Do firefighters rescue cats from trees?

According to a press release from Notts Fire and Rescue this week, it looks like they do:

Last year (2010) Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service carried out 70 animal rescues, 51 of which were small animals (consisting of 40 domestic pets, and 11 ‘others’, mainly birds), and 19 were large animals (which applies to farm animals).

It’s part of a news release talking about how the specialist rescue team have undertaken training in rescuing animals – dealing with stressful situations such as farm fires and flooding, corralling animals safely.

Notts FRS also have obtained a “three-quarter size, 250kg training horse” – although regrettably the PR doesn’t include a photo.

It sounds faintly comical to me, but I can easily see that in real life, a spooked 250kg horse would need careful management to stop it injuring itself or others.

No Tesco discussion this week

Bit surprised to read in Saturday’s Nottingham Post that councillors are due to discuss whether there will be a Tesco East Side at Wednesday’s Development Control Committee.

I’ve read the papers for that meeting, and this isn’t due to be discussed.

It is, however, a fascinating agenda. We will be considering a huge variety of different planning applications.

A police warehouse changing to student digs.

The building of a new aerospace hangar at the University of Nottingham. A renovation of a block in the Lace Market – including cleaning the dingy brown bricks to reveal that they are, in fact, red under 40 years of smut.

The demolition of the old MFI buildings on Castle Boulevard and the building of an 800-seat super church.

The change of use in New Basford from a warehouse to a 600-seat banqueting suite, with supporting letters from the local Asian community saying such a facility is desperately needed. (I’m amazed at how small the kitchens can be to turn out 600 covers!)

And if that wasn’t enough, we’re also considering a temporary permission for a derelict patch of land by the tram terminus, to turn it into modern art for a few months:

The piece of art has the working title of “Hill of the Faiths or Fake Trees”. It is proposed that it will comprise three individual structures. Each will be 12 metres high with a structure measuring 4.5 x 4 x 4 metres affixed to the top. The main structure will represent a minaret and three sanctuaries representing a church, a synagogue and a mosque will be affixed to the top. The structures will be constructed from a steel upright encased in an aluminium cast casing, fabricated in four sections to represent the minaret. The sanctuaries will be formed by 75cm diameter aluminium circles fixed together.

Last month’s planning agenda was desperately quiet, with only two planning applications. This month’s is a compensatory giant.

But there’s no Tesco discussion this month!

Taking the train to Edwinstowe

Last week, I took a train to a village that hasn’t had a regular rail service since 1964.

I took part in a visit with members of the Joint Committee for Strategic Planning and Transport to consider whether re-opening a rail line might be a possibility. The Robin Hood Line, converted from mineral use to passenger use by Notts County Council has been the most successful local train project in the country, and now the Council’s rail officer is seeing how to build on that success. In theory it would not be impossibly expensive to divide trains from Mansfield to Worksop, and send half the train to Worksop and half to Ollerton, allowing you re-open stations at Edwinstowe and Warsop.

To test how viable this might be, they put on a Special Train for interested parties which departed Nottingham station last Friday, taking the Robin Hood Line out of the city, and turning left at Shirebrook to see the line between Mansfield and Ollerton.

Some things I learned:

  • Level crossings are pretty scary from a train driver’s perspective. You can see cars crossing ahead of you when you are pretty close to them and travelling too fast to stop. They cause a lot of accidents, and a lot of drivers do not give them the caution they need.
  • Points are pretty simple technology, really. If they don’t work first time, you can squirt them with fairy liquid and bang them with a work boot and then they work!
  • There must be some workers in signal boxes without a great deal to do – in some cases they control sections of track with only one or two trains passing a day. The signal boxes have no running water and only portaloos. And some of them have very neat gardens and a lot of bird tables
  • Some sections of track have differential speed limits. If you’re a scheduled Sprinter train you can go at 70 MPH. If you’re a special with a diesel locomotive, you can only go at 20. And scheduled services get stuck behind you.
  • Somehow, news that there’s going to be a Special Train gets out to the trainspotter community, and there will be at least ten people along your route waiting to take pictures.

“Pretty neat, huh?”

A four minute information overload on the health and wealth of nations over the last two-hundred years. In the closing seconds, we’re told this easily accessible information involves over 120,000 numbers. Impressive, certainly.

I shall have to see if I can dig out the Joy of Stats off the iPlayer. And then see if I can find an hour when I can actually concentrate on it.

Eek! They’re switching off BBC2 in just over a month

This post on Wartime Housewife prompted me to visit Digital UK again to find out what is happening in our area.

I was dimly aware something was up. I have spoken to Digital UK at Lib Dem conference in the past, and know that they are rolling out the digital switchover, and the end of free-to-air analogue television, in stages, across the UK. The first few regions have already completed the change. I know that the East Mids was soon.

I’ve also had something pink and scary through the post that explains very briefly what is going on.

But I hadn’t really appreciated till now quite how soon it will be.

Plugging my postcode into the website gives me the information that they are switching off BBC2 analogue in just over a month, on 30th March. All remaining analogue stations will go a few weeks after that, on 13th April.

For people living in Notts: if you are currently using a digital TV receiver, for example a set-top box, you will need to retune it on both of those dates.

If you are currently receiving your TV through your aerial and don’t have a digibox, you will lose BBC2 in just over a month and will lose all TV on the second date. Time to make the switch! If you have cable (Virgin) or satellite (Sky) TV you are not affected.

What is the truth about councils and spending data?

Well, here’s a rum one.

During today’s Full Council, Cllr Collins answered a question from the Tories about whether Nottingham City Council would respond to the pressure coming from central government to join “Google Government” and automatically publish details of all spending over £500.

The response wasn’t quite “over my dead body” but it wasn’t far away. According to the Leader of the Council, Nottingham City will only publish the data if it becomes a legal duty.

In justifying that, he said that about half of all councils had decided to publish the data, about half were yet to do so. Comparable authorities to Nottingham had discovered that publishing the data proved pretty expensive: Newcastle and Manchester were mentioned, as was the figure £100,000 – not to publish the data itself, but in terms of additional queries generated from the public as a result of the greater transparency. FOI requests are already costing the city half a million a year to answer.

Those FOI requests are certainly interesting. Someone has already asked for the financial data, in the correct format, using an FOI request rather than wait for it to be published. It will be interesting to see if this is refused on cost grounds. Another interesting one was this management structure chart – which is more detailed than anything I’ve seen for ages! (hat tip NCCLOLs)

Anyway this blog from the BBC is suggesting, far from 200 councils taking Nottingham’s side, Nottingham is alone in the world in holding out and not publishing.

I’m personally a bit ambivalent about the value of doing so. Nottingham spends hundreds of millions of pounds, so you’re looking at millions of pieces of data. I’ve had a look at the County Council’s equivalent data and I’m not immediately bowled over by the usefulness of it. And there certainly is a lot of it – Cllr Collins had printed it out and brought a paper copy with him and it wouldn’t take many months before you had a telephone-directory-sworth of paper.

I first came across the idea of “Google Government in a David Cameron speech to Local Government Assoc annual conference, and I blogged about it then for LDV. I do stand by what I said then.

I do think that the political process in Nottingham is well served by having opposition councillors holding the executive to account. The Labour party would much rather that Nottingham were even more of a one party state than it is now. But it’s not just the job of us oppo cllrs. There is a small but perfectly formed community of local political bloggers and political journalists who are all contributing value to the process. Step forward The Evening Post, NCC LOLs and Nottingham Graffiti. Do any of you think you will be able to use data like the County Council provides in a meaningful way?

Women in Nottingham

Two bits of good news and one bit of bad news about women in the upper echelons of influence in Nottingham. ((NB this blog post is not about the supposedly high ratio of women to men in Nottingham. My guess that this rumour came from over 100 years ago, when many young women moved to the city to work in the lace trade, giving the city the reputation of a good place to go if you were looking for a wife. Sex ratios kinda sort themselves out through the generations, however, and I don’t think it’s true any longer))

Firstly, as Alistair Campbell wrote when he visited here a few weeks ago, there are a large amount of women in positions of influence in the city and county:

Nottinghamshire’s great and good were out in force, including the chief constable, the city council’s chief executive, the head of the probation service, the governor of a sex offenders’ prison, the sheriff (yes the sheriff of Nottingham, surely the most famous sheriff title in the world), the high sheriff, the university’s pro-vice chancellor, a former chief nursing officer, the head of children’s services … and every single one of them was a woman. Also there was the country’s first female black High Court judge.

In addition the whole evening was put together by a woman, aforementioned High Sheriff Amanda Farr, and Mental Health Research UK founded by a woman, Clair Chilvers. The only exception to this phenomenal female domination was the Lord Lieutenant … and I warned him that on current trends he would end up being replaced by the first Lady Lieutenant.

Hooray! In my work as a councillor, I’ve met only a few of them, but it’s great to hear the rest are there. I hope it’s a sustainable cohort of women of influence.

Secondly the Council, local women and women’s groups, are launching a campaign to find 100 Women of Influence in time for International Women’s Day in March.

The details of that are here.

But the bad news is the composure of the board of the Local Enterprise Partnership for Derby, Derbyshire, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, as listed in the papers of a council select committee meeting yesterday.

The Shadow Board consists of:

  • Colin Walton, Chairman UK and Ireland, Bombardier (Chair)
  • Peter Varnsverry, Head of Manufacturing, Laing O’Rourke
  • Peregrine Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire
  • David Robinson, President, Speedo
  • Richard Horsley, Board Member, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Chamber of Commerce
  • Prof. John Coyne, Vice Chancellor, University of Derby (on behalf of the University of Derby, University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University)
  • Cllr Jon Collins, Leader, Nottingham City Council
  • Cllr Kay Cutts, Leader, Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Cllr Harvey Jennings, Leader, Derby City Council
  • Cllr Andrew Lewer, Leader, Derbyshire County Council

Presumably they’re all qualified to be there and they are there as a result of the other work they do. But a quick cast down the list of names shows that only Kay Cutts from Notts County Council is female.

Given that we have just established that are a large number of women already successfully occupying senior roles in civic society in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire at least, it’s a shame that so few of them were translated into representation on the LEP.

Eek – over a trillion owed

According to this website, the UK’s national debt has exceeded one trillion pounds – £1,000,801,455,246 when I popped by at Neil Fawcett’s recommendation.

Small wonder we’re paying £120,000,000 in interest every day – or as the Deputy Prime Minister put it at DPMQs yesterday, “enough to build a primary school every single hour. What waste. What a terrible legacy.”

By the time I’d tracked down the Hansard record of DPMQs, which I can’t link to because it isn’t a permanent record yet, the debt clock stood another four million higher at £1,000,805,121,570.

Erm, no, BBC, no.

Erm, no, BBC, no.

Originally uploaded by nilexuk.

Today’s shocking news of how few Nottingham boys have an expected level of reading ability is pretty poor. The City Council’s view is that the numbers are made much worse by local teachers boycotting the SATS tests that formed this league table.

But it’s not helped by this map from the BBC.

Their labelling of the cities in the East Midlands – the distinctive dark blue shapes – is all completely wrong in the map above.

“Telford” is actually Derby, “Derby” is Nottingham – the distinctive hook shape at the bottom is Clifton – and what is labelled “Nottingham” is Leicester.

Telford is actually in the West Midlands and shouldn’t be on that map at all.


My letter to Cowley Street

Here’s what I’m writing to Cowley Street, the Lib Dem HQ.

Not quite as cutting or detailed as Richard Huzzey’s, which we’ve published over on LibDemVoice, but no less heartfelt.

Dear Liberal Democrats

Re: Cllr Alex Foster memb no XXXXXXX

Following today’s Tuition Fees vote I should be grateful if you could please amend my Direct Debit membership fee so that I pay the federal minimum.

I no longer wish to receive Liberal Democrat News; please cancel my subscription.

Yours sincerely

(To be honest, LDN has been arriving every week and it’s been months if not years since I last did anything with it other than recycling it unread and unopened.)

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