Thursday, 23 June 2011

An open letter to the local UKIP chairman

Dear Mr Webster

I had a leaflet through the door tonight from you. It’s nice to see a bit of canvassing going on outside of election time.

However, the leaflet states one figure which needs further explanation.

It states that “apparently, Conservative and Liberal Democrat Councillors have recently claimed £1.25 million in personal expenses, which seems excessive.”

It would be excessive if only it were true.

The FULL costs of Huntingdon District Council’s allowances, expenses etc for 2010/11 was £425k. Check the HDC website, the full amounts are there.

As a recipient of one of the allowances in question, the £3,807 I was paid (gross by the way, before the tax man had his slice) is recompense for the hours on top of normal life that Councillors put in. I was recently asked by an old school friend why I got involved in local politics. I replied that it certainly wasn’t for the money. No wonder a former LibDem Council colleague of mine said recently, “I shall miss a lot of it, but at least I have my life back.”

I don’t suppose you’ll be issuing another leaflet any time soon, so perhaps I ought to drop the Hunts Post a line to put some clarity into things.

I am delighted to hear that HDC’s two UKIP members pledge their allowances to local causes. And, unlike ex UKIP Councillor Andrew Monk, they don’t claim expenses, though I accept his was a mere £82.80.

Mine, for the record was £0.00.

I hope you don’t mind me dropping you a line to dispute your leaflet, but I am reminded of a quote by the late Aneurin Bevan.

“This is my truth, tell me yours”

All the best

Cllr Ste Greenall
Huntingdon East Lib Dem Councillor

Thursday, 26 May 2011

I do hope my MP isn't getting annoyed at me, after all, this is the second time I have written to him in a short space of time.

Dear Mr Djanogly,

As one of your constituents, I am writing to ask you to consider signing Early Day Motion 1194: which calls on the government to reconsider its proposed cuts to Legal Aid.

These cuts will threaten access to justice for millions of people, with legal areas such as medical negligence, employment, immigration, welfare and family law being affected or take completely out of scope. I was alerted to the campaign, and have copied a section of this letter from the recommended text, but I have also tailored it myself.

The “Sound Off For Justice” campaign - for the positive reform of Legal Aid, ( - has consulted lawyers and those that will be directly affected by the proposed cuts. They are now suggesting alternative reforms to the current system. Importantly these reforms will ensure that the required savings can be made whilst safeguarding the public right to legal support and access to justice. It is of utmost importance that these alternatives are reviewed before the governmental response to the reforms on Legal Aid are published and subsequently go to the vote in the Treasury.

I am supporting the “Sound Off For Justice” campaign because I want to protect access to justice for the millions that stand to become more vulnerable should the Government's proposed reforms be accepted. I was surprised, but encouraged, to see your picture in issue 1289 of “Private Eye” at the recent “Sound Off For Justice” march. Would it be correct to assume that your agreeing to be pictured at the protest signals your agreement with the protest’s aims? I would find it very confusing if you didn’t support the aims of the protest that you went to the march, dressed casually.

May I encourage you to write separately to the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon. Kenneth Clarke QC, MP, to express concerns on my behalf?

Thank you in anticipation of your support,

Yours sincerely

Ste Greenall
Snowy Way


In many ways, this campaign reminds me of what our Liberal Democrat group on HDC is trying to do with regard to the voluntary sector grants - i.e. to protect the funding and seek more sensible - and fair - savings elsewhere.

I hope the campaign is a great success

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

On 27th April, the Public Accounts Committee reported on the planned shake-up of the NHS. They said that “pushing through the changes while seeking £20 billion in efficiency savings may damage front-line services.” So I wrote to our MP Jonathan Djanogly, asking if he shared the concerns of that committee, which comprises MPs from all sides. Amongst a number of questions I asked, I was particularly keen to hear how Hinchingbrooke Hospital could be affected. Here's what I sent:

Dear Mr Djanogly,

Do you share the concerns of the Public Accounts Committee about Andrew Lansley's NHS plan? Please could you tell me what you will do to make sure their concerns are listened to?

I am not convinced that Andrew Lansley wants to listen to anyone about his NHS plans. The listening exercise seems like it might just be a PR stunt.

Where do you stand on making real changes to Lansley's NHS plans? For example will you push to remove promotion of competition within the NHS and place the focus on cooperation and quality of care instead? And how will it affect Hinchingbrooke Hospital, a place dear to me, having used it, and my son Ben was born there.

Yours sincerely,

Ste Greenall

The reply I received answered some of my more general questions but made no reference at all to Hinchingbrooke. What’s more, the reply “answered” two points that were not even in my letter! This led me to wonder if I had merely received a standard reply, rather than a more specific one. Surely even a standard reply from the Huntingdon MP should include a reference to the main hospital in his constituency? After all, on his own website back in November, Mr Djanogly wrote “Hinchingbrooke Hospital is a well used and much admired local health facility. I will be looking to ensure that the level of care service provision is maintained at the current level.”

Here is the reply:

Dear Mr. Greenall,

Thank you for contacting me about the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)'s report into the NHS Landscape Review.

I would like to reassure you that the Government’s listening exercise is genuine. Ministers are taking the opportunity of the natural break in the legislative process to pause, listen, reflect on and improve these plans for NHS modernisation. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation and the implementation of our plans, changes will be made.

Although the PAC agreed that the Government's plan to modernise the NHS could help the NHS become a more efficient service, the PAC also asked a number of important questions about the modernisation plans. The Government recognises the importance of addressing these questions, and will seek to do so with the help of other frontline NHS staff, patients and members of the public during the listening exercise.

About the issue of trialling the Government's plans. The Government established its programme of 'pathfinders' late last year, to help test the NHS modernisation plans and ensure they work in the best interests of patients. The lessons learned from the pathfinder programme will feed into the listening exercise, helping ensure that the plans are improved still further.

Thank you for contacting me on this issue.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Djanogly
I have had cause to use A & E at Hinchingbrooke twice myself in the past, and my son was born there. For that reason if no other, it has a place in my heart. Last year, our MP said “This is a testing time for Hinchingbrooke .......”let us all get behind our valued local hospital and not let constructive debate become damaging sniping.”

I hope Mr Djanogly doesn’t think that I am sniping in a damaging way. Hence, I do look forward to the results of Andrew Lansley’s listening exercise, which Mr Djanogly assures me is genuine. I sincerely hope that where good suggestions are made to improve the NHS, they are taken on board. After all, David Cameron promised last year “I'll cut the deficit, not the NHS." With the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing warning that the proposed NHS shake up represents a privatisation of the health service, we must hope Mr Cameron and his MPs are being sincere with us.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Yes to AV......and a big yes for Kev Sumner

Only a day to go, leaflets have been delivered, doors knocked on, boards put up - the latest in Sparrowhawk Way (thanks David) - and tomorrow, the voters will decide.

It's looking like the AV vote isn't going the way of the YES campaign, but I feel quietly confident that Kev Sumner is going to join Mike Shellens and I as District Councillors in Huntingdon East. I had been anticipating a lot of grief at the doorsteps, but what came as a very pleasant surprise were (a) the number of people who said "you are doing a good job" (b) the number who recognised me, and said they'd voted for me last year (among the 2,075 !!) (c) that they were going to continue to support the Lib Dems.

That can only mean, in my eyes, that at least in our little patch, we have shown that we are true to our word, and we have done what we promised - to work hard, to scrutinise, to take on casework, and to ensure that the Conservatives don't get it all their own way.

Friday, 15 April 2011

THAT just won't go away!

When I was elected last year, I promised to try to persuade Churchmanor Estates to re-open the infamous "Wilkinsons Gate" and you may recall I was told it would stay closed on safety grounds.

I failed.

If you refer back to June and July 2010, on this blog, you can read all about it. I feel that this issue will never go away, as long as Churchmanor - a company professing to have the interests of OUR town centre at heart - keeps this gate closed. They will certainly win no fans by keeping it closed.

Today, I read on the Hunts Post website about the stationers, Colemans'. This shop's name was "used" by Town Centre Manager, Katy Sismore when telling us all how the town centre was "cutting the mustard" after a small business opened in premises above the present Colemans shop. Colemans are moving to a smaller unit.

Here's what it says in the Hunts Post:

Declining sales prompted Colemans’ contraction into its smaller premises, but managing director Joanna Patterson-Gordon said the firm remained “totally committed” to continuing its 30-year presence in Huntingdon. “We traded very successfully in Huntingdon until the gate (to St Germain Walk) went up – that had an impact overnight. It was like turning a tap off. Sales have been declining since,” she said.

I think this issue needs revisiting. And soon.

So why is the gate there?

Churchmanor told me (the letter is shown in full on the July 2010 blog pages) that the gate was closed, and remains closed, on grounds of health and safety. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me that they just don't believe it's just that, and one prominent member of the business community told me "we all know it was done to drive pedestrians past the Churchmanor properties such as Starbucks and Vision Express."

I can fully appreciate why Katy Sismore "talks up" the situation regarding the High Street, and whist the new "Barney's Plaice" looks quite smart, we still have a plethora of empty shop units. HDC has plans to build a £3 million multi-storey car-park, and when Sainsbury's moves up near the station, the idea is that three or more "recognised retail outlets" will move onto their present site.

If we aren't careful, though, we'll have a High Street containing just opticians, estate agents and mobile phone shops, which already make up around 20% of the shops in town. Anything that can be done to breathe life into the town centre should be done, and whilst it will be VERY late in the day, surely Churchmanor can help by taking that gate down. I'm sure most people are perfectly capable of looking after their own health and safety.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Within a month of the formation of the Coalition Government last year, the following statement was published:- "Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Local Government Association Chair Baroness Eaton joined forces today to urge all councils to publish details of all spending over £500 in full and online as part of wider action to bring about a revolution in town hall openness and accountability." What's more "(Pickles) He makes clear that transparency and openness should be the default setting for the way councils do business, and calls on local government to move at speed to adopt this new approach." Now anyone reading this blog might wonder why that's a huge step forward. Simply put, it not only gives the general public morte access to what's going on, but it helps Councillors like me ask more detailed questions, both in Council, and at Overview and Scrutiny Panel meetings. The Huntingdonshire District Council website - - has published lists of items over £500, as well as publishing details of senior management salaries and expenses. I urge everyone to read the numbers. Ste

Thursday, 17 March 2011

On 9th March, in the House of Commons, it was pointed out at Prime Minister’s Questions that the Newcastle Citizens Advice Bureau dealt with more than 26,000 cases, supported by 75 volunteers, yet its budget has been slashed. Newcastle’s MP Catherine McKinnell asked “How can this shambolic situation possibly contribute towards the big society?”

David Cameron replied that the Government has made sure that the national funding for the CAB debt service has been maintained, and that is a vital part of it. He went on “I urge all local councils, whoever controls them - I have had this conversation with my own council - to make sure we do as much as we can to support CABs, which do such a vital job in our communities.”
I’d love Mr Cameron to have a word with OUR Council, because as has been well publicised, HDC plans to cut voluntary grants by 81% in two years – and the biggest recipient is Huntingdonshire CAB.

In addition, the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, has this to say: “In their approach to budget setting, the best councils are showing that they understand that a strong, thriving voluntary sector is more important now than ever and could be the key to providing high quality, good value services to their residents. But this is not the case everywhere. Councils that are failing to recognise the importance of the sector are being short sighted in their approach.”

I never thought I’d say this........but I agree with Eric!

In my view, HDC is being short-sighted, and whilst a review later this year may go towards a reduction in these cuts, a firm commitment to look more closely for other savings would give the voluntary sector more security.