Wednesday, 25 February 2015
Utter motorcycle madness
MUCH has been made about the need for vehicle drivers to be more aware of motorcyclists to try and help reduce the annual loss of rider lives.
There are police campaigns, council campaigns, driver campaigns and even campaigns by motorcyclists and cyclists themselves, but there is an old saying: ‘You can’t help those who won’t help themselves’.
An entire queue of lorry and car drivers – myself included – was recently left in total disbelief at the antics of one motorcyclist who was correctly dressed and riding a decent machine, so not some ton-up nutter riding a death trap.
We were all on a section of road in Weymouth where the motorcyclist decided to work his way up the queue.
My first indication of his presence was when he shot past me and then the car in front of me before being baulked by a large van.
Nothing daunted, he had a quick look past, pulled out and began to overtake... only to realise just why so many motorcyclists do die. They seem to assume that other people are watching out for them and they forget to watch out for themselves.
The moment he pulled level with the van his eyeballs must have stood out like organ stops because there smack in front of him was a central reservation pedestrian crossing point with waist-high beacons at either end.
He had nowhere to go, presumably thought it too late to brake and resorted to saving himself by risking even more lives.
In the blink of an eye he simply widened his overtaking manoeuvre and swerved round the crossing on the wrong side of the road, accelerating past the van before diving back in front of the van when he got past the crossing.
All this was in the face of oncoming traffic which was mercifully just far enough away not to have their day splattered by this Fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse.
You do see really bad driving from time to time but this was so bad we were still all talking about it several hours later.
Maybe the next time I see a ‘Think Bike’ reminder I might be encouraged to start a ‘Think of Car Drivers’ Nerves’ counter campaign.
Not April 1st yet is it?
CHANGES are to be made to the way Dorset Waste Partnership collects rubbish across Weymouth and Portland because of all the complaints it has received.
All householders must now haul their bins for several miles to two central collecting points, one being New Ground in Portland and the other, a little used park-and-ride site for Weymouth.
A convoy of rubbish lorries will then come each day to collect everything for disposal and recycling accompanied by a police escort to protect operatives from confused residents, difficult questions, the occasional lynch mob... that sort of thing.
Such a streamlining of the service is not without cost and the partnership is expected to announce a budget overspend of £74 million for 2016.
The sharp rise in costs is being blamed on having to buy a new fleet of rubbish lorries to replace the current fleet bought from Sid’s Honest Automobile and Flytipping (Trade Endorsed) Depot – or SHAFTED for short – which the partnership later discovered had been supplied without brakes. Compensation claims are still coming in.
There is also the question of exactly what is or is not rubbish, criteria that the partnership is now strictly enforcing. For instance, yoghurt pots are in but yoghurt pot tops are out... really!
Naturally residents are somewhat less than impressed by the whole sorry story.
Small wonder, then, that a review being carried out into the partnership is demanding not unreasonably that the new system work at least as well as the old one.
That did very nicely thank you but going back to that system is wheelie too much to hope for... isn’t it?
Toss of a coin voting
BARELY ten weeks to go now to the general election and it remains difficult to spot a winner as all the political donkeys bunch for a photo finish.
Labour is promising a return to the good times, the Conservatives think we’re still in the good times, the Liberal Democrats can’t remember the good times and UKIP is actually having a good time. As for the Greens? Well, the grass is always greener on the other side.
You know events are getting close to polling day when, for the first time, the number of political leaflets shoved through your letterbox exceeds the number of plastic charity bags.
With the focus on our vote, I hope you all received your brown envelope from the council confirming who in your household is entitled to vote. If your name is not ‘on ze list’ then you can’t vote. Yeah, I’ve asked for mine to be taken off too!
All joking aside, it is a sad fact of life that those who carefully listen to all the arguments, make up their mind and vote accordingly are vastly outweighed by two groups; those who were only ever going to vote one way and those who make up their mind as they walk into the polling booth.
Good luck and don’t forget to take a coin along to toss in case you are still undecided on the day.
What sort of council do you want?
"I believe this conflict has significantly damaged the town council’s reputation within the town and, to a lesser extent, with those external organisations we work with, and has had an adverse effect on member-officer relationship."
THESE are not my words, though you may have think I had written them.
They are the words of town clerk John Wright. The “conflict” he refers to is the war of words between councillors that has blighted this council’s reputation in the past couple of years.
The town clerk went further. He also said: “Those attending the annual town meeting will recall the high turnout, the low standing the town council had with those who attended and repeated claims the town council was bringing the town into disrepute.”
These statements were included in a report Mr Wright presented to the council last week on the authority’ risk management policy.
Mr Wright concluded that the conflict between councillors represented a “high risk”.
It was the second time that the town clerk had seen it necessary to warn councillors about their behaviour.
Mr Wright made this statement on returning to the council chamber after suffering a heart attack.
Those who attended last year’s annual town meeting are unlikely to forget. It was a bad night for Lyme Regis with emotions and tempers (including my own) running high.
There were calls for Mayor Sally Holman, elected to office on her own casting vote, to stand down. It was a shameful night.
It was the perfect occasion for the council to apologise to the people of Lyme for their behaviour and to state categorically that the conflict referred to by Mr Wright would end there and now.
No such apology came. In its place we had report after report of how well the town was being run, with senior councillor Mark Gage blaming all the council’s woes on “sensational” reporting in this newspaper.
He said he did not recognise the council through the columns of the View from Lyme Regis. He has maintained that opinion throughout this year and will no doubt reiterate it when the next annual town meeting is held on April 10th.
I don’t see eye-to-eye with the town clerk on some issues. But I admire and applaud him for having the guts to express his views so strongly in the public arena.
Having recovered from his heart condition, you might well have thought he didn’t really want any additional stress. It would have been easy to put it to one side
We believe his comments exonerate this newspaper from the allegations made against us.
We believe it is a total vindication.
We know our views are supported by a number of town councillors who are not considered part of Mark Gage’s fan club. And we have significant support among our readers.
We also know that there are some of you out there who think that our robust coverage of council affairs has started to make some people feel sorry for Mr Gage and his cohorts to such an extent that they may vote for them again - if they stand.
What is surprising, astonishing in fact, is that neither of the two senior members of the council, Mayor Sally Holman nor Councillor Gage, chairman of the powerful Strategy & Policy Committee, made any comment about the town clerk’s remarks.
In fact, they were totally ignored and all we got was a litany of the good work the council has been doing and how well the town is run.
What the mayor or Councillor Gage should have said at last week’s meeting was something on these lines: “We are quite sure the council members have taken on board what the town clerk has said and that he will never be put in that position again by the behaviour of councillors.”
They could then have added: “But it has not been all bad news. Here are some of the good things we have achieved this year ...”
The mayor was even quoted as saying: “This council is doing tremendously well.”
Well, I am sorry but I don’t buy into that. I’ve been around local government for a long time and I can’t recall a town clerk having to reprimand his councillors in such a manner twice! Not in this town, or indeed in any town that we cover or I have reported on over the years.
In Councillor Gage’s glowing end-of- term report last week he refers to the great improvements the council has made in financial control. Er, what about a salary being paid into the wrong account, to someone who had not worked for the council for several years?
And £10,000 being made in error or by mistake (whichever) to The Hub?
I’m not saying everything the council does is wrong, far from it. And most of our coverage, at least 80 per cent, is about the day-to-day decision making, recorded accurately and more extensively than any other newspaper. If you don’t believe us, go onto our website and have a look at our archive.
Behaviour has been much improved in recent weeks and Mr Wright’s comments refer to the conflicts that have seemingly died down. But don’t think it’s all sweetness and light. There’s a continuing distrust between the council factions.
Last week there was a snide remark about how much county councillor Daryl Turner is paid now that he has a county chairmanship (which angered his sister, town councillor Cheryl Reynolds) and whenever veteran Stan Williams gets up to speak, a man who has served this town for more than 40 years, an achievement which will never be equalled, certainly by the current crew, he is appallingly treated with tuts and groans and little respect from certain quarters.
In a few weeks time, the residents of Lyme will be going to the polls. I don’t know how many will be putting their names forward - some say as many as 18. I will be surprised if that is the case.
This town must decide what sort of council it wants - one which will engage in robust but respectful argument and debate, or one which will force the town clerk to issue more reprimands because members are bringing the town and council into disrepute.
WEYMOUTH Cricket Club chairman John Ryan was born in Weymouth, went to Portland Secondary Modern School and worked as a chef at Slingers restaurant before doing 11 years in Portland Dockyard as a caterer for Royal Marine Auxiliary Service ships. He was then assistant manager at Weymouth and Portland Snooker Club for seven years before winding up as a finance officer with Dorset County Council.
WHY do you live in Weymouth?
Because I love being beside the sea and I go swimming a lot. Living on The Esplanade you have to!
WHERE do you go for your holidays?
Funnily enough, I tend to go inland for my holidays, usually to London for sporting events. If I want some sun I go to Tenerife.
WHAT is your favourite time of the year?
Summer because of the cricket. I love the sport and always have.
WHAT is your favourite film?
Well, science fiction in general and Star Wars in particular because it just made such an impression on me when I saw it as a teenager.
WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
I was in a hot rod car getting a lift back in Florida from Coco Beach to Orlando. We were doing 150mph down a freeway when hot oil began to leak on to my back, but I was too frightened to tell the hillbilly who was driving. No seat belts!
IF YOU could live your life again what would you be?
I would love to have been a professional golfer. I played golf a bit when I was younger but never took it further.
WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Kim Cattrall the actress because she’s a Liverpool fan and so am I, Muhammad Ali because he was an icon when I was younger and because he has fought adversity and still does. Lastly I’d invite Gordon Greenidge, the West Indian Test batsman, because I used to go and watch Hampshire and he was the one who made me interested in the sport.
Tuesday, 24 February 2015
Beer and hill walking in Pulman's Country
CONGRATULATIONS to the organisers of the first ever Seaton beer festival.
Rather than put all the brews in one place, the real ale enthusiast was encouraged to explore the town with a variety of tempting beverages on offer around Seaton's many hostelries.
The Malt House embraced the idea the most, offering 16 additional ales and ciders over the weekend as well as laying on some entertainment.
But everyone joined in and my personal favourites included St Austell Brewery’s Ruck & Roll pale ale (which was being served at The Vault) and Cardiff beer Hancock's HB bitter (that went down a treat over at PJ’s).
Billed as the town’s “winter beer festival”, the focus was on darker beers and, as great as they were, I’m already looking forward to all those golden ales that will be on offer when the sun in shining at the planned summer festival later in the year.
* * *
THE weekend before last I took the chance to explore one of the many walks that have been created by the Blackdown Hills AONB.
‘The Valleyheads Way’ takes you on a 12 mile expedition across the Blackdowns, showing off the area’s beauty and the rivers Culm, Otter and Harty along the way.
It was a chilly, windy day, and all my layers of clothing stayed on despite the length of the hike and the steep, muddy ascents any walk in the Hills would naturally include.
But it was all worth the effort to take in the likes of the magnificent vista across the Culm Valley from Ridgewood Hill and the stately grounds of Burnworthy Manor, near Churchstanton.
It was hardly the most direct route from Hemyock to Staple Hill, but it was certainly the most scenic.
If you’re feeling up to the challenge, I heartily recommend it! Find out more at www.blackdownhillsaonb.org.uk, where you can also get the lowdown on this and other walks - including a few shorter ones!
Thursday, 19 February 2015
JULIE Storey was born in Dorset County Hospital, Dorchester, and went to school in Weymouth at the Convent of the Sacred Hearts before tackling a business studies course at Weymouth College. She was also a semi-professional dancer for Pontins Holidays South West and, after completing training as a dance teacher, went on to form her own hugely successful dance school. Julie is still principal of the school which is now run by her daughter, Rachel.
WHY do you live in Weymouth?
Because it is picturesque and, for a small place, it has a great variety of performing arts and a great music scene which I am very interested in.
WHERE do you go for your holidays?
I went to Colorado for my last holiday because, next to Weymouth,it is my favourite part of the world. The Rocky Mountains are so beautiful.
WHAT is your favourite time of the year?
Spring because the days are getting longer and it promises us that summer is on the way.
WHAT is your favourite film?
Dances With Wolves because I like the scenery and the feel-good storyline of a white man interacting with the Indians.
WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
Getting a moth caught in my long hair which has given me a phobia about the blessed things! I was only about 11 at the time and it flew in and started madly fluttering when it got caught in my hair. I screamed and my mother came and got it out, but I am now scared of moths.
IF YOU could live your life again what would you be?
I would probably be a famous and successful person in worldwide performing arts because that means I could be a singer, a dancer, an actress or a director. These are my passions.
WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Sean Connery because I am a James Bond fan, Gene Kelly because I am a big fan of his dancing and the Dalai Lama because I think he would be interesting.
WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
I would share the money between my family and loved ones, pay off all their debts and take us all on holiday.
WHAT do you hope the future holds?
Good health, good luck and good happiness for myself, my family and friends.
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Dodging, twitching and cadging a ride
VERY shortly I shall have to give evidence about my role as an accessory to an attempted murder.
As you might imagine, the intended victim was pretty hysterical... but then blackbirds are like that!
I’d been walking along Radipole Park Drive when I thought I’d go out on one of the wooden platforms sticking out into the lake and see what I could see.
But just as I began to step down on to the platform the aforementioned blackbird and several other feathered friends had a nervous breakdown, burst into alarm calls and threw themselves into a clump of brambles, and not a moment too soon.
Almost before I was aware it had happened a merlin, which had cunningly been using my body as cover to sneak up on a potential meal, flicked round me and shot down the boardwalk, just missing the terrified birds before climbing steeply, banking round and landing in a tree on the edge of Jubilee Sidings.
When I’d recovered my wits I went and had a close look at what is Britain’s smallest bird of prey. It was lovely, and totally focussed on a replacement meal it clearly thought was available from the nearby reedbeds. With skill like that it probably didn’t go hungry.
Like buses, you go ages without experiencing a bird incident and then several come along, the next being more light-hearted but barely a hundred metres away from the first.
I was at the railway station later when a gull came in and landed on the station’s security camera.
The camera continued to sweep back and forth across the outside car park and the gull, after a moment’s uncertainty, settled down to enjoy the ride and allowed itself to be turned first in one direction and then another. It was quite comical and I’ve certainly never seen anything like it before.
Wise words about general elections
IN my efforts to shine a little humour into the dark corners of the forthcoming general election I’ve found out that others have gone before me, whether they meant to or not.
"The English think they are free. They are free only during the election of members of parliament" - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
'Win or lose, we go shopping after the election" - Imelda Marcos
"An election is coming: universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry" - George Elliot
"I’ll be glad to reply to or dodge your questions, depending on what I think will help our election most" - George H.W. Bush
"The sight of allegedly sophisticated politicians parroting complete tripe trivialises and demeans government and it has to be stopped. It’s played a significant part in public disillusionment with politics and has led to the absurd situation where more people vote for Strictly Come Dancing than voted in the general election" - John Major
"Sooner will a camel pass through a needle’s eye than a great man be 'discovered' by an election" - Adolf Hitler
"A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen" - Winston Churchill
"The problem with political jokes is that they get elected" - Anonymous
I hope that’s made you feel a bit better. Don’t forget to recycle those election leaflets.
Fix our appalling potholed roads
IF there was ever any doubt that local roads aren’t in particularly good repair then a simple trip into Weymouth provides teeth-rattling evidence of the problem.
Driving down Quibo Lane is like being on a rollercoaster, the surface of the road undulating because of the tree roots going underneath it. It has been repaired once but the problem seems to be coming back.
Drivers then turn on to Chickerell Road and again on to Abbotsbury Road which has been so badly dug up it is a joke. Drain covers have been damaged so much that one has already had to be repaired, causing problems itself because a bollard protecting the work forced traffic to drive around it into the face of oncoming traffic.
Finally, having survived that gauntlet of potholes and subsiding trenches, drivers go over Swannery Bridge and turn down Commercial Road, almost immediately reaching the worst hazard near pedestrian lights.
It seems to be where a trench, or an underground pipe or some road patching has subsided so much that the whole car lurches down and then up again when negotiating it.
Dorset County Council has been given extra cash to cope with road repairs caused by the previous wet winter. Perhaps they could spare a few workmen and a couple of barrow loads of tarmac to deal with this.
Everything comes before sport in Lyme
AM I misguided in thinking that Lyme Regis is one of the poorest equipped towns in Dorset when it comes to the provision of sport?
I admit my view might just be tinged by life-long association with sporting Lyme and the fact that I spent thousands of many hours trying to deliver better facilities at the Strawberry Field to no avail.
Our current town council have said they would like to see some sort of recreational facilities at the Strawberry Field but there’s been very little serious consideration to what this may be.
Rumours persist that some councillors want to move the bowling club from its iconic setting on Monmouth Beach to the Charmouth Road site.
In my mind that would be a great shame, as it’s one of the few sporting activities available to Lyme’s senior generation.
In any case, cost would be a prohibitive factor in my mind.
Lyme must be the only resort in Dorset that does not have its own municipal tennis courts or tennis club. Successive town councils have failed to deliver the initial promise when the Woodmead Halls courts were dug up for what was mistakenly called the Lyme Regis Leisure Centre before reverting to its community hall basis.
The town council has been hugely supportive in making sure the town’s youngsters are well catered for with investment of more than £100,000 in The Hub youth club and another £150,000 earmarked for the new skatepark.
Hopefully, the new council when it is elected might turn its ambitions to doing more for the town’s sporting fraternity. One can be forgiven for thinking that everything at the moment comes before sport in Lyme.
One area that needs addressing is the lack of sporting facilities for women. The Strawberry Field would have rectified that with tennis courts and netball facilities.
The Strawberry Field provides the only opportunity for new facilities but it’s a difficult site - and an extremely costly one to develop for a small town.
Playing into hands of ‘I told you so’ brigade
I’M disappointed that Lyme Regis Town Council decided to take the easy way out and lease the best community room in the new Marine Parade shelters for yet another seafront café.
As the first person to recognise their commercial value, and having used them in successive years since their opening to raise £1,000 every year for Cancer Research UK, it’s a shame our councillors didn’t have the gumption to make them financially viable.
Their inclusion in the regenerated shelters was not universally popular, with many locals thinking that there were enough rooms to hire out in Lyme already. I never subscribed to that view and our Cancer Research UK events have proved they can be a great attraction.
Having finally decided to putting the Lister Room out for lease and converting the Langmoor Room into a classroom, they have finally succumbed to the “I told you so brigade” who said it would never work.
What efforts did the almost moribund tourism committee make to market these rooms properly?
The rooms have some of the most stunning views in Lyme Bay and it didn't take a GCSE in marketing to work out that some corporate groups would be prepared to pay a realistic hire charge for seminars, entertaining and staff incentives. Was any initiative taken to tap into this market?
Also, it was a real mistake offering the rooms so cheaply to charities, no matter how magnanimous. When I book the Woodmead Halls or Uplyme Village Hall for Cancer Research events, I pay the going rate, which is how it should be and we always make a profit.
We will, of course, find another way to replace that £1,000 lost - because that’s what we do.
But we won’t find anywhere half so attractive.
The only way is up for Daryl
CONGRATULATIONS to Lyme Regis county councillor Daryl Turner who has just been appointed to one of the authority’s top chairmanships.
Daryl, county member for the Marshwood Vale, also represents Lyme on the West Dorset District Council but regrettably was virtually forced to resign from the town council when they were at the waring worst.
Daryl, a county councillor for less than two years, has made a rapid rise up the ladder at County Hall, having just been appointed to the chairmanship of the important Environmental Overview Committee, which keeps a close watch on such vital services as economic development, coastal management, tourism and public health. I can’t remember another Lyme county councillor who has made such an impression at the seat of Dorset government in such a short time.
What a shame his knowledge of local government was not used to its best effect when he served on the town council, especially as it lacks so much experience.
But don’t fret, Daryl could well be on his way back as he has confirmed in this newspaper that he will definitely be putting himself forward for a town council seat in the May elections.
And if he does not get in I will eat a whole packet of Rikey Austin’s Fruit Pastilles, which she so generously dispenses at council meetings, which will send my sugar levels as well as my blood pressure sky high!
Tuesday, 17 February 2015
Long live the Chamber!
BY THE time you read this column the future of Axminster Chamber of Commerce will be known.
It would be a great shame if this once highly influential organisation in the business life of Axminster was allowed to die, especially as it is about to celebrate its 70th anniversary.
As a former acting chairman, I have always been a big advocate of small towns, especially the inland ones, having a vibrant traders’ group.
When I first started out as a reporter, the Axminster Chamber of Commerce and Industry was one of the most respected organisations in town.
It’s had a bit of a rocky ride in recent years but I’ve always felt that it is important that the chamber survives and we should applaud all those who have worked so hard to keep it going.
The resumed EGM was taking place last evening when it is more than likely that a new committee will be voted in and former chairman and chamber stalwart, Shane Morgan, will be back in the hot seat that he has occupied with such enthusiasm in the past.
IT is pleasing to see that the Axminster Hospital Action Group and the various NHS bodies responsible for the future of Axminster Hospital are now working together to find a solution.
Whilst it begs the question about why this did not happen when the possible closure of beds was first mooted, and before the NHS allocated £75,000 of money they don’t have to reverse a High Court decision to keep the beds open, the only way forward to such disputes is by reasoned negotiation.
It was even more heartwarming to hear that there is clearly no shortage in nurses looking for a job in this area. Open days at Axminster and Seaton hospitals attracted dozens of potential candidates.
The fact remains, however, that the decision to permanently close the remaining ten beds in Axminster is still very much under consideration.
We can only hope that the bridges built in the past few weeks to resolve the situation amicably produces dividends.
Wednesday, 11 February 2015
BRIDPORT residents Louise Ramsden and Heather Hamer are the driving force behind the upcoming Bridport Wildcats strike project. Louise has lived in Bridport for 12 years and works part-time as an administrator/book keeper for an educational and technical software business with her husband Neil. She has also done voluntary work for the Bridport Oxfam shop, Bridport Citizens Advice Bureau and South West Dorset LETS scheme. Heather moved to Bridport 18 months ago. She previously worked as a medical secretary and teaching basic reading and writing in a Young Offenders institution. She reinvented herself as a songwriter some six years ago and plans to continue writing in Bridport.
COULD you tell me a bit more about the 1912 Bridport Wildcats project? What will it involve?
On Saturday, February 14th at about 10.15am we will gather in Bucky Doo Square, Bridport, in our 1912 costumes and then sing songs, led by our excellent town crier Jane Silver-Corren, just as the original women did, including the Suffragette anthem "Shoulder to Shoulder ". We will then march through the streets to Amsafe (the old Gundry’s factory) where we will have our photo taken by local female photographer Rachel Dunford in the same place they did in 1912. Our aim is to highlight this little known aspect of Bridport's social/industrial/women's history, contemporary issues of equality and to have a bit of fun singing and dressing up! In addition we have been really pleased with the many spin-offs inspired by the project - singing, song-writing, a marvellous exhibition of women artists called Cre8 at the Chapel in the Garden and a play written about the women by Maya Peris of Story traders. You can find out more on our Facebook page Bridport Wildcats 1912 or email firstname.lastname@example.org it is not too late if you want to join us.
WHAT inspired you both to get involved and organise the 1912 Bridport Wildcats project?
Louise: I went to a fascinating talk by Carlos Guarita about a local photographer, Clarence Austin. There were some wonderful photographs of women net workers who in February 1912, staged a wildcat (not organised by a union) strike and protested on the streets of Bridport about unfairness at their workplace. The dignity and camaraderie of the women really struck a chord and I thought we could celebrate this spirit by re-staging the photos with modern women in costume.
Heather: Louise told me about the recreating the photograph and I loved her enthusiasm. I felt I wanted to celebrate the feisty women net-workers of Bridport who stood up to the bosses, and the way the town supported them.
ARE you both working on projects apart from the Wildcat strike?
No, Wildcats is taking up pretty much all of our time at the moment.
WHAT do you both like doing in your spare time?
Louise: I like walking, dancing, swimming and Tai Chi. I also love reading, cryptic crosswords and doing a bit of calligraphy. I am a member of the Bridport Film Society and support Bridport Arts Centre.
Heather: I like reading, walking, writing, visiting the town's coffee shops, researching my own family tree, also researching local history. I also support Bridport Arts Centre. After this project I'm going to take it easy and just enjoy the area for a while - though I'm always open to discovering new projects. I was involved (with my ex-partner) in two recording projects last year for Bridport FM - the "Love to Sing" project for local amateur singers, and a collaboration of songs/stories written by the local creative writing group, The Story Traders.
WHAT drew you both to the area?
Louise: We have family in Hampshire and Cornwall and Dorset was a good point in between both. But really it was the sheer beauty of the landscape that drew us to Bridport. We also loved the local shops like Leakers & Fruits of the Earth, we thought it would be a really good place to bring up our children and indeed it has been.
Heather: I have lived in Bridport for 18 months, drawn here by the creative spirit I found here, and the sense of community. I'm now officially a pensioner, though am outgoing and love meeting new people and getting involved in new projects. There's so much to do in Bridport, sometimes the difficulty is choosing which activity to go with! This is my first time living in a small community, and I love living here. I enjoy living near the coast; I love walking on my own at Burton Bradstock.
DO you have any more projects lined up for the future? What would you like to do?
We will be doing something about the Wildcats at the Rope Walk Fair in May, with the Museum. I hope this event will continue to inspire people to stand up for their rights, there is still a lot to be done with a 19 per cent pay gap and women being disproportionately effected by the growth of zero hours contracts and the low pay offered for vital jobs like caring, in our community. But I think I also need to get on with all the things I've been neglecting whilst organising this event!
Why Simple Simon has no penny
“ANY intelligent fool can invent further complications, but it takes a genius to attain simplicity.”
So wrote E.F. Schumacher (“Small is Beautiful”) without even seeing former health minister Lansley prove his first point.
“Complexity theory”, a branch of mathematics, contains an essential truth not just of biological and physical science but also of human organisation: from underlying simplicity emerges, naturally, complexity both beautiful and functional. But no government minister ever created the human eye or a butterfly’s wing.
Politicians, civil servants and management consultants get it wrong by making complexity their starting point. Our over-complicated NHS – a multiply-fractured structure – exemplifies this blight on public life.
The main political parties are complexity-addicts. The motive is primarily financial, exploiting the false distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ money. False because money is, simply, money.
A small local example. The Lyme Regis Medical Centre building is largely owned by two former practice GPs, now just private landlords. NHS Property Services rents their building with taxpayer’s money. In turn, NHS England has a five-year contract, around £8.5million of public funds, with Virgin Care (a private business) to provide community medical services there. This pays for the GPs, nurses, health visitors, therapists and administrators, their equipment, and the other necessities of public medical care. But some goes to Virgin’s regional and national offices and shareholder dividends – all private.
The medical centre is part of the Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group that’s paying £2.75million of public money to private consultants McKinsey for advice. A shrewd McKinsey employee might invest some of this in Virgin shares to gain a continuing private slice of taxpayer cash. Follow a £5 note through this system and say when it’s ‘public’ and when it’s ‘private’!
The NHS alone multiplies such examples many times. Consider, for instance, the shortage of nurses, impacting on hospitals like Axminster, made worse by private nursing agencies costing hospital trusts much more than directly-employed staff.
Complex, fragmented organisation isn’t just expensive and confusing for us – it also undermines teamwork. Can directly-employed nurses, agency nurses, outsourced caterers and cleaning staff all work easily as a unit on the ward? More broadly, ‘bed-blocking‘ in large hospitals creates queues of waiting ambulances (thus reducing availability for which the ambulance service is blamed) while beds that could unblock the RD&E are closed in Axminster – because the RD&E, Axminster and the ambulances are separate trusts with isolated budgets.
How to explain this nonsense? It’s political irresponsibility. Inventing complicated systems that only insiders understand excludes the uncomprehending rest of us, shielding those in charge from informed criticism – we can only grumble, disengage and despair. But – back to the money – it gets worse.
Many hospital trusts’ financial problems flow from the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), started under John Major and exploding (ironically) under Blair and Brown. Instead of government investing public money in the capital cost of a hospital or school, for example, the financing, design, construction, and long-term operation of the building is contracted to one or more private companies (say, a construction and a facility management firm) backed by banks, insurance companies or hedge funds – often foreign-owned.
Essentially, it’s a very expensive national mortgage. Private investors put up the cash, then over 25 years or so are repaid by the taxpayer. The Daily Telegraph (hardly a socialist tract) told of a PFI company’s 53 per cent profit margin last year (a successful FTSE 100 company might make six per cent) with its founder/chief executive’s pay and dividends at £8.6million. A hospital in Bromley, it reported, will cost the NHS £1.2billion, over 10 times what it’s worth, while for an empty Belfast school taxpayers will lose £370,000 a year until 2027.
Who would hand their mortgage provider control over decisions and costs for their home equipment purchases and maintenance, when we hear of the school charged £302 for an electric socket, five times the value of the equipment it wanted to connect?
So why these complicated schemes that emasculate the powers of hospital trusts or school governors, destroy accountability, and pass long-term costs to our children and grandchildren – along with student debt and working out how to deal with spent nuclear fuel?
Simple. Investing public money up front shows in Treasury accounts, so the annual budget deficit looks even bigger. With PFI the capital cost doesn’t appear and, neater still, nor do the capital ‘debts’ incurred for the nation. Government borrowing initially would have been at lower interest than for PFI investors, so the public money needed to repay them over time is all the greater. But a Chancellor avoids a tax rise and looks prudent; future generations must pay for his cynical confidence trick.
It’s not as if the ‘risk’, that favoured capitalist defence, is shifted from ‘public’ to ‘private’ – last month the private company running Hinchingbrooke Hospital walked out of the contract they didn’t like. So who picks up the pieces? Or compare the widespread reluctance to pay the Living Wage: why bother, when Income Support will step in? How convenient, this risk-free version of ‘market forces’ reliant on socialism!
I heard you murmur “railways”? Did you mean the private rail companies, heavily subsidised by public money, with mind-bending contractual arrangements and silly fines to impose on Railtrack (also subsidised) if their trains are delayed? Government wants passengers (‘private’) to pay more of the costs of railways, and taxpayers (‘public’) to pay less. Most passengers are taxpayers: but privatised costs come from Joe Public’s private wallet, not from his tax bill. Isn’t the money the same colour?
So too with ‘the cuts’, falling most heavily on local government and making it the public scapegoat for austerity. No matter that central government is grotesquely extravagant (think abandoned IT projects): ministers can hypocritically lecture local government about yet more ‘efficiency savings’. How about efficiency savings in Whitehall?
What to do? There’s no ‘Simple Party’ in the General Election. Maybe it’s time for real anger? Or perhaps focus near to home. Our own town council has become more complicated, wasteful and incomprehensible since 2011. ‘Think globally, act locally.’ Yes, that could be a start.
All that good work ruined by secrecy
THIS is my first column for several months, the absence of which has flamed the rumours that I have retired or am planning to do so soon.
Handing over the editorship to my daughter Francesca recently - to be honest she’s been fulfilling that role for several months now - heightened the anticipation of those who would like to see an end to this column.
When asked if I’m planning to retire, I usually reply: “Hell no, I’ve got two daughters to marry off!”
The truth of the matter is that I have no intention of giving up running newspapers for as long as my health allows me to carry on. I am still the boss at View from and many of you will know that I have taken on additional duties for the parent group to launch and co-manage four new newspapers in central London.
Having worked in London back in the 1980s/90s, I love the capital’s media scene and I’m thoroughly enjoying what will probably be the biggest challenge of my long career.
So what have I missed during the period that this column went into hibernation? Well, things are pretty quiet on the council front (election coming, don’t you know?).
There’s an occasional spat between the two factions but nothing on the scale of their earlier disgraceful behaviour which showed the town in such a poor light.
If fact, I would like to start by congratulating the council. No, honestly! I think they’ve handled the Monmouth Beach situation regarding the replacement of the chalets that were destroyed in last year’s storms rather well.
They made sure that the chalet owners would meet the cost of re-routing their road (the chalets site having been moved forward towards the sea) and put in place a scheme whereby the owners would not be able to gain a financial advantage by selling their chalets when built.
This is good local government, protecting council taxpayer’s money.
But then, as this council has done so often, they shoot themselves in the foot by repeatedly refusing to release the cost of the whole contract for the Monmouth Beach work, saying the information was “commercially sensitive”.
In the past the council has always released such information to the press, following the decision being made in secret session. And every other council in this area, including West Dorset District Council, operates an open procurement policy.
Because the Mayor, Sally Holman, is a chalet owner she has steered well clear of the discussions and decision making so as not to be accused of influencing the matter.
So the meeting that awarded the contract was conducted by the deputy mayor, Anita Williams, a qualified solicitor, who was all in favour of releasing the information to the press and, indeed, did so when we contacted her. Apparently, the work is costing around £140,000 - a sum which will be revealed in a few weeks’ time in the council’s public accounts when the contractor submits his bill.
Refusing to release the figure when it is already in the public arena will only fuel ill-informed rumours (at least I assume they are ill-informed) that the council has something to hide.
The government recently issued guidelines to local authorities about being more transparent an accountable to the public, and the Lyme councillors have already decided to study these with a possible change to their standing orders to comply with the document.
Having sought legal advice and told not to release the figure, the officers are now in a difficult position. To be fair to the council, we decided to print their statement following the controversy on page 6. It’s farcical and adds nothing to what we have already published.
When this council came into existence in 2011 there was talk of more accountability and involving the public more in the decision-making process.
In reality, the opposite has been the case and it is to be hoped that when a new council is elected in May (surely it will be new?) this is one of the areas they might look to change.
Don’t cry for me, Lyme Operatic...
LYME Regis Operatic Society is one of the town’s oldest and most respected local organisations.
Their members have been entertaining local people for 95 years and have built an enviable reputation for the standard of their productions at the Marine Theatre over the years.
But times they-are-a-changing - and the Operatic Society has now followed a trend among such groups by changing their name to the more popular Lyme Regis Musical Theatre, reflecting the move towards staging big musicals rather than operettas.
I covered my first operatic production at the Marine Theatre in 1966 - I think it was “Iolanthe”. I rarely missed a show over the years, even when I was away working in London, and having grown up surrounded by the Perry family, synonymous with the Operatic Society, I was once entrusted with running the bar at their annual show.
Today, the Perry family tradition is continued by the current chairman, Johanna Hopkins (nee Perry) and she has steered the society through some difficult times and presided over the change of name.
I have never been a great Gilbert and Sullivan fan but have enjoyed enormously some of the recent shows such as “Calamity Jane” and “Mame”. I have waxed lyrical over the ever-rising standard of local stage shows, both here and in Axminster, and I am sure the newly-named Lyme Regis Musical Theatre will prosper even more.
And I can’t wait for this year’s show “Evita”, my favourite all-time musical with Kelly Apps (nee Street) in the title role.