I’m just back from Radio Derby

Today’s question: Would it make any difference to walkers in the New Forest whether cyclists all had bells on their bicycles?

This feels like a storm in a teacup to me but it is the reason why I was asked to go in to Radio Derby this morning: A debate in Parliament about walkers in the New Forest concerned about ‘rogue’ cyclists rushing silently past them.  Earlier in the programme there had been an excellent discussion with Tony Roelich of Derby Cycling Group, highlighting the importance of courtesy.


The bell on my Brompton bicycle. I find a cheery ‘Good morning!’ or ‘Cyclist approaching’ is kinder to alert others.

Putting a bell on a bicycle sadly doesn’t mean it will be used correctly, especially by ‘rogues’ (whoever they might be!).  And would enforcement of bells on bicycles be a good use of public resources?  What about bells on mobility scooters, or runners, or horses?  And what about people who are deaf, or engrossed in conversation, or deep in their own thoughts, or listening to music.

Tony got it right.  The key message is really that all users of public spaces should be aware of, and courteous towards, each other.

The radio debate went on to try to identify the worse people on our roads.  Lots of different categories were mentioned later in the programme.  Cycling home, I realised that my pet hate is people who shout abuse at other road users.  If something needs saying, say it politely, your message is more likely to be respected.  It’s courtesy, again.

Meanwhile, it’s been good to hear people phoning in to say that a polite call from an approaching cyclist is more use, and than a tingingly bell.    Let’s hope that our MPs see sense!


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Derby City Council’s Cycling Champion

I was surprised and amazed tonight.  Derby City Council made me their cycling champion, and the position wasn’t even on the agenda!

Proving small cycle improvements, like this on Brierfield Way in Mickleover, can open up new routes for cycling.

Providing small cycle improvements, like this on Brierfield Way in Mickleover, can open up new routes for cycling.

I don’t think of myself as a keen cyclist, it’s just that cycling is a really good way of getting around in a city.   Parking a bicycle is rarely a problem compared to parking a car, and one can pause to chat, drop in at a shop or stop to answer one’s phone.

You don’t have to pay for petrol or diesel (or electricity), there’s no road fund tax and repairs generally cost much less than for a car.  You also exercise as you go, saving time and money compared to the gym!

So what do I hope to achieve?

Not surprisingly I’m still thinking about that one, so watch this space.  But if you’re reading this, do share your ideas with me.  We can achieve much more together than I can alone.

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Wearing Theresa May’s shoes…

Imagine if last summer you were in Theresa May’s shoes; you’d just inherited a party and country that had voted to Leave the EU, while you had (reluctantly?) voted to Remain. Setting aside your own preferences, but remembering that you have a party to hold together, what would you do?

Decisive action was needed. Leadership. Brexit must mean Brexit and we must make a success of it.  But how?

How we negotiate the process I would have left to the constitutional experts. I’d not try to second guess the Supreme Court and I’d make a point of strengthening democracy and giving back power. There’s nothing to be lost in being gracious.

Guiding the nation to success would be my role. So first to identify the challenges, then find the solutions.

Challenges are still appearing, but if we’d started by asking for them to be declared we’d probably now (March 2017) be further on. They would include:

  • Replacing the skills and energy of EU citizens who are currently vital to our economy. We’ll need to replace them without increasing net immigration from other areas, as that was such a key issue in the referendum. This will include NHS staff, domiciliary and care staff, farm workers, scientists and engineers, skilled tradesmen and entrepreneurs.
  • While there is a freedom to reallocate EU funding to deliver UK needs, there will also need to be a transition to post Brexit UK without too much disruption. So how would UK priorities differ from EU ones? We’ll need to think about agriculture, manufacturing, research and development, social investment and more.
  • On trade we’ll need to think about whether we’d be best inside or outside the Single Market – not just a knee jerk reaction but a rational assessment, considering the different impacts on different sectors. How much can trade outside the EU expand? Do we have enough people with the right skills in marketing and languages to exploit the opportunities – if they aren’t already doing so. And for key sectors, like food, do we need to become more self-sufficient?
  • We’ll need to consider the masses of regulations that have come from Europe. We could start with the very few that we actually voted against, but maybe presume that the others we need to retain, unless. there is good reason to reject If we are to have closer relations with other countries than Europe, maybe we will want to align to others’ standards for procedures and equipment from aeroengines and accountancy to pesticides and workers’ rights. We need to know what the implications of change might be.
  • Last, but not least, we need to consider our society. How can the families and friendships that have developed across Europe over the last 40 years (and more) be considered an asset, a help to stabilise and support our changing relationships, not a problem to be resolved?

I’m pretty sure that Theresa May has not done this exercise, as if she had, one of her top priorities should have been NHS staffing. If she’d been thinking as I’m suggesting she would not have cut bursaries for nurses just when we’ll be needing more nurses as we Brexit.

But then I usually wear more practical shoes that Theresa!

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Universities and higher education

Tomorrow MPs are due to debate the Higher Education Bill.  It therefore seems to be a good time to make a few points about post-school education.

Let me start by saying that I went to university, enjoyed three years there and came away with an academic qualification that set me on the road to becoming a chartered engineer. But then, as now, it was not the only way to achieve such a qualification, and other routes are not inferior, indeed they can be better. But there was a presumption by my school, and from home, that university would be my route into a career.  And alternative advice was weak.

I encouraged my children, and I encourage other young people, to consider whether alternatives to university might be a better route into their chosen career.  Or indeed, whether postponing university for a few years until they have more idea what they want to do, might also be a good option.

So I come to the issue of higher education from the view that more is not necessarily better. The university sector has grown enormously over the last 50 years, both with existing universities expanding, and with waves of new ones being created.  Do we need more?

I’m not that close to the subject, but if there is a clamour for more, it certainly isn’t very loud.  It’s apprenticeships that I’m hearing calls to be expanded – and higher apprenticeships can lead to a similar level of qualification as a first degree.  So shouldn’t this be at the centre of any Higher Education Bill?

Post the Brexit vote, higher education is in new territory.  Our existing universities will need to reassess their student numbers and research base without EU membership.  Is this the right time to unsettle their environment in other ways with new organisations and private sector competition?

And for students, higher fees are already changing behaviours.  I’m particularly concerned that trends in the ‘marketisation’ of higher education mean teaching styles are moving away from students taking individual responsibility for their learning to staff being expected to direct learning in a much more school-like way.  Is encouraging this trend by linking fees to teaching ‘quality’ better for individuals? How is that ‘quality’ to be judged by progress in post-university careers?

So I don’t know what problem this Bill seeks to address.  I can’t see it having value to existing universities.   And I’m left with an uncomfortable feeling that the driving force for the changes it proposes is a dogma to expand private provision in the university sector. And I hope it’s not the result of lobbying by a few individuals with deep pockets.

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