Sunday, 31 May 2009

Elections are coming!

Very short post.

Just had a lovely drive back from London, M25, M11, A14, A6 etc. Anyway, while driving through Oadby back into the city the gardens had party political boards, windows had posters in them and people were out and about canvassing. Now only four days until the county council and European elections and we are approaching a really exciting time. One of the few good things to come from this expenses stuff is that it has motivated many who may not have voted. I really can't wait.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Two words: Special Olympics.

Front page today is about the Special Olympics and the company it employed which has failed to raise any money from commercial sponsorship.

This is actually quite a sad story, you speak to the Leicester city councillors or games officials -they sound gutted about this situation. One councillor told me that sponsors will kick themselves for missing out. Yes perhaps they will but somehow this has not been sold to those sponsors.

The recession has hit the Games, but it is clear that the company wanted to get one big sponsor, and may have put their eggs in one basket with Visa. But this fell through and they have now been left with nothing.

I tried to speak to First Rights yesterday, was promised a call back but it never happened. I would like to know what they tried, whether they changed their strategy, why they think they failed. I hope they call back next week.

The council's scrutiny committee is right to have agreed to review what has happened here, especially because the city wants to take some part in England's World Cup bid for 2018.
What is clear is that lessons must be learned. We want the city to bid for these events, we do not want this experience to put off doing it again but clearly the sponsorship or lack of it has been extremely disappointing.

Now to one of my favourite days of the year! It's cup final day. Only been to the new Wembley once, and that was only the outside. But went to the old one with my beloved Ipswich to the last competitive final there in 2000, where we won promotion to the Premier League. The place is magical, made better because I was there with my brother and Dad.

Anyway, I'll be cheering for Everton and having a drink. Bon weekend.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Noisy neighbours/thoughtless louts.

Today's front page is a story about noisy neighbours and the misery suffered by those living next to these thoughtless louts.

Yesterday I spoke to a Beaumont Leys woman who has lost weight, has become agoraphobic, and almost lost her marriage because of the problems caused by her neighbour who insists on having karaoke all through the night, letting her children and dogs run riot and who personally shouts, swears and throws things out of her windows.

Her case is not unique, in fact speaking to the police and council it became clear that thousands in the city and county suffer in exactly the same way.

Ok, all of us may have been guilty in the past of having the stereo on loud, doing DIY when we shouldn't or having a party that has got a bit out of hand. But the authorities have clear procedures and send letters, and I think 99 per cent of people would be mortified if they realised they had caused these problems and would pop next door to say sorry with some wine or flowers.

Yesterday I was in a lock-up near Morrisons at Freemans Common there were the piles and piles of DVD players, stereos, TVs, all seized from idiots who ignored the warnings and are too stupid/selfish to see they are making life so difficult for people. It makes people ill and drives them to the edge, making it difficult to function at work and at home. We should throw the book at them.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

City council expenses.

So, as I said last week the city council failed to respond to my FOI request asking for the release of the expenses of the city council cabinet within 20 days.

My comment that "there would be trouble" made a few people giggle, but anyway I was pretty grumpy about it, especially because the county council had given me the same info already, with days to spare. I was even more grumpy because I was told there was no real reason for the delay. Actually the reason I was given was so shocking I can't put it on here because it was followed swiftly by the "that was off the record by the way."

Anyway, on to today then.

10am: The situation was discussed with newsdesk and the editor, and we decided to get a formal response from the council's FOI department explaining the late reply and run a story on it. So I called the top man there, who said it was a "failure in the council's processes." Thanks. Very. Much. That's. Why. I. Am. Ringing.

Midday: I get a phone call from the city press office, asking if I was writing a story on the delay and if they could send a full statement explaining it. Of course I say.

2pm: I receive this explanation:

A city council spokesperson said:

“Firstly, we acknowledge that responding to this request has taken longer than we had hoped and we apologise for that.

“The scale and complexity of Freedom of Information (FoIA) requests has grown over the last couple of years, putting the resources and systems we need to deal with these requests under some pressure. The consequence is that responses to some requests, like this one, extend past the agreed deadline.

“However, we are currently reviewing our FoIA management systems to ensure we are better placed to deal with these requests in the future.

“As far as members’ expenses are concerned, the council has a policy of transparency – for many years summary information has been made available to the Mercury for publication annually.

“Members of the public also have access to this information during a set period each year, as part of the access arrangements to our wider accounts. We are aiming to have all of our accounts information available for public access by mid summer and will be publishing a notice to that effect shortly.

“The Mercury’s request and the ongoing national debate around MPs expenses have raised a number of issues about how we can ensure the greatest possible levels of transparency. We are currently looking at how we can make this information even more accessible so that the council taxpayers of Leicester can see exactly where their money is being spent.”

I then pop into a meeting to discuss how we are going to cover the elections on June 4.

3.15pm: The expenses, invoices and receipts are hand delivered to Mercury towers by Leicester City Council.

It would be cynical of me to think that I would not have got those details today anyway right? Now to plough through them.

One thing I have already noticed, one senior councillor sends more texts than the average teenager each month and charges the taxpayer by the way.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Today's news.

County Hall

Keith Vaz

David Taylor

One week in one post.

Back in the game. My future wife (who is London based) took my laptop for crucial work. Turns out that it was to watch a TV show called brothers and sisters, and as a result my blog lay fallow for a week.

Anyway back now and what a three days at work it has been since Tunisia, 13 and 14 hour days, but all worth it.

Wednesday: two words: Special Olympics. So after months of asking the city council and organisers about the levels of taxpayers' money needed, they admit that it is going to payout an extra £1 million. No-one is anti the event, who could be, but at the same time why couldn't they just be honest and say what we all knew.

Oh, surprise surprise the city council has failed to hit its FOI deadline for the cabinet's expense claims. Again County Hall does it no problem, with days to spare. Not them. I know that councils keep them centrally. Have already made a formal complaint and will go to the Information Commissioner. And if the rumour I have heard is true, and the cabinet decides to publish them on their websites next week, they will be in big trouble, and will help my case.

On Thursday night it was the mayor-making at the city council. Manjula Sood's 'reign' has ended and she has been tremendous. As the first Asian female to hold this post she has bought in media coverage for the city from all over the world. Most importantly, anyone who has met her knows that she is a lovely woman. And now Roger Blackmore takes over, a very bright and funny man. His year will be completely different, I am especially looking forward to seeing him in action in the council chamber. I think there will be some fire.

And last night, a difficult one. Police called in to look into allegations of dirty tricks in the County Hall elections. I will be careful about what I say here, the story is neutral and relies on facts. This story is going to run and run, not sure where though. Is not on the website yet, nor is details of David Taylor's expenses and more anger from Keith Vaz. Will add the links as soon as possible.

Off to town for present shopping for my brother and then do some wedding stuff in Rutland. Hopefully I'll get to cheer the Tigers on as well. Phew.

Friday, 15 May 2009

This is going to be my last blog for a few days because I'm off on a golf jolly to Tunisia with some men I've not met before.

So anyway, today John Mugglestone tells me to ring him back in an hour and then turns his phone off. Get a feeling we won't hear the last of this leadership battle in the city Conservative party. Coun Mugglestone, on his day, was a decent opponent to Ross Willmott, especially over the potential closure of Riverside school last week, but I think it may be time for a change. Ross Grant is desperate to make an impact on city politics, and I can't see that giving young blood a chance can be a bad thing.

Was reminded by Gemma that Alan Duncan was on Have I Got News For You talking about his second home allowance before it all went wrong and someone started digging up his garden. Go to 5.25. Notice he wasn't apologising then. I wonder if he's embarrassed. ANOTHER REASON WHY PEOPLE ARE SO INFURIATED ALAN.

There will be a brilliant piece in tomorrow's Mercury about Keith Vaz and expenses. Our award-winning features writer Lee Marlow went to find him at a school visit because he has been ignoring us for the last week. Initially Keith was pleased to see him until he stopped asking about a school crossing, and Lee was sent out of class.

Have a good weekend, back at Mercury Towers on Wednesday hopefully looking like Ron Atkinson. Hope someone doesn't use sun tan lotion to make a naughty symbol on my body when I fall asleep by the pool.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Pound Force.

Alan Duncan's garden has been vandalised. Full reaction in tomorrow's paper.

Patricia Hewitt's hedge.

I've been speaking to our county and city MPs about their expense claims this morning, Patricia Hewitt has just told me about having her hedge trimmed and Andy Reed about going to the B&Q sale. Is going to make a good spread tomorrow so make sure you have a look.

Oh, have made further attempts to contact Keith Vaz. Will he be paying any money back? I hope to find out later.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A message for Keith Vaz: call me!

Dear Keith,

If you read my blog can you give me a ring back please? I'd like to interview you about expenses and ask whether you think you should pay any money back like some of your colleagues have. I know you have given us a statement, I know it was within the rules, but you rang the editor and I hoped that this meant you would want to give your views over the phone or in person. Maybe you have sent a pigeon or a horseman will deliver a message with a time or date or something or anything. That's probably it.
Love Martin x

Anyway, county council election trail has started, and over the next three weeks we will be writing in detail about the big issues and battlegrounds. Tomorrow's is travellers, and there are few more divisive, emotive issues than this one. The main parties have set out their arguments, most of which revolve around breaking illegal camps up quickly but ensuring they have somewhere to go. The spokesman were a credit to their parties, but knowing politicians as I do, some will use this issue for their own gain, probably by spreading fear of crime.
Although travellers can cause problems, it is a minority, they deserve to be treated with respect. If they are treated as they should be then when they break the law they can have no complaints when we throw the book at them.
Oh, we will also have a spangling exciting election section on from the morning. You should look.

Tomorrow I will be writing about a major change in the political make-up at the city council. One thing any council needs is a robust opposition to scrutinise decisions made by the cabinet and its officers. Too often the Mercury has been the main scrutineer. It is part of our job, but we cannot speak out at meetings or start change from within the council. Good luck RG.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Stephen Fry, what a let down.

Stephen Fry, a man universally liked, a national treasure etc, but what was he going on about today...?

When asked about the MPs' expenses he said: "It's not that important, it really isn't." He also said that Journalists' expenses were just as bad. Trust me, I've got to claim for a sandwich I bought near the High Court last month and I'm nervous about getting the boss to sign it off.

Anyway, today David Cameron tells the people who have made cock-ups to pay the money back. Alan Duncan has written out a cheque for £5,000 but insists despite being told to do so or face expulsion from the party, it was a "voluntary" act and that he has done it without any guilt. This is why you are making people so infuriated Alan.

Back to Cameron, again, he seems to be taking the advantage on major issues. You have to wonder who is advising Gordon Brown, or if he is ignoring advice. I deal with PR people all the time, good and bad, and the first rule is to be proactive. The PM has had a week to do something about this, whip his boys and girls into shape, make a point about being tough. Again he has missed the train, boat, bus, anything you can think of really.

I met him a fortnight or so ago at Loughborough University and when I interviewed him I could tell that although he lacks charisma, he is a decent enough bloke. I was desperate to tell him (I didn't) that he needed to change, put my arm around him and say that he needs to reshuffle the pack because people are letting him down. But I'm afraid, if I get to meet him this week, he is back in the area again by the way, I may just say this time, he has no-one else to blame but himself.

Monday, 11 May 2009

You go away for a few hours.....

So now a politician is claiming for looking after a moat. Yes a moat. This is getting absolutely crazy and completely embarrassing. Listening to 5Live and people are just shouting about this. They are getting so angry that I don't think they will be happy before someone falls on their sword now. I have to agree, and we must have blood before the week is out. I don't care if it was within the rules, it is WRONG!
It seems that despite the criticism, Alan Duncan and Keith Vaz will survive. Interesting to see what will come out about our other seven or so MPs in the next few days.

Now almost as important, it was the battle of Leicester media tonight at the University of Leicester's Manor Road sports ground. And yes that thanks to a stern defence and creativity up front, the Mercury beat the BBC 7-3. Brilliant to sock it those lot! See you for more fun tomorrow

Alan Duncan.

County MP Alan Duncan has apologised over embarrassing expense claims for work on his garden. Mr Duncan was front page news today after asking for thousands of pounds for green-fingered duties at his home. His claim for work on his sit-on lawn mower and to pay for a puncture really was particularly laughable.

A really bad couple of days for the county after Keith Vaz was forced to defend £80,000 expenses on second homes this morning. He clearly loves cushions and armchairs. Blimey.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Victoria Park: No hangover.

Managed to make it through the weekend without any alcohol, I know it sounds crazy/worrying but it has been a big thing for me to do it, especially with lots of football on this weekend in the Clarendon. Can't wait for pint next weekend though.

On the hand, meant that I could go for a run around Victoria Park early on Saturday, and also went to drop off deposit at our wedding reception venue. You really can do lots more without a stinking hangover.

I must admit the ongoing expenses scandal has taken my mind off it a bit. I am getting more angry and staggered at the number of politicians who seem to believe saying it was within the rules means that unethical claims are acceptable to the rest of the population. Bonkers claims for nappies, biscuits, and decorating of all sorts is absolutely disgusting. And I think most people feel that way because if you looked at our expense claims, most of us are loathed to claim for anything at all.

Tories next, and bearing in mind they've had little to say about all this so far, it means that they are probably set for a big embarrassment this week. Can't wait to find out who has claimed for that sauna.

Tomorrow is city council cabinet meeting, involving Riverside, so should be interesting, plus briefing at County Hall. Will let you know what happens.

By the way, Ian and I saw a leading politician picking up an unknown woman after work on Friday. Looked like romance was in the air because he couldn't stop smiling, Ahh. Very interesting and my first bit of gossip for you.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Parking, BBC and Riverside. What a day!

Such a busy day today.

A major issue resurfaced, as it seems we are back on the path towards a parking permit scheme in the West End.

Businesses do not want it, the council says that residents do. That means trouble.

The big problem is that if they have a public poll will the council win?

In Clarendon Park I think the council thought it would be voted through, but the results didn't go their way. Patrick Kitterick says it is badly needed, so will they just bring it in? We'll see. The move would not be popular but if they council are so sure, I wonder if they'll do it despite the consequences.

Other stories included further problems on the A47 and six more months of roadworks. A real pain for drivers, but you only have to walk through the new bit near our office to see the difference it has made there.

Thursday is five-a-side at St Matthew's which was great fun. Even better news, we are playing BBC Leicester on Monday night and prepared for it with a big win.

And a final thought for the parents of Riverside, which will probably be recommended for closure by the council's cabinet on Monday. Ian was at scrutiny and it sounds like an emotional event. I'm still not convinced that the council could not have foreseen these problems years ago and there are many conspiracies surrounding this decision.

Wonder if they will sell the land for development? We'll see.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Day One.

First day as a blogger....exciting!

Today I was writing about the financial situation facing the Leicester Special Olympics. No one can doubt that this is going to be great for the city, but they are at least £800,000 short of their fundraising target with less that 2 months to go. I get the sense that the management think that if you question this situation then you are in some way anti this event. No, what I am anti is they could rely on the taxpayer to bail them out.

I also have been writing more on the ongoing row between Breedon villagers and County Hall. It has already cost £2 million and growing. It is heading for disaster because either way taxpayers will end up paying for this mess. Both are convinced not only the other is wrong, but that the other is playing dirty. Some really serious allegations about inpropriety and corruption. The protesters also believe that Nick Rushton will lose his seat because of this. I would be very surprised, but no doubt this is going to be a big issue come the county elections in June.

Finally, got back from squash with education supremo Ian Wishart, who by now should have set up his blog. Long long queues on the ring road caused us to divert through Fosse Park and Narborough Road back to Clarendon Park.

Oh, has anyone seen how big the new Sainsbury's is on Queens Road. Its signs already swamp the street. Hope that doesn't kill the local shops.