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Month: March 2012

We lost him.

I just have no idea what to say. I have written this blog post in my head so many times over the past 48 hours and yet this page has been open for many hours and yet nothing has been written. I’m sitting here in the dark waiting for my phone to go with the news that my dad has passed on. He had a major stroke on Tuesday morning and the decision has been made to turn off his life support. That will be happening this evening.

At the moment I’m holding on to two things but both of those are very tentative and I’m not sure how much I can rely on them to get me through. The first is that he is in no pain and passes away quickly and serenely. I couldn’t go and watch him die. I just couldn’t. The second thing that I’m holding on to was that my dad had faith. I do not. However my dad does and he has long believed that when he died he would be met there by his daughter and thus he had no fear of death. I think it might be strange for a person with no faith to latch on to that of another for comfort but that is what I’m doing and I’m doing it with every fibre of my being.

This post won’t be about my dad. He was a very private man and seemingly even more private than we knew so it wouldn’t be right for me to go on about him and his life but I need to talk about how I’m feeling. I can’t do that with my family because we are all hurting and I need to be strong for others. With you though – the anonymous readers of this blog – it is different. You don’t need to be strong. You can just read or not read at your pleasure. I don’t care but this is just somewhere where I can let my feelings out.

When I found out this afternoon that the next of kin had agreed to terminate life support it was both a relief and a curse. Even though I had already come to terms (to the degree that anyone can come to terms with such a thing within 48 hours) there is already that finality and that moment is coming up imminently. When I found out on Tuesday morning and having spoken with the consultant who uttered the words ‘how soon can you get here?’ I knew. I got the train down to the Island and said my goodbyes. I have no idea if he heard them. I’d really really like to think so, so I’m choosing to believe that he did. I wish my final goodbye was better. I wish. Oh god I wish that I had some acknowledgement that he heard it but sadly that is something I just can’t have.

I wish that I had spent more time with him. Kept in more regular contact. You always think that there is next week or another day. You are always too busy when in fact you are never busy at all. I hadn’t seen my dad since July 2010. I feel like the worst son that ever walked on the face of the planet. I live in Southend and he lives on the Isle of Wight and after I moved away from the Island for good I hardly saw him. I used to pop down a couple of times a year but I just haven’t. Ww didn’t even speak that much on the phone. We just never knew what to say to each other. We are both extremely private individuals and the conversation used to be the same. ‘Anything new son?’ ‘You got anything to tell me?’ sadly there was very rarely anything new or anything of interest to tell him.

The last time we spoke was after I’d interviewed Nick Clegg last year. He didn’t say very good words about him and isn’t keen on politicians at all. I can hear the words ‘don’t tell me you’re one of those liberals son?’ ringing in my ears from that phone call. I never even told him that I was running for council as I thought he’d think ill of me for doing so. Apparently this wasn’t the case because my mum had told him a few weeks ago and he had said that he was proud of me and even said he’d of voted for me as I am a good person. How I typed that sentence without any spelling errors is beyond me considering I can’t see out of either eye at the moment.

I wish that he had gotten the chance to see me happy and settled. He wanted grandkids but they were never going to come from me. I didn’t want kids so that ‘burden’ as it were falls on my brother and one of my sisters. However I never once introduced him to any partner of mine. Mainly because until a couple of months ago I had never been in a relationship. My longest string of dates was about five I think. On the rare occasion that I had met someone whom I liked and who liked me back there was always something in the way that led to things not working out. That is sad but the saddest thing was I never got to introduce a girl to my dad.

He took me in when my mum moved away from the Island in 2001. My parents had divorced a little over a year earlier. Of course I could have moved with my mum but at the age of 18 and really not knowing where my life was going – moving away from my friends didn’t seem like a great option. Money was extremely tight with my dad and I know I was a burden to some degree. One thing he was though was an extremely selfless man who worked hard to keep his family under a roof and with food their plate no matter the consequences for himself. There is a lot of him in me but in many ways I do think that he was a far better person than I can ever hope to aspire to be.

I remember – and this is arguably my biggest crumb of comfort right now – that as I got in the car to go to university in the autumn of 2002 after living with my dad for a year that it had been the best year of my life he was so chuffed. He told me how happy that made him that he had helped me both enjoy a year of my life but also find a path of sorts. I may have had a shit job but I was having a great time with friends. The poker school was great and the Compton trips with Baz and Pickle are times I look back on with so much fondness.

He was always about the little things. He wasn’t a big gesture man. He never was and I think that is something I very much get from him. I’m always about the little things. At the time I was a season ticket holder at Fratton Park and if it was cold and wet and/or Pompey had lost he’d always have a curry or a chilli waiting for me knowing I’d be cold and/or upset. I cannot tell you how much I appreciated those types of things. He’d see I had had a rough day so would bring me back a Chocolate doughnut from work. Going back to when I was super young I’d often wake up before school and see a note ‘Neil: Football on Tape’ propped up against the video player to denote he had taped from football from the previous evening to watch before school.

Those little things are the ones that stick in the mind. We didn’t have much money so big gestures were never going to be realistic but we grew up not wanting them because we were instilled with the value of money. To this end some people say I’m tight but I just know that creature comforts and fancy meals and posh holidays won’t bring me happiness. Sadly we all need money to get by in this world but even more importantly we need people that will go out of their way to make life that little bit more special. People do this and not material goods. Both my parents taught me this and that is a lesson that resonates deeply today of all days.

He brought up five children and all four of us who reached adulthood have degrees. Considering our background that is an achievement that should be laid primarily at the feet of both my mum and dad. They always told us that being from a council estate didn’t mean that doors wouldn’t be open to us. We just might have to work harder to knock down those doors but those doors would open and open they have. This is a testament to both my parents of course but sometimes I felt that dad didn’t get enough credit for how we were brought up because he was always the good cop to mum’s bad cop.

Dad was always better with coping with us when we were young. When we got to teenagers and had formed opinions and in some cases had learnt how to talk back then we weren’t as innocent any more. Those little things that used to make everything better didn’t work as well any more and at times he didn’t know how to react to things. When I was a small id and had endured a bad day at school then watching the football with my dad after he’d bought me a can of coke and a Mars bar solved everything. When I was a teenager and had coursework, puberty issues, self-confidence issues then sadly those things didn’t get solved so easily. I know he at times felt bad for this but I never did. I knew – and I do mean this – I knew that he always tried his best with all of us. If he found it troubling then that wasn’t due to anything he did as he did always do whatever he could. I think I’ve already wittered on about what a selfless man he was but he really was. He deeply loved us and was so immensely proud of what we all became.

As I finished that sentence I got the news.

He has passed away peacefully and in no pain and that is one of the two things I had hoped for.

I had more I wanted to write but I think I’ll end it there. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers and I have no doubt I’ll write more. You are my outlet for my emotions and for that I thank you.

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Just who are we to look down on Tim Farron believing in the power of prayer?

The twittersphere is up in arms. Tim Farron – who was formally the darling of all Lib Dems everywhere – believes openly in the power of prayer. Well good for him. However apparently that isn’t good and him signing a letter asking for clarification for why a spiritual group cannot say that ‘God can heal’ any more after a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency is very very bad indeed.

Here is the letter is full for you to peruse:

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency
21st March 2012

We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.

It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?

We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Chair, Christians in Parliament

Gavin Shuker MP (Labour)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Tim Farron (Lib-Dem)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Now let me stress here that I am in no way religious. I was brought up within the church and spent two years at a faith school and my mother is a retired Methodist superintendent but I don’t believe a word of it. I just don’t. However I fully believe that those who believe in the power of prayer can believe that. I know first hand of many Christians who believe that the power of prayer works. I believe that things just happen but who am I to stop them believing and who are they to say that I’m wrong?

Many people think this letter is promoting people ignore medical advice and put their faith in God but I know of no Christians who have ever said this. When my then still preaching superintendent mother got breast cancer did any of her parishioners tell her not to go into hospital and sit at home and the power of prayer would get her through? Hell no (well not to my knowledge anyway and I suspect I’d have heard if any of them did) instead my mum was in hospital within the week and the whole Christian community of the Isle of Wight had her in her prayers hoping that God would help her get through the cancer.

Did they think that God himself would swoop in and accelerate the destruction of the cancer? I don’t know but I know of no Christians personally who put the power of prayer over medical treatment. We all know some of these fundamentalists are out there but I don’t exactly see Tim Farron MP as one of them.

He believes in the power of prayer? So what? I can’t say that the power of prayer doesn’t work and nor can anyone say that the power of prayer does work. We all have our beliefs and who are any of us to tell anyone what to believe?

As far as I read this letter all it asked for was clarification (and scientific evidence – which was a dumb line as no-one can prove either way this subject) for why the ASA made their decision. Can the power of prayer heal? Yes of course it can. Does it? I have no idea and nor does anyone else.

If people want to believe in God and the power of prayer then great but I don’t think these people really tell people that prayer alone will heal. If Tim really believed this then why was he voting against the NHS changes? If the power of prayer can heal all then he’d just tell everyone to pray and we’d all be 100%.

I’m just stunned that people are so unhappy that he believes in the power of prayer. I really am. If we are entitled to our opinion then why isn’t he (and other Christians?)

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Those who scream loudest might not represent the majority – why the death of the Lib Dems has been greatly exaggerated

I have struggled over the past few days to write anything substantial. I just haven’t been in the mood as it were. I may go into this more in another blog but something that I have noticed recently is the amount of people with opinions. The opinions who read on the internet are nearly always those who are unhappiest. They are the most dissatisfied.

Those who are happy or those who are fine with things rarely kick up too much of a fuss but those who want to vent their spleen with do so more vigorously. I wrote a blog a couple of weeks back entitled 26 comments on why the Lib Dems are in big big trouble about comments on a Comment is Free blog post about how someone had chosen to leave the Lib Dems. The comments were scathing but the correlation between anonymous internet people and those you meet on the doorstep just isn’t there.

It isn’t just a political thing though. I lurk on the Digital Spy forums and there are a few threads I read a lot. One is the F1 discussion thread which I have read for many years now. At the moment we have both F1 on Sky and F1 on the BBC and the opinions are vast but mostly people are complaining about the bad points and not praising the good points. David Croft is too ‘shouty’ say many people but Murray Walker was shouty and we loved him. Ted Kravitz sounds a bit negative say a few whereas a few months ago when he was with the Beeb he was the greatest thing ever. Martin Brundle does too much, Georgie Thompson is pointless, Simon Lazenby is too formulaic and Damon Hill adds nothing. These are just some of the opinions that are floating around. All perfectly allowable but all of them negative.

They hated Jonathan Legard when he commentated to the point where people were openly hoping James Alen would return – and they hated him to. The only person they love is Ben Edwards who is now lead for BBC F1 and they do love him. If you say a bad word about him you are looked down upon. He has God like status. Many say they don’t watch it on Sky even though they have it and prefer to wait several hours and see extended highlights just because of Ben Edwards and how awful the Sky coverage is.

If I thought that this internet forum was an accurate representation of public opinion then I’d think that Sky was doomed. However their coverage peaked at 1.5million on Sunday for the Grand Prix despite being on in the morning and most people who I’ve actually spoken to about it are more than happy with Sky’s coverage. They don’t feel the need to say how great it is because they are content. Those that want more or don’t like Sky on ideological grounds are vocal in their unhappiness and this is something all us politicos must remember.

When it comes to politics those that are unhappiest will yell loudest but those people probably wouldn’t vote for you anyway. Like in many aspects of life politics is down to momentum. The Lib Dems got a groundswell of momentum after the first leadership debate in 2010 but that momentum couldn’t be sustained because the party didn’t have the funding or any media outlets. The other two main parties have more money and more media outlets who sympathise with them.

So for Lib Dems up and down the country who’ll be campaigning over the next few weeks is to find a way to build up that momentum and not believe everything you read in the newspapers and on the internet. Not everyone hates the party and the reception on the doorstep is generally positive and yu won’t be chased off with a broom with profanities ringing in your ears.

The internet has given us a screwed view of many things and one of the most glaring it is has given a forum to haters. Yes some will dislike us but many more will want to hear what we have to say. They may or may not like it and may or may not vote for us but most will actually listen. If I believed what I read on the internet I’d think that the Lib Dems had already punched a one-way ticket to oblivion but that isn’t the case and as long as we don’t fall into that trap ourselves then the future isn’t as bleak as what everyone says.

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Bill McKaig’s 433 on 15-1

I was looking up the opening titles of Going For Gold earlier on YouTube (it had been an answer on Pointless earlier in the day) and one of the related videos was of when Bill McKaig got the highest possible score on 15-1.

I remember watching that at the time but it has been what 13 years since it aired so I thought it’d be interesting to see how I’d do with the same 40 questions in the final round. I have to admit I was pretty chuffed to get 17 right of the 40. I think that is pretty good considering I’m not a quiz buff of any sort.

How would you do…?

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60,500 People get tax cut in Southend-on-Sea thanks to the Lib Dems

I’ve just received the following communication regarding how much the Income Tax threshold will effect each area throughout the United Kingdom. Being based here in Southend-on-Sea I shall talk about this area in this e-mail. If you want other areas then please either leave me a comment or get in touch. No doubt the excel file will be floating around the sphere of the internet sooner rather than later.

So between 2010 and 2012 the Income Tax threshold has given 3,970 an Income Tax cut in the Southend region. In the tax year 2012-2013 that will increase to 5,870 but the move in the budget today to up the limit to £9,205 for April 2013 means that for the tax year 2013-2014 60,500 people in Southend-on-Sea will be affected and given an Income Tax cut. That is a staggering leap.

The amount of people who earn between £8,105 and £9,205 is clearly a large amount. These are people who work nearly full-time at the minimum wage. This change will put money back in the pockets of these people and that is something the Liberal Democrats have been committed to for a long time. This should be regarded as a very good thing for everyone and for 60,500 people in Southend their Income Tax Bill from 2014 will be roughly halved according to the Chancellor and that will put around £220 back into the pockets of these people and by 2014 it is hoped the threshold will rise to £10,000, which will effect even more people and put more people in a good situation with regards to Income Tax.

This is good news for people all over the country. Everyone earning 100,000 a year or less will get more money in their pocket as a result of this but it’ll be those on low incomes that will benefit most and that is a very good thing.

More money in the back pocket is never a bad thing and this move means that everyone will get that.

For the record as a whole – Essex will see 502,500 people given a cut in their Income Tax. Not too shabby if you ask me…

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Lib Dem Southend West PPC in 2010 reacts to the Budget

Peter Welch who stood as the Lib Dem Candidate for Southend West in 2010 has reacted to this afternoons budget. I’ll be putting my thoughts together later on or tomorrow but this is what Peter thinks…

“As the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Questions today this is a Kaleidoscope budget. Parts of it were in Lib Dem gold and I particularly welcome those parts of the Budget.

“The most significant of these is the increase in tax threshold. It was a front-page commitment on the Liberal Democrat manifesto to raise the level at which people start paying tax to £10,000 a year. This budget moves the level at which people start paying tax to £9205 per annum. That is a massive step towards a Liberal Democrat priority – and means that thousands of people in Southend and South East Essex will be taken out income tax altogether. I’m delighted with this news – it will put money into the pockets of people who need, and will spend it in local businesses.

“Liberal Democrats also fought the election on a policy of moving to a simplified, single-tier, citizens’ pension, paying every pensioner at least £140 week by the end of this parliament (ie by 2015).The Budget opens the door for Liberal Democrat Pensions Minister to go ahead and do this. This will particularly benefit women older, and it is great news.

“But not everything in today’s announcements brings pleasure. The Government will still need to borrow £500 billion over the next five years. That is a figure that few of us can imagine – it is a simply collosal amount of borrowing.

But I am most concerned to hear that the Chancellor wants to increase airport capacity. If this is code for moving ahead with plans for a airport in the Estuary, then I will oppose it every step of the way.”

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Sunday trading is good – for everyone

I’m pro Sunday trading. Big time. Despite being brought up the son of a Methodist superintendent in the church I am not religious. I know many see Sunday as the day of rest and God’s day but no-one is forcing these people to go out and spend their Sunday’s in shops. All these Sunday trading laws do is keep one day a week where everything is treated differently and I don’t see why.

Why shouldn’t people have the option of spending their Sunday evening wandering around a supermarket or a garden centre etc.? More business opening hours will lead to more jobs. It helps many be flexible with their time. The workforce doesn’t just work 9-5 Monday – Friday any more. Many of us work strange hours to suit and having more time to shop seems ideal.

The Church of England unsurprisingly oppose it. I saw a spokesman for them saying ‘It is understandable that special arrangements will be made in various ways as the country hosts the Olympics and Paralympics… [We] would however strongly oppose any further attempts to erode the special nature of Sunday,’ earlier when asked by YouGov after they polled the nation about what they thought on the subject.

General Secretary John Hannett too wasn’t enthused saying, ‘Deregulation would have a very detrimental impact on the lives of millions of shop workers. Shop workers are entitled for their views to be heard before any decisions of this importance are made.’

Plenty of shop workers have to work Sunday’s anyway. Just with a deregulation of the Sunday trading laws more would get the opportunity and for longer. I see no downside. However what do the people polled think?

Well they are split. Pretty much down the line:

35% say the Sunday trading laws should be permanently abolished
31% say the Sunday trading laws should be temporarily suspended during the Olympic and Paralympic games
27% say the Sunday trading laws should not be suspended during the Olympic and Paralympic games

So there we have it. The public aren’t convinced either way but I’d be stunned if in ten years 24/7 supermarkets are truly 24/7 and that the Sunday trading laws will be relaxed or even repealed altogether and I’d be perfectly fine with that.

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Only One Person Should Light the Olympic Flame…

My fellow Lib Dem and former Journalism course-mate and long time Football Manager adversary Sean Breslin sent me this earlier today. A guest blog on who he thinks should light the Olympic flame. Not a bad shout Sean, not a bad shout at all…

As the days and weeks pass the excitement and fervour in the country grows before the beginning of the most important summer in Britain’s sporting history. It is not an understatement to suggest London 2012 could be monumental for sport in this country. Put simply heroes will be made, heroes who’s life will change forever and of course the odd villain might appear as well.

But before all the action starts there is the torch relay and this week the street by street route as well as a 7300 strong squad will take the torch around the islands of Britain. One key omission from this announcement was those entrusted with the relay on the final day and the question on everyone’s lips will be just who will light the Olympic Cauldron at the end of the opening ceremony.

There will be a clamour for a long list of Olympic heroes from Sir Steve through to Mary Peters but how about someone who never won an Olympic medal. Possibly the greatest sportsman and advocate of the Olympian spirit of amateur sport Britain has ever produced. Sir Roger Bannister.

Yes he may well be 83 come July but nobody deserves this accolade more than the man who first broke the four minute mile. The first ever recipient of Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year encapsulates everything good about sport. Here is a man who sums up sport better than anyone else when he said ‘The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win’.

A man who finished fourth at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952 (despite setting a British record) is not the distinguished Olympian that normally lights the cauldron. His feat of sporting excellence in 1954 by breaking the four minute mile have been well documented, what is not so well known by the general public is just how great a man he was.

To me his greatest achievement was as chairman of the sports council (now Sport England), under his stewardship local and central government’s involvement in sport grew greatly and the building of all sports facilities grew greatly, giving every Olympian who represents Britain this year the opportunity to train in an environment that allowed them to be the sportsmen and women they are.

This legacy of sporting immortality, a pioneer who initiated the first ever Anabolic steroid testing in sport, a man who’s tenure as head of the sports council will be seen across the nation and I have even mentioned his work as a neurologist, should be rewarded by the country he served so well.

So for me there can only be one man entrusted with the job, so Seb do the right thing and make Britain and the world proud by awarding this honour to Sir Roger Bannister.

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Italian student wins settlement from the Met for illegal arrest

Just when is minding your own business causing “harassment, alarm and distress”? Well if you are a PCSO who is a bit bored and wants to arrest someone then apparently it is what happened to Italian student Simona Bonomo in 2009 when she was filming buildings and was confronted by two PCSO’s using anti-terror legislation and didn’t like the fact she didn’t roll over to have her belly rubbed.

They claimed to have powers they did not have but who cares about that? They are PCSO’s and they have a uniform so they can do whatever they want. So they departed and brought back other police officers who arrested her for being aggressive. They made one crucial error though. They forgot that the student was filming the entire encounter and they didn’t erase her camera whilst she was locked up. Therefore she had all the evidence necessary to proof she was not being aggressive and certainly didn’t cause ‘harassment, alarm and distress’ to the officers. The only distress they got was the fact they had to make something up to arrest her.

Now I’m not going to rag on PCSO or the police as a whole. The vast majority are good people but there will always be some bad eggs who treat the public with contempt and if they don’t get their fix of adrenaline in the form of an arrest they will go looking for one. Sadly that is just the way it is. We just have to hope that when one of these officers are in one of those moods that we aren’t in the vicinity.

The problem I have is that despite all the evidence (and lets be honest here – a video of the whole incident is pretty rock solid evidence) the Met Police tried to Stonewall the case and still wouldn’t accept liability or even apologise for the incident. They are backing their guys to the hilt in spite of the evidence which actually saw the case against her thrown out of court.

That is what bugs me the most. It is clear that they acted horrifically towards the student who was perfectly within her rights. The PCSO did not know his rights and actually claimed to have rights he did not have but still the Met are happy with everything.

Do the Met suffer from Arsene Wenger disease where none of their officers can do any wrong?

These stories crop up far too much and when the force can’t even offer a basic apology then you know there is something afoot. Yet people still wonder why some people have a wary attitude of police officers. When the bad eggs get through and are protected by the so called good eggs then what hope do we have?

For the full story with video from The Guardian please click here

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Southend candidate meets Cabinet Minister to discuss funding for Coastal Communities

Whilst I was busy commentating on Southend United v Accrington Stanley last Saturday Southend West’s PPC in 2010 Peter Welch was busy talking to Danny Alexander and congratulated him on his work to wrestle £24million for seaside town rejuvenation. Here is what Peter was up to along with a grinning picture of the two of them.

Peter Welch meets Danny Alexander
Peter Welch meets Danny Alexander

The Liberal Democrats’ candidate for Southend West at the last General Election has met with Cabinet Minister Danny Alexander to congratulate him on finding the funds needed to set up a £24 million fund for seaside town rejuvenation.

The scheme, announced on 9 February, by Mr Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will provide funds to diversify and transform seaside economies by allowing them to rejuvenate traditional assets or exploit new emerging industries.

Seaside groups could use the money to start programmes that can deliver skills training, offer apprenticeships to school leavers, create new workspaces or support small-scale transport improvements. Successful applicants can expect to get grants of between £50,000 and £2million.

Mr Alexander told Mr Welch that having grown-up in a seaside community, he was aware of the problems they can face, and had been delighted to make the cash available to stimulate a stream of quality projects.

Peter Welch told the Chief Secretary: “This is a significant boost to seaside communities – as is the emphasis that the Government is putting on green growth. I hope we will see some quality proposals put forward from Essex, to win a share of these funds for local projects.”

Good stuff as always Peter.

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