Friday, 23 July 2010

On BBC Radio Tees again

At 7.15 this morning I was on the John Foster morning programme on BBC Radio Tees talking about the Special Cabinet meeting to be held next week. Cabinet will be considering proposed cuts of £2.6million: the first tranche towards the eventual expected target of £22million of cuts.

Should you be so moved, you can listen again here. Go forward to 1 hour 11m 30s.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cockerton West by-election result

Today's Darlington Borough Council Cockerton West by-election, caused by the election of a former Labour Councillor to be our new MP, resulted in a hold for Labour, though a spirited Lib Dem showing squeezed the Conservative vote right down and produced a much closer result than most people expected.

The result, with the 2007 result in brackets:

Labour 388; 45% (515; 41%),
Lib Dem 347; 40% (263; 21%),
Cons 84; 10%
(308; 25%),
BNP 41; 5% (167; 13%).

The turnout was just 29%.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Heads show common sense

The Northern Echo's report on the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future includes case studies where local head teachers give their views. Longfield's Head, Keith Cotgrave, expresses his disappointment but insists that the work which has already gone into the bid will not be wasted. He makes the point that what is most important is what happens inside the school, with which he is very happy. A headteacher from Bishop Auckland makes a similar point.

Contrast this with the near-hysterical views of Darlington's Cabinet member for Young People: "A devastating, short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. The long-term impact on education, community cohesion and the economy will haunt this Government for years to come." Oh, purleese. Calm down dear.

Much as I regret that Darlington will not be receiving the money it was hoping for to renovate three local schools, the crocodile tears being shed over this by some local Labour politicians somehow fail to move me.

The Labour Government left a huge black hole in our public finances: they simply did not have the funds to honour their school building spending pledges. By falsely raising the hopes of local children and parents by promising them new school buildings which they had no hope of providing, the Labour Party has shown us why they deserve their place in the political wilderness.

The Government's Building Schools for the Future programme was bureaucratic and wasteful. It was characterised by massive overspends, lengthy delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy: funnily enough, an accurate description of some of our local Labour Council's favourite projects!

Local Labour politicians complain about “not getting the money we were promised.” Yet we now know that this BSF money to Darlington was not promised, no contracts had been signed and the money simply wasn’t there.

The Labour government committed itself to spending money it did not have. Making unfunded spending promises and raising false hopes was dishonest and cynical. We now have a Coalition Government which is prepared to be open and honest about the difficulties we face and is prepared to do something about them.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Save the Forum campaign "extraordinary"

The power of an internet-based campaign! In just four days, the "Save the Forum" Facebook campaign has attracted just short of 2500 members while the editor of the Northern Echo has just tweeted that they have never had so many letters from the public on any issue. He's clearing a whole page in tomorrow's paper. "Extraordinary!" says Peter Barron, the editor.

With a huge town hall rally planned for next Tuesday evening before Cabinet meets, I imagine those responsible for declining a request for an £80,000 loan from the owner of the Forum to enable it to be turned into a community business might be regretting their original decision. Dave Cox isn't asking for a grant; he isn't asking for a loan on the back of which he hopes to make a profit, he's asking for an unsecured loan to enable the business to attract other funding so that it can be turned into a non-profit making social community enterprise.

The tide of opinion is definitely moving in support of the Forum. Will those at the top of the Council realise the extent of anger about this or will they plough on regardless? It would seem the latter. Deputy Council Leader Bill Dixon says it is "simply impossible" for the Council to make an unsecured loan to a loss-making business at a time when local government cuts are taking place.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Forum to close?

Within 24 hours, over 1600 mainly young people have joined the Facebook campaign to save the Forum music centre in Darlington. I only found out about this this afternoon and am not yet fully aware of the exact details of the financial reasons for its impending closure, though the blame is being laid squarely on the shoulders of the Council for deciding to withdraw financial support.
I cannot recall seeing any documents about this, but I'm sure, if such a decision has been made, there will have been a full and open democratic airing of the matter. After all, as well as the jobs of the staff and the owner, any decision which leads to the closure of such a venue will have a direct effect on many hundreds, if not thousands, of young people across the Borough. I've written to the Chief Executive asking her to point me in the direction of
the papers referring to this matter.

In the event that there has no democratic discussion, and I didn't just miss it, I have asked that councillors be provided with a full briefing as soon as possible.

I've been to the Forum a few times. It's a unique music venue which offers something quite unusual for Darlington: somewhere that young people seem happy to call their own. Events here attract much more support than the same things would at the Arts Centre, because at the Forum kids can relax and take ownership of the place. The Arts Centre, for all its great facilities and breadth of events, remains a Council-owned facility and, as such, is less inviting to a Forum audience.

The loss of such a facility in the heart of what the Council hopes will become our Cultural Quarter will be a severe blow to the hundreds of people who use the place, not to mention the owner and his staff. If no way can be found for the Council to support this music venue Darlington will be a lesser place. On the face of it, the sums required do not seem excessive in view of the return our community receives from it.

Many hundreds of young people in the town are going to learn more about real politics over the next few weeks than they will in years of classes at school. They're already learning how to lobby their MP, who is acutely aware from her own experience of the role this place plays in many peoples' lives.