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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Business Rates

Council tax is, unsurprisingly, set by the council. However business rates for local firms are set by central government.

This is a shame as reducing business rates is the first tool in the box when it comes to supporting the growth of small businesses in the area. This is something that we'd like to do in Cheshire East right now, but we find ourselves unable to because we are at the mercy of the government.

And unfortunately they do not want to reduce rates. In fact, they're putting them up - by a whopping 5%.

At a time when we're trying to keep council tax rises to a minimum and businesses are struggling everywhere this seems like a crazy thing to do. However it's clear that our government does not care about small businesses - something I have found as a small business owner every year when I see my corporation tax liabilities rise.

Last Tuesday the council moved the following, bought by Cllr Keegan:
"That this council deprecates the government's proposed five percent rise in the business rate for the year 2009/10, made while calling for Council Tax rises substaintially below five percent.

Further, that this Council regrets that it's efforts to consult with local businesses on ways to mitigate the effects of the current harsh recession are thereby undermined.

And further, that the Chief Executive be directed to write to the Minister to express our concerns and urge that the matter be reconsidered."
I know that a strongly worded letter might not seem like much - but we have no other control over business rates.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Comments Policy

I never thought I'd have a problem with this (ie, I never thought that people would want to comment on my grumblings) but it's become necessary to clarify a few points following several messages over the last few days.

The comments on this blog are moderated. This means that I approve them before they become visible. Before you complain about an Orwellian police state, etc. etc., my policy is that all comments will be posted unless they:

* Contain excessive bad language
* Are hugely offensive to anyone including me and other local or national politicians.
* Are moderately offensive to anyone other than me and other local or national politicians.
* Are completely off topic
* Are link fodder to your own website with no useful comment made

It has nothing to do with whether I agree with your point or not.

If something breaks these rules but is highly funny or entertaining then it's still likely to get posted. It's all a bit of common sense really. Anonymous comments are no more or less likely to get published, however I am less likely to reply to anonymous comments.

And if you're the chap from the last few days that keeps complaining that your comments are not getting posted, please be aware that they are defamatory towards someone other than me, they link to your site, and are completely off topic. Fail x3. Make your point in another way and it'll get posted. I hope you understand.

Budget and Parking

So I'm sure no-one has missed the fact that at the budget making meeting on Tuesday your new Cheshire East council voted for a budget which provided a 0% increase in Council Tax. I think I may have mentioned it once before.

Interestingly, the Labour members of the council voted against the budget. I assume that were incensed that we could have the audacity to not make the people of Cheshire pay more tax at a time when people are struggling to pay the bills.

Those socialists really are heartless, you know.

The Lib Dems abstained, obviously not sure if we should tax people more or not. I'm told that all of this petty politics is par for the course, although as a new Councillor I still found it a tremendous disappointment.

However the Lib Dems raised an interesting amendment which I spoke to before voting against, and I feel I should explain myself.

The amendment was to delay the proposed inflationary increase to parking fees in Macclesfield.

I immediately saw the benefit in this. It's my view that parking charges are killing the town centre and that one of the things we could do to help traders out is to review parking. This was the reason the Lib dems gave for this amendment.

So given my views, voting against it must be quite hypocritcal?

When you consider it, 10 pence on parking here and there will make no difference. It's having to pay at all that is the deterrent - and that's what I said to the Council. I don't want the cabinet to believe they have dealt with the parking vs shoppers problem by delaying at 10 pence increase.

I then pointed out what the increases actually were. An example:
Current Future
0-1 hours .50 .50
1-2 hours .90 .90
2-3 hours 2.00 2.00
3-4 hours 2.60 2.70

How many shoppers spend over 3 hours in Macc? Even my wife can't manage that...and if she could 3.3 pence extra per hour isn't going to put her off.

A committee has been formed to review the parking charges, and I've now asked that I be co-opted onto it. Hopefully I can make a difference.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Town centre development

For 6 weeks now I've been having discussions via the Macclesfield Forum about what was wrong with the town centre. In addition to this there is a petition doing the rounds, calling for more appropriate and quicker action to be taken with regards to the Macclesfield Town Centre which has gained a good number of signatures, but not what I'd call a groundswell.

Therefore I'd started to think that the group that had formed around this website were alone on the issue. Why had no-one else from the Town thought that there might be another way?

Yesterday it turned out that there was. This story details a group of people, including a couple of architects, that have been coming up with a "Plan B" for Macclesfield. This really is excellent news as they've taken the same positive approach as us. We know this is wrong, but we're going to work to show what's better rather than just being a negative complainer.

I've scheduled a meeting with them early next week to talk about how we bring the two streams of thought together and get more publicity for the new scheme. It's still not too late.

I know that a lot of residents agree that something needs to be done, but they leave their involvement at that. After all, if MBC think that Debenhams is the best bet to renew our public space then why disagree with them? But I urge all of you to consider if a plastic, reproduction town centre is really what is right - and if by the time it's delivered in 6 years time when the town is dead it'll be any use.

Furthermore, why are we not considering our town centre as a place for social activity? Why do we only consider it somewhere we go if we want to be a consumer (ie, spend money eating, drinking, or shopping?) We say that we want to have a european style culture, but how many people are willing to pay to park just for a quick game of chess or petanque in the town square?

And so, predictably, I'm back to parking again. Some interesting news on this from the Council meeting on Tuesday - which I'll save for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Invisible press

I've got plenty to tell about yesterday's council meeting which saw Cheshire East council pass it's very first budget and it's very first constitution.

It also resulted in Council Tax being frozen for Macclesfield residents - excellent news in these uncertain times.

However I'm putting all that aside to have a quick laugh at Barlow's latest moan in the 'express.

He berates the leader of our council, suggesting that he's never around. Strange that...considering that he's leading the biggest local government reorganisation this county has ever seen.

But this hides a bigger problem...and it's not with Councillors doing their job properly, it's with the press not doing theirs.

Wesley attends a lot of meetings. We all do, but Wesley more than most. So if Barlow wants to find Wesley I would suggest that they would be a good place to start. They are all open to the public (with very few exceptions) and most are very interesting.

How many members of the press were at the full council meeting yesterday? How many from the Macclesfield Express? Was Barlow there?

I'm sure you can guess the answers....

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Hot off the press...

Council meeting will begin in just over an hour where we will vote to set council tax for the next year.

Cheshire East has worked hard to provide a 0% increase for the ward this year.

However, the police authority decided this morning to increase what we pay them by 3.65%. Therefore we will all see our bills go up.

They had previously promised no more than 3%.
I suppose it's better than the 17% last year. But still, it's not really on, is it?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Primary Education

Firstly - apologies if it's a bit quiet over the next few days. Yesterday saw the delivery of the latest papers for the Cheshire East meeting this coming Tuesday, of which there's about 700 pages. It's going to take up a bit of my time over the next few days...

The news is dominated this morning by stories that we're killing the chances of kids getting a good, broad, education because schools are focusing too much on Maths, English and testing. The BBC has it here.

I suppose my first comment should be an apology - as I think this report is a load of tripe.

We *should* set a central measure of what we expect our schools to deliver and this *must* be centered around basic English and basic Maths. It's not beyond anybody, and you can't do without it - it's a pre-requisite for life. This also needs to be tested, as the public need to be assured that schools are delivering what they should at this basic level.

Beyond that there already *is* plenty of room for flexibility. What differentiates between a good school and an excellent school isn't the core teaching - this will be the same. It'll be in the fact that the school wraps a broad range of things around this, both taught in the classroom and as outside clubs and groups that often seek to involve the wider community as well.

Some schools are good at this, and some are bad. And that brings us back to the postcode lottery - which is something that we should embrace and accept as a by product of having individuality and less central control.

But what really strikes me is that we think it's up to schools to provide variety and wellbeing in a child's life. In my view less than half of a child's education takes place at school. The rest is down to the parents and the community at large.

Someone told me that other night that he thought it was terrible that his son didn't know how to fix a puncture on his bike, and that something should be done about the school which hadn't taught him this. I seem to remember it was my Dad who taught me, and not the school.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

New feature

There's a new feature that I've put on the right hand side of this site a few days back - a Google map which shows what I've been doing, where I've been going, and what projects I've been supporting as a Councillor.

At the moment I'm just trying to get pins on there, but later I hope to link to blog posts with much more information.

The concept is that it's easier to understand what I've been up to when presented in graphical form, rather than trawling through a list of blog posts about where I've been.

I look forward to hearing any comments...


Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Honest food, and honest shopping

There's a great new campaign being run by the party to improve labeling on the food that we buy:

I really support this. I'm a huge believer in ethical shopping - which doesn't mean you have to shop like a tree-hugger (unless you actually are a tree-hugger). It just means that where, how and when you shop should reflect what you believe in.

For example, I'm not too chuffed with the way Tesco treat other businesses. I'm not too chuffed with the way they build roundabouts, and I'm not too chuffed with the way they treated Hugh F-W. Therefore, I don't set foot inside Tesco's at all.

Every time you spend money it's a democractic decision - just like voting for the supplier and the producer. When every day becomes polling day, life is a lot more fun and a lot more fair.

In defence of the postcode lottery

I've never really understood why people complain about postcode lotteries. Unless we want to have everything centrally controlled by Whitehall then this is how things will be. Some councils/police forces/NHS trusts will prioritise their funds in different ways which is why some people pay less tax, and some people have different services.

As long as the people that make these decisiosn are democractically accountable then there's no problem. If you don't like it, then you can either vote them out next time or you can move house.

Personally, I don't believe there is enough of this "postcode lottery" business. There's not sufficient room for local councils to run crazy initiatives and try and do things radically different (and radically better). This is because the rules we operate within are tight, and a lot of our funding from central government dictates the way that we behave.

The Conservatives are to launch a paper on decentralisation today - I hope it gives more license for lotteries.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Macclesfield Tourism Brochure

I don't know if you've ever paid it a visit, but we have a tourist office located in the Town Hall. It's really a bit of a disappointment, as it seems to be geared towards providing locals with things to do away from Macclesfield, rather than things for visitors to do in Macc.

However I did find one publication produced by Macclesfield council promoting tourism in the area. And that's where I found this gem...

"Real shopping - real places"

If you want to spend some time browsing around unusual, independent and exclusive shops, East Cheshire is certainly the place to do it.
The real charm of East Cheshire shops is...not in faceless precints or soulless malls, but at the very heart of traditional market towns and unspoilt rural villages - the lifeblood of thriving communities.
Macclesfield is a wonderful mix of market shopping, quirky independants and the iconic interiors store Arighi Bianchi"

If this is what the authors saw fit to promote about Macclesfield, then why is this the exact thing that we're going to destroy with our plans for the Town Centre?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Childrens Play Area

As you're probably aware if you've been keeping an eye on this blog, and on the express, that we're getting nearer having a play area outside the community centre on Earlsway.

We've finalised the plans, got the cash sorted and we're now just waiting a few bits of red tape to get dealt with due to some things being a bit better value than we expected.

Never, never promise anything they tell me - but I'm sure now that we're on track for this to be completed late in spring.

Then it's full steam ahead on the Weston playing fields. What concerns me the most here isn't the design because I think that's going to be fun process that the community will have a lot to say about.

What really bothers me is how we keep these areas clean and safe for Children to use for years to come. There are lots of reports of drug dealers and users on the playing fields at the moment, and we need to ensure that this doesn't continue when we've got them smartened up.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Weston Community Action Meeting

Cheshire police held their latest Weston community action meeting last night.

And whilst a gang of kids banged on the windows trying to get our attention, everyone present agreed that gangs of kids were the biggest problem on the estate, closely followed by drug dealers.

It's great to hear the views of the community and I think these meetings are a great idea. It also gave me the chance to engage with a few more people about the development of the Weston playing fields. A discussion that turned out to be a little heated.

After the meeting I spoke to one of the coppers about the kids and possible solutions - and the truth is that solutions are a little hard to come by. We've already had some success with the softly, softly approach - but it's not enough. I was shocked to hear that when the police take some of these kids home, after being caught throwing stones at windows etc, the parents don't want to know.

If the parents aren't interested, then we need to serious consider the reach and responsibility social parenting for these children. If they have been abandoned in all aspects except food and shelter then should their parents be allowed to get away with it?

Try finding a space in Macc Town Centre

I was challenged at the end of last week to find a space to park in Macc town centre - after suggesting that we could do with a boost for our shops by making shoppers parking free.

So I popped into town at about 11am Saturday morning - the time I thought should be busiest. Lovely day it was as well.

And I didn't have any trouble finding a space:

In fact, I lost interest after I counted over 100 free spaces. That could mean 200 extra people toddling around the town's shops.

An excellent question was also raised with regards to lost revenue and how I think it could be replaced. I'm working on figures for that one at the moment, but am a bit delayed because, numpty that I am, I've locked myself out of the council IT system.

Will report back.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Art Competition

I have no artistic skills whatsoever....so this isn't really for me.

But if you are, then consider this compeition:

The 2009 Jobling Gowler Art Competition takes as its theme 'silk' and its essential qualities.

Entries are invited from all artists, professional or amateur, who are aged 16 and over as at 2nd July 2009 who reside, work or are educated within the new Cheshire East Unitary Authority.

The first prize of £500 for the best exhibit or category prizes of £200 will be awarded on 2nd July 2009 at a reception to mark the start of the Three Shires Textile Festival.

Entry forms and rules can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


Here we go again.

Yet again nervousness about drink. Macc express has the details here: http://www.macclesfield-express.co.uk/news/s/1094651_its_the_pint_of_no_return

Given that it's probably my most posted about subject on this blog, I was disappointed that the chaps at the Express didn't ask me for comment on this.

Personally, I think it's poor that they haven't taken the time to draw a line between consumption volumes and behaviour. The two do not have to be linked, and we shouldn't do anything to punish well behaved people if they choose to drink a lot, sensible. You also don't have to drink a huge amount to get a bit rowdy and have a punch up outside the Litten Tree.

Until we ignore price controls etc, and start concentrating on culture we'll never get a solution to the attitude problem in this country.

But the best bit was this:

Andy Smith, chairman of Macclesfield Pubwatch, blames supermarkets.

He said: "The problem is people can get their hands on very cheap alcohol at supermarkets. The next thing you know they are out and being refused entry into pubs, which starts trouble. If prices are upped in supermarkets then people will go to pubs where it is policed and monitored properly."

I'm sure he's a lovely chap, and for that reason I'm not going to rip him to shreds for being a prat and suggesting that we can only drink when he's there to tell us how to do it. (although I really want to...)

But I will comment on the fact that he's trying to pretend that all the people getting into fights have got lashed as Tesco's and then stumbled into town for a punch up without going into any of the pubs there.

???!!?!? WTF?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Art Centre

Incredibly good idea from my favourite Loop Ladies which needs some serious consideration:


A similar idea has been floated before, which I heard from the lips of Matmi Jeff - which was to turn the old church at the end of King Edward Street into some kind of art centre. This is also an excellent idea.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Cheshire Independent

Big month coming up...

I'm informed that this month will see the launch of a new free newspaper called the "Cheshire Independent".

We've suffered a bit for local news round here of late. Yes, we've got the express - but with the closure of their shopfront in town and completely unproven rumours that they might look to be reducing their operation further who knows how long they'll be around?

Then we had the Community News which is now closed.

TV is a joke, frankly. We receive channel "M", but they're only interesting in Manchester stories. We then have local reporting on the BBC news and Granada, but whilst they admit to covering this area it's very infrequently that we see them and it's usually a bad news story when we do.

Finally there's SilkFM - but although they're quite small compared to other ILR's they're still a bit commercial to be useful. I've only ever once had success in getting something on the news, and I had to put a lot of work into that.

But things are changing....

Canalside has been a revelation, and has provided a true local hub for information even if they are in the snowy depths of Bolly which is only accessible by horse-drawn sled.

We have the superb Loop, and publications like Park lane people are going from strength to strength.

And now we are to have the Cheshire Independent. Lets hope this one ups the anti and gives the 'express a run for it's money, because a little bit of competition will only be good for quality.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Parking.....again (!)

I promise this'll be the last post for a while about parking.

(Well....at least a day anyway!)

Just been on the blower to Cllr John Hammond, who is both a Cheshire East and Crewe and Nantwich Councillor. I was speaking to him in his capacity as leader for C&N council, where they've just done something quite interesting.

From last weekend, parking in the car parks in the town centre was free. This is quite a departure from the Cheshire East policy, which is looking to bring in charges for free car parks in Congleton from April. Macclesfield shoppers already pay to shop (or rather, they don't shop at all because they don't want to pay).

Lets be honest, it's common sense. They've tried "free after 3" in Chester and had some success. Traders will tell you that people find it tricky to pop in when they have to pay and display. Residents who have a choice of equidistant town centres pick the one with free parking. In fact, they'll drive five minutes extra to not spend ten minutes rummaging for change. So it's no suprise that it was a popular idea with the locals.

But what was a suprise was that the car parks were packed full. Chocker. It was a roaring success.

In these gloomy, recession draped, credit crunched times, joe public proved to be a confounding beast and went shopping. Ok, they probably only went window shopping for something to do on a Saturday afternoon, but I bet more than one ended up buying something they didn't come in for. Some would have stopped for a slow, lazy coffee knowing that they didn't have to rush back to their cars. All would have enjoyed being in the centre of their town.

It all makes so much sense. If we want busy, vibrant town centres as a hub of our community then this is the very first thing we have to do.

I don't know what's going to happen in April when the Cheshire East charges come in - will there be an exemption for C&N? Will we change direction and have a free Saturdays policy across the borough?

Who knows...but you can't now say that it won't bring about the change that we need.


Posts have been a bit weak over the last two weeks because I've been skiving off on holiday.

I wanted to keep things going as much as possible, so I wrote a series of posts before I went away so that there was always fresh content. Unfortunately this means that nothing was that topical or, in truth, that interesting.

(Come on the SumoFatBoyKing or whatever your name is....tell me that nothing I write is interesting anyway).

You'll be pleased to hear I had a lovely time with the exception of getting a flat tyre on the way home which involved screwing up the traffic in Congleton and trying to get locking wheel nuts off in driving snow. Oh the joy.

Normal service was supposed to be resumed from Tuesday, but it's taken today to get back on top of things.

Sue me!

Warning: non local issue coming up.

There's a very intriguing story doing the rounds which is getting a few people a little upset.

It seems that some chappie has sued his MP for not doing enough work on his behalf. Plenty of indignation left, right and centre that this is going to open the floodgates for lots of constituents to sue their MP's, that a prescidant has been set, etc. etc.

A lot of this is coming from the press who frankly, should know better.

Like Paul Waugh.

As far as is clear from the facts available, this chap applied to his county court for a judgment. He probably did this through the small claims track which is specifically designed to simplify the process and make getting a judgment easier and fairer.

From what I can make out, he applied, the court sent papers with his allegation to this MP with a date to reply by. She didn't reply, didn't turn up in court, so the court issued judgment in his favour by default regardless of facts (because she didn't reply). That's how it works - otherwise no case would ever get settled because no-one would turn up.

(Perhaps there's some truth in his allegation that she's lazy?)

The second part of the story that most people have missed is that she later applied to the court and they withdrew the judgement - so actually she doesn't have to pay. This last bit seems a bit strange to me, unless the due process wasn't followed in the first place. Will try and find out more.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Saying I told you so...

No surprise that there's a couple of people up in arms about parking charges being bought introduce in parts of the new Cheshire East:


I've been vocal about two things for a while:

1) There's going to be a mini-riot when the charges are introduced


2) We'd be much better off making shoppers parking free everywhere.

And how did I vote on the issue? Ermm.....well I didn't. Because we don't get to vote on much really....

Monday, 2 February 2009

Don't forget....

Whilst the date has already passed for responses to the planning department for the development, I am still intended on presenting petition responses to the planning committee before the meeting on the Masterplan.

Therefore, don't forget to download the petition, get everyone in your street to sign it, and send it back.

More info here: www.whosechoice.co.uk