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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas Card


I've not had mine yet - perhaps it'll arrive in the post tomorrow.

Monday, 22 December 2008


I've always been partial to a good hoppy ale, or a lightly oaked white burgandy. But I've never really been a big drinker - and specifically I've never woken up without remembering what I did the night before.

But yesterday I had that kind of sensation I've heard others talk about - when you know that you did something but you can't quite remember what it was.

Returning to bed with a cup of tea and a pile of reading, I opened Total Politics magazine to find a letter signed by myself.


I just about remember reading an article a couple of months ago and being so irritated by the comments from Benn junior that I fired off a quick missive. At first I couldn't bring myself to read the letter incase I'd written something daft.

Built up the courage in the end, and it wasn't too bad:

Original article is here:

My first post:

A couple of the comments that got me were:

"I thought it would be fantastic experience, so I applied."

Great reason to want to me an MP. Some want to change the world...Benn just thought it would be a bit of a hoot.

"This is one thing that I think they need to sort out. Help the candidates."

Help yourself. This is the real world now, where you have to lead. If you can't build fundraising capacity, then you shouldn't be there. It's an integral part of the democractic process.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Flowerpot

I thought I should report back on the infamous lines and how I think they're getting on. After all, it took so much effort to get them there it would be rude to just forget about them. ;-)

First things first: I'm a touch concerned that the junction is unsafe. I spoke to highways a couple of months ago and they didn't seem too bothered - but now I've had a letter from a ward resident who thinks the same I'm inclined to pursue it with a bit more vigour.

The lines are the first issue. The chicane manoeuvre one must execute to miss the traffic waiting to turn isn't too difficult - unless you're not paying proper attention. At 6pm after a hard week at work I suspect that there are a few people who fall into this less than attentive category.

The truth is that this junction should have been made wider to accomdate this turning traffic properly.

I'm also concerned about the safety on the other axis. When waiting to turn from Oxford road into Ivy Lane it's very difficult to avoid cars coming straight through from Congleton Road to Oxford Road. This is because they "swerve" into the new straight on lane at the last minute - and if they're going about 20mph this doesn't always leave enough time to get out of the way.

So I've asked the highways engineer to assess the safety of the junction - bearing these two specific points in mind.

This junction cost us a significant amount of money and it's a shame that it's imperfect. I don't know what the history of this short sightedness was - but next time I see the County Councillor responsible for the ward at the time (Ken Edwards), I'll ask him.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Passenger Focus

Yesterday I came across the Passenger Focus website - an organisation that seems to have a mandate as the "National Rail Watchdog".

It's not a bad website, and they've got the capability to do some really good work. Pleased to see, therefore, that they're running a poll asking:
Would you prefer to be called:
* A customer?
* A passenger?
* Don't mind.
They seem to have missed off the forth option:
* I couldn't give a *** but well done for fixing everything else on the railways so that this is the most pressing issue you have to deal with.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Congestion Charge

Only just managed to find the time to have a decent look at the final results from the Congestion Charge poll.

I was saying on Thursday that it was going to be a walk over, but I didn't realise it would be quite this heavy a defeat for the Manchester socialists, with about 4 out of 5 people voting against the charge:

Manchester yes 43,593 no 113,064 rejected 250
Rochdale yes 17,333 no 61,686 rej 118
Bolton yes 20,529 no 76,910 rejected 167
Bury yes 16,563 no 64,001 rej 94
Bolton yes 17,571 no 68,884 rej 141
Salford yes 14,603 no 79,326 rej 105
Stockport yes 24,090 no 103,706 rej 169
Tameside yes 16,323 no 83,105 rej 124
Trafford yes 20,445 no 83,568 rej 142
Wigan yes 27,810 no 78,565 rej 132

But fun aside, some of the comments from the "no" camp have been quite terrifying.

Lord Peter Smith (Lab), leader of Wigan MBC described it as "a vote against improvements on Metrolink, on railways and on buses".

The GMFT webste is packed full of tripe about throwing away the investment and people missing the chance for more seats on trains.

When will these people understand that we do want that, and we're happy to pay for it, but we're not happy to be hoodwinked and bullied into it - which is what the "yes" camp and the government attempted to do with this poll.

I don't like bullies. Never have done. Was bullied quite a lot at primary school - ended up with a broken arm - but that's another story. At least it's clear now where all those playground bullies forge themselves a career.

And at least after last Thursday it's clear that the British won't stand for it...

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


Quite predictably, things didn't quite go to plan on the first day of the new timetables for the West Coast mainline.

Teething problems will happen, and I just think it was bad luck that caused a train to break down on the same day.

It's all very well having a faster, better timetable - but unfortunately Macclesfield seems to have got to raw end of the deal. There are now only 3 services an hour to Manchester, and we have lost services that stopped elsewhere. The only (positive?) change is that the Northern Rail service now continues south from Macclesfield which will be exciting if you fancy getting a train to Congelton or Kidsgrove.

This is a shame - because rail was our best transport link (considering we're 30-40 mins from the motorway).

What is a real pain for me is that there's no longer a direct service from Macclesfield to Milton Keynes. This is a journey I do often, and I now have to change at Stoke. The timetable has been scheduled intelligently, and I should only have to wait 8 mins extra at Stoke - but I'm sure this is going to cause chaos if the first train is delayed.

We'll just wait and see how it all works out.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Road Safety

I mused here:
on the standard of some of the reporting today and this was leading me into a rant about road safety. It occurred to me that I should really do it justice on another day.

So here I am...back to the point about the Cat and Fiddle.

Most specifically it's not the speed the bikes travel that's the big issue, it's the contravention of the white lines on the road which are there to make clear when it is and isn't safe to overtake.

We have a major problem now in that 90% of road safety work is targeted towards speed. This isn't because it's the most effective way to save lives, it's because it allows the council to do something *visible*. I asked one of our road safety officers the other day what we were doing as well as speed / drink driving - and he was a bit lost for words.

This is what has lead to thousands of speed cameras and less police on the roads. It's what means you'll get away with "active" offenses like tailgating, driving aggressively and recklessly overtaking - but you'll get a ticket for not fixating your eyes on your speedo and accidentally drifting up to 34mph.

There's this myth that x% of accidents are caused by speed. The actual statistic is that x% have speed as a contributing factor. Quite obviously, if you'd not been moving you couldn't have crashed into anyone - so you can tick that box on nearly every accident report form.

We need to look at the real factors for these accidents and focus on them - because that is the how we will save more lives on the road in the most effective manner.

I say 90% is focused on speed, because the county is finally starting to focus elsewhere. An excellent leaflet was produced about the A41 detailing the causes of crashes in different places as one of the "red route" initiatives. Reasons listed were:

* Right turn collisions
* Poor driver perception
* Lack of hazard awareness
* Driver impatience
* Poor lane discipline
* Misjudgment of gaps
* Rear end collisions
* Poor use of mirrors
* Following too close
* Amber gambling (nice phrase)

There is not one mention of speed.

I can't think of many skills you use on a professional basis that don't need you to be re-assess or topped up at any point. On this basis, it seems remarkable that you can take a driving test when you 17 and then happily drive like a fool for the rest of your life safe in the knowledge that there's never a copper around to pull you over.

We need to seriously consider life long learning for drivers, combined with thorough assessment of judgment / hazard awareness. Having to take a driving test every 5 years might seem like a faff, but it's a much more rounded way of reducing fatalities on the road than having us all drive round at 5 mph.

Friday, 12 December 2008


Here's a crazy thought. And highly topical.

Considering how much of an impact on the future of Macclesfield the Town Centre development will have, shouldn't we have a referendum on it?

Or is there a risk that the people might say no?

Highly irritated

I'm a bit irritated at the moment - not because I've done the Macc to London trip twice in the last 2 days and I've had about 4 hours sleep - but because there's still a whole load of politicians in this country that don't seem to understand democracy.

In fact, they seem to be growing in number.

Manchester has voted no to the congestion charge - even though the Council's pushing the charge thought they could fool the public by wording the question cleverly, and even though they broke laws about political TV ads.

That's not what I'm irritated about. I'm delighted about this because it was the most crackers of all the crackers plans I've seen in the last year.

But...it has been reported by the daily mail (sorry - it was the first news source to have a decent article up):
Privately 'Yes' campaigners conceded people have failed to grasp the scale of the £2.75 billion planned investment and what it would mean for local transport.
Because when the people vote against you it's always because they don't understand?

No, it's because they thought it was a rubbish deal.

All we heard after Ireland voted no was that they didn't understand about the EU. Now there's talk about asking Ireland to vote again - perhaps they'll just keep trying until they Yes?

Seems like a strategy that might work for Manchester.


Did anyone read the story in the papers a couple of months back about that Welsh lad who got a ticket from the council for leaving the lid of his wheelie bin open 2 inches?

Couldn't happen here, could it?

Oh yes...I'm told that we have the same powers, we have wardens and we could if we wanted. Fortunately I've been told that we don't want to, and we're using the wardens to educate rather than enforce. It's not just bins, there's a whole range of penalty notices that they can give out.

The most interesting is this:

The council can now give you a ticket if you have not taken care to ensure that your waste is passed on to an authorised person.

Basically, if your builder says he's going to take the rubbish away and you don't check that he or she has a "waste carrier registration" then you could be liable for prosecution.

All I can say is that it came from central government....

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Local Transport Plan Part 2

A small fact that may (or may not of interest) - it was to me but then I'm a bit geeky.

We spent £180 million on transport activities in Cheshire over the last two years:

Capital Expenditure: £39.8 million
Highways revenue expenditure: £44.02 million
Revenue expenditure on passenger transport services: £98.8 million
External funding: £6.1 million.

Quite a lot of our cash - and over half goes on "revenue expenditure", which as far as I can work out means subsidised buses.

Although when you compare that to the £50 million that will be spent this year on the Alderley Edge bypass, it puts into context the scale of our spending transport.

Interestingly the capital expenditure is a bit misleading, as £25 million of that was reported to be spent on maintenance rather than on new projects - so pretty much all of the £180 million is spent on business as usual.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Local Transport Plan

So....we have a thing called the Local Transport Plan. It was a piece of work carried out by the county which set targets for improvements in transport. We then report on how effective we've been at hitting these targets.

All sounds good so far. It's all driven by central government, but I don't think it's a bad thing.

This week I have been sent the update report - detailing how well we've been doing. And actually, it's quite pleasing to see. Most of the "indicators" are along the right lines, and the numbers on them are moving in the right direction.

But there's a worrying example of what happens to politicians and civil servants when you present them with a target. They change it to get the result they want.

Indicator "BVPI 104" (Catchy name, eh?) which is "Increase percentage of public satisfied with local bus services".

Good good. That's what we like. Are the public actually happy with the local bus service. Important to know.

The target in 06/07 was 72%. We hit 46%.
The target in 07/08 was 72.5%. We hit 46%.

The solution? Change the methodology used so that we only collect information from bus users.

So if I want to get the bus but can't because it doesn't go where I want, the fares are too expensive, or the timetable is useless then I don't get included in the statistics?


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Professional reporting

The Macclesfield Express excelled itself again last Wednesday with a great example of sensationalist but vague reporting by a chap called Nigel O'Conner.

Old Nige was following the standard rule of local papers. Simplify everything so there's no fact left, then sensationalise.

The front page carried an article which apparently uncovered evidence that motorcyclists like to nail it up the cat and fiddle. (I'm still looking for the "New" in "News" here).

With regards to the time it takes them to travel between Macc and the Cat and Fiddle pub it carried the line on the front page:
"the quickest time featured on the site is less than seven minutes. If drivers stick to the speed limit, the time would be considerably longer."
So I got the map out. And a piece of paper. And a pencil. And some bog standard mapping skills we teach to the Scouts on Tuesday night.

On the speed limit, it's 7 minutes 30 seconds. "Considerably" longer than 7 minutes. Well done Nige.

For clarification, I'm not saying there's not a problem. It just needs to be reported in a more professional manner. The big scandal about the Cat and Fiddle is that a lot of the bikers know full well that there's a lack of Rozzers up there when it's a Macc Town home game, because quite often the traffic officers get roped in to lend a hand.

And it's not the speed, it's the manner of riding...I'm going to come back to this in a couple of days and discuss the issue of road safety.

Monday, 8 December 2008

People Panel

Today was one of the "people advisory panel" meetings. I'm one of the members on this panel.

It's a strange affair, because it doesn't feel as if we have worked or debated on anything that substantial. It took about 6 months to get to a position where we were getting worthwhile business come to us - and even then some items have already been to cabinet and as such were a done deal.

However this week was a bit different. We discussed the implementation of the Children's Trust, and the events in Haringey meant that all members had ideas how we could prevent this kind of systemic failure from occurring in Cheshire East.

One immediate change I think we need is in the membership of the Childrens Trust and the Council's Safeguarding Board. Both of these have a scrutiny function - and in the past we have ensured that the chairman of the two boards were different people, although the membership often ended up quite similar.

We need to ensure that this isn't the case - the membership of the two boards must be completely different to ensure that we get a wide ranging, objective view when it comes to scrutiny of children's social services.

Saturday, 6 December 2008


As with all these things, it's often a bit dodgy to comment unless you know all the facts.

But anyway....

It's one of those stories that really makes you angry. A teacher was suspended and then given a final warning for making late pupils do press ups as a punishment. More details here.

Just to confirm - apparently the pupils decided amongst themselves what the punishment should be, and these are pupils that were late. Not just ones that the teacher didn't like the look of. It wasn't like they couldn't have prevented it.

From the head teacher, Wendy Whelan:
"It came to our attention on Thursday 20 November that a form tutor may have been using unacceptable sanctions when students in his form have been late to registration."

Good lord. Next the teachers won't be allowed to tell the little darlings off incase it upsets them. We need to be giving the teachers more powers in the classroom, not taking them away.

She continues: "Our priority is to ensure that students are happy to be in school"

Well actually....I might disagree with that a little bit. Your priority should be to ensure that the pupils get a good education. Certainly they shouldn't be harmed in any way, but fear of authority never did anyone any harm. And there's no reason that school can't be fun, but it's not the main aim.

Just to repeat - her name's Wendy Whelan and she needs to be sacked, now.

Unless she wants to become a Rozzer, because I get really upset when they give out speeding tickets and the priority of the police should be to make sure that we're all happy.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Back to school 2

Well...I didn't get pelted with fruit, one or two seemed to be a tiny be interested and I even got a wolf whistle (I really didn't know 15 year olds did cruel irony so well).

I was also a bit shocked about how many there were. I was thinking back to my school days - and Tytherington's over twice the size of where I went.

The background is that the school run a series of days throughout the year where normal lessons are binned and each year group focus on a particular social/environmental issue. Year 10's were looking at campaigning.

They watched videos in the morning of different types of campaign (sport, charity, political, etc.) they then had an hour with me (although I kept it to just over 30 mins in a transparent attempt to make friends) and finally they were then going to spend the rest of the time until lunch thinking about what they could campaign about.

I was genuinely delighted to be invited and I am really impressed by what the school are doing. The people I met today are of an age where they should and must tell people what they think is wrong with the world. It all tied in really well with the Whose Choice? campaign that we've been running recently, and I hope that some of them come up with some good ideas for campaigns and make a nuisance* of themselves around the school and around the town.

(*nuisance in a good way...I mean by challenging the status quo, not by knocking off car wing mirrors).

Back to school

To continue my sold-out tour of local educational establishments*, I'm off to Tytherington school this morning to talk to some of the pupils about campaigning.

I genuinely have no idea how this is going to work out....I'll let you know.

* (So far I've visited the College, Ivy Bank, Broken Cross. Trying to get a date set with St Johns and All Hallows don't seem to response to my emails.)

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Rock on, Winterton .

This is one of those posts that I'm bound to make a spelling mistake in.

Sir Nick has sponsored an EDM calling for the BBC to do something about the way it butchers the language. Full details here: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=37030&SESSION=899

I fully support this, but what's more important is that fact that the beeb are still dumbing down news. ITV and Sky have produced "news for dummies" for years, what we really need is high quality, complex and in-depth news presentations that fully communicate all sides of an argument.

In a nutshell, less of the "simplify, then exaggerate" which has plagued us in recent years.


I was highly amused by this advert here:


I genuinely think that David Mitchell is one of the funniest men on the planet at the moment. I saw him on 8 out of 10 cats the other night and was literally rolling around the floor in tears.

And this is a great advert. It forms the message well and gets it across - although I question the wisdom of not running a campaign such as this targeted at Alcohol instead, where the dangers are much greater and the social/environmental impact is significantly higher. Unfortunately the fact that legal alcohol is a higher personal & social risk than many illegal drugs is an elephant in the room that no politician seems to want to talk about.

But to get back to the advert....£1 million? Really? Honestly? How on earth did they manage that? Did they use gold plated cameras?

Come on lads...this is my money that you're spending.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Ivy Bank open day

Tomorrow (Thurs) is the Ivy Bank open day for prospective parents.

It's a great school and some of the governors have worked really hard to make this open day a success - so I hope plenty of parents take an interest.

The school is open from 9.30 - 11.30 in the morning, and 1 - 3 in the afternoon.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Lord Thomas

Was reading this post a couple of weeks ago:


And must admit I never even knew there was a Lord Thomas of Macclesfield.

Shame he's a socialist.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Participatory budgeting

A concept that's gaining traction in local government, and is seen in a very similar vein to the development of the 3rd sector, is participatory budgeting. (Although that link is a distraction - they're not connected at all).

Basically this means the tax payer gets to decide how to spend some of the Council's cash. Hazel Blears has recently announced some more schemes and is hoping to have every area involved in the system by 2012.

The reason for doing this is to give people more power and involve them more in the process of spending money. It will make us more democratic.


We already have a way of getting members of the public decide how to spend the cash. Bascially, we all get to vote for the person that does it. They're called Councillors.

They get a few perks on the way....free parking at the Town Hall, the occassional luke-warm buffet at a training session, and lots of grief from the public and Vic Barlow. They are normal members of the public who have been nominated to make these decisions. It is open - anyone can give it a go, and you can get rid of people you think are doing a bad job by voting them out.

That is democratic. Having unelected, unaccountable people deciding how to spend my council tax is not. That's just corruption in the making.

Now you may argue that there is a disconnection between politicians and their constituents. This is the case in some wards (I hope it's not in mine, I'm certainly trying really hard to ensure it isn't). When this occurs that is the fault of the Councillor - but importantly it's the job of the public to fix it. By booting that person out next time around and getting someone better. And if there's no-one better on the ballot then you should have a go yourself.

Democracy can work and does work, and we don't need gimmicks like this to make us more "democratic" - we just need a bit more interaction between councillors and the public, a bit more discussion about politics in everyday life, and a bit more tough love for politicians when they're not doing what we want them to do.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


We need to standardise taxes & charges across the new council - and this is always going to throw stories up in the press. It's a contentious issue.

To make matters worse, the recent plans to keep a shared library system with the West means charges in this area need to be in line with theirs, which makes the process even more difficult.

So this is a pre warning of what we'll all be complaining about in the next 12 months.

We've seen evidence which suggests that the parking task group are going to introduce parking charges in Congleton, and I'm sure that there's going to be riots over this.

(Quite right as well - we should have free parking everywhere).

Not all charges will be standardised from day 1, but here are some others in Leisure from a recent council report which need looking at:

* Headline swimming charges are significantly cheaper in Macclesfield when compared to the other two local authority areas;
* Grass football pitches are significantly more expensive within the Congleton (sic) compared with Crewe & Nantwich and Macclesfield;
* Crewe & Nantwich is the only area that offers free entry to children under 5 years whereas the other two areas allow free entry for Children under 3;
* Crewe offers a junior discount for children under 17 years whereas the other two local authority areas offer discounts for those under 16 years;
* Congleton allows free use of leisure facilities by members of the armed forces;
* Crewe offers free swimming for people with a registered disability.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Childrens Trust

Having been as disgusted as everyone else at the news of what happened to Baby P, I surged into action to make sure that similar failings in the Children's Services department couldn't allow such a thing to happen in Cheshire East.

Sadly, you come to the rapid realisation that we can never stop such a thing from happening again. We can't prevent evil, repulsive people like this from becoming parents - all we can do is try and prevent them from doing harm to their children once they have them.

But this is easier said than done. We can't go around whipping kiddies away from everyone who we don't like to look of. We have to strike a balance.

It's clear that they weren't getting this balance right in the case of Baby P, but no one was in the position to point out this failure and correct the matter. It seems that one of the reasons for this was that the council officer who was responsible for running this department was also responsible for ensuring they were doing things right.

So I was pleased to find that the implementation board for our new Cheshire East Children's trust has been tasked to consider: "how those who monitor performance will be separated from those who are responsible for delivery".

A very simple line which will prevent failings like those described occurring in Cheshire East.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

School Stuff

I'm a governor at Ivy Bank primary school - and this means that on top of loads of council papers I also get sent lots of guff about schools.

Most of it is guff of the highest quality, but I'm afraid that Cheshire let me down this week.

In the magazine they send to governors we got urged to setup parent forums or councils where they can come to discuss issues.

I'm not very keen on this idea to begin with, because we've got a good system already. We have PTA's, Govenors, and a good Head Teacher will always be available for a chat (I know that the one at Ivy Bank is).

But what angered me even more was being told that we would "Need to think about the impact of culture and...holding women-only meetings".


The way I see things, the only places that should be women only are the ladies lav's and the changing room at Ann Summers. I call that discrimination and I think it's wrong.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008


Often we complain that politicians are too distanced from the real world - and this has been specifically proved by the treasury over the cut in VAT.

They have failed to understand that companies fall into two specific categories, and they set their prices in different ways.

Companies like mine, who sell to other companies that reclaim VAT, price before VAT and then add VAT on. VAT is just a distraction, it doesn't affect what I earn or my client pays.

However companies who sell to consumers price after VAT. They pick an amount they think you'll pay, and stick that on the label. Once you've bought it they work out the VAT fraction, and send that bit to the tax man.

That's why prices are always round numbers (or nearly if some didn't knock the penny off to make it look cheaper).

For example, I've just looked up a Tefal Iron in a well known department store and it's £29. So you're paying £24.69 + VAT.

This is the basic point the chancellor has missed.

Will this Iron now be sold at £28.39? Of course not.

In the majority of cases, the change will be pocketed by the vendor and the customer will see no difference. This means that there will be no stimulus to the economy - but I suppose that leaves us in the same position we were before, right?

Wrong - because the treasury has less income. So we'll have to pay more tax to make up for that.

The end result is the government gets the same, the shops get more, and we get less.

And then it'll be even worse in 2011 when Labour plan to put VAT up to 18.5%. More here

Tax Payers Alliance

Just found this interesting post on the always interesting tax payers alliance website.

It makes a very important point that the setting of Policy should be done by the Councillors - and not by officers.

However, it's worth noting that Councillors are not full time employees of the council (in fact they're not technically employed at all - which is why we get an allowance and not a salary) - and don't always have the time to research policy in minute detail.

So it seems there is a requirement for this position - but perhaps it should form part of Member Services (ie, it's a resource for Councillors to develop policy and not for Officers to develop policy) and should report directly into the leader.

I've written to him to suggest this.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Tesco...Part 4

This might be the last one about Tescos.

Can't promise anything though.

Have you noticed that they're going to knock down the old Tesco's to build a new one? It's going to take 12 months apparently.

They "may consider" building a temporary store somewhere. Which is nice of them. But only may...not definitely will.

At the same time they're doing this, we may be seeing the development of the town centre - which will involve closing the car parks near the other Tesco's to build shops on them. So that shop will be very difficult to access.

So assuming that they don't build a temporary store - we'll be looking at having 12 months with less than 50% of the shopping capacity we have now.

Trust me. You want to start stocking up on tins now.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Phone calls

Was catching up on my Macclesfield Express reading, and was yet again blown away by Barlow and his complaints about the new council phone system.

I'd been keeping a low profile about this, but the sharp witted of you will know that I work with Call Centres. To be specific, I tell people when is the right and wrong time to use these kinds of systems...so I'm really in the thick of it.

But if I'm honest, I find it a pretty easy job to do. It's a carrot and a stick kind of thing. It you push people into using a rubbish system then they're going to get upset about it. If you provide a system that's quicker, more reliable and with more functionality than speaking to a live agent, it will be very popular.

This wasn't a decision I pushed for, but I did discuss it with David a few months back and I think it's a good idea. It's all in the design and implementation of these things. As long as MBC get that bit right then it should be a success.

Barlow may complain about the (one off) setup costs, but he has failed to understand the enormous (daily) cost of handling phone calls to the council. If people choose to use this system rather than a live agent the savings to the council will be many, many times the original investment.

And unlike Journalists, when we save money we don't spend it on the Christmas party. We use it to reduce council tax.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tesco...Part 3

So when it comes to the actual Tesco's development in Macclesfield (as opposed to the roundabout) I can't honestly say that I'm that up in arms about it.

I don't buy into the arguments about it being another nail in the coffin of competition. The expansion to the shop will be all about poor quality clothes and vacuum cleaners. It's going to be a problem for Currys and TG Hughes, but not anyone else.

Whilst I'm saddened by the demise of local butchers and greengrocers, this isn't going to be made worse by this store redevelopment. And it wasn't the fault of Tesco's in the first place.

Indulge me and I'll explain why.

I was sickened by a woman who was at the consultation at the same time as me. She started off by complaining that they're killing the local competition, and then went on to complain that they're not very good at keeping the shelves stocked.

What a hypocrite.

For her to know that the store is often badly stocked she must have shopped there on many occasions - so she is the exact reason that the other shops are closing.

All Tesco's can do it build a shop. We each chose whether to shop there or not. This hypocrite choses to shop there, but then moan about Tesco's in order to make herself feel better.*

We chose not. We don't and won't shop at Tesco's. Guarentee you won't see us in there.

But you won't catch us moaning about it either, because we don't need to make ourselves feel better.

How about you?

* It's a bit like people who live in nice houses in Bolly standing as socialist candidates for Macc West. If you know what I mean.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Tesco...Part 2

Following on from yesterday - there's one thing about the new roundabout that really got me angry.

And I mean angry.

The chap at the consultation from Tesco's (if you went there you'll know which one - the one that was 12) - said that the roundabout was a good thing because it would slow down the fast traffic on the Silk Road.

That section of the Silk Road is derestricted dual carriageway. Therefore national speed limit applies - 70MPH.

That's what we have decided the speed limit should be, and as far as I am aware it is a very safe road.

Not content with pushing cheap, nasty food with poor welfare standards upon us - they now what to get involved with their own brand of road safety?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Should we be thankful?

News that 250 more jobs may go at AZ in Macclesfield is certainly disheartening.

But the story behind this is even worse. For every job lost at AZ, we will probably end up losing another job in Macc. It might be a hairdresser, a publican or a shopkeeper - but a lot of jobs in Macclesfield are supporting AZ workers, which makes the impact of these jobs losses even worse.

However I almost feel slightly thankful that the site is not being closed - as AZ have announced closures of 3 plants in Europe. Closure of our sites would take us decades to recover from.

This is one reason why we need to look at the development of Macclesfield, but with something other than a shopping centre. The shopping centre relies on a good economy, and for a lot of people to be employed locally by employers like AZ. We need a plan that works in all weather, not just when the sun is shining.

Tesco...Part 1

It's been another busy week.

As well as rushing all over the country trying to earn a living - I got the chance to give Tesco's a grilling at the Town Hall on Monday.

The first (annoying) thing is that they're cleverly keeping the two issues of the new store and the silk road roundabout separate when evidently they have no intention of building one without the other.

And as everyone knows, they've already been granted permission for the new roundabout - which is still a mystery to me. I'm investigating the planning process at the moment.

They claim that County Highways supported the idea - but what I understand County actually said is that a roundabout was better than a slip road on/off.

But it's still a crackers plan. As everyone who comes into Macc between 4pm and 6pm will know, there's usually traffic queuing half way to the Hulley road roundabout. This means that cars will end up sitting on the new roundabout in rush hour, preventing anyone from getting into or out of Tescos.

Not initially a big deal (if they're stupid enough to go there, etc.) but what will then happen is Traffic going away from Hibel Road on the Silk Road will get held up by this traffic queuing to turn right into Tescos on the new roundabout.

Stopping the other, previously fine, carriageway.

However - to balance all of these arguments, I see no choice if there are to be commercial units built on the Black Lane site. Although a new Tesco's would be fine with the present traffic arrangements, there is no way we could provide access to a new development on Black Lane without an additional junction.

And I doubt that there are many people that wouldn't like to see something useful happen with that site.

My only concern is that this access will be across Tesco's land - which as far as I am aware - they haven't yet consented to.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bomb scare Mk II

Received from Cheshire Police:
Please accept the following as an update to an incident in the Park Green area of Macclesfield this morning.

At 9.13am a telephone call was made to a business premises on Park Green claiming that a bomb had been planted and that it would explode at 12.30pm

The emergency services responded and the area was thoroughly searched. By 11.30am we were able to declare the area safe and normal business could be resumed in the area. No devices were found so the incident came to a fairly swift conclusion as a result.

There are a number of ongoing enquiries in relation to tracing the call etc and if anyone is able to provide any information that could assist us then I would urge them to do so.
Someone is obviously finding this quite funny - but I don't think it's going to be long before the Rozzers catch up with them.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Fun fun fun...

Just got a questionnaire from Royal Mail .

Asking me for my opinion is asking for trouble anyway, but they've asked me to return it to:

Macclesfield Delivery Office
SK10 1EJ

Now if RM can't even work out that Macclesfield is in Cheshire and not Stockport, then what hope have we got?!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Glad to know we're doing something right

Cheshire East are being held up as a shining example by the Chester Chronicle and a Lib Dem Councillor.

This article states in relation to special responsibility allowances, which are paid on top of the standard Councillor's allowance:
Cllr Gaskill claims some councillors, who are receiving more than one extra payment, can double their basic allowance. In Cheshire East councillors are limited to just one extra payment, irrespective of how many extra responsibilities they take on.

Doubt we'll get a good word in the 'Express though.

Popular Complaints

Councillors love to complain. It's in our blood. One of the favourite complaints of councillors is Jargon. They (we?) just hate it.

Now I'm all for this - because it's important that you make yourself as clear as possible. If a member of the public hasn't read hundreds of council papers and been involved in all the background work then it's unlikely that they're going to understand what LSP's and CDRP's stand for or are.

But I'm concerned that a drive towards reducing jargon will make it difficult to communicate anything with any substance. Sometimes "Jargon" - especially acronyms or New Labour euphemisms are worthless (like how our parking wardens have become "civil enforcement officers")

But sometimes it's important that we use new terminology to encapsulate new ideas. Like "3rd Sector": we need some way to terming a group of organisations are so vitel to what we do. We just have to be careful about creating them, and use them in moderation.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Shifting the blame

I wrote earlier in the weekend about how frustrated I was about not being able to recycle my plastic.

I've heard all sorts of reasons for why we can't do it and I still remain unconvinced. If it's so difficult, cost ineffective and worthless then why are lots of other authorities doing it?

But I wonder if I'm chasing the wrong people. Rather than trying to find someone to recycle, perhaps I should be looking to cut out the waste at source.

The laws governing excess packaging are toothless and impossible to enforce. But the consumer has a power, not granted by law, all of their own.

I'm therefore becoming ever more tempted to start unpacking my goods at the checkout and leaving the rubbish for Tescos and Sainsburys to dispose of. By the time a few of us started it we'd soon cause enough of a scene for the supermakets to start paying attention.

Sumoking: I know that you're the expert, so perhaps you can tell me if it's legal?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Watching Kerry Katona on this morning

I'm going to do something which I don't normally do - I'm going to indulge in celebrity gossip.

I happened to watch that Kerry Katona clip on youtube the other day - the one where she was on "This morning".

It seems that Kerry was either drunk, or on heavy medication which made her appear drunk.

Much speculation over which ensued.

Who even cares? This woman has done nothing constructive in her life. I expect I work harder in one 15 hour working day than she has ever done in a month. She has no skill, no talent, no work ethic. And bizarrely, no ambition.

When she was asked where she was going to take her life now she answered "nowhere really".


The only possible good she can do is to be a role model for our youth - and she's certainly not doing that.

I'd dispatch that one on a one way mission to Mars, and send Max Clifford with her.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Still none the wiser

I was asking previously if anyone knew anything about Tesco's owning some land that is due to form part of the Town Centre redevelopment. I'm still none the wiser about this, and though someone has kindly offered to do some land registry searches it's going to be a little bit tricky unless I can work out which site it actually is.

But it works like this - Tesco's may own some land that form part of the Town Centre redevelopment. MBC will need this if they want to press ahead with the plan. That is a rumour with no basis, pure speculation. I don't know if it's true or not.

But let us all consider a hypothetical situation.

Tescos wanted a roundabout on the Silk Road, and the council said no. Then the council suddenly said yes. The reason for this was to avoid a lengthy legal challenge with Tescos.

Let's not beat about the bush. If Tescos tried to sue the council then:
1) Personally, I'd be happy to pay £10 on my council tax that year to fight it - because I don't want a roundabout on the Silk Road and respect my council for making a sensible decision.
2) I would never shop at Tesco again because they showed so little respect for said council.
3) I would stand outside Tescos every Saturday morning for the forseeable future and tell everyone why they should go to Sainsburys instead.

Tescos know something like this would happen, and they wouldn't risk it. The action would result in higher council tax for all of their customers - and that would be bound to lead to negative publicity.

But what a (hypothetical) coincidence (with no basis) that the same Tescos may be holding a parcel of land which is of use to MBC.

The Macclesfield Bomb Scare

Just received this from Insp Gareth Woods:
The following is an update for you all following the bomb hoax incident in Macclesfield yesterday afternoon which brought Macclesfield Town Centre to a virtual standstill. Apologies for the delay in getting this out to you all but I am sure that you will agree that the operational response to such incidents must take priority and that response remains ongoing at the time of typing.

At 3.13pm yesterday afternoon a telephone call was made to McDonalds on the Hurdsfield Retail Park claiming that an explosive device had been placed inside a nearby bin. McDonalds staff contacted the police who responded to the area straight away. Having confirmed that an object was indeed inside the bin in question the area was evacuated and cordoned off.

Our colleagues from the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team were called to the area and a controlled explosion was attempted. Due to the fact that the object in question turned out to be a hoax device it didn't physically explode.

The above activity took a significant amount of time to co-ordinate and deliver. As a result it wasn't until around 9pm that the cordons required to safeguard the public were removed. During that time there was significant disruption to local traffic, pedestrians and businesses. In addition the emergency services were committed for the duration to the detriment of other priorities and issues across the area.

Our enquiries have continued since yesterday and the current situation is that the original phone call that was made to McDonalds has now been traced to a telephone box outside the shops in Tytherington. A number of forensic enquiries have been completed in and around the telephone box and house to house enquiries are being conducted in the area by officers this afternoon.

We remain confident that the person who orchestrated this incident is local and that we will be able to trace them. Any information that anyone can provide that can assist the investigation will be most welcome.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Saving cash - woooohooo!

Was delighted to receive a cabinet report from the council that tells me the forecast costs have recently dropped - and it looks like the transitional costs may be £500,000 less than originally forecast.

But just before I celebrated I notice this killer line...it may be "because projects do not deliver during the latter part of the year resulting in slippage into 2009-2010".

Which is interesting. Because transitional costs couldn't be met from Council Tax rises....but can they be if the dates slip and it's no longer a "transitional" project?

Must keep an eye on that.

Gets earlier every year?

I know it's just a little too predictable to complain about Christmas lights going up earlier every year, but I've just read this in the Community News:
Wilmslow Grove Street will be the first lights switch-on at 4.30pm this Saturday, November 15, attended by the Mayor of Macclesfield Borough, Cllr Thelma Jackson.
Yes, that's the official Christmas lights. In the middle of November.

I'd like to promise that there'll be none of this madness under Cheshire East, but I sure we're powerless to stop it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Chester setting a good example

Chester are extending the trial "free after three" parking arrangements until next year.

The scheme has also been expanded into another shoppers car park because it was so successful.

Are you listening, MBC? Don't build a new shopping centre - just let people come to the one that's there.

Cross Boundary Library Services

I must admit, I don't have a library card because I don't tend to use the library. The main reason for this is that I'm terrible at taking books back on time. So terrible in fact, that it's cheaper for me to buy second hand books than it is to pay the fines from the Library.

But the Library is an excellent resource which is used by many. One of the important things is that you can get hold of books that aren't so easy to find elsewhere, and whilst they might not be at your local library as long as they are in Cheshire we'll move them around for you.

So it's a great relief that Cheshire East and Cheshire West & Chester are to adopt a shared library system post vesting day. This means that your Cheshire East library card can be used at a Cheshire West library - and if there's a book on the other side you fancy it'll be possible to get it moved over.

For all you scientists

I know half of Macclesfield (in my case, the better half) works at AZ...so you'll be pleased to hear the latest science news at Dizzy thinks


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

We will remember them.

Watching our country's leaders lay wreaths at the Cenotaph on Sunday I felt that at that time, and in that place, they had understood the potential consequences of the decisions that they take on a day to day basis.

Decisions about who we fight, how our troops are supplied, how they are treated when they come home.

But the fact remains that whilst politics can only sometimes lead to a "successful" outcome of war, war is always caused by the failure of politics.

Does Brown understand the gravity when he's not standing with the mass of dignitaries on live TV with Elgar's Nimrod floating around him? Does he understand that a failure in international politics lead us down the road to Iraq? But most importantly, a failure in UK politics and a battered attempt at a security agenda took us the rest of the way there?

If I ever get to meet the man, I think I'll ask him.


Tomorrow is the next meeting of the places committee - and there's two things I've noticed on the agenda that interest me.

The first is that they've recognised the need to look deeper at tourism and are going to set up a tourism task group.

Tourism has previously contributed £600 million to Cheshire East and there's no reason that this can't increase as people feel the squeeze and decide not to holiday abroad. Personally, I think that tourism is the way forward for places like Macclesfield - and is a much better solution that cheap looking, reproduction shopping centres which are going to offer no culture to our town whatsoever.

The second thing that interested me was this quote in relation to parking:
"...need for a decision within Congleton borough for enforcement of both on & off street parking"

They don't enforce at moment because off street parking is free and so they have limited issues. By saying this, it's been made clear to me that someone inside Cheshire East has already decided that Congelton will be paying to park from April next year.

This sums up my view on this:

More Town Centre Worries

I'm trying to like the redevelopment. I really am.

I'm trying to put aside my wishes for a nice, cosy, market town (probably smelling of smoke free, clean coal (?!) ) and embrace the idea of a nice shiny Debenhams.

After all, it'll be so useful when I've forgotten to buy my Wife a birthday present.

But I can't. The more I think about it, the more bonkers I think the idea is. Which is why I'm up till gone midnight trying to figure out the plans.

Lets just think about traffic. I actually think that there might be enough parking spaces, although we're going to get stung to park in them because there's a plan to outsource the car park to a private contractor.

But that won't matter because, if I'm reading the plans right, you won't be able to get to it.

The car park entrance and exit will be on Churchill Way, but you'll only be able to access it from one end (the B&Q end) because I think it's to be pedestrianised between Castle Street and Roe Street.

So if you're coming from the North Westish of Macc, you'll have to go all the way round Hibel/Silk road, or come down Oxford Road and through the already creaking Flowerpot and College road junctions.

For the couple of car parks there at the moment you can access from either end, so we're looking at doubling the traffic at the Park Lane end *and* adding more because this development is going to bring people from far and wide to shop at Debenhams (!!)

We need to see more in the Macclesfield Express about this, and we need need to hear more about it on the radio. It's time for Maxonians to rise up and get what they need and want, not what is being forced upon us by some (nearly bankrupt?) commerical developer.

** Update: To clarify the parking situation for those that asked, I count 1016 spaces in the car parks that we are losing, and the new development will have 1200 spaces.**

Monday, 10 November 2008


According to the BBC, MP's are calling for a happy hour ban.

It's great that we're having a discussion about how to change the perception towards Alcohol in the UK, but this ban is not that way to do it.

You don't change people's attitude with price - you only change how often they can afford to do something. This just means that people who want to get drunk will do it one night a week rather than two.

You may argue that this result is good enough, but it's not. It doesn't in anyway help our end goal which is to have a more social and sustainable town centres in the evenings.

What we need is to encourage people to stay in one place and drink less by changing licensing laws and working with publicans.

This may mean that prices will increase because landlords still need to earn a living, but crucially it will be a consequence of a change in attitude and not a failed attempt at a driving this change.


From the Cheshire Police newsletter:

Mini Motos Seized Police seized seven mini motos in a month at Weston in Macclesfield, following complaints from local people that they were being ridden in an anti-social way and without tax and insurance. Other young riders were served with notices warning them that they will face seizure of their vehicles if they cause a nuisance or danger. Police Community Support Officer Andy Cooper said, “This is an issue which causes a lot of concern and we are making it clear that we won’t tolerate these bikes being used illegally.” At the same time officers are making inquiries to see if there is an off-road site available where the bikes can be used safely and legally.

Crackers Collections

My neighbour has had problems getting his green bin collected this week. For whatever reason that no-one has yet fathomed they just didn't empty it - and as a protest it's still waiting out front for the gentleman from refuse to come and collect it.

This isn't causing me too many problems at the moment because day to day casework doesn't apply to us during the "shadow" period. It's up to the current MBC councillors to get this sorted. If it's not gone today then I'll give Elizabeth or Andrew a call and ask them to lend a hand.

Which leaves me to ponder why we collect green bins in the first place.

It's a great service and we all love it - but is it really the best thing for the environment? Whilst some houses don't have the space, everyone in our road could home compost - and this would allow us personally to get rid of items that are not allowed in the green bin.

This is exactly what we do - but I'll hold my hands up and say that we put our green bin out when we've had a particularly heavy weekend in the garden and it all threatens to unbalance our bin. (As many of you will know - composting is actually far more technical than you realise when you start!)

But on those weekends I would be more than happy to take a quick trip up to Danes Moss and get rid of my excess waste that way. And this would produce less CO2 than running a wagon down my road to see if I needed a green bin collected.

Yet plastic...we don't collect at the Kerb and can't dispense at the tip because it's too light to collect. It drives me mad.

Surely this would be a better use of our financial and environmental resources?

Sunday, 9 November 2008


No....it wasn't because I was out dancing last night, but because I've just received my "Macclesfield Community Safety Handbook".

I've not had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but I opened the first page to read:

"The accuracy and content of any...editorial is not warranted or guaranteed by Cheshire Constabulary"

Which was a smart line to put in. Because just above it the contents lists:


For those that don't know, CRME is a new offence where people steal the vowels from perfectly good words. It's usually perpetrated by teenage owners of mobile phones, but it seems that people in the public sector spending tax payers cash are just as likely to offend.

Is the best we can do? I'm ashamed.

I'm about to "make enquiries" as the rozzers would say, and I'll be back when I've found out who is to blame. Hopefully we can snap them with a camera, put some points on their ECDL and see how they like it.

Reading Total Politics

I receive a magazine called Total Politics every month, which is sent FOC to Councillors and MPs. It's also available from some local newsagents if you're interested in that kind of thing.

In the last issue there was an article about young candidates, which especially interested me as I'm one of the younger Councillors in Cheshire.

It discussed how young candidates are treated with suspicion because they're considered to be careerist. This is true (the suspicion that is, not that they're all careerist), and it's a shame because some of them are genuine "localist" people who get involved in Politics at any level because they want to represent hard working people like themselves and make things better.

Unfortunately the article only proved to strengthen the view. Some of the candidates they picked to include obviously felt they were "entitled" to a seat in Parliament.

They included Emily Benn - the latest from the infamous Benn Dynasty - who was complaining that there was no money available to her to fight her campaign. She's missed the obvious point that it's her responsibility as a candidate to raise this money. She has to get out in her local towns and villages, inspire people, and convince them to support her.

If she can't even manage to grasp that concept....then what hope is there for the world?

The biggest disappointment is that the more fools like this get publicity, the more the public assume all candidates are like that. Where have all the good people gone?!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

British Obama

James Forsyth asks in the Spectator "Can we have a British Obama?"

The answer is Yes - his name is Shaun Bailey and he's the Conservative PPC for Hammersmith.

Down to earth, inspirational, hardworking. He's one of those people who simply "get it".

He blew my socks off at the Conference. The man is set to go far.

Association Dinner

Last night was the annual Macclesfield Conservative Association dinner. With Sir Nick in attendance it's always a popular affair - and last night was excellent fun.

Our speaker was Karen Bradley who is the PPC for Staffordshire Moorlands. An accountant by trade and now supporting the shadow treasury team - she made an excellent speech which was both interesting and insightful.

A good night was had by all and I wish her the best of luck when the general election comes.

Friday, 7 November 2008

...losing the dog.

I've had lots of people complaining about the story in the BBC last week about codes of conduct for pet owners:


I'm sure I don't need to go into how disgusted I am with the Nanny State. Waste of money, have we nothing better to fix? etc. etc..

But perhaps I'm not in a position to comment. I managed to lose the dog in Bristol last week and got a stern telling off by the dog warden. Obviously I need to be told how to look after my dog ;-)

(In my defence it wasn't completely my fault - the dog had been left with a friend and fellow dog owner who had left both our dogs in the Garden. His gardener then came round left gate open, and a member of the public picked Mutley up on the road outside. The whole incident cost me £52 and a two hour drive to the dog pound.)

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Tesco Public Consultation

This should be fun.

Tesco's are holding a consultation on a "replacement store for Macclesfield".

Tesco Store, Silk Road:
Thursday 13th November, 10am - 6pm
Friday 14th November, 10am - 6pm

Macclesfield Town Hall
Monday 17th November, 10am - 6.30pm

I'll see you there. I'll be the one being difficult...

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Making Progress

Small progress, but progress nonetheless.

We now have appointed a project manager to push ahead with the Weston Recreation Ground project which is excellent news.

It's the start of a very long process of design, the dreaded consultation and then getting the cash together. But at least it's a start.

Congratulations Mr. President

It's now 3am and I'm sure now it's going to be 351 for Obama vs 187 for McCain. Definitely looks like Obama will sail home.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Wondering who else wants to be a Councillor?

Just read a report from the IDeA about a survey they did of the candidates that stood for election in May 2008. Don't know who they asked...but they didn't ask me (boohoo.)

Survey is here: http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=8962753

Anyway, some usual predictable statistics - eg most Councillors are over 60 and male.

But it was interesting that around 30% of candidates were in full time employment. I'm self employed (of which there are 15% of us, apparently) - and I have found quickly that it would be difficult to do the job well if I had to keep regular hours.

The truth is that being a Councillor means a lot of commitment during working hours, and this is something that most people just can't do if they've got a full time job. It's a shame, because it shouldn't be that way - but it is.

Co-op robbed?

There are rumours that there was a robbery at the co-op on Ivy Road last night - just popping over to see if I can pick up any gossip.

Update: There was definitely a robbery and the small cash machine near to the door was forced open in some way. May have been opened with a torch or with explosives - it's not immediately apparent. Couldn't get anymore info because the manager was with the police. Hopefully will be able to find more out later.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Reading MEP's press releases

The award for the funniest sounding phrase in a political press release goes to Robert Atkins MEP for "cod-avoidance programmes".

Serious subject, funny phrase.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The problem with Europe...

There has been plenty of talk about Mandelson and potential conflicts of interest with regards to his dealings with Deripaska.

But this is only in the press because he's been bought back into UK politics and because of the Osborne story. If neither of those had happened, we'd never know that he was makes with someone who just happened to do quite well out of a decision that Mandelson made.

Begs the question...how many similar things happen in Europe that we never hear about?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


I wouldn't really say I'm gullible (I'm sure that there are some that will disagree)...but I think I got swept along a bit when I read the business case for the single unitary authority.

I specifically bought into the idea that said we'd save cash by not having duplication between the district councils.

This is true, but what it doesn't mention is that we actually establish duplication in County functions that have now be split between East and West.

As an example, one directorate present has 6 senior managers. In Cheshire East we're going to have 4 from next year. I assume West may do the same. That means there'll be 8 people doing the job that 6 people used to do.

A lot of the things that the borough council does turn out not to be duplicated, because we will still need the same number of bin men, teachers and librarians.

So it's clear that the promised efficiencies are going to be difficult to come by and easily balanced out by extra staff for disaggregated county functions.

What really gets the old bean working is this: assuming we do manage to make significant financial savings in the new council, how much of these could have already been realised in the old two tier structure without going through all this faff?

...hearing rumours.

Someone's recently suggested to me that Tesco own some of the land that MBC are hoping to use for the town centre redevelopment.

If anyone's got any more details about this - can they give me a shout please?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Time for the chop

Can't stand Russell Brand. Can only just tolerate Jonathon Ross.

They're both overrated, and I wasn't too happy before all this kicked off that my license fee was paying their wages.

After the recent occurrences, I'm furious.

Come on BBC, time to give 'em the sack.

Cheshire East response to the Manchester Congestion Charge

Many may be outraged, as I am, that the question for the Manchester congestion charge referendum has been drafted as:

"Do you agree with the Transport Innovation Fund proposals?"

Evidently they hope that if they don't mention the charge that people may not notice.

Cheshire East have now made a response to Manchester with regards to the charge:
That Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund be informed
that the proposals are unacceptable to Cheshire East Council on
the grounds that:

• This consultation exercise has again been largely targeted
within the Manchester Boundary. In particular, it is
unsatisfactory that efforts have not been made to fully
engage with residents and business in the wider Manchester
travel to work area on the scale used within Manchester
itself. There is further concern that the planned referendum
will only apply to Greater Manchester residents.

• There has been a complete lack of serious analysis and
identification of transport improvements beyond the Greater
Manchester boundary. The promoters have not acted to
engage with the Cheshire Councils to consider cross
boundary schemes that would be beneficial to residents and
businesses and provide an alternative to paying the
congestion charge.

• If the TIF proposals are to deliver the full economic potential
that is suggested, then they will need to extend and improve
connectivity to labour markets and businesses outside
Manchester. However, the planned measures do not
address what improvements would be necessary for those
areas beyond Greater Manchester including Cheshire East.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Coming soon?

We all know that Mandelson was bought in to co-ordinate Labour's general election campaign. The red party have suddenly realised they're going to have to call one soon and seemed a bit at sea without a strategy.

Now this Osbourne story doesn't really have any legs. As he never accepted a donation he's not done anything wrong. Fan it all you can, and it'll smoke and smoke without ever catching fire.

But the times is going really hard on Osbourne which either mean he's upset someone personally, or they're getting support from other quarters. My suspicion is that Mandelson is behind the briefing and this is the first in a series of short-term negative attacks over the next few months - with the intention to level the polls sufficiently to call a snap election very early next year.

Labour have learnt to their cost in the past that negative campaigning doesn't work, but with the position that they're in at the moment it seems to be the only technique they have left.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Can't make an omlette...

More roadworks for Macclesfield:

Work begins in Macclesfield on Monday October 27 on the second phase of the major scheme to upgrade traffic lights in and around the town centre. This work is expected to last for about five months with a break in works over the Christmas period between November 21st and January 12th. Phase one is due to finish at the end of this month and the whole project aims to reduce traffic congestion by linking and co-ordinating the traffic signal controlled junctions and pedestrian crossings.

Before Christmas, lengths of ducting for CCTV will be installed at the Hibel Road and Silk Road roundabout. Sainsbury’s are also paying for a new pedestrian crossing on Westminster Road.

After New Year work will be taking place mainly in the Churchill Way area replacing existing traffic signals and laying ducting along the adjacent side roads and between installations.

Once operational the Urban Traffic Control (UTC) system will link signal controlled junctions and pedestrian crossings. These can then be monitored and co-ordinated by the County Council’s UTC operators and by the Safer Communities Partnership operators of Macclesfield Borough Council. Testing of the system will take place in the spring.

Like phase one, work will be undertaken simultaneously in multiple locations and drivers will be advised by advance road signs.

More information can be obtained from the County Council’s Highways Service on 01244 977479 and the website www.cheshire.gov.uk/roads also has regular roadwork information updates.
I'm still not convinced that our traffic control centre should be based in a different county, as it will be after vesting day next year, but that's the choice we've made.

Monday, 20 October 2008

To lead or to follow?

Sometimes when you're canvassing, and you ask a resident if there's anything you can help them with, you get the response "If you want to be the Councillor, why don't you tell me what the problems are?"

I can see the point. There's an un-attributed quote which says something along the lines of "There go my people, I must find out where they are heading so I can lead them!"

But democracy is about a combination of following and leading, and it's not always clear what the best route is - and for that you need to listen to people.

Today has included one of those unclear choices.

Tonight at full council we voted to keep a mayor for Macclesfield. The plans were disappointingly unclear, in that the area covered by the new mayor has not been specified (but is unlikely to be the same as present) - and also that the expense of this appointment has not been calculated.

I have been told, dismissively, that it will "not be expensive". I assume from arrangements elsewhere that there will be an office, an assistant, possibly a car with driver and an allowance for the individual concerned. It's difficult to see how the bill to the taxpayer is going to be that much less than £100k a year. All of which will be met solely by the tax payers for the area concerned - which is likely to be the urban "town" area of Macclesfield.

This same town area of Macclesfield, in my opinion, would really benefit from having 3 extra coppers - which we could get for similar money. At the rates Poynton pay we could have just under 10 PCSO's. These would have been useful a few nights ago when my neighbours fence was destroyed by a group of lads - could the Mayor have helped with that?

However there is quite a romance about having a mayor - and Macclesfield has had one since the thirteenth centuary. The position can do a lot to lead the community, and foster a sense of belonging. It helps keep Macclesfield on the map.

Car Parking in Congleton

I'm about to shoot off to the council meeting in Congleton where I can park for free in most car parks in town.

It's not a special Councillor perk - most parking in Congleton is free to anyone.

But I've noticed something interesting in the minutes of the "Places" panel. A sub committee has been formed which will be looking into "Harmonisation of existing arrangements" with regards to parking.

Unfortunately, I can't see this working out well for Congleton....

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Couldn't help but wonder...

...after I read this rant from Barlow:
Going anywhere nice?" asked the check out girl.

I was longing for the customer to say, "No, we fancied a change this year. My husband’s found us a corrugated shack on a sewage farm in Bulgaria right next to a gas works."

if he's been following me?

Because we did go to Bulgaria a couple of weeks back, and we did pass a sewage farm next to a gas works. Although admittedly we were on a train, and we weren't staying there.

But still it begs the question....how did Barlow know what my plans were? Has he got a direct connection into the Passport Agency? Does he know when I've left the country?

I feel I could burst into a rant about the database state and ID cards here, but I think I'll leave that for another day.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Incident Alerts

There is an interesting new service available from Cheshire Fire and Rescue service.

You can enter your postcode and mobile number onto their website (www.cheshirefire.gov.uk) and you will then receive messages if their respond to a major emergency near your work or home. You can enter up to three seperate postcodes.

It's free to use...although the cost will ultimatly be coming out of your Council Tax.

I wonder how much this has actually cost, and is it really worth the money?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Macclesfield Express Offices

It seems that the MEN group is closing offices in Wilmslow, and the front desk of the Macc Express in Macclesfield.

This is a serious disappointment.

This is a paper which has complained about the decline of Macclesfield Town Centre - and it's now pulling out of there itself.

On one hand I'll be slightly annoyed if we don't see photos of the closed up express in the paper - just like we've seen the bate hall and the three pigeons complex.

However, I know a lot of the staff that work at the paper and I know that this wouldn't be what they want. The editor is a true local champion and I would imagine that he has had to make a serious compromise between commercial rocks and his personal hardplace values.

It's just a shame that one of our last bastions of localism is steadily dripping away.

Perhaps we should for a Macclesfield co-operative and buy it out?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Visitng schools

Two in one day - quite a record for me.

I visited Broken Cross this morning which was a very enjoyable visit. I got shown around by two year 6 members of the school council, who were excellent guides.

After meeting a few constituents around lunchtime to discuss a problem they had, I went onto Ivy Bank school. We are planning for an open day in December to show potential parents around the school. It promises to be an exciting day for all involved!

After a quick 3k run I'm just settling down to get on with the "work" work - as I've got to pay the bills somehow.

It's been a busy day!

Ignorant Councillors

One of the best things about going away on holiday is coming back to a pile to papers to plough through.

Ok...that's a lie. It's probably the worst thing.

But I do enjoy a pile of new quotes from Macclesfield's uber-opportunist Cllr Ainsley Arnold.

Normally he's always got good advice about what the council did wrong after the event - hoping that no one notices that he was one of the few people who could have spoken up about the problem in advance.

But he was truly stumped a couple of weeks back. When the 'Express questioned him about drug problems is Macclesfield, he replied:
"I was suprised that Macclesfield had such an inherent drug problem"
Oh my...

Honestly, really, truthfully....did it never occur to you? Have you never asked the coppers covering your ward about it? Do you never discuss it with your residents?

Welcome to the world of proactive Councillors.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


So the infamous lines are now down, and they're a bit more subtle than I thought they would be.

They will certainly fulfill the requirement to get the turning cars further to the right, but I'm not convinced that it'll encourage them to move far enough forward.

Will it work? Only time will tell.


Yes, yes. I know it's boring. And I know it's less important that feeding the starving (as my wife keeps telling me).

But I really really want the lines on that junction.

The latest gossip from my man on the inside is:
The works were programmed to be done the week commencing 22nd of September but because the clerk of works went off sick for several days that week with the complicated nature of some of the other lining works which were programmed to be done that day they were delayed.

When I spoke to the clerk of works last Friday he informed me that the lining crew and the machine to remove white lines was programmed for Tuesday 7 October-and as you will be aware it rained virtually all day and lining works cannot be carried out in the wet although we did succeed in having white lines removed at several locations because that operation is not whether dependent.

Therefore I have again chased up the clerk of work and he has assured me that the works are programmed for early next week hopefully Monday or Tuesday but again that is weather dependent.
Hmmm....we'll wait and see. It didn't rain yesterday, and there's no lines - so I'm not that hopeful.

Must really investigate if painting them on myself is going to get me a criminal record.

UPDATE: Just been out for a run and they're up there. Going out to a meeting now, so I'm hoping it'll be done.

Beacon Award

It's interesting to note that last year Birmingham City Council won a Beacon award for increasing service delivery through the third sector. In terms of local authorities, Beacon awards are definitely the thing to have.

I hope that this next time next year it will be Cheshire East council who have been awarded this honour - in recognition of the fact that when we built a new council we put third sector working at the heart of it.

I was boring a friend about this on Friday night and he suggested we need a new name. He thinks that the "3rd Sector" is neither an intuitive, informative or exciting term. He's got a point, but I can't think of what else you could call it, consider the large number of types or organizations it includes.

Ideas on a postcard...

Monday, 13 October 2008

Charity Carwash

I'm told that Macclesfield Red Watch, who ran the charity carwash a couple of weeks back, managed to raise £670 for the Fire Fighters Charity.

Not bad going - well done lads.

Petrol Prices

Everyone seems to be getting upset about local petrol prices at the moment, which I find a bit perplexing. Unless we want to advocate centrally fixed price control (otherwise known as socialist planning) then we have to allow people to charge what they want.

This includes charging more for fuel in Macc if you want to, it includes charging more at a motorway service station, and it includes that idiot who tried to charge £10 a litre when the pumps were running dry.

Just don't use the station if you don't like their prices - simple as that.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

We need a champion

I am concerned that the West already have a 3rd sector assembly, and we're lagging behind them on this. I hope we can catch up soon.

But it's become clear that we need much better understanding in the council itself of what the 3rd Sector is, what it can deliver and how we can fully integrate it with our decision making and commissioning process. Without this the 3rd sector will just become a tumour stuck on the side of the council, and not a gold thread woven through it.

So I have written to Wesley to request that we appoint a member of the Cabinet as a 3rd Sector "Champion" to....you know....champion the 3rd sector.

This way we can ensure that we give consideration to the 3rd sector each time we make a strategy decision.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Benefits of the Congestion Charge for Cheshire

So, after ringing the information line and getting help navigating the website (I don't usually struggle with these things, but there you go), I discovered that GM Future Transport have a document about the congestion charge and "What it means for Cheshire".

I should be noted that whilst I didn't find the website that easy to navigate, it is exceptionally pretty.

I was quite enthralled by this doc at first. I'd assumed that they'd forgotten to think about us at all. After all, we're not really being consulted (a stand outside Tesco's doesn't really count) and we don't get to vote on the plans - even though the recent case for creating East Cheshire council highlighted how reliant we are on Manchester for many elements of our economy.

So I was well chuffed that they'd put some thought into how if effects Cheshire.

Except they hadn't.

Most of the doc is general guff about the charge, and then a tiny "Cheshire" section highlights that there will be park & rides, and a few extra carriages on trains. It also has the delightful paragraph:
"The TIF Package cannot provide answers to all of the region's transport needs"
Lets not beat about the bush. The TIF package doesn't provide any answers to this part of the regions transport needs (ie, East Cheshire into Manchester).

Think about what we have on a scale like this:

1. Useless -> 2. Inconvenient but just usable -> 3. Convenient but unpleasant -> 4. Perfect

Rough, I know. But work with me.

They're trying to take us from 3 to 4 by ensuring everyone gets a seat - mainly because when you say to someone "Should we ensure there are always seats on the train" people will say yes. I mean, who wouldn't?!

But what we have at the moment is somewhere hovering between 1 and 2.

We don't need bigger trains, we need ones at times that are useful and mean we don't have to leave the pub in Manchester before last orders. We need buses that don't take three hours to cover the distance I can drive in 30 minutes. We need to be able to get somewhere near the metrolink extension where we can easily jump on (I assume we won't be able to Park and Ride at Manchester Airport).

The major problem at the moment is that we can't get anywhere except rail to the centre of Manchester, and we're severly limited by the timings etc of that. Unless you can provide this alternative, driving is the only option and the congestion charge just becomes a compulsory tax.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Watching the Bloggers at conference

I attended a fringe event at the conference on the subject of blogging.

The panel was made up of Guido, Dale, Dizzy, Devils Kitchen and Nadine Dorries who talked about various aspects of blogging. It turned out to be not quite as feisty a fringe as was promised, but I guess it was a little too early for Guido to shine. I'm not even sure the bar was open.

Did raised a few points that really interested me. The first was that there seemed to be a general opinion that blogging can be more useful for local politicians than for national ones. I'd agree with this and I think it's a shame that there's not more Councillors trying to disseminate information in this way.

Nadine suggested that the idea of her blogging was not popular with the whips office. I found this greatly disappointing. I know that it is important for a party to control message as tightly as it can, but it's bonkers to try and prevent blogging incase you say something you're not supposed to. She's no more likely to say something she should as if she was out canvassing or being interviewed on the telly. In fact - probably less likely to as you can carefully prepare material before you post it.

Lastly there was the concept of success, and what makes a blog successful. It's very easy to compare blogs to Dale et al. and believe that's the kind of thing you're trying to create, but it's not. A blog could be as simple as trying to connect with 5 decision or policy makers. It could be about providing information for the media. In my case, it's about trying to connect with the voters in the ward.

Which is why I'm so pleased with this blog. In the first month I had 100 unique viewers. Nothing in comparison to guidos >20k, but excellent in terms of what I'm trying to do.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Getting it wrong

Contrary to popular belief, I'm more than happy to put my hand up when I've got it wrong - and I got it wrong a couple of weeks back. I was incorrect when I suggested that Maxonians would have to pay to enter Manchester in the evening if the congestion charge came into effect.

This is because I assumed, on the basis of how the technology works and what is sensible, that you would get charged for driving within the zone - just like you do in London.

But this is not the case. You will get charged for crossing into the zone boundary in the morning, and out of the zone boundary in the evening.

So for us it's great, but for everyone who lives in Manchester it's bonkers. Completely bonkers. It's the most crackpot system I've ever heard of.

As long as all residents fully understand the system that is being proposed then I have no doubt the referendum will be a resounding no. Because it's crackers.

Did I mention it was a bit daft?

It means that if you live within the zone, you don't get charged to drive within it. If you drive through the boundary at 6.59am, you can drive all day in the city and you don't get charged. If you park your car just over the boundary the night before (which if you live a mile or so from it you will do), you don't get charged.

Can you imagine what those residential streets which are just inside the zone are going to look like at night? There are so many ways to avoid it which will result in behaviour which is irritating for residents.

But what's really Bonkers is that if you drive somewhere that means you have to cross the boundary more than once (because you're trying to navigate somewhere on the outskirts) then you'll pay every time you cross.

Although they are considering a "maximum charge per day for multiple crossings" and a day pass - which is kind of them.

Eating leftovers

I've always poured scorn on those that complain they don't eat properly because they can't afford to.

It's codswallop. Meat may be pricey but veggies aren't - and unless you try and have steak for dinner every night it's exceedingly easy to make a good meal for pennies. Cut down on the amount of meat you use, and pick the economic cuts. Reuse everything that you can, and you'll be surprised at how far your money goes.

A few of my friends use to laugh at me for my roast chicken antics. We often roast one on a Sunday, have cold meat Monday, make a huge curry on Tuesday, have a pasta based soup on Wednesday and leftovers of the curry on Thursday.

These days I've got a few of them converted and they've had to find something else to laugh at me for (which isn't difficult).

Some I'm pleased to see that Cheshire CC are pushing this line in their latest newsletter. It's all along the lines of recycling and reducing waste - but gives good menu ideas to eat more economically.

Jamie would be proud.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Ronnies Rants

I'm told that Ronnie is the chap that owns Ronnie's bar in Dukes Court. He has a post on his website titled "Masterplan is a Disasterplan" which you simply must read.

It's so good. It's definitely a rant and holds amusement value for that reason, but it's also completely on the money. Duke's court is a nice place to be, it seems criminal to wreck that in the name of supposed progress.

If you decorate a modern house then it seems fair game to slap a bit of paint on the walls and fill it full of veneered wood from Ikea. However, if your house is a Georgian delight with tall windows, a grand front door and an original fireplace then you make the most of these features.

I believe our town centre is the same. We've plenty to work with - we just need to tidy it up and make it all work together a bit better. The potential for a historic Macclesfield is huge - we don't need to create a plastic high street.

We shouldn't be thinking Trafford centre, we should be thinking Buxton and Bakewell.

I went into detail this time last month about why I thought filling all these new shops will be a problem. Ronnie takes this a step further, saying that we'll end up with all the shops moving from one street to another - leaving Mill lane empty.

I've never met this chap, but I intend to in the near future. Be an excuse to grab a quick beer if nothing else.