The old slogans are the best!

In those dim and distant days when Margaret Thatcher was running her one-woman campaign to change the face of Britain, the left used to have a slogan about the Tories that said ” they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing!”

And, it struck me this morning how well that slogan sums up the behaviour and direction of the ruling Tory/Lib Dem coalition on Blackburn with Darwen Council and their hasty decision to make a series of cuts to community centres and leisure facilities in an attempt to balance the budget. The cost of the facilities that are going to be scrapped hasn’t been spelt out particularly well but let’s say that, after redundancies are taken into account, it’s around £100,000 but the value of these facilities to the users and to the town are unknown and could be incalculable. Almost inevitably, the facilities are located in the most disadvantaged parts of the town and they offer potentially life-enhancing opportunities to children, in particular, who probably won’t get the chance anywhere else or again. Whether viewed from the perspectve of improving public health and life-expectancy or the chance to take part in sporting or cultural activities from swimming to squash to martial arts to joining a majorettes troupe, these are vital opportuniities that shouldn’t be thrown away by some impulsive piece of wrecking-ball politics.

The Coalition leaders will point to the presence of a brand new leisure facility in Darwen as an alterrnative but, realistically, the chances of a non-driver with children who lives in Shadsworth getting to Darwen on spasmodic public transport is remote and probably won’t happen. Even more crazily, the Coalition leaders may point to their suggestion that the facilities could be run by the local community without any input from the Council. This kind of lunatic idea just shows how far removed these guys are from reality……people with already busy and complex lives don’t have the time to take on responsibilities that are currently being carried out by trained professionals, nor do they have the time to start raising significant sums of money to keep these centres running.

Of course, no-one should be surprised that a Tory-led council is making these type of cuts or these kind of other worldly suggestions because this is what Tories do. It might be a long timing coming but this is a return of the Thatcherites! They want to reduce the size of the state and, where better to start, than the provision of public sporting and cultural facilities that the Tories don’t use and would rather see provided by a profit-making organisation. The Liberal Democrats, however, used to have a different political culture but, in their desperate urge to share power, they have sacrificed their politics and have become cheer-leaders for the Tories.

So, it’s time to dust down that old slogan but, unlike the 1980s, this time it applies to both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats!

Probably, time to get in the loft and see what else is there from those old days because this new vandalism isn’t going to go away for some time!

Blackburn’s roads

The Big Freeze that hit Blackburn with Darwen this winter inflicted massive damage on our already poor roads. Snow and ice left the already hole filled roads in the Borough with a  moonscape of pitted and potholed roads to be repaired right across the Borough. The roads have become a danger to road users, pedestrians, cars and bikes. At one point I thought they were trying to create a number of swimming pools on every street.

That’s why in last week’s Budget, Labour announced an extra £100 million funding for local authorities to help put the damage right – including an extra £143,000 for Blackburn with Darwen.

With the encouragement of Jack, who has had complaints from many residents on the state of the roads, the Government took  rapid and decisive action to ensure that our roads are in the best possible condition before next winter.

Knowing how this Tory /Liberal run Council has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds that has been given to them by the Labour Government, and to make sure it is spent on our roads, the money will be ring-fenced, with the Council being forced to  publish a  report on the work they’ve carried out with the funding.

This means the funding will go where it should go – to plug the potholes.  And we’ll be able to make sure that Blackburn with Darwen Council has made the repairs properly and spent the money wisely.

You’ll also be pleased to know that Labour has recently announced plans to make sure utility companies repair roads properly after carrying out their work. Taken together, it is clear proof of our determination to tackle maintenance problems and make our local roads safe and fit for purpose.

All this comes on top of a trebling in Labour’s investment for local road maintenance over the past decade – up from £265 million in 2000/01 to £809 million in 2010/11, it’s just a pity that this Tory/Lib run Council has not spent the money wisely.

But we understand we must also look forward to help avoid another sudden deterioration in road conditions in the future. So, we will be ensuring that this Council will focus on longer term resurfacing and maintenance work.

All this demonstrates that when things go wrong, Labour is on your side. Taking the decisions in the interest of the many and not the few and working to make the road ahead as smooth as possible

Weather woes

Weather woes, but whose fault is the mess
that has resulted on the streets of Blackburn?

According to the Councils ruling coalition of Tory, Lib-Dem and Darwen independent misfits it’s certainly not them.

“Residents are lazy, not tough enough, whinging, selfish and soft.”

These are just some of the claims made by Tory and Liberal Councillors and spokespeople during this period of terrible weather.

As usual with the Tories and their allies when things go badly wrong on their watch it is everyone else’s fault and not theirs. However, the facts point the blame right at where it needs to be. It shows that due to the lack of planning and penny pinching when it comes to providing adequate services the incompetence of those running the Council has led to the whole Borough grinding to a halt.

The list of problems is endless – schools are closed, businesses are suffering terribly, hospitals are being put under pressure and transport has all but stopped. Vulnerable residents who receive home care are being left isolated cold and hungry as their carers cannot reach them and they can’t get out to the shops.

This has happened despite the bad weather having been predicted for weeks. I mean this is the North of England and everyone knows at least once a year it does snow and we have icy conditions.

As usual the Council has failed to adequately plan for the inclement conditions. Despite the hilly nature of the area they have failed to supply salt bins where they are needed and unforgivably they have failed to fill up the few salt bins there are.

Cynicism has also surfaced as cars have been abandoned all over the Borough and the Council see an opportunity:

Helping the drivers by clearing the snow and ice? No that would need common sense and unfortunately our Council bosses lack that in abundance. Instead they spot a nice little earner and send traffic wardens out to put fixed penalty notices on all the cars stuck in the snow.

Hitting stranded motorists and saving money by keeping grit stocks dangerously low allows them to spend thousands more on their jollies including conference expenses and allowances.

Welcome to a winter wonderland Tory controlled Blackburn with Darwen style!

Happy New Year

Waste not, want not – but please keep it secret!

The Tory led Council has again been shown up for incompetence and wasting money after pumping nearly £100,0000 of taxpayers money into a hare-brained Lottery bid they knew they were ‘highly unlikely’ to get.

Last month the Lancashire Telegraph revealed the council had run up a bill of £93,121 to put plans together for a £20million transformation of Blackburn Museum they knew was highly unlikely ever to happen.

Tory Executive Member Michael Law-Riding, who approved the spending, has aspirations to be the next Member of Parliament for Blackburn which bodes well for the Town if he should ever get elected.

However I can reveal that this is only a proportion of what the Coalition of Tories, Liberal Democrats and Darwen Independents have wasted since coming into office in 2007. Recent analysis by the Labour Group has also found the council has spent at least £750,000 on other meaningless feasibility studies and have also bought three million pounds worth of unnecessary buildings that are lying vacant and unused.

This is yet another example of the coalition wasting money left right and centre, and again worryingly they have tried to keep these facts secret from the residents and voters of Blackburn and Darwen. However with the help of my Labour colleagues and the pages of the Lancashire Telegraph the shocking true facts have come out and they have yet again been caught out wasting Council Taxpayers money.

Tory councillor: disabled abuse free transport scheme

We all remember the statement from Tory Councillor Allan Cottam blaming pensioners for abusing the concessionary fare scheme. He claimed some were using their free passes every day, and as a result he had a £ 400k shortfall in his budget. We all knew this was a nonsense and the Labour Government had given Blackburn more than enough money to cover the scheme. In fact they had £ 400 k extra, which they duly gave away to their Tory friends in the Ribble Valley, Blackpool and Preston leaving many of our residents without buses as the Bus Company faced £1million cut from Councils.

At the November Executive Board meeting I asked Councillor Cottam, why since the introduction of a £1 fare each way on Community Transport, and the new 48 hour booking system, had the usage gone down 20%.

He was quite proud in announcing that since disabled users, and those who found it difficult to use the bus service had to pay this fare, they now found that they could use the regular bus service, (if they are lucky enough to have one). Wouldn’t it be great if a serious illness could just disappear if you had to pay £1?

I probed a little further and he quite openly stated that users, disabled and elderly, had been abusing this service and now there was less need than six months ago. He was joined by another Tory Councillor, John Slater, who admitted that the booking system was a shambles, there was not enough staff to cope with the system and having to give 48 hours notice meant in his words not mine “these old dears are booking the travel then not using it” though he did, with puckered pride in his chest, tell me he was going to introduce a” three strikes and you are out” system to stop people booking travel then not using it.

They both have completely missed the point. If you suffer from arthritis or some other disability that restricts your mobility, 48 hours can be a long time and conditions can worsen quite quickly. Let’s face it those suffering a serious illness have good days and bad days, some worse than others with no warning.

With the promise of “three strikes and you are out” residents who desperately need this form of travel are scared to book in case two days later they are unable to get out of their homes, they don’t feel very well, or the weather is too bad for them.

I suppose if I was a cynic I would say that this will lead to a drastic reduction in use and allow the Council to say there is no need of this service which will allow them to cut it completely saving a significant amount of money. Just as they have done with Community Centres, Arts in the Parks, and possibly King Georges Hall and Libraries in the near future,

Michael Law Riding, another Tory who has aspirations of taking on “Our Jack”, has cut the events budget from £ 250k down to £50k,getting ris of the wonderful Arts in the Parks, and at the same time cut the funding for books in the Library by 25% in two years, and is definitely going to close some leisure facilities in Blackburn.

The next battle cry from the Tories will be, very few people use the Library, why waste money on having it.

Watch this space, because low cost airlines could learn from these guys.

Liberals and Tories baffle with science or blind with bull****

The founding principle of local government is that citizens have the right to influence the decisions that affect their lives and their communities. Citizens need to be confident that when decisions are made about things that affect them, it is informed by their concerns and not just about those running the service. Services can and should be designed around the needs of individuals not around the convenience of institutions. Resources should be directed to areas of concern that has a detrimental affect on Blackburn becoming a thriving place for all who live, work and visit the Borough.

For many months now at both Executive Board and full Council meetings when challenged on decisions made the Councillors in charge of services at the Town Hall can never answer questions posed. They claim that these decisions have been made by a LSP, LPSB, PLLACE, ELCHEX or a whole list of other bodies. They claim it is partnership working, encouraged by a Labour Government.

Partnership working is something we as a Labour Group welcome. We believe there is a whole host of organisations that can help a Council deliver the priorities set by local residents. We believe that public money and public bodies, whether Police, Health or Colleges should all contribute to the well being of residents. What we do not believe in is a whole host of quangos that is not driven by local needs but driven by highly paid Officers who can baffle the Coalition with Science, we believe in transparency and accountability.

The attitude of the Tories and Liberals in Blackburn is that these highly paid officers must know what they are talking about; after all they are getting a lot of money to do it. Where Michael Lee and his Coalition members fall down is in their ability to justify the decisions taken in their name. They cannot answer even the simplest of questions as to why a particular decision was made.

In turn they try and blind us with bull****.

I recently attended a LSP Board meeting. This board has been going for many years and I fully respect the commitment of the members of it. They have always had the best interest of residents at heart, they complimented the work of the Council and brought a business perspective to the decision making process. What they did not do, was make the decisions, but looked at how they could help in improving the quality of life and prospects of residents.

Now it is seems that the Council has given this board, and many others, the responsibility for millions of pounds worth of public money, but with no accountability, no transparency nor open to any challenge. At the latest LSP meeting I discovered that performance in the Borough is failing in some of our of key areas. The board was presented with a number of measures that were reported wrongly, baselines were reduced which made the achievements look better.

The worrying point was that no one apart from myself noticed, everyone was very complimentary about the direction of travel, what they did not realise was that based on the information they were presented with was that they were blindly going backwards

Just some of the concerns I raised were the targets of:

  1. Reducing the NEET group, three years on and huge resources for this area we see very little change.
  2. A target was set for the number of BME employees; this has gone backwards with a target set of 12% and an achievement of only 9%.
  3. Employees with disabilities again has gone backwards from 2.5 % to 2 %
  4. Children in our care achieving level 4 maths a baseline of 60% with an achievement rate of only 50% with a target for next year of 58%, no mention on the report that we have failed this target.
  5. Improve the performance of white working class boys achieving 5 + GCSE’s baseline last year was 35%. But this year reported as 17% with a target of 24%, achievement two years ago was 38%.
  6. Pakistani boys achieving 5 GCSE’s with a baseline of 28% but two years ago we achieved 39%, so why are we now setting a target of 34%.

Despite raising the same questions at two separate meetings, not one of the Executive Members of the Council could answer any of the questions I posed.

Partnership boards are based on trust for the mutual benefit of all, it is important that they are presented with accurate information to assist them in their support to Council.

It appears the current rulers in Blackburn do not want the responsibility for which they receive their allowances, but are happy to sit back, tale their allowances and continue to allow those who do take the decisions to be either be blinded with science or baffled with bull****.

Does Michael Law-Riding know anything about Blackburn?

Griffin Park School: not a Grade II listed Victorian mansion!

You’ve got to laugh sometimes when you’re at the Council meeting. The answers that members of the ruling coalition give to those tabled by Labour members vary from complete avoidance to the utterly bizarre. More than once I’ve been on the end of Exec members trying to dodge questions – usually Salim Lorgat, Executive Member for Housing; however, last week’s meeting beats them all.

Under the report for Culture, Leisure and Sport like my fellow ward Councillors in Mill Hill, Malcolm Doherty and Jim Smith, I was keen to comment on the success of last years’ Mill Hill Festival and how many people believe that Arts in the Park should be brought back. This was supported by many other Councillors.
Following on from this question I asked about the future of Griffin Lodge, a Grade II listed building situated in the middle of Griffin Park which the Council owns and which has been vacant and semi-derelict for the past four years. The listed building’s use has been under review and it is the subject of repeated and worsening vandalism.

In spite of the fact that this large Victorian mansion used to be occupied by the County Museum Service restoration department, when asked the question about its future Cllr Law-Riding – who is standing to be Blackburn’s next MP – confused the listed building with Griffin Park School.
Bizarrely – and to the chuckles of everyone in the Council chamber – he stated that he thought ‘it is an issue for the Executive Member for Childrens Services’. Later in the evening Cllr Thayne (Childrens Services) took some pleasure in batting the issue back, having been advised by his officer that it is nothing to do with his portfolio.

It’s nice to know that Cllr Law-Riding has a grip of his department!