If you've arrived via a link and you want to see all the latest posts: Click here

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.