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Brussels hysteria and Bristol reality

November 4, 2011

Last week the Westminster bubble expanded with a lot of hot air about Britain’s future in the European Union.  The current crop of Conservative MPs has a Eurosceptic majority, with a substantial hard core advocating complete withdrawal .  They form a curious alliance with the left of the Labour party, egged on by a hysterical tabloid press.

I’m a Europhile, convinced that Britain will be much stronger as a fully engaged member of the EU.  But listening to my fellow MPs and reading the newspaper headlines you’d swear that I was guilty of some treasonable offence, surrendering my constituents to the terror of rule by Brussels.  Or so it felt in the unreal world of Westminster.

In the real world, I’m not convinced the issue is so important.  Fewer than 20 Bristol West constituents wrote to me before the debate.  I have one of the biggest mailbags of any MP so this suggests that some MPs are putting their dogma first.  They’re also putting at risk constituents’ jobs.  What we need now is some economic stability in Europe so the recovery can gather speed.  In the Chancellor’s statement on the Eurozone I said that the secure future of the Euro currency was in Britain’s national interest and we should concentrate on strengthening the single market, to create more trade and jobs.

After the heated atmosphere in Parliament it was a relief to get back to a couple of days jam-packed with visits in Bristol, hearing the real concerns of local people.  I spent Friday visiting various businesses that have taken on new apprentices. The Evening Post has done a great job encouraging Bristol firms to give youngsters the job and training that comes with an apprenticeship.  I met the bosses and apprentices at four enterprises ranging from a one room recruitment agency to the BBC.   There and at the digital media business and the call centre I visited in St Pauls, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the apprentices and impressed by the commitment of the employers.  There are still many Bristol businesses that do not take on apprentices.  The Government is putting huge resources behind the training costs so I hope this will soon change and more Bristol youngsters can have a bright future.

Saturday showed the variety of an MPs life.  It was both national Make a Difference Day and Great British Pubs Week!  So I spent Saturday morning on the till at the Gloucester Road branch of Marie Curie Cancer Care.  They and the many other charity shops along the road raise huge amounts for good causes. But they need more volunteers.  In the afternoon I was pulling pints behind the bar at the King’s Arms on Blackboy Hill.

So come on Bristol – take on more apprentices, help out a local charity and visit your local pub!

[NOTE – this was written for the Bristol Evening Post and published on Wednesday]

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Ricky Knight permalink
    November 4, 2011 10:43 pm

    Stephen – why didn’t you visit College Green in your constituency and talk to the protesters there? I’m happy enough for you to mention their being there might cause offence to those participating or attending the remembrance services next week-end – mainly because that angle is so patently absurd, it might help you to analyse the foolishness of your statement. But more importantly, regardless of your political of personal attitude to the Occupy movement all over the world, you, a bit of a financial expert, should at least show your face there, chat to the protesters, be seen engaging in discourse, perhaps representing an alternative viewpoint (is that what you have?). You are the MP after all. What is happening on College Green is actually extremely significant – they are the ones ‘trying to make a difference’.

  2. November 5, 2011 2:43 am

    Stephen: may I just point out that I would love to have a Pint in the Kings Arms on Blackboy Hill but, like most of the pubs in MY area, it is utterly inaccessible to disabled people in powered wheelchairs?

    Of course the vast majority of non-disabled people do not even notice the steps at the entrance to Pubs and the Council do not bother to enforce the Law.

    • rosemary permalink
      November 5, 2011 12:20 pm

      Mr Rippon, I always notice the shortcomings of BCC in this matter. It is the pavements, especially around the University and Art Gallery area of Queens Road, that are so inadequate; and as for getting up to Brandon Hill from Queens Road – can you do that even with help? In fact, private businesses and institutions have been a lot better than the council at making ramps etc. However, pubs, restaurants, and clubs most noticably have not. But then they put all sorts of extra obstacles in our path as well: dustbins and boards, smoking areas and the rest of it; so not only do they not want people coming into their premises in wheelchairs: they don’t even want them moving around in their neighbourhoods. And the council do nothing at all about it. What do all those enforcement and equalities officers do with their expensively paid time?

      • rosemary permalink
        November 5, 2011 12:43 pm

        PS have you visited the new Wilkinson’s in Queens Road? They are a very model of helpfulness and thoughtfulness to people in wheelchairs, and they aren’t expensive either. So different in attitude from the council.

      • November 6, 2011 1:37 am

        Rosemary: you ask “What do all those enforcement and equalities officers do with their expensively paid time?”.
        The answer of course is absolutely nothing as is clearly apparent to all disabled people, especially those in unaccompanied powered wheelchairs.

        The shocking state of the pavement on Park Street and it’s ancient so-called dropped kerbs have largely contributed to destroying the castor wheels (4) on my “Quantum” Wheelchair at a cost of almost £500.

        Wilkinson’s is a model of what things could be like if Planning actually applied what the Discrimination and Equalities Acts allow them to do at NO cost to the BCC . ALL applications to modify Shops, bars, restaurants, etc. should include a firm commitment to provide smooth access to such premises for disabled wheelchairs. Since retail usage in Bristol changes so often these days things would soon improve.

        At the moment the entire length of Blackboy Hill, Whiteladies Road and Park street (About 1 1/2 miles) contains Two accessible Pubs and Four accessible Restaurants: isn’t that truly appalling!!?

    • rosemary permalink
      November 6, 2011 11:18 am

      Mr Rippon, it is even worse than I thought. I am so sorry. The heartlessness of the young Bristol City Council bureaucracy is truly shaming. I suppose when they are old and frail themselves, they will make sure, with the help of their index-linked pensions and all that accrued payment of maternity and paternity leave, that they are living somewhere else – somewhere that has been well administered, and well preserved, for them to retire to in comfort and security.

  3. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 5, 2011 6:14 pm

    Having a son who spent 2 years in a wheel chair and still has to resort to it now on occasions, I actually found the cobblestones around Prince St. quite a challenge. There is also the problem if you need the loo. With some of the older premises I think you have to accept that it will never be easy, but I’v always found that when I have been pushing him, most people have been overwhelmingly helpful.

    • November 6, 2011 2:01 am


      Cobblestones anywhere are a miserable menace to anyone in a wheelchair, and yet all those bright young architects are still laying down areas of cobbles around their creations!

      I firmly believe that ALL architects should be forced to use a wheelchair and drive over cobbles for a week so they are fully aware of the horror they are perpetrating.

      Loos are a real problem and I am very pleased to report that in the near future, after painstaking work, the Bristol Physical Access Chain(BPAC), are producing (With money from BCC) a guide to Bristol for use by disabled residents/visitors and the location of loos for the use of disabled persons across the city are clearly shown.

  4. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 5, 2011 6:35 pm

    On the subject of the EU, many of my friends, who have little interest in politics, have become far more anti. I think this is because they constantly hear of how many jobs are going abroad, and they can see with their own eyes how many foreign people have moved here. Also there’s the perception that It’s our money being used to bail the Euro out. I was interested to hear on the TV last week that Italians retire at the age of 65 with a pension of 1,000 euros per month. My maths makes that about 4 times what we receive. Can that be right when I thought the idea was to basically make all Europeans equal. At the end of the day, if Europe is such a great project, why have the Europhiles not argued their case and given us a chance to have our say. This constant denial over 30 odd years brings resentment and suspicion. It will all end in tears!

    • rosemary permalink
      November 5, 2011 9:51 pm

      Yes, Paul, i feel ths same as you: if it were such a good idea, why all the abuse of people who disagreed, and why the censorship in broadcasting? Now, even the BBC is cracking on the subject and letting different views through at last. But it is too late for them to see the light now. The damage has been done. The strange thing is, they don’t apologise for the years of thought policing, especially to the people whom they sacked or got sacked, or just froze out, for not toeing the line. At least our MP is still a believer, so nothing for him to apologise for – yet.

    • rosemary permalink
      November 5, 2011 10:17 pm

      I find people are much less intolerant of non believers now. They don’t say, as they used to: “Oh, that’s boring, I don’t want to talk about it.” And, as you say, more and more people are actively non believers themselves now, and say so. It is the mass immigration that has moved them to anxiety and dissent, more than anything else, and they inextricably associate it with the EU, as they do the court of human rights. No borders, and loss of national identity and security, have really upset people, and they aren’t ashamed of saying so to complete stangers now. This they will not forgive the politicians – long after the banking crisis has passed. Overpopulation, and the consequent pressure on jobs, housing, transport, and services, also worries them, and they all have personal experience of them now – unless they are well off, have no children, and live in central London or the country. So it is no use the believers blaming the disenchantment on the wicked tabloids or saying it is just conservative backbenchers.

      In 1997, the Conservative MPs said they weren’t meeting anyone on the doorstep who wanted them out. That wasn’t denial – just good manners on the part of the public; and so I think it is with people coming across a federalist MP now.

    • November 6, 2011 2:26 am


      You are right about pensions in other EU countries, particularly Greece who employed a huge, largely corrupt, Bureaucracy who were allowed to retire at 50 with generous pensions and with this Bureaucracy totally incapable of enforcing Tax Collection the stage was set for collapse. Greece’s downfall started with their grotesque expenditure on the Olympic Games (Lesson for us there!) which left them with no money in the coffers and very little in the way of Taxation Income yet still faced with the cost of paying their Pensioners: so they borrowed the money and look where that led them!

      Sounds like a very similar situation in Italy!

    • Will permalink
      November 7, 2011 1:00 pm


      Fair point. But:

      1000 Euros = approx £850.

      Basic state pension = £102/week = £442/month

      So, not quite 4x, but still almost double. However, with the minimum income guarantee, Pension Credit increases this to £137.35 = £595.18/month.

  5. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 6, 2011 1:38 pm

    I was as guilty as the next man in not realising the problems faced by wheel chair users untill my son was so seriously ill. Architects, however, really have no excuse and I fully support your idea. I have found that the general public, although like myself, not realising the problems, are always pleased to help, and I’v found this in some places, which, to my shame, I did not expect.

  6. Cream Faced Loon permalink
    November 6, 2011 8:14 pm

    Well Stephen, you might not get many letters from constituents now, but I wonder how that’s going to go after 1st November 2014 when the Eurozone countries start to vote as a block using QMV.

    Then there’s the Commission proposal to take control of criminal law policy by 2020, determining what sentences will handed out – prison, fines etc.

    Interesting article about it in the Telegraph today.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

  7. November 6, 2011 8:43 pm

    some thoughts on the above comments:-
    I will certainly raise specific areas where the Council is not either being DDA compliant itself or not enforcing requirement on others, if people email me the details. I will be seeing Enterprise Inns again soon about Bristol West pubs so can raise this with them.
    On various EU comments – pension payments are entirely a matter for member state governments. But it is worth noting that countries with bloated public sector entitlements that haven’t reformed are now in serious difficulty, especially Greece and Italy. Our pensions system is also in need or reform, though not of the drastic nature needed elsewhere.
    On EU nationals “taking” jobs in the UK – well that is one of the main points and benefits of a single market – free movement of labour and transferability of skills. Huge numbers of Brits work in other EU states – do we want them to give up their jobs and come home? EU non-British nationals working in the UK are filling skills gaps or jobs that Brits decline to take themselves. The remedies here are not blaming the EU but raising our skill levels (more apprentice training is being funded by the Coalition Govt) and tax and welfare reform to make work pay and be worthwhile.

  8. November 7, 2011 1:16 am


    I am an adviser on the following bodies:

    Bristol Physical Access Chain (BPAC)
    Bristol Disabled Equality Forum (BDEF)
    Bristol Older Peoples Forum (BOPF)
    Clifton, Clifton East and Cabot Neighborhood Partnership (Disabled/Inequalities Member).

    I have done my utmost to get both Highways and Planning to square up to their responsibilities over many years to very little positive effect.

    You are inviting emails of actual cases. Please allow me time to get the details together (My present Oncology treatments leave me very tired} and I will send them to you.


    • rosemary permalink
      November 7, 2011 10:09 am

      Mr Rippon, may I suggest breaking this huge and shaming deficit down into 2 separate bits:

      1) Very longstanding shortcomings on the part of Highways, as manifested to any observer of pavements around Blackboy Hill, Whiteladies Rd, Queens Rd, and Park St, including the side streets, especially those leading up to Brandon Hill. The very few seconds allowed for crossing over Queens Rd by Browns also need to be increased.

      2) The ease of access into individual premises.

      This in turn I would break down into
      a) Institutions, both public and private.
      b) Businesses – catering, office, and retail.

      If the first were to be completed and sent in to the MP, the Highways work might proceed straight away, while you are compiling the second part – which may take much longer to correct, because, as you point out, the premises in b) need to change hands for enforcement to be effective.

      • rosemary permalink
        November 7, 2011 10:23 am

        PS What about all those obstacles on the pavements, which the council seem not just to prevent, but actively to encourage, and in some cases instigate themselves? Bins, boards, tables and chairs, roped off smoking areas, flytipping, posts, pay and display machines, and all rest of the messy and thoughtlessly unplanned Highways paraphernalia?

  9. rosemary permalink
    November 7, 2011 10:25 am

    And, Mr Rippon, how do you fare on buses? How, for instance, do you get to the hospitals?

    • John Rippon permalink
      November 8, 2011 12:47 am

      First of all my name is JOHN: I call you Rosemary: is that OK?
      Forgot to mention in my list that I am also a member of “Friends of Brandon Hill” and I am fully up to date on the problems there: mainly lack of MONEY which would solve 99% of the problems !

      I have a “Class 3” powered wheelchair which is TAXED and INSURED so that I can travel at up to 4mph on pavements and up to 8mph on the road (See DVLA website).
      Buses are increasingly compliant with the Law, although some are badly designed (The Firstbus 8 and 9 routes have the best designed buses) and I use the buses in my wheelchair daily. Since there are NO bus routes from the Victoria Rooms area to the hospital I use my wheelchair daily to get to Oncology and it is a tortuous route!

      Obstacles on Pavements: here I must say that the Neighborhood Partnership and the Highways Department HAVE joined forces to produce a grand plan to severely limit the use of “A-Boards” and tables and chairs on the pavements. This is due to go before the Licensing Committee in the very near future.

      I appreciate your two- fold plan and I have already done a great deal of work on this (Part of which helped as in the paragraph above) but I am old and sick and it is a lot of work for one person to do, but I will not give up, I assure you!

      The crossing you referred to allows SEVEN SECONDS to get across. I have TWICE informed the Highways people about this dangerous crossing but nothing happened.

      • rosemary permalink
        November 8, 2011 11:19 pm

        I think it is about time our MP did something to get a bus to the hospital. John, would you be expected in any other city to get there every day all that way, without a bus or tram of any kind stopping there on its way from the Vic Rooms and Queens Rd? I have noticed the pavement along there (Perry Rd) has been redone quite nicely recently, but you shouldn’t be expected to go all that way, and through all that noise and pollution in a wheelchair. I suppose you could take a bus down Park St, round Colston Square, out again to Castle Park, and come back round through the Broadmead traffic, get off, and then travel up past the bus station under your own steam. The same journey to be done for all those hospitals round there, and the Deaf Centre. And of course the bus station itself. Is that what you have to do? Does our MP think that is acceptable in 2011, when even Algiers has its own metro now?

        The crossing is lethal. It gives people great anxiety as well. Mainly because there are two lanes of traffic powering through, often jumping the lights too.

  10. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    November 7, 2011 5:29 pm

    As soon as I pressed send I knew I was wrong. Far too impetuous even at my age. As you have mentioned them, Pension Credits. When I was looking for a part time job, the Job Centre said at my age, then 61, I should have been on P/C and I would not be obliged to “sign on” or be actively seeking work. Is this still the situation? It seems strange that at a time workers are being forced to work longer before getting their pension, P/C is paid to those not working at 60. Perhaps Stephen can tell us.

  11. John Rippon permalink
    November 9, 2011 3:12 am

    Rosemary: years ago either the No. 9 or the No. 8 had a restricted route which went down Park Row and the BRI main hospital.For some reason this valuable service ceased.

    Did you realise that the much-vaunted Hospital Bus Service which I could easily get to DOES NOT TAKE WHEELCHAIRS, which I find totally bizarre.

    Why do you yourself not telephone or write to the Highways Department to complain about the lethal crossing?

    Rosemary, with respect: please do not call the area by the Eye and Ear Hospital a BUS STATION!!! It is NOT a Bus Station. It is a COACH and LONG Distance Bus station.
    No City bus services have EVER visited it.

    That is the great problem in Bristol: we do not have a BUS STATION, unlike most Towns and Cities (With the exception of Birmingham which has no bus station and is a total nightmare).

    If we had a BUS STATION where ALL City bus routes interchanged the problem would vanish in a twinkling!

    We could have done it at Cannons Marsh but a greedy BCC sold it to what has turned out to be a disastrous “Development” .

    A less satisfactory location would have been next to Temple Meads, but that is now built over with Offices, largely occupied by Government Departments and Banks.

    I very much doubt if we we will ever have a true Bus Station in Bristol.

    • rosemary permalink
      November 9, 2011 1:44 pm

      Thank you John, for explaining all this to me. I had not realized the difference between a bus and coach station, assuming it should cater for both. The fact that it doesn’t, and is nowhere near the railway station either, kind of underlines the message from BCC: – you had better be a motorist and clog up the city if you want to get round Bristol.

    • rosemary permalink
      November 9, 2011 6:28 pm

      If the no 8 or 9 did once go down Park Row, it could do so again. Are they also slightly smaller than the other buses too, or has that changed now? If they are, then all the more reason to send one of them down Park Row, where there isn’t much space left over by the parked cars. No room for cycling there safely, that’s for sure, so a bus is trebly necessary – for people in wheelchairs, for pedestrians, and for deterred cyclists. Then there’s the case for cutting down the number of cars going down to the hospital, clogging up the road, and not being able to park when they get there. So FOUR good reasons. Come on Stephen, do something – it wouldn’t cost, as it’s only a route tweak. And think how pleased everyone would be with you.

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