Tuesday, March 21, 2023

York Conference - crossing Tim's path


Sunday morning at conference in York and my path crossed that of my former Newcastle University fellow student Tim Farron MP. We were there as students in the late 80s and early 90s. Tim won the race to be elected to Parliament. I went off eventually to become a farmer while Tim sits in the Commons representing farmers!

York conference - the National Railway Museum


I wasn't going to miss the opportunity to visit some of the historic sites of York over the weekend when I was there to attend conference. So here is my video of my trip to the National Railway Museum. I may be too young to remember the steam age but I recall seeing the new Intercity 125s on the East Coat line running through Gateshead in the late 70s and early 80s.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Day 2

After a full English for breakfast this morning, I headed off, not to conference, but to the Jorvik Museum. It is 30 years since I was last there. Well worth a visit if you are in York. From Jorvik I headed back to the Novotel Hotel for the British Association for Conservation and Shooting reception, often the best lunch in conference. I chatted to their representatives about how we are plagued by deer on our farm as the local population has not been culled. The threate to local woodland is considerable if nothing is done to manage deer numbers. From the reception I headed to the conference centre where I am now in the energy debate. Next up is Ed Davey QA. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

Walking the wall

I decided not to go to the Jorvik Museum this afternoon so took a walk along part of the York City medieval city wall. Alas, that's my history visits done for today. I'm now in the conference centre waiting for tonight's rally. 

I got to the National Railway Museum

My plan worked. I got to York with plenty of time to spare to get to the National Railway Museum. I spent two hours there. The amount of travel I have done in recent years has been a fraction of what I used to do, due mainly to being Richard's carer and because of covid restrictions. So it has been great to get away even if it's just for Lib Dem conference. The timing has allowed me to see some of the historic sites in York as well as attending conference. I had planned to go to the Jorvik Museum today but I'm going there tomorrow instead. I'm going to take a walk along the city walls instead. 

Heading to conference

I've just left Newcastle on the train heading to York for Lib Dem spring conference. For 2 days I'm leaving behind the endless job of cleaning henhouses, nursing a goat with mastitis, caring for a lamb we are hand raising and plodding through mud. Our first in person conference since 2019 due to covid and the passing of the Queen. Hopefully I won't have forgotten everyone's name! My reading matter for the train journey has nothing to do with conference. And my first action when I get to York will be equally non-political. I will be visiting the National Railway Museum. And if there is time, I will visit the Jorvik Museum this afternoon as well. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The disaster that is Scottish Widows

Financial institutions are back in the news yet again, and all for the wrong reasons. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has sent shockwaves around financial markets worldwide. Fortunately the damage in the UK was limited. HSBC snapped up the SV Bank's British subsidiary allowing investors to get access to their money. If only Scottish Widows (SW) could allow the same.

SW used to be one of the most respectable financial institutions in the country. And then it was bought up by Lloyds Group. For many years, it continued to work well. For the past year or so however it has gone into meltdown. It's customer relations are at best shambolic and if you are expecting to get your pension or savings policy out of them, there are delays running to months. Try phoning them and you can often  wait over an hour to get through. Then you discover they have lost documents or they send the wrong documents to customers. It is thought that up to 10,000 customers have money trapped in SW.

There is a support group on Facebook on which customers have posted about their problem with SW. It all makes terrible reading for SW. People can't get to their savings to pay for partners/family members in residential care. Relatives of people who have passed away cannot get access to pensions and policies to pay for funerals. Pension funds are supposed to be paid within a few days of a claim being lodged. Thousands of claimants are waiting months rather than days.

When my brother Andrew died, we lodged a claim on his pension with SW and was accepted. 9 months later and SW have still not paid up. So I can speak from personal experience on how appalling the service is at Scottish Widows. This company must be one of the worst run in the country but why on earth are Lloyds Group allowing one of their subsidiaries to behave in such an appalling manner?

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Planting Up Sunniside

 A new group of volunteers is in the process of being set up in Sunniside, this time to take on the job of planting up the village. Called Planting Up Sunniside, it will be based roughly on Planting Up Whickham. The second meeting of the group was held tonight in the Travellers. I was there to give my advice and help. I also answered lots of questions about other completely different issues.

Happy birthday Michael Caine - the Gateshead connection


Happy birthday Michael Caine, 90 today. He was the star of one of my favourite films - "Get Carter" - based in part and filmed in Gateshead. It is a delight to watch, just to spot the buildings and scenes which are no longer there. The film made the Gateshead Multi-Storey Car Park into a cult icon. This hideous monstrosity of 1960s Brutalism was demolished in 2010. I filmed the video about in 2008 when I was given access to the building and capture a number of views of Gateshead and Newcastle which can now only be viewed with a drone.

BTW, one of my other favourite films in "The Italian Job", also staring Michael Caine.

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Don't lose your right to vote Mr Deputy Mayor

The Deputy Mayor of Gateshead Robert Waugh made an interesting claim recently. At the Council's budget meeting he sat on his hands when it came to the vote on our amendment calling for £1.4 million to be used from reserves to keep threatened leisure centres open long enough to find community groups that can take on the running of them. This proposal is supported by the group that is campaigning to keep Gateshead Leisure Centre open. Cllr Waugh came in for some heavy criticism for his failure to vote for the amendment from members of the campaign group and residents generally. Cllr Waugh's response was to claim that as Deputy Mayor, he could not vote at council meetings. 

His claim is frankly a load of rubbish. There is nothing in the Gateshead Council constitution which prevents the mayor or the deputy mayor generally from voting at full council meetings. For years now I've seem mayor after mayor and deputy mayor after deputy mayor voting in the council chamber. So come on Robert, have an exciting evening at home, just you and the constitution. Spend a bit of time together getting to know each other so you can avoid any further similar claims. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Back in Leyburn after 34 years

Last week I paid a visit to Leyburn in North Yorkshire. The reason for the visit was to attend a funeral of Mary, who was David's mother's brother's wife's sister. It was an opportunity to meet up with David's relatives who we hadn't seen in person since before the pandemic.

The interesting point about Leyburn is that I have visited it before though it was about 34 years ago. The occasion was the Richmond by-election caused by the appointment of Leon Brittan as a European Commissioner. It was an absurdly long campaign, lasting months and months. The Conservative candidate was William Hague but the "continuing SDP" muddied the waters by fielding a candidate, Mike Potter, who performed remarkably well, coming second and in the process, saving the Conservatives from defeat. Months later the Owenite SDP sank without a trace.

At the time I was a PhD student at Newcastle University and over many weekends we took a minibus full of students to deliver a vast tonnage of leaflets in the constituency. Leyburn was one of the villages we delivered. It had not changed much in the past few decades. 

Richmond has now produced 2 Conservative leaders: Hague and Rishi Sunak. I'm not sure whether that is a plus or a negative for the constituency.

Friday, March 03, 2023

Whickham eFocus no. 180

 The latest eFocus for the Whickham area was published tonight. Issues covered include:

  • Council tax rise;
  • Leisure centres on financial cliff edge;
  • Call to cut councillors;
  • Marley Hill football field transfer;
  • Christmas tree mulch;
  • Don't lose your right to vote;
  • New meeting place at Sunniside.

Kicking the asset transfer into touch


I was on my farm milking one of our goats when I was called by the local media about the community asset transfer of the football field at Marley Hill to Fellside Football Club a few days ago. They wanted my views on the planned transfer. I support it and pointed out we have already got 2 successful asset transfers in the village - the Bowling Green to the Marley Hill Bowling Club and the community centre to the Vineyard Church. I expect the football field transfer to be a success as well though last year, when I met residents and some of the officials of the club, I advised them to keep in regular touch so that any issues can be ironed out.

You can read the Chronicle's coverage on this link.