Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Council Moves to Reassure Care Home Residents

Residents of council-run care homes in County Durham were today reassured that their needs will be the main priority as changes to residential care take place.

Durham County Council’s Cabinet approved recommendations to close Cheveley House, in Belmont; Feryemount, in Ferryhill; Grampian House, in Peterlee; Mendip House, in Chester-le-Street; and Newtown House, in Stanhope; at a meeting in Crook this morning (16 April). Work has commenced as the council look to develop a robust and detailed plan for the relocation of residents, with their needs, comfort and safety at the heart of the process.

Cllr Lucy Hovvels, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for safer and healthier communities, said:

"This was an extremely difficult decision for everyone and I would like to assure people that we have considered all of the feedback we received and all of the options available to us.

"There is no denying that people feel very strongly and we fully understand this. In coming to today's decision, we have had to consider a wide range of factors in addition to the responses to the consultation.

"This includes the desire for people to stay in their own homes for longer; a fall in demand for residential care places, particularly in regard to our own care homes; the need for significant investment in the five properties; and the availability of suitable, lower cost accommodation within the independent sector as well as significant financial pressure due to government funding cuts.

"We now need to begin the process of planning the closures in a carefully managed way that takes full account of residents’ needs."

A dedicated group of social workers and senior operational staff with extensive experience in supporting residential care moves will work with each resident and their family to draw up a detailed plan for their relocation. This will be based on an individual assessment of need involving the resident and their relatives.

I was disappointed the council decided to close Newtown House in Stanhope. Having travelled into Weardale on a number of occasions I am always very pleased to visit the area and love going to the Durham Dales Centre and meeting residents. I have visited Stanhope Parish Council in the past with Pat and noted the passion and pride of the councillors who represent their villages and areas vigorously. I believed their was a special case for Newtown House to remain open, however, the decision has been made and the council experts must ensure they listen to the fears of residents, ensuring they deliver a smooth transition to new accommodation.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

20th April 2014 Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Here is our latest politics podcast. It is hosted by myself, Malcolm Clarke and the Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency for the May 2015 General Election, Liam Carr.

In this weeks podcast we discuss our local canvassing activities since the last podcast and discuss a number of national issues. These include a debate over Caroline Lucas being released without charge over the fracking protest where she was arrested, The Daily Mail's sting on Food banks and Labours future disability policy. Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page by clicking this link.

Our political podcast is now available to subscribe on iTunes which is completely FREE from their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows automatically downloads to your computer each time you open the iTunes application and we have uploaded a new show.

Thanks to everyone who has listened so far.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Good Sign for Middle Street?


With the closure of Inshops on Middle Street in Consett, co-incidental closures meant that on both sides of that part of Middle Street there are no open shops. This is obviously a concern to anyone that cares about Consett and it's town centre. I have written previously about the impact of globalisation and the internet has on town centres and the ongoing viability of high street shops and this is a live issue around the country.

However, this morning I took the photograph above which suggests that there is an offer on the closed unit next door to the former Bradley's restaurant and that the unit above Bradley's (possibly including Bradley's) has been sold and surely the new owners will be keenly searching for a new tenant.

Any new business will be welcomed to this part of Consett, which is pretty bare at the moment.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

13th April 2014 Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Here is our latest politics podcast featuring current affairs and political discussion between myself and Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency, Liam Carr.

In this weeks podcast we discuss the resignation of Maria Miller, the court case of Nigel Evans, UK Coal and other local issues from Liam's campaign in Hexham. We even cover disabled access to football stadiums.

Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/132481.

Our political podcast is now available to subscribe on iTunes which is completely FREE from their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows automatically downloads to your computer each time you open the iTunes application and we have uploaded a new show.

Thanks to everyone who has listened so far.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Quick Comment on Maria Miller Resigning

Maria Miller has been forced to resign as Culture Secretary as the press ran her story as front page news with no signs of abating until they reached their goal. It seems trial by press remains the only true court of politics. Is this a good thing? I don't know. The facts of the case were lost in the media blood lust, with the press hounding her out. That was their strategy. It was not about covering news, it was about making it. Some would see this as a victory for free press, I see it as a reason for why Leveson must carefully redress the balance for a free but fair press. When the line is crossed from reporting the news to shaping future news and bringing it about, I am uncomfortable.

Whilst I agree with the resignation, I still feel that many people just want to see politicians suffer and the rights and wrongs are a sideline to feeling good about attacking MPs. It’s becoming a national pastime.

To people saying that “I could not have done this in the private sector, I would be fired” I have this to say. You could be accused of anything, then you have the right to state your defence and be heard by an independent panel. A decision is then reached that should be respected either in your favour or not and could result in full exoneration or sanctions. Whatever the facts, to then be hounded out afterwards because people would not let it go could be seen as unfair. You might very well approach your union for help and representation. You might well state that you apologised as you were told to. You might even have learned lessons and approach matters in a more efficient way afterwards. But if you were hounded out, you may as well have been guilty after all.

Yes it is slightly different for MPs, given they resign but retain their actual constituency seat. I imagine many would secretly appreciate being freed from the rigours of front bench office. MPs should be aware that expectations are different because the job is in the public domain, but we will never repair the relationship between politics and the public whilst, as a public and press, we only seek to vilify and blame, applying differing standards to those in office just because they are in office. God forbid they actually do their job as best they can in the most difficult environment imaginable. I remain of the view that for a large section of the public and most of the press, nothing MPs do will ever make any difference.

Being forced to resign will happen to future ministers of all political persuasions, so I would not be so fast to turn this into a “nasty Tories” line. They are nasty, but it’s their policies that I disagree with. A sobering thought for Labour is that it is a right-wing press so given the opportunity to secure a political scalp they will gladly do so in a future Labour-led government. This is a timely reminder as to the reality MPs live in, which is why they need to be extra careful in how they manage their expenses.

This is why it was right for Maria Miller to resign. She managed her expenses poorly and then chose not to openly engage in the independent process she helped to create. This attitude was specifically what she was forced to apologise for. She should have engaged from the start and shown respect for the independent process. For a Secretary of State to undermine the system in this way is damaging and therefore she had to go.

I remain, however, uncomfortable about other aspects of this type of case.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Apply for Police and Crime Commissioner Community Safety Fund

The Police and Crime Commissioner has a limited amount of funding available to be allocated to partners, and organisations including those in the Voluntary and Community Sector to help him to achieve his priorities as set in the Police and Crime Plan.

  • The total amount available for 2014-15 is £0.77m.
  • It has been decided to passport a proportion of funding back to the Community Safety Partnerships in County Durham and Darlington. The Darlington Community Safety Partnership will receive £129,162 and the Safe Durham Partnership will receive £511,134.
  • This leaves a funding pot of £0.13m available.
  • All monies given out must contribute to the PCCs objectives as set out in the Police and Crime Plan
  • Applications up to a maximum of £20,000 will be considered.
  • Applications are encouraged from the Voluntary and Community Sector.
  • Applications are encouraged where additional funding from other sources has been secured.
  • To apply you need to complete an application form (available on to download from the website or from the PCC office).
  • Applications will be considered twice a year, and applications must be received by 14th April 2014 and 1st September 2014.
  • Where funding is agreed, a formal agreement will be entered into with the Police and Crime Commissioner to ensure compliance with grant conditions.

If you are interested in applying, please visit this link where you can download application forms. http://www.durham-pcc.gov.uk/Finance/Commissioning/Community-Safety-Fund.aspx

Please note that the deadline for applications is April 14th 2014 so you do not have much time to get organised! Good luck.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

6th April 2014 Politics Podcast with Malcolm and Liam

Here is our latest politics podcast featuring current affairs and political discussion between myself and Labour Party Candidate for the Hexham Constituency, Liam Carr.

In this weeks podcast we discuss the expenses scandal and press furore surrounding Culture Secretary Maria Miller, we hear about the latest campaigning Liam has taken part in with our European Candidates Judith Kirton-Darling, Paul Brannen and Jayne Shotton. We also discuss Fair Pay Week, the sale of Royal Mail and much more.

Please press play to listen to the podcast or subscribe via our talkshoe page at http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/132481.

Our political podcast is now available to subscribe on iTunes which is completely FREE from their iTunes store. Click here to subscribe to our Politics Podcast on iTunes. There is no better way of ensuring you do not miss a show as any new shows automatically downloads to your computer each time you open the iTunes application and we have uploaded a new show.

Thanks to everyone who has listened so far.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Next Gen is here and we are waiting

Xbox One and Playstation 4, collectively known as ‘Next Gen’ consoles, have the capacity to allow far more sophisticated games with better graphics, a larger gaming world and more creative game development. The gaming public are excited about the possibilities of Next Gen and are eager to discover how the increased capabilities of the Next Gen consoles will translate into better and more stylish games. But with amazing graphics already with us, where will the big leap in game quality come from?

During the past ten years the most significant gaming advances have come from better in game graphics. I remember playing the first ever Fifa Soccer game for the Mega Drive and thinking it looked fantastic. Try playing the game now and it is archaic! Compare that with the NBA 2K 14 game for PS4, where your computer player even appears to sweat in a realistic way during the game and it is safe to say we have reached a point where players look almost lifelike.

Not content with looking realistic, player movement and AI decision making mimics the real life sports stars personality and playing style. Messi and Bale play like Messi and Bale in FIFA 14. This heightens realism and is more immersive. Next Gen gamers expect attention to detail on every nuance of a game and the standard set by the first games released on Next Gen consoles has set the bar high for other developers to meet and in time, surpass.

It is such early days for Next Gen gaming that there is plenty of room for improvement. Compare the quality of games in Playstation 3 when it was first released to what is now being released today. We sit here in 2014 and speculate that we are not yet seeing a fraction of the potential capability of Next Gen games.

The major release of 2013 for PS3 and Xbox was Grand Theft Auto 5. This game presented the best game possible on current gen, squeezing every bit of power out of the console. It can be considered a passing of the torch and an admission that this is as good as it gets on the current gen consoles. Rockstar Gaming even said as much. GTA V underlined that this was a starting point for PS4 and Xbox One, posing the tantalising rhetorical question to the gamer, ‘if we can offer you this on current gen, imagine what we can achieve with Next Gen?’

Early releases on Next Gen consoles have taken advantage of the freedoms offered by improved hardware capacity, choosing to increase the level of immersion in the games. They have chosen to empower the gamer to make decisions that set the direction of their in game experience. I believe this is the way forward for future game development. The constraints of PS3 means that the ‘rats in a maze’ feeling of some games can be relaxed and whilst every game must have its perimeters, the net can be cast wider thus reducing the impact of being trapped like a pinball bouncing around but ultimately drawn towards the games specific conclusion. With larger in game environments, the Next Gen open world games offers more opportunities for the gamer to explore sub-plots, where instead of just completing set missions you can trade to earn money, running businesses or simply explore the vast in-game environment at your leisure.

Recent trailers of the upcoming open world game ‘Watchdog’, which is scheduled for release on Next Gen consoles from May 27th in the UK, demonstrate that the user will be able to interact with any AI member of the public across the vast virtual Chicago landscape in their role as a vigilante rejecting the close security system in the city. The game is so vast on Next Gen that developers Ubisoft have posted online videos of hour-long game play sessions without needing to worry about given away all the secrets of the game.

With the possibilities of open world games so vast on Next Gen, it is very interesting to note that the most successful open world game developer, Rockstar Gaming, have yet to release details of any future prospective Next Gen titles, choosing instead to update GTA V later this year. We know from experience that Rockstar can take up to two years to deliver a title on PS3 and it will likely take at least this long for a Next Gen game. I firmly believe that Rockstar will set a new standard and deliver a brilliant Next Gen open world game, far more vast than anything we have seen so far. Considering the look of Watchdog, this will be a significant achievement for Rockstar, if they get it right.

For those sports fans and sports simulation lovers out there like me, one title has already set a high standard for others to follow. NBA 2K 14 delivers an exceptional standard of graphics quality and the game play looks as real as I can imagine seeing for some years. Even in this early stage of Next Gen sports sim development, NBA 2K 14 has set a very high standard. Their choices offer a glimpse into how the developers will seek to use the power of the Next Gen technology in future games. The vignettes where your player takes decisions off the court like interacting with opposing players, coaches, backroom staff and sponsors will be further developed to enhance the gaming experience, giving the gamer a more immersive experience of life as a professional basketball player rather than focusing solely on game play. I was surprised that such a polished game emerged so quickly. If this is as bad as sports sims get, PS4 will be a happy place for the sports gaming enthusiast.

Without a doubt game developers are under pressure to deliver. PS3 games were good, but PS4 gamers have been conditioned to expect excellence by the robust promotion of Next Gen and anything but a sharp rise in quality will be met with derision by the tough audience who are quick to lament any substandard release. Ask any Madden 25 fan who bought the PS4 version. With the exception of slightly smoother graphics, this game could have been released for PS3 and differs only marginally from the current gen console. That is not good enough and fans of that franchise are expecting better from the developers EA next year.

The challenge is set and gamers are eager to see how the game developers utilise the enhanced capability of Next Gen and the freedoms offered to produce great games. Developers need to balance the current game vacuum against the necessity of producing quality titles. With better graphics, more immersion, a better gaming experience overall and the power of the internet to facilitate gaming battles around the world, Next Gen has thrown us into a new era of console gaming. With it comes a hunger for the excellence, a more critical eye and we watch with anticipation as the game developers work on new releases to take advantage of Next Gen capacity to produce better and more immersive games.

The current gen king is dead, long live Next Gen.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Consett Customer Access Point Closed for one day on Wednesday, 2nd April 2014

Durham County Council’s Customer Access Point (CAP) on Front Street, Consett will be closed on Wednesday April 2 for essential maintenance work. The work is being carried out by Northern Powergrid.

Urgent enquiries can be directed to Customer Services on 03000 260 000 or alternatively customers can visit the CAP, Front Street, Stanley.

Mary Readman, customer relations manager, Durham County Council, said:

"We apologise for any inconvenience but have no alternative as this is vital work. It is only one day and we will be open as usual the following day, Thursday April 3."