Friday, 9 May 2008

Buses, benzos and Bebo

I enjoyed today. Sometimes on Fridays I feel like I'm rushing from one place to another, never quite getting there on time (and sometimes running spectacularly late). Often the day is spent 'being seen' at a local event or 'showing my support' for a local organisation; often it's about being shown around places, which can be interesting and educational, but doesn't always require a great deal of input from me. Today was very productive 'though.

For a start, I was on foot most of the day, as the car is still being fixed. (The gasket has gone, and some other things. The guy at the garage refuses to accept that my failure to appreciate on anything but a conceptual level that a car needs water in its radiator is to blame; he thinks there must be a leak in the water pump. I have tried to confess, but he can't quite bring himself to accept that someone could be that useless).

So I headed off to Colston Parade, caught the bus to my office in St George. Why is it that there are so many 'Sorry - Out of Service' buses in Bristol? There were two parked at the bus stop for at least ten minutes while I waited this morning. Later on 5 buses passed me as I walked the length of Church Road on my way to a meeting in Old Market. 4 were 'out of service', one just said 'First Bus' on the front, but was empty and heading for the depot. Why?

First meeting of the day was with two young(ish) men who are trying to set up a role model/ mentoring programme in Bristol for black youth, sending speakers into schools to motivate and inspire pupils. They're both obviously hugely committed to the project, and I'm convinced it could have a real impact. So that was quite inspiring. Then I did a quick radio interview with Original FM about the 'Keep Casualty in Bristol' campaign, called Cllr Pete Hammond for an update on EPHs, chatted to Cllr Ron Stone who popped into the office....

At 11.30am the police turned up, followed by social services. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how agencies in Bristol work together on child protection cases and what support they can give parents whose daughters have fallen into abusive relationships with older men (an issue which was brought to my attention by two mothers whose daughters have ended up living with men in Bristol). It's particularly difficult once the girls turn 16, or when they're not willing themselves to co-operate with agencies. We also discussed internet 'grooming' and I was disturbed to learn how easy it is for predatory paedophiles to use sites like Bebo - which doesn't keep a history of usage - to contact children. I'm going to be talking to Luton South Labour MP, Margaret Moran, who I know has been doing a lot of work on this issue, and following up in a number of other ways.

In the afternoon we walked through St George's Park and along the cycle path to my surgery at Easton Community Centre. Only a few cases today but most of them were quite complex and involved trying to get my head round lots of official paperwork - from the Pensions Service, the Tax Credits Office, Housing and Council Tax Benefits, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal - and asking confused constituents what I could do to help. People often don't know quite what information I need, so we can talk for ages and go off at all sorts of tangents before I finally hit on a piece of paper which tells me exactly what the problem is, and what I can do about it.

One example today was a woman who'd been told she'd been overpaid Pensions Credit as she'd not told the Pensions Service about her private pension; she insisted she'd never applied for Pensions Credit. In fact, what happens now is that pensioners are automatically assessed for their eligibility for Pensions Credit when they turn 60 (or 65 for men). It replaces the old system whereby people had to apply for Pensions Credit or the Minimum Income Guarantee, and take up was far too low. It also removes the stigma which some people, who'd worked all their lives, felt about applying for benefits. But in this case it had caused confusion, as my constituent was adamant she'd not submitted an application.

Back in the office for a telephone conversation with Justin Davies, the new MD of First Bus Bristol, to talk about today's news about some routes being axed. He assured me it's a genuine consultation - which runs till May 25th - and urged me to do all I could to publicise it. We're going to to meet at the Lawrence Hill depot on May 23rd so I can tell him what my constituents are saying. The axing of the no. 48 is a particular concern, although the BEP says there'll be a more frequent service on the no. 49 to compensate. Also told the MD to expect a letter in the post on Monday, asking what the company is doing to make use of new technology (e.g. satellite tracking) to improve performance, and when/ if they're going to introduce smart cards.

After that I met with Una Corbett, who has been doing sterling work on behalf of Battle Against Tranquilisers for a long time now - see She raised a lot of what seemed to me to be valid concerns about the way in which people addicted to benzos are treated by GPs, pharmacists and psychiatrists, and I'm going to be tabling some questions on it soon, as well as firing off a few letters.

Then it was a mad rush to sign off on a huge pile of correspondence, discuss key issues with the office staff, chat with the chair of my constituency party, read the press cuttings, etc, etc, before heading off to a meeting at the GMB offices with care home staff and relatives of residents in EPHs. We're expecting revised proposals to be announced by the City Council soon, and came up with a list of criteria we could use to assess whatever is offered.

Arrived home exactly 12 hours after I left, as the sunshine gave way to thunder and lightening. Made it just in time!

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