Friday, 23 September 2016

What worth a councillor?

Ipswich Borough Councillors from all parties work hard for their communities. There are a very few exceptions but in the main we put in hours on casework, reading, attending meetings and training sessions, community events, committee meetings evening and daytime and we are on the end of a phone 24/7.

People have literally laughed when we've told them how much backbenchers receive when they find out it is less than £3800. Most are astonished.

We have refused the recommendations from the independent panel for over a decade and have not had an increase for 10 years.

Had we have taken their recommendations, the remuneration would now be a thousand pounds more a year than we currently receive. This would not have felt right in a time of austerity but I don't know of one single person who has not had a rise in over a decade, if they are still in the same place. Time to stop being embarrassed about this and do what's right, reward where it is due and value what we do.

Furthermore most of us do not claim for travel expenses to and from our meetings, as is our right. My only claims have been for unique travel to the Bournemouth LGA conference a couple of times in 10 years.

Some of us are out of pocket because of the time commitment we have to give (average of 15 hours per week but many do more) and all of us sacrifice family time and leisure on a regular basis. I'd like to think a reasonable person would recognise this and not begrudge us a penny.

I was determined to do something about this and so I contacted the leader of the council who agreed with me that we should have a consensus amongst the leaders of each party, on behalf of our groups.

Even though we can disagree vehemently on how to go about achieving our aims it is not as often as people might suspect. Our influence on national problems is limited but the one thing we must do together is ensure we attract good people to become councillors and that we encourage them from a wide, diverse background. My personal wish is for more young parents. Councillor Jones said at the council meeting that they don't have any special talents. I disagree. All ages have their own special unique talents and wisdom. I think an old wise head with experience of life is equally valuable - just in a different way but I don't want to mix with just wise old heads in my political world.

The point is our low remuneration (one of the lowest for backbenchers but one of the highest for special responsibility) needed addressing and I felt we should value ourselves a bit more than to just take the easy route and ignore the whole thing once again.

Ignoring would've meant in 4 years time at the next review, we would've fallen even more behind and this would be a huge decentivisation, requiring an even bigger increase.

An alternative proposal to the one put forward by the panel, was agreed together which corrected my concerns - increase backbenchers basic allowance and re-calculate the special responsibility allowance to address the inbalance and shrink the gap between the 2.

I was upset with the Ipswich Star yesterday and I said so at the meeting. Cllr Ellesmere and the Mayor both concurred. Their headline did not reflect what was actually going on and all the facts.

I'm looking forward to seeing the follow up and apology in todays paper

Friday, 9 September 2016

How We won Better Rail by Ben Gummer MP

How We Won Better Rail

Well, what a way to return from ten days’ holiday!  The announcement of the new franchise a few weeks ago felt like a very, very early Christmas present.  It is hard to overstate the importance of this decision: quite simply, it will change Ipswich and our region for the better.  Here’s how it happened.

Back in what now feels like the dim and distant past, when I was a candidate contesting this seat, I recognized albeit in an unfocused way that the trains were no good, that the franchise was part of the problem, and that bringing prosperity to Ipswich was connected to how good the train service was.  So I promised, very vaguely, to do something about it; what that ‘something’ was, I have to admit I was not yet clear about.

Within the first few days of arriving at Westminster in 2010, I found out that Chloë Smith, the energetic new MP for Norwich North, was having precisely the same thoughts.  She too knew something had to be done but was not yet clear about what that needed to be.  So came about our first discussion with a very important man whom few of you will have ever heard about: Jonathan Denby.  For many years, Jonathan has been the man who has kept we politicians in the loop – but he is not just a PR guy: he knows a lot about trains and has been around the political circus long enough to judge how to get things done.  It was Jonathan who helped Chloë and me, together with Priti Patel representing Essex, to craft the demands that you will soon see delivered as beautiful new rolling stock.

Knowing what to do was the easy bit; making it happen has been the real work of the last five years.  Once we had established that we needed new trains and lots of them, it was the grunt-work of making the Department for Transport understand why East Anglia was a priority, then doing the same with the Treasury, then with the Prime Minister, and then making sure that once we had commitments and promises, that they were translated into the right tender process and the right incentives to train operators.  At every stage, Chloë and I have had to make friends with key civil servants in Whitehall, with special advisers, and with a series of ministers.  It is not all a battle: 80% of the time it is selling the vision again and again – and once you have done that the advantages of what we proposed were so self-evident that people were willing to help.

But now and again we did have to go into battle.  It is remarkable how much damage and delay one wrong person in the right place can do.  There are a few people who actively tried to de-rail our rail dream and we had – quite simply – to take them out.

And so, after all this work – celebrating each victory as it came – the policy announcements, the invitation to tender, the launch of the tender bidding process, and the eventual award a few weeks ago – we now have the confirmed prospect of new trains.  It has been painstaking and laborious but my Lord it will be worth it when it all comes.

As you would expect me to say – we are not finished yet.  We must now secure the track upgrades we need from Network Rail and get going on East West Rail – a scheme that will ultimately bring even greater benefits than the thousands of jobs and billions in investment that the improvements to the Great Eastern Main Line will achieve.  But all that is for next week, when I shall outline what is actually going to happen and what more we want to win.
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Monday, 5 September 2016

Suffolk BME Business Awards

Nominations are requested for the Suffolk BME Business Awards to celebrate the diversity and achievements originating from the BME community

The award categories are:

Business of the Year
Business person of the Year
Start Up of teh Year
Community Business of the Year

Nomination forms can be downloaded at or

Closing date 30th September 2016

And an evening of celebration will take place on Wednesday 28th October at 7 pm at the University of Suffolk

You can also find out more from the Bangladeshi Support Centre 01473 400081

Good luck to all our fab BME businesses!