Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
I'm delighted to be able to report today that agreement has been reached today here in the UK on equal treatment for our 1.4 million agency workers after 12 weeks employment, thus ending a six-year deadlock. Labour MEP's have been at the forefront of the campaign to give these vulnerable workers better terms and conditions of employment.
Speaking from Strasbourg, Claude Moraes MEP Labour's Employment Spokesperson, and Stephen Hughes MEP, Socialist Spokesperson on Employment and of course our current Labour MEP here in the North East, said: "Labour MEPs have long fought for the protection of agency workers. Today's agreement is an important step towards giving vulnerable workers in the UK a fair deal at work."
"We welcome today's agreement on the protection of agency workers and now urge European Governments to finalise an agreement in terms of the key elements of good legislation in this area - a sensible and workable "qualifying period"; and equal pay and terms and conditions following this qualifying period. This agreement is vital for the rising numbers of UK agency workers."
"Labour MEPs are looking forward to comprehensive UK and Europe wide legislation going on the statute book as soon as possible."
"We sincerely hope this will pave the way to agreement on the European directive on agency workers at the next meeting of Employment ministers on 9th and 10th of June."
For me, this a matter of basic human rights, and it's monstrous that it has been considered acceptable to pay agency workers less, and treat them differemtly as far as holiday entitlement or their employments terms are concerned. I'm proud that a Labour government has finally corrected this injustice.
You can have your say by clicking here and filling in the (ahem) very pithy questionnaire. Deadline for replies - 6th June 2008.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
It was extremely well-attended - at least 100 adults and kids were there supporting the initiative. Local allotment holders had a stall of fresh produce, and there were plants for sale too. There was face painting and badge making for the kids, and a free fruit stall.
There was lots of interest in how the Council and partners are taking forward the environmental agenda, and residents collected extra green boxes for cans and bottles, and sturdy bags for garden waste too. Officers were on hand to answer questions. About 15 children joined a member of the Groundwork team on a nature hunt to seek out and identify local flora and fauna.
It's not an area I know particularly well, so it was very good of Cllr. Jackie Maddison to show me round Lascelles and Eastbourne Parks. A huge amount has been achieved here over the last few years by the ward councillors working together with the local Community Partnerships and Residents' Groups, including brand new allotments (with a nature area), play areas and a cafe. There's still lots of ambition to achieve more, however, and it's all a testimony to what strong local partnerships really can achieve.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
- 63% of residents were aware of their council taking positive action to tackle climate change.
- 76% of people agree or strongly agree that local councils have a key role to play in combating climate change, and 77% think it is part of their role.
- Women are less likely to be in favour of incentives to encourage people to reduce their emissions – but are more likely to support penalties to combat this.
- More people would be likely to vote for a candidate in local elections that had policies to combat climate change (62%) than in a general election (61%).
- 70% believe climate change should be one of the top five priorities for their council.
With some big decisions in Darlington coming up on waste and waste disposal, DBC needs to demonstrate just how seriously it is taking this issue. I'll be taking on the excellent work of my predecessor Veronica Copeland in spearheading the "reduce, reuse and recycle" campaign. And today, it's off to Lascelles Green Fair, to support their initiative.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
Security and lack of play provision were two of the commonest complaints.
In fact, work was already underway to transform matters. CCTV cameras have been installed in two places. And as Cabinet Member now for Health and Leisure, I’ve been monitoring progress on the design of a new large play area, which was opened by the Mayor and local ward councillor Marian Swift on Saturday.
Pardon the vernacular, but it’s a bit of a stonker. Costing £170,000, the equipment is designed for children of all ages, and includes a zip line.
I took AJ along – I like the fact that the enormous climbing tower and slide, which was fine for children aged up to 11, was also very accessible for AJ aged 6. The swinging disc (in the background in the first picture, top right) looks certain to be a winner with older children. There's a good amount of space for kids to run around - it should help to prevent little ones in particular getting bumped over accidentally.
The whole area was heaving with families. The play area is a testimony to the Friends of the Denes, who helped with the design, chaired by local Pierremont councillor and Cabinet colleague Steve Harker.
(I should also mention the crucial role being played by Groundwork (of which I’m a Board Member) who facilitated the community involvement and brought the project to fruition).
We’d been invited by regular contributor to this blog Ian Holme, whose mother is a volunteer there. We wanted to see for ourselves what services the facility offers, and whether there are any wider lessons for the Council as we map out services for young people.
First thing to say – it’s a hugely impressive club. Run under charitable guidelines, and staffed for the most part by dedicated volunteers, Top Deck provides a “youth club” type environment for children and young people.
It’s open Monday to Friday during the evening until around 10pm. On a Saturday mornings during the holidays, younger children can also go along and play.
It has pool and table-tennis tables, and a café for hot and cold snacks. You don’t have to be a member to go – it operates on a drop-in basis. At very popular times, it can accommodate up to 50 young people, although when we were there, there were about 10 young people on the premises.
We were shown round by Morag Coates, the co-founder and co-ordinator of the project. Chris had a chat with her about whether the Council can help Top Deck, in the field of publicity for example.
So what did we learn? Well, principally, that phenomena like Top Deck are almost impossible to reproduce institutionally by a body like the local council. Top Deck has an air of complete informality that a public body would struggle to match. It relies on the support of volunteers, and as we know, recruiting staff to work on a Friday and Saturday night is particularly difficult.
So there’s no magic template that would allow Top Deck-style facilities to mushroom around the Borough. Where they do materialise, of course, the Council should do all it can to nurture and support the project concerned.
Finally, in a very revealing aside, Morag told us that like the Council’s own youth clubs, Top Deck has discerned a trend of declining numbers of young people using it over the past three years. This is simply down to young people’s preferences.
So the call for more static youth clubs as a panacea for all ills from a few opposition members is frankly futile – as I suspected. Youth clubs have their part to play, of course, but they have to be just one element in a very broad range of services, whether those are offered by the Council or the private or voluntary sector.
The Council has recently embarked on a large consultation exercise with young people to find out what services they would value, spearheaded by Click in the Park. Rather than be told by the middle-aged what they should put up with, I’m glad the Labour Council is fashioning its provision around what kids actually want.
Monday, May 05, 2008
Friday, May 02, 2008
On a positive note, in Chilton, where together with colleagues from Darlington I had been campaigning, Labour's Brian Avery and Christine Potts decisively beat the BNP by 650+ votes. It was another miserable night for the BNP in the North East, with no breakthrough anywhere. Credit should go to the Bishop of Durham and other community leaders who had the courage to stand up publicly to the racists and name them for what they are. It was my perception on the doorstep that the "in your face" BNP campaign actually helped to motivate Labour supporters to go out and vote.
Elsewhere, however, some good friends (and good councillors) went down. Vince Crosby in Aycliffe West lost by 26 votes. Ken Manton, the former leader of the old County, went down in Bishop Auckland Town, and George Burlison was defeated in Framwellgate Moor. David Taylor-Gooby, who is a colleague on the National Policy Forum, lost in Peterlee West and Phil Graham and Neil Stonehouse were defeated in Coundon.
I got to know George when working at Aycliffe Young People's Centre, and I'm sure he'll be back. Ken would have continued to play a leading role in the new authority, and he certainly will be missed. I'm particularly disappointed at the result in Coundon, however. It's a community I know quite well, from my days as a children and families social worker, and it has complex problems. Neil (leader of Wear Valley DC) and Phil were first class advocates for local people, working very hard to bring investment to the area. Had Labour's rulebook been different, Phil would have been my hot tip to deservedly succeed Derek Foster as MP for Bishop Auckland. Now he's off the Council.
To finish more positively, rather like in Darlington last year, if the motley crew of independents, LibDems and Tories can't turn Labour out this year, when we are at our lowest ebb for 2 generations, one wonders if they ever can. I'm sure the Party will respond with vigour to these results.