Saturday, 23 January 2010

Coffee, football, canvassing, football...

Local Conservatives were out in Snodland and Princes Park today but I started the day in Blue Bell Hill at a coffee morning, organised by local Conservatives, and open to the general public. It was an experimental way to meet people who want to meet me but who have not yet had me on their doorstep and it worked really well. In order to avoid claims of bribery during this long campaign period people paid an entry fee, which will be donated to the Kent Wildlife Trust, and in return they got a coffee, chocolate hobnob and a chin wag with me and the local councillors. The time flew by and I am sure it is something we will do again.

I then went on to a foundation ceremony at Aylesford Football Club. They have been given a significant amount of money from the FA, the Football Foundation and TMBC to build a new pavilion on land donated by the Parish Council. The Club will have new first class facilities for grassroots football, which is hugely important for the community. Arriving in my suit and saying a few impromptu words, it was definitely the smartest I have been at a football event for some time! Tomorrow I will be back in my shorts and boots!

I then joined the afternoon canvass team for a final hour of door knocking. Lots of "good lucks" today which is always nice.

And now I am back at home watching the Tottenham v Leeds FA cup match wondering why Harry Redknapp lets Defoe take penalties...

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Towed cars update

Having written to the local police calling for the owners whose trapped and abandoned cars were towed away during the recent snow storms to be reimbursed, I was pleased to hear Kent Chief Constable Mike Fuller urging those affected to appeal the charge. The Chief Constable admitted mistakes had been made by not notifying owners before their car was towed. After the massive PR own goal that this whole incident caused I am pleased that common sense has prevailed!

All owners are being written to by Kent Police but any owner who does not get a letter should email me and I will reply with the details.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Door knocking in the rain

Having cancelled canvassing last weekend because of the snow and ice, I was determined to go out today whatever the weather and a good job too because it was absolutely pouring down! Although one canvass team did concede to the elements the other two teams braved the rain and went out across Chatham Central and Lordswood prepared with umbrellas, hats and waterproofs. I was pleased we did - the response on the doorstop was positive towards the Conservative Party and very angry with the Government. Whilst it was not a day for standing for a long time on the doorstep letting the cold air in, it was interesting to talk about the issues people are unhappy about and I have lots to follow up on now I am back in the warm and dry!

Thursday, 14 January 2010

NAO report on dementia

My Nana Crouch is in a care home with dementia and when I last visited her over 2 years ago I frightened her so much that I have not been back. One of my activists has a wife with dementia in a local care home and one of my friends has a mother with dementia and is the only remaining immediate relative looking after her. It is also an issue that I have raised with the Chief Executive and Chairman of the local hospital. Dementia is a growing cause for concern and most people know someone directly or indirectly with dementia.

So I was saddened today to read that the National Audit Office has published a report criticising the Government for not delivering on its promise to prioritise dementia services despite the condition costing more than heart disease, stroke and cancer combined.

One of the consequences of not prioritising dementia in the NHS Operational Framework is that Trusts end up focusing on other issues leaving frontline staff lacking proper training or information about how to deal with dementia patients. Some of the stories I have heard about how hospitals, including local hospitals, have dealt with dementia patients leave me feeling very sad and angry, especially as it is often a tiny alteration in behaviour that could have made the difference between good and bad/insensitive treatment. In my view Janet Davies, executive director of nursing and service delivery at the RCN hits the nail on the head. She said: 'Training and education for healthcare staff working in all settings is vital if meaningful improvements for dementia patients are to be made. Greater investment is also needed for specialist dementia nurses, who provide support for dementia patients, their carers and families.'

The ambition of the Government's strategy was right but it is outrageous that it has not become anything more than warm words. With millions of families battling daily with this devastating condition, delivery now has to be the most important part of the strategy.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A new generation of Sure Start centres

I recently visited All Saint's Sure Start Centre in Chatham with Conservative Family Spokesman Maria Miller MP. I was hugely impressed with the Centre and so was pleased today that Conservative Leader David Cameron announced plans for a new generation of Sure Start Centres to focus on the neediest families and involve organisations with a track record of helping parents.

They will be similar to Academy schools in that they will be independent institutions which operate outside local government control and are funded directly by central government.
Speaking today in London, David said he was committed to keeping Sure Start, but he will also seek to improve it by taking it back to its original purpose - namely "early intervention, increasing its focus on those who need its help most and better involving organisations with a proven track record in parenting interventions".

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Don't stop the music

Thanks to this Labour Government Aylesford Youth Club, the indoor Skate Park, M.A.P.S and many other local groups across Chatham & Aylesford could be forced to stop playing music unless it pays a new tax.

In fact churches, village halls, charity shops and sports clubs will all soon face a new £20 million tax from Gordon Brown’s Government. In the small print of some rather obscure new regulations, the Government is abolishing charities’ and voluntary groups’ long-standing exemption from music licensing rules – hitting them with unexpected new bills just for holding events with recorded music or for playing a radio.

To date, voluntary groups have not had to pay for a so-called “PPL” performance rights licence in order to play recorded music. This exemption reflects the public benefit that such organisations provide, but this is now being abolished by the Government.

This will affect church worship, charity discos, tea dances, youth clubs, dancing groups, sports clubs and even charity shops which have a radio in their staff room. The new levy will come into effect in April 2010 once the new regulations are ratified by Parliament. Unsurprisingly Conservatives can see the impact of these changes on local voluntary groups and are opposing these changes.

The Government admits that the new levies will cost voluntary groups £20 million a year. Some organisations will “cease playing music” because they cannot afford a licence, and it will hit a quarter of a million organisations – 140,000 charities, 6,750 charity shops, 66,440 sports clubs, 4,000 community buildings, 5,000 rural halls and 45,000 religious buildings.

These new levies are on top of bureaucratic rules imposed by the Licensing Act 2003, which requires expensive ‘premises licences’ for village halls to hold regular small-scale social functions, and which has imposed new red tape to play unamplified live music.

It is quite clear that this is another Labour assault on the fabric of British community life. Having effectively shut down post offices and local pubs across Kent, Labour now have our village halls, scout huts, charity shops and churches in their sights. This is a heartless tax on community buildings and charities. The Government should think again.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Towed cars from Blue Bell Hill

I was contacted yesterday afternoon by a gentleman who had his car towed away by Kent Police after he was forced to abandon it in Blue Bell Hill in Wednesday night's snow storm. The car has been impounded in Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey and it will cost £150 to release it plus a further £20 extra for each day it is held. His story is similar to others including a lady from Ditton who has been talking about her experience on local radio and television.

There are a number of questions that need to be answered here:

1) Cars that are abandoned don't tend to be blocking roads etc - most get pushed into the sidings as much as possible - so if they weren't in a dangerous place why were they towed;

2) If they were going to be towed why weren't the owners notified - with the overwhelming amount of information about each and everyone of us on State-controlled databases, I find it almost impossible to believe that the police couldn't match a registration number with a telephone number; and

3) Why Queenborough?! It's 20 miles away for starters and this morning BBC Radio Kent is reporting that the Sheppey Bridge is closed due to the bad weather so even if owners wanted to go pick them up they can't! It is totally impractical especially since the owners now don't have a car and it is almost impossible to get there by public transport.

I have contacted Kent Police and asked for an explanation.

Snow canvassing today!

Sadly our first canvassing session of 2010 has been postponed due to the weather which came as no surprise when I opened my curtains this morning to see fresh snow in Aylesford. This follows the rather tricky drive I made to and from Snodland last night - New Hythe Lane was pretty treacherous and although it is probably fair to say that I was driving over-cautiously there were some drivers who were going far to fast for the conditions. I avoided Larkfield on the way back to Aylesford and instead got caught in a blizzard on the M20! The girls' football match tomorrow joined the long list of professional football cancellations as Luton Rec is unplayable - not that the girls would have minded playing in the snow; it's their loonliness that I love!!!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

2010 - The Year for Change?

Happy New Year! I hope readers managed to relax over the festive period. Other than a brief delivery session and a few telephone calls, I and the team managed some downtime in preparation for the next few months of very very hard work.

I don't know whether I will stick to my exercise regime or if I will actually cut down on the ham, egg and chips; but I do know that there will be a General Election by June of this year. Well as the new Conservative advert says, this is the "Year for Change".

It is not just nationally that change is needed but locally too. So bring on the election. It is time.