Sunday, 23 December 2007

Winding down.

This last week consisted of Keith at the Northfield Healthy Communities and Older People group meeting where the constituency partners are all involved in trying to improve the health of our residents, the Education O & S, a meeting of chairs of Scrutiny and a meeting of the Vulnerable Children's O & S Committee.
Sue was decorating, shopping, and attending schools Christmas shows.
On Saturday morning we had the final gathering of volunteers who came to Longbridge to distribute our Christmas Cards. These are not bumper packs of personal cards but 11000 cards printed by the Council. There is a photo of us on the front, put it on the mantelpiece and it keeps the kids away from the fire. Inside it has our contact details and Advice Surgery details. There are also some useful numbers and a calendar on the rear face. All Councillors are entitled to them and we find them a useful means of communication.
Afterwards we met up at the Cock Inn for refreshments. This is our favourite pub in Longbridge. The owners, who only took over early this year have used the smoking ban to extend the menu and the food is to be recommended. This week we went there on Wednesday pm after judging the lights. Sue had Glastonbury lamb in a red wine and mint sauce, absolutely superb, Keith tasted it and wished he had chosen it but hie steak and ale pudding was tasty and filling. The pub is run by Damian and his partner, who are a gay couple. How we have come on when two gay men can take on a pub in a strong working class area and be accepted without a murmur, just one more reason why we are so proud of Longbridge.
That's it for this year. May we take the opportunity to wish everyone a merry Christmas and we hope that your New Year is safe, happy, healthy and prosperous.
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Frankley Christmas lights competition

For the second year running Sue and Keith had the pleasure of judging the Frankley Christmas Lights Competition, sponsored by New Frankley in Birmingham Parish Council.
It was a bitterly cold evening which may explain why our sensitive MP and our Labour Councillor did not turn up. However we Conservatives are made of sterner stuff and visited each of the 12 entrants and had a good look at their efforts. It is impossible to convey in a photo the music and movement of the displays but we hope these give you some idea of how good they looked and the work that goes into them. Altogether a joy to everyone. We are putting up some of the other entrants for you to see. The final one is in Mowbray/Fabian, it won last year but was not entered this year but is well worth taking the kids to see if you get the chance.

1st place

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2nd place. Santa's grotto

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3rd place

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Christmas party season starts here.

Last Saturday saw the first of the Christmas parties. We enjoyed a meal with the "Reaside Mob" who form the committee of the Reaside Community Centre of which we are members. Like a lot of our tenants halls, the Reaside had been somewhat forgotten and was looking very tired and neglected. We persuaded the Constituency office to complete a list of outstanding repairs and put some NRF money into a new kitchen. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress came along to perform a re-opening and a new future beckons. It still suffers from insufficient numbers on the committee and help with events but this is an issue we hope to address in the new year. A lot of parents enjoy the opportunity of leaving their kids there on Friday nights for a disco while they pop out for a drink but do not want to get involved in staying there to help out. This means that fewer kids can be accommodated because of lower numbers of adults to supervise them. At one stage the police asked if the numbers could be increased to about 100 but could offer no assistance in reaching this.
On Wednesday Mike Whitby threw a bash in the Conservative Group Rooms. This went very well but Keith had to leave to go to the Education O & S Committee.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

A message from our MP

We have no idea how many people view this blog and we don't get many comments but it does seem that our sitting MP keeps an eye on it. We are quite happy for him to do this, hopefully it will let him know about whats happening in this part of his constituency.

We received the following message from him:

Dear Keith and Sue
I am told your blog contains the following allegation:

" All our fundraising efforts are designed to ensure that when an election is called Keely will have enough funds to compete with a sitting MP who is sitting on a sackful of money"

As I assume you accept responsibility for the contents of your blog, Would(sic) you please inform me in writing, what evidence you have for the allegation about me and what you mean by it.

Yours sincerely

Richard Burden MP

We suppose with all the dodgy donor stories doing the rounds at the moment all Labour MPs must be feeling a tad sensitive but Mr Burden need have no fear. This was merely a reference to the extremely generous salary that all MPs receive from the taxpayers. It does seem to us that his questions were in the wrong order, surely he meant what do we mean and where is the evidence, not the other way round. Still Mr Burden has never been appointed to any ministerial position so we don't suppose his grammatical skills matter too much.
This set us in mind of some of our experiences of campaigning over the years.
When Keith was first elected he stood against 3 Labour candidates. 2 were sitting Councillors, the 3rd was Fiona Saxon who was, we believe, an employee of Richard Burden who worked in his office and was presumably paid through his office allowance.
For the last 2 years the Labour candidate in Longbridge has been Amy Watson. She is also an employee of Mr Burden, her title, we believe, is Community Liaison Officer.
This is not in any way a personal attack on either of them, Amy is a personable and friendly young woman who we regard as being professional, hard working and politically experienced. She is a formidable opponent. She does in fact have a young son who was born not long before one of the campaigns. His name is Arlo, presumably named after Arlo Guthrie, He was an American singer who sang about the plight of the "Dust-Bowl" farmers and is a bit of a left wing icon. Keith always gets mixed up and calls him Aaron, which is Elvis Presley's middle name. Elvis was an alleged FBI agent and a bit right-wing so therefore not a favourite of the left. Keith promises to do better and remember to ask after Arlo and not Aaron in future.
To get back to the point, when Keith stood in 2004 he was working as a lorry driver. This meant long hours of hard, physical work and 1 and sometimes 2 nights away from home each week, not the ideal circumstances to be trying to win a seat against established Councillors and a member of an MPs staff.
Amy actually appeared in a leaflet Mr Burden distributed as a Parliamentary newsletter. The circumstances were that at a Longbridge Ward Committee Keith started extolling the virtues of the Neighbourhood Caretaker Scheme which we were running, Sue said after the meeting that when I was speaking Mr burden was scribbling furiously and she expected him to use this item at some future date. Sure enough a little while later up popped this newsletter with a picture of Mr Burden, Amy and 2 of the Neighbourhood Caretakers. Amy was listed as his Community Liaison Officer, no mention of a candidature at the time although as it was before the election was called there was no requirement for this. One of the outcomes of this episode was that all Council Employees were advised not to get involved with having their photos taken with politicians which could appear to endorse any candidate. That is why on our blog you will very rarely see a photo of a Council Officer except in exceptional circumstances were we want to pay tribute to them and the work they do. It also taught Keith to be a little bit circumspect when Mr Burden is in attendance.
Now we are quite sure that all this is perfectly within the rules, electorally and as far as the expenditure of Parliamentary expenses etc are concerned. It is merely to point out that no matter what advantages your opposition may have, you can still win, you can keep on winning and you can increase your majority, so get out there and fight! If of course there are any factual errors in this report we would be perfectly prepared to publish a correction, we believe that the truth is always sufficient and welcome comments from anyone who feels that we have the facts wrong.
Personal opinions are another matter but we enjoy a good argument.

A mixed week

Just to let you know what we have been up to this week.
Keith is still recovering from his hip operation but is gradually easing back into things. He managed a short drive on Tuesday to see a constituent with a problem. This involved using muscles which he has not been using since the op but came through fairly well. Afterwards a meeting of the Great Park Business Group followed but as the police were unable to attend there were no crime figures available and a little bit of a waste of time. We did hear that PC Stuart Smith had resigned. He has been an extremely hardworking officer and made a real difference to the area. He will be missed but the upside of it is that he is joining the Kickz Project at BCFC.
Sue actually chaired the meeting at St. Andrews on Thursday of the city wide Kickz Project. This has been very successful in London were it was mainly funded by the Metropolitan Police who recognised how useful it was in diverting youths away from crime. We can only hope that West Midlands Police show such judgement. We always live in hope.
we both went into the Council House for a meeting on Wednesday only to find that it had been cancelled. A bit of window shopping down the Bull Ring followed but by the time we got back Keith was feeling the effects. He had already had a long walk in the morning and a very uncomfortable night followed. That'll teach him!
Luckily another meeting early on Thursday was also cancelled so Keith was able to rest up.
There was a full day on Friday, Keith went to a meeting of the Northfield Strategic Partnership in the morning followed by a meeting of Chairs of O & S at the Council House and then off to Frankley to talk to the Ward Support Officer and the Constituency lead on the Safer, Greener project. This was to discuss ideas for using up our remaining NRF allocation and trying to look forward to next year when the system changes.
Sue has also been busy in the Ward supporting several projects which are contributing to the improvements to the quality of life of everyone.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Opening of Longbridge Innovation Building

A breakfast meeting this am at Longbridge Technology Park. We were there at 8.15 to listen to Liam Byrne MP. Who says we don't earn our crust? It was the long
awaited official opening of the Innovation Building, although it has been open for some time and already has over 40% occupancy.
Afterwards we listened to Mr Byrne presenting the Regional Investment Strategy. This will show the way that investment will come into the region and what local leaders will have to do to ensure that this bears fruit over the next few years. Keith managed to ask a question about how the government will get all the "neets" out of bed, into training and into jobs. Mr Byrne gave a long winded answer about the need to do this but no hint or suggestion about HOW we can do it. Same old same old. We suppose we will have to wait for a Conservative government with its ideas on the Wisconsin experience before we get any answers.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Back to normal.

After the Michael Gove visit it was back to the grind yesterday.
Keith was at the Coordinating Committee followed by a pre-agenda meeting for the Vulnerable Children's Committee.
Sue went to a girly lunch with friends she worked with at the BMA. A good time apparently.
That evening we both popped in to a punch & mince pies do put on by Northfield Conservative branch and then on to the Allens Cross Working Mans Club for the Northfield Constituency Housing Liaison Boards Christmas party. Members of the HLBs give up their own time to look after the interests of tenants and leaseholders in their wards and are part of the great voluntary movement of which little is heard but which does so much to improve conditions for so many people. Most people will get involved when there is an issue which directly concerns them but it is the folk who put in the day to day nitty-gritty work to whom we owe so much.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Michael Gove at Colmers School

Today we were delighted to welcome Michael Gove MP, Shadow secretary for children, young people and schools, to Colmers School. This is an excellent school with marvellous Ofsted results and a "Whole pupil" philosophy which does a magnificent job for the people of Longbridge. The Headmaster Pete Jones and all his staff turn out young people who are a credit to our neighbourhood and together with Tony Colville, the Extended Schools Coordinator, are extending best practise to schools across the ward.
Michael had a tour of the school and then met up with the School Council for lunch. A really impressive bunch of kids who are destined to go far. Michael had some fascinating conversations and was reluctant to leave but we hope to get him back soon to visit Frankley Community High school and others, particularly when he is the Education Minister. Also there were our PPC Keely Huxtable and Community Liaison Officer Ken Wood.

The Longbridge team,Michael and Pete Jones, Headmaster.

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Michael and Ken Wood

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Keely talks to Michael

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Confirmation service

Sue was recently invited to attend a Confirmation service at St Steven's Church in Edgewood Rd. She had the pleasure of meeting the Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Rev David Urquhart. It was a marvellous celebration at a marvellous church. If people think the Church of England is on the rocks just pop along to St. Stevens and see the congregation there, you would get a very pleasant surprise.
Last Sunday we went along to another local Longbridge Church, St John the Baptist, where they were celebrating 50 years of the church and celebrating the Longbridge area in general. The Bishop was there again along with the vicar Colin Corke who is a real petrol-head and local historian. He has had a book published recently entitled "Making cars at Longbridge" as is well worth a look.

Sue puts the Bishop right on a few theological points

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Sue & the Bishop

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Catching up with photos.

We've not posted many photos lately so here are a few for you.
Before Keith went in for his surgery we had a visit to Morrisons by the "Breath easy" Bus. This offers free checks to people to identify any cardio-thoracic problems they may have. It mostly involves blowing long and hard into a tube to test lung capacity. In order to get some good photos Keith had to do it 4 times, thats probably why he looks a bit pasty faced in this shot which was taken afterwards. If you see the bus anywhere go and take the test, especially if you smoke.

Cardiac check

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Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A wheelie bad idea.

Yesterday's Council meeting consisted of false outrage and crocodile tears. Sir Albert jumped on the passing pay & grading bandwagon, urged on by his trade union friends. Although the single status agreement was signed about 10 years ago the Labour Party did nothing about it. They looked at it, found it would be very difficult and tortuous and said " no thanks Guv. Now the deadline for sorting this out looms and Alan Rudge has worked mightily to get a scheme together which complies with the legal requirements of equal pay law and the single status agreement, using the national pay scales agreed, no demanded on, by the unions. There are some employees whose salary will drop due to them receiving a higher pay grade than the job calls for but even their salaries will be protected for 3 years, the maximum allowed by law.The unions will huff & puff but I think back to my days as a TGWU shop Steward and I don't think they will have enough support to be able to do a lot of damage and they will quickly lose the support of the citizens if they leave the rubbish uncollected. Most people see council workers as overpaid and under-worked. This is a very unfair view as the majority of workers I meet are dedicated to their work but who said life was fair?
There was also a threatened kerfuffle about a Scrutiny report calling for pilot schemes using wheelie bins for recyclates and green waste. We believe this is a Trojan Horse to get wheelie bins adopted across the city. This will also involve all the other things associated with them, fortnightly collections, chips and "pay as you throw". It would also mean extensive capital outlay which the city cannot afford.
Keith's view is also coloured by the topography of Longbridge. The area stands on a sandstone outcrop of the Lickey Hills and is very convoluted. We have many hills around here with roads cut into the side of them. This means that to get from a front door to the kerbside can mean going up or down a great number of steps, to do this whilst pulling a heavily loaded wheelie bin would be dangerous if not impossible for thousands of householders. Bags are not perfect but they are manageable and flexible, you can put out as many or as few as required. That is why we will always oppose wheelie bins in Longbridge.
There had been fears that Labour and some Lib-Dems would combine to defeat us on this but in the end it rather fizzled out.
Sue and I had already agreed to attend a charity function and it looked at one stage that we would have to miss it but we managed to get paired and got there just in time. A good job really as Keith won first prize in the raffle, a 36" flat screen tv...RESULT!!

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Fundraising, the honest way.

On Wednesday evening Northfield Conservative Association held it's annual dinner at the Clarendon Suite. It was an enjoyable evening but a lot of hard work.
During the run up we suffered withdrawals by 3 senior names, a change of date and were on the verge of cancelling several times. However, thanks to the people who attended we made a few quid on the ticket sales, £186 on the raffle and about £30 on a quiz, all arranged by Keely Huxtable who must have felt like tearing her hair out at times.
This is the reality of fundraising for the majority of associations, the money comes in dribs and drabs, not in large cheques from insiders.
Our main guest and speaker was David Liddington MP. He is No2 to William Hague. He is an excellent speaker and only a train timetable cut short the time we wanted to listen to him.
All our fundraising efforts are designed to ensure that when an election is called Keely will have enough funds to compete with a sitting MP who is sitting on a sackful of money.
All local elections are funded by the wards themselves and this requires another effort to keep funds topped up. Most Conservative Councillors we know, including ourselves, pay into Ward funds to make sure that we do not lose our seats through lack of money for leaflets, posters, postage etc. It is an expensive business fighting elections and all the coffee mornings, social events, quizzes etc although enjoyable at the time are all hard work which at least encourages teamwork throughout the organisation.