Rebecca Calls For Review Of Pool’s Health & Safety Laws

Rebecca Harris, MP

CASTLE POINT MP Rebecca Harris has called for a review of Health and Safety laws relating to Canvey’s paddling pool.

Writing to Lord Young of Graffham, yesterday, Mrs Harris said ‘It cannot be right for a local authority to be put in a situation where it feels forced to close cherished public facilities with a good safety record because of the fear of the health and safety compensation culture.’

Lord Young was yesterday appointed by the Prime Minister to review the operation of all health and safety legislation.

Mrs Harris continued: ‘A balance needs to be struck between the safety of the public and the legal risk to public authorities. A common sense approach is needed, not a stifling health and safety bureaucracy.’

Rebecca has also been busy this week, teaming-up with ITV’s This Morning celebrity GP, Dr Chris Steele MBE, to support this year’s Carers Week and celebrating the contribution made by people in Castle Point, and throughout the UK, who provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, frail or disabled.

Rebecca said: ‘A trip to the cinema, or even a full night’s sleep are luxuries for many of the thousands of carers in Castle Point. I am supporting Carers Week and all those helping to raise awareness of carers, and their priceless contribution they make to our local community. There are some great charities and organisations like Castle Point Crossroads, who support local carers and I hope that as a result of Carers Week, many more carers will find out about services and support that exist to help them.’

Last week, Rebecca was one of the twenty MPs who won the right, by ballot, to present a Private Member’s Bill to the house.

Bookie Fancies Rebecca’s Chances At The Ballot

REBECCA HARRIS has the best odds of any Castle Point general election candidate  – making her more favoured to win the seat than any other candidate.

With odds of 16/5 from website Betfair, Dr Spink has been judged as likely as the BNP candidate to win.

Betfair puts the Conservatives on 30/100; the Lib Dem candidate on 21/1 and Labour at 39/1.

UKIP’s chances are rated at 59/1.

Now compare those peculiar facts with Sarah Calkin’s spin-piece in the Echo

While Rebecca Focuses On Local Issues, The Echo Gives Its Front Page To Bob

THIS YEAR’S GENERAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN is likely to be remembered by residents as that in which the main party candidates struggled to have their messages heard above Spink’s clamour for attention from the local press.

On Tuesday, the Echo duly obliged – choosing to ignore a national perspective on its Save Canvey Pool campaign that the Conservative candidate, Rebecca Harris, had provided the previous day.

While Rebecca was explaining to the Shadow Justice Secretary, Dominic Grieve, how fears over excessive Health and Safely legislation – and the growing compensation culture – had threatened the future of one of Canvey’s tidal pools; Gail Boland, Spink’s partner, was on the phone to the local police demanding that they arrest Bill Sharp over a ‘public order offence.’

It seems that Bill Sharp had waived an A3 poster of the Conservative candidate at Bob and Gail when they drove past him in their ‘battle-bus’ (proclaiming Bob Spink as an independent) on Sunday.

The two conspirators must have thought long and hard about using the incident when they returned home that night – and made their decision to get the police involved the following morning.

It appears that, to Spink and Boland, waiving Rebecca’s campaign poster at them is equivalent to a traditional English bowman’s salute, which I, and many other residents, may have performed in similar circumstances.

Of course, the Echo had a duty to report the incident – and had they had time they might also have considered the other point that Rebecca was making about a Conservative government: that it would bring an end to the culture of excessive litigation, while, at the same time, giving legal safeguards to those who really need them. But the appropriateness of her remark was apparently lost upon them as they devoted their whole front page, and a page-two column, to their ‘Tory’s arrest after spat with Spink’ leader.

On Wednesday, Sarah Calkin (an Echo staff reporter) decided to take-up space at the top of page-five to throw her own support behind Spink.

Casting around for a theme, she chose to report on UKIP’s support-ad for Spink in the Southend Standard. Bob could not have wished for more. UKIP had paid for the Standard’s advert – and now Calkin was reiterating its statements here (for nothing). She was even good enough to quote him in one of his biggest lies. (Can you spot it?.. Oh, no… There’s another one… Better make it: can you spot them?).

One thing is for sure, Bob Spink is spending a lot of money on his campaign. Unless I have been singled-out for special attention, his campaign literature was delivered to me by second-class post in a white Christmas-card envelope. (All my other candidate literature has been painstakingly delivered by hand to save on costs).

Is there a story here? His glossy A4 literature, which neither the Tories or Labour can match, certainly contains some whoppers – so perhaps he has no choice but to keep the envelopes’ contents concealed from postmen. But I particularly like the way in which he continues to promote his endorsement by John Mann MP.

Peas and a single pod come to mind…

Rebecca Replies…

Dear Julian,

Thank you for kicking this off, and thank you to Ted for giving us this platform. 

I agree that the expenses scandal did untold damage to public confidence in politics. I think the solution was making MPs with questionable claims pay them back and then moving to a wholly transparent system of pay and conditions. I don’t see how changes to the voting system will do anything to improve public confidence and it could even make matters worse.

Members of Parliament have two distinct roles. First, implementing national policy and holding the Government to account. The second is as the representative of their constituency at Westminster, a role the public really value. Moving to any system of proportional representation as the Government proposes, damages the links between MPs and their constituents, making the voters less powerful and the Party bosses more so.

The AV system you personally advocate is an odd compromise by keeping some MPs constituency-based and others elected on a “Regional List”.  It’s not actually properly proportional but it creates two different types of MP. 

The real issue is weak government.  PR leads to more small single issue parties each fighting to get their say.  I can’t see how all the resulting horse-trading behind closed doors to get a deal will bring politicians’ into higher esteem. 

Like you, I support a modernised House of Lords with a majority of elected members, but also maintaining some appointed members. I do not think we should lose those peers with the expertise and stature – many of them “Cross-benchers” – of people like ex-M15 Head, Eliza Manningham-Buller or some of our ex military chiefs, just because they were not willing to turn their lives upside down to run for election like us.

Better than either of the plans however are David Cameron’s plans to reduce the cost of Government altogether, by reducing the number of MPs, Ministers and Ministerial salaries.  I’d also like to see the huge number of powers currently exercised by expensive and unaccountable quangos transferred to local communities and MPs.

I know you’ve advocated electoral reform for many years, but I think the public may feel cynical about a party that’s become interested in changing the voting system after 13 years in power, just when they look like they could lose.

Proposing a referendum on the voting system when it’s not a public priority smacks of cynicism – especially when the Government didn’t stick to their promise of a referendum on the important issue of whether or not the UK should sign up to the Lisbon Treaty.

I don’t advocate lowering the voting age to 16. Many 16 year olds are probably quite capable of exercising this right sensibly, but there has to be a starting age at some point and I think 18 is about right. When I was 16 I certainly considered myself old enough to make decisions that affected me, but I am not so sure I was ready to make decisions that affected others, which is what voting is. Currently, too few in the 18 to 24 age group vote and it would be better to try to raise those numbers.

Overall, I think we can agree that it is time to clean up Parliament and make Government more efficient and accountable and this election gives us a chance for a fresh start. As always though, there are ranging views on how best to achieve it. I am grateful that we can have this exchange in the open and welcome further such correspondence.

Sincerely,

Rebecca

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 18/03/2010) – Julian Says…

Critics Say Green Belt Protection Cannot Be Ensured By Castle Point MP’s New Party

(Echo) – POLITICIANS hoping to oust Castle Point MP Bob Spink have branded his new political party foolish and ineffective at protecting the borough’s green belt.

Conservative candidate Rebecca Harris and Labour man Julian Ware-Lane are both hoping to win Dr Spink’s seat at the forthcoming general election.

Last week, Dr Spink launched the Independent Save Our Green Belt Party and announced plans to field eight candidates in the borough council elections.

The party promises to protect Castle Point’s green belt.

But Mrs Harris said even if the party did win local council seats, its members could not guarantee green belt land will be preserved.

Under current law, if the council has not demonstrated a big enough supply of land to meet housing targets over the next five years, developers are likely to win an appeal to build on the green belt.

Mrs Harris said: “Local councillors can’t change national planning law and if they think they can, they’re fooling themselves. If they know they can’t, they’re fooling the electorate by claiming they can.”

The Government has set Castle Point Council a target of finding land for 5,000 new homes in the borough by 2026.

Mrs Harris added: “The whole concept of targets must go. We will abolish them and leave it up to local people to decide what housing they want and where.

“Councils can alter their local plans and remove sites provided they haven’t already got planning permission.”

In total 400 homes are planned for Canvey’s green belt, while land near to The Chase, Thundersley, has been earmarked for up to 300 homes under the council’s core strategy or local plan, which sets out how to meet the housing targets.

Mr Ware-Lane said: “It’s wrong to claim the green belt is under threat because of Labour party policy. I don’t think the core strategy is good enough. We believe there are enough brownfield sites to meet the target.

“Scrapping housing targets would deal a real blow to all those people who want to buy a house but can’t afford it.”

However, Mr Ware-Lane agrees a vote for the new party would be wasted.

He added: “It is a fringe party. If you want a bigger say in what’s going on locally you need an MP who’s speaking for either the party in Government or the main opposition.”

Nice one, Sarah…

… (Julian Ware-Lane, 16/03/2010) – What label will Bob use?

Soap-box 2010

READERS WILL NOTE that this blog is now hosting a live election ‘conversation’ between Julian Ware-Lane, the Prospective Labour Party Candidate, and Rebecca Harris, the Parliamentary Prospective Candidate for the Conservative Party.

Perhaps undemocratically, I have not invited our local MP, Bob Spink, to take part (since the two Parliamentary Candidates have some catching-up to do with that MP’s coverage – both here and in the local press).

Bob Spink is free to make use of this blog’s comment section should he so choose, along with all other declaring PPCs and, of course, all readers.

It is envisaged that this ‘conversation’ will continue until the polls open, and both candidates will attempt to cover their respective positions on local and national issues that concern residents.

In order for that to happen: please keep all comments ‘on-topic’ so that the thread can progress…

If You Are Listening, Ray: Rebecca Has An Idea…

Rebecca Harris (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservative Party)

(Rebecca Harris) – I WAS DISMAYED by the proposal to close the older and more historic of Canvey’s tidal pools. 

We have already lost too much of our heritage and local character, and I would deeply regret losing any more – even if this wasn’t such a well used resource. Nor does the fact that we have a newer pool, which the Borough Council say they will improve with a crabbing area, lead me to think: “Oh; that’s alright then.” 

I also have a gut reaction against the words “Health and Safety”. (Although, as a mother, I don’t want to put my toddler at genuine risk however bloody-minded I might feel about the Nanny State). 

My personal view is that we should do everything we can to keep the pool operating as a part of Canvey’s history, somewhere young families can have a cheap day out, and a much-loved aspect of our sea-side. 

I have spoken to the councillors involved in the decision to try to understand what they were thinking. They all clearly came to the decision with real reluctance; several even became nostalgic about their own childhood memories of using the pool or having taken their children or grandchildren there. 

I think they were motivated by two factors, risk and future maintenance costs. I can understand that once councillors, or anyone else put in the same position, are told they may be responsible for serious risk to life – and in this case children’s lives – they  feel very reluctant to second guess expert findings and want to move fast to eliminate the danger. 

I can understand that. 

Due to the state of the public finances, councils are anticipating as much as a 10% funding cut from the current government. So they’re looking to make some tough decisions. Having decided the priority was refurbishing the Paddocks and Waterside and keeping them to a safe standard in future years, they thought they couldn’t afford two tidal pools too, with all the supposed legal risks attached. However, I still think this decision was short-sighted and rushed. 

They failed to make an assessment of the views of local residents and traders – or look into all the possible options. The electorate are no less capable of grasping the issues and deciding if this is something they care about enough to justify the costs to them, the taxpayer. 

Most of Britain’s old tidal pools have closed already over Health and Safety fears, which makes this 80 year old example even more special and valuable an asset for the Island. And anyone familiar with the pools will know that the older one is in fact by far the better of the two. If we could only have one, that would actually be the one to defend! 

I only got in to the Special Town Council Meeting on the pool late (there was a space problem), but I was glad I made it. I was put forward to speak by campaign leader Liz Swann, who knew I was against the closure. I’d emailed the Chairman earlier; but clearly too late for the message to reach the meeting that I’d obtained an assurance from Castle Point Council that they wouldn’t decommission the pool before allowing time for everyone to explore the options. 

This gives everyone a decent window of opportunity to get a “Second Opinion”. The facts can be fully reviewed. We need a proper understanding of the relative costs of maintaining the pool to what’s considered a modern safe standard, to check the quoted costs are accurate, and weigh them against the needs of Canvey as a tourist venue and the finances of our councils. 

Crucially, we can also look at other avenues for money such as Heritage Lottery Funding, which has helped some of Britain’s 1930’s lidos. There might be other ways to reduce the annual insurance costs in these litigious times too. 

The Borough Council have committed themselves to spending £50,000 to remove the pool and improve the beach. On their reckoning it would be only another eight thousand more to put it in good order in the first year, so it’s clearly not an immediate worry about money. But these works would be one-off capital expenditure; the worry is surely how they can find new money each year from a shrinking government grant, to prove to insurers that the pool is “safe”. 

Part of the original plans for the regeneration of Canvey were for the CoastWatch hut to be moved around from its current position near the Port of London Authority jetty to somewhere that they can also observe the beaches; but, as government cash has dried up, this plan is stuck on hold. 

But what if we could get grant money to make this happen again? With volunteers able to view the pool in daylight hours – and all year round – the ongoing insurance costs for both pools would be certain to fall dramatically. There would still be some annual physical maintenance costs to cope with (sea damage etc) but it could make the burden on council tax-payers much more manageable for either the Town or Borough Council. There is even an old lifeguard lookout on top of the Concord Cafe which might be used in the short-term if CoastWatch agreed. This would make the whole of Canvey seafront safer too. 

It still won’t spare local council tax-payers the risk of some drunken idiot breaking his neck there one night and suing us for £3 million, but insurance is about levels of risk and it might make that insurance risk more manageable. 

Maybe Ray Howard can do his usual conjuring trick of finding a pool of capital grant money from somewhere for CoastWatch? 

It might not solve the problem; but it must be worth a try…