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In praise of Suffolk cheeses

One of the nice things that has happened in East Anglia this century is the increasing number of really good cheese makers. I enjoy surprising visitors from other parts with a fine range of local cheeses.

Another good thing is that they are now much more widely available. Memorable Cheeses in Dial Lane, Ipswich is always a good source. And the Co-op has cheese counters, a goodly proportion locally sourced, (certainly at Debenham) that puts the big supermarket chains to shame.

Historically, Suffolk cheese did not have a good name. It was called Suffolk bang and the biggest customer was the Royal Navy in the days of sail. It was said it was so hard even the weevils could not get into it.

The trouble was they used milk that had already been skimmed to make butter, which had a very good reputation.

In the past decade or so there has been a cheese making renaissance. A food blog, With Knife and Fork, had nice things to say about it. (Norfolk has delicious cheeses too.)

I guess that if the secret really was out, demand would soon outstrip supply. But I wonder whether the farm shops and other rural outlets are doing all they could to promote the local produce. They often have nice cheeses, including some local ones, but the prices tend to be high.

One of the cheeses I frequently get is Shipcord, made from unpasturised milk at Rodwell Farm, Baylham, near Needham Market.

Last week I bought some from the Suffolk Food Hall, in the shadow of the Orwell Bridge, where I had gone to get some of the excellent lamb the butcher there sells. I bought some Shipcord from another of the sections.

At home, I noticed the label gave the price per kilo as £21.04. In the Debenham Co-op it is priced at £16.90 pence. That is a big difference and I walk to the Co-op.

Three controversial donors backed Ben Gummer’s Ipswich election win

Three controversial Conservative party donors helped finance Ben Gummer’s successful campaign to win Ipswich, 113 on the Tory target list, at the last election.

Between them the three donors contributed £35,000. Two of them Andrew J. Clark (£25,000) and Abdul-Majid Jafir (£5,000) are listed without an address in Mr Gummer’s entry on the Commons register of MP’s financial interests.

The third is listed as a company donation of £5,000 from IPGL Ltd, of London EC2, but is from the business of Michael Spencer, who has a home near Woodbridge. He was revealed this week as one of the people who had a private dinner with David Cameron. According to the BBC he has given the Conservatives £173,000 since June 2006.

Andrew J Cook has been linked today by Ipswich Spy with the Andrew J Cook, who according to the Daily Mail sucked David Cameron into a “sleaze row… over a decision to axe an £80million loan”.

The loan was to Sheffield Forgemasters steel works. Mr Cook runs another steel company and was said to be considering making a bid for Forgemasters. He has donated More than £650,000 to the Conservatives and gave Mr Cameron flights, travel and sponsorship worth £88,000.

Mr Jafir who, according to the Daily Mail, gave £250,000 to the Tory Party is said to be a executive director of Crescent Petroleum Group.

The paper said, “in records at Companies House he is listed as being ‘usually’ resident in the United Arab Emirates.” His spokesman told the paper he was ‘definitely on the electoral roll’, and that he lived between Britain and the UAE.”

Ipswich Spy which first revealed the donations earlier today, reports:

Mr Gummer insists, however, that anyone who knows him will know that any allegation that money donated to his campaign has, or would, ever alter his view or vote is barking up the wrong tree. He told Ipswich Spy “all those who gave money to my campaign were people I know and none of them tried to ask me for favours or policy.

I tend to believe that Mr Gummer has not been influenced, but I also suspect that donors were pointed toward him and Ipswich by Conservative headquarters because it was one of the seats they had to win in 2010 if they were to have any change of forming a government.

That is simply how party funding in elections work. Labour in Ipswich had £10,000 during the last parliament from the Prospect Union and both parties has a little short of £60,000 in their fighting funds.

Ipswich Spy suggests that it is unlikely that when Mr Gummer was a candidate “anyone would be spending money on him with an eye to the future”.

I feel the eye was on the importance of the seat but also that donors recognised, in Mr Gummer, someone who would follow his father into the higher reaches of the party. John Gummer had a far less smooth ride into his first seat.

Mr Gummer registered six sponsors shortly after the 2010 election. In addition to the three named above, there was Ransome’s Dock Ltd of Ispwich (£5,000), Anglia Countrywide Management Ltd of Ipswich (£5,000), and Michael Peacock (£2,000), address private.

Donor who supported Tory campaign in Ipswich on Cameron’s guest list

One of the Conservative party donors entertained by David Cameron was billionaire businessman Michael Spencer who has a house near Woodbridge and is an associate director of Ipswich Town.

The Ipwich Star picked up on this story today and went to local MP Ben Gummer for a quote in which he called for a £50,000 cap on “single donations”.

There is no mention of the fact that Mr Spencer’s business made a £5,000 donation towards Mr Gummer’s election campaign. But Ipswich Spy has been quick to fill in the missing information.

Could that reference to “single donations” be significant?

Suffolk libraries: let’s work together for best future

A call for the new organisation charged with running Suffolk Libraries to take a gradual approach to change is made today by James Hargrave on his blog. I entirely agree with his post which could serve as manifesto for most library campaigners in the county. Please read it.

Following the resignation of the county council appointed chairman, the body, under its new chair Shona Bendix, has the opportunity to take a pragmatic approach and capitalise on the good will which is now evident.

I notice that Hargrave writes about “Suffolk Libraries” ignoring the redundant apostrophe s inserted, by the County Council, into the name of the Industrial and Provident Society set up to take over the libraries. I hope the IPS shows the same economy when choosing a new logo.

More importantly he points to the need for the IPS to take things gradually and to do all it can to improve staff morale, including not following a policy of recruiting new employees on a lower pay scale.

I would add to this that none of the staff being transferred from the county council should be retransferred to a community library group for at least a year. I have already suggested this privately. Being transfered once is unsettling enough.

Hargrave points to the need to allow community groups that are not incorporated bodies (limited companies) to become members of the IPS. It may be that there is a different way of interpreting the existing rules or they may need amendment, but should to be done before the first board elections next year if they are to be credible.

What I am writing could have been largely said as a comment on Hargrave’s blog. So please read it.

Don’t tell me pensioners have been protected from austerity

It is not so much the “granny tax” that is making me angry but the suggestion that pensioners have been protected from the worst effects of the nation’s austerity. We are paying heavily, will continue to pay, and pay more because George Osborne thought he could slip a nasty little measure into his budget.

Pensioners who did what governments have always urged them to do and saved for retirement have seen big falls in income at the same time as the value of those savings falls.

It is simple to understand, but the defenders of Osborne choose not to. Interest rates on savings historically low while inflation coninues. At 1%, £10,000 invested produves £100 in income. Inflation is now 3.4%.

Even the functionally innumerate can see what that means. Future real income is cut by a “negative” interest rates.

Yes, this affects everyone with savings, including young people wanting to buy a home. But the elderly are mqore likely to be dependent on savings than any other section of the population.

Buying an annuity (a condition when taking most pensions) is no solution as the rates of those are also very low.

A financial adviser tells us we should be planning on the basis of my wife or myself living another 30 years. We are reminded that residential care is expensive.

So I get very angry when I hear appologists for Osborne saying pensioners have not taken their share of the pain.

Greater Anglia and the tweet offensive

This week I went to London on a Greater Anglia train for the first time. The logos on the coaches have been hurriedly replaced and the toilet was as dirty as ever. Not much change.

But I had heard they were very good at saying sorry and had found a user friendly tweeter.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/greateranglia/statuses/183136394305216512″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/GreatrAnglia/statuses/182891897356947456″]

Take a careful look. One is genuine and the other a spoof.

It had to happen!

If you don’t see two tweets above, click on the headline

 

Pensions U-turn paved way for Suffolk NHS privatisation

Community healthcare employees in Suffolk will keep their NHS pensions when the service is transferred to a private sector company. Talks leading to this U-turn delayed yesterday’s announcement by three months.

About 1,000 staff will be transferred later this year to Serco which is now the preferred bidder for the £140m three-year contract.

As late as last December Suffolk Community Healthcare staff were being told the requirement was for the new employer to provide them with pensions, approved by the Government Actuary Department, which were “broadly comparable” to their NHS pensions.

At that time it was said the settling the pension arrangements was taking longer than expected with the result that an announcement was delayed from the original December date (source: staff newsletter).

The U-turn is revealed in updated FAQs posted on the NHS Midlands and East project website yesterday. They say:

Serco is planning for staff to remain on the NHS pension scheme and is applying for an NHS pension number to allow this to happen…

We are currently in discussion with NHS Pensions Authority and the Department of Health on pensions provision for new staff moving forward. We will discuss our approach with staff representatives during the transition period.

Alternative “broadly comparable” pensions have been the expected standard for private sector contracts. This extract is from a What happens to my Pension? document on the social partnership forum:

…staff who join a non-NHS employer will normally lose access to the NHS Pension Scheme. However, if the move is compulsory, then the new employer will be required to provide broadly equivalent pension benefits as part of the ‘Fair Deal for Pensions’ policy Where the move is voluntary staff should be offered the opportunity to join the new employers pension scheme.

Whether this change in the proposed SCH contract was a result of employee pressure or the inability of private sector bidders to meet the “broadly comparable” test is unclear. I hope comments below will help clarify this and also indicate the significance of the decision for other private sector contracts.

Press releases announcing the Serco’s preferred bidder status are on the NHS website and at Serco.

Details of the deal for Serco to take over later this year and reactions are at the Financial Times, Ipswich Spy and the East Anglian Daily Times.

Ipwswich politics: Calm down, dear(s)

Why are ipswich politics so much like a tussle outside a bar at chucking-out time? They seem to scream at each other rather than engage in reasoned debate, at least if you read their blogs.

To get an idea of what goes on you can look at the last three posts on Ipswich Spy which brings together bloggers of various allegiances and does its best to explain what is happening in a balanced way.

There was “Liar tag causes fury at council meeting” about a spat between Tory Judy Terry and Alasdair Ross (Labour).

Over an item about the local MP being reprimanded by the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, the headline was a quote, “Mr Gummer, I do not think we need you to lead the cheerleading“.

And in the most recent post about a stormy council meeting headed Golden Key refused again, the Spy comments: “Is it any wonder the public think councillors are just in it for themselves and that ‘you’re all the same’ when there is no effective opposition?”

Some of the blogs by individual politicians get very nasty, but I had hoped they not did take their venom with them to meetings.

Replacement of Suffolk Libraries IPS chair is ‘positive’ change

Clive Fox, the controversial choice of Suffolk County Council to lead the arms-length library service, has resigned.

Shan Bendix

Shona Bendix: New leader to take libraries forward

At an apparently smoothly orchestrated board meeting of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society yesterday, he announced that he intended to step down from the job he was given less than three months ago.

He was swiftly replaced by Shona Bendix, chief executive of Suffolk Assoication of Local Councils (SALC), who has clearly impressed board members as well as community groups poised to take responsibility for local libraries.

She said, in a press release:

The people I’m working with in the IPS and library service share a very strong and very clear aim – to do what’s best for the future of the service. This fundamental principle is what’s driving all of us to do what we can to make sure our much-loved libraries are able to flourish and continue to be well-used for decades to come. I’m very much looking forward to working in partnership with the board, library groups and the public to turn those ambitions into reality.

While Fox said he had always know it would be difficult to managing the increasing commitments of being chairman with other voluntary and professional roles. It was, he said, time for a new chairman to lead the IPS to the next stage. He remains a member of the board but is not expected to play a very active part.

Clive Fox, chairman of Suffolk's Libraries IPS

Clive Fox: After three months, time for a new leader

Fox’s appointment was always controversial and he was seen by some library campaigners as a placeman for Judy Terry, the council’s portfolio holder for libraries. I described it as a “strange choice” and another bloggerwrote, that he would have “an uphill struggle to get credibility among library groups”.

Since then he has faced problems including the resignation of his local library manager in Aldeburgh over the plans, and the collapse of the Ipswich co-operative, the largest of the pilot schemes for the new way of running libraries.

Bendix who was also one of the three founding directors of the IPS is clearly no ones placewoman. A board member described the change as “very positive”.

Following the collapse of the Ipswich co-operative, taking six of 14 libraries out of the pilot programme, the task of the IPS has changed substantially. The IPS is going to have to find a way of implementing the council’s decision which will gain widespread support among library groups.

The council itself will, almost certainly, have to find a new flexibility in its approach.

Social media builds relationships and networks for council

While writing the previous post about the use of social media by councils, I tweeted Paul Matthews, chief executive of Monmouthshire, to ask whether its open approach had really made a difference. Here is the question and answer:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/andrewga/status/180679412059078656″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/PaulMatthews67/status/180722003425234944″]

If I was  “harsh” about progress at Suffolk County Council, it was not intended. I know they are keenly interested in developing social media use and making some steps. What I really wanted to show was tone.

And, to be clear, the sub-text of  publishing the brief conversation with Paul Matthews is not that Deborah Cadman, Suffolk’s chief executive, should be using twitter. A successful twitterer has to be comfortable with the medium. I don’t know whether or not she would be, and she has a much larger authority than Paul Matthews’ to run so may not have the time.

What Paul Matthews shows with his friendly response to a stranger is a confident culture of openness supported from the top.