Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: Bristol

For Facts Sake!

In or out it has certainly been shaken about and what ever happens the day after 23rd of June, Europe will never be the same again. This is not a vote for change or status quo (although their brand of four cord rock is very popular) it is a vote for change or change. Before “that” referendum you have the local elections on 5th May and even if you council is not up for X marks the spot this year, you will still have a Police and Crime Commissioner to vote for. Yes you do. Unfortunately it’s not like the one from Batman with a loveable Irish side kick and a red phone under a transparent cake cover, our Police and Crime Commissioners hold our police to account and set the crime plan to help us feel safe and be safe. Now you know. Do you know who is standing? You should.

So it is pencils to the ready and let’s wait to see who comes knocking our doors wearing a rosette looking to “count on our vote”. You might have a long wait. It’s just not like it use to be in delivery of politics or its outcome. The delivery seems to be more about reassuring the core voter that they are right to back you message (much like most newspapers assure their readers that they have bought the right paper and here is why we are as one by not letting the facts get in the way) or it is about bombarding “the undecided” with a material ranging from simple policy headings to good old-fashioned fear. Project fear.

And here is the real fear. Turnout. Look at the recent turn out for national and local elections. In 2015 the General Election turnout was 66.1% and the best we have managed on one of those since the Second World War was in 1950 at 83.9%. Still, could be worse. In 2001 it was 59.4%. At best nationally a third of the country can’t be bothered to vote. In the European elections of 2014 the turnout was 35.6%, the high point was 2004 when 38.52% of us voted and the lowest was in 1999 when just 24% bothered to play X marks the E.U spot. Our local elections are even worse when these determine our day-to-day governance and management! 2012 saw Bristol make a huge change to the way it was run to being governed by an elected mayor. This massive change to how the residents council tax was spent was decided by just 28% of registered voters. Some Wards didn’t get above 20%. 260,000 people either didn’t care or didn’t understand. This is what we proudly call democracy and this is what we hold as a standard against other countries in our foreign policy and its advocacy.

What can be done? Legislate to make us all vote, have a none of the above box, use the same technology behind Bitcoin to offer secure on-line voting? MAybe we could turn it into an X Factor or The Voice type thingie where Dermot O’Leary has all the contestants, err politicians on a Saturday night TV show standing in a row, complete with tension building, drum beating music and a long pregnant pause before announcing the winner? All of these have been considered.

Surely it is actually down to us. If we can’t be bothered to vote then why should our political class be bothered by us. If our political class seemingly can’t be bothered then why should we. It is down to us to change it. It is our vote not theirs.

Democracy is about the people, about and for us. We need and must be involved, to turn up, to seek out the information and ideas that best suit us and our loved ones and then vote for them. We need to read, listen, ask, check and qualify then turn up to vote as it is our tax that pays for it and our tax that the elected spend on everything. “Taxes are price we pay for civilisation” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr the noted US Supreme Court Judge. Our voting determines how we want our civilisation to be, whether it is for our local councillors or our place in Europe. So maybe it is worth a few minutes of our time to research, discuss and actually vote, stating on 5th May. It’s always much more fun when you take part rather than moaning from the sidelines.

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Kermit The Frog is right.

Muppet and philosopher Kermit the Frog sang the truth. It’s not easy being green. For some it is a political belief and it’s fair to say that there are more political Greens now than ever before but, for the majority of us, what is being Green?

Is being Green about having low energy light bulbs, sorting our rubbish into the many, various boxes for collection, turning off our electrical equipment rather than leaving it on standby and trying not to waste our valuable resources that we all know are finite? There has to be more to it than that. Maybe it’s about picking up litter and looking after our own environment? I’ve done that recently where I live and I’ve seen the results of other litter picks and, frankly, the amount of rubbish we leave behind us is shocking.

The big problem with ‘going Green’ is that we have been told we must do it, we sort of get it but we are not entirely convinced that what we are doing will make any real difference to us or anyone else. It all comes down to cost for most of us in both money and time. If being Green means we save money, time and the planet then that’s all good then. If going Green protects the environment then that’s nice, so long as it doesn’t cost me or inconvenience me. Selfish? No. Realistic? Yes. Take away the politics and going Green is, in many ways, a better way to live so long as we all do it.

I do recycle, turn off lights when I’m not using them, I try not to use packaging or bags if I can avoid it, which is hard when they even shrink-wrap individual bananas in one supermarket, and I want the environment to be better for my children than it was for me in the past. The trouble is I’m just not convinced that what I am doing is making a jot of difference. I worry that being Green is more about other’s agendas than it is about my actions. How can covering our green fields with solar panels possibly be Green?

Bristol is the European Green Capital for 2015. This is something for Bristol and the country to be proud of and for us to get behind, but what does this actually mean beyond a great headline? The website says ‘A year celebrating Bristol’s leadership in creating healthier, happier cities’. No clues on the website telling me how they will do this.

What does Green Capital really mean? Honestly I don’t really know. I have asked many, many times for a clear definition and what it will mean to individuals. There are, of course, events, conferences, talks plus a giant whale that will be made out of recycled materials and some old boats in a wood that isn’t even in Bristol. Will any of this make us more Green?

Maybe the answer to Bristol 2015 European Green Capital is to get us talking about being Green and understanding why. If this is the case then I look forward to talking, hearing and learning. I fear though that it will be more about a lot of worthy nodding and agreeing that ‘something must be done’, talking about ‘community involvment’, harnessing ‘cultral diversity’, ‘learning lessons’ and having a ‘meaniful dialogue’.

My biggest fear is that by the end of the year we will still be sorting our own rubbish, maybe picking litter up from our own streets but, most of all, being none the wiser or Greener and feeling like a bunch of muppets.

Cut the efficiency crap.

All local councils and unitary authorities are about half way through their cuts, austerity programmes or whatever you choose to call them. Bristol City Council have implemented just shy of a 150m of cuts by slashing grants to service providers and charities, cutting services and making efficiency savings. There will be more to come. Bath and North East Somerset have cut, so have North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Have you noticed the cuts so far? Have you? Really? Probably not as the cuts so far have mostly been ‘efficiency savings’, changing what councils do and how they do it so the cuts actually doesn’t bother you. They should.
You will soon begin to actually feel the Council cuts too, and there will be little you can do about it. Or can you?
Take BANES. One of their cuts, proposed last year, was to close public toilets. ‘No’ said the residents, one of whom ended up sleeping in one the toilets slated for closure in centre of Bath. The Council decided to not go ahead with the cut. In Bristol, the council have 19 members of their Parks, Crematorium and Cemetery tending these council grounds and gardens. They were late in recruiting them, maybe as a result of wage saving or a wage bill cut. On my radio programme we heard that Bristol City Council were not looking after these parks, that cemeteries were over grown and one widow told me she fell into an over grown grave trying while trying visit her husbands grave because the grass was so tall. Two weeks later these cemeteries have now been tended, of sorts, and the grass has been strimed. Why? Simply because pressure was brought to bare on Bristol City Council.
Is this the answer? Shout on local radio and council will do it? Maybe, but it is a little more complicated than that.
The liberal democracy argument is that you vote for your councillor (or Mayor), the one with the most votes gets in, they act in the interests of all the electorate and then, in due time, you vote for them again (or not) depending on how they have done. The reality of our actual relationship with our council is that they don’t really effect most of us beyond paying out council tax and them collecting our rubbish and filling in the pot holes on the roads we drive.  It all seems very simple. But it isn’t.
Local Government effects you more than you realise and to not get involved, to just do your recycling and drive repeatedly over a pothole riddled road without reporting it is NOT good enough. You need to get involved. The money you pay every year is enough for a good family holiday or a better pension when you retire.  You need to hold your councillor and your council to account. If you don’t the leaders of each council or the elected Mayor of Bristol will end up being responsible for managing the waste management contract and adult social care and they will be unable to do anything for you or your neighbours. They will do what they have to do and not what you want them to do, with your money.
So what has happened to your money so far? Here is a clue. Most of the cuts so far have been achieved through ‘efficiency savings’. Bristol achieved 50m through ‘efficiency savings’. Why was any council allowed to ever be inefficient with your money. Every penny you pay should go towards what you want it to, for the benefit of you and your neighbours. Any council inefficiency is not acceptable. It’s your money, it’s your vote and between you voting it is your right to hold your councillor and council to account.
To put this another way, would you give someone you know a £150 a month, every month and not ask questions about what they were doing with it? It is your democratic right to make sure that your council do what you want or, at the very least, you know what they are doing even if you don’t like it. Never again should we allow any council to say they are making ‘efficiency savings’, and if they do you must ask why. And then ask why again.

Boozy Bristol after dark

It’s the Wild West out there on the streets of Bristol at night, especially at the weekend. Lawless, drunken, riddled with drugs, sex, all fueled by cheap booze and falling morality. It is the beginning of the end and every town is like it.

No. This is just plain wrong. I was wrong, the Sodom and Gomorrah image we are being sold is wrong. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, so said Franklin D Roosevelt and he would say the same about the streets of Bristol on a Saturday night, had he seen what I saw.

The reason I went out was to test the assertion that Bristol city centre is full of young, drunk, drugged people who are badly behaved and off their heads on drink. Alcohol costs the city millions in management and health issues; it causes many social problems and leads to crime and general lawlessness. Yes this may happen, but it is not the whole story. The late night economy in Bristol, with bars open until 5am and clubs closing at 6am is a result of changing attitudes, culture and laws. Bristol is responding to this and doing rather well because of it too.

The Habourside was my first port of call, a mixture of bars and restaurants all offering a differing propositions for the young and the not so young. I went into two of the bars and they were busy, happy places and both were a mixture of all ages. The door staff outside a bar on Park Street I spoke to earlier had told me that Habourside is where the Saturday nights out start, or on Corn Street. What I saw was a lot of people having a very good time, some quite loudly. And I saw a lot of young women, in groups, in black dresses moving, well more teetering on infeasible shoes from bar to bar. Then it changed.

As the night headed towards the witching hour the gender balance changed. It was men in a the majority, young men in their 20’ and early 30’s, loud and boisterous but I would venture no more loud than I was when I was that age, or Mods were in the 60’s or 80’s, or Teddy boys were in the 50’s. Twas ever thus? The bars were now full and ques forming inside and out, good-natured and patient.

Then it was off to College Green and Park Street, now much busier than when I walked down it earlier in the evening. Outside the bars young men and women were smoking and the sweet smell of cannabis that had intermittently wafted around me all night returned again. I spoke to a young girl who was celebrating her 19th birthday with two friends. She was out to get ‘wasted’. That was her answer to my question about how she would judge her night to be a good night. She was not alone. Another group said the same, so did a stag party in fancy dress outside The Hippodrome. They were walking by as theatre-goers left a performance by the French Ballet. Both were having their own versions of a good night. There was and is room for all.

As I walked up Park Street there were many young women dressed for the summer on a cold November night mixing with men in Christmas jumpers, stag and hen parties all queuing to get in to the bar or club they would stay in until they could drink no more. They jostled with each other and the on coming traffic. The more sober supported those who had peaked too soon. Many had peaked to soon or were about to start the final ascent of Mount Booze. By now every bar or club had long, good-natured ques and pavements were a mix of the happy, the merry and the drunk with small, trickling steaming streams emanating from dark shop doorways trickling down towards College Green.

Was it intimidating? No. Was it a night out I could enjoy? Yes. Did I feel safe? Yes. There was police visible on foot and horseback, every bar had door personnel, and the crowds were out for a good time and were mostly having one.

Here are my concerns.

Speaking to a group of young men and then a group of young girls standing in a long queue outside a club on Clifton Triangle it was the money they spent to have a good time. One young man spent half his weekly wage on each Saturday night out, the same for another young woman. Neither was ‘foolish’ or ‘feckless’ or a front-page image for a black top tabloid paper. Nights out in Bristol are what they live for. Drinking was part of that, before they went out and while they were out.

Bristol has seen a 42% increase in hospital admissions attributable to alcohol in the last 6 years so something is clearly wrong, but it’s not just the city centre’s fault.

We all have a problem with alcohol and this week on BBC Radio Bristol I’m going to try to make sense of why.

Rape is wrong, right?

I have had busy couple of weeks, covering many different topics too on my BBC programme but one topic has struck a chord with my listeners more than any other.

Rape.

On the phone in element of Thursdays programme we discussed the ‘this is not an excuse’ campaign launched in Bristol. The four different hard-hitting billboard posters throughout the city follows the success of the campaign in Scotland, based on a Rape Crisis message. It provoked the expected response but we also heard all sides of the issue. And we heard from victims too who we could not put to air, but I hope we helped. We took calls from victims of rape who have never reported the crime committed against them.

Rape is wrong. The posters are hard-hitting and if you have yet to see them I would urge you to take a look at thisisnotanexcuse.org.uk. Please take a long, hard, thought-provoking look. Then consider the message.

It is quite simple. There is no excuse for rape. None. It is a crime, it is about power, subjugation, it has no place in any society and the only person to blame is the perpetrator. Simple. But no, it’s not simple. If only it was really that simple. To make it that simple is wrong.

There should be NO doubt that ANY victim of rape, be they a woman or man (40 men got raped in the West in the last year as well as 420 women) be guilty. But is the perpetrator of this crime wholly and totally guilty for his or her actions? Yes, women can rape too. Is every rapist just guilty and it is for them alone to stand and fall by their horrendous crime and accept that they alone are the singular instigator and mastermind? Or are we all, in some way, guilty for an over sexualized society where sex sells everything, breasts and bums are on show in daily newspapers and porn is a couple of clicks away on any PC or tablet? Is it really acceptable to dress in a way that celebrates being attractive as nothing more than ‘get it here’ sex? To answer that last question is to go out in any of our towns or cities in the West on a Saturday night and reach your own conclusion.

Rape is about power and it is not about sex. But sex is the route to this power. You should be able to wear what you want, where you want without fear of attack or worse. And ‘no’ should mean ‘no’. Rape is not a feminist issue, a police matter or a poster campaign. It is about all of us and the blackest part of our today.

Most rapes are silent, not violent and between those who know each other. Only 15% of all rapes are ever reported. This has to be about more than just the shame and the intimacy of being the victim of the most violating of crimes. It must be about how we judge sex, all sex has become and what it means from our daily newspapers, TV, social media through to easily accessible porn. The message is that if you have sex, you must have wanted it, because we all do. That is the how the sexual message is sold. And the not reporting of the crime of rape is the consequence because the victim thinks it is their fault. It isn’t.

Rape is unacceptable. Any victim should feel that she or he can report the crime, be treated fairly and respectfully through the due process of criminal law and that the outcome reflects the nature of the crime. The only bit of this we have got right so far is that rape is unacceptable. The rest is slow work in progress.

This says more about our society today than many other things.

You are going to have pay more tax.

In the west, Bath and North East Somerset have revealed that they are looking to cut spending on early years provision by £2.3 million over the next two years. Bristol City Council is now facing further budget cuts of £90 million on top of what they have already have cut. Central Government will also have to cut more public services and welfare if the country is ever likely to pay back the debt. All rather bleak isn’t it?

Does it have to be like this? Could you pay more?

There are a number of painful realities we all need to face here. If you or the country borrow money then you have to pay it back. The only way to do that is by using the money you earn to do it. If you don’t earn enough you either prioritize your income so you pay what you’ve borrowed back or you have to earn more money to do it. The reality is hard and, for many, very difficult but there is no other way, other than to extend the length of time you pay the debt back. This will always cost you more money.

There are those who think public services are a right and public money grows on trees. There answer is to tax the wealthy more to pay for it. The trotting out of ‘tax the bankers bonuses more’ is a very popular solution offered to the public spending shortfall. That, like the idea of the Big Society, is utter tosh.

If you want an NHS that does what you want and when you want it you have to pay for it. If you want trains with seat you can sit on, at times you want to go then you have to pay for it. If you want local services, real and proper care for your elderly relatives or loved ones, decent schools or the rubbish collected on time then you have to pay for it. And there are only two ways. Either you pay more tax, buy it yourself or you give more to charity. We all have to pay more or give more. It’s worth remembering that less than 100 years ago charity provided health care, education, social mobility and social care before central government decided it could do it better.

HMRC have released some figures that don’t sit well with the silly cries of bankers paying more tax on their bonuses or with the premise of the big society filling in the gap. Out of almost 30 million people now working just 703,000 people will earn at least £100,000 or more this year through wages, bonuses, self-employed income, dividends, rents and interest. Of those, 320,000 will make at least £150,000 and 287,000 of these will pay the 45p top rate. This IS loads more than the 236,000 that paid the 50p tax rate in 2010-11.

This may surprise you too. Just 18,000 people will earn over £1m, which is up on the 13,000 in the previous two years and it was 10,000 in 2010.

But this is the killer number to the argument that rich need to pay more income tax than you. The 6,000 people on £2m or more will pay more in income tax (£13.2bn) than you and the 12.5m other taxpayers who earn under £20,000 a year. They are coughing up less with cumulative £11.5bn.

Simply, the top 1 per cent of UK earners have 13.7 per cent of all income but they pay a record 29.8 per cent of all income tax. In 2004-05, the top 1 per cent paid 21.4 per cent of all income tax. So who is taxed more and paying more? It is certainly not the 2 million more who will pay no tax at all in the next year compare to last year.

One last thing; these top earners are most likely to buy the services they need and are paying tax to the government for those who can’t. So should these top pay more tax? Your answer to that is most likely to be yes, but then you should pay more tax too if you want the things that are being cut. Or maybe we should hand it all over to charities to provide as it use to be.

One last thing. £35 billion in tax goes uncollected every year.

Painful, isn’t it.

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