"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and
open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values
of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall
be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
God Rest Ye Merry Criminals
At 6:00pm I arrive in Parliament Square for what is possibly the first illegal carol service of modern times. Under Section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005, anyone taking part may, if found guilty, be liable to a fine of up to £2,500 or up to 51 weeks in prison. Welcome to Tony Blair's Britain.
The threat to free speech doesn't seem to have put us off, however; there's peace and goodwill in abundance. We take a song sheet, and a rather ropy white candle with a home-made cardboard shield to stop the hot wax dripping on our hands. The crowd launches into O Come All Ye Faithful, followed by Away In A Manger and The Little Drummer Boy. My friend Gareth standing next to me comments that as a veteran of organising singalongs at political events, the latter is not always an easy choice for keeping amateur groups singing together in the same key!
Still, we gather pace through The Twelve Days of Christmas, Deck The Halls, Good King Wenceslas and a host of well-known Christmas favourites. As our candles sputter and blow out, our neighbours use theirs to re-light them for us. It's all completely peaceful; no placards, no violence, just real friendship and a shared view that free speech is something that shouldn't be thrown away lightly.
Towards the end, there's a minute's silence; then veteran protestor Brian Haw - whose longstanding demonstration outside Parliament the Act was brought in to silence, but which the courts have ruled is the only one not affected by the new law - delivers some closing thoughts in typical Brian style.
The police have been notable by their absence; there are normally far more of them around Parliament than there are tonight. Clearly they've decided they'd look utterly foolish trying to enforce Blair's new law, and arresting a bunch of well-behaved citizens (including at least one member of the House of Lords) for simply singing Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men.
Note: the event was organised by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads and raised £300 for Medical Aid for Iraqi Children.
Father Christmas comes to Pets' Corner
Today is Father Christmas's last visit to Pets' Corner this year.
He'll be dropping in between 11:00 and 12:30, and again between 1:30 and 3:00, to check on his reindeer Holly and Belle.
Admission is free, but there'll be a special Christmas donation box, and money raised will go towards the care of the animals at Pets' Corner. Harlow Liberal Democrats' environment and community spokesman Cllr Eleanor Macy says:
"I'm sure every child who visits will be delighted to have a chance to see Father Christmas and the reindeer."
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Harlow Council is improving - official!
Harlow Council is improving, the Audit Commission's progress report on the Council says.
The report, published today, says that "the rate of improvement has accelerated in the last year". It comments on progress in managing performance, in political leadership, and in delivering services in some key priority areas. The Audit Commission says: "Whilst the rate of Council tax remains high, there has been improvement compared to other Councils".
The report acknowledges improvement in
"We have consulted with local people to agree a list of priorities for Harlow Council. These priorities give direction to everything that we do. They are the basis for our Corporate Plan, for our financial strategies and for the range and quality of services that we provide.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
Sumners Leisure Centre re-opens its doors
Today saw the official re-opening of Sumners Leisure Centre. Closed by Harlow Council in April, as it could no longer afford to run it, the centre has now been taken on by Great Parndon Community Association, and has already succeeded in attracting a huge range of events and activities for all ages and interests.
Messy Monkeys Workshops, Soccer Tots, Junior Football Coaching, Krazy Kidz Klub and holiday courses, judo, badminton and volleyball are just some of the choices on offer - with trampolining, parenting classes, women's sports mornings, after school clubs, hip hop dance and yoga to look forward to in the new year. The hall is also available for hire for birthday parties and other events. Contact GPCA for more details or a programme.
Local Liberal Democrat deputy leader Cllr Ian Jackson (pictured here with GPCA's Karen Bartlett), and parliamentary spokesman Cllr Lorna Spenceley, attended the opening event. Ian says:
"All credit to GPCA for taking on this venue and making such a success of it. It's great to know that active community organisations in Harlow are able to offer so much to local residents."
Friday, December 16, 2005
Preferred bidders chosen for Norman Booth, Ladyshot and Dashes
At a special meeting today, Harlow Council's Policy & Resources Committee chose 'preferred bidders' for three buildings closed by the council earlier this year.
BATTS - the Burnt Mill Academy of Table Tennis Skills - will begin negotiations to take on the Norman Booth Centre. Harlow Football Club will open discussions with the council with a view to leasing Ladyshot Family Centre. And Young Concern, currently based at The Hides, will start negotiations with Harlow Council for The Dashes Family Centre.
Cllr Robert Thurston and Cllr Lorna Spenceley attended the council meeting and took part in the decision. Cllr Thurston said:
"We've been very fortunate indeed to have some excellent local organisations putting in good bids to run services that will benefit our community. This is really great news - local residents will continue to enjoy local services, but now it will be at no cost to the taxpayer."
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Good news on bus passes
From next April, pensioners in Harlow will be entitled to a bus pass that's completely free. Thanks to the hard work of a number of councillors, but particularly Liberal Democrat councillor Robert Thurston, the new pass will continue to cover the whole of Essex, and go to Bishop's Stortford, starting from 9:00am.
Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington said:
"This agreement is very good news for Harlow Council and its residents, and from April will mean a better service for local pensioners than the minimum laid down by the Government. The hard work done to ensure a fair outcome, by Cllr Robert Thurston in particular, really has paid off."Cllr Thurston, who played a leading role in reviewing Harlow's bus pass scheme, added:
"This agreement is a significant advance on the Council's position of a few years ago. It's good value for money, and the time and effort spent negotiating a better deal for Harlow has been well worth while."
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
College building project gathers pace
Harlow's Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington today visited Harlow College in the company of college principal David Ellerby, to see how the new buildings are progressing. Handover is due to take place shortly, with further buildings handed over to the college in the summer. Links are also being made in the area of higher (degree-level) education. Cllr Millington said:
"It's impressive to see what's happening at Harlow College, and the contribution the college is making to regenerating the town."
Friday, December 09, 2005
Eleanor makes a clean sweep
Harlow Council has begun a major clean-up of the town. The campaign is called "Together We Can ... A Safer, Cleaner Harlow" and will run from now to March 2006.
The town's 19 shopping hatches will be deep-cleaned between now and 20 December. In the new year, 20 housing estates will get a major clean-up, as will cycle paths and subways.
Liberal Democrat environment and community spokesman Cllr Eleanor Macy says:
"Our campaign supports the Council's top priority - a clean, safe and sustainable environment. It's about carrying out extra cleaning across the town, raising pride in our town, and working with local people to keep Harlow clean and safe.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Brays Grove School meeting
Local Liberal Democrat leader Cllr Chris Millington tonight joined Bush Fair ward colleague Cllr Eleanor Macy and local parliamentary spokesman Lorna Spenceley at the Latton Bush Centre for the consultation meeting on the threat to the future of Brays Grove School.
Cllr Millington pointed out to the packed meeting the unreliability of some of the figures provided by the County Council to support their proposed closure of the school. Several other secondary schools would be likely to be overcrowded if Brays Grove were to close, because of extra housing which would be built in the next few years.
Cllr Macy praised Brays Grove School for its links with the local community, and urged the County Council to reconsider its closure plans. She pointed out that the County Council had closed a secondary school in Loughton, only to have to rebuild another one within a matter of years.
Residents who want to email the County Council with their views about its proposed closure of Brays Grove School need to do so by Thursday 12 January. The County Council will meet on 24 January to consider the closure of the school.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Fairer school admissions for all children, say Liberal Democrats
Liberal Democrats in Essex have today called on Essex County Council to lead and coordinate a local admissions policy to ensure fair access to schools for all children. In a motion put before a full council meeting, the Liberal Democrats highlighted flaws in government proposals that will see schools in Essex competing against each other for the most academic children. Anne Turrell, Liberal Democrats spokesman for education, said:
"We support schools having more independence, but this must work in the interests of all children whatever their academic ability. Fair admissions cannot be delivered on a school by school basis as this would result in schools being able to cherry pick the children they want and ignore the ones they don't want.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Water Gardens award
Harlow Council has been presented with a prestigious Green Plaque in recognition of its contribution towards the creation of the new Water Gardens and Civic Centre developments. Commenting on this international award, Liberal Democrat council leader Chris Millington said:
"This is another major positive for Harlow and its regeneration programme. Green Plaques are awarded to projects that make a major contribution to the country's built environment and architectural heritage, so we are obviously very pleased to win one."