A good meeting in Cambridge

2016_02_15 Devolution with Lord H & Greg ClarkeYesterday morning I and other Leaders from across Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk gathered in the Government offices in Cambridge to meet with Lord Heseltine and DCLG SoS Greg Clarke to discuss Devolution and what it might mean here in the East of England. Of course Norfolk and Suffolk have been working on our Devolution bid for these past 6 months but its has been increasingly obvious that the Cambridgeshire with Peterborough question has loomed large and this is particularly true if you, like me, live in the west of Suffolk or the West of Norfolk as we are actually in the Cambridgeshire sub-region. So the meeting was a chance to openly discuss what a three county Devolution bid might look like and how it would be received by Government. The meeting was very positive and there is lots more work to come on what if it were agreed by all the Councils and bodies involved, and that is a reasonable sized ‘if’, would be an Eastern Engine to rival the Manchester Powerhouse.

A nation decides and so does Lakenheath

2015_05_03 Campaign 2015 Team LakenheathThis week the country has a big decision to make, a Conservative Government or a Labour one, held to ransom by the SNP.

It is ironic that if people vote UKIP, they will get Ed Miliband in No.10 propped up by the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon who over the last few weeks have made it perfectly clear she will use the power to advance Scottish interests and by that I think we all know that means, demand that money be diverted from spending in England to spending in Scotland. Equally ironic is that Ed Miliband is on record he would have no referendum so the very thing UKIP want, would be denied them, yet if UKIP minded people vote Conservative, David Cameron will hold that referendum in 2017 having renegotiated the terms of our membership. Seems to me whether you’re in favour of being in Europe or out of it, this country need to make its mind up one way or the other.

Locally people have a choice too. Continue with Conservatives in charge of Forest Heath District Council where we are delivered quality services, have reorganised its back office and halved its staff numbers and thus been able to deliver 5 years of 0% Council Tax rises. Our carefully worked out plan is proposing a 4 year freeze for the next term. Alongside investment in our area such as a new public services hub in Mildenhall to include new state of the art sports facilities. Or elect a strange mix of independent candidates and/or UKIP both it seems from their election leaflets or lack of, don’t seem to have an actual plan.

This Conservative 9 year freezing of council tax is born of a simple premise, its your hard earned money and you are best place to spend it wisely for yourself and your family.

Even more locally in my village you can see the attitude of our opponents who over the past two years, with their controlling group has blocked every attempt to get the parish council to lower its costs and find new ways of working, and has increased the Parish Precept by over a third, making Lakenheath the most expensive place in Forest Heath to actually live and pay your per band council tax in – absolutely ridiculous!

I’m running with Louise Marston who owns a number of great local businesses, and has been a Parish Councillor and has increasingly frustratingly, tried with her minority group, to seek change on the Parish Council. She is a School Governor at the village primary school. Together we would play an active part in the District Council, continue to play an active part in our community, we would turn up and are determined to be a strong positive voice for our village, Lakenheath.

So nationally we have a clear choice, locally we have a clear choice and on both ballot papers please Vote Conservative.

An inconvenient track record!

u-turn symbolIt’s often said in politics you set your stall out, be positive and don’t go negative. Conservative controlled Forest Heath District Council has an outstanding track record and has delivered quality services, reorganizing its back office, halved its staff numbers and thus been able to deliver 5 years of 0% council tax increases. Our Local Conservative manifesto is full of good ideas for our community from our carefully worked out plan for a 4 year freeze of the Council tax, making it a record 9 year freeze alongside investment in our area such as a new public services hub in Mildenhall to include new state of the art sports facilities, so there is much to be positive about.

Recently there is a national story about did this politician or that politician rewrite their own wikipiedia entry, well they could do worse that read my wards local UKIP leaflet as a masterclass in editing your own track record, and sometimes you read things from the opposition that are just so ‘poor form’ that they need to be countered, so that residents can judge what is being said and promised.

The candidate in question is called Cowboy, no seriously, not getting myself into hot water, he is listed as on the notice of those standing, as ‘Cowboy’ which will appear as his first name on the ballot paper. He is a former Conservative whom we asked to leave the party after he refused to attend a selection interview for the previous district election, something all other candidates did including myself and indeed the Leader of the Council at the time. I know this because I was then the Vice President of the Conservative Association and on the agenda for his interview was to discuss his suitability as a candidate given his inability to work with his fellow Conservative Councillors and to seek his undertaking that we would not be printing his own election material, stop making promises he could not deliver and had not been discussed with the rest of the group and that he would take an active part in the group discussions on its manifesto, all things that had been a problem with him before. So at the last District election he stood as an Independent, just beat my running mate and thus became my fellow ward Councillor and now he apparently is a candidate for UKIP, hey anything for a vote!

Over the past 4 years on the District Council I have heard him speak twice at full council, once to vote against the creation of the shared services agreement that has saved millions of pounds in the running costs of the council, the only Councillor who did so, even Labour and the Liberal saw the sense of what was being proposed.

The second was when he banged his Stetson down on the table in front of him and stormed out when the Council unanimously, apart from him, voted in favour of providing something called the ‘People’s Project’ in our village with assistance. He had earlier handed round a hand written note and plan, not tabled a motion having gone through the due process so Councillors could have time to considered the matter before the meeting, no just 5 minutes before the meeting, in which he wanted his fellow Councillors to reject the request for assistance and to support him to knock down the building the People’s Project team was proposing to try to buy (to extend facilities at the Lakenheath Village Hall) and to turn it into a car park. To date the People’s Project has purchased the building and are busy fund-raising to renovate it.

In the past 4 years he has sat on the planning committee as ward member, apart from that role I have not seen him propose one single policy idea to the council, beyond the for-mentioned note. He has never attended any of the Audit Committee meetings I am Chairman of, I have never heard him ask a single question in any meeting other than a planning meeting. In the 3 or so years the Council has had a cabinet, I have never seen him attend a single cabinet meeting, I attend most. Seems to me, if you are going to ask people to elect you to represent them then surely you have to occasionally turn up and actually take part in council business.

But what is even more bizarre with his leaflet is that of course he did once have a more substantial role on the Council, but seems to have omitted this from his leaflet.

Once he was the Chairman of the Local Plan Working Group. Maybe the omission is because on that committee he approved the housing numbers for Lakenheath that were adopted as a part of the Local Development Plan Core Strategy document, at one meeting he said and it was witnessed, that if Newmarket could not take the 1,200 hundred new homes that at the time were being proposed for a particular location, then Lakenheath could.

Now you might say so what, but you see the UKIP Leaflet talks about his opposition to the housing numbers being considered in the village!

But it gets worse!

The leaflet also says the Parish Council is ‘frequently ignored’ by the District Council when it comes to planning matters, yet 3 years ago the Parish Council which Cowboy chairs wanted to know how they could have more control over where the housing numbers for the village should go and over the type of infrastructure that would come as a result. FHDC Senior Planning Officers attended the Parish Council and a presentation was given, explaining that in the planning system if the Parish Council produced what is called a Neighbourhood Plan document in a particular way they could do precisely that, now these things are expensive because of the process that has to be gone through, about £25,000 but grants may be forthcoming to help (the council had over £150,000 in its reserves at the time). Some of the members on the council wanted to commission a plan but the idea was rejected by Cowboy’s controlling group. As the planning applications have flowed in, the Parish Council have felt fustrated they don’t have more say and again his group have voted through, getting a Barristers opinion on what they can do. To date according to the records of the Parish they have spend over £10,000 and rising on that opinion. Whilst I am not party to the advice received, I suspect it will be telling them that they should have got themselves one of those Neighbourhood Plans!

You could not make this stuff up! So the local ward UKIP leaflet claims to be against the housing numbers yet one of their candidate was front and centre in agreeing the housing numbers. Their leaflet says the Parish Council is being ignored and it should control where and what is built and infrastructure provided, yet their candidates was front and centre in rejecting the mechanism to do precisely that.

But hey anything for a vote!

A busy time

Launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 the Zero balloon stands for 0% Council Tax rises!

Louise Marston and me launching our Lakenheath Ward Campaign 2015 – the balloon represents 0% Council Tax rises!

Well last week was a busy one to say the least. A week ago today I was delighted to be elected the Conservative Group Leader on Suffolk County Council, and thus Leader of the Council elect,  ahead of it’s AGM on the 21st May. In my brief thank you to the Conservative group after my election, I thanked Mark Bee for his work over the past 4 years as Leader and whilst clearly we did not see eye to eye on some issues, he worked hard on a number of key policies not least the Broadband roll-out and he can look back at his time leading the way and driving this 4th utility forward with great pride.

I ended by saying we now need to get back to the issue at hand, campaigning in our District and Borough elections and supporting our MPs in their campaigns for re-election. On Wednesday night we had the final Candidates team meeting for Forest Heath District Council and ran through the next few weeks on the door steps discussing our outstanding track record of shared services, staff reduction, quality services delivery and yet 5 years of no District Council Tax rises, helping Forest Heath’s resident in the best way possible, by protecting their hard earned money.

So my time for the next few weeks, will be split between working in my business, canvassing and delivering in the General and Local Elections and taking a little time to sit down individually with my fellow Conservative Councillors on Suffolk County Council to discuss in more depth, the themes that emerged during the short leadership contest and how we as a group move forward. Group internal relations is hardly the stuff that has residents ‘on the edge of their seats’, as rightly its policies and what we are going to do that matters, but they are important. Last Tuesday I said we were each elected in our Division to come together in a Conservative group and run the County Council, and as a group we are at our strongest together. Alongside talking and listening to the people of Suffolk, it is as a group we’ll create Conservative policies that protect services here in Suffolk that people value.  I am Suffolk born and breed and there is a certain way we do things here in Suffolk and it’s important that as a Council we are in step with that. We’ll make the savings we are required to make by central government, as we have done to date. We’ll plan carefully and discuss openly, we’ll value what we do well, but not be afraid to do things differently with our partners and communities to protect services, residents need to support their lives.

The next few weeks are going to be really interesting for all of us, locally for me as I campaign to win my District ward and help others win theirs, alongside those discussions within the Conservative group on Suffolk County Council, ahead of the council’s AGM. But more importantly the country decides in the General Election, yesterday Labour launched their manifesto and you could see the danger signs of another Labour Government, this time propped up by the SNP. Today the Conservatives launch our manifesto and the difference will be stark, a real plan to continue to get us out of the mess the last Labour Government that Ed Miliband and the Ed Balls were a key part of, left this country in, or a return to the chaotic and damaging thinking of Labour.

A true Gentleman of Newmarket

Yesterday I attended the sad funeral of Cllr. Geoffrey Jaggard. I have know Geoffrey for a number of years first as a Conservative Association officer when he was Leader of Forest Heath District Council, more recently in the great unitary debate that took place in the final days of the previous Labour Government and most recently as a member of the Performance and Audit Scrutiny Committee I chair and he added his many years of experience to as a member.

A couple of weeks ago at the West Suffolk Conservative Assocation AGM, I paid tribute to him and his former fellow Councillor Maureen Hills both of whom sadly had passed since the last AGM. I said that whilst In the room any number of those present had at one point or another had a argument with me, I could only remember one occasion when he had slightly raised his voice at whatever nonsense I was saying at the time, his gift was that he was always able to deal with …..

At the end of the funeral as a mark of respect those Councillors who could make it along lined the way as his coffin was carried from the church. I know we will all miss his quiet counsel and friendship.

But do not mistake his gentlemanliness for weakness. It was quite fitting that as the assembled congregation at St. Mary’s Church, Newmarket marked his passing, in the background you could hear the construction work continuing on the Home of Horseracing. I say fitting because it is in no small part due to his and the Chief Executive of the Council at the time, David Burnip, leadership and determination that had brought this aspiration to life.

As we walked to the Hotel for the wake, I commented to fellow councillors that long before I got involved with Local Politics I was extremely critical ad to why the council would buy up a tumble down building and spend million renovating it, the building being Palace House which is to be the cornerstone of a world class racing visitor attraction that will shortly emerge from under the scaffolding, with the Palace House itself being used to home some of this nations racing treasures and art.

In the next few months the good and the great will gather and be shown around the wonderful new Racing Museum attractions and I hope a moments tribute is paid to this non son of Racing, without who’s vision and quiet determination, the whole project would literally never have happened. A fitting public life legacy to a real gentleman.

RAF Mildenhall Closure

RAF MildenhallOn Thursday we had the sad news that RAF Mildenhall was to close, and my first thoughts when I heard was for the 500 or so people who work there and the uncertainty the announcement makes for them.

A number of us were all geared up for the official USAF announcement embargoed until 3pm, however this quickly became a nonsense as the moment was entirely overtaken by social media in the morning because the Stars and Stripes carried the full story that morning in their on-line edition, someone somewhere does not quite understand the nature of an agreed embargo! For my part I watched the twitter feeds starting up and then took a call from Paul Geater of the EADT asking for a quote before speaking on BBC Radio Suffolk’s Mark Murphy Show. The following morning I was interviewed by Etholle George on her morning show at 6:30am at Mildenhall Market and a couple of times more up to 9am and finally I did a piece for BBC Look East that evening outside the base.

Of course the devil is in the detail and whilst this will be a blow to many it’s not quite as bad as if first appears. In the same announcement, it was confirmed that RAF Lakenheath will expand and take 2 squadrons of the new USAF F-35 fighter aircraft with new investment and an additional 1,200 personnel and their families. RAF Mildenhall will close over the next 5 – 7 years with the leaving of 3,200 personnel and their families. If you consider that it’s only a year or so ago that the numbers were added to by 1,200 personnel connected with the special forces and their very strange looking Osprey aircraft. So that means with all the various comings and goings the area will ultimately only down about 800 personnel from the position 2 years ago.

Of course alongside these departures 500 local people are employed in a variety of roles on the base and whilst some will no doubt get jobs at Lakenheath many will be made redundant, and this is the biggest challenge we face. But it is also the biggest opportunity we face. At Forest Heath District Council since we won the last election in 2011 we’ve refocused the Council on economic growth and so, assuming we win the election in May we are well placed to lead taking advantage of this opportunity. RAF Mildenhall is a busy World class airport with great community facilities and industrial potential to attract high value jobs into a spacious industrial park.

We have already hit the ground running, Matthew Hancock MP has announced that he is to chair a Westminster working party looking at the future of RAF Mildenhall, RAF Molesworth, and RAF Alconbury. And alongside Cllr. James Waters the Leader of Forest Heath District Council we are already discussing the askes we want to make of Government, key amongst them and to the MOD in particular is clarity so we can use the next period to plan the strategy, not merely replacing those jobs lost but to bring far more in so that on the far side of this closure it is viewed as an economic success storey for West Suffolk. The work has begun to make sure as the USAF close down their last security post, new businesses are moving in generating those high value jobs.

No small task, but one,Conservatives from our MP to us Councillors are entirely focused on.

Seaside Fun

Polling StationToday is, for many, the start of the new school year and in some ways this is true of Local Government as well, this first week of September is when the Councillors come back after summer holidays and focus on the budget setting process. Of course just as soon as the previous year’s budget is put to bed the process starts again but the follow February always seems to loom larger once the summer is out of the way.

Speaking of things that loom larger, this coming year is also election year at both the local district and national level.

At FHDC we Conservatives are now firmly in the manifesto stage of looking at our strong track record of delivery over the past four years and just what can we put forward as our platform for the coming term and I hope to play a full and active part in that process.

As always there are somewhat bigger issues about and principally South Yorkshire should be a focus for Councillors across the country as the failings of Children’s services at Rotherham and terrible abuse that has taken place is investigated, rightly it should have been the entire focus of last week’s domestic news agenda but as Harold Macmillan once famously said “Events, dear boy, events”, and last week’s surprise announcement by Douglas Carswell was certainly one of those. In some ways not that much of a surprise as he was the bookie’s favour to be the first to cross to UKIP, given his views, but it certainly was a moment.

As Nigel Farage said in his various interviews last week it’s a defining moment for UKIP, some would say the Conservative Party but not me. Let’s face it beyond the decision to defect, Douglas Carswell decision to stand down and seek re-election is a calculated move. If he crossed the floor and did not go to the polls he would simply have been swept aside by a high general election turn out in a strong Conservative seat in 2015. Now he’ll use the by-election, the armies of political supporters it brings and the nature of by-elections so close to a general election being about sending messages to the incumbent government, to try to keep his job.

If the polling out there is to be believed and one poll had a swing to UKIP from Conservatives at 44% coupled with a lower turn out as always occurs, however much the various parties encourage people to vote, then he may well do precisely that. But that does not deflect from the core message residents of Clacton and voters across country have to face up to at the general election ‘Vote UKIP and get Labour’, by-elections are one thing  but top slice the Conservative vote in marginal seats in May 2015 and Labour will be the only winners. One maverick MP, one by-election, all the excitement of the ‘political fairground’ that will be going on in Clacton however much it will fill the news agenda of the coming weeks does not change this simple fact.

So for all the fun to come, the serious issue remains the Economy and the danger that 5 years after almost bankrupting this county the very same people are proposing to get the keys back. Equally Labour would not hold a referendum and anyone who wants the question of Europe resolved knows, as will take place in Oct 2017 if a Conservative Government is returned, we need a referendum. Firstly to allow David Cameron to have the leverage to re-negotiate terms and secondly for the issue to be put to the vote once and for all. A vote for UKIP in May 2015 would have the possibility to achieve the exact opposition of what UKIP want, what’s that saying – ‘it’s a funny old world’.

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