Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Another step towards our community library

On Friday last week, the next heavy lifting job on the route to creating our community library at Marley Hill Community Centre was carried out. I took my land rover and trailer to Gateshead Civic Centre to collect 3 wardrobe sized cupboards to take to the community centre. Today, after a meeting about Gateshead Council's budget, I picked up the shelves and brackets. The next job is to bolt the cupboards to the wall and then put the shelves in. And once that is done, I will be able to get the huge pile of books stored under the stage into the cupboards and at last, our community library will be open for business.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Making history

I had a site visit today to Washingwell Woods, in my ward of Whickham South and Sunniside in Gateshead with a member of the Sunniside History Society (of which I am a member). I have an ambitious agenda of promoting the history of the woods and developing further its use as a recreational area. The site visit today was to stimulate ideas and look at possibilities. So for 2 hours we plodded through mud and streams and looked at abandoned quarries, the site of a Roman fort, the location of a demolished medieval manor house, a pond used in the 17th - 18th century to cool the wooden wheels of an early railway, a sunken waggonway and the foundations of lots of buildings that are no longer standing.

The place is packed with history and we are hoping to draw this out for everyone to enjoy. Pulling together a funding package to ensure this happens is going to be a big challenge but that was achieved for the Butterfly Bridge in the Derwent Valley. I'm sure we will be able to do the same at Washingwell.

Better early than on time or better late than never?

Labour MP for Blaydon, David Anderson, seems to have decided that it is time to make a foray into the Lib Dem Whickham heartland of his constituency. He announced that on Saturday 18th January, he would be holding a surgery in the Village. Spotting the Labour party in Whickham is like trying to see the Loch Ness monster - sightings are rare and most can be explained as something else. So a genuine siting of Labour in Whickham is something for the history books. Alas, no such sightings were made of any Labour activity in my ward, but with the local elections now on the horizon, the Labour party have made an appearance in Whickham North and Dunston Hill and Whickham East wards, both of which used to be represented by Labour - though the latter ward still has two Labour councillors but enjoys the benefit of having a Lib Dem councillor as well. A letter from Mr Anderson to residents about his surgery (which is the first in the Village from some time) was delivered last week.

As this is a letter that carries the Labour logo, I was a bit surprised that the address used is that of his taxpayer funded office. Anyway, moving on from that, I was also a bit surprised that me Anderson's letter also claimed that our local park "has been awarded almost £1 million of lottery funding." As this decision has not yet been taken, Mr Anderson's announcement is, at best, rather premature. The park, thanks to the Friends of Chase Park Group, have successfully applied for £66,000 which will be used to put a case for a grant of nearly £1 million to restore the park. So there is a long way to go before anyone can claim the grant has been awarded. Let's just hope that Mr Anderson's statement does not prejudice the application. Meanwhile, the local residents' Facebook pages have not exactly been complimentary about Mr Anderson's premature exclamation!

But if Mr Anderson's approach last week was one of "better early than on time", his mantra for this week is "better late than never". He is calling on Labour councillors to reject the fire authority budget and the cuts that will result if it is to be passed. We are right on the eve of the decision and I am told that only 2 MPs responded to the official consultation - Alan Campbell and Catherine McKinnell. Even had Mr Anderson responded to the official consultation, a call at the last moment for the proposals to be rejected seems a bit late in the day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Working the patch in Gateshead

Despite the rain, yesterday was a good campaign day in Gateshead. We piled in to Low Fell and Chowdene wards, both just outside Blaydon constituency. I ended up delivering Focuses in the morning, did photos at lunchtime and door knocking in the afternoon.

I appear however to have been excused from deliveries in Lobley Hill and Dunston Hill. The latest edition of Focus started being delivered there last week but the delivery teams in both wards are coping without my having to wear out my own shoe leather. Meanwhile, I still have some Focuses left to deliver in Blaydon ward. We'll complete that job shortly.

My next job however is almost done. My next edition of eFocus is almost ready to be emailed out. The target is to send it out tonight. No shoe leather required! Just press the button!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Another non-admission from Labour that they got it wrong in government

In the week that yet more good news on the economy (inflation, house sales and retail sales) hit the headlines, Labour Leader Ed Moribund has announced that yet again, Labour screwed up when they were running the country. Okay, they didn’t say they screwed up, but Miliband’s attacks on the market dominance of the big five banks has to be taken as an admission that they messed up under Blair and especially Brown. After all, the move to create the Lloyds Banking Group by merging Lloyds TSB and HBOS came straight from the bowels of 10 Downing Street when Miliband was in the cabinet. Now that he has discovered that competition was reduced by this merger, he may wish to dwell on the fact that Labour had to suspend competition law to force through their disastrous Lloyds/HBOS merger. In other words, they knowingly reduced competition in the vain hope that nationalisation of the banks could be avoided. Now, Miliband is pointing the finger of blame at a decision in which he has a share of the blame.

The question now is, where have Labour been for the past 4 years? Most of their solutions have been lifted from the pages of Coalition documents. For example, they call for the creation of two new banks from RBS and Lloyds, though this is already happening. They demand that the likes of Lloyds be forced to sell branches. This is happening. Perhaps Rip Van Winkle has been writing Miliband’s speeches.

It is interesting to watch the “socialist” comrades on my patch in the North East be incredulous with rage when they are accused of allowing the Big Six energy companies to be formed when they were in office. It will be interesting to see how they respond when they are reminded that they allowed, indeed promoted, the creation of gigantic banking corporations.

Labour will now do what they can to detract attention away from the economic recovery they predicted would never happen. So watch out for more Miliband speeches in which he attacks the legacy of the government of which he was a part without accepting any responsibility for the decisions that created that legacy.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Self-Sufficient in Suburbia - Autumn 2013

In September, when BBC's "Inside Out" programme (they followed me as I became self-sufficient) was broadcast, the videos I make about our horticultural and kitchen activities were also featured. With over three million viewings on YouTube, I must be doing something right!

This video was filmed after the programme went out and covers our food growing activities in the autumn.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Delivering in Blaydon

After my ward surgery this morning in Sunniside, I headed down to Blaydon ward to spend a couple of hours delivering our latest Focus. It gave me the opportunity to look at the new housing development that has taken place at Axwell Hall. Fortunately the day was sunny though cold. No soaked clothes or boots today!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A1 consultation meeting

The Coalition Government have already announced that they are going to invest £64 million in upgrading the A1 in Gateshead between Lobley Hill and Dunston. More recently, ministers have said they are prepared to look at extending the improvements to upgrade the road from the south of the Team Valley to Lobley Hill and from Dunston to the Metrocentre as well.

The Highways Agency held a consultation event this evening in Dunston with councillors which I attended with my two ward colleagues John McClurey and Marilynn Ord (we are all pictured above). Work is likely to start in August and be completed in 2016. Assuming the full package goes ahead, this will be one of the most important transport improvements in Gateshead for over 20 years.

Chaos in the ranks - my Labour source shines a bit of light

I hear on the grapevine that Labour in Gateshead had a very unhappy group meeting before the last full council meeting. Discontent was bubbling to the surface from some of those with a less than average span of time on the authority. My source only gave me a short burst of light so I am forced to speculate on the causes though, whatever the reasons, we know it caused the Labour group to drag on for far longer than normal. One of the hints I was given though was that the Labour leadership are having to deal with backbenchers elected in recent years who are not content to wait much longer for opportunities to move up the political ladder. Given that the Labour leadership has been largely unchanged for years and years (one springs to mind who has been in the leadership grouping for 30 years), and that one person outside the cabinet is named regularly by Labour insiders as ambitious and interested in promotional opportunities, we are forced to speculate on the grip of Labour group leader Mick Henry.

We did not have to wait long to see the Labour group's disunity in action. Three days later at full council, the divisions broke out into the open. I counted 7 Labour members, including the mayor, vote against the Labour group on the key issue of the Local Plan. My colleagues think there may even have been 8 but we will find out the exact number when we get the minutes of the meeting. In a sense, I feel sorry for Mick Henry as he was absent from part of the meeting feeling unwell - the part of the meeting which saw the rebellion. His deputy, Martin Gannon, temporarily led the Labour group. Alas, poor Martin, his 40 minutes of leadership was marked by the biggest Labour rebellion I have seen in all my years on the Council.

The question now has to be asked - is Mick Henry strong enough to take action against his rebels. And by action, I don't just mean a slap on the wrist and a polite request that they aren't naughty again. Any sanctions need to be public. If we hear nothing, we have to assume Mick's position is too weak for him to take action. If sanctions are taken and are announced publicly, we can assume Mick's position is secure.

So far we have heard nothing......

Meanwhile, my sources tell me that in Ryton ward, where unfortunately Labour have won 2 of our 3 seats in recent years, (we are defending our 3rd seat there in May) there was a bit of a panic when the "socialist" brothers and sisters found Christmas cards from Lib Dem Councillor Christine McHatton were being delivered to every house. I am told that Labour rushed to do their own in response and that an email was sent out to Labour members asking for help to deliver them 2 days before Christmas. Alas, I was not told what response the email got but I understand that not many residents got any "socialist" seasonal greetings. We expect the local paper and card recycling industry to be taking delivery of a large sack of undelivered envelopes any time soon!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Suits you

In years gone by, my suit was worn on an almost daily basis. From my days as a trainee Marks and Spencer manager, to the time when I was based in an office at the former Lib Dem HQ of Cowley Street, suit wearing was the norm. With those days behind me, most people now expect to see me in my wellies and scruffy clothes I wear for mucking out the goats or digging up potatoes. The suit is dusted down for council meetings and occasional other events.

Alas, yesterday was one of those special events - though in reality it was just a photo shoot for a Focus newsletter. Given all the rain we have had recently, it was a pleasant experience to be able to feed my livestock early in the morning without getting a soaking from the rain. I then slipped into the suit and headed down to Blaydon for the photos. I arrived just as the rain did. It lasted as long as we were there. The moment I got home, the rain stopped. The suit was hung up to dry and I got back into my gardening kit ready to clean out my duck house. It seems as though the weather is not my greatest friend at the moment, though this probably won't stop the "socialist" comrades of the Labour party blaming the Lib Dems for the floods.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

My personal highlights of 2013

2013 was a bloody good year for me so here are some of my personal highlights (not in any particular order).
  • Becoming self-sufficient. In August the weekly shop at the supermarket ended. We rely now on food we have produced ourselves, picked wild or traded, using our own produce as currency.
  • Setting up the allotment cafe at Marley Hill Community Centre. We’ve held them monthly since March but in 2014 we are looking to hold them more regularly.
  • Getting a honey crop. This was a year late. We started beekeeping in 2011 but 2012 was a disastrous year for bees because the weather was so bad. This year we got our first honey crop and as of December, we had sold out of honey.
  • Filming with the BBC. After six months of filming on the allotment, starting in March, the “Inside Out” programme about how I became self-sufficient was broadcast in September. Last minute filming meant I had to miss party conference.
  • 3 million viewings. I reached this milestone on YouTube in the late summer. And the monthly payments from Google for advertising revenue keep rolling in.
  • Cruising the Rhine. Our June holiday nearly did not happen. The Rhine had suffered its worst flooding in 400 years. A last minute change to the itinerary and a flight from Newcastle to Frankfurt rather than Switzerland meant it went ahead.
  • Visiting Berlin. I had wanted to visit the German capital for ages and in August, the opportunity came up. On this trip I concentrated on looking at the relics of the failed socialist era. I’ll do another visit at some point to look at relics from the Nazi period.
  • Goat keeping. In September I got my first 2 goats – and discovered the huge bureaucracy that comes with goat keeping.
  • Incubating eggs. I got an incubator for Christmas 2012 so we spent the year hatching chicks and ducklings.
  • Healthy living. I managed to keep up my record of not needing to visit a GP. My last visit was in 1998. However, I had to go to the dentist for the first time since 1986 and my first visit to the optician since 1986 also took place. I now have reading glasses.
  • Turning 50.