Why do you not have a page for your political work on Facebook?

Whilst I understand the importance of keeping you all informed and updated on my work as one of your County Councillors, I can no longer continue to engage with the public on a platform that has become increasingly toxic and negative. The very British values of politeness, patience, and empathy that we hold dear are under threat, and it is our duty to safeguard them.

The negative impact of social media platforms like Facebook on mental health has been widely studied. According to a survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, social media use is linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, and body image concerns. Furthermore, a report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life highlights the negative impact of social media abuse on the mental health of politicians and the potential impact on public trust in democracy.

In addition, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 41% of American adults have experienced some form of online harassment, with political views being one of the most common reasons for harassment. Incivility on social media can also have a negative impact on democratic participation, as people who experience incivility are less likely to engage in political discussions online or offline, according to a study by the University of Cambridge.

Therefore, I have decided to take a step back and re-evaluate how I engage with the public. I will now be posting local updates and information here on my personal website, using this blog format. I welcome your comments on my posts, subject to common moderation practices. It is important to note that fake profiles do not give one the right to abuse others, and we have all seen how fake profiles and bots are used by those with nefarious intentions, including those who seek to undermine our democracy – even locally. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 41% of American adults have experienced some form of online harassment, with political views being one of the most common reasons for harassment. Therefore, we must all be vigilant in ensuring that our online discussions are conducted with civility and respect.

As we all know, fake profiles and bots are often used by those with nefarious intentions, including those who seek to undermine our democracy – even locally. I recall having to thwart Russian-sourced interference on the topic of local 5G radio masts in Redditch only a few years ago. These threats to our democracy must not be taken lightly, and we must all do our part to combat them.

Furthermore, the negative impact of Facebook on my own mental health, and the mental health of society as a whole, cannot be ignored. It is time for me to walk away from this platform and return to a style of openness and accountability that is less angry. I look forward to engaging with you – the real you – on my personal website.

As we move forward, I urge you all to recognise the importance of civility and respectful discourse in our society. Let us all work together to safeguard the very British values that make us great.

On the proposed new football regulator

As a conservative, I am naturally loathe to see additional ‘red tape’ introduced, but if there’s any industry that has needed it for some time, football would be it. The game has evolved dramatically over the decades, in many ways for the better but there’s also been angst for some time especially around ownership, accountability, transparency and fairness.

Football is nothing without its fans, and for too long the football authorities have collectively been unable to support them in tackling some of the biggest issues in the game.

A fan-led review, started under Tracey Crouch MP and finished under Nigel Huddleston MP as Sports Ministers, correctly identified a number of key findings spread across 11 chapters. You can read more about the review that precedes the regulator by clicking here. It is worth noting the fan-led review was a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment, which has now been delivered.

The new regulator’s primary strategic purpose will be to ensure that English football is sustainable and resilient. Clubs will need a license to operate professionally, and to obtain it they will have to demonstrate good basic financial practices, have appropriate financial resources to tackle financial shocks, and protect the core assets of the club, such as the stadium, from harm.

The regulator will implement a minimum standard of fan engagement and ensure clubs have a framework in place to regularly meet a representative group of fans to discuss key matters at the club. The regulator will also give fans a veto over changes to the badge and home shirt colours.

A new ‘integrity test’ for owners and executives will be applied before new owners purchase football clubs. Additionally, it will continue to investigate the source of their funds and make sure that clubs are in safe hands with a sustainable future ahead.

Clubs will only be able to compete in competitions that are approved by the regulator, ensuring that competitions remain fair and meritocratic. No more European ‘super league’ without prior regulatory approval.

The new independent regulator will apply an enhanced Owners’ and Directors’ Test, both ahead of an acquisition of a club and on an ongoing basis. This will include a new ‘integrity test’ for all owners and executives, and enhanced due diligence–including sources of funding. This will ensure that skilled, experienced owners and executives are running these vital community assets.

Click here for the full details of the new regulator on GOV.UK

A call to fellow Conservative Party supporters across Worcestershire

As a supporter of the Conservative Party, you understand the importance of having a strong and united party. The Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) plays a critical role in promoting democratic principles within the party and ensuring that the voices of all members are heard.

Nancy Astor
Nancy Astor, first female MP, and part of the Primrose League upon which CDO is modelled.

The CDO was created to support the grassroots of the party and to empower its members to participate in the democratic process. It is a platform that provides members with a voice and helps to ensure that their opinions and ideas are heard at the highest levels of the party. This is a critical aspect of the party’s ability to succeed, as it allows members to help shape the party’s direction and policies.

One of the key ways in which CDO supports members is by providing them with a platform to participate in the selection of parliamentary candidates. The CDO works to ensure that all members have the opportunity to participate in a fair and transparent selection process. This allows members to choose the best candidate for their constituency, free from pressure and vested interests.

Another way in which CDO supports members is by promoting democratic principles within the party. This includes advocating for members’ rights to participate in party decisions and to hold their elected officials accountable. The CDO is committed to ensuring that the democratic process is upheld and that members feel empowered to make informed decisions.

Finally, CDO provides members with a voice in shaping the direction of the party. By working closely with party leaders and other members, CDO helps to ensure that the party remains focused on its core principles and values, and that it remains in touch with the concerns and needs of its members.

In conclusion, CDO is a critical platform that provides members with a voice, empowers them to participate in the democratic process, and helps to ensure that the Conservative Party remains strong, united, and focused on its core principles. If you are a supporter of the Conservative Party, you should be pleased to support CDO and to participate in its efforts to promote democratic principles within the party.

Reporting Back: Junction of Callow Hill Lane & Windmill Drive

I was asked by a local resident to consider whether a mini-roundabout would be appropriate to improve the junction of Callow Hill Lane and Windmill Drive. Locals will know this as the junction near the Bramley Cottage. It’s a busy junction, with Windmill Drive being a 40mph road.

I have now had a response from officials within the County Council who say:

“Current design criteria set out by the Department for Transport states that mini-roundabouts should be used only when all approach roads are subject to a speed limit of 30 mph or less. The reasoning behind this is because at higher speeds it is seldom possible to achieve adequate deflection and the central marking may not be sufficiently conspicuous.

As you will be aware, Windmill Drive is subject to a 40mph limit so this precludes the installation of a mini-roundabout.

In general, junction improvements are evidenced based and we have a team which monitors accident statistics so that we can target areas where problems are occurring. At the present time, there are no planned works at this junction itself.”

However, despite this there will be some work that may have an effect:

“We are considering further markings to the Callow Hill Lane in relation to speeding concerns. We can then monitor the situation.”

This response is acceptable as it provides us with future monitoring, and it also comes off the back of some canvassing I did in the local area where I asked residents if they agreed with the idea of a mini-roundabout. Around 1/3 of those canvassed agreed, but around 2/3 said they didn’t think it was a priority for public spending at this time as they didn’t have issues with it themselves.

I will continue to monitor the situation and keep in touch with local residents on the issue to see how it evolves over time. If fresh evidence emerges of a specific problem we can look to find the best solution – it may well be a mini-roundabout in the future, it could be traffic lights, or it could be widening the junction if possible. Let’s see.

You can contact me about this issue by emailing mrouse@worcestershire.gov.uk

Why it is necessary to build a new train station at Redditch

I wanted to share with you all why it is necessary to build a new train station in Redditch to replace the existing one.

First and foremost, the current train station is outdated and not able to accommodate the increasing number of commuters and travelers in the area. As Redditch continues to grow and develop, it is important that we have a train station that can handle the increased demand for public transportation.

Additionally, the new train station will be able to offer more amenities and services to passengers, such as improved accessibility for individuals with disabilities, more parking spaces, and possibly even a retail or food area.

Finally, building a new train station will not only improve the experience of those who use it, but it will also boost the local economy and bring new job opportunities to the area.

Overall, a new train station in Redditch is essential for the continued growth and development of our community. Let’s work together to make it a reality!

First Bus Fare Increases in Droitwich

As the First Bus operated routes in Droitwich Spa are commercial services the ability to increase fares is solely the gift of the bus operator, there are no standards or legislation that governs this, and, as it stands, there is no retrospective action or any action that can be taken with the operator by Worcestershire County Council.

We will raise the issue of the hike in price with the local management team and ask for a more detailed response regarding the fare increases highlighted by residents.

Worcestershire County Council is looking to enter into a new Statutory Enhanced Partnership with bus operators in the New Year, and this will give the local authority more say in how fares are set across the county network.

We continue to monitor the situation as we work to secure and enhance bus services across Worcestershire at this very difficult time with passenger demand numbers remaining at record low levels.

Evesham Road (through Astwood Bank) Speed and Road Safety Issues

An update for residents on the work Councillor Craig Warhurst and I have been doing to tackle both road safety and speeding issues along Evesham Road going through Astwood Bank. Councillor Brandon Clayton has also been involved as local Borough Councillor, and Rachel Maclean MP has also been helping us as part of a teamwork approach, utilising all the talents and connections we have as a local Conservative Party team.

The setting of speed limits is the responsibility of Worcestershire County Council, but the enforcement of those limits is the responsibility of West Mercia Police. This includes speed cameras. Things like the Highway Code, national default speed limits, and the kinds of devices deployed into cars by manufacturers are Parliamentary matters.

Some Background

The speed limit through Astwood Bank was originally set for 40mph, as I understand it. Some years ago I understand there was a crash involving a pedestrian, and subsequently the speed was reduced to 30mph as a result. The ‘gateway’ into the 30mph zone currently sits at the top of Rough Hill Drive on the other side of the roundabout – as a result, few people realise that they are in a 30mph zone even though the Highway Code informs us that the speed limit is 30mph unless otherwise informed.

Rule 124. You MUST NOT exceed the maximum speed limits for the road and for your vehicle (see the speed limits table). A speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h) generally applies to all roads with street lights (excluding motorways) unless signs show otherwise.

Highway Code

Since our election in May 2021, Craig and I as County Councillors have received a steadily increasing stream of emails and messages regarding speeding issues and road safety concerns along the Evesham Road. This reached a peak later in 2021 when there was a pedestrian injured on the road outside Ridgeway Academy. As a result, Craig and I were able to ensure the delivery of a new Zebra Crossing, which opened in September 2022.

We have always been conscious that the most speeding activity occurs further up Evesham Road towards Redditch, particularly as vehicles leave the roundabout at the top of Rough Hill Drive (known as the Ran Tan island).

Wider Connections

In tackling the speeding issues along Evesham Road we have to look at the wider picture – this is important because people who are driving along the road are coming from somewhere, and they are going to somewhere.

For example, the increase in concerns about speeding seem to have come along in conjunction with the deployment of an average speed camera zone through Studley. We have to ask, are people taking the Evesham Road to avoid this zone? We have also noticed a massive increase in speed concerns in areas where home-based working is now more common – if you are in the house, you are more likely to notice what’s happening in the street outside, and you will be able to hear the traffic whilst you’re working, and you will notice if a vehicle sounds like they are going too fast.

The main overriding concerns when it comes to roads from a County Council perspective is safety. That is the key factor from a Highways point of view. It naturally follows that failure to comply with the posted speed limit increases the risk and threatens safety on our local roads.

As Redditch South County Councillors we also cover the boroughs of Headless Cross & Oakenshaw, and Crabbs Cross too. Speeding is an issue in these areas too. This means we also take an interest in Rough Hill Drive, which seems to play a role in speeding/racing behaviour particularly at weekends. We have been working with police on this issue, and I personally have been actively pressing for enforcement here since 2017, even before I was elected to the County Council in 2021. That is why we see the speed van parked on Rough Hill Drive. But does this have a knock-on effect to Evesham Road? These factors are important to consider and is the reason why as Councillors we have to look at the bigger picture and approaches to Evesham Road, not always just Evesham Road itself. The same applies to roads coming out of Astwood Bank heading south too.

Meetings Held

I will update this blog post with details of meetings and engagements around this issue. Please check back for updates.

August 2022 PACT Meeting

PACT (Police & Communities Together) are meetings hosted by West Mercia Police, to which local councillors are invited as guests. Craig and I attended on Friday 26th August at 6pm at St Matthias & St George Church Hall. We discussed with residents and police about the speeding issues and left that meeting having floated the idea of campaigning for an average speed camera zone. Residents in that meeting were supportive of the idea.

October 2022 Speed Gun Exercise

Craig and I were joined by Rachel Maclean MP and local police on Evesham Road where we conducted an exercise with the ‘speed gun’. 6 vehicles were recorded, each of them speeding at 36mph along Evesham Road.

We know that a lot of people who would have been speeding will have slowed down when they saw us, but the point of the exercise is not to ‘catch people out’, it is to remind them to check their speed. Anyone who was caught was given ample opportunity to do so – they could see us stood there in high-vis jackets pointing a speed gun at them. There’s no excuse.

November Meeting with MP

Following on from our work, and to help us reach more people, Rachel Maclean MP hosted a further community meeting at St Matthias & St George Church Hall at 9:30am on Friday 11 November 2022. Craig, Brandon and I attended this along with police and around 35 local residents.

We covered a wide range of points and additional roads where speeding is a concern including:

  • Dagtail Lane
  • Church Road
  • Feckenham Road
  • Avenue Road
  • Foregate Street
  • High Street
  • Sambourne Lane
  • The Ridgeway

We floated the idea of an average speed camera again at this meeting and it was met with broad support, though also some points to be considered such as placement of cameras – who would like a camera outside their home for instance.

We agreed to begin actively campaigning for an average speed camera zone, and would start to lobby the Police & Crime Commissioner to support a scheme. It is the responsibility of the police to install and manage any scheme – but the County Council will provide any poles and electricity as needed. Schemes start from around £160,000 and vary depending on the complexity.

I agreed to raise with the PCC (John Campion) at my next meeting with him. Some community members are looking to potentially start a petition, which we would support.

November 17th PACT Meeting

There was a further PACT meeting at 6pm at St Matthias & St George Church Hall on Thursday 17th November. Unfortunately this meeting was poorly attended. It might be due to many people attending the earlier meeting with the MP and feeling updated on the issue, or the cold and wet winter night.

We discussed the ongoing idea of an average speed camera zone, and how best to campaign for this. Clarifications were sought around who is responsible for an average speed camera zone – this is the sole domain of West Mercia Police. The County Council can install poles and provide electricity, but the police put the camera on the top and operate the scheme. This is why we need to convince them on the issue.

Contact us about this issue

  • You can email me: mrouse@worcestershire.gov.uk
  • You can email Craig: cwarhurst@worcestershire.gov.uk

I have also enabled comments for this page. Please keep any discussion civilised and polite.

Support the Average Speed Camera Campaign

Accessibility in AI assistants is still failing people with speech difficulties

Description of video for audio impaired visitors

In this video I demonstrate how Alexa doesn’t accommodate people taking a very short pause whilst issuing a command. The example used is a simple arithmetic question.

I ask Alexa the first part of the question, and then grab a breath before finishing. This causes Alexa to enter an error state and terminate the command.

I end the video by explaining that I care about this issue because I observed all kinds of failures in technology in the 90s and early 00s where the web was racing ahead but failing to consider accessibility needs as it did so. It feels like the same is still happening. Alexa devices are a great step forwards for many people including people with accessibility needs, but if you have speech difficulties they are problematic: it’s not like I took a long pause or stammered heavily, the level of accommodation by the app was brutal.

Update on my call for Beryl Bikes in North Worcestershire

Since I launched my public call for the West Midlands Beryl Bikes to be expanded down to Worcestershire, I’m pleased to report progress.

I have meetings scheduled with Beryl, and with Serco who designed the scheme. I also have a meeting booked with Transport for West Midlands.

I’m grateful to West Midlands Cycling Commissioner Adam Tranter, and to Allan Andrews in the office of the Mayor of the West Midlands for their assistance in progressing this issue.

You can signal your support for the idea by clicking here.

The idea is to simply expand the Beryl Bike cycle hire service down from Birmingham so that, one day, a person can cycle from Bromsgrove, Kidderminster or Redditch on a hire cycle and end their journey in Birmingham. Simples. Thank you.