Saturday 14 July 2007
Presented Stockton on Tees annual care for your area awards today in Yarm. It was unusual to do something like this in the daytime as usually any awards I am involved in presenting are at nighttime, when people have had a few drinks, so I decided I needed to put some quotes into my script to break things up.
It was a pleasure to be asked to do this and some of the effort that local people had put in was first class. Some of the stories behind peoples efforts were quite emotional and it was a joy to see so many smiling faces.
I finished of in the afternoon by saying that if some people felt awkward or embarrassed about receiving their award then they should look to the American Actor Jack Benny for some words of comfort. Some years ago having received an award he responded by saying "I didn't really deserve to get this award, but then again I got arthritis and I didn't really deserve that either".
Friday 13 July 2007
Travelled to London today to speak at the Defend Council Housing event at the TUC. All the major news channels had picked up on the event in their morning bulletins and this reinforced my view about it being an agenda whose time had come.
Since 1999 we have called for a change in Government policy on Housing to allow Councils to invest directly in their stock without the need to transfer and for authorities to be allowed to build new stock to tackle shortages. Having been a lonely voice in the early years before others started to join in it was exciting to now see us on the brink of getting the changes we had been calling for over the past 8 years. Its that thing again about circumstances conspiring to give an issue its day and that is certainly true in this case.
The new Government has a great opportunity to reconnect with its core vote by delivering for the 1.6m people on council house waiting lists and the millions more staying with their families because there is no affordable social housing available to them. My slot was to try and explain housing finance and how alternative options could be funded, I think I just about managed this as I don't think the audience were the type to suffer fools gladly if I had failed. We had a good debate after I spoke and its a good feeling to know that APSE is in direct dialogue with No 10 on this issue.
Thursday 12 July 2007
It was our National climate change conference today at the City of Manchester Stadium and with 120 people present it was a respectable attendance for Man City. I had been primed by colleagues on the red half of Manchester to crack a number of jokes from the Chair of the event.
We offered the tour to enable people to see where City scored their goal from last season and a chance to see the video of the 20 greatest throw ins. I did balance this by pointing out that on the late Bernard Manning's tombstone it does say I would rather be here than at Old Trafford - although I am sure that a number of United fans are quite happy with that arrangement.
Nevertheless we did have some excellent contributions with Roger Latham stealing the show by wearing four different hats during his presentation - a builders, generals, magicians and bowler. He certainly kept everyones concentration and got his message across. Barbara Morton from DEFRA also gave some quite forthright views on climate change and what action Government could take to improve the situation. Mick Lovatt from Preston also introduced a concept around establishing a carbon trading scheme and this prompted a lot of discussion.
I finished the plenaries by asking how many environmentalists it takes to change a light bulb, my answer, none - once its in it lasts forever.
Friday 06 July 2007
At the LGA this week and once again interesting times with a new ministerial team in the DCLG. Hazel Blears spoke well on her debut and I must admit I found her more believable live than I have when seeing her on television. John Healy also did a slot and Hilary Benn spoke as the new Environment Minister.
On the Conservative end David Cameron once again proved his credentials as a first class orator and Simon Milton the new leader of the LGA gave a quite powerful and forceful message about his vision for the organisation and local government in general.
Birmingham was a great location and it was good to meet up with all those on the circuit. Leaders, Chief Executives, Journalists and all the other organisations who gather for this annual extravaganza. The rather surprising topic of the week was the impact of concessionary bus travel schemes on financial budgets, this wasn't on my radar before the event but the level of upset it caused ensured that I was well versed in the arguments by the time I left.
Sunday 01 July 2007
Attend a meeting today with Constructing Excellence which I think we all find a bit embarrassing, although we make the most of it and agree to put out some best practice material. Sorry for being so cryptic but I need to watch what I am saying.
The story starts a couple of weeks ago when we issued a briefing about the OFT investigation into cartelling and price fixing, I checked this over before issue and was confident that we were well within the legal boundaries on the issue. However after a week or so I get a letter from the Construction Confederation accusing APSE of all sorts and threatening to sue us. On reading the letter my immediate reaction was laughter, it was the usual sort of bullying stuff, distorting what we had said to try and move the spotlight from what the real issue is - a number of the contractors who have admitted to being investigated by the OFT also working on Billions of pounds worth of public sector projects. Maybe I am just old fashioned about these things but surely there is a public interest in communicating information already in the public domain to those in public authority in order to ensure that any possibility of the public purse being ripped off is mitigated against.
That is when I started to get angry and basically told the bullies that if they wanted to take action against APSE then to bring it on - this is one argument I am perfectly happy to have in public to spread the news as far and wide as possible. Needless to say you all know what happens when you stand up to bullies, no matter there size they back down and explain that you have misunderstood their intentions and they really want to be your friend.
This is when I was pointed in the direction of Constructing Excellence who promote on behalf of the Government best practice in the construction procurement sector. We will issue something jointly in the next month or two as I believe this is really an organisation who have the public interest at heart.