Sunday, December 13, 2009

Community Unity

Another great community gathering this weekend - the major communities of Acocks Green were well-represented for a multi-cultural celebration under the banner of Community Unity. The mosque sent along a group to sing and the Poles had a choir and a talented young musician as well, there was face-painting, mendhi painting and acres of food to serve all tastes. This event has been organised for the past few years and is always well attended. A certain Father Christmas even put in an appearance as well.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum

Interesting meeting at the Acocks Green Neighbourhood Forum yesterday.

The key speaker was from Birmingham Friends of the Earth and he spoke about their campaign to have a blanket 20mph speed limit on all residential roads in the City. This would exclude any roads classified as A or B, but would impose new limits on all others and this could be done by the City Council making a traffic order, as a number of others already have - Portsmouth being a good example of current practice, with Bristol running a trial. Even the GLA have investigated the idea for London.

I don't think anyone expects that just because the limit is reduced, that drivers will change their habits overnight, but this is more about changing mindsets over a period of time, although a report by the Transport Research Laboratory indicates that just changing the limit by itself reduces the overall average speed by around 2mph and cutting accidents by 5-10%. Adding in traffic calming measures as well cuts accidents by around 60%, but this also comes at a significant cost in street work.

There were a number of concerns raised by bus users and drivers whose business keeps them mainly on residential streets and these would need to be addressed. It was pointed out that smoother running often increases average travel speeds, even if the peak speed is reduced - the idea behind the traffic management system on the M42 is an example, where they intentionally reduce the speeds of all vehicles to stop bunching and stop/start travels. I suspect that a blanket 20mph might cause problems on bus routes, but I do think that this an idea worth considering for the vast majority of Birmingham's residential streets. We'd certainly be the biggest authority to implement this and I think that it is certainly worth further investigation.

The police were there and reported that action had been taken following a disturbance in Cypress Square back in September and that four people have been charged and bailed pending a court appearance. Sgt Mirams also explained that while they had been called to Pinfold House following reports of a break-in, as the witness couldn't confirm that the people found on the premises had actually forced entry, the incident had to be put down to trespass and the matter was closed. The police have visited the homes of the young people found on the premises as a follow-up measure. They also put out a plea for friends to join them on Facebook! A concern was raised by a member of the public about inconsiderate parking at the junction of Douglas Road and Dalston Road. They also confirmed that early next year, the police operational boundaries will be redrawn to coincide with the political ward boundaries, which will make joined-up working that much easier.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Back again for Christmas

It has been a little while since I've posted (real life has got in the way), so time to resurrect the blog.

Tuesday saw the switching on of the Christmas lights in Acocks Green (not Winterval) and the event was pretty well attended, with the local schools providing an ad hoc choir and the Inn on the Green providing the venue, with financial support from dozens of local traders, organisations and Council funding as well. There was a slight delay when the magic plunger was pressed by Ray Newton, one of those local residents who has served the community in various voluntary roles for years and deserves greater recognition for his fine service, but somebody found 50p for the meter and the lights flickered into life.

Still - could have been worse. At least Martin Mullaney didn't organise it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"I warn you not to grow old"

To quote a fine leader of our party. He was speaking of a Conservative victory and not of the Regressive Partnership that is getting down to work dismantling the role of the City Council and reducing it to little more than a parish council talking shop, but his words ring true today.
The first piece of 'good news' comes as an advance leak from the Cabinet meeting planned for next Monday, which will see a recommendation backed by Cllr Sue Anderson - the Cabinet Member for Adults and Communities - that Birmingham City Council should cease to supply hot meals on wheels to the elderly and vulnerable by 2012 and must push all those who currently receive a delivery of pre-packed frozen meals off to private providers by 2010.
Naturally, this is being spun as anything but a cost-cutting measure. Heaven forbid that anyone would dare suggest it. This is about improving choice. Forget the data in the report submitted to Cabinet that the frozen and hot services both enjoy approval ratings of 94% and 88% amongst their customers and that the proposed option is the least popular amongst current users. Forget the focus group data quoted in the same report:

The focus groups held indicated that service users were generally content with the ‘Meals on Wheels’ Service currently being provided by ‘Meals Direct’. Some worrying factors arose from the groups in response to the question ‘what would the implications be for you if there were no ‘Meals on Wheels’ service?’. Service users made comments such as ‘My family would be very concerned’, ’I would worry’, ‘I would go hungry or try to cook for myself’.
This has nothing at all to do with improving choice. A problem was highlighted with supplying BME customers with appropriate food options, but that is hardly insurmountable. Of far greater importance was the increasingly urgent need to spend £140k on repairs and maintenance to the Cook Freeze Centre.

Should we be surprised by this? Not really, given that a leaflet distributed across 45,000 Yardley homes by the Liberal Democrats - complete with a picture of Cllr Anderson on the front - came with a recommendation from their MP and councillors to choose a specific private sector supplier and no mention of the City Council at all. That's how much faith Cllr Anderson has in her own department.
This private supplier apparently charges £20 for five frozen meals including dessert, compared to the £12 charged by the City Council for five meals - a whopping 66% increase in costs. For only £16, five hot meals are provided. To put that into perspective, that means an annual cost of £1460 for a daily frozen meal provided by this company, as opposed to £876 through the City Council - a thumping £584 annual extra bill for the elderly.
That doesn't take into account the vital daily contact offered by the Meals Direct service - often this can be the only contact an elderly person may have during the day. Incidentally, this supplier doesn't appear to offer much, in the way of ethnically-appropriate meals, unlike the range available from Meals Direct.
This is nothing to do with increasing choice. This is about cost-cutting - another of those inaptly named 'Business Transformation efficiencies' and it will end up costing these service users more.