New counselling service for young people in Wisbech

New counselling service for young people in Wisbech
 
I wanted to bring your attention to the new service being offered for young people (13-25yrs) in Wisbech.
 
This new youth counselling service, based in the Queen Mary Centre, and delivered by Centre33, is aimed at young people between the ages of 13-25. It is free of charge and confidential. Young people need to self-refer into the service if they want to access short-term counselling (usually a maximum of 6 weekly sessions).
 
Young people can find out more about our service and also register their interest by attending our drop-in sessions every Thursday between 3.30pm-6.30pm at the Queen Mary Centre, Queen’s Road, Wisbech, PE13 2PE.
 
Alternatively young people can phone on 01945 223103 or contact us via email at help@centre33.org.uk to express an interest or request more information.

A Very Great Honour

A Very Great Honour

On Sunday night at a Group Meeting I was chosen as the Conservative candidate to be Deputy Mayor of Wisbech later this year.

I should stress this does not mean that I will be Deputy Mayor of Wisbech later this year.  That will be for Full Council to decide at the appropriate meeting.

I have lived in Wisbech for Fourteen years and in that time I have done my best to be a positive participant, a volunteer and a proud champion of this fine town.

Whether or not I am finally chosen by Full Council, it was an immense honour to be selected by the Conservative Group.  I’d like to thank Cllr Peter Human who nominated me and Cllr Garry Tibbs who seconded me.  I’d also like to thank the rest of the Conservative group, who supported me unanimously.

Rest assured that if I do become Deputy Mayor I will do my utmost to support the Mayor, to support the people who live in the town and to be a champion and proud representative of the Town at all times.  I certainly have folks who do not like me, but I don’t think there are many people who would honestly say that I do not work hard.  I will work harder than ever – for this town.

I have said many times that I believe this is the finest town in the world.  Some people look at me like I am crazy.  Others understand where I am coming from.  I was married here.  My Son was born here.  This is my home and I love living here.

Whatever the outcome, I am as proud as I have ever been today.

Asking Questions

Asking Questions

I’ve been at this Councillor lark for quite a few years now.  In that time, I have pretty much always done the exact same thing in regards to Council Policies and Proposals.  I read the papers and I ask myself: “Does this new proposal clearly identify what it sets out to change or fix?”  If the answer is yes then I ask: “Does it make a credible case for doing what it claims it wants to do?”  And if the answer to that is yes then I ask: “Will there be any consequences that might be worse than the original problem?”  Finally I ask: “Are there any moral reasons why this proposal is not appropriate?”

If the policy or proposal fails on any of these four questions then I challenge it robustly.  Sometimes, through that challenge, answers emerge that resolve the issue I have.  Most often, the supporters of the policy just call me names or seek to suggest I am saying something which I am not, or attempt to make the whole thing very personal.  This probably works on some people, but it never works on me because sticks and stones and all that.  Some people really overestimate their ability to intimidate.

In general this has made me few friends over the years.  Because sooner or later I end up asking questions of everybody.  My own group.  Groups within my own group.  Other groups.  The Police.  Organisations.  Charities.  The Government.  Even the public.  There really is no question I wont ask to try and drill into the efficacy and potential of a proposal.  I see it as a fundamental part of the job.

I am quite proud to have a pretty good record of calling it right.  Over the years I have opposed any number of ridiculous or ill-considered policies, most of which have rolled forwards despite the protests.   Looking back over those the evidence is now clear as to the truth of it, and every once in a while somebody says: “You were right about that, Steve,” which is nice.  Because usually everybody conveniently forgets the policies they supported which turned out to be claptrap.

But increasingly, asking the sort of difficult questions that need asking is becoming harder.  Despite lots of “behind the scenes” grumbling, fewer and fewer people are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet.  Some of them that do are threatened with legal action or silenced in some other ways.  Some just don’t want to be seen to be difficult.  Which is a shame, because policy-making is a serious business, not a popularity contest.

In a recent tweet, local Editor and political activist John Elworthy said: “Only Steve Tierney is opposed to Landlord Licensing.”  Which is wrong on so many levels.  In fact, plenty of people, including other Councillors, are opposed to some aspect of the idea.  I’m just the only one who seems prepared to challenge.  It’s also wrong to say I “oppose Licensing.”  As I said to Mr Elworthy, what I oppose is poor policy making.  For reasons I have set out over and over and over again over the last few years.

In our brave new world of local politics, challenge anything, question anything, engage in a debate and you will be vilified and name-called.  If you question Landlord Licensing you “must not care about people living in substandard housing.”  It couldn’t be that you think the proposal will make things worse, or make people homeless? Nope.  Must be that you don’t care.  If you question the Police’s activities you “must not support law and order.”  It couldn’t be that you think the principles of law and order require the Police to work by consent and within the law themselves?

Well,I’m really sorry, but I’m not going quietly.  I was elected to do a job and that’s the job I will do until the public decide to elect somebody else.  I will do it honestly and to the best of my ability and when it comes to an end I’ll be able to look back without regret and with my integrity intact.  If that means that I ask questions which make some uncomfortable and infuriate others – good!  Because if they had sound arguments and solid policy they would be neither uncomfortable nor infuriated, but relaxed as they responded to the questions in an informed and educational way.  When people try to stop you asking questions – there is always a reason.

 

Cyclist Licensing Scheme

Cyclist Licensing Scheme

Cyclists, do not panic. There is no Cyclist Licensing Scheme (yet) and this piece is simply a bit of fun, paying tribute to the fine policy-making procedures of Councils and bureaucracies everywhere. If you take it seriously, you have both missed and got the point, simultaneously. :)

KEY ISSUES

  • Increasingly, members of the public are expressing concerns about anti-social cycling; where cyclists travel without appropriate safety lights and clothing, cycle on footpaths, or cycle in a manner which undermines their own safety and the safety of small children and much-loved pets in our communities.
  • The Government gave new powers to local Councils in its Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism and Murders Act 2009, and in the Combating Dangerous Predators Act 2012, to allow them wide-ranging freedoms to license things that you used to be able to do without a license.
  • Cyclists poll quite poorly on our current list of social groups, sitting somewhere near the lower end of the scale between Estate Agents and People Who Rev Their Engines Outside Your House At Night.
  • Diversity.
  • Cyclists are often injured or even killed on our roads.
  • Studies have shown that blanket licensing will license people in a blanket fashion.
  • Sustainability.
  • 57,000 worldwide die each year from treatable diseases of the lower intestines.
  • Please see attached letter from local MP which supports a completely different thing.
  • Tourism.
  • It is easily possible to say that this new policy meets and follows on from every Master Plan, Transport Scheme and Local Campaign if you use the most broad terms to describe them.  Therefore, the Cyclist Licensing Scheme meets targets and aspirations set by the Town Plan 2009, the Town Plan 2010, The Area Transport Sustainability Study, The New Growth Plan, the Allotments Agenda 2012, the Town Plan 2013, the Strategic Needs Resource Initiative, The Town Plan 2015 and the Origins of The Species Study 1859.
  • All the comprehensive evidence herein has been gathered by a multi-agency cross-border multi-disciplinary team comprising of but not limited to; The Police, The Community Safety Partnership, The Fire Service, The Partnership for Community Safety, More Councils than you can shake a stick at, C.H.E.W, B.A.C.C.A, Operation Luvaduck, the National Licensing Taskforce, The Taskforce of National Licensing, Bikepower, CAMRA, DEFRA and SPECTRE.

THE SCHEME

If implemented the scheme will require all cyclists, whether they own a bicycle of their own or just occasionally use one that belongs to somebody else, to register with the Council and apply for a license.  It sets out a series of new mandatory responsibilities for Cycle License Holders.

  • Wearing of appropriate high visibility clothing (see council recommendations)
  • Cycling in a manner as described by current legislation and the Highway Code.
  • Cyclists must report on the actions of other cyclists if they; believe their actions or style of cycling does not meet approved standards, notice some aspect of the cyclist’s behaviour or garments or bicycle condition which does not, may not or could not meet any condition of the law in any respect.  Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to £5,000.
  • Cyclists are responsible for writing to other cyclists, within 7 days, in the event of a possible contravention of the rules and must keep a record of the letter for 10 years.  Failure to do say may result in a fine of up to £10,000.
  • Once a cyclist is licensed, if the cycle is disposed of and no further cycling takes place, the terms and conditions of the license still apply for the full license period.
  • Cyclists must actively monitor the behaviour of other road users, including non-cyclists, motorists and pedestrians and take appropriate action where necessary for the safety of other road users.  Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to £20,000.
  • This scheme has been implemented by twelve other councils.  If other councils have done it, then it must be good.
  • Cyclist Licensing makes it mandatory to do the jobs previously allocated to the Police and the Council, with no additional powers or rights, and to pay for the privilege of doing so.  Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to £1,000,000.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Note the evidence set out in the report establishing the need for Cyclist Licensing.
  • Approve the consultation for the draft Cyclist Licensing Scheme as set out in appendix A, F, G, H, J, L and Q, with supplementary notes in subsections 4, 5, 7, 9, 14 through 26, 31 and 47.
  • Note that a comprehensive consultation exercise will be undertaken with the community, partners and other stakeholders, the finding of which will be subject to further vetting and approval.  Also note the start date for the scheme to begin.
  • Ask no questions.
  • Note the diversity and sustainability inherent in the policy.
  • Obey.  Obey.  Obey.
  • Note cost of License will be only £2.00 a week and so affordable.  Payable in advance, for ten years, £1040.00 (subject to amendment.)

RIGHT AND PROPER PERSON

The council will have a duty to determine those with a Cycling License are a Right and Proper Person to do so.  Licenses may be refused for any of the following reasons:

  • Cyclist has ever committed a motoring crime.
  • Cyclist knows somebody who has ever committed a motoring crime.
  • Cyclist plans to use bicycle for illegal or IMMORAL purposes.
  • Cyclist has requested a Right Of Appeal document.
  • Cyclist has a hipster beard.
  • Cyclist has some new form of hybrid bicycle we didn’t think of when we formulated this policy.
  • Cyclist has some aspect or property of their personality, person or appearance which faceless Council stuff do not approve of in regards to suitability.
  • Those refused a license will have a Right Of Appeal.  Four hundred and ninety-six page document to do so can be requested from the Council.

CHARTS AND GRAPHS

A series of charts, graphs and data featuring complex terms, with no supporting data, with suitably authoritative tone.
(INSERT CHARTS AND GRAPHS BEFORE PUBLIC RELEASE.  Failure to do so may result in a fine of £2,000,000.)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

(1)  “I am a good cyclist.  Why am I being punished?”
Response:  You are not being punished.  The scheme is here to help you protect your investment in your bicycle and also to protect you from harm.  Through Cycle Licensing the Council is addressing issues of antisocial cycling.  The new scheme will make everybody safer, will increase the value of local properties and will make everybody feel very very nice.

(2)  “Is it just a money making scheme?”
Response:  Don’t be ridiculous.  That’s crazy talk, that is.  The scheme has to be set up on the basis of full cost recovery and must not make a profit.  It is therefore neutral to the Taxpayer.  There are no knock-on effects created by the changes which could possibly cost you anything.  Nope.  No chance of that.  And since we already employ the staff who will do most of the work, you could easily say this is a saving.  Indeed, we have come up with a truly clever policy whereby the Council gets millions of pounds, but nobody pays for it.  Clever, huh?

(3)  “Is there any danger that the costs of all this additional bureaucracy and fees might discourage people from the healthy activity of cycling?”
Response:  No.  None at all.

(4)  “Is there any danger that some people might not be able to afford to cycle anymore?”
Response:  Nobody is that poor.  And even if they were, you do not need to be concerned.  The Council has arranged for the laws of economics to be temporarily suspended in the area in regards to this issue.

(5)  “Do you hate cyclists?  Or do you just love money?”
Response:  The public have told us that our diversity and sustainability targets are important to them.  The Council continues to face ongoing economic challenges and we are resolved to work with our existing resources in order to deliver value for money and core services.

(6)  “I don’t think you answered that last question, really?”
Response:  Oh look.  A shiny thing.

(7)  “Is there any chance that the costs of the license will rise?”
Response:  The Council anticipated your important question and have risen to the challenge.  Key figures will be revisited at strategic points with a view to maintaining our budgetary duties in a proper fashion as the public expect and demand.

(8)  “Do Cabinet Members read these reports before they rubber stamp them?”
Response:  Helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local people and families is a key strategic goal for us.  Improving Cycling Safety and Road Safety through targeted and evidence-based measures are a strategic tool to help us achieve this.

(9)  “Is there anything you wont license, given half a chance?”
Response:  So, about that shiny thing we saw earlier….

PRESS STATEMENTS

Cllr. Amanda Eskworth-Jeeves, Cabinet Member For Diversity & Sustainability said: “This scheme addresses many of the issues that need addressing in a diverse and sustainable way.”

Cllr. Colin Toedaline, Cabinet Member For Licensing Things said: “We need to license things.  Otherwise what do we have?  Anarchy!”

Cllr. Ray Christopher Chandler Burton, Cabinet Member for Cabinet Members said:  “I strongly support what my colleagues have said.”

The Looks Like Lightning Project

The Looks Like Lightning Project

Next Saturday 23rd January, my band will be playing a one off gig at the Kings Head in Wisbech. 8PM – Late.

This is a band that I was in when I was a teenager. A couple of years ago two of us got together and re-recorded all the old songs on new equipment, just for fun. So when I say “band” what I really mean is “duo.”

We will be doing a single performance of our retro synth and guitar pop mix of original songs and a few covers. Mostly for fun and laughs.

We would absolutely love to see friends or interested local people come along if you like live music with a retro style. We are nothing like any other local band. We don’t claim to be rock superstars or virtuosos – we are just two guys who like writing songs and performing them.

Please do come along and join us. It’ll be a “different” sort of evening.  Entrance is completely free.  Just bring enough money for a couple of drinks (or as many as you’d like) and you’re set! :)

For a taster of what our songs are like you can check a few out on YouTube.

“The Shape Of Things To Come”

“Recession”

“Mutually Assured Destruction”

“Thief”

“Everything Gonna Be Alright”

lll

Goblins And Stuff

Goblins And Stuff

For the last twelve to eighteen months my business partner Duncan perham and I have been working on a new game.  I’m aware that not that many local people know that I am a games designer because I don’t talk about it very much, but I am.

Our past games were turned-based postal and online games,  a small niche market it is fair to say, but one that we are world leaders in.

Our new game is something quite different – an independent roleplaying adventure game for the PC.  This is our first proper foray into this market and we’ve invested a lot of time, effort and resources into something which could be fairly said to be a roll of the die.

I’ve never minded rolling dice though.  In fact, I enjoy doing so very much.

The game is finally finished.  Better still, it has made it through the intensive vetting procedure known as Steam Greenlight and has been approved for launch on that sales platform.  It will “go live” in February this year.  Duncan and I have set up a new company, Floating Brain Limited, to market the new game and to hopefully produce and market other games in future.

Floating-Brain-1024x392

I did not use my existing company, Madhouse UK, to do this because this one is a joint venture between Duncan and I and also because there is significant difference between the sort of games Madhouse does and this type of game.  We thought a new company was a clean way to set it up.

floating brain

This has meant that I’ve had to revise my register of interests as a Councillor on both WTC and FDC, even though there’s little chance that a game design company will ever feature some financial or moral conflict with my work as a Councillor.  It’s just the rules.

This is a very exciting moment.  You always love the things you’ve put a lot of time into so it’s fair to say I may be a bit biased – but our new game, which is called Rescue From Goblin Deep, is a whole lot of fun to play.  In my opinion.  :) Now if other people agree, we might make a few bucks from it this year.  Or maybe not.  Time will tell.  I have a pretty good feeling about it, though.  If it really takes off then it’ll be a fascinating new direction for my professional career.

Goblin Deep

screenshot 2

That Old Chestnut

That Old Chestnut

What is the most common thing I have blogged about over the years?  Probably UKIP.  But the second most common is the formulation of policy and the danger of unintended consequences.

Time and again I have warned against bad policy.  Time and again I’ve been ignored.  And time and again it is possible to look back on the results of the policy and see that either it didn’t achieve its goals, or that it achieved them in a perverse way that served to make the situation worse.

What makes bad policy particularly insidious is when it is popular.  Every once in a while Council produce a proposal that the public love and the press love and everybody loves.  And being used to getting a pretty hard time, they grab these moments of levity with both hands and parade them around happily.  I don’t blame them.  It’s tough being the ones who have to make all the unpopular decisions.

Nevertheless, I would not be doing my job if I didn’t point out when a policy is poor.  I don’t expect my words will make the slightest bit of difference, but at least I tried.

So, Cabinet at FDC, please think very carefully about your “Selective Licensing Policy.”  Officers love it – of course they do.  The public will love it.  The press are already bubbling over with excitement about it.  And why not?  It addresses one of the current moral panics and does so in a populist way.  You can show photographs of a leaky faucet or a dodgy electrical fitting or a bunch of beds on the floor and the cries of “disgusting” will be angrily supportive.

I’ve recently helped residents with a battle against a really wicked Landlord.  I can fully appreciate the temptation to just nod this one through.  But I’m afraid there are some really big holes in it.  And there are some “supply and demand” consequences that will almost certainly spring from it.  The public won’t like the outcome of the policy anywhere near as much as they like the announcement of it.  The applause can turn to condemnation very quickly.

I’m not saying don’t strengthen your position with a policy like it.  I’m saying “take some time.”  Consider the consequences.  Think it through, get some advice outside of the immediate Officers involved and get it right.  Or you will end up with all the things you are trying to stop, multiplied.

Mission Creep

Mission Creep

If you were a Government seeking to re-introduce prohibition, how would you do it?

Well, if you were stupid, you would do it in one big announcement.  Thereby creating huge opposition campaign groups, spawning petitions, facing demonstrations and starting a media feeding frenzy that would ultimately bring you down and your policy with it.

Increasingly, this tactic is not used.  Instead, those seeking to implement controversial policy do it with baby steps.

In regards prohibition, first you might find some really damaging drink.  Something that the politically-active Middle classes wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.  Something that Doctors would queue up to say was particularly damaging.  Something that “no sensible person” could be opposed to controls on, and then you would impose said controls – couched in a colourful announcement about how many people your new policy was going to help.  How much good it was going to do.  How you hated doing it, but it was “for their own good”.  Or whatever.  Let’s call our mythical horror drink “Gutrot Extreme.”

Having established the idea that it’s okay to control Gutrot Extreme because it was such a dreadful product you might then point out that, strangely, despite your new controls, sales of the drink seemed to be soaring.  Perhaps the black market was exploiting the scarcity caused by the new policy.  Or perhaps a new, very slightly different, drink was available which avoided the controls by not being quite the same.  Let’s call the new product “Gutcruncher.”

Amidst a furious campaign about the horrors of abuse of Gutrot Extreme and Gutcruncher, and how the predatory companies making the products were sidestepping your rules, you might then propose changes to counter them.  Knowing how easy it was to make variations on a theme, instead the new policy might allow Government* to ban any product that was similar to the bad ones.  In this way, they might argue, new variations could be stopped in their tracks.

So now you have the situation where Gutrot extreme is banned.  Gutcruncher is banned.  Anything similar to GE or GC is also banned.  The fact that this clever law can be used to ban other things entirely simply because they are also “similar” in some respect is a side issue (but one that will be used, you can be sure.)  The simple fact is, you’ve gone from one scary product to a blanket ban on a range.

It doesn’t stop there.  Tax increases to discourage use become punitive tax levels.  Restrictions become bans.  The remit widens, the scope expands.  Each new addition to policy is specifically to counter the problem that the previous ones aren’t quite working the way you’d hoped they might.  The direction of travel is singular.  Control, control, control.

This is how these things are done.  When a policy is going to be controversial the Government need only do two things.  Create a “Moral Panic” to breed an environment of reactionary fear.  And implement just a piece of the final policy.  Immediately you strip away a chunk of your opposition.  The number of people who would be prepared to fight outright Prohibition is vastly larger than the number of people who would remain opposed if you were simply adding tax to cider.  The number of people who would campaign against a 5% VAT rise is much more than the number of people who would campaign against a sugar tax.  The number of people who would say “no” to Paid Parking is more than the number who would say “no” if you said the first two or three hours would be free.

This is mission creep and it is not accidental.  Taxes rise.  Restrictions increase.  Controls compound.  Make no mistake, there is only one direction of travel.  When you grant more powers, they will be used and abused.  When you give up freedoms, you will not soon get them back and more will follow in their wake.  When you agree to a policy, nothing about that policy is written in stone.  If something is wrong, stand firm.  You will seldom get a second chance.

*Note:  Not a comment on our Government, but rather on all Governments and bureaucracies.

Nannying Doesn’t Work

Nannying Doesn’t Work

I wonder.  Is there anybody, anywhere in the U.K., who – upon hearing that Government health gurus now say there is “no safe amount of alcohol” and that even a single glass of wine puts you at risk of cancer and other diseases in later life – immediately said: “Well, that’s it then.  I wont ever drink again.”

I doubt it.

In fact, the storm of protest runs the gamut from: “Stop telling me what to do, I’m a bloody adult” to “you’re just making it up as you go along, now.”  The only thing that these increasingly overblown health warnings about everything and anything achieve is to make people more and more incredulous about anything the Public Health people say.

Of course, it’s probably true.  There is probably some minute causal link between alcohol, chemical additives, sugar, saturated fat, salt and every other thing that has been the “cause of the month” in the past and the onset of unpleasant illnesses later in life.  But most people take the view: “You have to die of something” and if that something has a 0.0000001% greater chance because I put sugar on my cornflakes or cream in my coffee, then so be it.  Because life is for living.

There are two things about all this nannying that are genuine cause for concern though.

The first is that each piece of advice that causes most sensible adults to scoff devalues the currency of future health advice.  There is a price for this, and it is a price we will pay when there really is a health scare but nobody believes a word of it.  Public Health gurus should read the old story about the boy who cried wolf.  Coz when the wolf comes in this instance, the whole village will pay the price.

The second – and of greater concern to me – is that even though nine out of ten people just think these proclamations are ridiculous, these gurus do seem to have the ear of politicians.  Which is why we get these bizarre and unhelpful laws constantly trying to squeeze through.  From plain packaging to a sugar tax – they share only the facts that they won’t do what they say on the tin, but will almost certainly lead to unforeseen negative consequences.

For goodness sake, Public Health people.  Stop it with the moral crusades and the nannying and the attempts to control and manipulate consenting and free-willed adults.  A little more with the health screening and sensible guidance and a little less with the political campaigning would go a long way to making people take you seriously again.