PCC Aftermath

PCC Aftermath

The counting is over, the winner is Conservative, Jason Ablewhite. Jason will be the new PCC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Let the lobbying begin! :)

As an activist, I like to look over campaigns and comment on how they went. Often, this upsets a few people, but they’ll just have to deal with it. This is stuff I am interested in and like to write about. Anybody who doesn’t like it, can go read something else!

The Campaign was a three way battle between UKIP, Lab and Con; Nick, Dave and Jason. The Lib Dem was never anything more than a distraction. I don’t say this to be mean, I like him. But everybody knew he was never going to get anywhere near winning.

In the end, Nick Clarke did worse than many expected. Dave Baigent did a little better than many expected. Jason, who was probably the favourite, won comfortably.

I think Nick made a mistake by running with the 6-year-old Facebook Comment thing. Until then his style was “sensible statesman” and it was winning him admirers. When Labour started shouting about the ancient history comment he should have said: “It’s six years old and it was one word. Give the overreaction a rest.” In the past that is what he would have done, I am sure. But the lure of an easy attack was too strong and Nick couldn’t resist. I think it turned more people off than it won. And I think it damaged the reputation and image he had been cultivating. it probably wasn’t the difference between winning and losing though. He lost by quite a long way, in the end. UKIP are quite strong at this end of the County and came second, but they really aren’t very strong anywhere else. For a huge role like PCC, that makes it a tough battle for them to ever win.

Labour lost this election for themselves. They had so many things in their favour; higher turnouts in their areas, simultaneous Council elections, an incumbent Government. But they shot themselves in both feet. One shot was due to their national Leader, who is only ever going to lead them to ruin. The other shot was the standard of their candidate. Since the election is over I will make no further comments about Dave Baigent except to say: “Next time, pick somebody good.” Even the candidate they put up last time would have been better. What were they thinking?

Congratulations Jason.  Time to get to work!  We expect a lot.   Don’t let us down.

Here To Listen?

Here To Listen?

Dave Baigent assured everybody he was going to listen to what they had to say in regards to his PCC Candidacy for the Labour Party. He enjoyed mentioning how he was a Cambridge City Councillor.

Taking him at his word, people told him what they wanted.  But we aren’t a city and we aren’t called “Cambridge.” So that was that.

Wisbech Town Council, 2016 Grants

Wisbech Town Council, 2016 Grants

Grants given out for this financial year:

Special Grants:
the following groups are awarded funding to assist with their work in Wisbech.

Angles Theatre
Citizens Advice Bureau
Wisbech Information Centre
Wisbech & Fenland Museum
Wisbech Rose Fair
Vivien Fire Engine Trust
Wisbech In Bloom
Wisbech Reads
Wisbech Christmas Fayre

Small Grants:
the following groups were succesful in their applications for funding assistance.

Wisbech Community Development Trust
The Prince’s Trust
St Augustine’s Explorer Scout Unit
Friends of Wisbech Adventure Playground
Wisbech & District Tourism Development Group
Wisbech Town Hockey Club
Wisbech & District Table Tennis Association
Wisbech Veterans
Wisbech Music Society
Wisbech Unit Girls Venture Corps Air Cadets
Cambridgeshire Hearing Help

If your group/organisation needs funding assistance, small grants application forms may be found on the website – http://www.wisbechtowncouncil.org.uk

PCC Hustings

PCC Hustings

Last Friday there was a hustings here in Wisbech.  There has been a lot of talk about how it was the best attended of all the hustings so far, which it probably was, but the suggestion that this was due to public concerns about Policing is a little misleading.  I’m not saying the public here are not concerned about Policing, only that linking it to the turnout is an uncertain argument.  By my count, well over half the audience were political activists.  What it is testament to is how politically active and astute Wisbech is as a Town.  Nothing wrong with that.  We should be proud of it.

I went to the hustings thinking I was going to be bored out of my mind.  Actually, I wasn’t at all.  It was both entertaining and engaging.  No small amount of that was due to the hosting by John Elworthy.  I have often criticised John in the past, but credit where it is due, he Chaired that meeting perfectly.  He got the balance between control and allowing things to run right, he came across politically-neutral this time and he kept the meeting ticking over at a good pace.

So how did they do?

Rupert Moss-Eccardt (Lib Dem)
I was a County Councillor at the same time Rupert was and so I know him of old.  He hasn’t changed very much.  He’s a very pleasant man with an exceptionally sharp mind.  But he’s not the world’s best speaker, he didn’t seem to actually have much of a platform in regards to what he would do as PCC and frankly he rather seemed like he knew he wasn’t going to win and had come for the fun.  Which is quite admirable, in an odd way.  His brand of “legalise drugs”, “hug-a-hoodie” policy positions was never going to go down well in Fenland.  When asked if he would put more Police on the beat he said: “No”, which was beautifully honest and political suicidal at once.  By the end, a few people were considering putting him as a second preference simply because he was so zany.  But in truth his answers got almost no applause and his “sum up” left only silence in its wake.

Nick Clarke (UKIP)
Another gentleman I served at County Council with – as my Leader no less – Nick did exactly as I would have expected him to.  He delivered a confident, ballsy, direct performance which earned him plenty of applause and kudos.  The fact that his maths really didn’t seem to add up didn’t worry the ‘Kippers in the audience, they broadly seem to prefer a rambunctious campaign to actual economic reality.  But he came across as strong, and people like that in a PCC candidate.  He had an odd moment at the start where he refused to use a microphone, getting some heckling from the Very Angry Labour man (hereafter referred to as V.A.L. for short) which led to him saying he couldn’t use the microphone because he had a bad eye.  While everybody was looking at one another in puzzlement over that he reversed his position and decided to use the microphone after all.  But other than that bit of oddness he gave an assured hustings which was well received by the ‘Kippers in the audience.

Jason Ablewhite (Conservative)
Jason wasn’t the best I have seen him.  His performance was quite “low key”, though I think he came across as confident and assured.  His weakness was that he has spent so much time as a Council Leader that he sometimes gets stuck in the lingo, talking too much about “Partnership Working” and “stakeholders” and the like.  That said, he also comes across as strong and a safe pair of hands, which he is.  There were traps set for him.  The first of which was UKIP trying to talk about an old business interest which was loudly agreed as “mud raking” and unnecessary by the crowd.  John Elworthy asked for a vote on whether the question should proceed and only two people voted “yes” that I could see, so that was that.  The other was V.A.L. bringing up the six-year-old private Facebook comment which referred to a minority group using one of the “no go” words.   The only people in the audience who seemed to think this was anything other than pretty desperate mud raking also were the Labour contingent – and they went quiet almost as soon as “current scandal” and “anti-semitic” were mentioned.  Not surprisingly, really.  Jason got the biggest cheers after his answers, but he probably also had the most support present.  Still, I think he can be fairly proud of his performance.

Dave Baigent (Labour)
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.  I’ve never seen anything like this.  After his poor answers in my few online chats with him I could already see he was out of his depth and I had roundly predicted he would be eaten alive in the hustings.  But I didn’t imagine anything like this.  It started going wrong for Dave almost from the outset.  He tends to “roar” when he speaks, which I presume he thinks makes him sound strong.  Or maybe that’s  how he talks normally?  No idea.  But the minute he began his opening dialogue there were people to my side and behind me, not Conservatives, who didn’t like it.  One woman said he sounded “hectoring” and another that he seemed “a bully.”  Quite possibly unfair, but his style wasn’t working.  And things hadn’t even begun to go wrong yet.  When he boasted of “paying for the hustings” there was some concern he was stretching electoral law.  ( I don’t think so, personally, but it sure seemed to throw him when Nick Clarke said it.)  Then he kept telling everybody he had a plan, loudly, while not really revealing it.  He got the law in regards to parking completely and utterly wrong, which undermined his claims of experience and knowledge.  He kept referring to “cities” leading to shouts that he “wasn’t in the city now” and accusations of being Cambridge-centric.  He just compounded this by continually referring to his time as a City Councillor.  When he said that Wisbech was a priority, but listed his priorities as Huntingdon, Cambridge and Peterborough – he got fairly roundly heckled from all sides.  Attempts to put this right just made it worse as he said Wisbech was “a priority, after the other priorities” and was met by howls of outrage and ridicule.  At one point he loudly announced that managing the Police wasn’t the job of the PCC.  By this time the heckling was coming from all sides and Mr. Baigent collapsed under the pressure, resorting to telling everybody: “I have a plan, I’m not changing it just because of you lot” or something similar.  It was all over for him after that really and his sum-up received muted applause from the Labour Die-hards and V.A.L. and it wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, even from them.  His sum up was essentially: “I’m going to stick to my plan.  You guys don’t matter.”  Well, it wasn’t that, but he might as well have said that.

What can we take from all this?  Well, the audience seemed split between Conservatives and UKIP, with the exception of the Labour die-hards.  I would call it a close draw on the night between Nick and Jason, which others would disagree with but mostly based on their own biases.  Nick Clarke may have taken one or two Conservative waverers if he was lucky.  Jason Ablewhite may have taken one or two Labour waverers if he was lucky.  Dave Baigent crashed and burned spectacularly and will have gained no support on the night that he didn’t have before he arrived and which wouldn’t be there for anybody with a red banner.  The Lib Dem was comic relief, for the most part, but a nice break from the others on occasion.  I doubt anybody really changed their minds, in truth.  But it was an entertaining spectacle – and I think the candidates will go away thinking that Fenland was a pretty tough crowd full of informed and opinionated individuals.  That’ll do nicely.

Wisbech Citizens’ Patrol – First Walk

Wisbech Citizens’ Patrol – First Walk

I’ve just returned from the first ever “official” Wisbech Citizens’ Patrol walk. It was a lovely sunny day with a brisk wind, which was as close to perfect for this activity as we could have asked for.

We walked through Norfolk Street, through St Peters Church Gardens, through Town, through the Horsefair, Back through Town, along South Brink, along Alexandra Road, back into Town, back through St Peters Church Gardens, back down Norfolk Street, along the back of West Street and by Onyx Court.

We took the walk slowly, stopping at various businesses to introduced ourselves, saying “Hello” to people we saw and met. Every person we spoke to was very nice and very supportive.

The volunteers were professional and fun at the same time. We bumped into two Police walking a beat through Town and chatted to them for a while. Also very supportive.

All in all it was very nice, and a very healthy walk. We are out again tonight with two or three teams over a much wider area.

We would absolutely welcome more volunteers to enable us to expand our activities – so if you are interested please let me know! It’s fun and its worthwhile.

We finished up with a delicious coffee at the Eastern European Delicatessen at the end of Norfolk Street – highly recommended!

The Wisbech Citizens’ Patrol Guide and Risk Assessment Can be Found Here:

Wisbech Citizens GUIDELINES

Wisbech Citizens Patrol RISK ASSESSMENT

Please note these are working documents and will be revised as and when needed.


The Devolution Dance

The Devolution Dance

I often think I should record meetings so that when people disparage what I say – and then those exact things happen later – I can play them back and say: “Who’s laughing now?”  It wouldn’t help anything, particularly, but it would replace frustration with satisfaction, at least a little.

At the first Fenland District Council Seminar where the draft devolution document was shown to Councillors, I raised a number of sincere concerns.  I was concerned by the speed, the secrecy and the vagueness of it all.  I was concerned about the fact that we only received the documents on arrival and that they would be confiscated when we left.  But most of all I was concerned by this need for all the council Leaders to sign  the document in order to give the Leader “permission to continue discussions.”

I asked: “If this is just a draft set of ideas and if it only allows continued discussion – why do all the Leaders need to sign it?”  It made no sense at all.  You don’t need to have a document signed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and a score of Council Leaders in order to “continue discussions.”  You just continue discussions.

I pointed out that the Government may see this, at a later date, as an actual agreement.  I was assured, by the Leader, by the Deputy Leader also, that this was absolutely not the case.  I worried that we had none of the good stuff written in stone and that once the dust settled we may find that we’d just signed away our souls for a fistful of smoke.

I also pointed out that everything about the wording and style of the document smacked of “we’ve agreed this much, let’s move on” and that there was only one paragraph that mentioned the fact that we had to ratify the decision as a Council.  The wording was such, and I said this in the meeting, that an individual could even make the case that the signatures on the document represented the precise ratification that this paragraph referred to.  There was much hilarity.  Of course, I must stop being so paranoid. The Government would never move the goalposts later.  Oh no.

With almost everybody else agreeing I could see  I wasn’t going to make them recognise my concerns.  So instead I proposed that if we were going to sign this document we should protect ourselves.  I proposed that the Leader should write beneath his signature (subject to ratification by Full Council) or similar.  With what appeared to be tacit agreement of this, I reluctantly voted to sign it.

Later it turned out my suggestion was ignored.  It also turned out that the paragraph that allowed for us to veto the deal was removed in a later draft, placed elsewhere and with different wording.  The signatures were also moved from one document to another – something that I still feel would be considered fraudulent in almost any other situation, but which seems to be considered just fine in this one.

This hit the newspapers today:

Contrary to what most councillors – including those from Cambridgeshire- believe, James Wharton, a junior minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government insisted it had already been agreed.

“The government has made a deal,” he said. “Signatories were added to that document.

“We have no expectation or indeed plan to reopen discussion and start again.”

His interpretation of the agreement signed by 22 of the 23 local authorities across the three counties (Cambridge City Council declined) remains at odds with subsequent events. Leaders of many local councils felt the agreement was an ‘in principle’ only document and remained open to modification and amendment.

The Government has made a deal?  Since when, James Wharton?  Didn’t you notice that paragraph about ratification being needed?  Did you think that the Leaders of all these councils could be told “this is just an ongoing discussion” and “nothing is written in stone” and then later that could be glossed over?  Sure, some Leaders have been hyperactive cheerleaders of the whole thing since the outset, but there’s something about wild enthusiasm and blind unquestioning support that makes people raise their eyebrows.  And enough eyebrows are now raised that I doubt anything will resolve easily unless it is forced in a most damaging way.

I would suggest that if you are making a deal like this and the Government says: “It’s our way or the highway,” your best bet is to head out onto the open road and thumb a ride into Town.  When you are making a deal, you can’t just sit in awe at the size of the person on the other side of the table.  If you go in cowed and meek, you will be dominated and you will likely end up with a very poor deal indeed.  I feel that the reason this is being rushed, hushed and shushed is because some people have a specific outcome they want and their intention is to get there as quickly as possible.  This sort of haste tells you something and gives you a bargaining chip.  I feel we have now squandered that opportunity and we are left in a difficult position.  At this point, we’ll either let the Government roll over us and push ahead.  Or we will withdraw with much mutual acrimony and later consequences.  Not a good outcome for anybody, really.

I leave you with this last delightful nugget from the Government Minister:

“But we must recognise that if areas want to come back on deals that have already been agreed and reinvent them before they have been enacted then we would have to look at the allocation of time and resources to other areas that have not yet reached agreement.”

How’s that for spin and subtle menace?

Hundreds Attend Annual Job Fair

April 19, 2016

 Hundreds attend annual Job Fair

There was a big turnout at the annual Fenland Job Fair last Friday (April 15), with about 320 people attending the all-day event in Wisbech.

More than 20 organisations took part. Between them they had over 225 vacancies on offer, as well as scores of volunteering opportunities.

Advice and practical help were also available on ways of improving CVs, job applications and interview techniques, together with pointers to various skills courses.

The fair was held at the Queen Mary Centre. It was organised by Luminus’s Ferry Project, with funding from the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and extra support from Anglian Water and Fenland District Council.

Organisations attending included:

  • Anglian Water Alliance
  • Animal Jobs Direct
  • Army
  • A14 Highways Alliance
  • CAB
  • COWA
  • ENTU
  • Ferry Project
  • Cambs Fire and Rescue
  • JCP
  • Kickstart
  • Luminus
  • MICA Healthcare
  • MI Homecare
  • Motiv8
  • National Careers Service
  • Peterborough Skills Academy
  • Cambs Police
  • Regard
  • Swan Recruitment
  • Volunteer Centre

A weekly Jobs Café is held at the Queen Mary Centre every Friday (10am-noon), attended by various employers, including the Citizens Advice Bureau, Job Centre Plus, the Careers Service and the College of West Anglia. For more details, call the Queen Mary Centre on 01945 581444, or visit www.queenmarycentre.co.uk/jobcafe

Community House 2016

Community House 2016

This press release arrived today, and very good news it is too:

Community House service to run for another year.  Funding to support services at Community House in Wisbech has been secured for another 12 months.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has agreed to give Fenland District Council £48,410 to keep the house in Southwell Road open for the current financial year (2016/17).

The award is for the same amount as last year and will again be directed at helping people on work-related benefits develop the skills and confidence they need to find work.

The council’s bid to the DWP for renewed funding had been supported by the local Job Centre, which said it found the service provided at Community House was an important way of meeting an identified customer need.

A total of 117 people took part in last year’s pilot project, which included a direct referral service from the Job Centre to the house and a programme of community-based activities designed to improve their chances of employment.

Twenty people found jobs through it, 75 were helped to access training and 47 found volunteering opportunities.

Councillor Mike Cornwell, the council’s Cabinet member responsible for communities, said: “We’re delighted DWP has recognised the value of the pilot project and that we can now continue this service, which offers vital support to many of the people who are in most need. I would urge residents who are interested in the service to get in touch to benefit from the opportunity.”

The renewed funding removes the question mark that has been hanging over Community House’s future for the past 18 months. In January it was identified during the council’s comprehensive spending review as one of the services likely to be cut if continued external funding could not be found.

Council officers are continuing to seek further, longer-term funding for the service.

Wisbech, Bright

Wisbech, Bright

Up and down the County people are suddenly finding their streetlights turned off. Some who knew it was coming but didn’t realise the implications. Some who hadn’t even heard about it. Lots of upset and anger. Lots of worry.

The County Council policy bearing fruit.

But not in Wisbech.

Because in Wisbech, the Town Council asked the people if they wanted them kept on, the people said “yes”, and Wisbech Town Council did as the majority requested.

It was in our power to save the lights from the County Council cuts, but it was going to cost some extra money. We asked for a steer from the public and got a strong one. We did as asked.
This is how local mature and responsive politics is supposed to work.