Thursday, 20 December 2007

Minns Spins in Bins

Glad to see the officers and the GMB are trying to come to a sensible agreement over the dispute over rubbish collection in Hull on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

But it's not been helped by our childish Lib Dem leader using the press to bully refuse workers into worse pay and conditions.

A £250 bonus payment for working a day over Christmas might seem a lot but their pay and conditions have been radically restructured over the years.

But it's as nothing to the thousands of pounds of council tax given to a London PR company that helped to get Minns and his grossly exaggerated flood damage figures on the media 24/7 ('There's been £350m DAMAGE! £200M!..ok, er,..£51m') which caused insurance premiums to double in some parts of the city.

Then his claim that binmen in Hull were amongst the best paid in the country on a starting salary of £22,374 was exposed as a lie when Labour's Daren Hale proved it was actually £14,800.

And don't take my word for it on bullying - even his former colleagues are revealing the truth.

In a six-page e-mail sent to all councillors at the Guildhall, Councillor Joyce Korczak Fields claimed she was "bullied, threatened and blackmailed" by the Lib Dems.

I remember on local election night chatting to a pal when Minns bounded over and excitedly said: "Shall we take a sweepstake on who's going to be the first of my lot to defect?"

So there you go.

They steal free school meals from your kids

They kick public sector workers at Xmas

and they even have contempt for their own

People have woken up to you Carl.

And they're getting organised.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Santa and the Real Power Rangers

Had the pleasure of popping over to the Alderman Kneeshaw recreation park today on Bilton Grange for what seemed to be the official start of Christmas in East Hull.

Santa had set up his grotto in the Pavillion for the weekend and more than 50 excited children with their parents came to deliver their wish list and pick up a free prezzie.

His little helpers were the Urban Park Rangers, given money by the Hull Flood Fund to promote the facilties at Alderman Kneeshaw to the public, especially young people.

I remember running at the racetrack back in the 80s with Hull Spartans. Unfortunately over the years the changing rooms were burnt down and the area became run down.

Now thanks to the rangers and volunteers, it's starting to spring back to life. They hold arts and crafts lessons and other activities in the Pavillion and it's increasingly becoming a popular resource on the estate. And of course, they managed to get St Nick to pop in.

Another reason why the rangers wanted to keep Santa local was the cost for local parents and kids to go into town to visit his commercial big store grottos.

But what really moved me is that to ensure that every child walked away with a free gift, the rangers shelled out more than £200 from their own pockets to make up for the shortfall. Seeing the smile on the bains faces, it's easy to see why it was a price worth paying.

Sometimes the true meaning of Christmas gets forgotten amidst a deafening blair of ads for this year's must have toy.

But I'm glad to say the Christmas spirit is alive and well on Bilton Grange.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Time to check the cheques

Outside the hothouse of Westminster Village, does anyone really care about the so-called 'Dodgy Donors?'

Has David Abrahams benefited from his donations? No
Is this on a par with Cash for Questions? Of course not!

What's making my blood boil is the complete hypocrisy of the Conservative Party.

Seeing the Tories crow about the payments to Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn is a bit rich when their biggest donor Lord Michael Ashcroft still won't declare whether he's paying tax over here and uses a front company to fund the Conservative's marginal seat strategy.

In the last few months, Bearwood Corporate Services, a group associated with Ashcroft, donated £125,000 to the Tories and provided a further £424,959 of services in kind. At least we definitely know David Abrahams was paying tax here!

Sir Hayden Phillips, charged by the Government to find an answer, has floated a £20m limit on General Election spending, matched state funding for every £10 received in individual donations, and 40p from the public purse for every vote received in the previous General Election. And who opposed the proposals - the honourable Tories.

Reform is long overdue and if we're start to win back the trust of the people, financial transparency is the only way forward.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Huhne's Sorry Now

Austin Mitchell once famously welcomed a colleague to a particaularly bitter Labour party conference in the 80s by saying: "Come on in, the blood's lovely!"

Thankfully those days are long behind us. But for the Lib Dems, those unhappy days are here again. No-one does regicide quite like the Lib Dems.

What does it say about a party that's now looking for its third leader in two years?

It's fair to say that a Lib Dem leadership contest between two men who both went to the same public school, are both Oxbridge graduates, who trained as financial journalists, served in the European Parliament and became MPs in 2005 was hardly expected to set the world alight.

And it hasn't.....until now.

Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg went onto the Poltics Show today for a live debate morderated by Jon Sopel.

So far, so dull.

They were agreeing on most matters and I was just about to change channels when Jon Sopel asked Chris Huhne if he thought Clegg would make a great leader. He agreed but said not yet.

Sopel then produced a negative briefing document with the words "Calamity Clegg" at the top, which he said had been sent from the Huhne camp to the Politics Show team.

What followed was handbags at dawn, a TV moment to match Paxman's famous interrogation of Michael Howard 10 years ago when he asked the same question 12 times.

If you missed the Poltics Show, you can click here and watch it.

What you'll see is a party tearing itself apart. Iraq was the one issue that galvanised their support at local and national level.

Now that's being resolved, their vote is getting squeezed with their fair weather supporters drifting back to us and the Tories.

If two men with astonishingly similar backgrounds and political beliefs hate each others guts - and show it so publicly - what hope does the winner have of uniting the party and being an effective opposition?

As Don King said: "It's got two chances - Slim and none.

"And Slim just left town."

Saturday, 17 November 2007

There IS such a thing as a free lunch

Really must congratulate West Hull Labour Party for putting on the Thank You event for John and Tony at the KC.

Sally Waters from Alan Johnson's office worked tirelessly in planning a fantastic do and raised thousands of pounds for next year's council elections.

Tony's speech was very moving and the anecdotes were hilarious. Especially the one about.....actually, I'd better not!

But what struck me was how well TB looks now. He's lost quite a few pounds and it seems the premature aging seems has reversed - and this from a man who's charged with the simple task of trying peace to the Middle East!

I don't think people realise the stress politicians - local and national - have to deal with. They never switch off, they're always on call and they can be sacked every four years irrespective of whether they're doing a good job or not!

So as each year goes by, I become less judgemental of politicians from different parties.

I have friends from all shades of the polticial spectrum. We all want to make things better - our differences lie in the priorities and the approach.

But when it comes to our children , you'd think we'd all share common ground.

Which is why the Lib Dems decision to axe Free Healthy School Meals in Hull continues to anger and frustrate me.

How can anyone NOT see the social and educational benefits of making sure each primary school child has a full stomach for the day ahead? If we're really serious about tackling the ticking timebomb of obesity, we need to instill healthy eating habits now.

The Lib Dems say that those who are entitled for Free School Meals will claim them. But a recent study found that 250,000 children eligible for FSM, don't eat them. Stigma plays a big part in this.

The interim evaluation of Eat Well Do Well by Professor Derek Colquhoun confirmed children became more focused, performed better and the classrooms were calmer.

Where Hull led, others are following. Scotland is now piloting a similar in several areas scheme and Wales may consider implementing it.

But in our city, take up of School Meals has in less than two months dropped from 62%to 45%

All that good work thrown away because the health and achievement of our children is, according to this Lib Dem council, not a priority.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

May you be with the force

It can be so easy to demonise the young. I remember when I was growing up, I'd walk the streets with my friends at night (Sutton, Ings Road and Gillshill Road was our circuit - carefully avoiding Pelican SS.)

It was part of a rites of passage and the cool thing to do when you were 13. Mind you, there wasn't much else to do when you had no money!

Now I'm in my thirties, I sometimes have to force myself to remember why I did it when I see kids doing the same thing today. They're not looking for trouble, it's just what they do and the vast majority stay out of trouble.

In fact a new survey for the Youth Justice Board found that 6 out of 10 young people actually want to see MORE police on the street. They fear crime just as much as we do.

The Neighourhood Policing Teams which are currently being rolled out across Hull are going to go some way to addressing this concern. By assigning local officers and PCSOs for each ward, the police will have a greater opportunity to build links with the community, provide continuity and be a visible presence on the streets.

It's already paying off in London. We've had socalled 'Safer Neighbourhood' policing teams for the last three years, thanks to a deal done between Ken Livingstone and Met Police Commissioner Ian Blair. On average we've seen annual 6% cuts in overall crime.

It's worked because people now have the name and number of their local officer and can join neighbourhood policing panels to set policing priorities and scrutinise performance.

The only way we're going to continue to keep cutting crime in East Hull is for the community to work closely with the police and other local agencies.

On the same day that it's been revealed that Humberside Police apparently 'screened out' 1 in 3 calls or 30,000 suspected crimes, neighbourhood policing is going to be the best way to win back public trust in the force.

If you to find out more about your neighbourhood policing team and get involved then click here.

Monday, 5 November 2007

A Man Flu for All Seasons

The leaves are cascading from the trees, there's a marked chill in the air and the nights are drawing in - yes, it's Man Flu season again!

I'd spent Saturday afetrnoon delivering 'The Rose' around my surrounding streets whilst listening to Frederic Raphael's Radio 4 play Fame and Fortune. In the evening, Roz and I popped over to a street party to meet new friends and neighbours. Life was good!

But come Sunday morning, I was a cacophony of sneezes, coughs and aching bones. The following day as I made my way to work on the bus, it seemed everyone on board had caught it too.

But a new survey out today from the British Medical Association shows it's also causing a major financial headache for the NHS.

Instead of taking a painkiller or buying over-the-counter medication, one in three adults insist on a GP consultation at a cost to the NHS of £21 a time.

Now I know it's just a 'nasty cold.' I've just taken Dr Hillary's on-line flu test at GMTV's website.

Click here and try it. And do the NHS a favour!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Muddle England

Fascinating article in this week's New Statesman that gives an interesting insight into what 'Middle England' is.

Surprisingly, it's a lot more liberal (with a small l!) than we think.

But I think more importantly, it shows how vital it is for Labour to continue to meet people's aspirations.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Move along now, there's nothing to see!

When advertising on the back of a bus, you've always got to think about the exhaust pipe!

Hat tip to Recess Monkey

Monday, 22 October 2007

Seconds for free school meals?

Great to see that the legacy of Eat Well Do Well continues to have ramifications across the UK.

The Scottish Executive, having studied our universal school meals programme, will today provide free lunch for more than 35,000 primary school children for six months in five areas across Scotland.

I seriously believe that the Hull pilot will be held up as a turning point in the fight against child obesity.

The University of Hull evaluation of Eat Well Do Well will be out this year, which should confirm the initial findings that pupils' concentration and readiness to learn was improving.

Hopefully this study will spark a real debate into what we can do to give our children life-long healthy eating habits and what price we're prepared to pay for it.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Liberation, liberation, liberation

In the week that Phil and Kirsty gave Hull its now yearly kicking, I was really proud to see our sons and daughters making history in Westminster - again.

The cast of Hull Truck Youth Theatre's Slavers last night became the first actors and actresses to ever perform at the House of Commons to mark the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act. They perfomed in Westminster Hall, just after children from around the world - including Hull again - discussed slavery in a special parliamentary debate organised by the British Council and JP.

The play Slavers, by my mate Rupert Creed, is a really, really powerful piece of theatre - a ‘back-to-the-future story’ that recreates the tale of the slave trade and its abolition through the eyes of young people in Hull.

More than 200 people crammed into the Grand Committee room to see it and we all witnessed a very moving performance from such a talented cast with pupils from Hull College, Trinity House, Archbishop Thurstan, Endeavour High and Malet Lambert.

To top it off, Hull's Freedom Road singers performed on the Commons terrace at the after-show reception.

All-in-all, it was great to see that 200 years after Wilberforce, Hull people still making their mark in the corridors of power - only this time, they were all wearing hoodies!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Food for Thought

It seems modern life is slowly killing us. We do less exercise, we eat convenient ready meals and we drive everywhere we can.

The Foresight report on obesity out today is quite disturbing. To think that 60% of men, 50% of women and a quarter of children and young people would be obese by 2050 unless we start to do something now. And that’s before you add up the estimated £45 billion a year it’ll cost Britain.

That’s why it’s so important to teach children healthy eating habits as young as possible. All the research shows that inactive children who eat unhealthy foods do not develop into active healthy adults.

Bringing back practical cookery lessons into our schools, educating children about nutrition and a ban on junk food advertising before the 9pm watershed will all help.

But we had the best answer all along – universal free school meals for every primary school pupil.

Two thirds of pupils claimed the free healthy meals and this would have only grown higher if the Lib Dems hadn’t shamelessly scrapped them. In Sweden and Finland, where healthy school meals are free, take up is now between 85% and 95% - in Hull it’s dropped to a third. The University of Hull study found that better nutritional intake improved concentration and readiness to learn so it’s a no brainer that we should do everything we can to encourage our kids to eat healthy food.

So how about this – we currently have £107 million from the last tranche of KC shares sitting in the bank doing nothing, other than earning a very healthy £7m a year in interest.

Universal Free School Meals cost £3m a year so why don’t we ring fence that and make it our yearly health dividend for our kids.

They’ll develop healthy eating habits that will last them a life time, they’ll do better at school and we’ll save money by stopping them becoming obese.

It's food for thought.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Bremner, Bird and Misfortune

I've never actually found Rory Bremner funny.

I think the way he conned Margaret Beckett into believing she was speaking to Gordon Brown was somewhat childish but to then publish the transcript and try to broadcast a misleading and confidential call was the kind of thing you'd expect from the News of the World.

I met him back in the 90s and he bragged to me like a naughty schoolboy how he used to call Blair's office pretending to be Tony. Years later on the Andrew Marr show, he did one of those "witty" monologues and the sound of tumbleweed during his set was deafening. He had to beg for people to laugh.

But he's completely over stepped the mark with his "joke" on Sunday's show that Gordon Brown was so desperate for popularity that he would discover Madeleine McCann on the eve of an election to win votes.

Channel 4's feeble excuse was that it was aimed at politicians. A spokesman defending the sketch, said it was not aimed at the McCanns but "the lengths to which politicians would go to win public support."

This is the same Channel 4 that consitently misled viewers on phone call competitions and refused to throw out women who made racist comments against another housemate on Big Brother because the ratings were too damn good.

Is it any wonder that this country has such a cynical view of polticians when public school boy pranksters like Bremner play fast and loose with people's emotions for cheap laughs. I'm sure the McCanns will stoically refuse to comment and Rory will think he's got away with it.

But I hope Ofcom, who've already received 32 official complaints from viewers, gives Bremner and C4 both barrels.

Either that or force him to watch his own show.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

In sickness and in wealth

It's my third wedding anniversary this weekend. Three years ago today Roz and I tied the knot in a wonderful catholic service at Westminster Cathedral. It seemed half of Kerry came over for the big day and we had sore heads for a few days after!

We decided to marry for three main reasons - commitment, a desire to show the world that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other and most importantly, love. I'm pretty sure young couples will always make that decision along the same lines.

I'm equally convinced that when a young man goes down on bended knee and gazes into his lover's eyes he won't say: "Marry me darling - the tax credit is a compelling fiscal argument for our martimonial merger."

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham claims that rewarding married couples through the tax system is just his personal view I do hope it stays that way.

My best man was Colin. He has two lovely kids and a great partner. But they chose not to marry and it works for them. So why should they miss out on a tax cut just because they're not Mr and Mrs Turner? They're a very stable and loving family, they're great parents and they work hard to give their children everything they need. So why should they subsidise married couples? Whether you like it or not, moving to such a system would be judgemental.

After a bruising couple of weeks and unfair accusations that we have just lifted Tory policies on non doms and inheritance tax (and that £600,000 threshold is only available to married couples) do we really need to be seen to be following Cameron's lead again by having a debate on how to encourage or reward marriage through the tax system?

We know funding's going to be tight over the next year but I think there are much greater priorities in Britain - a fairer deal for our pensioners, employment rights for temporary and agency workers and building more affordable homes and council houses - than a tax break for Mr and Mrs Smith.

Friday, 5 October 2007

TV worth watching

It's fair to say that the left has taken some time to make the most of the internet.

The right stole a march with internet TV but now I'm glad to say we've finally caught up with the launch of CampaignTV. (I'll declare an interest - they're friends of mine and I've been given then some programming advice.)

It hosts a selection of films and shows from on issues from a left wing viewpoint. If you have a few minutes then please watch their film on How to Beat the BNP.

It tells the story of Labour's successful campaign to stop the BNP gaining more seats in Sandwell in the West Midlands. In 2006 they won three seats, bringing the BNP group on the council up to four. This year they reckoned to make further gains and stood in 15 seats.

In the end NONE of the 15 candidates got elected, Labour majorities in the target seats INCREASED ten times over and the total BNP vote dropped by a third. This was down to tactics like making and distributing 7000 DVDs showing how Labour had benefited Sandwell to target wards. It was a combined effort from Labour, my union Amicus-Unite, local teachers, religious leaders and the Hope Not Hate campaign.

Just shows what we can do when we keep it local and work together.
Click here to watch it and be inspired.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The Tories have worked themselves up into a real lather over Gordon's visit to Iraq.

This was his first visit since becoming PM. What better way to avail yourself of the current situation then going out there and seeing it for yourself, talking to the troops and meeting the Iraqi government.

But Cameron's cronies have accused him of playing politics with "our boys," conveniently forgeting their own leader's visits to Afghanistan and Iraq with camera crews in tow.

The problem is that when the Westminster village and the media are caught up in election fever, visits like this tend to get interpreted this way (Wrongly in my opinon, but there you go.)

So expect hours of pontification on rolling news channels, yards of comment in the papers and a loud yawn from the electorate. A recent poll found Gordon has done a great job in his first 100 days but almost two thirds of the public don't really want an election now.

If we want to win back public trust in the democratic process and politcians, I think we must remove the Royal Prerogative power of Government to dissolve parliament.

Gordon has already proposed a change in the Green Paper on Constitutional Reform, 'Reforming the Governance of Britain,' to devolve this decision to MPs.

I think this is a great start and along with other proposals in the paper - allowing parliament to have a say on whether we go to war, ratify treaties and appoint judges - it shows that the democratic principle is in Gordon's DNA.

But I think we should go one step further and introduce fixed term parliaments.

We have fixed term governance in every other institution that we vote for - only Westminster is the exception.

If we knew when we'd be going to the polls, our local parties would be able to better plan their General Election campaigns, ramp up resources around the peak areas of activity and allow their candidate to bed in and start campaigning at the earliest opportunity.

It would help to prove that we are selfless reformers putting the people's interest at the very heart of our democratic process.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Railway Sleeper

Caught the 0600 out of Paragon today to get up to Gateshead for a school visit.

We were just out of Hull when we came to a halt. Five minutes passed, then ten, then 20 before an embarrased voice came over the tannoy.

"I'm sorry but we're held up here because the man who operates the crossing has slept in. We've been told they're trying to find a substitute. The 5.20's stuck ahead of us too."

We Brits tend to be somewhat fatalistic and easily prepared to accept it was just one of those things.

Except it wasn't.

After forty minutes, the guard made a point of coming to personally apologise to us. It was a nice touch but then he added: "You know what, it's the third time he's slept in and done this in the last six weeks!"

So on three occasions Hull was effectively cut off from the British rail network. More than ten trains were delayed, hundreds of people were late and many missed their connections all because one dozy twonk couldn't wake up.

As my blood started to boil, I was left hoping it'd be third time unlucky for this railway sleeper and that he'd get the chance to sleep in more often - on his own time!

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Angus Young Re: London Marathon

Thanks for reminding me. Now be a good boy and pay up - the Spinal Injuries Association will put it to good use.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Hello Mr Richmond!

When you first start writing a blog you do wonder if anyone's going to read it. It's one of the reasons why 70% of bloggers give up after a few posts.

So I'm glad to see some people are acutally logging on but I was quite surprised to see that Tom Richmond from the Yorkshire Post was one of them!

You might remember that I responded to his piece about a percieved lack of homegrown Yorkshire MPs. (See my post below.)

Well, someone pointed out his response to me here in his column.

"MY call for political parties to select a greater number of Parliamentary candidates with Yorkshire roots struck a chord with the family of my old foe John Prescott.

It was particularly resonant with the outgoing Hull East MP's son, David, who has made no secret of his desire to follow his father into politics.

But it was the maturity of Prescott junior's response on his blog that was so refreshing.

"Ward meetings can be off-putting as new members tend to feel a bit excluded and baffled by our arcane agendas and party rules. We don't give them a simple introduction about how our party works," he wrote.

"I think we also need to make these meetings more informal and family friendly. They should feel they're part of a social network."

This is the kind of new thinking that Labour requires if it is to curtail the appointment of "social worker" politicians in this region who have no affinity with Yorkshire, and merely jump to the Government's command."

Well Tom, I'm sure you'd be more than welcome down 430 Holderness Road next time you're in town - heck, I'll even take you next door to the Crown afterwards!

Just don't tell Harry!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Minns Means Spin

Another classic Carl Minns performance on Look North last night, this time trying to defend axing universal healthy school meals for primary children.

Daren Hale revealed from official Hull City Council statistics that take up of healthy school meals had actually dropped to 34% in the last two weeks of last term.

Daren rightly pointed out that social stigma and the confusion of filling out the forms to claim free schools meals had led to the dramatic downturn.

Minns repsonse was to say that figures were not audited, they were not accurate and that "The Labour Party has a history of spinning figures - just look at the Iraq War!"

This from a man who went on national TV morning, noon and night with vastly inflated and inaccurate figures for flood damage - £360m, no...£200m, no...£60m - a reckless strategy that led to hard-working families seeing their home insurance premiums double.

But don't worry, the £1m saved from axing the meals is being spent on "better ingredients." Never mind no-ones eating them, at least they'll be organic!

I don't like being negative against politicians - it's a hard job and anybody prepared to get involved in civic service should be encouraged. Hey, I even have a couple of Lib Dem friends. (Just a couple, mind)

But their wreckless actions are directly affecting the health of our kids and the budgets of working-class families. Minns has made a real dog's dinner of school meals and people are starting to wake up to it.

See what you think. Click here to watch last night's interview

Monday, 17 September 2007

Please sir, can I have some more?

What a mess the Lib Dems have made of scrapping universal free school meals for primary school pupils in Hull.
Educationalists from around the world closely observed Labour's pioneering programme. The stigma was taken away from claiming a FSM and take-up shot up to 90%.
And the evidence of improvement was overwhelming.
The University of Hull evaluation of the programme found that not only did take up go through the roof but the kids had healthy meals, were better behaved and performed better in class.
Now today the Hull Daily Mail shows the rank incompetence of Lib Dems meddling.
For a family with three kids who just miss out on qualifying but are still on low pay, that's an extra £70 a month to find from a tight budget.
But what sticks in my gullet is that the Lib Dems factored to save £1m by doing two things:
1 A reduced meal uptake of 46% (cutting those having healthy meals by a half) and
2 Sacking dinner ladies because there'd be less kids to serve.

That's a bit like cutting waiting times at a hospital by closing the hospital!

Roll on May!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Sometimes big isn't beautiful

I've been going through the £220m Building Our Future schools plan with teachers and one message keeps coming through loud and clear - some of the planned schools will have too many pupils.

To recap, Hull's 14 secondary schools will be cut to 12, with East Hull going from 4 to 3 schools, with Andrew Marvell, Malet Lambert expanding to 1500 pupils and a Archbishop Thurston, which currently has 873 pupils, being replaced by a 1,500 11-19 secondary and sixth form.

I always felt Bransholme High was too big when I was there in the 80s (Winifred Holtby, now has 1,552 pupils and even that's being cut to 1,300 under the new plan.)

Don't take my word for it. A report by the Institute of Education, "Secondary school size: a systematic review" found that achievement increases as school size increases up to approximately 1,200 (for 11-16 schools.) Above 1,200, and achievement decreases as size increases. The bigger they become, the worse the results.

It can be more pronounced in schools in challenging areas like East Hull. Studies have found that children can start to disengage from school as young as nine, so secondary teachers face an uphill struggle, especially when half the kids are on free school meals. So it's vital these children get as much support as they can and that theyr'e not allowed to slip through the net.

Last week's report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation proved children who grow up in poverty and disadvantage are less likely to do well at school - pupils with free school meals are half as likely to get 5 good GCSEs than the rest of the kids in the class.

The challenge is to engage with them and to make education interesting and relevant, so they don't feel, as the report says, "powerless as learners." After school activities help as it helps them to engage with learning in a less formal environment.

But more importantly they needed targeted help and support - from teachers and parents. They're less likely to get that in 1500+ schools. Steve Brady, Mary Glew and the Labour Group know this and that's why they're suggesting East Hull should have two smaller schools of 800.

But it's not too late for you to have your say. You'll find the Building Our Future consultation site here so leave your comments.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hull, Hell and Happiness

You know what? I LOVE Fridays. I know it's a clich̩ and small talk for people now seems entirely to involve either trading questions about the weekend just gone or the one coming up. But indulge me for a moment РI'm stepping back and, to use another tired clich̩, I'm smelling the roses.

The weather outlook is good, England face Israel in a Euro qualifier, Jay Jay has joined the Tigers and Rovers celebrate staying up by taking on Wigan (£5 if you walk up on the day.)

There is another reason, however, for my cheery demeanour. As part of my job, I'm compelled to read the newspapers and keep a very close eye on what's going on in the media. Sometimes it's easy to forget what you're taking on when you read The Daily Mail, then the Telegraph and then on to the Express. Between them they paint a very glib picture of the country we live in.

Today however, I've just read about the release of the Economist Pocket World in Figures book. It is a series of lists on societal habits and norms within countries all over the world. It has reminded me that – things aren't nearly as bad as the media and some alarmist politicians will have us believe.

For example, the UK is top among the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world. We have the fifth biggest economy and Britons can expect to live longer than almost anyone else. The number of people getting divorced has fallen, male suicide rates have gone down and the murder rate per 100,000 people (the clearest method of comparison) is comparatively low for a wealthy nation.

And it doesn't stop there - the UK has the second highest number of Nobel Prize winners on the planet and the third-largest haul of Olympic medals.

So how is it that opposition politicians and newspapers can whip up a level of hysteria that leads many people to believe there's something terrible happening to the country when they see violence on the news or kids hanging out on street corners? Simple – it's their job. Violence sells newspapers and discontent is oxygen to politicians out of power.

Yes, of course, there are terrible stories out there and they need to be dealt with. The good news is that they are being dealt with - but that doesn't help an opposition politician who has been forced to go back to his "core values". Is it right that in order to attempt to curry favour from the British public, the opposition talk about 'Anarchy in the UK' and run this great country down?

Is it right that they do it in the face of contrary fact? Overall, crime has fallen since 1997. The number of people claiming asylum in the UK has drastically fallen in the same period and we're at the lowest divorce rate for over 20 years. For the party who believe their core issues to be law and order, immigration and the family –why can't they be happy?

Seems the Tories just like singing the blues.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Home grown

Now I've never been a big fan of the Yorkshire Post and Tom Richmond can certainly claim to be 'outspoken' - which isn't a bad thing, especially when it sparks a debate.

And Tom has done just that today in his essay bemoaning the lack of home-grown politicians. I think it's well worth a read but what it doesn't answer is WHY we're not encouraging more local people to go into politics.

The two questions we need to ask of ourselves are how do we attract potential political candidates into the party and how can we enthuse young people - the community leaders of tomorrow - that getting involved in politics is a noble and worthwhile cause.

Recruiting new members is great but a membership has to be sustainable. As I've experienced, ward meetings can be off-putting as new members tend to feel a bit excluded and baffled by our arcane agendas and party rules. We don't give them a simple introduction about how our party works, who does what and the opportunities available to them.

I think we also need to make these meetings more informal and family friendly. They should feel they're part of a social network and kept informed through email or a Facebook grouping as well as by letter for the elderly.

My ward councillor in Greenwich, Mary Mills, is in her 60s (hope you don't mind me saying that Mary) but she sends out an email twice a month to people who want to be kept up to date about what's happening in the ward - from on-going planning applications to what's coming up at the local theatre. She has an email list of hundreds, the vast majority non-party members just wanting to be kept abrest of what's happening. She had by far the highest number of votes of any of the ten candidates in her ward at the last council election.

As for encouraging young people, we need to let them take more decisions in our schools and in our communities. School Councils have been a great way of introducing them into citizenship - dealing with bullying, school meals and other concerns.

Positive peer leadership develops and the responsibility for maintaining good behaviour is shifted away from teachers and towards members of the classroom and school community. Pupils become able to resolve conflicts amongst their peers. Disruptive behaviour, vandalism, truancy and exclusions all reduce in schools with these councils.

I could go on, but please read Tom's article.

Tom Richmond: A lack of home-grown talent - Yorkshire Post, September 1 2007

"IF just one word defines Yorkshireness, the adjective "outspoken" would suffice.

People born within God's own county have a much-cherished reputation for speaking their minds. The cussedness of Sir Bernard Ingham and Geoffrey Boycott typifies this.

Yet who speaks for Yorkshire in the House of Commons – the great democratic forum for this country's supposed opinion-formers?

Certainly not the five MPs from this region who sit in Gordon Brown's new-look Cabinet. All were born outside the county.

Certainly not Caroline Flint, the new Yorkshire Minister appointed by Mr Brown to defend Yorkshire's interests in Parliament. She is from Twickenham, a fact unreported on her personal website.

And certainly not those MPs elected two years ago to represent Yorkshire and Humberside. Only 23, less than half the total number of 56, were actually born in this region, never mind the constituency that they represent.

It's a far cry from the era, not so many years ago, when Labour officials whistled down a mine shaft for a prospective MP to emerge, almost certainly a trade union official, the coal dust ingrained in his skin, or when the Tories turned to the local business community to fill any vacancy.

Now it's more likely that a prospective candidate will be a public-sector official, or young professional with little life experience, who has served the briefest of apprenticeship in some distant corner of the country.

Their insight into Yorkshire and, more particularly, the character of local people, will have been cribbed from the internet.

Yet it is debatable, when one looks at the effectiveness of this new political breed, whether intellectual prowess is an adequate substitute for local knowledge.

This southern bias was, perhaps, best exemplified by the Government's tardy response to the recent Yorkshire floods – the final bill for which could be £2bn. Even though Gordon Brown's first days in 10 Downing Street were dominated by the failed suicide bombings, this was no excuse for the new Prime Minister to take 10 days before acknowledging the scale of the disaster. However, this does not justify the pedestrian response of the five-strong Yorkshire contingent in his Cabinet – or that of John Healey, the Wentworth MP and Floods Minister.

Homes and businesses in each of their constituencies were left under several feet of storm water and sewage.

Would the response have been any swifter if the Ministers concerned represented marginal seats where they were not guaranteed a job for life – or if they had a greater empathy with Yorkshire?

One insider insists they were simply overwhelmed by the breadth and haste of the Whitehall changes that were unveiled by Gordon Brown.

But would this excuse have been rendered redundant had Yorkshire been represented by backbenchers – sufficiently independent of mind – whose views were respected, and who could have alerted the powers-that-be to the unfolding disaster? My guess, again, is yes.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, at the height of Margaret Thatcher's popularity, there were a significant number of MPs born outside the county boundary.

The significant difference between now and then was that many were educated in this region – or became regarded as "honorary Yorkshiremen", because of the rigour of their Parliamentary interventions.

Sir Keith Joseph, Lady Thatcher's policy inspiration, was born in London. His fellow Leeds MP Merlyn Rees, Labour's former Home Secretary, hailed from South Wales. Denis Healey, Chancellor of the Exchequer, came from Kent.

Healey's family only moved to Keighley when he was five-years-old. "It was like emigrating to another country, to leave a gimcrack suburb in outer London for the grimy millstone grit of the industrial North," he wrote in his memoirs.

Yet, to this day, Labour's former deputy leader, now Lord Healey of Riddlesden – he takes his title from the small village in the West Riding where he grew up and celebrated his 90th birthday this week – is regarded as "a son of Keighley".

This was a generation of politicians who grew up in an era when the importance of local communities truly mattered – and they remembered it throughout their public service.

Rees is, perhaps, better remembered in parts of Leeds for his long association with Hunslet Rugby League Club; Healey became a great champion of the Yorkshire countryside.

When they spoke in Parliament, their opponents listened. And, more importantly, these were not lone voices. The roll-call of the 1983 Yorkshire intake at Westminster read like a veritable "who's who" of British politics with names such as Leon Brittan, Roy Mason, Derek Fatchett, Marcus Fox and Geoffrey Lofthouse.

There was also a younger generation of MPs who were never backward in coming forward – people like John Prescott, Austin Mitchell and Barry Sheerman.

These, and many others, were all voices that came to be respected, even though their views may not have been universally shared.

Indeed, both David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) and Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) told me independently that they respected each other's forthrightness as opposed to their political views.

But they went further. Peacock attributes her local roots as being instrumental in her retaining her most marginal of constituencies from 1983 until the Tory rout of 1997 that saw Tony Blair come to power. She had a majority of 1,407 votes in 1992.

And, while Hinchliffe admits that he was fortunate to represent the city where he was actually born, he believes that constituency parties have a duty to select prospective Parliamentarians from this region at the very least.

I agree. It speaks volumes about the decline of the political process when neither of the main parties can find 50 or so willing and able candidates who were raised in Yorkshire.

Indeed, one only has to look at the seat that he vacated in 2005 to see, at first hand, the Yorkshire void that is now so evident at Westminster.

The current incumbent is Coventry-born Mary Creagh who was Labour leader on Islington Council in London which she still considers to be her home.

One of her more recent Commons interventions was a question about the capital's refurbished South Bank Centre – with a reference to how she had participated in the reopening celebrations with her young child.

Yet her Tory opponent at the next election will not be an aspiring local politician, but a financial analyst looking to relocate to West Yorkshire from the capital.

How can either candidate credibly claim to speak for the people of Wakefield – a proud community near where the aforementioned Geoffrey Boycott grew up – when their roots, and instincts, lie 200 miles down the M1?

They can only overcome this barrier if they possess the eloquence, and political know-how, to overcome this shortcoming, a declining skill.

Worryingly, however, this is just one example. Countless Parliamentary seats at the next election will be contested by rival candidates whose links to Yorkshire are negligible at best.

The county, to them, will be a place where

they have a weekend base if they are elected. They will not have grown up in the region and come to learn of the area's history, heritage and characteristics.

As a consequence, they will not be speaking for Yorkshire when they stand up in the House of Commons to make their maiden speech. While some bland platitudes will, no doubt, be spoken, they will be speaking for themselves – and not necessarily their constituents.

There are, of course, some notable exceptions. George Mudie, the Leeds East MP, remains a proud Scot. But at least he cut his political teeth on Leeds City Council. And while Yorkshire-born William Hague and David Davis are two of the Conservative Party's big-hitters, their own interests – business or political or both – always appear to come first.

Nevertheless, the time has come for the main parties to place "localism" at the heart of their selection process."

Friday, 31 August 2007

Ten Years Ago Today

I still remember it well. People turning up with flowers from all-night garages. Then when they sold out, visitors uprooted plants from their homes and brought them instead.

I'd heard there'd been a car accident on Saturday night. As a producer at GMTV, I offered to come in to help out on the story. We all thought she'd survived, a bit shaken up but nothing more than that.

I was sitting at my computer when I saw the short item drop on the Press Association wires. Diana had died. Two things hit me, the utter sadness of her death and then, the fact that this was the biggest story I would ever work on in my life. Period.

The usual short Sunday Programme was scrapped for a full show fronted by Fiona Phillips. Her husband Martin Frizzel and I were dispatched to Kensington Palace - the first reporters there when the flowers started to arrive.

A week later, I returned to Kensington Palace. The gardens had become a sea of flowers and candles. As I walked amongst the hundreds keeping vigil that night before the funeral, the smell stood out - petals diffused with candle wax. It was quite overpowering, almost overwhelming. Like her death.

Some people say the public's grief was misplaced, that we were caught up in a national hysteria but I don't agree.

We've all lost friends or families way before their time so we could all empathise with William and Harry. For that week, we were all one family.

I just wish sometimes that that common sense of belonging, solidarity and empathy could be replicated more often and in less tragic circumstances.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

A for effort

Great news for Hull with the GCSEs. OK, there's a lot of work to do, but I think the way teachers, parents and pupils have risen to the challenge has been fantastic.

My mate Chris is an assistant head at Kingswood. When it was closed down as Perronet Thompson, the percentage of kids getting five good GCSEs was just 6%

Last year, Kingswood got 62%. But under the gold standard of calculating GCSEs (ensure English and Maths are two of those five A-C passes)it plumetted back down to 7% But the teachers have made a real effort to weave the importance of literacy into every single lesson.

For example, in PE, a one word reply from a student is not acceptable. They have to deliver a full sentence. You might not think that would achieve much, but it makes them work and think harder.

It's having an effect too - this year they've gone from 7% to almost 17.5% That's a big jump in a year, especially when almost half the kids are entitled to free school meals. In fact, when these factors are taken into account with the contextual value added measure, it's actually in the top 10% of the best schools in the country.

So let's not run our kids down saying the exams are easier and they're taking less challenging subjects.

Hull fights with one hand behind its back - unlike other similar cities we don't have the suburbs to raise our average. Which makes the success of Kingswood all the more remarkable and the achievement of its pupils something we should be very proud of.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Dear owe me £290!

Just as we thought, Minns strategy to vastly inflate the amount of flood damaged home (remember when it reached 17,000 homes? It actually settled around under 7,000) is finally blowing up in his face and hammering hard-working Hull families.

Sharon Holland's home in West Hull wasn't even flooded but now she's received a letter from her insurers to say her monthly permium is going to be doubled from
from £26.53 to £50.76. That's an extra £290 a year.

All this in spite of the assurance from the Association of British Insurers
that unaffected households that did not make a claim wouldn't see any change in the cost of their annual premium.

Minns announced that council tax-paying residents whose homes were flooded in June would receive a cheque to the value of 25 per cent of their annual council tax bill.

It's tempting to say this rebate should also be extended to those like Sharon whose homes weren't flooded but are paying the price thanks to the Fib Dems incompetence. But I have a better idea.

Sharon - keep paying your £26.53 and tell your insurers to invoice Minns for the rest. I'll make it easy - Flat 2, 66 Spring Bank, Kingston upon Hull, HU3 1AB.

And make the him pay the post!

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Here is the news..

You'll have spotted through a gap in posts that I’ve been really busy this month.

In media and public relations, August is widely known as ‘silly season’. I mustn’t have got the memo!

What basically happens is newspaper readership figures drop off in August as people are on holiday, this leads to less advertising revenue for newspapers as advertisers typically see less value in booking space during this time because fewer people see their ads.

When you combine this with the fact Parliament takes its summer recess, that there are fewer business deals and announcements from the City and the most popular sports are in the off season – it means there’s much less news about and fewer people to read it.

Newspapers are therefore more inclined to print attention-grabbing headlines or completely frivolous articles to boost sales. Sometimes it’s pretty funny like “Victor Meldrew found in Space” from a couple of years ago or this year’s “Shark off Cornwall Coast.”

But some stories matter and thankfully get the coverage they deserve. Look North highlighted the plight of the residents of Yorkshire Close this week who had been waiting a scandalous two months for their flood damaged goods to be removed from the front of their homes.

They were told by the council it would take at least another ten days before they could collect it. It's funny how making the lead on Look North focuses the minds of this incompetent Lib Dem council. The next day, the street was completely cleaned!

If Carl Minns had spent less time quoting vastly-inflated figures of flood damage (£380m, err....£200m.....ok £40m) and more time doing the basics like clearing rubbish from people's streets, we might be getting somewhere.

But it's all spin with Minns and the Fib Dems. Did you know the PR agency who spinned for the council during the floods has another big client? Walt Disney! The perfect match - we've got a Mickey Mouse council leader and a Goofy adminstration.

Roll on May!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

It ain't Rover til it's Rover

Kicking myself this morning. I had the chance to get the coach from Crown to Salford last night. Sadly, I had a lot of work on and couldn't make it.
What a game - the old Cookie is back and worked brilliantly with Webster to deliver a win that could help guarantee Super League for another season. (Beating the Bulls at home next Sunday could seal it.)
Ok, there were a few defensive errors and some of the tackling was a bit off, but Rovers were back playing with a real passion, especially in the second half. Hodgson must have been pig sick being bundled over the line twice by Lovegrove and Goddard. Great to see 3,000 people making the effort to cross the Pennines on a Friday night.
Tried to call Sumpo who'd gone on the Crown coach but there was no answer! Bet there's a few sore heads and angry wives this morning!

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Chip Spice. Hull's Marmite. Discuss

I remember it well. Before Ronald McDonald came to Hull, Yankee Burger was the only proper burger bar in the city.( I don't count the Bun in the Oven - though it had by far the better name.)

I never cared about the burgers, but my god the chips! The seasoning was like nothing I'd tasted before. Who'd have thought the subtle blend of paprika, tomato, garlic and salt would be so popular.

I personally think there's a direct correlation to the increase in childhood obestity in Hull and Yankee Burger's introduction of chip spice in the early 80s.
You can't buy it down in London - requests are met with quizzical and somewhat pitying looks.

The reason I mention chip spice is that it's the subject of a very amusing thread on Facebook in the group "It's Never Dull in Hull" which now has 1,840 members.

It's amazing how the little things provoke the biggest response - a thread on axing the Humber Bridge debt has only had one posting whilst "Chip spice - the Hull equivelent of Marmite: Love it, or hate it?" has had 77!

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Back to schools of the future

I defy anyone not to want to give up the day job and become a teacher after meeting Anna Hassan.

Anna's been the head teacher of Millfields Community School in Hackney, East London for more than ten years.

It's a challenged area - more than 40 languages are spoken by the pupils and almost three quarters speak English as their second language.

The school was run down and dirty, staff morale was low and kids badly behaved. So she started doing small things that eventually made a bigger impact - cleaning up the staff room started to raise morale amongst teachers.

Then she tackled pupil behaviour by suggesting that teachers own negative attitude was a contributory factor. It caused a lot of arguements, but slowly the mood changed at the school with teachers and pupil behaviour improving. This then raised standards and pupil achievement. From being a school that some parents wouldn't touch with a barge pole, Millfields now has a 100 strong waiting list.

Millfields has pioneered the principle of the extended school - putting the school at the heart of the community.

Instead of just using the school for pupils between 8.30 and 3.30pm, everyone can use it. Mums can attend post natal classes, the toddlers go to the on-site children's centre and when they reach four, move to the nursery in the next room. Then at five, it's through anotehr door into the primary. This makes the transition between each absolutely seemless and a lot less stressful.

But it doesn't stop there - children can go to breakfast clubs and attend cheap after-school clubs where the can get a meal, have fun with art and more importantly, get looked after while their parents are away at work. Even the adults get a look in, using the schools rooms for everything from computer skills to help with numeracy and literacy. It's really a school for the community.

As you walk through Millfields, you see the difference that Anna's ethos of putting kids and learning at the heart of all decisions makes. The pupils are full of life but respectful, crying out "Hiya Anna" whenever she enters the room. One pupil loved Anna so much, she brought in a present - a lump of cannabis.

All schools will eventually be extended schools. But to make them work will mean dealing with three key challenges: assessing the really needs in the community, finding the inspriational heads and teachers to run them and giving them the freedom to run the schools the best way they can, allowing them to do what they do best - teach.

If we really want social mobility, raise the aspirations of our kids and provide REAL ladders of opportunity, we need more heads like Anna.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The return from Rovers

Went to Craven Park on Sunday. Rovers really needed two points against Warrington. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Warrington's attack just seemed to cut through Rovers defence, there were handling errors a plenty and the tackling was pretty poor.
The ramifications of Rovers getting relegated don't bare thinking of.

Though I'm loathe to say it - as I've never been a lover of Murdoch (Kinnock's tirade against the Dirty Digger in Campbell's diaries is hilarious) - Sky's money has helped Rovers to finally compete against the black and whites. The return of the ONLY true derby has been a shot in the arm for the game.

Sport and pride in your local team is a social glue that helps to bond the community. You should read a book by Robert Putnam called Bowling Alone. He talks of the importance of building social capital - the networks of friendship, neighbourhood and trust in our community.

Sport and Rovers help to create a lot of social captial. KR does great work in the community - its Playing for Success programme provides an out-of-hours study centre for kids, getting them excited about learning by teaching core subjects through workshops linked to Rugby League.Relegation could really impact on all this good work.

That's why it's so important to get behind the team because if they lose, East Hull does too.
The talk in Crown after the match was that mentally the players aren't at the races. That's why the Salford match is a real four pointer and could decide the season.
It's been some years since I played second row for Greatfield A, but I'm free if you're desparate Justin - and I've heard Cloutie's just as keen...and at 6ft 5ins and built like the proverbial, you'd better have a good resason not to pick him!

Friday, 20 July 2007

The Blair Peach Project

Had a fantastic time in Ealing Southall last night.
Managed to get a couple of hours in getting out the vote.
I'd campaigned there the previous week and couldn't get over the fact that some shops were displaying posters of all three main candidates.

Arrived at our campaign HQ in Southall - a fantastic Indian restaurant.
Our aim was to get as many Labour supporters out to vote at their nearest polling station - in my area this was Blair Peach School.

I got paired with Sen from Surbiton, a member of Tamils for Labour. I ran the book as Sen knocked up the houses that had indicated they might vote Labour. The reaction was very positive on the doorstep. One man - almost in indignation - told me: "I've voted for Labour for 30 years - who else would I vote for."
The reported turn-out was a worry - we'd heard figures of 38% - so we were fighting for every vote.

As it was, it wasn't close. The Bollywood Glamour of Tony Lit failed to convince voters. They chose the person they felt would best serve them - a decent and hard-working local candidate.

Well done to Joan Ryan, Tom Watson and Keith Vaz. A difficult campaign but a fantastic result. Seeing Tory strategist Grant Shapps trying to justify a 0.9% increase in the Tory share of the vote as a good result on Sky News has just become one of my highlights of the year so far.

Monday, 16 July 2007

'The Forgotten City'

So why was Hull 'forgotten' during the floods?

Though not forgotten by the Government or the three Labour MPs (who kept ministers fully briefed about the unfurling drama) it's fair to say the media missed out.

Although we suffered the most, the media demanded a watery backdrop for their lives, pre-records and photos.

Rolling news now defines which locations become the story. Toll Bar was still flooded days the initial delugue so it enabled the BBC and ITV to wade around in galoshers and commandeer dinghies.

Unfortunately, Hull lost its water too quickly. But that didn't mean Government wasn't aware of the problem and the extent of Hull's suffering.

But the Lib Dems decided to turn it to their political advantage. Lib Dem leader Carl Minns used London-based ING Media (a PR firm that promotes Walt Disney) to spin the line that 17,000 houses had been affected and that the council would need £350 million.

This 'Forgotten City' line and the inflated figures were swallowed hook, line and sinker by the media and used as stick to beat the Government. Minns stoked it up by saying MPs weren't doing enough and were working against the council by 'playing it down.'

These fluctuating figures - one minute £350 million, then £200m - looked like we were just making it up as we were going along.

Since then, Minns has had to admit that the damage figure is closer to £131 million and that streets with 16,000 properties were effected. A crucial difference.

You might not think that matters - at least Hull's story was told. But the inflated figures of damage could lead to a drop in house prices across Hull and drive up insurance premiums for hard-working families.

The fact is that one house affected was one too much. What we need to do now is to work together - the Lib Dems, the Labour group, local MPs, Government and the city - to ensure we secure the right funding and see what lessons can learn to ensure this doesn't happen again.

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Hello again..


First, a confession.

This isn't my first blog. I did keep a record of my time training for the London Marathon earlier this year. Looking back I'm glad I did - it was a snapshot of a man in training who'd never run a mile before let alone 26 (If you're interested, I did it in 5hrs 20mins and raised £1,200 for the Spinal Injuries Association.)

But with this blog I wanted to give vent to my thoughts and opinions as a thirtysomething PR director and Labour Party activist living in London.

I hope you enjoy it.