Oswestry Maternity Unit forced to close overnight

Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Hospital

Last week I read with some dismay on the Save Oswestry Maternity Unit Facebook page and subsequently on the Save Bridgnorth Maternity Unit page that the units were going to close because of Staff shortages in Telford. The obvious concern being that this is a cynical strategy to undermine the midwife-led units and soften up protests to the idea of them becoming Birthing Centres. You may recall that Birthing Centres aren’t staffed overnight, where women in Labour must call the units to arrange for them to be opened or place an emergency call for an ambulance to take them A&E, which we all know are facing massive pressures already. Crazy.

The Bridgnorth Group have a meeting set up with Philip Dunn MP who might offer assistance as a Government Health Minister. I hope I am wrong but I expect platitudes and little or no action. Shropshire’s MPs have failed miserably to defend Shropshire’s Corner and ensure Shropshire got it’s fair share under the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) allocation. If Shropshire had received the same STP Allocation as Cornwall then Shropshire’s NHS services would have been better off to the tune of an extra £200m! Cornwall has a similar population to Shropshire but was allocated 24% more money. Shropshire’s Leaders asleep at the wheel it seems.

Shropshire Star article on the closures from last Friday:

Read the Oswestry Advertiser take on the closures below:

 

If you haven’t signed the petitions of the Government website yet here are the links to both petitions:

Save Oswestry Maternity Unit

Save Bridgnorth and Ludlow Maternity Units

Both petitions are currently running at just under 1,500 signatures at the time of writing this.

Bollards! Confused Leadership or Confused thinking?

Reading this article in the Advertiser I was staggered on two levels.
First, that Shropshire Council is thinking of spending £50k on an automated bollard when that money may be better spent elsewhere to improve the appearance and overall shopping experience in Oswestry or to improve parking, traffic circulation and shopper footfall.

Secondly, and more worryingly that the Deputy Leader and the man in charge of Business and the Economy is at odds with the Council Officers he is err supposed to be leading. He seems to be in favour of opening up Cross Street to traffic – currently closed between 10 am and 4 pm Monday to Saturday. Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety.

Opening up the road won’t ease congestion or improve pedestrian safety. Opening up the road won’t improve trade for retailers on Cross Steet. Opening up the street to traffic may allow ‘drive-by’ shopping but that isn’t really the answer. Increasing footfall will do that. To get more footfall you have to improve a host of things, not least making it a more desirable place to shop and a destination in its own right or when walking through from A  to B if it isn’t.

Whether you agree with opening up Cross Street or not what should be a priority, especially when finances are tight, is spending on things that increase leverage and revenue rather than one-off items of spending. I would argue an injection of £50k would be better spent elsewhere. If you spend it on something that makes shopping a better experience it will produce a more lasting dividend for years to come.

Back in 2002, during my time as a Town, District and County Councillor for Bridgnorth, I helped with officers and other members, to bring the £300k Bridgnorth Better Welcome Project (Inc £110k of EU money) to fruition in 2003. This investment revitalised low town, the benefits of which, are still seen today.

Getting the economy moving in the right direction and supporting business growth has to have a much higher priority than it currently has. With Business rates coming back to Shirehall this will be a hugely important stream of funding to Shropshire Council. Shropshire Council has failed to promote investment, failed o attract jobs to the area, failed to foster an entrepreneurial environment for the area and the county.  This short-sighted view means Shropshire will suffer due to his failure for years to come… More on that another time.

So the question that is the subject of this post… is this another example of confused Leadership or confused thinking? You decided, but it looks like both to me.

2016 – a year of contrasts

2016 has been an interesting year, full of contrasts and 2017 looks like being the same.

On a personal level, I have found happiness again with a relationship that has shifted my thinking considerably, caused me to turn my eyes away from my hometown of Bridgnorth towards North Shropshire again and West Felton in particular. Of these shifts is my decision to hitch my Wagon to Sandra and West Felton at the beginning of the year has resulted in another decision to stand for Shropshire Council for Whittington Ward in next May’s Elections. It is now over a decade since I was a County Councillor and my life has changed beyond recognition. Losing my seat by 38 votes & going through the wringer, several times over, in my personal life certainly changes your priorities and your perspective. Losing your wife 1 month before your 1st Wedding Aniversary and being made redundant does teach you life lessons most of us could do without learning but eventually have to. However, what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and I am a much stronger person than I have ever been before.

On a political front, we have had Brexit tear up all of the accepted political norms of left and right. The spectrum of Libertarian, freedom and openness versus Authoritarian, centralised and closed has now taken a much bigger profile in the public mood. The political establishment, both the Conservatives and Labour, are deeply divided. The polarisation through the Brexit prism will certainly make the next set of elections very interesting. To top it all off the new World Leader is a nut cluster who will only make the world a less safe place.

For the Liberal Democrats, the year has seen their star rise once more, winning a host of council by-elections in 2016, a parliamentary by-election in Richmond park and two cracking results for the Lib Dems in both Whitney and Sleaford.  So the Lib Dems have 28 Net Gains in Council by-elections with swings of over 20%. In Westmister terms, their average vote share has gone up by nearly 20% to over 30%.

Above all else lets hope 2017 is a great year and that we all can find hope and happiness again.

Foundation Stone Ceremony

Trustees and photographer, Eddie Brown

Today I attended the foundation stone ceremony for Spinners Court, as a Trustee of Bridgnorth Housing Trust. It has been a tremendous effort of the Clerk, the Chairman & all of the Trustees, particularly those including myself on the development committee and on the finance committee.

Spinners Court is the biggest project in the charities 400+ year history. The name Spinners Court was suggested by me to reflect the history of Low Town it, the ‘Spinners’ who worked at the town’s carpet factories and lived in the area and the roots of our charity. Whilst it hasn’t been easy, once the development is finished we will all be able to look back on this site with tremendous satisfaction and pride.

Spinners Court Foundation Stone

The future is bright, the future is… Liberal

Interesting couple of articles that illustrate the challenge ahead in today’s politics following the 2015 General Election. A Threat for Labour that conversely has presented an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats.

1 The Practical Guide to Centre Left schisms

2 The strange death of Labour Britain has a worrying precedent

Both articles explain how a party can fall far from grace in a short time. The Liberals in the Former and potentially Labour in the latter.

Despite the drubbing in the 2015 election the Liberal Democrats are on fire and rejuvenated. How is this possible?? To understand this you need to understand the context of British Politics today.

Society has changed beyond recognition over the last twenty years and the pace of change is faster and more dynamic than the ability of political parties to change.

The fragmentation of politics has become very pronounced where once it was a simple left and right. The big two parties of the modern era are but shadows of their former selves, leaving the ground open for other parties and for single issue campaign groups.

This isn’t just being felt by Politics. The Internet and technological changes are allowing people to interact in unimaginable ways just 10 years ago. The media faces some of the biggest challenges, more often than not having to reinvent themselves or die.

Household institutions across the board are being similarly tested. Many who stay true to what they were and carry on like they always have, have withered and died in the face of upstart competition that has adapted to today’s consumers.

The most effective and successful party in the modern arena will be the one best able to adapt and work with the natural flow and not stick to old habits that mean they are working across the public grain.

A century ago, the Liberals fragmented when they couldn’t adapt quick enough to the changes in society. Changes in society initiated by the industrial revolution and the Victorian era, fanned by the flames of the Great War and trouble in Ireland, through to the labour movement and votes for Women, were all unprecedented. Yet the Liberals changed little, failed to adapt and ultimately perished as a party of government.

Many commentators lampooned the Lib Dems immediately after the election, claiming that the Liberal Democrats had suffered a similar fate to their Liberal predecessors, destined for obscurity for a generation of more.

However, this overly simplistic narrative forgets that politics is driven by the society of the day, the effects of which can not be immediately felt or seen.

So quite perversely, some might say, the Liberal Democrats may now be in the best place to make changes and adapt their party the quickest to today’s society.

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country

YouGov-Left-Right

Britain at its core is a Liberal Country that has enshrined fairness and freedom in its values for generations. A recent poll by YouGov shows just how much the middle ground of politics has opened up for the Lib Dems. British values are generally Liberal values. Yet the electorate have for decades been presented by a simplistic choice of left and right when really most people are in the centre, in the same space that they believe the Lib Dems to exist.

Today’s society believes in a less over bearing state, individual freedom and choice, fairness and compassion, tolerance etc. These are all Liberal values.

Liberals believe in individual freedom, a less interfering or oppressive state, fairness for all – empowering everybody to be the best they can be, whilst ensuring this is applied to everybody… not just the many and most definitely not just a lucky few.

Liberalism needs reuniting. Liberalism needs reiterating and explaining.

The Lib Dems through their enforced rebirth now have a golden opportunity to win over hearts and minds of the British Electorate. No small task but recent by-election wins and the rapid surge in membership and shown the field is open for the Lib  Dems to permanently break the mold of British Politics. Lib Dems across the country now have new hope. Hope that they must enshrine through the country.

Bridgnorth Lib Dems launch new website

Bridgnorth Liberal Democrats have launched a new website at http://bridgnorthlibdems.uk/

Despite a drubbing at the General Election last May, the Lib Dems have seen a massive surge in membership, both nationally and locally. Between the Election and the close of registration to vote for the new Lib Dem Leader, there was over a 34% rise in membership – the vast majority of which had never been a Lib Dem before or been politically active. Over 18,000 have now joined the Lib Dems. Click here if you would like to join the Lib Dems and the #libdemfightback

Last week the Lib Dems elected their new Leader – Tim Farron MP – watch Tim’s first speech following his victory:

The Lib Dems are going from strength to strength at the moment. Despite only having 8 MP’s, they have already galvanised opposition blocked Conservative Legislation in the Commons and will use their strength in the Lords to do more of the same. Labour so far have been divided and weak. Since May the Lib Dems have had several by-election wins – gaining seats from the Conservatives and Labour (3 last week alone).

With renewed energy and hope the Lib Dems will be rebuilding at quite a pace.

Election Leaflet hits doormats

With the elections for Shropshire Council in full swing and postal votes imminent for those who have opted to vote that way, our elections leaflets are hitting the doormats over the next few days.

Here is Helen Howell’s and my first leaflet currently being delivered:

Salute to Mrs T

On a human level you have to applaud Mrs Thatcher, she was undoubtedly the iconic figure who defined Britain for a generation, who’s impact is still felt today and will be far into the future. As a leader she had drive, character, charisma, conviction and a host of qualities the Conservatives have been trying and failing to replicate in their leaders ever since.

She had great successes, like taming the unions, liberalising business and the Falklands.

She had great failures like the Poll Tax or allowing today’s rampant irresponsible capitalism to take root.

She had policies which were both… giving tenants the right to buy was a huge plus, but denying Councils the power to replenish their housing stock was a mistake. Social housing still performs a vital role but the crisis in the supply of affordable housing was born under her watch. Privatisation was also a success and a failure. Some worked very well, others failed spectacularly. As they say: if the cap fits, wear it.

Recent issues over Press Freedom, the Banking Crisis, Political Scandals have all shown us that rampant Freedom is not always a good thing. With Freedom comes great responsibility. Recent history is littered with irresponsible Freedom. Better regulation is coming about. At the end of it all we will still be Free but we will also be more responsible and hopefully more compassionate.

Thatcher got her own ism which is no mean feet. Many of her changes have been attacked by the left but ultimately adopted and expanded upon by Labour.

On a human level she was an iconic Britain – love her or loath her – you have to respect that. RIP Mrs T.

Tossing my hat back into the ring

Today Shropshire Council has released lists of Candidates Nominated for the Unitary Election on May the 2nd. I can confirm that my nomination papers were accepted and my nomination now appears on the list for Bridgnorth West & Tasley Division. I am once again standing for the LibDems along with my dear friend and former Mayor of Bridgnorth, Helen Howell. In a few days once the window for people to withdraw from the election closes, the field will be set and the election will begin in earnest.

7 sitting Councillors are unopposed, so they will be returned without an election. No great for democracy but I am sure they will be chuffed to bits.

Why am I standing? Well, it is 8 years since I lost my County Council seat. In that time, all the fundamental issues that Bridgnorth faced then have remained in place, un-addressed by Bridgnorth’s Unitary Councillors – a rapidly ageing population in part due to a lack of suitable affordable housing and local jobs. Our younger people are leaving Bridgnorth for further education or work, many not returning. This is unsustainable and means that those older people that remain have to shoulder more and more of the council tax burden.

Tough times continue to roll

No sign of the economy turning round completely any time soon.

I have been fortunate to have had a few shares during this recession. Bye and large these shares have done OK and have helped me through the recession. But as the down turn stretches ever longer – even that extra income can’t keep coming to my aid. The only way this country’s ship is going to turn around is through growth.

The Coalition Government have been right to cut back the excesses of the previous wasteful government – even if it was painful. It has been painful for me personally, with reduced hours followed by redundancy. But the Coalition needs to remember it has to be a two pronged attack to turn the economy round. So far they have done some things to encourage growth. Some things here… Some things there. But now they need to pick up the pace, set the agenda and set the pace!

They have the talent. Now is the time to show us what you have got and show this whole enterprise has been worthwhile.