Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Grab a Gurkha!

There has been a lot of talk about how Gordon Brown should be ashamed of himself over his handling of the right of Gurkhas to stay in this country after serving the crown so loyally.

But Gordon Brown is not the man who should be ashamed. He is, after all, holding the Government line in the face of a record national debt.

No, it is the 245 other Labour MPs who voted with him who should do the decent thing and go outside with a loaded pistol and rid Parliament of the self-serving greedy snouts in the trough sort of people who have done democracy so much disservice.

It is only right that the names of every one of them should be published.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I wasn't aware the the Reading West Weasel had abstained. The man is an unprincipled pusillanimitous disgrace. I hope his supporters are proud of themselves.

Robert Paice

Many thanks to the people who have passed on their condolences after the death last week of my cousin Robert.

When I was younger, my Dad would dump me at my Auntie Pat's in Plymouth during the summer where Robert used to let me play with his Airfix aircraft carrier. Very brave of him!

Robert was regional manager of Catalyst Housing Association and I had dealings with him both as a councillor and at Great Expectations where we would have a beer and chat about our shared interest in unravelling the complexities of the Swaine family tree!

Thanks to the Evening Post for publishing this:

Monday, 27 April 2009

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Kandy Man Can

I take more than a passing interest in things Sri Lankan as my great-grandmother was a Sri Lankan Tamil and my mother was born there. My second cousin only survived the Boxing Day tsunami because she went out shopping early and came home to no house.

So when I saw an item on the getreading web site that an Evening Post reporter was heading out to file a report, I apparently posted the following comment:
Perhaps whilst Natalie is out there she could perhaps also file a report on the political situation in Sri Lanka? I know it will be of interest to the many in the Reading Sri Lankan community.
Except there was a bit missing by the time it got to being posted... the bit when I asked her to make sure she reported on the endemic corruption and rampant racism that is at the heart of the problems in the country. Odd that.

I'm sure Reading's Sri Lankan Tamils population would love to hear an unbiased report in the Evening Post on Serendip. I'm not sure we are going to get one if they can't stop editing their own comments page to remove off message items.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Bully for You

Reading Borough Council has just published the results of a report into bullying in Children's Services. Not surprisingly, it discovered nothing wrong, but then rather curiously proposed measures to put things right!

Let's take out the council spin shall we. The report actually states...

* It is accepted that some staff and ex-staff felt they experienced bullying behaviour...
...before making excuses for why it didn't count as bullying.

The main reason the report did not find evidence of bullying is that there were four tests for it to be proven:

Intent: was the behaviour intended to cause distress or to humiliate;
Impact: how the behaviour impacted on the individual;
Context: the overall situation, the reality of the concerns, the timing and the setting in which events occurred and roles within it; and,
Perception: how the recipient, or others present, perceived the behaviour at the time or shortly afterwards.

As these tests were agreed with the unions, the council can safely claim that there was no problem. I'm not sure why the unions decided to drop their trousers and bend over and agree to these definitions, but in my book any two out of the four would be evidence of bullying.

More laughably the 'intent' clause makes a mockery of these rules, as the only way to find out intent is to ask the person accused of bullying and is reminiscent of the old joke... "Are you a spy?" "No." "Well that's okay then, welcome to MI6".

We're not going to get to the bottom of things when there is such clear evidence that incriminating council documents and emails are routinely destroyed and the chances of that improving in the future is remote when I was told that the working relationship between officers and lead members had to be protected.

I'm happy with the assurances given to me by the Chief Executive that he will do all it takes to stamp this culture within the council out. The problem really is how many of those responsible remain in post if it is so easy to dodge the bullet.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Kid gloves, but made with real kids.

The Shhh! The Top Secret Film Society headed off to Henley to see "In The Loop". Fans of "The Thick of It" will know what to expect, with enough swearing to make Peter Jones rest happy in his bed.

There were a few occasions that saw the front row going solo with giggling. Quite possibly because, whilst it might have been a Westminster-Washington satire, you couldn't help yourself from comparing these ludicrous characters and their comments to some of our local politicians.

Jo Lovelock:
"I am not a monster"

Rik "Desk Jockey" Willis:
"Have you actually ever killed anyone?"
"Yes"
"What you fell asleep on them, that doesn't count."

Peter "Sweary Mary" Jones:
"Those are curse words right?"
"Kiss my sweaty balls, you fat f***"

Andrew Cumpsty [on making a decision]:
"We have a saying in England: 'difficult difficult, lemon difficult'"
...or when he's speaking in full council:
"You're lobsterising. Can anyone smell bisque?"

You may be seeing more of this in the coming days on a satirical web site near you!

And if anyone turns up today at the Katesgrove councillors' surgery today with a problem with a wall... I'm out of there!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Tory Tory Tory

The local Conservatives seem to pioneering a fourth way in local government - half-arsed politics.

The meeting of the Corporate, Community and External Affairs committee voted to call-in the cabinet's decision to award Askett-Hawk an exclusive period to develop their proposals for Kings Meadow. Andrew Cumpsty blustered his way through an unconvincing argument for delaying the restoration of Kings Meadow even further. Even more incredible when you take into account the fact that his party chairs the scrutiny panel that recommended it.

In fact if you look back on the last year, the Tories seem to be pathologically incapable of making a decision.

When it came to replacing the Civic, a process that they had been involved with since the start, they bottled it after an intervention in the press from Rob Wilson and instead chose to go back to the drawing board and delay that programme to the point where delivering it before the Civic falls down has to be questioned. When it came to setting a budget, one of the most fundamental duties of a local council, they couldn't come up with a single proposal apart from offering the electorate 'as much gold as they could eat'. And now we have their fudge over Kings Meadow, yet again following Rob Wilson squirming over their council position at a public meeting.

The local Tory party does seem to be going through a little internal crisis, evidence of which is their shocking treatment of Isobel Ballsdon. She was unceremoniously booted out by the boys despite leading the successful Tory response to the Childrens' Services JAR report for which she had earned enormous respect for the way she handled it. Isobel has put on a loyal and brave face since but really, that was shoddy politicking.

There now are question marks being posted around the forums and comment pages from Tory activists about Andrew Cumpsty's ability to lead the local party and it is true that he owes his position to a casting vote. Underneath the Tories are deeply divided and apparently led by the nose by Rob Wilson's re-election campaign. Even that seems to be out of his hands as he allows his minions to fabricate pictures for his glossy leaflets without censure.

It will be interesting indeed to see if the Tories can hold themselves together in a display of public unity when it is clear to outside observers that they are riven with factions whose only common goal is power at all costs.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

In the Loop

Armando Iannucci is a comedy genius. His carefully orchestrated media campaign for his new film based on "The Thick of It" (released on Friday) is simply brilliant.

Malcolm Tucker, what a... What do you mean it's real life!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Of strawberry flowers... and colourful hours

Reading Tories have developed a rather peculiar method of local campaigning... ambulance chasing. First Mapledurham Pavilion and now Kings Meadow Baths.

I should say at this point that I have the utmost respect for Tom Stanway and the reasons for his decision to back Askett-Hawke's proposal because I know he arrived at them after much thought and deliberation.

However, Rob Wilson's attempt to ride in like a knight on a white charger to the rescue is a tragic symptom of the bandwagon hitching he is so fond of. He perhaps should have shared his concerns about how the community can take part in and gain use of King's Meadow Baths with his fellow Conservatives before the committee met.

The maths were quite simple. If the Conservatives had all voted for the King's Meadow Campaign, Rob Wilson wouldn't be having to furiously back-pedal to save face now. His call for a call-in by the Corporate, Community and External Affairs committee of a decision that two of his own councillors dodged is pretty desperate.

Mr. Wilson should maybe also have had a word with one Tory member of the committee who did not appear to have read the briefing papers, asking a question the answer to which was quite clearly in the report before us. It's just not good enough to turn up and skim read the papers during a meeting and not have a good enough grasp of the matters under discussion to vote one way or the other. It is perhaps why we are sent them in advance? The people of Reading deserve better from their councillors.

It's a matter of public record that both myself and Peter Beard voted for the Kings Meadow Campaign proposal. As I said at the time, it was a tough call. I wasn't happy with some parts of the KMC bid, but then I wasn't happy with parts of the Askett-Hawke bid either.

Since it was a public meeting, I don't think I'm out of order for reiterating why I voted the way I did. The Askett-Hawke plans, in my opinion, overdevelop the waterfront and reduces the amenity of Kings Meadow - that hotel is going to cast a long shadow over the park in the summer evenings. In the current market, I also wasn't happy that all the integral elements would be viable and a partially completed project would do no one any favours. It was my opinion that there were pluses and minuses to both plans and in the abscence of a clear winner, the community option was always going to get my vote.

What can be said is that the planning committee is going to have to be pretty damn careful either way. Some members have probably overstepped the mark in what they have said about the two bids and will find it difficult to avoid accusations that they haven't predetermined a decision before the facts are presented before them.

I don't think this is the last we have heard of this by a long chalk!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Everyone's a Terrorist

The police have missed a vital trick over the death of Ian Tomlinson.

They should have just arrested the American videoer under section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 for taking a picture of a police officer, confiscated his film and had done with it.

Still the City of London Police will be doing the investigation, so no harm done.

UPDATE: It seems that Independent Police Complaints Commission has finally taken over the investigation.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum


Corruptissima republica plurimae leges
Tacitus
When the republic is at its most corrupt the laws are most numerous

Yesterday saw the introduction of a law which means that every email you send or web site you visit will be recorded.

Access to this data is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) which means that Reading Borough Council can, if they so wish, ask to see who you are sending emails to or which web sites you are visiting.

These powers were introduced under anti-terror legislation, which is why their biggest use is to work out who is dropping litter or trying to get your children into a good school. Those crazy Al-Qassam Martyrs will definitely think twice before conspiring to drop crisp packets in Broad Street.

I can see the appeal of "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" mantra, but it is a crap argument of an intellectually bankrupt mind. We've seen how easily Daily Mail campaigns become law in this country. When the Tories introduced laws to ban ticket touting at football matches, the select committee said that it wouldn't be used to criminalise the ordinary fan. So why then do touts continue to act with impunity whilst I personally know ordinary fans who have been arrested for handing over tickets to their friends? It's because the guarantees we are given are not worth a politician's promise.

The anti-terror laws were just such a prospect. Launch an illegal war against Iraq knowing that it would create more danger for British citizens, wait for the sadly predictable response and then hoodwink the public into removing centuries old earned rights and force everyone to be a drone of the state in the name of anti-terrorism. Anti-terror was never the agenda though. Scrapping the ID card scheme and putting more police on the street with the money saved would have been the most appropriate response, but whilst socialism is now a dirty word in the Labour party, central state control of the individual has never gone away from their plans.

The inevitable end point of all these laws is that the state will define who you are, your access to resources such as health care, education and even having your bins collected, all on the basis of you playing by the rules... their rules. The sad thing is that now they are on the statute books, the Tories won't repeal them for fear of looking soft on terrorism. I hope I am wrong about that, but I'm yet to be convinced by the public school boys.

And just to show how mad things have got, these laws make it possible for an organisation that allows staff on 'gardening leave' to shred documents over a weekend unsupervised and can't even supply copies of exant emails requested under the Freedom of Information Act because they can claim unverifiably that they have been deleted to now have unprecedented access to our personal lives?

There is a lot more to come out over Shreddergate but here's the sneaky bit, as my FoI requests proves, if you don't know what to ask for you won't get it. And just to make sure that nothing gets out into the public domain, if you do ask people are given 'confidential briefings' and are then under the threat of being Standards Boarded if anything should leak out. Clever!

The years of the one party state in Reading has left many unanswered questions which I'm not sure if we'll ever get to the bottom of because, as Jo Lovelock's threat to whistle blowers at the January full council meeting signified, there are some desperate for things to remain hidden.

In the meantime, if anyone from the council has any further information they would like to share, do not use your reading.gov.uk address and do not use the council's proxy servers to send emails via hotmail. They are monitored.

Friday, 3 April 2009

NAGging Doubts

I went along to the Redlands Neighbourhood Action Group to represent my constituents and to bring up matters of anti-social behaviour and graffiti on their behalf, only to be told by the chair and vice chair before the meeting started that I wasn't welcome! Eventually it was agreed that I could stay as an observer, which was pretty unsatisfactory and a very odd way to behave towards an elected representative.

The reason they gave was that according to them the area of Katesgrove ward east of Southampton Street in the Redlands NAG area had been "transferred" to Katesgrove NAG.

Well, that was news to me. The only Redlands' streets adopted by the Katesgrove NAG are the Whitley Street shops and Highgrove Street and this is quite clearly stated in an email sent to them last June and in the publically available June minutes: Katesgrove NAG.

I wonder why they didn't want me there?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Because She's Worth It

Who says turkeys won't vote for Christmas? Yesterday we voted for a 2.5% decrease in councillor allowances. This bold move proposed by the Tories to balance the books was gesture politics at its worst, but at least it was a gesture which is more than I expected from them.

They've had a year to prepare their "zero percent" budget and all they could come up with was cutting councillor allowances. Go on good people of Reading go out and celebrate. That's a massive 0.02% cut in your council tax or 24p. Only £2,787,445 to go. What a complete bunch of charlatans.

However, Labour councillor Peter "Bollocks" Jones came out with a priceless comment during the debate when he said: "Some people earn their money, some don't" which got me thinking, who could he possibly be thinking off?

He was inadvertedly right about one thing, some councillors really do earn their allowances... and others are lazy and feckless. I think Councillor Jones summed it up in his own words quite aptly: "I'm abstaining because I've never cared." Yes, we know Peter. Now get back to reading your magazines during meetings. Even Tony Page told him to shut up!

For the purposes of this study I have divided the total pot of basic allowances by the amount of work officially recorded on the council's case work system. The third column is the amount council tax payers are either being shortchanged or not paying enough for their councillor's representation.

Now one person in particular will cry foul as he believes that unaccountable work should be taken into account, but then in my book that's pretty much tantamount to claiming expenses without a receipt and that's snouts in the trough to me. And if the deputy leader of the council can deputy lead and still do as much officially recorded casework, then so can everyone else.

So here's the RBC Performance Related Pay League table. The dotted line is the current councillor allowance level and I have to say that there is absolutely no surprise as to who is the laziest councillor:

CouncillorNotional PayExcess/Forfeit
1BENSON, Daisy£ 35,487.46 £27,267.46
2PAGE, Tony (Deputy Leader)£ 32,428.20 £24,208.20
3ORTON, Mike£ 22,842.50 £14,622.50
4EPPS, Gareth £ 21,822.75 £13,602.75
5TICKNER, Bet£ 21,618.80 £13,398.80
6GOODALL, Glenn£ 21,210.90 £12,990.90
7BAYES, Kirsten£ 17,947.68 £9,727.68
8LOVELOCK, Jo (Leader)£ 15,908.17 £7,688.17
9RALPH, Mark£ 13,868.66 £5,648.66
10STEELE, Tom£ 13,664.71 £5,444.71
11BALLSDON, Isobel£ 12,644.96 £4,424.96
12STANWAY, Tom£ 11,829.15 £3,609.15
=13ENNIS, John£ 11,625.20 £3,405.20
=13SWAINE, Warren£ 11,625.20 £3,405.20
15CHOWDHARY, Jamie£ 11,217.30 £2,997.30
16KHAN, Gul£ 9,585.69 £1,365.69
17CUMPSTY, Andrew£ 7,954.09 -£265.91
18RYNN, Jenny£ 7,546.18 -£673.82
19WILLIS, Richard£ 5,710.63 -£2,509.37
=20EDWARDS, Deborah£ 5,506.67 -£2,713.33
=20WARMAN, Emma£ 5,506.67 -£2,713.33
22DUVEEN, Ricky£ 5,302.72 -£2,917.28
23RUHEMANN, Pete£ 4,690.87 -£3,529.13
24HUSSAIN, Wazir£ 4,486.92 -£3,733.08
=25BEARD, Peter£ 3,671.12 -£4,548.88
=25GITTINGS, Paul£ 3,671.12 -£4,548.88
=25LUCKETT, Dave£ 3,671.12 -£4,548.88
28SKEATS, Jeanette£ 3,059.26 -£5,160.74
=29STEVENS, David£ 2,855.31 -£5,364.69
=29WATSON, Debbie£ 2,855.31 -£5,364.69
=31AYUB, Mohammed£ 2,447.41 -£5,772.59
=31HARRIS, Tim£ 2,447.41 -£5,772.59
=31TOWNEND, Mike£ 2,447.41 -£5,772.59
=34JONES, Tony£ 2,243.46 -£5,976.54
=34MASKELL, Chris£ 2,243.46 -£5,976.54
36PUGH, Fred£ 2,039.51 -£6,180.49
37HOSKIN, Graeme£ 1,835.56 -£6,384.44
=38HARRIS, Chris£ 1,631.61 -£6,588.39
=38SINGLETON-WHITE, Mary£ 1,631.61 -£6,588.39
40JANJUA, Azam£ 1,427.66 -£6,792.34
=41MERRIOTT, Shirley£ 1,223.71 -£6,996.29
=41STAINTHORP, Richard£ 1,223.71 -£6,996.29
=43HANLEY, Jim£ 1,019.75 -£7,200.25
=43HARTLEY, Jon£ 1,019.75 -£7,200.25
45BYRNE, Terry£ 815.80 -£7,404.20
46JONES, Peter £ 611.85 -£7,608.15

Figures are from May 08 to Feb 09

Legal Advice

Reading Tories don't seem to be able to give up peddling their Conservative Central Office written Lib/Lab Pact fiction. I wonder where they picked up the idea of a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

The real problem for them is their continued attempt to lie to the electorate about their "zero" percent council tax increase. Still local Tories are habitual liars as their faked "fly-tipping" photo in one of their glossies attests to.

One Tory councillor seemed genuinely surprised when I handed him a copy of the council's budget legal advice. I can't think why their leader didn't appear to have seen fit to share it with his group.

They may want to read section 12 a bit closer and consider that if next year they repeat their budget shenanighans of singing and scoffing pizzas instead of helping to set a legal budget, it could lead to them being personally liable to any costs incurred by the Council.

RBC Legal Advice (Word)
RBC Legal Advice (PDF)