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Showing posts from July, 2005

Tornado Moseley Kings Heath Sparkbrook Birmingham Pictures Photographs

The link is to 67 photographs from various sources on The following also have photographs Councillor Mullaney's pictures these are Martin's from today which are the more severely damaged areas. bbc pictures Birmingham Post and Evening Mail I have put this entry in because I am getting a lot of Tornado searches from my entry a few days ago and I thought it would be useful to collate photo lists somewhere. I will edit this entry to add any other photographs. If anyone wants any list added please email me at the usual addresses (either City

Tornado Information Point - Church Road/Newport Road

Work continues in the aftermath of the Tornado. There is an information point as above. Clearly certain properties are unusable and may need to be demolished. I understand the local Housing Association (MDCHA) has had to rehouse about 20 families. When we contacted Government Office on Friday they were not interested, but I understand that the government recognise now that this is something out of the ordinary and are going to be more supportive of the city council. There will remain, however, a substantial number of real problems to be resolved.

Government calls for removal of John Hemming as Chair of Strategic Partnership (or do they?)

We have been told that next year's NRF for Birmingham will be over £32,000,000. That is obviously good news for the city. There is a difficulty, however, in that in informal meetings representatives of the government have been threatening to not pay that money to Birmingham unless I am sacked as chair of the BSP. I confirmed this in an informal discussion with Graham Garbett (director Government Office West Midlands) on Monday this week. If the government say they will fine Birmingham £32 Million unless I resign of course I will fall on my sword. This is not, however, something that the government should get involved in. I have always had concerns about Civil Servants trying to exclude elected politicians from decisionmaking. After the discussion on Monday I spoke to Joe Montgomery (director Neighbourhood Renewal Unit) and asked him for his views. He said he would talk to the minister. Joe phoned me on Wednesday, but would not answer the question as to whether or not it was

Birmingham Tornado - Moseley and Kings Heath

Local Councillor Martin Mullaney has some photos on his website. The City Council used its new Emergency Management routines. I saw some of the swirling in the wind which was reported to hit 130 mph. I have never seen winds as strong. Climate Change is arguably part of this. It is easy to find pictures of trees falling onto houses. And houses that used to have chimneys. Or a school with no roof at all. or lots of missing slates which must have been flying all over the place. Firemen had to break into some places. What was surprising was how only a small distance from the tornado no damage was done at all. Top floor rooms in flats suffered as well. I suppose it is surprising that there is any glass left in this greenhouse. It will be interesting to review how well the new approach to emergencies has been in the city. Some people have not been able to stay in their properties. The local North Moseley Mosque opened up space for temporary sleep as did the Kings Heath Community Centre

Birmingham Arrests

The arrests in Heybarnes Road were just outside my constituency (and ward). They have, however, had an impact on the atmosphere in the city. It appears that quite a few of the people arrested have been Somalian or East African. There have been quite a few tensions between Somalians and Kashmiris in recent years. As usual a lot of this arises from economic displacement which drives most of such conflict. Many of the Somalians are actually Dutch Nationals having come across from mainly Rotterdam, but also other places in continental Europe.

NRF 2006/7 and 2007/8

The figures for Birmingham's NRF for the next two years have been announced. The first year is going up from £22,043,488 to £32,266,410 next year which is an increase of £10,222,922 and 46% and then to £37,624,119 in 7-8 an increase on this year of £15,580,631. I am expecting the usual attempt by the bureaucrats to remove the democratic accountability from the spending decisions.

The Birds - Alfred Hitchcock - The Brummy Version

The Council Mouse in Birmingham has been the scene of a "Noughties" version of "The Birds" the film of Alfred Hitchcock about birds attacking people. In Birmingham .... surprise surprise .... it is Seagulls. We have three Seagull Chicks (quite large ones), looking for somewhere to park in the Council Mouse Car park sometimes they pick a parking place where there already is a car such as that of Talib Hussain (the James Bond film star - he was on the credits). Meanwhile Mummy (or Daddy) Seagull keeps guard. and if you come close to her babies she attacks The last photo was taken by me whilst I was being attacked by Mr or Mrs Seagull. A short time afterwards Councillor Tim Huxtable (known by the Evening Mail as "the Smiling Assassin" because of his track record in stopping councillors' junkets) was the victim of an accelerated avine assault. Perhaps the Seagulls are worried about the fact that he might prevent them going to Austria. Councillor Tariq Kha

Research Website

I am thinking of establishing a research website to complement this blog. I could do this via my London office webservers. Alternatively it might be worth using some of the various services on the web (all of which are relatively sensibly priced). This would enable the various people I am working with to also maintain sections of the site. We could have elements dealing with all the different campaigning issues. Does anyone have any recommendations for people who offer web services where different users can access different parts of the site?

Growth 1.7% year on year

The link gives a list of reports from the Office of National Statistics on GDP. Clearly there are issues about the economic and environmental sustainability of growth. It remains, however, an important factor in government planning. We are putting together a simple summary of key statistics. The key for growth at the moment is that the growth over the past 4 quarters is 1.7%. Stories such as This telegraph story compare the actual 12 month figures of 1.7% to Gordon Brown's prediction of 3-3.5%. This will have a further impact on the government's finances. This chart is useful for looking at the recent past. Reports in the media indicate the worst 12 month period since 1993. I have not seen the evidence for that, however. What surprises me is the Treasury's plan to merely maintain their current plan. I understand the argument that we have relatively low national debt. There is, however, a question raised about the long term economic sustainability of their financia

Thursday and Friday

I was reviewing research on the Local Government Standards Code and other issues when I found out about the further attempt to cause loss of life on the tube. That seemed to be followed up by some other attempt today. Sadly there remain people whose agenda rests in attempting to polarise society - including those who have sent out emails purporting to come from religious institutions.

We cannot have security without justice

I managed to get a number of points raised as questions to the Home Secretary before the Speaker interrupted yesterday. This question he ignored: Does he agree that to achieve a calm and peaceful world we need to stand on two legs: security and justice? We cannot have justice without security but, at the same time, we cannot have security without justice. We need to focus on ensuring that justice is done, nationally and internationally, and that it is seen to be done, for example, under international humanitarian law. He did respond to the point about CCTV. CCTV does operate well to track situations although, of course, it cannot prevent any one event. It can, however, ensure a speedy response and prevent subsequent events (as part of law enforcement). We do, however, have to be careful not to forget the second leg of justice. Too much of a concentration on security has failed in the past (eg Northern Ireland in the early 70s). Another point that has missed the media has been that t

Where's Dawn Gone?

My EDM 400 FAMILY TAX CREDIT REPAYMENTS 23.06.2005 Hemming, John That this House notes that there is a substantial problem with the hardship caused by the clawback of overpayments of family tax credit; and calls for no clawback to occur until the weekly amount of clawback is agreed verbally, by email or in writing by the recipient Relates to the biggest problem that people face who are on tax credit. The government decides how much money to take from people without talking to them, starts directly debiting it and waits until they squeal. I wrote a letter to Dawn Primorolo (Paymaster General) on 22nd June, resent it on 12th July because of no response and a month later have still not had a response. I am going to find where her office is and deliver it in person this time. Much that there is a lot of chaos dealing with tax credits if they changed the system this way it would not cause so much personal grief.

Oil company advertises "we're running out of oil" - world says "nothing"

Apart from the linked story, there is little editorial from Chevron's Advertising campaign about willyoujoinus . I also had a very complacent response from the governemnt about when global oil supplies will peak. The government point to the IEA's prediction of post 2030. They also make reference to the misleading point that the quoted reserves are 30 years plus of production. That is not a relevant issue as what matters to people is what they can use each year. As soon as that figure is constrained then the global economy switches into scarcity mode and resource costs start going up rather than down. This is where the Uppsala Protocol comes from. However, for the moment we have the government ignoring the issue publicly. Gordon Brown is also playing games with the current account deficit (Golden Rules etc). I am not quite sure what he is hoping for. The "something will turn up" strategy is not prudent. Still the whole political agenda has taken a step up in gear

Birmingham W1 - New Street and Medicine

Today I attended a meeting at Birmingham W1 (170 Picadilly) which was to bring people together to promote Birmingham. Five of the Birmingham MPs were there. There are a number of areas in which we are working to lobby central government on behalf of Birmingham. One is to get New Street Station redeveloped and another is on the relocation of civil service jobs to the City Region. The important thing is that we are developing the approach of the City Region which includes the hinterland around Birmingham (or commuter belt). In my meanderings around the corridors of power I have found considerable support from MPs for Solihull, Kidderminster, Bromsgove, Lichfield as well as those from Sandwell and Birmingham (including Sutton). One lesson from today is to bring someone who knows how to use my camera. Hopefully you will be able to tell which of these three photos I took. - -

It would be nice to be asked

I was very busy yesterday (hence no blog entry). Meetings in Birmingham (and I put a lot of effort into avoiding inefficient meetings) took a lot of time. I then spent the whole of the afternoon in a meeting of the parliamentary party followed by another couple of events. This left little time. I then find in the newspaper today that one of our policies is about to changed. Well, if would be nice to be asked about it before it is announced.

Spare a thought for the families of British Troops

It is important to understand how the families of British Troops feel with every story such as the one relating to 3 soldiers dying on Saturday. Their worry about their family members at risk every day in Iraq increases. The government's problem (and the problem of the US Government) is that every day the belligerent troops remain in Iraq the problems get worse. The foolish actions of the US in attacking Falluja in total contravention of international humanitarian law have massively increased support for the insurgency. The world is full of actions and reactions. Most of the principles of justice act such that anyone committing an unjust act tends to find that it reflects back upon them at a later stage. If people do not take care it gets to a stage whereby the emotional demand for revenge is so great that it overwhelms people's sense of priorities. Any student of Iraqi history in the 20th Century will note that the defining political issue of the 1920s was military bases. The

The "Fish Base" and Tie Dye

I started the day at Sheldon Community Centre looking at plans for a children's play area, doing a bit of "tie dye" and making a "Fish Base" from which I made a traditional flapping bird that the children found quite entertaining. After my advice bureau I went to Birmingham's "Birmingham United" event in Chamberlain Square. The Evening Mail and Birmingham Post have been good in supporting actions to make sure that people unite after the attacks designed to divide us. At the same time politicians have a responsibility to act to ensure that society does not end up further polarised. There are two legs that are needed to any strategy. The two legs can be identified as security and justice. If we have one without the other then we will not be able to progress. The errors government's have made in the past is to focus on security ignoring justice. That has resulted in things such as a growth of terrorism in Algeria, the growth of the "tr

Written Answers for Today

The government seem to wish to avoid answering the question about the forecasts for government spending, income and deficit. They have referred me to a source for the information. This is another of today's answers. "Information from the 2001 Criminality Survey notes that 27 per cent. of prisoners had spent time in care as a child. This is closely in line with the equivalent figure of 26 per cent. as found by the 1991 National Prison Survey." They are still evading the issue of how many people are not adopted/fostered by families because they make potential adopters jump through too many hoops and they given up trying. There is, of course, a key underlying issue which requires a distinction between those children who end up in children's homes and those who do not. The other question, of course, is what proportion of people who are in care end up in jail. Clearly many people are adopted and end up being pillars of the community. The big question is what the conseq

Continual Revolution in the Health Service

This written question reveals part of the continual revolution that hits the health service in Birmingham. It ignores the Primary Care Groups and other organisations that perhaps the NHS wishes to forget. Payment by Results and the plans for 15% of health care to be done by private providers is going to have unpredictable effects on the hospitals.

Parliamentary Party Meeting in Cheadle

Every Wednesday when parliament is sitting the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party holds a meeting. This Wednesday's meeting was in Cheadle (it is a three line whip as was the vote on the Religious Hatred bill on Monday). I came up to Cheadle last night. There are quite a few posters in amidst the green trees at the side of the road. Some are quite big. There are quite a few of them. I also saw some rather odd Labour Posters. It was odd to see Labour Posters in the windows of a training centre. Although it has been closed and the shop is being changed into a bookmakers, it does raise some questions. The Tories have hit out with a number of rather iffy leaflets. Their last minute leaflet goes on about how close the election is and they raise some scaremongering about a shortage of funds in Social Care and it impact on bus passes. The only thing is that bus passes are substantially an issue for the transport authority which merely shows how little they know about how things w

Standing together against all Terrorism

As usual I started the week with meetings in Birmingham. It is interesting how many rumours there are floating around the city. I even had someone I know shout something to me whilst driving around the middle ring road. The police, of course, need to investigate everything. Part of yesterday was spent discussing how we in Birmingham need to stand together against terrorism and how the political leaders, faith leaders and other leaders need to work together on this. Later in the day was the Religious Hatred bill. I support the position taken by Birmingham's faith leaders group which is that we do need something which enables the system to deal with situations (which do exist) where people go around the country campaigning to create division based upon hate. It does happen that people campaign to create religious hatred leading to violence. As with Thursday's atrocity once the step has been taken down the wrong path it is very difficult to step back. It is important that peo

The police were right

It is important that no chances are taken with people's lives. I have not tried to find out exactly what the intelligence was that led the police to evacuate the City Centre last night. I do, however, support their decision to do what they did. It meant that I missed the Steve Ajao Blues Jam session in Centenary Square - a slight inconvenience that does not matter. At least I have managed to have a session with Digby Fairweather this week. With a bit of luck we will reunite for the same number (Funny Valentine) on Tuesday week. Three years ago was the last attempt (by the Real IRA) to bomb Birmingham. My wife passed through the area next to the bomb during the day. We need to take any threat seriously. That does not mean, however, that it needs to undermine life in any other way.

When is $25bn not $25bn

I have found where the $25bn figure comes from. It is quoted somewhere by the OECD. Notwithstanding Bob Geldof's claim * that it is related to the Live8 concerts , actually it is a figure that has been cited for some time. ODA (Official Development Aid) is the net bilateral payment including money paid to international organisations. It is net of money loaned and money repaid. In otherwords if a country is loaned aid then that is added to the gross. If a country repays a loan then it reduces aid for that year. That does mean that the figure is ultimately adjustable through countries lending some money to an international institution that is then repaid in a later year. The link is to the Development Aid Committee of the OECD which is the main source of this information. As far as I can tell the G8 jolly has not delivered anything that was not planned earlier in the year. I would like to pin down exactly where the OECD has calculated the $25bn (out of $50bn) figure. Perhaps o

G8 outcomes

A list of the Gleneagles documents is available at the link. The question is what the Gleneagles event achieved apart from encouraging the reformation of Pink Floyd. On Debt the HIPC (see earlier) agreement continues. This was the agreement come to on 11th June. It basically means that the countries which cannot pay the debt won't have to as long as they behave. There is an interesting report on the global economy and oil . This basically says we need more oil and countries with oil should allow other countries to invest to find and produce the oil. I presume they are assuming the USGS report on oil availability is valid. I have studied the assumptions in USGS. They basically assume that lots of new oil will be found. (new discoveries and reserve growth) The Africa Report recognises some of the issues of governance in Africa, but does not fully take on board the Justice and Equity agenda. Item 18 (g) is interesting it says: Working with African countries to scale up action

Why, what, when?

As with the incidents in New York, Bali and Madrid a question people ask about yesterday's atrocity is "Why?". The "Why" should be relatively straightforward. For a society which is as peaceful as the British society normally is it is difficult to understand the reasons why people do this sort of thing. In a sense I picked up more understanding when I visited Lyon as part of a local government based approach to peace in the Middle East. We had a wide range of local politicians including some Mayors who had been in the IDF. It was quite clear that although everyone there was committed to finding a peaceful solution that this is not the case for everyone in the Middle East. The situation between the two groups is such that some people wanted revenge far more than they wanted peace. At times the lust for revenge is so strong that people resort to terrorism. A similar situation exists worldwide where disputes escalate from smaller incidents into larger developme

Ken Livingstone's Statement

From The London Web Site Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has issued the following statement: 'London has been the target of a cowardly terrorist attack. Londoners have responded calmly and courageously. 'I commend the professionalism, courage of the Metropolitan Police, Transport for London staff, the Ambulance, Fire and other emergency services. 'On behalf of all Londoners, I want to express my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who have been killed and to all of those who have been injured. 'The Police, transport and emergency services are carrying out well-rehearsed plans to treat and evacuate casualties and protect London against any further attacks. 'The most important thing Londoners can do today is to assist the Police and Emergency Services in every possible way: by staying totally calm, by not travelling until the Police advise that it is safe to do so and by not calling the emergency services unless life is threatened. 'Innocent pe

Communications start seizing up

It seems that the mobile network (tmobile) has seized up as has the landline network from parliament to the outside world. (I cannot phone my London office to check that everyone is OK.) The odd thing is that this link to the net (via Vodafone) is clearly still working otherwise this entry would not be on the blog.

Incidents in London

I was in the press gallery when the incidents initially described as a power surge started being reported. Sadly it does appear to have been some form of terror incident probably linked to the commencement of G8 (much more likely than something linked to the Olympics). Terror incidents are always particularly sad as they generally increase anger in the world and it is very difficult to take steps back after incidents.

Oil Company Breaks Cover - accepts oil problems exist

Chevron launched on Tuesday 5th July. This is an energy awareness campaign. They make no prediction as to when global supply will peak, they merely recognise the problem. The big difficulty with predicting when it will peak is that there will only be certainty a few years afterwards. It is, therefore, difficult to be precise. Colin Campbell makes a prediction in his newsletter for Conventional Crude oil of 2006. With prices almost four times what they were in the late 1990s people will pump what they can. There are questions asked about the Gharwar field in Saudia Arabia. People such as Powerswitch are already campaigning on the issue. The Uppsala Protocol is much tougher to hit than the Kyoto protocol (Kyoto ignores international air flight). To me the challenge is to get the debate into the mainstream. There is an assumption even amongst organisations such as Greenpeace and FoE that oil depletion is not an issue. It is true that there remain other fos

Congratulations to the Olympic Bidders

The organisation of the Olympic Bid has been good ( see earlier photo ) and there is clearly an attempt to have a bid that is for the whole country. With the strong transport links between Birmingham and London we are in a good position to work well as part of a national Olympics operation.

Voila Deux Chaises

Two chairs in Room 403 Star Chamber Court nerve centre of attempt at world domination. Note hidden persian cat. I have spoken to the people who deal with permission for photography and am clarifying what can be photographed without a permit and what cannot on the parliamentary estate. Somewhat miraculously I now have parliamentary note paper both in London and Birmingham and have an integrated casework system working again in London, Birmingham and ... on the train. All we need now (on the train) is toilets that work properly. In London and Birmingham, however, I am still waiting for the Parliamentary Computers and printers. Luckily I managed to buy an inkjet printer at PC World in London and have an inkjet printer I bought in Birmingham a while ago. Much that the office is quite small, Star Chamber court is a very good location for proximity both to the Chamber and Westminster Hall as well as the press gallery. I note that the journalist have been refused permission (again) to tak

First Lib Dem in The Prayer Cards Queue

Having come in early to have breakfast, (It is possibly to buy a breakfast in the House of Commons from 7.30am which is slightly earlier than many of the cafes outside.) I find myself in the strange position of being the first Lib Dem in the queue for prayer cards . This is probably because it is unlikely that the Prime Minister is actually answering questions at Prime Ministers Question time. He is probably on a plane in between Singapore and Gleneagles although he may still turn up. The rumours were amongst the tories that John Prescott was answering, that is probably because he is answering the questions after prayers and will still be there. However, it remains to be found what the situation is. Yesterday's news that the City Council Housing Department now has one star makes the good case against Stock Transfer. Labour's solution to housing problems was to get rid of housing. Our solution is to resolve the problems. A city restaurant has also won the national curry awa

More homes needed

The debate a while ago about Council Housing has now been reported in the local press. The fact that there will be 10,000 fewer low cost houses to rent 5 years from now, however, has not been reported. One of the most frequent issues at my advice bureau is the unavailability of housing to rent at a reasonable price. It means that people on 10-12K generally have difficulty finding somewhere to live.

Steve Ajao Benefit at the Prince

Last night I went to one of the Steve Ajao benefit gigs. Steve is a local musician who was in a road accident recently. There was a really massive turnout in the back yard of the Prince of Wales Pub (on Alcester Road). Steve used to play a regular gig at the Moseley Arms in Highgate. I am hoping to play a number at one of the other benefit gigs myself. I did turn up to do a number at the Moseley Arms once.

Live8 - over to Us

If Live8 achieved nothing else at least it brought Pink Floyd back together and what a set was that. Seriously though (and the above is a partially serious point) it is now over to the politicians to deliver on the agenda of making poverty history. It remains, however, that there is a need for Justice and Equity in the developing world as well as the rest (indeed more importantly). Being a relatively cynical politician, however, I am unsure what actually will change as a result of the jolly going on in Gleneagles at the moment. G8 is very high profile, but has no proper constitutional function. Most of the event is determined in advance. There is an interesting amount of debate that goes on around it, but I am not entirely sure where it leads. The UK government's hypocrisy on Climate Change is evidenced by the Air Transport White Paper and its assumptions of massive growth in Air Travel (and the consequent carbon emissions). Whilst the UK government remains committed to the pr

So far so good

Somewhat miraculously the parliamentary bureaucracy has now started grinding more effectively. I now have three phones [and two desks] in my (small) office (note to self: the rules permit photographs of the office, one for the blog in the future). I have an ethernet cable into the parliamentary network. My casework system which works for me as an MP and as a Councillor is still on the City Council network. However, a link has been created between the parliamentary network and the council network which means I can now do casework using the laptop provided by parliament. I am also now training my team in the operation of the casework system and gradually things are getting sorted out. Within 28 days I am told we may even have a printer. Had I not visited PC world about a month ago and bought a £200 rechargeable injket I would still be waiting to be able to do any casework. The Parliamentary Network as with many corporate networks is paranoid about security to the extent that they pr

Thursday poverty and regeneration

There are a number of areas in which there are very strong feelings worldwide and there unreconciled disputes. One is the aspect of globalisation and "free trade" vis a vis protectionism. The government are clearly committed to globalisation. The consequences in terms of jobs being exported and challenges such as the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investments are continually brought to the fore. My own view is that a balance is needed between different ideological positions. A process which involves a too rapid sequences of changes undermines the quality of life. Economic and Political power both tend to be centripetal which in itself brings in a factor which is ignored in the debates about globalisation. The EU itself can readily be a single market without imposing a "one size fits all" economic model. The pressure of other activities (bringing correspondence up to date - casework etc, meeting on Europe, general admin and G8 debate) prevented me attendin