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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Lake-Watch

It strikes me I've been a bit unfair on the open-air water sports scene in Bristol. Is this the heart of France? North Italy? or Scandinavian lakes? Nope, this is Henleaze.

Henleaze Lakes - one of Bristol's best kept secrets, and most exclusive swimming clubs. If you, like me, are thinking 'I fancy a bit of that', I'm afraid you're going to have to wait some time. There's a waiting list to get on the waiting list.

It is maintained and run by a dedicated team of volunteers, who clear it out in the winter and maintain it in the summer. That's no mean task. The maintenance committee get nothing for their work except the satisfaction of seeing the lake flourish, and the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour.

If only more of our community facilities were run like that. Local people taking responsibility for their locality. Take away the red tape, trust people to manage their own affairs, give ownership back to communities and things go, (sorry, got to say it) swimmingly.

Darkest Cornwall

I took a break over the bank holiday and went down to Cornwall where my Gran used to live, and where I used to have a summer job working as a surf life-guard on the beach.

It was the RNLI lifeboat day, and the whole community had got together to put on a huge fund raising event. This is apicture of me after I got roped into doing a leg of Bude Surf Life Saving Club's fund raiser surf-craft marathon on the Bude Canal. If the photo is a bit dark, it is because I was stupid enough to agree to do one of the night shifts.

I am in fact ( if you look VERY closely) holding the rescue-board I paddled. It is really a long surf-board designed to be paddled through the surf quickly to collect a swimmer in distress. So there I was paddling up and down the canal at 1.30am trying to avoid the dead eel that had been reported floating about. But all in a good cause! In total, the club paddled around 100-150k, and is still waiting to hear just how much money they raised.

Bude Surf Club is the first Surf Life Saving Club to be set up in Britain ( in 1953). It trains its members in surf-life-saving, many of whom go on to become life-guards on the beach and provides an essential voluntary patrol during the busy summer season. Lots of people like me nip down the M5 from Bristol to Cornwall for their holidays, and if I had not worked as a life-guard, I would never have guessed the amount of training and community involvement that goes into keeping us safe while we enjoy ourselves on the beaches. Community Action, Professional pride, sport and healthy living... what more could a Conservative Candidate ask?!

Sigh. I can't pretend I don't miss my lifeguarding days a bit. But Severn Beach Surf Lifesaving Club just doesn't have that ring about it...

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Strawberries and Shire

I wouldn't be English if I didn't make some comment about the weather on a bank holiday weekend. And it wouldn't be England if tomorrow's papers weren't festooned with pictures of scantily clad young women on beaches in Weston-Super-Mare and beyond, with incredulous headlines involving the world 'scorcher'.

And a scorcher it was. Some friends and I were hunting down a cafe in the midday sun of this scorcher, along Shirehampton High Street and came across JJ's bakery and cafe. We sat at one of the tables and chairs set out along the pavement to watch the world go by. Paris, eat your heart out.

I ordered an orange juice with ice, and a gargantuan and quivering custard slice. But everyone else seemed to have had the same idea. About the orange juice and ice at least. The helpful staff apologized that they had run out of ice, but that they would do their best. How do you 'do your best' when it comes to ice? I thought.

But JJ's came up with five star culinary innovation: Frozen strawberries. In your drink, instead of ice. Go to JJ's on Shire High Street and try it, quick. Because this is England - scorchers don't last long...

Monday, 20 August 2007

Lost Boys

Trevor Phillips today highlighted the problems of youth crime and the prevalence of violence amongst black males. He reported that 12% of the prison population are black, compared with 2% of the general population, and discussed issues like family breakdown and educational under achievement that make up the vicious spiral to a life of crime.

Last week the Bow Group published research on the underachievment of boys at school, by Chris Skidmore, on which I wrote a comment piece in the Telegraph. (Read my opinion piece here) The findings are shocking:

It demonstrates the challenge we face in engaging all our boys in education. Over a quarter of all boys don't get a single good GCSE, a fifth of boys aged 14 have a reading age of half their years, and just 36% of boys stay on to take A levels, compared with 44% of girls.

But it is when it comes to the discipline statistics that you begin to see why youth crime is such a problem amongst young men. In the latest exclusion figures, boys accounted for around three quarters of all suspensions and expulsion, and over half of all permanent exclusions were of boys between 12-14 years old.

The report also showed that on the free-school-meals measure at least, white males on free school meals face some of the greatest challenges at school: Of all white boys eligible for free school meals, only 37% get the expected level at Key Stage 3 English, compared with 57% of girls. And on this measure, 46% of black boys on FSM and 50% of Asian boys on FSM reach the expected standard in KS3.

Trevor Phillip's report is timely and important. Youth crime is one of the most worrying issues facing us today. Educational achievement, crime and life-chances are all integrally connected, and at the moment, boys and young men at school, from across the ethnic spectrum, are losing out because they are not engaged with the kind of education we are offering. A more practically engaged curriculum which is less wrapped up in cotton wool, more competitive sport and a less politically correct environment that says competition is a dirty word are the kind of changes we should be looking at.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Why did Labour and the Lib Dems deny us a public meeting with First Bus?

Amazing, isn't it? Two weeks ago I stood up in the Council Chamber and asked the Council for a public meeting to hold First Bus to account. First Bus, I said, are running rings round the Council. Let all parties club together to sort out our public transport mess, let's have a public meeting, we deserve some answers.

What was the response? I am sad to say that it was jeering and booing from the Labour and Liberal Democrat benches. And low and behold, now we have more Bus route cuts. These cuts are going to affect all of us. Many elderly people depend on these buses as their life-line to the outside world.
Many elderly people depend on these buses as their life-line to the outside world.

If Labour and the Lib Dems hadn't been so busy behaving like two-year-olds, we may have had this public meeting before the appalling route-cuts to the 54A, 55 and 57 buses which run through Bristol North West.

Conservatives are not going to let this campaign drop. If the other parliamentary candidates in the area are going to kick up a fuss about the cuts, I suggest they get their own parties in order, and support my call for a public meeting to hold First Bus to account.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Safer Routes for Schools for...




Read about the Conservatives' campaign for Safer Routes for Schools in the Evening Post by clicking here!

When was the closest you came to getting run-over? Most people have had at least one near miss- the moment when your mind has been wandering and a vehicle whisks past your nose, or knocks the back of your bag. Then you can't help but think of the terrible sequence of ifs. IF you had been one inch more off the curb. IF the vehicle had come a second earlier... The last time that happened to me was when I was on my way to Westbury-On-Trym School's 'Red Squirrel Day'. Anyone who has been to Westbury-on-Trym Church of England School knows that you are taking your life in your hands if you go at drop-off or pick-up time. But amazingly, earlier in the year, the Council retracted on its promise to give the school funding for the 'Safer Routes to School' programme. The reasons why beggar belief:
More than 2,000 children died on British roads last year, while around 100 children in Bristol were injured or killed on the roads in the same period. What were the Council waiting for?!

1. That the school had been so successful in encouraging parents not to take their cars to the school gates that it was no longer necessary. ( you only have to go there at pick up time to see that's not quite true! said the Head to me)

2. That it was too expensive. Despite the fact the school had requested cheaper measures than the Council originally insisted on being put in place before they retracted the offer.

3. That it was not necessary because no children had yet been injured! More than 2,000 children died on British roads last year, while around 100 children in Bristol were injured or killed on the roads in the same period. What were the Council waiting for?!

You may have heard my interview on Original FM, supporting Conservative Councillor Geoff Gollop's petition to the Council meeting on 24th July. The petition received huge support and I am pleased that the Council took Geoff's petition seriously and is referring the matter for further investigation.

The School had originally requested quite modest traffic calming measures to put in place, but the Council had instead insisted on a more expensive version, which it later said would break the bank. Hopefully now they will at least let the school have the modest traffic calming measures it said it originally wanted. Before a near miss becomes a tragedy.