Bureaucratic blunder wastes £12.5 million

After a month where the Oaklands College plans for a new Smallford campus have been put in great peril and when local secondary head teachers were suddenly threatened with last minute sixth form budget cuts, we now learn that the funding body responsible - the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) - is about to incur a £12.5 million charge for cancelling its lease on its lavish St Albans offices in Grosvenor Road. The lease has nine more years to run and was costing an eye-watering £17,200 for each of the 32 LSC staff employed there.

The information was contained in documents leaked to the Guardian newspaper. As I reported previously the Learning and Skills Council dropped a bombshell on Oaklands College’s plans for the new Smallford campus when its inability to budget meant that there was no money left to meet its promise to contribute £44 million to that project. Then they threatened sixth form funding though the Chancellor dug them out of that hole in the budget. It now beggars belief that £12.5 million looks like being thrown away in St Albans because of further financial incompetence on the part of the LSC and their complete lack of professionalism. It is just a kick in the teeth for all the teaching professionals who actually are delivering education on the front line in Hertfordshire.

The primary school place crisis in the centre of St Albans

I attended a meeting today in County Hall with the SABLE group set up by the energetic Mary Crofts and other local parents from the centre of St Albans aghast at the way that they have been cast adrift by the primary school allocation system. They were meeting Children Schools and Families Director John Harris, the Conservative lead member for education Keith Emsall, and county council staff. The meeting had been co-ordinated by St Albans central division LibDem county councillor Chris White and was also attended by Anne Main. Chris has been arguing for ages that St Albans needs an additional primary school in the city centre.

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Innocent victims of the train wreck

I spoke to the Year 13's at Townsend School on budget day. I asked them how it felt to be innocent victims of a train wreck, when they will be picking up the pieces from the current shambles of our economy for the rest of their working lives (which could last up to fifty years if they want to ensure they earn enough for a decent retirement). Inflation according to the RPI formula has gone negative - but that's not the case for old people who don't have mortgages and spend disproportionately on food and energy.


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Sir Clement Freud RIP

The Isle of Ely by-election in 1973 was my first serious political campaign. I was a student at Cambridge, the sun was shining, and we bunked off lectures to join Clement (or "Clay") Freud in his quixotic campaign. The by-election followed the death of Sir Harry Legge-Bourke, who was one of the last National Liberal MPs - they sat with the Conservative Party in the House of Commons.

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Street bin bag shocker

I was walking down Oakwood Drive on Saturday with Cllrs Sheila Burton and Iqbal Zia. The sun was shining and the street looked lovely with the blossom, people doing their gardens etc. We were chatting away, and I just noted these bin bags dumped at the side of the pavement out of the corner of my eye. It just looked a mess. Just as we walked past them, a voice out of the blue somewhere below my knees said "Hello. How are you?" It made us jump out of our skins. And the only place it could have come from was the bin bags. Was it a new anti-fly-tipping robo-technology wheeze from St Albans Council?

Then out popped three boys' heads. One of them had done it to his mate and terrified him. They both did it to a third friend. And then the three of them took it public and mainstream. Apparently we were not the first to have this startling experience. I will be examining heart attack statistics to see if there is a blip! Good to see that there is still harmless fun to be had by enterprising young people - and who knows, they just might be on to something in deterring fly-tippers!

St Albans and the Helioslough dragon

As we always knew they would, Helioslough are back with a repeated application to build their monster freight terminal. It's a kick in the teeth for local people. St Albans Council still needs to see the detail of the application to check that it fits the rules. If it really is unchanged from the previous application then I hope the council will simply refuse to consider it under the two-year rule where developers cannot simply repeat previous applications ad nauseam at huge expense to the council taxpayer when they have already been rejected. We know there are better alternative sites such as Sundon by Luton - see my previous post.

We all must continue to stand together against this monstrous proposal. That means Residents Associations, STRiFE, all the different pressure and interest groups, and all the political parties. I go on being surprised that Anne Main continues to put out leaflets and statements implying that it is her and STRiFE alone against Helioslough with never a mention of other political parties. So for the record I am happy to state that this issue transcends petty party politics and I and my LibDem councillor colleagues will be proud to work alongside Mrs Main and the other parties. Everyone in the city and district has to hang together on this one if we are to give Helioslough the bloody nose they deserve.

Easter garden

I am not the greatest gardener.  And our garden suffers from the twin disadvantages of shade and being on a free-draining hillside. But Francesca directs the growing side of things and I cut, trim, destroy, uproot and kill as directed. After a productive and destructive Easter Monday here is the view from our bedroom window.

Abbey organ first notes

My friend David Pearson of Radio Verulam sent me this recording of the first music to be played on the refurbished St Albans Abbey organ - Saint Saens organ symphony at Saturday's Easter Vigil. We were married to this organ - Vierne's First Symphony played by the then Master of Music Colin Walsh.

Bonfires and candles

One of the many great things about being a Protestant married to a Catholic is that you get to do all the great festivals twice - and there is nothing to beat a good Easter Vigil. Our catholic church does it on Easter Eve - lighting the brazier outside in the gathering gloom, cars swishing past on the main road and a distant police siren as we process into a darkened church with lighted candles. I have been asked to open the readings with the great creation chapters from Genesis, the challenge being to give the familiar words poetry, rhythm and interest.

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There is an alternative railfreight site

The key foundation of Helioslough's resubmitted application to build the giant freight terminal at Park Street is their allegation that there is no alternative site for a so-called strategic freight terminal in this quadrant of London. We have to prove them wrong. That is why local LibDem peer Tom McNally and I went with STRiFE campaigners Cathy Bolshaw and Chris Brown today jon a specially arranged visit to Sundon, north of Luton.

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