Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happy Campers

Our "little Tuscan villa". Sadly, Sid James was up the Khyber Pass for this shot...

After 12 days and nights of unimaginable hell, sorry, pure family-centred bliss, we're back. I was disappointed to read in the comments from the last post that there was some doubt whether I'd slum it in a tent. It's true that after about, oh, 8 hours, the tune from Alan Sherman's "Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder" was running relentlessly through my head. We had day after day of blistering temperatures unalleviated by air con, punctuated only by massive thunderstorms.

It was good of the ticks and fleas to keep us company though. The disco blasting into the night with catchy Eurotrash hits was a real bonus. And who needs clean showers??

Seriously though, the boys has a great time, when they weren't being dragged round churches and museums by me. I'll set up a seperate blog for what I'm sure will be my massively-popular holiday snaps....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Off on my jollies

Apologies again for the lack of posts recently - getting to grips with the new portfolio has eaten into my "blogging" time.

Anyway, I'm off now, back on 28 August. Like Tony and Cherie, we're holidaying in Tuscany this year. Unlike them, I suspect, we're staying in a tent...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Grassroots Sport in Darlington

I went to my first meeting last night abour grassroots sport in the town. It was chaired by Pete Barron, the Echo editor, who is convening Darlington Parnership's Enquiry Group on Health and Leisure.

The enquiry group process is looking to breathe new life into key issues facing the town. There was a wealth of experience from local sports clubs around the table yesterday, with a lot of horror stories (and not all of them Council generated). Indeed, Council officers have worked hard with groups to promote sport around the Borough. Some key blocks, however, have been with Council plans for example, which haven't taken sufficient regard of organised sport, and so have left us in a poor position to work with developers when proposals are made. There's a key issue for me too about the extent to which the various arms of the Council work together on cross-cutting issues such as health and leisure (something I'm familiar with from my days in Transport).

Evidently Pete has worked hard to produce some draft proposals which met with a lot of support last night. It's not for me to discuss them here - after further meetings, Pete will take the recommendations to the Local Strategic Partnership later in September, when the other Enquiry Groups will report.

As a newcomer to Health and Leisure, I went along yesterday very much to listen to the points made. I gave a commitment, however, that I see my work as Portfolio Holder very much to see that the final recommendations are actioned. I'm happy to be judged on progress as time develops.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The tyranny of the Soil Association

There's a striking piece in today's Times about the plight of African organic farmers.

In recent times, the boom in organic produce has proved to be a lifeline for many otherwise-poor African producers. Since becoming a certified organic farmer, one Kenyan told the paper, "since then, life has improved for us...Prices are better than for conventional farming."

There is a growing threat on the horizon. Much as western consumers have learned to appreciate the healthy benefits to us and the environment of the organic way, so we are beginning to be aware of our carbon footprints. And I find myself feeling guilty when my Tesco asparagus has been shipped in from Peru. This issue goes to the heart of two primary goals of the Labour Government - both to reduce poverty in developing countries, and to combat global warming.

As the article in the Times makes clear, this dilemma is about to be exploited by the Soil Association, which has within it wealthy UK organic producers who feel threatened by foreign imports. The SA is now getting ready to remove the 'organic' classification from imported veg.

To be fair to the SA, they have been conducting a debate, and there's a range of views on their website. It seems likely, however, that the SA is preparing for a general or selective ban on the organic status of produce from Africa and South America flown to the UK.

It is, as the Kenyans point out, simply a non-tariff barrier to trade - a ruse to protect big UK organic producers from the competition of poorer Third World farmers. And it stinks.

My solution? - multiple chains like Tesco and Morrisons should be able to tell us whether a particular product has been organically produced without the interference of the SA. We trust the supermarkets to tell us how much protein, carbohydrates and saturated fat is in a bag of apples - why not how it's been produced too?

If the Soil Association is determined to behave like a UK cartel it should receive short shrift from consumers. Perhaps now it has outlived its usefulness.

Back in the saddle

It's been a while, hasn't it? I've been grappling with my new portfolio, so haven't blogged since last Thursday, for which apologies.

As you may have seen in the Echo, an immediate issue in my in-tray in the Health and Leisure portfolio has been the number and state of football pitches around the Borough. Grassroots sport is part of the lifeblood of the town, and thriving amateur football leagues are a key element.

Changes over the years seem to have depleted some of the grounds in private hands - the Council has worked hard to ensure its provision is up to scratch. There are particular problems in some parks, however, and I've met twice with football representatives to see what can be done before the season starts.

Investigation work is still ongoing, but we will be investing in the Glebe Road playing field to allow for both 11-a-side and 6-a-side football to take place there. I'll post on further developments as they emerge.