Tuesday, February 09, 2016

@NeedhamFC versus @GraysAthleticFC - as relegation rears its ugly head, can the Marketmen turn things around?

Welcome to a cold Bloomfields, on a windy evening with a pitch that doesn't look to have improved much since I was here for the VCD Athletic game a few weeks back. Since that rather sorry home defeat, not much has gone right for the Marketmen, although Saturday's nil-nil draw at basement dwellers Lewes at least halted the run of grim outcomes.

At least the visitors, Grays Athletic (unbeaten in 2016, apparently) may have brought along some support - we'll see if the attendance is better than the 135 who turned out to brave the risk of hypothermia for the VCD Athletic game...

A lively start saw both sides test the opposition goalkeeper, but the crosswind was already causing play  to concentrate on the far side of the pitch. The Marketmen seemed to looking to play long balls over the top, whilst Grays were testing the pitch by playing more along the ground. Probably a mistake, given the conditions, but we'll see...

35 minutes - a pretty even contest thus far, with both teams having had their chances. Still nil-nil though...

Half-time - both sides have hit the woodwork, but Grays appear to have a slight edge as we reach the break. Can Needham Market rally in the second half and get something from the game? A win would see them reach the giddy heights of eighteenth...

60 minutes - Needham's best spell of the game led to a shot on goal spilt by the Grays keeper low down and turned in from a tight angle. But whilst the home supporters celebrated, the assistant's flag was flying. Still scoreless, but the hosts were looking the stronger...

Time is running out, and the Marketmen are hanging on... The final whistle blows, and it's another point, and a clean sheet - Needham Market 0, Grays Athletic 0...

Sunday, February 07, 2016

A question to which the answer is forty-two...

Yes, it's been six weeks since I started my (kind of) health regime of ten thousand steps and 1.9 litres of water a day, and I've managed both every day thus far.

It feels, I must say, pretty good.

Today, by way of a change, Ros and I took our morning constitutional on the seafront at Felixstowe, which isn't so far from the Creetings, but is somewhat different, especially on a sunny, but windy day. Put it this way, walking northwards was wind-assisted, and the return journey somewhat tougher.

Felixstowe is, unlike some seaside resorts locally, in relatively good shape, in part due to the presence of one of Europe's biggest container ports on its doorstep. And even now, despite the pressure of local government finances, the gardens and landscaping have been maintained, the promenade is in good condition, and there are places to stop for a cappuccino, should one be so inclined.

There is even sand, which sounds unremarkable until you discover that, until recently, the beach was a pebble one.

After our walk, we made our way into town for a light lunch, and remarked on the fact that the range of shops was pretty broad, with a mixture of chains and more local outlets. The bank that Ros worked in when she left school is still there (and still a bank), and there isn't that sense of decline that towns such as Walton on the Naze have experienced.

All in all, it was nice to get out, and we may well take the opportunity to stroll around other places over the coming weeks. At least, we will when we next have a free weekend at home...

Is using your preferred definition of liberalism a means to suppress reasoned dissent?

It's funny really. Once upon a time, I was a Young Liberal on the minority non-radical wing of the Party. Yes, radicals were all well and good, but somebody had to keep the organisational show on the road. Sensible, less emotional people like myself, for example. And yes, I tended to be sceptical about some of the more 'out there' proposals (a surprising number of which went on to become mainstream truths), but disagreement, or even outright dissent, was seemingly tolerated to a greater extent.

As I've grown older, I've developed a greater appreciation for honest dissent, courteously and intelligently expressed. The majority, after all, isn't always right, and the status quo is never disturbed unless someone challenges it. I've always seen liberalism as a philosophy which encouraged dissent and challenge of the orthodoxy. Indeed, some of my colleagues that I've most admired are not those who I consistently agree with.

I also have, over the past five or six years, developed an appreciation of the breadth and depth of liberalism through my involvement with ALDE (our European umbrella party). Social liberals, economic liberals, all coming together under one banner, but able to debate courteously and reach an agreed policy stance through compromise.

And so, I am somewhat disheartened to see fellow Liberal Democrats (and no, not ALL Liberal Democrats...) use their definition of liberalism, usually one which reinforces their view of the world, to attempt to shut down debate. Lines like, "policy X, passed by Conference, is illiberal", or, "Thank goodness we have a President of the Party who does write this. It shows that she understands the fundamentals of Liberalism.". By implying that anyone who disagrees with the argument isn't a liberal, you seek to suppress dissent from your preferred stance.

In truth, I've probably played the 'liberalism' card myself in the past. It is terribly easy to use, even more so when you are so certain of the rightness of your position, and yet more so when the person arguing with you is 'annoyingly persistent'.

But, perhaps, we would do better by respecting the right to dissent amongst ourselves, displaying a bit more courtesy towards those we disagree with. We are, I've always thought, a family. A family that squabbles amongst itself, yes, but one that pulls together when threatened.

And so, the establishment bureaucrat has morphed into a respecter of difference. Perhaps I have mellowed over the years, or perhaps Ros has been a positive influence (very likely, I'd guess...), but either way, I've developed a sneaking regard for those who are outside the perceived mainstream. I can only hope that I'm not in a minority on this occasion...

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Ros in the Lords: Food Waste

Regular readers will know that, for some time, Ros has been working to raise awareness of food waste, following the publication of a seminal report by the Select Committee that she chairs.

This week, she returned to the subject by means of a Short Debate, seeking to keep up the pressure on the Government...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (LD): My Lords, it is almost two years since the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee for energy and the environment, which I chair, published its report into food waste. At the time, it was enormously gratifying for the committee to produce a report that generated so much interest. The press office tells me it had more coverage than any other Lords Select Committee report.

The fact that around one-third of all food produced in the world is wasted is truly shocking. The waste of land, labour, water, carbon and all the other resources is truly staggering. When people around the world are going hungry, when the global population is set to increase and when many thousands of people here in the UK do not have enough to eat, this becomes a moral issue, too. It does not matter what sort of political philosophy you have—there is a case to be made for dealing with this as a matter of urgency.

So two years on seems like a good time to see what has happened since. In this time, food waste has rocketed up the agenda and efforts are being made at all levels. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking in the debate today and very much look forward to hearing from them.

The United Nations sustainable development goals, which were published in September, contain a commitment to halve food waste at the consumer and retailer level and to reduce food losses along the supply chain. The UN goals make a distinction between the two, as we did in our report, but I would like to give an example of where this is no longer quite so clear-cut. The campaigning organisation Feedback has spent several years looking at the supply chains of our major supermarkets. Focusing on Kenya, Peru and Guatemala, it has uncovered evidence of late cancellation of orders and overzealous size and shape specifications resulting in up to half the crop being wasted and massive hardship for farmers.

These were exactly the sort of practices which in UK agriculture had led to the establishment of the Groceries Code Adjudicator in 2013, and it is increasingly clear that farmers in the developing world need protection, too. Is the Minister aware of this issue and would he agree with me that bad behaviour should be stamped out, regardless of whether the farmer is in Norfolk or Nicaragua.

Our report made recommendations aimed at all levels of government. We asked the European Commission to look at areas where it has responsibility—date labelling, the regulations around the feeding of waste to animals, packaging regulations, fish discards, and the use of CAP funds for food waste reduction projects—and we asked it to spearhead work on common definitions, measurements and benchmarks.

Around the same time as we were producing our report, the EU Select Committee reported on the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making. It concluded that national parliaments should have a power to request action as well as to object. Under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, a so-called “green card” procedure was developed with the support of all EU parliaments. I am really pleased that the first-ever green card to be issued in the EU was based on our work on food waste. It was signed by 18 parliamentary chambers.

In December, the Commission published its Circular Economy Package, which includes a section on food waste. That reflects many of the recommendations that were made in our report and in the green card proposal. Will the Minister say whether the Government are minded to support the proposals on the table?

The thread which ran through our 2014 report was the role of the supply chain in generating food waste, and why it is essential to look not just at each stage but at the links between them. The UK is fortunate to have a highly effective think tank—that is what I will call it—WRAP. It is now a charity independent of government and it provides a unique combination of academically rigorous analysis, supply-chain knowledge and campaigning skills. It really excels at developing partnerships and has been at the forefront of doing so with regard to food waste. Its work with the hospitality and food service sector achieved a 3.6% reduction in food waste by its second year. In a sector where an estimated one meal in six is thrown away, it is really important to address this. The food service giant Sodexo has developed some very good initiatives and what strikes me from what it told me is how important it is to get the staff engaged, because, when they are engaged, things begin to happen and it is more effective than just setting targets.

A couple of weeks ago the Times ran an article outlining how top chefs are now moving away from à la carte menus in favour of more limited menu choices. That is exactly to reduce food waste. One Michelin-starred restaurant said it thought it could halve the amount of food it wastes. So regardless of the size of your business there is a clear economic case for dealing with this. This is an area where a lot more could be done, particularly by the large outfits. Will the Government meet WRAP and perhaps me and other Members to discuss what more could be done about this? Clearly, the public sector is an enormous user of these catering services.

Another good example of this partnership is the Courtauld commitment. The voluntary agreement started in 2005 is in its fourth stage and aims to reduce packaging waste as well as food waste. While recognising the limits of the new charitable status of WRAP, I hope that the Government will commit to continue to support its work. I was certainly very taken by a briefing from the campaign group Stop the Rot which talked about how important this is and I know that it, and I suspect some noble Lords here today, would like to see Courtauld do more and be more ambitious.

Retailers are still very reluctant to publish food waste data, so, in this regard, hats off to Tesco, which has been more open about its levels of waste; others should follow suit. Retailers are crucial in reducing supply-chain waste. They impact not only on the growers, as we have heard, but also on the processors of food, and are key influencers of consumer behaviour. Tesco and Asda have done some very interesting work to assess levels of waste of their most popular products and have looked right through the supply chain to see what can be done. It is not rocket science—for example, using bananas that cannot be sold off the shelf as a base for frozen smoothies or using things for soups and sauces makes absolute sense, as does sending bakery waste to animal feed or converting used vegetable oil to biodiesel. The Food and Drink Federation told me that KP is now using potato starch generated from its processes to make products such as wallpaper paste. This is real value added from waste.

Our report highlighted a food waste hierarchy in which food produced for humans should, wherever possible, be eaten by humans—then turned into animal feed, then used to generate energy, then composted and so on to achieve zero to landfill. I think this is one of the most important aspects of this whole debate. Without getting into discussion about the need for food redistribution, of course it makes sense to use this food wisely. FareShare has reported a 30% increase in the food redistributed in the last two years. Indeed, its partnership with Tesco provides 1,700 community groups with meals. The Co-op increased its depot-level redistribution from 85 tonnes to 300 tonnes in the last year.

Marks & Spencer is using an app called Neighbourly that links stores with local charities and in the pilot a single store in Bristol in just six months redistributed 4 tonnes of perfectly good food that otherwise would have gone to anaerobic digestion. FareShare estimates that around 300,000 tonnes of supply-chain food waste could go to feed people instead of feeding animals or going to digesters or landfill. Will the Minister commit to exploring ways of ensuring that the incentives to behave in this way are lined up? We are still a long way behind the US, Belgium, France, Italy and Spain and they all have some sort of fiscal incentive.

While it is true that much household waste occurs at household level, it is a complex issue to tackle. As we uncovered in our evidence, the causes are often rooted in modern life—irregular eating patterns, the weekly shop, a wider variety of food and so on, and much less basic knowledge about food. WRAP has developed the Love Food Hate Waste label and has even exported it to Canada. The retailers have stepped up to the plate on this, but there is still very much to do to demystify date labelling, despite the Food and Drink Federation’s Fresher for Longer initiative.

We have made a lot of progress in the past two years but we are really still only in the foothills of what we need to do to make permanent inroads into the scandalous waste of food. What gives me cause for optimism is that I think that we have developed a sort of ecology. We have the academic rigour and analysis from WRAP; a huge variety of civil society groups, from the Trussell Trust to Stop the Rot; innovative use of technology; a willingness on the part of industry to really see the business case; and the campaigning zeal of people such as Tristram Stuart from Feedback, and celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, who are so effective at mobilising public action. We have done a lot, but there is much more to do.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Suffolk Liberal Democrats announce their candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner

Helen Korfanty, a local Solicitor, campaigner and advocate, has been selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the post as Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner. The elections take place on 5 May.

Helen has lived in Suffolk for 33 years, was born in Yorkshire and qualified as a solicitor in 1982. She has worked for firms Ipswich, Sudbury, and Stowmarket and currently works for firms in Thetford and Newmarket. Her main areas of specialism are Criminal Law and Family Law and she is a trained Family Law Mediator.

A first tier advocate, she serves as a Duty Solicitor at the Police Investigation Centres and Magistrates’ Courts. She was also among the local solicitors who have acted as agent prosecutors for the CPS.

In the past, Helen has Chaired South Suffolk Victim Support Scheme and volunteered at the Citizens Advice Bureaux both as an adviser and subsequently on the Management Committee for Sudbury CAB. 

Jon James, Chair of Suffolk Lib Dems said;
Helen Korfanty is one of the best qualified individuals to put themselves forward to contest this election. She is a well respected advocate across the criminal justice system in Suffolk and brings with her lots of experience in both criminal law and family law and will bring a whole new approach to managing police resources especially in areas of domestic abuse and mental health where the Lib Dems are leading the way. Helen will provide strong, independent minded leadership and support to the Suffolk Constabulary at a time when government cuts are seeing local neighbourhood policing significantly reduced.

Monday, February 01, 2016

"Building a Better Walrus" - a progress report

So, I've been walking around a bit, and making sure that I'm properly hydrated (who knew that I was supposed to drink nearly two litres of water a day?). A month has gone by, well, a month and four days, to be strictly accurate, but has it made a difference?

The answer is, slightly surprisingly, yes. Including the four days in December, which I tend to see as a warm-up, I've made my ten thousand steps and 1.9 litres of water every day, managing more than three hundred and seventy thousand steps (just over 12,000 a day!) in January alone, and have lost nearly seven pounds (three kilos for those of you operating in metric).

This is rather satisfying, I have to admit. And yes, it probably isn't repeatable - it is likely to get harder as I lose weight to achieve the same results - but it might be sustainable, which is rather more important.

Of course, none of this would be possibly without Ros's support, or the probably unintended inspiration that came from Alistair Carmichael, and I am keen to keep going with this as long as my willpower lasts. But the Fitbit app on my iPhone is acting as a bit of a nag/motivator (delete as appropriate), so we'll see how it goes...

Sunday, January 31, 2016

All quiet on Creeting St Peter Footpath No. 1...

It's been a mostly dank, drizzly sort of day in Mid Suffolk but, as the saying goes, not rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night shall deter the bureaucrat from his ten thousand steps, and so I set off into the irritatingly persistent drizzle to buy a loaf of bread and the Sunday paper. The advantage is that I can cut across country using one of the parish's many footpaths.

There is, however, a slight glitch, in that the routes of a number of those paths were disrupted by the small matter of a four lane trunk road that was carved through the middle of the parish in the 1970s, by-passing Needham Market and Stowmarket. The A45, now the A14, divided the village from its church, and obliged the County Council to create diversionary routes to allow villagers to get both to church and into Stowmarket. There weren't many people here anyway, and they could fairly safely be ignored.

Admittedly, given that virtually everyone around here drives these days, it matters little now and the footpaths are generally quiet. Thanks to our conscientious local farmers though, most of them are pretty well maintained.

Originally, footpath 1 ran from the centre of the village, near the Parish noticeboard, in a westerly direction, and it still does, but as it expires on the wrong side of the A14, those heading for Stowmarket are diverted south across the road bridge and then parallel to the A14 before rejoining the original route.

Once you've put the traffic noise into the back of your mind, it's a pleasant enough walk, slightly downhill at first before crossing a minor stream and rising back up to the access road for Brazier's Hall and the Creeting Lakes sports fishery. From there, you follow Mill Lane into Cedars Park, cut through using one of that estate's many footpaths/cycle lanes, and there's Tesco, with all of life's modern conveniences.

And, once you've got your head around the concept that it's nowhere near as far as you had thought, you can focus on the scenery...

If Liberal Democracy has the answers, perhaps we should be asking questions...

I was discussing something on the internet today, and someone noted how useless a particular organisation was by way of an argument against a thought of mine. And indeed, said organisation may well be useless - I've never encountered it and am unlikely to do so. But then I thought, "hang on a minute, we're supposed to be a political party. If an organisation is useless, why aren't we wondering what we could do to make it better?".

I have always struggled with the concept that success in politics comes from opposing things. Yes, opposing stupidity, or callousness, or ineffectuality is a thoroughly worthwhile thing, but it's only half of the task of a politician or of a political party. The other half is to offer the people something better.

Now, that doesn't mean creating new laws, or new structures, or new anything, unless of course, it does. What it might mean is running things better, or differently, or providing greater access. Such things are not necessarily easy, but they're right and, if you've given it enough thought, and sought to achieve buy-in, you might actually make people's lives just a little better in the process.

So, in response to my colleague's unhappiness regarding the utter uselessness of said organisation, I replied;
"Not a failure of concept, a failure of mission goals and delivery, I'd suggest. Who sets their criteria, who designs their guidance, who sets their goals? And, if we want to be in government, that will be us."
It seems, these days, that politics is about scaring the public into supporting you by raising fears of what the other lot have done or will do, even when what they are doing is entirely coherent with their beliefs. If Liberal Democracy is so worthwhile, we should have the courage of our convictions and start offering people something positive.

Perhaps we could start by applying some of our oceans of policy?...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Another sunny day in East Cambridgeshire...

Three weeks ago, Ros and I were in Bottisham, where a by-election caused by the resignation of the recently elected Tory councillor was the impetus behind a well-organised campaign to win back a seat we had lost last year.

At the other end of East Cambridgeshire though, a County by-election had been called due to the unexpected death of the Tory councillor, coincidentally in a division part-held at District level by Laura Dupré, the Regional Party's administrator and now leader of the Opposition on East Cambridgeshire District Council. Naturally, having been invited to come and help, it would have been wrong not to turn out on what looked like being a rather grey, wet day.

Fortunately, the sun broke through, and it had become a much nicer day by the time we reached our meeting point, in the village of Sutton, where Laura lives. The task for the day was to do some canvassing in Little Downham, which makes up about a quarter of the County Division. Me, I had some walking to do, occasionally interrupted by other tasks, which seemed sensible, given my ongoing steps target.

There is nothing finer than walking around villages on a sunny day, and I was getting quite into things, discovering the local bus route - three times a day, Monday to Saturday, connecting Little Downham with Ely - and spotting the railway line between Ely and Peterborough at the eastern end of the village.

However, such fun can't go on forever and, mid-reverie, my phone rang, with instructions to return to the car. Gathering with the team, a photograph was taken, envelopes returned, and we headed back to Suffolk.

Laura has a genuine chance to win on 18 February. We lost by about 250 in 2013, and with Laura's strong support in half the ward, and no Labour or Green contender, it may not need much of a swing for her to overtake her Conservative rival. It would be nice to think that, should she do so, we will have made another small contribution to the Liberal Democrat recovery in a county where we have done well in the recent past.

And the fourteen thousand steps I managed today won't have done the 'Building a Better Walrus' project any harm either...