Thursday, 12 November 2015

Pomp and Ceremony is not enough.



The Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Civic Reception to congratulate the Northern Ireland team was a very good event. It was well managed and local lads Steve Davis and Michael O’Neil rightly received the plaudits and best wishes they so richly deserve.
However the event was also inappropriate in scale and ostentatiousness. When I supported a proposal for a Civic Reception at the council meeting on the 2nd November 2015 my expectation was of a modest affair certainly not a 6 course dinner and the accompanying pomp and ceremony.
This town and the wider council area have been hit hard by the loss of jobs over the past year. Across the area workers in manufacturing fear the request that staff should gather in the canteen for an announcement. We as elected representatives cannot carry on business as usual. We cannot continue to offer pomp and spin as answers to the real problems that affect our communities.
I want the Northern Ireland team to return, not to a fancy dinner with the great and good but to the Showgrounds, to run training sessions with schoolkids from across the Borough. To sign autographs and pose for photos but also to inspire our children, to tell them that commitment and ability go hand in hand with achievement. That would be a worthwhile use of rate-payers money.
In truth, as a council we are struggling, struggling to catch up on the basic need to define a structure and plot the way forward. This merger was forced, there was no meeting of minds between the previous councils and the preparation that other councils completed years ago we are only starting. We need greater urgency and a greater understanding of the responsibility we now have to improve the quality of people’s lives.

At this half-term our report card is clearly marked “Must do better”. 

Friday, 11 September 2015

A Testimony to Courage



On Monday night Mid and East Antrim Borough Council considered a request from the UDR Association to place a memorial to those who served in the Memorial Garden, Ballymena.

I was absent for the decision, as a former member of the Regiment I was required to declare an interest and leave the chamber as did two other Councillors who had also served, one being the Mayor.

The original request for permission to erect the memorial was made some 5 years ago to the legacy Ballymena Borough Council. For the past 5 years this proposal has been sidelined and filibustered by the actions of Nationalists and Republicans on the Council. That process ended with the establishment of the new council in April of this year.

What did not end was the vitriolic hatred directed at those who served in the Regiment by elements of Nationalism and Republicanism. Over 40,000 men and women served in the Regiment during the years of conflict. A tiny minority broke the law and committed terrible crimes but theirs is not the history of the Regiment. The vast, vast majority of members served honourably and at great risk to themselves and their families to safeguard our society. It is in their memory that the request to place a a memorial was made and it is in their memory and recognition of their service that Mid and East Antrim Borough Council approved that request.






Wednesday, 26 August 2015

What do terrorists do if they don't do terrorism?


The Secretary of States acknowledgement that the Provisionals still exist in a formal structure hasn’t really come as a surprise. It has been suspected since the sign off from P O’Neil, but those who dared mention the possibility were immediately demonised as being anti-peace process. So now it’s openly acknowledged that they exist what exactly could they be doing? Foremost amongst their activities will be the standard Republican action during periods of reduced violence, ensuring that enough pikes are stored in the thatch for the next generation. Of course this will mean weapons or the means to procure them but it also means establishing the intelligence networks and the training of the next generation to initiate violence if required.
These actions meet two objectives, the military preparations can mirror and be rationalised as the insidious infiltration of civic society by a political movement, the fund raising, legal or illegal, the intelligence gathering, the recruitment and training can all be excused as the political activity of a well marshalled organisation. Except the Provisionals can and will reserve the right to up the ante, to change the dynamic, return to limited violence and demand more and greater concessions. They are a challenge to peace in Northern Ireland, yes, but a threat to the establishment in the Republic of Ireland as well. The romantic notion of Irish Republicanism must be challenged in the Irish Republic, the Ireland Provisional Sinn Fein want to create has more in common with a socialist caliphate than a modern democratic society. 
For unionism our desire to create a peaceful society means that all our children should grow up in a society free from violence and the threat of violence. We too have a challenge, 20 years from the so called cease fires paramilitaries are not just a republican issue, in many Unionist areas paramilitaries hold sway. Some have moved on and seek to contribute to society but too many remain wedded to using organisational structures to advance personal criminal gain. In truth the confirmation of the existence of the Provisional military structures reinforces the rhetoric within other paramilitaries that they too should remain. Our children grow up under flags of war and a romanticised notion of what happened over 20 years ago. This is not a peace process; it is a temporary cessation of violence process. Our choice is to make it a peace process by taking hard decisions and challenging terrorism wherever it resides or do we survive in meek subjugation in the knowledge that our children will face the inevitability of the pikes from the thatch.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Air Ambulance provision in Northern Ireland


The death of Dr John Hinds in a motorcycle accident was a tragedy for his family, the motorcycling fraternity and indeed the wider community through the loss of a talented medical practitioner.
His passing has led to renewed calls for the introduction of an air ambulance to Northern Ireland, a cause he had championed for some time.
It is a cause which in the right circumstances will provide additional benefit to the delivery of pre-hospital emergency care in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately at this time those circumstances do not yet exist.
Amongst the circumstances required is the need for a sustainable ambulance service capable of meeting the existing requirements in terms of service delivery. The Northern Ireland Ambulance Service requires additional funding and resources in order to meet these requirements.
In a response to Kathleen Torney of The Detail published on 26 June 2014 NIAS Chief Executive Liam McIvor highlighted some of the difficulties facing the service.
“We continue to highlight the financial constraints within which we operate – we spend less than ten pence per person per day on our ambulance service in Northern Ireland. Investment in ambulance services in N Ireland is less than £35 per person, which is one of the lowest in the UK.
While this clearly does not reflect the value which the Northern Ireland community place on their ambulance service, it is one indication of the priority placed on our collective health and well-being.
As we move deeper into a difficult financial environment, we will have even more cause to consider the value we place on our ambulance service and the investment we wish to make in pre-hospital care.
The speed of response is a key measure of performance for any organisation, particularly so for an emergency ambulance service and we acknowledge our inability to maintain the performance achieved in 2011/12. We are getting to more patients more quickly than ever before, but increasing demand for emergency response has impacted heavily on our capacity to respond promptly.”
Investing in the services detailed above will enhance the survival and recovery of patients and allow a real assessment of the value of aeromedical support on a full time basis.
Of course the purpose of using an air ambulance is to ensure access to treatment quicker, from the qualification of the medical staff on board, the limitations of what they can do through emergency care and the delivery of the patient to a facility geared to the immediate treatment of the casualty.
This will require the radical reform of acute services across Northern Ireland at least in line with the Donaldson report to ensure that the system is best able to maximise the benefits of the introduction of an air ambulance.
The decision of the Irish Government to introduce a permanent air ambulance service creates a strategic opportunity to deliver such a service on an all island basis. Clearly geography dictates that Donegal will be closer to any air ambulance based in Northern Ireland and probably closer to an acute hospital in Northern Ireland capable of treating the patient. Flexibility will enhance service delivery north and south.

The challenge for politicians now is not just to sign a petition, or promote the cause but rather to champion the enhanced role of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and the reform of the acute sector which will create the circumstances whereby an air ambulance can truly make a difference.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Giant Hogweed

I never really got the fascination with Giant Hogweed until I actually saw it in person. It's big, really big and from what those who have touched it tell me very, very nasty.


I've asked Mid and East Antrim Borough Council to take action wherever this is growing on council property and to engage other landowners where it is an issue. I've also asked for warning signs to be put up warning people of the dangers.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Desertcreat

The news of the collapse of the proposal for a world class police and fire service training college at Desertcreat comes as no surprise to those of us who questioned the need and financial sustainability of the project in the first place.
While local politicians, rightly, sought the investment, any investment in their area those at a higher level were distracted by all that glittered and failed to realise the proposal was not gold.
Strategic planning must be about more than considering which papers carry the photo of the cutting of the first sod. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Politics

The comments below were first made on a previous blog I had in 2012 but are, I think just as relevant.Instead of just reforming the institutions, reducing the number of departments, reducing the number of MLA’s Councillors and MP’s why don’t we take a further step and change the way we think about politics and politicians.For many people inside and outside the system politics is about power, yet such a term sums up the inadequacies within the current system. Power can be used for good or bad, in fact it doesn’t have to be used all it can just be held onto to prevent others from getting access to it.Do power politics meet the needs of society, not if that power isn’t used to generate the changes needed to improve society.If we are to change society we must start by changing the concept of politics from being about taking power to one of taking responsibility.What difference would we see if those who were elected were held personally responsible for every child growing up in poverty, for every delayed operation, for every jobless individual.Personal responsibility brings with it the necessary democratic accountability, it moves electoral manifesto’s beyond the aspirational to the practical and deliverable and becomes the driving force behind a changed society.How many of those who hold power today would take responsibility tomorrow.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Change the world

I had a thought the other day about what I wanted to achieve in politics, be a councillor or did I want to be an MLA, was being a MP the ultimate achievement. After thinking about the options I came to the conclusion it was none of these. I want to change the world.

That's not the mad ranting of a megalomaniac it may seem, I'm no Bill Gates, I haven't found a cure for something nasty but I do want to change the world. Maybe not the whole world but each day I try to change someone's world for the better. I might help someone with a welfare appeal, get a house, a planning issue, an issue with a school and many more. For each person I help I change their world, sometimes substantially.

So why politics? Well, instead of changing the world one person one day at a time I want to make bigger decisions for more people all at once. Instead of one appeal, make the assessment process fairer so that more people get what they are entitled too without the trauma of an appeal. Instead of one house deliver changes to increase social housing provision so everyone who needs a home has access to one. Instead of one planning issue make the system easier for people to access and understand, meet the needs of the people not the system. Instead of helping one child with an education issue change the system to ensure all children can read and write, they all should leave school with skills for life and work.

I want to change the world, political titles are not achievements, they are opportunities to do more, that's why I'm in politics. 

Over the next few weeks across the UK candidates will knock doors seeking support, if they tell you it's to allow them to be MP, think carefully, if they tell you they want to change your world (and have a sensible notion how to do it) they are worth a vote.
Most important of all when it comes to the 7th May carpe diem, seize the day, change your world, VOTE.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Lord Molyneaux

Today we learned of the passing of Lord Molyneaux, Jim as he was widely known. I first met Jim through his nephew Ian, a friend from school. Once we were old enough to drive a group of us would regularly head out the road to Crumlin to Ian's home farm. Nestled behind high hedges was Jims home and at that time stalking the farm buildings were the police guards ever present. Frequently as we tucked in to Ian's mums home baking Jim would drop in to say hello. His quiet demeanour and ways in keeping with the dignity with which he served the constituency. I learned then that politics was not about shouting, it was and remains about talking, with the quiet confidence of being right. I last spoke to Jim a few years ago at the local agricultural show as he sat at the UUP stand enjoying the weather and the craic. Already showing the signs of the illness that would dull his sharp mind he still focussed intently when the conversation turned to Westminster and politics. As an Ulster Unionist I know just how much his tenure as Leader represented his strength of character. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A healthy agenda

Delighted to say that the creation of a healthy community has been recognised as a key objective in the corporate plan for Mid and East Antrim Council after the consultation on the draft flagged up that it was not given a high enough priority.

The changing tide

Having raised the issue of the widespread, in my view inappropriate at times, use of agency staff some months ago it was heartening to see the groundswell of support for the regularisation of employment practice in the new council at last nights meeting. Such a transformation will take some time to deliver as re-organisation beds in but it is clear that council officers know the mind of the elected reps and will produce a strategic workforce plan that respects all our employees.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Regalia, who pays?





"During a recent committee meeting dealing with the provision of regalia it became clear that some proposals such as dis-assembling the current chains of office and creating new chains from the various pieces were simply not viable. With that in mind I proposed that the cost of any new regalia should be met by reducing the amount of Special Responsibility Allowance payable to Councillors over the next few years. The rationale is simple, such items have rarely been purchased from the public purse, instead they have been presented by groups, businesses and others as gifts when such donations were common place. Society is different and it is possible that such generosity does not easily present itself. The Chief Executive has suggested that she believes new regalia will be presented to the Council and on that basis I have withdrawn my proposal with the intention that should such donations not be forthcoming I will once again make the same proposal. If needed we should have the confidence as Councillors to say will shall put our hands in our own pockets rather than taking the view that the ratepayer is the first port of call when seeking funds rather than the last port of call when all else has failed."

Health and Well-being must be core of new council vision

"For many years it has been recognised that health promotion and ill-health prevention leads to a better quality of life and a reduction in demand on health services. The reform of local government was always intended to deliver better outcomes in addressing social deprivation and promoting healthier lifestyles. That means that community planning, well-being, sport and leisure amongst others can all be used to integrate services with other agencies to the benefit of residents. More playgrounds mean safer healthier children, better sports facilities means healthier residents a commitment to build healthy communities means a better society. Mid and East Antrim Council has a desire to influence others such as health bodies on how they deliver services, such influence would be weakened considerably if we as a council did not show that promoting a healthier society was one of our core objectives."

Change in working practice vital in local council reform

There are occasions when the use of staff from recruitment agencies makes absolute sense in terms of workforce planning such as when someone is off on maternity leave or when additional workers are employed during the summer months. However where there are core council posts which exist year in and year out the use of such agency contracts is highly questionable. Those employed lack the same opportunities for advancement as council employees and when asked about pay and conditions of such staff Council has responded "In regard to those who do not qualify for equal pay and conditions, we do not hold this level of information, this responsibility lies with the appropriate agency." As we move forward into a new managerial scenario a full review of employment practices must be undertaken.
Responses to FOI request from Ballymena Borough Council
1: The number of agency workers employed by Ballymena Borough Council as of the 1 April in each of the last 5 years.
Ballymena Borough Council do not “employ” agency workers. The numbers of agency workers in placement with Council for the past 5 years would not be readily available, however these numbers could be reliably collated for the past 2 years. We can advise that the total headcount at April 2013 was 175 and for April 2014 this was 155. Headcount covers all temporary full-time, part-time and casual agency workers.
2: The number of current agency workers employed by Ballymena Borough Council and the length of time they have been employed in their current role.
As in the answer to question 1 above, Council do not “employ” agency workers, however we can reliably collate the current number of agency workers placed within Council to be 184. The length of time that these agency workers have been placed with Council in their current roles is not information that Council holds – the agencies concerned hold this information. The nature of agency work is transient and agency workers are provided to Council from their Preferred Supplier List under a Contract of Services.
3. The number of current agency workers placed with Ballymena Borough Council who are employed by the agency and do not qualify for equal pay and conditions.
As in the answer to question 2 above we can reliably collate the current number of agency workers placed within Council to be 184. In regard to those who do not qualify for equal pay and conditions, we do not hold this level of information, this responsibility lies with the appropriate agency. To the best of our knowledge current agency workers qualify for equal pay and conditions as those in a comparable role from week 13 of placement.