Playing the Person

Our country faces many serious challenges including the leading of economic recovery and the real threats to our national security.  It was therefore stunning to find that some of the most feverish activity coming out of Number 10 was directed against senior Conservative politicians.  Here we have some policy advisors, paid for by the taxpayer, apparently engaged in party political activity of the worst kind.  The national interest and the party political interest are deliberately made one and the same.  There is the implicit, arrogant and self-serving argument that it is somehow in the national interest for the Labour Party to remain in power. 

Finishing, Winning and Qualifying

 Last weekend I participated in a chess tournament in St. Albans as I now occasionally do at various locations.  I have been entering these tournaments for 26 years and I have never won an event which is fine as the outcomes come from an appropriate mix of skill, merit and luck.  It is nevertheless tantalising to be finishing second or third on a number of occasions and not quite making it to the top.  I could try the excuse of not being ruthless enough or of being too nice but some people might argue that this would fail the test of plausible deniability.  Nevertheless I do value perseverance and the idea that taking part is more important than winning.  

Political Expenses

Expenses paid to politicians have understandably made the headlines again.  There is rightly a public expectation that expenses should just be a reasonable reimbursement of costs incurred by their elected representatives.  Somehow it appears through media examples that this principle is being exceeded all too often.  The issue transcends party politics with cases being highlighted across the political spectrum.

A Capital Strategy

Somebody once said to me that if we had a capital strategy looking ahead several years, it would be strategic and even statesmanlike.  Perhaps that last comment was a little over-the-top but the Council’s spending programme for 2008-2012 does reach a whopping £75 million.  That might seem a surprising figure but it is tabled for cabinet approval on Wednesday 25th March.  This is alongside proposals to enable new bids up to 2013/14.

Bonus Culture

It is sometimes said that the bonus culture within parts of the financial services sector distracts attention away from the more fundamental economic errors made by government.  There is some truth in this but that should not prevent some public scrutiny of what is happening.  Currently the huge American insurer, AIG, is under fire for making bonus payments of £116 million while accepting US government bail-out money.  It is possible that this sum will be deducted from the public funds it is due to receive.

Quantitative Easing

 Now and again we hear some news and wonder if we are dreaming.  The wonderful term, quantitative easing, had just started to appear in the media, presumably to desensitise the public when it actually happened - and now it is reality.  We wake up and it is still true.  It means introducing more money into the economy, apparently out of thin air.  These days, we might speculate as to how much of this is printed and how much is created electronically.  Either way, it seems reasonable to expect that introducing this much new money could devalue the money that is already in the economy.  We are not comparable with Zimbabwe but that country illustrates the extremes of a devalued currency.

Special Relationship

 The meeting between President Barack Obama and prime minister Gordon Brown is hailed as a re-affirmation of the special relationship.  All politicians at that level have a host of advisors and you can just imagine them saying, “Keep mentioning special relationship, your whole meeting must be laced with references to that expression.”  This would fit with the reality thatAmerica’s statements to other important allies are no less warm.

New Look for Full Council

On Wednesday 25th February, we have our budget-setting Full Council.  It is also our first Full Council testing a new format designed to achieve an earlier finish and an earlier exit from the town hall.  This is important for minimising repetition in debate noting that all items have been discussed somewhere else before coming to the meeting.  It also recognises how the quality of debate and decision-making can fall off after several hours in the council chamber.

Health of the Borough

 The North East Review of healthcare services has generated considerable public interest.  We have seen our health services analysed many times and there will be more of this in the future.  The very existence of the North East Review, while welcome, tends to support the view that its predecessor, Fit for the Future, lacked a focus on our immediate geographical area and had an emphasis outside of that area.

Harnessing Technology

I have had quite a long background ininformation technology, mainly in the private sector.  Even with this exposure to technological change, there have been some developments over time that have really impressed and surprised me in terms of their impact.  Twenty and more years ago, I was quite amazed at how much functionality could be built into an answer phone.  Perhaps my sense of wonderment was excessive but I was enthused by the ability that I had from far away to interrogate telephone messages and even alter the outgoing message that I had left for people.  All of this was possible through the remarkable gymnastics of a single tape deck under distant remote control.