Challenging stereotypes on a train..

Having been away a few days, I travelled back from Liverpool late last night on the train.  Now Saturday evening is always an interesting experience on public transport but this one showed me a really good example of how stereotypes can be wrong in our society.

The first train from Liverpool from Birmingham was absolutely packed. In my carriage were a group of middle aged people in their late 40s and early 50s who were clearly drunk.  This meant lots of swearing and explicit sexual talk despite being in the immediate and obvious vicinity of young children. One woman in particular kept shouting out “Ellen” very loudly to such a level that was deafening to everyone else in the carriage.  The “Ellen” in question was her pal who spent much of the journey in the carriage toilet part of which was accompanied by some bloke. Thankfully, she and her group got off at Wilmslow after 45 mins of being extremely irritating and offensive to all probably without realising.

The second train from Birmingham to Reading was also absolutely packed and running around an hour late. In my carriage standing next to me were a teenage boy and girl who I would estimate to be around 18 and were students. In contrast to the previous “adults”, they were delightful offering unprompted practical help to an elderly couple with their bags and reassuring a foreign lady who was concerned she was on the wrong train. Despite standing themselves for over an hour, they then offered me a seat that came available rather than taking it themselves.  They got off at Banbury before I had a chance to privately recognise their efforts and the positive impact to others that they quietly made probably without realising.

It made me reflect that often it is students and young people that wrongly get blamed for problems in society when in fact it is behaviour rather than age or occupation that is the problem…

Why I voted No to Camberley Mall deal

Below is the contents of a press release that I have sent out tonight.

“On Monday 31st October 2016, Surrey Heath Borough Council formally announced that it is poised to purchase The Mall Shopping Centre in a deal worth around £86 million.

Speaking about this announcement, Cllr Rodney Bates said, “Now that this issue has been put into the public domain by Surrey Heath Borough Council, I can confirm that I voted against this deal at the relevant Council meeting.”

He added, “Whilst I have always supported a positive long-term vision for Camberley, the financial information presented to Cllrs at that time was not sufficiently convincing in my mind to be sure that this particular deal represented good value for money.  This is especially important recognising that £86 million is a very large amount of public money and that local taxpayers would have to bear any future loss.

I was also concerned that the demand for long term expensive retail units in town centres will be reduced due to the huge increase in internet shopping based from commercial units. This worry was further compounded by the national economic uncertainties caused by Brexit and what this may mean for the confidence of potential investors.

Taking this all into account, I reluctantly concluded on the available information that I could not support this risky deal but wish the Council every success in trying to make it work.”

END

Contact:  Rodney Bates  01276 679957

Life as an Old Dean Cllr

Below is a message that I sent to our Labour members within Surrey Heath over the weekend.

“Firstly I would like to welcome the 120+ new members to Surrey Heath CLP that have joined in the last 4 weeks.  These are interesting and challenging times for all of the political parties but thank you for joining and being part of our team.  Surrey Heath Labour Party is a friendly and active group with members actively involved in all aspects of political and community life.  I look forward to meeting with you in coming weeks and months at future events and socials.

As your only Labour elected rep in Surrey Heath, I do a regular update of my Old Dean Cllr activities so you get to know more about life at the local Council.  Feel free to send me your thoughts and local updates. Please be aware that this only covers Surrey Heath Borough Council so members living in Ash, Ash Vale and Tongham come under Guildford Borough Council (who have 2 Labour Cllrs)

On 20th June, it was good to meet many of you at Camberley Theatre when we had a talk from Roger Liddle about the European Union.  This was also an opportunity for us to pay our own quiet tribute to Jo Cox MP. Thank you to Murray Rowlands for arranging this at short notice.

On Thursday 30th June, I attended the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee at Portesbury School in Deepcut.  I am one of the 6 Borough reps along with the 6 County Cllrs.  During the meeting, we received a petition from residents of Gibbet Lane in Camberley concerned about speeding their road and also resolved previous petitions relating to Bagshot High Street, HGV use in Lucas Green Road (West End) and HGV signage throughout West End, Bisley and to Woking.

The next evening, I attended the Phil Collins Annual Dinner at Aldershot CLP which included a very balanced discussion of the national leadership situation from Syd Rapson (former Lab MP in Portsmouth)

On Saturday 2nd July, I attended the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Camberley War Memorial which commemorated 100 years of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  This was also attended by other Cllrs including the Mayors of Surrey Heath and Rushmoor and many members of the public and was a moving ceremony. I have always thought it important to try and attend remembrance events as a small way of recognising the huge sacrifice given by others.

On 5th July, Surrey Heath Cllrs received a private briefing on the options relating to fast trains to London from the area before a consultant report was made public. Unfortunately, this has concluded that despite looking at various options, there was little value for money in trying to connect Surrey Heath stations to the Woking fast line to speed up journeys (for example by building a connection somewhere between Frimley and Ash Vale). This means that improvements can not really be done by engineering but by scheduling improvements. There are possible options for this (such as more direct trains without changing at Ascot) and now is a good time to look at this as the train franchise is currently being considered. We will have to wait and see if anything comes from this.

The following evening, we held a members meeting at St.Mary’s at short notice to discuss the national leadership situation. Thank you to those that attended and contributed your thoughts on the night. It was clear that members had strongly held but contrasting opinions and as requested, I since wrote to Tom Watson and to the Regional Chair with our agreed position calling on everyone to work together within party rules. Since the meeting, we now know that there will be a leadership election with the final candidates known in the next week.

The following day, I went to a meeting of the Old Dean Community Group which discussed various local community projects and activities including a future networking lunch and community noticeboards.

On Tuesday 12th July, I attended the Surrey Heath Council Executive where I can speak but not vote.  Items discussed at this meeting included a financial update, details of our spending on professional advisors (£402k between Apr 15 and Mar 16) and a proposal to introduce marked parking and enforcement at Frimley Lodge Park as there had been problems with obstructing access roads.  However, there were two items of particular interest to me where I spoke namely:-

  1. Review of Housing Allocation & Homelessness Update

I unsuccessfully objected to changes in the policy that meant that people would have to be in “continuous employment for 12 months” to be eligible rather than settled employment. Unfortunately, many hard working people may not have this luxury in these difficult economic times but may have secured a job more recently and I don’t see why they should be penalised.

2. Camberley Ice Rink

The Executive agreed to hold a Christmas Ice Rink and market at London Road Recreation Ground.  This to me is a complete waste of officer time and Council money and I strongly argued against this.  Leaving aside the local resident opinion which appears also to be against, Camberley is not a tourist attraction and comparing it to Winchester and Windsor is nonsense. My main concern is that any such attraction needs to be in the heart of the town centre in areas of high footfall such as Park Street or the Mall and not on a out of town tennis court hidden behind an old pavilion.  As a result, the Council have now committed to spending £10k on marketing this plus lots of officer time which should have been redirected to hard pressed local businesses worried about the economy or to community projects.  I suspect this will be another Council flop such as the Camberley Theatre Café and the large anchor store that never happened but we will wait and see..

Finally and on a much more positive note, it was great to attend a farewell reception for two athletes from Camberley Judo Club that will be representing their respective countries at the Olympics in Rio. This is a fantastic achievement and I am particularly pleased as they are based on the Old Dean. They also had other athletes that narrowly missed on selection..good luck to Szandra for Ghana and Ashley for the UK and please look out for their results!

Best wishes

Cllr Rodney Bates

Labour Cllr for Old Dean”

Vote Love not vote leave

As most of you know, I have been actively involved in student and local politics for over 20 years. This has often been challenging making difficult decisions between closely balanced arguments.

However, deciding to vote in the EU referendum has been the easiest political decision I have ever made and for those that have yet to decide, here’s why:

I want to live in a tolerant, inclusive society where people are judged by the gifts that they bring and the behaviour they display rather than being deliberately and hatefully divided based on their nationality, religion, colour or creed.

I want to live in a world where we have both a strong economy and a strong community both within the UK and elsewhere but where people work together to address deeply difficult issues that do not respect artificial borders such as environment, crime, famine and poverty recognising that no one person and no one country can address these issues alone. Where we break down barriers rather than building up walls. Where we lead the world rather than ignore the world.

I want to live in a country where our politics is passionately but respectfully argued recognising strongly held opinion from all voices are welcome but where deliberate lies and unintended inaccuracies are challenged, changed and apologised. Where we actively stir up hope rather than actively stirring up hate.

I want to vote for a future not for a past that can never be recovered. I want to vote for an economic reality and not an unfocused guess which even the most passionate supporter admits they don’t know the answer.

In the end, it was really easy. I wanted to vote Love and not vote Leave.

Surrey Heath Cllr diary

Here is my latest Cllr diary from the last few weeks.

On Tuesday 15th March, I met up with the 3 other non-Conservative Councillors in Surrey Heath mainly to discuss the forthcoming electoral review for the area and catch up on local news from the various committees. Although there is no Group “whip” as we represent three different parties, we do informally keep each other updated and sub for each other on Council meetings to ensure there is always an opposing Cllr present.

The next morning, I had a local duty by attending the Advisory Board meeting of our Childrens Centre in Old Dean.  This is such an important community resource for local families and the Old Dean Centre does a great job. Our main challenge is actually trying to make links with families that live outside the Old Dean but within the catchment area (for example in Camberley Town Centre) as their contact rates within the Old Dean are high. This is such a lifeline for parents particularly those who have other life challenges and make such a difference. 

During that week, I also met up with the Windle Valley Youth Project over a coffee for an update and attended a meeting of the Governance Working Party at the Council Offices.

Easter Week was quieter but on Tuesday 22nd, I attended the Borough Council Executive. The main items of discussion were the awarding of some community grants and to submit a borough response to some Government proposals on Planning changes. It was clear that the local Conservatives did not think much of these Government ideas for example the idea of “competition” for some planning applications via “Approved Planning Officers”. The big concern here is that if these external planning officers could bid for certain applications, the Council would then have to resolve their recommendations within a very short time (perhaps 1 or 2 weeks) thus negating the role of local Cllrs in planning committees.

 Also on the agenda was an interesting idea to have a 10 day “Camberley International Festival” celebrating the culture and arts within the Town Centre in June 2016.  In principle, this is a very good idea bringing together some current events with some live music and other activities. However, I remain extremely sceptical of the event finale being a “Picnic in the Park” about which I have blogged separately and it was clear that the practicalities had not been fully considered at this stage.

On Thursday 24th March, I had been invited to Woking Youth Arts Centre to watch a performance of “Hidden” by Peer Productions. This was delivered by 10 young performers on the subject of self-harm who usually present within schools but was a special performance for guests and supporters.  I have to say that this was extremely good – challenging and moving in parts and it is no surprise that after performing in schools, they have had a number of disclosures from other young people. It also turned out that one of the young leads was a resident of Old Dean who I subsequently met again recently at the local Cafe to discuss life as a young person living on the Old Dean.

On Thursday 31st March, I attended the funeral of the Surrey Heath Conservative election agent, Alan Cleverly.  I had known Alan for many years and wanted to pay my respects both personally and on behalf of our CLP of a worthy political opponent with whom we had regular friendly banter.  Around 500 people attended the service at Guildford Cathedral – family, friends and political colleagues and it was a good send off.

In the evening, we had the Audit Committee and the return of our External Auditors.  After several months of wrangling and much delay, we heard that the External Auditors have now agreed to sign off the 2014/15 accounts although only offering a qualified opinion in relation to the value for money aspect.  The main reason for these problems was because the Council decided to get a new finance system. Unfortunately, the amount of work involved in transferring was severely underestimated especially with some technical issues that arose. This was then compounded with staffing issues specifically sickness meaning that the submissions were late and rushed. This resulted in mistakes and the external auditor then decided to conduct a far more detailed audit than usual which of course now means a larger bill. At the meeting, it was clear that borough officers were not overly happy with every recommendation made by the auditor but which they have now implemented or with a clear timetable of doing so. We don’t yet know the final bill for this but clearly not one of Surrey Heath’s finest hours and one that will hopefully not happen again.

Festival finale is not a picnic in the park..

At tonight’s Surrey Heath Executive, there was a item titled, “Camberley International Festival”. Flicking through the report, this was the latest attempt by the Council to try and use London Road Recreation Ground for town centre activities following a previously predicted debacle of a proposed festive ice rink. This had quickly collapsed when it became apparent that there were significant licensing issues and a large amount of local opposition.

To start with a positive, the “International Festival” is actually a clever marketing technique bringing together some already popular activities into a common theme such as the Rooftop Cinema. This will include poetry, live music and some headline acts over a 10 day period and different venues.  This is a very good idea and one that should be supported.

However, the “finale” is planned to be a “Queen’s 90th birthday picnic event on the London Road Recreation Ground.”  Initially, and as per the ice rink, this sounds a superficially good idea – combining a national event for our monarch with national picnic week.  What could be more British than hundreds of couples and families sitting in the sunshine enjoying a shared meal perched onto blankets and nibbling from their plastic containers?

Except…

This romantic vision is rarely a reality.  London Road Recreation Ground is pleasant enough but is urban and noisy and not a destination for a picnic as somewhere like Frimley Lodge or Lightwater Country Park would be. Would you want to sit in the middle of a football pitch for a family picnic?

More importantly, a  large scale well organised picnic involves lots of carrying – a picnic basket, bags, picnic chairs and all the equipment. This means needing to have car parking very close by so carrying is at an minimum or a short level walk.  It also needs toilets, consideration of the atmosphere (do you allow alcohol or not), some kind of wider draw/entertainment and obviously issues like rubbish collection to ensure the event goes well. This is understood by well known outdoor picnic venues that make a success of this.

So unless the event allows onsite parking (i.e. within the rec) or cuts a deal with the Arena so picnickers can use up their car park on a busy Saturday then I doubt this event will work.  It was admitted tonight that there is absolutely no wet weather provision (understandably) and lugging large items some distance from a multi storey car park battling through large numbers of Saturday morning shoppers seems doubtful.

Bizarrely, the  (male) Executive Member when questioned  suggested tonight that people could drop off their wife (!) and items before going off to park but this seems unlikely and presents highway safety issues. This idea would have more chance of success on a smaller scale (for example the immediate neighbouring community to the park as a Neighbourhood Watch or Resident Association event)

This is being billed as the finale to an international festival and publicised throughout the whole of Surrey Heath. Nice idea but no.

 

 

Welfare means “well fair” in the eyes of the public..

I have regularly blogged about “emotional” topics and the sudden resignation of Ian Duncan Smith is another example of how politicians can misunderstand public opinion ending up with some bad policy.

As Ali G once said, “is it called welfare coz it is well fair?” Well, obviously not but discuss welfare on the streets and it will almost always end up with a discussion about perceived fairness.So, whilst public opinion is generally hostile to “welfare”, you have to dig deeper to understand what is actually being expressed.

So in the “well fair” category in the view of many would be the elderly, the disabled, those who have worked hard but now in difficult times due to redundancy, illness, bereavement. In all my years, I have never heard any member of the public say that the meagre incomes of the genuinely disabled should be cut and people seem happy to ensure benefits go to either those who “deserve” it or are seen as “good causes”

But in the “well unfair” category are 3 groups often mentioned namely:-

(a) “scroungers” – a caricature of people who could work but instead sit at home drinking and watching Jeremy Kyle. “why are we paying for them” is the regular phrase you get to hear.

(b) “immigrants sponging off the state” by allegedly claiming large numbers of benefits having paid nothing in.

(c) “fraudsters” i.e. people who say they are sick when they are not.

Now the problem is that the public perceive the second group of “well unfair” to be huge and the vast majority of benefit claimants no doubt because extremist cases can appear in the media. Therefore, when the call goes up to “cut welfare”, this is the group that they actually mean rather than the elderly or disabled.

Unfortunately, as all Governments find out, this is predicated on a big fat myth and in fact the “well unfair” group is very small or false and already pretty well targeted  by whichever party is in power.  In fact, many would argue that they are already over targeted for example the most hated and generally derided ATOS tests relating to disability.

However, very large numbers of claimants (the overwhelming majority) are in the “well fair” group especially the elderly with the number 1 benefit being pensions. Not surprisingly, very few politicians want to challenge this as it suits a rhetoric to go after the “undeserving” first.

So it’s really no surprise that the Government have become unstuck firstly on tax credits and now disability payments. It’s because these are generally value judged as fair payments to those in genuine need.

Ironically, Ian Duncan Smith is right in one regard – if you do want to reduce welfare, you need to look at the payments currently protected for older people. However, I suspect that the “grey vote” will mean that when the rhetoric against welfare increases so will the actual budget.. .