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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is Wolverhampton's Labour Council losing confidence?

Is the Labour Council losing confidence? Another consultation document from the council arrives in the post this morning. These seem to come as often as we dig up the city's central Queen Square.

A 15 page A4 booklet asks my views on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme. I recall filling in one of these tomes about libraries and community hubs. I don't remember too much listening going on.

Two thoughts come to mind. What is the postal cost of this survey of our quarter million city? Second, why does the council keep running to us for our opinions?

Once elected, our representatives should have the confidence and mandate to act accordingly. Seems they want to cover their backs, share the blame and hand us a council-paid election leaflet.

Wolverhampton is not the Athenian Greek City State or a Swiss referendum. We expect politicians to make decisions without coming back to mummy for reassurance.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prisons, porridge and passive smoking.

Sometimes when you hear a proposal, you just know instinctively that it won't work. A hornets-nest disturbed. Such is the case with the Prison Service's idea that prisons should become smoking-free places. A pilot in 2014 leading to a national programme is prisons from 2015.

Arguments about passive smoking and the rights of non-smokers in public places may carry legitimate weight in mainstream society but with prisons, there are particular issues and contexts which need careful addressing. Prisons are boring places and time passes slowly. Comforters take on a disproportionate status. Drugs abound and if these cannot be controlled what chance the nicotine cousin? Relations between warders and inmates work through consensual conventions, making life a bit easier for everyone. These are likely to be disturbed when a traffic warden view of implementing rules is introduced. Tobacco is a porridge currency, so will its value be inflated when it is banned? If it is successfully banned what other medium of exchange will take its place? By removing an environmental pollutant, unintended consequences may emerge even more difficult to police. If 80% of prisoners do smoke, then weaning them off the drug will be a challenge. Some "cold-turkey" symptoms could just make the behaviour of inmates more problematic. It would be interesting know how many warders smoke. Most of us never see the insides of a prison, so the proposals will be irrelevant to our experience and we will have a marginal interest. Implementing a ban will bring a cost. Better that scarce resources were directed to education and rehabilitation, so that our prison population was not just a revolving door of recidivism.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Cyprus raid on banks makes putting money under the mattress seem a wise move.

The significance of a situation really hits you when events happen in quick succession. I have just walked up Queen Square in Wolverhampton, passing a number of travel agents on the way. Sale banners tell me of bargain holidays to Cyprus. Fast forward a few steps into bank land in the square and I see a queue at an ATM. Makes one think!

The Captain Mainwaring ( Dad’s Army ) version of the bank disappeared forty years ago. Our 2013 hapless banks, now have a reputation so low that it is hard to think of things getting worse, and then along comes Cyprus.

How would you feel if on £100,000, 3% was siphoned off by the very people you entrusted your money to. I thought with deposits they are supposed to pay you. Makes the ordinary bank robber look good. At least you know where he is coming from.

Banks summarily taking money from your account would be shoplifting in any other walk of life. Add the collapse of banks in 2008, continued bankers’ bonuses and the reluctance of banks to lend to business and we have a heady cocktail. This is an industry in real need of reputation management.

Storing money under your mattress may have been the subject of ridicule in the past - today it might just seem like common sense

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wolverhampton and other markets might just benefit from the horse meat scare.

The British are a strange lot. When others around the world eat horses we keep the animals for racing, pets, polo and fox-hunting. The horse and the plough went decades ago. We are conservative eaters compared with Europe.

Recent publicity about the mislabelling of meat in supermarkets and convenience food, throws up some interesting longer-term consequences. The traditional independent butcher has been hanging on for dear life. Now this adverse publicity may be just the help that is needed to ensure his survival.

We want to buy cheaply but we also want trust in the product. When you buy that bowl for a pound, at least you know what is in front of you. You can make a judgement and it is your call. What's in the beefburger or mince is another matter.

To expand the animal story, we don’t want to be sold a pup! Trust comes when you can eyeball the person across the counter. If you are sold badly one week, you won’t be back the next. Reputation counts.

Our diverse ethnic populations in the West Midlands have had a large hand in helping to keep our small-scale stall owners going. Just look at Wolverhampton market. We should be proud of it. Enterprising entrepreneurs see a niche market which giant superstores do not match. There is a certain intimacy and vibrant pleasure in walking the stalls and experiencing the colours and smells of what is offered.

There is a different relationship between customer and stall-owner. There is conversation that you don’t get in the supermarket. Quality, price and flexibility are the key issues, whilst the handing over of cash highlights the intimacy of the deal.

Nevertheless, empty stalls tell us not all is well. Wrong location, high rents and parking all play their part. Shoppers are tired of the boarded up town centres and, although their complete love affair with the supermarket is not likely to be broken off, the meat scandal is a public relations opportunity for stall-holders to capitalise  on.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What would Cicero have made of Wolverhampton Council's proposals to alter our libraries into community hubs?

Cicero, the great Roman statesman and orator, was once quoted as saying that "a room without books is like a body without a soul".

Following that logic, this could also apply to a city that begins to close its libraries. Our council was voted in to provide good governance and adequate facilities for all its citizens.

The provision of libraries has always been one of the foundation blocks of a civilised society, and the denial of that local facility, is an affront to those communities that need their local library for relaxation, information and education.

Our council seems to fund consultants at £750 a day and will further burden the council tax payer with borrowing millions to refurbish the civic centre. Perhaps the electorate will remember this, when they next put pen to paper at the ballot box.

This is a guest blog post from John Holt, Finchfield, Wolverhampton.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wolverhampton and the sorry tale of its community hubs. A by-election in Park Ward might just settle the matter.

So Wolverhampton's Labour Council brings  to an end  its marathon consultation over proposals to reorganise libraries and other community services. Public meetings and petitions across the city have dealt the councillors a hand they will be hard-pushed to play. So what next? Will the council come up with a Mark 2 for us to consider?

Meanwhile, a by-election in Park Ward provides an opportunity for electors to show their feelings over this poorly conceived and promoted idea.