Sunday, 25 November 2007

A night on the town - with the police

On Friday I joined Cambridgeshire police – just for a night! The Southern division covers a huge rural area, from Littleport north of Ely to the borders of Bedfordshire, Essex and Suffolk. In my rural area people often complain that there are not enough police around and say they are all in the City centre, so I went to the City and joined the “Reactive Team” there as a civilian observer.

We started at 7pm and one of the 4 cars was immediately dispatched to help the rural team 20 miles away – blowing the myth that the police don’t come out of the City.

Over the next 8 hours we were always busy. My own team of two dealt with 5 anti social behaviour reports, stopped a street fight, and arrested one of the “most wanted” from the earlier mug shots. We went to track down a suicidal young girl and a possible domestic violence case. At 1am we dumped our hastily bought supper and blue lights flashing raced across town for another suspected robbery. This on what I was told was a “quiet” night…. I finally peeled off home to bed at 2.30am.

At the sharp end I saw that the police are working enormously hard, with great professionalism and in a huge variety of cases. From what I saw and heard I believe they are under resourced. It is (still) a small minority of people who cause most of the crime and its up to the rest of us to help the police by reporting what we see, taking care, and giving them our support.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

My bank account

My bank account details have just been lost in the post by the tax man. I'm fuming and worried. The child benefit papers were thrust in my hands within hours of giving birth by a helpful district nurse several years ago - every mum I know signed up. None of us ever thought the government would show such disregard of our confidentiality.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Vicky's Campaigns

Lots of people ask me what a local councillor does. We are all different. My passion is campaigning, often for issues outside the closed remit of "local councillor". I've added a list of campaigns with links to a story on each, you can see some of the history, what I've done or am doing and an update.

Police Resources

This autumn chief constable Julie Spence hit the national headlines by highlighting the funding pressures of Cambridgeshire Police.

In the North of the County there is one of the most rapidly growing immigrant populations in the UK. Bridging cultural differences costs the police time and money.

The South of the County is one of the fastest growing areas in the UK. The number of houses in South Cambridgeshire has increased by 7% in the past 5 years. However the number of police officers has actually dropped. There are additional PCSOs – they do a valuable job but they do not have the same training or powers as police officers and are not available after midnight. The police desperately need additional manpower to keep up with the growing population.

I have highlighted this in a motion I brought to our council. Now as a council we are supporting the police in their plea for funds. Over the next few weeks I am going to be spending more time with the police to understand their problems better.

p.s. for my night out on the town with the police see here

The Girubuntu Orphanage in Rwanda

This summer I joined 43 Conservatives working on 20 different voluntary projects in Rwanda. The world is a much smaller place than it was when I was a child. I have learnt that if we are to make it a safer place for our children then we must do our part to help reduce war and poverty.

Rwanda is a country that has been to hell and back. It is rebuilding itself. When you ask local people in Rwanda how you can help they continually ask you to act as their voice in the west, making sure that people understand the importance of peace and international development.

I have done radio interviews, been interviewed in local papers and by the end of January I will have spoken to many voluntary organisations across Eastern England about our experiences in Rwanda and what we can learn. I continue to raise funds for the Girubuntu orphanage.

p.s. update I've just heard from a local business that is going to sponsor £10 towards each child in the orphanage for a special Christmas. THANK YOU

Helping Junior Doctors

I first got involved in helping Junior doctors in February 2007, before the scandal of government incompetence hit the papers. I'm not a doctor but many members of my family are fortunately they are all now more senior and not directly affected but their colleagues are.

This is the doctors campaign but I have helped support them. I’ve joined doctors in their mass lobby of parliament , been interviewed in the media, raised the issue at Conservative Spring Conference and advised doctors on how to get their message across on national TV. Quite apart from the trauma that thousands of doctors have suffered, the cost to the tax payer of wasted medical training is outrageous. The incompetence of Labour on this issue continues.

Safety on the A 1307

The story of the A1307 is repeated on many roads across the country.

21 people have lost their lives in the past 10 years in a 10 mile stretch of road. It’s a rural road and was never designed as a major truck route for commuter traffic between two of Eastern England’s fastest growing centres. As you drive along the road you see memorial after memorial to the people who have lost their lives.

The road traverses a county boundary. The new houses are in one governmental district but the infrastructure impact ricochets across neighbours. Cars don’t stop at county boundaries but due to complex planning procedures money often does.

Working alongside the campaign group Access 1307, the local MP Jim Paice, and many local residents we have been campaigning for safety improvements. Improvements to the junctions are key but many of the fatalities are due to high speeds. Earlier this year we surveyed every household in the area on their views for reducing the speed limits. Local residents want a lower speed limit. I’ve been on the radio, the papers even the TV.

Last night we heard that part of our campaign has been successful and the speed limit on the road will be reduced in part of the area. This is welcome but it only covers half of the route. I will continue to campaign for improvements along the whole of this dreadful road.

Update here

Saving Milton Country Park

I’ve learnt that politicians whether local or national are rarely given thanks in public. I can’t tell you how much this letter in the local paper lifted my spirits.

Milton Country Park is a much loved open space and nature reserve just outside Cambridge. Over 90,000 visitors use the park each year – but the park had become
increasingly expensive for the cash strapped council to run and was threatened with closure. Within weeks 10,000 people signed a petition demanding that the park remains open, hundreds wrote to me, my email box went black.

As the councillor responsible for the park I am determined that the park should not close but find a long term future. Working with the save the park campaign, voluntary sector organisations, council officers and other councillors I’ve spent a year trying to find a new owner for the park. I’ve been interviewed by BBC TV news (twice), the paper and radio stations regularly. I am delighted that the Cambridge Sports Lake trust are planning to take it over. Their plan is to combine the Country park with an International rowing lake and triathlon training area on adjoining land. This was never meant to be easy but work is on track for a final agreement to be signed early in the new year.

Improving Rural Transport

Petrol prices are rising, in 3 year traffic is up 30% through the villages and congestion is increasing. Yesterday it took me 45 minutes to travel 4 miles, this was in the countryside outside the city boundary. Is there a better way?

The ward I represent as district councillor is the most rural in South Cambridgeshire. It’s also the most deprived when it comes to public transport. There are buses, they are subsidised by the County Council. In the daytime they are often empty. Many of the residents commute to Cambridge – but there is no early morning or evening bus for commuters. Is there a better solution?

Information from the bus company and the County Council is erratic… but the last thing we need to spend money on is a hoard of bureaucrats riding the buses to collect data. We need to understand what users think of the service and what they want. Too often public services are supplied by well meaning councillors rather than demand driven.

I’ve launched a survey with our local MP Jim Paice to find out what people think of the buses. If a commuter service is available will people use it? I hope we will get some decent feedback and provide what the public want with their money.

Sometimes I get involved in an issue and don’t know quite where it will take me. This is one of them.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Round the world with the Conservative Women

It was a truly inspiring day at the Conservative Women’s Conference today. We learnt about the amazing work that women are making to rebuilding African nations, Zainab Salbi inspired us with her simple, effective ideas for helping women in war zones, Lord Melchett from the soil association and Tom Burke from Rio Tinto were thrown question after question about how to help protect our planet from the rain forest destruction via Chinese consumption to what we put in our own fridges.

David Cameron brought the conference back home with a hugely sensitive speech and array of policy suggestions to confront the shocking statistics on rape in the UK.

I'm not a fan of "wimmins" groups but the Conservative Women’s Association showed that they not only care about these issues but also want to know how they can help

As Christmas looms I'm sure we all wanted to ask Iain Dale where he got that tie… it could save me a lot of time in my Christmas shopping. But somehow there were more pressing questions.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Medics of the past, present and future

Last night, on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, I joined the West Suffolk Medical Society as a guest at their annual Armistice dinner.

This dinner has a powerful history. During WW1 the local doctors divided into a group who went to the front line, and a group who stayed behind, caring for both sets of patients. At the end of the war the home-based colleagues passed the medical practices back to the returning doctors. They were under no obligation to do so. In 1920 the returning doctors held a dinner to thank their civilian colleagues. The following year the dinner was reciprocated. The dinner has been held every year since baring a break during WW2. Now it alternates between the hospital doctors thanking the GPs and vice versa.

It is a rare treat for hospital doctors and GPs to get time together to talk about the past, present and future of their profession. Their common complaint was political interference. Dr Jeremy Webb, the Chairman, read memoirs of a Medic from WW1. Back then conditions made it almost impossible for the doctors to make any medical difference but the moral boost of their presence was enormous. On the front line today our Army doctors regularly save lives in seemingly impossible cases. Whether in a war zone or back at home we all want well trained, excellent doctors.

Professor Dame Carol Black, Chairman of the Joint Royal Medical Colleges was the guest speaker. She warned that this summer's fiasco over junior doctors is likely to get worse. Since 1997 the number of doctors being trained has risen from 5,000 to 7,000 each year - at the same time more of the doctor's traditional roles are taken on by other professionals. Many of the next generation doctors will not find the jobs they have been trained for. The Department of Health has no coherent forward looking policy yet one is desperately needed. Training each doctor costs the tax payer £250,000 and many of our best junior doctors are already going overseas. On top of this the DoH appears to have put its head under the sand regarding immigration and foreign doctors. These are all complex and sensitive issues, that need the medical professionals to work together - but this need leadership from government too - and that is sadly lacking.