Thursday, 25 September 2014

A bad week for Labour

The antics of Labour Party leaders over the last few days must be causing their party workers to despair. Firstly we had the bizarre refusal by Messrs Miliband and Balls to acknowledge that the principle of English votes for English laws was fair. On Sunday Mr Miliband repeated ducked the question when it was posed to him by Andrew Marr in a performance which bordered on embarrassing. It is patently obvious that the West Lothian problem needs to be addressed as the situation becomes even more unfair increased devolution to Scotland and to refuse to accept the obvious and suggest batting the issue of to the long grass (aka some kind of constitutional committee) is like a script from Yes Minister. We then have Mr Miliband’s speech to conference in which he managed to forget the sections on the deficit and immigration thereby only serving to highlight 2 of the many areas where Labour is clueless. We then have the ill thought out announcement of a mansion tax. This is a policy which attempts to build on envy and create division. What is the intellectual justification for this policy? If it is intended to bash the rich then why this arbitrary and ineffective approach? The reality is that the better off pay a growing percentage of the overall tax burden. Whilst many may have benefited from property rises the Government already gets its share through stamp duty and inheritance tax. The policy also misses the point that many older occupiers bought their properties many years ago for modest sums and have simply seen prices escalate in their areas. They are frequently income poor and will struggle to pay a large surcharge payment. There is not even a sensible explanation as to how the valuation system could work – in other words a complete dogs dinner! It is interesting that even senior Labour members are starting to show their dissatisfaction with the leadership on these matters and I struggle to believe that even Labour rank and file see Mr Miliband as a credible PM in waiting.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Scotland decides.

I am delighted at the outcome of the Scottish referendum and hopefully this issue will now be put behind us for many years. I do believe that a yes vote would have had an immediate and adverse effect on the economy of the entire UK which is something we do not need at present. I even informally predicted a 55/45% split. In earlier entries I have commented on this issue and the need to now address the West Lothian question. I am delighted that the PM specifically mentioned this in his reaction to the vote. If, as seems reasonable, Scotland is to receive more devolved power we need to ensure that the interests of the rest of the UK are also protected and this means urgent action to ensure that decisions in England on issues which have been devolved to Scotland are taken by English MPs. The Barnett formula also needs to be considered and there would appear no better time to address these challenging issues than in the aftermath of this vote and the agreement of further devolved powers.

Southend Hospital - a user's view

In my last blog entry I detailed my recent health trials and tribulations. In general terms the competence and dedication of our local NHS staff is beyond doubt. However I do have some feedback from the perspective of a user. Whilst I suspected the diagnosis from the outset I started by using the “111” service which is intended to reduce the burden on the A&E by encouraging those who do not need to attend to go elsewhere. I found the service worked well and the member of staff I spoke to was helpful and constructive. Having consulted with a colleague I was advised to attend Southend A&E within the hour and was told that they would have passed my details to A&E so that I was expected and they would have an indication as to the problem. We immediately went to A&E but when mentioning our discussion with “111” were told that in fact there had been no communication and that “..they always say that but we never get anything through.” I do not know how the system is supposed to work but can see the good sense of prior contact. In any event the reaction on arrival at A&E was very negative and if it is occurring regularly can only deter use of “111”. Either the communication needs to improve or the “111” operatives need to drop that line from their script. A&E was quiet being Sunday morning. We were seen for an initial assessment in about 30 minutes. I was asked to read from an eye chart with my left eye but when I explained that I couldn’t even make out the chart never mind any letters the person in question seemed quite annoyed ! I would have thought that a referral to the eye clinic was reasonably obvious and would have got me out of A&E but we waited for a couple more hours before being seen for a second time. This more or less duplicated the first examination (although without the eye chart) and after about a minute it was confirmed that I needed to go to the eye clinic. We were asked to be at the clinic at 5pm when a nurse and doctor were called in. There were just 2 patients. The staff were thorough, reassuring and supportive. The diagnosis on both eyes was made with telephone contact with the consultant and an appointment for the following morning in the clinic. Obviously the clinic was a little more frantic the following day and there did appear to be a repetition of the majority of the tests which had been carried out the previous evening before I was seen by the consultant and operations on both eyes scheduled for the following day. I re attended where the staff were again helpful and everything seemed to go smoothly leading to my discharge. I do wonder if the staff would be helped by improved IT support. The eye clinic could not decipher the brief notes from A&E and effectively started again. The second attendance at the clinic did not seem to take into account the detailed examination of the previous day although this may be for very good medical reasons. I do think there needs to be improvement in the “111” and A&E axis and would IT help ease the burden on the hospital’s hard working staff?

The best laid plans...

Life is a funny old game. Just as you think everything is under control there is the inevitable curve ball. On Saturday 6th September all seemed well. I was enjoying the season’s opening double header at Twickenham and looking forward to the charity bike ride from East Beach the following morning and the opening of the new Beecroft Gallery during the week. I also had a busy week of court advocacy with hearings in Chelmsford on Monday, Southend on Wednesday and Cambridge on Friday. That was when I noticed a slight blurring of my vision and on closer investigation a curtain across the right hand side of my left eye. Things had not improved by the next morning so an early call to “111” ensued resulting in a recommendation to attend Southend A&E within the hour. After a few hours I was directed to attend the eye clinic at 5pm that evening when the inevitable diagnosis of a partially detached retina was made with concern as to some early issues with the other eye. I re attended the eye clinic the following morning to see the consultant and had operations on both eyes on Tuesday. The rest of the week was spent doing little other than liaising with my office by phone and discovering long forgotten parts of my CD collection. I have been making a slow return to work this week although whilst the vision in my right eye is almost back to normal my left eye has some way to go. The curtain has been replaced by very blurred vision which will hopefully clear over the next 3 or 4 weeks. I will comment on some minor and hopefully constructive issues arising from my treatment but in general terms there is nothing like an emergency of this kind to make you appreciate the skill and availability of our NHS and local hospital and also to appreciate the unquestioning support from family and work colleagues. And I have even avoided being the butt of too many pirate jokes!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The poisoned chalice - maybe the first of many!

I must admit to some sympathy for Labour councillor David Norman who has responsibility for Adult Social Care and Housing in the Rainbow Cabinet. It now falls to him to placate the justified angst and worries of the residents of the Town’s Tower Blocks following the premature, ill advised and self promoting quotes made by some of his cabinet colleagues, to include his Leader Ian Gilbert, on the apparent aspirations to demolish the blocks. As I am sure David will be the first to accept these comments and the linked posing for photographs in the local press were at the very least unwise! As I have mentioned previously these blocks represent home to a significant number of residents and to start making public pronouncements as to their possible demolition at a stage where no plans have been prepared, funded or discussed is simply unfair. Quite rightly the residents are calling for clear and detailed clarification of their position and I am sure that David will be suitably comforting but to the best of my knowledge he did not cause this problem and perhaps we should expect an apology from those responsible for causing the distress in the first place. Of course any administration worth its salt will consider whether the blocks provide suitable accommodation and will consider all options. However this should be done confidentially until any viable alternatives have been established and worked up on at least a preliminary basis at which time residents can be properly consulted – preferably before the local press! I would like to think that this situation will not happen again but with some members of cabinet having an obvious thirst for self publicity I fear that it may.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Estuary Airport bites the dust

I was delighted to hear confirmation that the proposed airport in the Thames Estuary has been dismissed. It was a ridiculous suggestion which would have been financially undeliverable and harmful to the environment and economy of South Essex. Opposition to the proposal was consistent across the Southend Council chamber and we made appropriate representations against the plan from the outset. Pity we can't see a similar common sense approach on the new Thames Crossing.

The end of the summer!

The summer seems to have flown by once again. I have just returned from two great weeks on the Greek Island of Skiathos. Great beaches and tavernas with lots of opportunities to get out on the water. One of my daughters even talked me into parasailing for the first time and here is the evidence.

It was also strange that for the first time for seven years I have been able to go on holiday without picking up my council e mails on a daily basis!

In the meantime the new Administration at Southend Council have had the opportunity to get their feet under the table so I am looking forward to seeing how they rise to the challenge over the next six months.