Nigel Fletcher - Dale & Co.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
After a fascinating lunch with a polling expert(conclusion: current polls not the full picture, and marginals looking good), I made it to the hall for a good solid speech from Phillip Hammond, a brilliant destruction of Brown's record by Ken Clarke, and George Osborne's keynote address. The message from George was clear- voters face a clear choice between five more years of Brown or a Conservative Government with the energy and determination to sort out Labour's mess. Put like that, it's a message which I'm sure will resonate with people. Particularly, as both Clarke and he mentioned, given a re-elected Labour Govt would be likely to see Ed Balls as Chancellor. That on its own is an excellent reason to Vote for Change.
A fun time last night on Brighton Pier as Spring Conference (Spring? Still feels like Winter!) opened with a quiz night hosted by Party Chairman Eric Pickles and special guest Christopher Biggins. I sat with our Eltham Parliamentary candidate David Gold on a table with Chris as we scoffed Fish and Chips and were entertained by his wonderfully naughty banter. When we got to the actual quiz, the questions were so tough I wondered if they'd been set by Oliver Letwin or David Willetts, but it was a fun night, and a great way to kick off the weekend. Now for some serious politics today as the conference opens...
Thursday, February 25, 2010
On Monday, I went along to the celebration of East Greenwich Library's 105th Anniversary. It was organised by the Friends of East Greenwich Library group, who some years ago mounted a campaign to prevent its closure. The library was built as a gift to the people of Greenwich by Andrew Carnegie in 1905, a great tribute to the tradition of philanthropy in this country. The Friends are now campaigning for the Council to provide funds to renovate the historic building, including dealing with its faulty drains.
It was a really good evening, with a speech on the area's history from ward Councillor Mary Mills, readings, and performances by a group of fantastically talented students from Greenwich Community college. The singers could have put many an X Factor contestant to shame, and it's great to see such talent on show locally. Above all, though, it was a reminder of the central role local libraries can play in the life of our communities, and I hope they will continue to do so. The trend towards centralising them in larger centres (as the Council favours) risks ignoring that important role.
OK, I know the whole world was on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what council service I was going to use, and how I got on. Well, it's not hugely exciting, but we were getting rid of a sofa, and phoned the Cleansweep service for them to come and dispose of it. After paying the £12 fee over the phone, we were given a timeslot for the following day, and told to leave the item outside overnight, as the collection could be as early as 6am.
Now, the £12 fee covers up to three items, so a bit later in the day after some more furniture shifting, we called back to ask if we could leave a couple more items. Sorry, we were told, as it was after 12 noon we couldn't change the details of the booking. Oh dear.
Never mind, the sofa was collected on time, and I can't complain about the efficiency of the service. But would everyone in the Borough be prepared to pay £12 for it? When the Council proposed introducing charges, my Conservative colleagues and I opposed it, on the grounds that it could lead to an increase in fly-tipping, which is of course costly to deal with. I haven't seen figures on that, but will now be asking for them.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Following Andrew Rawnsley's revelations today, a letter from the Prime Minister's wife has come to light:
"My Darling, I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know. One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic & overbearing manner. It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys and 'take what's coming to them' and then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders.
"Higher up if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you. I said this and I was told, 'No doubt it's the strain'. My Darling... I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; and you are not so kind as you used to be.
"It is for you to give the Orders and if they are bungled... you can sack anyone and everyone. Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote: 'On ne regne sur les ames que par le calme' [We don’t reign on souls, but through calm]. I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you - besides you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality - (Rebellion in war time being out of the question!). Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful..."
The letter is, of course, signed "Clemmie", and was written to Winston Churchill by his wife in 1940. Despite the comparisons some have attempted to draw between our wartime leader's conduct and Gordon Brown's alleged bad temper, it should be said that Churchill's irritability and demanding nature were balanced by great personal charm and kindness, which inspired the devotion of his close personal staff. As his personal servant Norman McGowan wrote in his memoir: "An eighteenth century French wit said 'no man is a hero to his valet'. In the twentieth century one was."
If you read the many accounts of Churchill that exist by those who saw him at close quarters - his private secretary Jock Colville, his personal detective Walter Thompson, or his "Garden Girl" secretaries - the picture that emerges is not one of a bully, but of an impatient genius. Yes, he could be demanding, unreasonable, inconsiderate and downright rude - but he never seemed to bear a grudge, usually apologised, and made up for it with generosity and friendliness which inspired loyalty and affection. And of course, he was a Great Man.
Monday, February 15, 2010
This afternoon I visited the Eltham Centre to meet Council officers and see the extent of the fire damage. In the picture above you can see the boarded up front doors where the Fire Brigade had to break in, but other than that there is little outward sign of damage. Inside, however, there is a strong smell of smoke, and the Fire Brigade investigators are still working in the blackened room under the stairs where the fire started. It burnt up through the building, but was contained by firewalls and has caused only localised damage to the fabric of the building, unfortunately, that includes a large amount of the electrical systems and cabling. As the officer showing me round put it, it's as though the patient's body is intact, but has suffered crippling internal injuries. Plans to get parts of the centre open again are proceeding, helped by the fact the Library has its own seperate circuits, but until the investigators finish their job it is impossible to put a timescale on reopening. The message I was asked to emphasise is that any speculation about the length of closure is premature at this point: 'We're treating this as an ongoing incident and are not yet at the point of putting in place recovery plans' was the key point. I'll pass on any more information I get, but the Council website will have any further official updates.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I've just heard that there was a fire last night at the Eltham Centre on Archery Road, in my ward. It is thought it was caused by an electrical fault, and although the fire was contained and structural damage is slight, there has been severe damage to the building's electrics in places. This means the centre could be closed for some time.
Council staff have been on site today with fire brigade investigators, and a group of senior council officers will be meeting tomorrow after further investigations have taken place to establish the full extent of the damage. It is hoped the library may still be able to open, although this is currently uncertain.
I'm grateful to the Council leadership for passing on updates, and further information will be posted on the website, which currently has this notice posted.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Greenwich Council's cabinet committee has a meeting this afternoon (called at short notice) to agree £3m of extra funding for the Cutty Sark. I was briefed on it yesterday, and it seems there have been ongoing discussions for some time to close the remaining £12m funding gap. This will now be made up by £1m funding from the Mayor of London (thanks Boris!), £3m from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, £1m from a new trustee, £2m from planning agreements (Section 106 funds), and a £2m grant for renovating Cutty Sark gardens. If the Council agrees the extra £3m, that closes the gap.
Many people will have a sense of deja vu at headlines declaring the Cutty Sark saved, as it isn't the first time a funding gap has been identified and then closed. The extra costs and delays following the fire have had more of an impact than was first anticipated, and it is fair to say there have been question marks over the financial controls that were in place. I am reliably informed the Heritage Lottery Fund (who have provided the vast majority of the funding so far), have insisted on serious tightening up of the management of the project, and things are now much better than they were.
There are some outstanding issues, such as what Greenwich residents will get in return for the £3m the Council is putting in, and I will be exploring that at the meeting today. Below is the quote I’ve put out to the press ahead of the meeting:
Councillor Nigel Fletcher, Greenwich Conservatives’ Spokesman for Culture and Olympics, said:
“Restoring the Cutty Sark is a hugely important project for Greenwich, given its status as a world-famous tourist destination. The extra funding needed to finish the job would ideally have been found from private donations, but in the current economic climate that avenue has been all but exhausted.
“This is actually the first time Greenwich Council has provided direct financial support to the project, which demonstrates the hard work the Trust has itself done to raise funds. With the Mayor of London and Central Government now contributing to make up the shortfall, it is right we should play our part. Hard-pressed taxpayers may find it a tough pill to swallow, but pulling the plug on the project at this stage would be unthinkable.
“There are already a number of suggestions for direct benefits the Borough's residents can expect in return for this assistance, and I am pressing for an agreement that a proportion of future revenue be allocated to small-scale local heritage projects. I have already discussed that with the Trust and will be making the case for it at the Cabinet Committee meeting this afternoon.'
Update: 3.55pm: As expected, the committee (comprising Deputy Leader Peter Brooks and Cabinet Member for Culture John Fahy) agreed the grant, after briefings from the Council's Chief Executive and other senior officers. Myself and Lib Dem Councillor Paul Webbewood were in attendance to ask questions on the detail. I made the point that it is important we communicate how much of a positive impact the Cutty Sark has on the Borough, and that we make the most of the opportunities we now have as a co-funder of the project, including my suggestion that some of the revenue generated in future could be channelled into smaller heritage projects in the Borough. This is something which will now be discussed with the Trust as part of drawing up the agreement with them for the donation.