Campbell and Mandelson: why wait until now?

July 26, 2010

Fascinating to see that Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell have now joined the long list of Labour glitterati to ‘expose’ the back room stories of Blair and Brown’s years in government.

Already, the books are selling well based on the tales of mystery and intrigue surrounding both PMs, and their perceived flaws.

Just makes you wonder why neither author chose to expose these issues when they were in power, preferring to wait until they were out of government to make money out of revealing them in their books?


Cafe society at the TN2 Centre

July 25, 2010

Quite a while ago I was approached by my friends at the TN2 Community Centre in Sherwood who were looking to replace and upgrade some of the kitchen equipment in the cafe.

The cafe, although small and run by local volunteers, represents a real hub for the community and it’s great to see so many people using it. On this basis I was only too pleased to find £2500 from KCC Member Grant to help out.

I got an email yesterday telling me that the new equipment is now installed. Of course, I’ll have to go along and see the new kit, even though it may mean sampling the fantastic bacon sandwiches they make.

As someone once said, it’s a tough job…


£250,000 to change Venables’ identity – yes or no?

July 24, 2010

Along with probably most of the rest of the population, I was unsurprised to hear that Jon Venables had committed further offences following his release from jail. I was surprised to hear though that the offences related to collation and distribution of child porn images.

Venables, one of the murderous young torturers of toddler Jamie Bulger a decade or two ago, is now twenty seven, and was committed this week for trial at the Old Bailey.

On his release from prison, Venables was given a new identity, at great cost to the taxpayer. Now, it seems, he is to be given a further new identity with the price tag – at around a quarter of a million pounds – to be borne by us all again.

At a time when Governments seem keen to involve the public in making decisions, I wonder whether the taxpayer would agree that protecting Jon Venables from vengeance was a good way to blow another £250,000?


Tom Hart-Dyke at the Kent IoD Breakfast

July 20, 2010

Last Friday morning, I was invited to speak at the Institute of Directors’ Business Breakfast at the Kent Show, as a ‘warm up man’ for the main attraction, Tom Hart-Dyke.  Tom is a natural communicator and has a fascinating story to tell, being a modern-day ‘plant hunter’, searching out rare and exotic species in their natural habitat around the globe.  This often takes him into dangerous and uncharted territory, as it did back in 200 when he and a colleague, Paul Winder were searching out rare orchids in the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama.

Tom and Paul were captured at gunpoint by suspected FARC guerillas, and held captive for almost ten months, being moved from camp to camp, and eventually threatened with death ‘in five hours’ time’.  Facing potentially his last five hours of life, Tom used the red biro and exercise book his captors had given him to sketch out his idea of the ‘perfect garden’, using the plants he had collected from around the world.

Through an inexplicable twist of fate, his captors returned five hours later and set Tom and Paul free.  Sensing that this moment was probably something to do with fate, Tom eventually returned to the UK and created his vision at his family home, Lullingstone Castle.

He was a fascinating and engaging young man whose experiences in his relatively short life far exceed what most of us will ever dream of.  You can read Tom’s story for yourself in his book, ‘The Cloud Garden’, or visit the world garden for yourself – see the website here.

(the photo above shows Tom Hart-Dyke (seated) and from left David Philpott, Chairman of Kent IoD; Kevin and Graham Mead, KM Group Managing Director)


My cycle race with Jamie Staff MBE

July 19, 2010

I’m on a bit of a fitness kick at the moment; I use a crosstrainer regularly, and have just bought an abs trainer to try to lose the tummy I’ve built up from a far too familiar relationship with Indian food.  But at this year’s Kent Show I had the opportunity of trying out a hi-tech “WattBike” – a next generation training bike linked to a state-of-the-art performance monitoring system.

What I didn’t realise was that when I tried it out I’d be partnered on the bike next to me by Jamie Staff MBE, World BMX Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist, who was manning the stand to encourage people to get into cycling for health and fitness.  Our race was a 250 metre sprint from a cold start.  Either I was hallucinating, or Jamie sportingly let the tubby County Councillor win – you can see in the photo above that he’s not actually using his hands!  But Jamie’s ‘proper’ sprint time was 12.44 seconds – an astonishing time.  I couldn’t get anywhere close to that, and came in at over 16 seconds.  However, I’d been bitten by the bug, and tried again on Saturday – where I came in at 15.59, and again on Sunday, where I finally managed 14.97 seconds!

I don’t think I’ll be giving up KCC for a career as a speed cyclist, but I understand some of the young people who came to see Jamie and tried out their skills on the Wattbikes have been ‘spotted’ by the people from British Cycling who were there, and that has to be a great reason for being at the Kent Show.


The Value of Honesty

July 17, 2010

"Two portions of chips, please" said my eldest daughter at the County Show today. The lady served up the chips, and I asked her "Has she paid you yet?" having given my daughter a five pound note for two portions at £2.50 each.

"I thought you’d paid already" she replied, taking my fiver. "But for being so honest, I’m only going to charge you for one portion of chips". Walking off, I told my two daughters "You see, honesty really does pay. We just got a free portion of chips for owning up that we hadn’t paid."

"But Dad" said my eldest "if you’d been dishonest and not paid, we’d have been a fiver better off now."

It’s actually quite difficult to argue with that.


To some people, the smallest things are life changing

July 15, 2010

At KCC’s Cabinet meeting on Monday morning, my colleague Graham Gibbens introduced a paper on the Kent Employability Strategy.  I was keen to see the progress made on this, as I started the group a few years ago which now takes this forward.  Basically, I was keen to ensure that Kent County Council, and ultimately the rest of the private and voluntary sectors – do anything we can to create employment and training opportunities for those in our society who might not always get the breaks many of us are used to.

I was pleased to see that the Strategy received unanimous support from Cabinet to go forward, and I told two quick stories to my coleagues.

Some years ago I visited a social enterprise in North Kent, where I met a man in his twenties with Downs Syndrome.  His job was quite repetitive, but he loved it.  He told me that his employers had helped him to learn his job, even showing him how to use the bus to get there, to pay his fare and check his change.  And best of all? He now rented a flat, where he had his own front door key.  Somewhere he could bring his friends for a beer and an evening on the X-Box.

Somewhere he could feel like the independent person he had become.

But I talked also about a learning disabled man I had met in his forties, who proudly told me he had ‘a job’.  He swept the yard of a haulage company – every day, starting at dawn.  He was proud of the job he did. I asked what he was paid for this work, and he told me he got a can of beer and a sandwich each day.  It appears that had he actually been paid, he would have lost more in benefits than he received for working.

As we set out on the Coalition Government’s journey towards the “Big Society”, let’s not forget that to some people, the smallest things are life changing.

(to see the webcast of KCC’s Cabinet meeting for July, click on this link)