Dancing at the Monday Night Club

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Adult Care, Events, News | Posted on 17-04-2014

On Monday evening I joined the Easter party at the Monday Night Club (http://mondaynightclub.wordpress.com/), a social club for people with a learning disability or on the autistic spectrum. It was an Alice in Wonderland themed fancy dress party, but I’m afraid I failed to turn up dressed for the part!

I was invited by Helen Gill, whose daughter Laura set up the club in 2011. As Laura says: “When I left college I lost all my social life and missed my friends. I was at home every evening. I started The Monday Night Club so we could get together, make new friends and have some fun!” Laura has been made a Young Ambassador for Mencap for her work with the club. They started with a small group of about 30 friends, but word quickly spread, and they now welcome about 100 people to the club every Monday night.

The club are trying to raise funds to buy their own disco equipment. The equipment they use at the Barbourne Club belongs to them. It breaks down regularly and is not very loud. Helen asked if I would be willing to help towards the cost of new equipment using my divisional fund and I was happy to oblige. I hope to continue working with the Monday Night Club to support them in any way I can.

Disco dancing at the Monday Night Club

Disco dancing at the Monday Night Club

 

Day with Filipino Community

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Events | Posted on 15-04-2014

On Sunday morning I joined members of the Worcestershire Filipino International Community (http://wficuk.org/) and helped in their litter pick on Perdiswell Park. It was great to see so many young people happy to help to improve the area.

I was invited by Edwin Vargas, the founder of WFIC, to attend their celebration of the 3rd anniversary of the Young Generation, a youth group set up to promote cultural activities such as music, singing and dance. When the guest of honour, Mayor Pat Agar, was unable to attend, I was asked to step in to give a speech! It was a great evening, with the children and young adults showing off their many talents. Plus, there was some excellent Filipino food.

I hope that I can help the Filipino community build links with other groups in Worcester, such as the Worcester Roots Foundation (www.worcesterrootsfoundation.org.uk/) and the Worcester Canal Group (www.worcestercanalgroup.org.uk/).

On a more personal note, I was particularly interested to learn that the Young Generation support New Hope (www.newhopeworcester.co.uk/), a charity working with families who have children with disabilities and complex health care needs, that my youngest son attends.

Finally, I’d like to say a big thank you for everyone for being so friendly and I even managed to pick up the odd phrase in Filipino: “Mabuhay ang kabataang Pilipino!”

Scrutiny Task Groups

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Economy, Politics | Posted on 08-04-2014

As a member of Worcestershire County Council there are a number of scrutiny roles that we take part in. I am a member of the Economy, Environment and Communities Overview & Scrutiny Panel. This covers such areas as Highways, waste disposal and libraries. Our role is to examine and question council officers responsible for these areas to ensure that they are getting value for money for taxpayers, whilst providing the best service possible.

Over the past few weeks I have also volunteered to be a member of two scrutiny task groups. These are time limited groups that look at a specific topic that has been raised by Council.

The first is looking at libraries. Members were concerned about future outcomes for the library service and the impact of budget reductions. Consequently, a pre-decision scrutiny group was formed to look at the future of libraries, including mobile libraries. Our possible terms of reference are:

  1. To consider and comment on the scope and potential outcomes of the further libraries and learning remodelling programme.
  2. To act as a “sounding board” for remodelling plans and ideas.
  3. To make recommendations to the Cabinet Member for Localism and Culture.

The second scrutiny task group is looking at the topical issue of food banks. The following Notice of Motion was agreed on 16th January 2014 by the Council:

Council notes the increase in Food Banks in the County and is worried about how residents in need of their service can gain legitimate access. Therefore, Council calls upon the Overview and Scrutiny Performance Board to investigate how this Council can help to support, co-ordinate and nuture the growing number of volunteers who wish to help with the provision of Food Banks and how we can provide advice and a co-ordinated response.

Our possible terms of reference are to examine:

  1. Why food banks exist.
  2. How food banks operate in Worcestershire.
  3. How referrals are made.
  4. The Council’s role in supporting food banks and those who volunteer.

Hopefully by volunteering for this additional scrutiny groups I can improve the outcomes for the residents in Worcestershire.

 

Flooding and how to manage it

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Climate change, Environment | Posted on 10-02-2014

Here in Worcester we’re used to flooding. However, exceptional floods in 2000, 2007, 2012 (wettest year on record) and now 2014 (wettest winter on record) tell us more about our changing climate than attempts by Eric Pickles to blame the flooding on the Environment Agency or the absence of dredging.

The 2006 Stern Report on the economics of climate change and the Pitt Report following the 2007 floods made detailed recommendations. Yet politicians continue to prioritise economic growth and concreting over more land, above work to slow catchment runoff and defend vital transport links like the main railway line at Dawlish.

River dredging might have had limited benefit in Somerset, but wasn’t done due to government spending constraints. Don’t forget that it was under this government that the total flood defence budget fell by around £100m from £670m to £573m in 2011.

Investing in measures such as schemes to plant more trees and create bogs in the uplands and making floodplains rougher by planting trees and other deep vegetation, will save money in the long-term. Largely because they haven’t done this, the government are now spending vast amounts of money having to cope with the floods.

The lesson to be learnt here is that spending money on preventative measures invariably saves money in the long-term.

The future of local government

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Politics | Posted on 09-02-2014

We appear to be reaching a point at which local authorities either need to make a stand, or roll over and die. We are heading, unknowingly, towards a future where local government has  no budget and no decision-making powers. With the expectation that councils will only run or fund statutory services in the future, there will be little room for political difference.

Our relationship with local government is changing too. Instead of being citizens, we are becoming consumers. As citizens we can demand the right to determine how services are provided, prioritized and funded. As consumers we only have the right to pay for the services on offer. However, many users of services are not, and will never be, viable ’consumers’ – and in a system where the quality of service you receive depends on your ability to pay (fundamental law of consumerism), they will get nothing. These ‘non-viable’ consumers include children in need of care services, vulnerable adults, those requiring long-term treatment or care, homeless people, the socially/physically isolated, etc. As citizens we can decide how these people are provided for, but as consumers we become powerless – other than to offer our support on a voluntary basis.

All parties are running scared of telling the public that more money is required to run services locally. This lack of money is almost completely due to the huge cuts in funding from central government. We can’t keep arguing that we need more money for adult care, children’s services, bus subsidies, helping the homeless, etc. without also arguing for an increase in council tax. (The Green Party prefers a land value tax to replace council tax, but until then it is the only option.) Councils are charging more for various services, rather than taking a more collective response, i.e., via council tax. Any attempt to raise council tax above the centrally imposed 2% threshold would force a very expensive referendum, removing much of the money generated.

This changing nature of local government means that only statutory services will be supported and many of these will be outsourced. Other services will have to rely on volunteers.

There has not been a proper debate, nor is there a good understanding in the wider public, of the consequences of this reduced role of local government. There will no longer be the political choice between, say, a higher spending and lower spending council. They will have to fund the statutory services, whoever is in charge. There will only be a small leeway in deriving efficiencies, choosing who to outsource to, etc.

This will result in a democratic deficit in local government, with a greater centralisation of power in national government. If people are happy with this, then fair enough. However, I do not believe this likely future has been thoroughly discussed and nor is it a future that I would like to see. Voter turnout is low enough already at local elections, but if whoever you vote for politically has such little impact on how much money is spent or how it is spent, then the turnout is likely to continue to fall.

The alternative is to have more decisions at the local level and to give councils the freedom to raise money and keep more of what they raise. Surely it is right that local government has more say than it does now over what happens locally?

A belated return to growth does not vindicate austerity

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Posted by Matt | Posted in Economy | Posted on 23-01-2014

Many believe that the UK’s return to growth vindicates Osborne’s austerity policies. However, the economist Chris Dillow explains how this is;

…an example of the outcome bias – the tendency to assess behaviour by results rather than by the quality of that behaviour. The fact that the economy is now growing makes Osborne’s fiscal policy look good.

This, though, is wrong.  A belated return to growth is entirely consistent with the orthodox Keynesian theory that austerity depresses output. To give Osborne credit for the recovery is like praising a taxi-driver for getting us home when he has taken us on a two-hour detour.

Instead, what we should be doing is blaming him for the detour. The belief that austerity would lead to decent growth was an unscientific one – simply a bad decision. The fact that the economy is now growing does not alter this fact.

The point is that austerity stopped the growth that existed in 2010 and then delayed its eventual arrival. The more cynical politically would suggest that this was Osborne’s plan in the first place – to engineer a boom just before the election on the basis that no-one remembers what you did at the start of your term.

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