment has some wonderful places close at hand and yesterday I visited Carlingford Lough and went through the Morne Mountains passing the seaside resort of Newcastle and ending up in Downpatrick where I saw the reputed burial place of St Patrick.

Although I've been here many times before it's a country that I like to visit(I also have innumerable relatives here)and it has immeasurably changed for the better in recent years. Even visiting Northern Ireland(I'm staying two miles from the border) the changes are plain to see with none of the security checkpoints that used to exist and relative normality. Yes Government buildings, police stations, court houses are still surrounded by barbed wire, flag waving marking out unionist or nationalist area continues(a depressing sight) but compared to a few years ago it's improved considerably and I've no doubt will improve further in the years to come.

Eastfields station gets the go-ahead from the Merton Planning Committee

I have just heard that last night the new Eastfields Station in Mitcham has been given the go-ahead by the Merton Planning Committee. This is great news for Mitcham and with a little luck the station will open in December at the start of the Winter timetable and I know that before permission was granted preparatory work was been carried out on the site(which did not require permission).

The new station will be a considerable economic boost to the area and will also improve transport for a large number of people in the Mitcham area. A great deal of thanks needs to be given to officers at Merton Council who worked on the scheme over many years but also the local Labour MP Siobhain Mc Donagh who has worked tirelessly over many years to bring this scheme to fruition and was instrumental in getting Network Rail to construct the station.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pollards Hill fun day

Well thankfully the rain just about stayed away which was a relief and help make the Pollards Hill fun day a great success. A number of different organisation were involved including MOAT Housing(the stock in Pollards Hill was transferred from Merton Council back in 98), the Primary Care Trust, Police, St Johns Ambulance, Commonside Trust and Merton Council. The day also had a number of displays from children along with a range of activities including face painting, bouncy castle etc.

In terms of the Pollards Hill councillors we also has a stand which was very useful for meeting many people and hearing about local issues in the area along with casework. These events also allow you to communicate with a range of different community organisations and hear their views.

The event also saw the launch of the Pollards Hill Neighbourhood Plan which hopefully will see improvements made to the area along with improving liaison with a wide range of organisations. In many ways partnership working does operate well locally but there is always room for improvement in terms of delivery and that we listen to the views of local residents (and many were asked for their views today) about the plan along with improvements they would like to see in the area.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Licensing in Merton and should the drinking age be extended to over 21?

The issue of licensing has been an area that I've been involved with within Merton Council as Chair of Licensing between 2003 and 2006 and I oversaw as Chair the transition of the licensing regime from the Magistrates to the Council. Over that time I've also chaired countless licensing hearings and have gained a good grasp of residents concern along with a variety of licensing issues that have emerged.

In Merton, the previous Labour administration implemented a Licensing policy which included a cumulative impact zone in Wimbledon Village and Town Centre which recognised the large number of premises in the area and created a presumption against new licensed premises and extension of hours with licensees have to prove that they'll not add to the cumulative impact when applying for extra hours in this area. This was introduced after listening closely to residents and police about issues in these areas. Indeed our Licensing policy is one of the strictest in London and was opposed by the Licensing business, since the introduction we've only lost one appeal. The revised policy which is currently out for consultation retains many key parts of that policy.

Likewise the previous Labour administration at Merton Council introduced a Controlled Drinking Zone in Wimbledon to stop street drinking in the town centre. I actually believe street drinking is anti-social and should be stopped.

Some may believe we were killjoys but I believe it was right to have adopted these policies, each application is still considered on its merits and we have granted extensions where we believe that it would not add to the cumulative impact. Listening to residents and the police is essential in determining licensing applications. In terms of 24 hour licensing we've only granted one application in the whole of Merton and that has many restrictions including a police veto, 24 hour drinking can be applied for but hardly any premises have and this is the same in Merton and many other boroughs. What it allowed was flexibility in applying for licensing hours, the determination ultimately rests with the Licensing authority in determining any applications.

In recent days the Chief Constable of Cheshire Peter Fahy has called for the drinking age to be raised to 21. I believe this to be wrong and would be a draconian step to take. Although many premises have an over 21 policy, a universal 21 policy would go against the age of majority of 18 and would do nothing to reduce drinking amongst this age group who would find other ways of securing drink. Anti-social behaviour caused by drinking also involves many past this age group and indeed includes many considerably older then 21. In fact this could even be a retrograde step, at least in pubs some control does exist on excessive drinking, where would the 18-21 group go? probably to homes and drink excessively more on alcohol purchased from supermarkets, off licenses or brought from France, being in this age group they would no doubt find ways of getting alcohol.

In terms of violence this has been used as an argument for raising the age, yes drink does has an effect but I believe the greatest threat we face at the moment in London is from knives and guns which have been the prime cause of many murders in the past year and not alcohol though in some cases it has played a part. However many alcohol fuelled murders have been committed by people older then this age group.

Over the past few years we've seen the Labour Government introduce tougher measures for anti-social behaviour, likewise under the new Licensing Act it is not easier to shut premises down which are causing problems or selling alcohol to underage people. Clearly in this country many of the young do enjoy a drink and binge drinking has become a problem. A need does exist from the premises and supermarkets who in many instances irresponsible promotions can help fuel problems in a local area, whilst I believe a voluntary approach has had some success clearly further measures may be needed in the future on some of the offers which do encourage excessive drinking. Despite protests that drink prices are too low in pubs, I think raising them higher is not the best way forward and would result in more people using supermarkets or going to France where drink is considerably cheaper. The main reason that alcohol excise duties have not risen much in recent years has been due to the amount being purchased from abroad especially France where it is considerably cheaper.

The whole issue does need to be kept under review clearly some people are irresponsible and it is right that anti-social behaviour caused through drunkenness is punished. I also believe more information should be made available to the young about the dangers of excessive drinking. We should not however single out 18-21 age group as not being allowed to purchase alcohol which I believe would do little to cut alcohol consumption in that age group and could actually make the problem worse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

LBC Radio & Pollards Hill

Although I don't usually listen to LBC but last night a friend rang me up and told me that they were talking about Pollards Hill and Norbury with changes that have taken place in the area over the past few years. Some callers inveitably saw the area in a negative light, Norbury which is the nearest town centre to Pollards Hill has suffered a retail decline in recent years like many other centres but it is still contains a broad range of shops and restaurants.

Pollards Hill was also described as affluent, well to an extent that is true but I don't represent those parts which are actually in Croydon(Pollards Hill is split between boroughs with the hill itself in Croydon). The part I represent in Merton has no way near the affluence of the Croydon side where the most of the house go for £1/2 million+ (we have very few houses about £1/2 million in my ward)indeed parts of my ward have some of the highest level of deprivation in Merton with many indices like education, health, income, housing in the bottom quartlie for the Borough(though no where near the levels of some parts of London).

Anyway, I rang up LBC and was put through, I spoke up for the area and the main positive attributes about the area. One of those is the sheer diversity of the area with a large Ghanaian community along with many different races we are microcosm of London. We also have excellent community facilities with some of the best in Merton including a library which is heavily used by local residents which includes an IT suite. Living within the area I also see first hand how the area has improved over the decade since Labour came to power(though I avoided the political points on LBC), yes the area does face challenges but the they are less then they were a few years ago and over the past five years I've enjoyed having the opportunity to represent Pollards Hill on Merton Council.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

You Gov poll gives Labour 10% lead

This latest You Gov in the Sunday Times is very good news for Labour, 10% ahead with Labour at 42%, Conservatives 32% and Liberal Democrats at 14%. While I knew we would have a bounce when Gordon Brown became leader, I never thought it would be this big and from a pollster that tends to give us our lowest leads.With the number of large issues having emerged since he became Prime Minister, I believe this is due to the considerable leadership skills he has displayed in facing these issues. David Cameron must really be despairing about these latest polls and with his current personal ratings have dropped like a stone over the last few months against over Gordon Brown things are not looking to for him at present.No doubt the knives will be out for Cameron on Conservative Home tonight.

This will no doubt fuel speculation of a snap election in the autumn, personally I don't believe for a moment he will call an election and I believe that it's better to wait till next year, though the likelihood of a Spring 2007 election grows by the day.

Flying start for Liverpool

Well the football season is at last underway and the result for Liverpool today was an excellent one topped by another Stevie Gerrard gem. Looked for a few minutes that we'd thrown it away after the Gareth Barry penalty but when it was looking like another two points thrown away Gerrard delivered the goods, his contribution to Liverpool is absolutely priceless. Ryan Babel also looks to be an exciting player. Next weekend bring Chelsea at Anfield, a tough test and in between the 3rd round qualifier against Toulouse. Hopefully this season will see us win the Premiership, 18 years without being champions is a very long time to wait!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Mary Dunn

Sadly I heard the news today that my former colleague Mary Dunn who was a Labour councillor in Lavender Fields between 2002 and 2006 died last night after a long illness. I had known Mary for a number of years and I know that she was a hard working councillor along with being a stalwart of the Labour party over a number of years. I always found her to have a great sense of humour and looked on the positive side of life despite her illness in recent years. During the time I was on the Council, I also discovered that like me one of her ancestors had the name Barry and had come from Courtmacsherry which is in County Cork Ireland. This is the same area in Ireland that my dad had come from and I remember talking to her about this matter on a number of occasions.

On Merton Council she served as Deputy Mayor in 2002-3 to Edith Macauley with her late husband Brian as consort. They both carried out the role with good humour and were excellent ambassadors for the Borough. Many within the Labour party and the Mitcham community will mourn her passing, she had spent all her life in Mitcham and had many friends within the local community. She also assisted a great number of people during her time as a councillor and was hard working despite the illness she suffered during her latter period as a councillor. Her passing is a sad moment for many both in the Labour party and in Mitcham.

May she rest in peace.

Foot & mouth outbreak

Generally August is the quietest month of the year for large new stories and most of the newspapers are generally filled with trivia, silly season stories etc, but the calm of August has been shattered with the announcement an outbreak of foot and mouth in Surrey. This is very worrying news given the huge impact it had during 2001 along with the massive impact it had on rural life within this country. Hopefully, it is only an isolated incident but given the how the disease can spread the potential ramifications are huge especially if it has already been passed on to other animals.

With Gordon Brown having returned from holiday and already had a COBRA meeting it is another large scale incident to deal with, having already had the terrorist incidents and devastating floods it has certainly not been a quiet time and he has been Prime Minister for less then forty days! Unlike in 2001 we are also better prepared in terms of a plan of action in dealing with this event and this was clearly implemented when it was known to be foot and mouth. In his time in office Gordon Brown has already shown his considerable capacity to get on top of issues, a large-scale foot and mouth outbreak is a nightmare story but unfortunately politics is governed by events and I have no doubt that Gordon will show his leadership skills in managing this latest crisis.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Incident at Merton Council

The reported incident that took place earlier today with a syringe at Merton Council has thankfully now been resolved by the Police and that a man is now in police custody. Council officers deserve to go about their work free from threats and intimidation, sadly in dealing with the public unfortunately on occasions we do have people who do not behave appropriate which is completely unacceptable. Being a councillor I'm also well aware of potential risk in dealing with people who may be potentially violent and I know the importance of being aware of surrounding security and surroundings especially since the tragic incident at former Liberal MP Nigel Jones surgery in 2000.

I enclose the report from the Wimbledon Guardian.

Hostage man holding heroin syringe to his throat at council, reports claim

Police have confirmed a 41-year-old man has locked himself in a ground floor office at Merton Council's headquarters in Morden.

Negotiators from the Met Police are at the scene of the incident, which began around 1pm, along with two ambulance vehicles.

A police spokesman confirmed no other hostages are involved.

One passer-by said: "I heard someone say there was a guy with a syringe to his neck."

The council is turning away the public from its London Road offices, although the library remains open.

Simon Williams, Acting Chief Executive of Merton Council, said: "We are cooperating with the police and helping them to solve the situation."

1:56pm today

Wimbledon FC honours returned to Merton

Later on this morning Merton Council will be receiving the honours and history of Wimbledon FC from the MK Dons. The return will also involve an FA replica cup from 1988 which is was Wimbledon's greatest day in its history and one that many including myself will never forget.

Arrangements will be made for public viewing though some of it will no doubt be done through AFC Wimbledon who are the rightful successors to Wimbledon and hopefully in time will go on to enjoy some of the success Wimbledon FC. I am also pleased that MK Dons have now recognised they are a new football club and are nothing to do with the former Wimbledon FC, I wish them the best in the future and glad an amicable resolution has been made.

I enclose the press release from Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association and also the press release from the Merton Council.

Press Release - History and Honours of Wimbledon FC returned to Merton

The Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association (WISA) is delighted to announce that the transfer of ownership of the history and honours of Wimbledon FC, by Milton Keynes Dons FC to Merton Council, is being completed today.

This historic transfer, follows extensive negotiations between WISA, Milton Keynes Dons FC and the Milton Keynes Dons Supporters Association and was facilitated by the Football Supporters Federation.

Following the agreement, all of the trophies and honours won by Wimbledon FC will be housed in Merton and will be available for public viewing.

AFC Wimbledon will be able to obtain short-term loan of the items for use on specific occasions, giving supporters additional opportunities to reminisce over former achievements.

Simon Wheeler, WISA Chair, said:

“Today is a historic day for Wimbledon supporters. Whilst nothing can ever remove the pain caused by the FA Commissions decision to allow Wimbledon FC to relocate to Milton Keynes, Wimbledon supporters can be proud that the honours won by their Club no longer belong to another community.

WISA would like to thank all parties for their hard work in coming to an agreement so that this transfer could take place.”

Malcolm Clarke, FSF Chair, said:

“The Football Supporters Federation is delighted that the honours and records of the former Wimbledon FC are now back in the community where the were won and where they belong. We are delighted to have played a role in bringing this about and I would like to pay tribute to all the other parties to this agreement for being willing to sit down and hammer out a deal which gives something for everybody and enables us all to move on. We remain implaccably opposed to the concept of football franchising and hope that this situation never arises again."

WISA welcomes the announcement by Milton Keynes Dons FC that they deem themselves to be a new football club, formed in 2004 and respectively requests that the media and other football clubs only refer to events in their history that have occurred since their formation date.

WISA has today removed its call for all supporters to boycott games played by Milton Keynes Dons FC in Milton Keynes and have informed the Football Supporters Federation that it has removed its objection to the Milton Keynes Dons Supporters Association gaining membership.

Merton Council Press Release:

30 July 2007

"It's Coming Home, It's Coming Home"

The patrimony of the former Wimbledon Football Club will return to its spiritual home, the London Borough of Merton in an official ceremony on Thursday 2 August.

A collection of historical Wimbledon FC items including a replica FA Cup will be handed to Merton Council by MK Dons FC Chair, Pete Winkelman who will be travelling down with the patrimony, accompanied by Chair of Football Supporters Federation, Malcolm Clarke and Chair of MK Dons Supporters Association, John Brockwell. The patrimony will be leaving Milton Keynes Dons' new stadium:mk at 9.30 and is due to arrive at 11.30am in the Civic Centre, Morden.

The Mayor of Merton, Councillor John Dehaney, will formally accept the return of Wimbledon Football Club's patrimony on behalf of the borough, and invite Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association, Ross MacLagan to open the boxes of Wimbledon FC memorabilia on the council's behalf and to be the first Wimbledon supporter to see the patrimony since it left the borough five years ago.