Though the weather was a little unkind to us this year it was another brilliant Airbourne, and as usual many different people stepped up to make it work.
Of those who do a superb job over the four days - it would be pretty messy without them - are our street cleaners. They spend a huge amount of time and effort keeping on top of the mountains of litter left by tens of thousands of Airbourne fans on the seafront. Emptying the bins up and down the seafront constantly through the day they tell me around 30 tons of litter are collected during the whole four day event. That’s an awful lot of rubbish! Their co-ordinator is Richard Westgate. Top man who I’ve known for a long time. I caught up with him and a few of his team to thank them for all that they do on behalf of our town. A great bunch of hardworking people who care passionately about Eastbourne and do their very best to keep it looking good. Please take the time to thank them when you next see any out and about. It’s a tough job and I am grateful for their, sometimes, Herculean efforts on our behalf. I enjoyed a good walk-around on the Friday and Saturday, down from Western Lawns to the other side of the pier, and it was good, as always, to experience the unique Airbourne atmosphere; packed yes but also very pleasant and friendly. That’s sadly not always the case when such an enormous crowd comes together but it is in Eastbourne, which is a tribute to the town. Spending a few hours with the collection bucket is another good way for me to see first-hand the mood of the vast audience, and very happy and generous they were. It really is a brilliant day/weekend out for families from far and wide. Thanks to all those others who also stepped up as volunteer bucket collectors and to Sovereign Harbour Rotary Club for organising the bucket logistics. Airbourne costs the council (you/us - Eastbourne residents) a lot of money to put on, and for it to remain free. As it should be. It now has to be one of the biggest free air shows in Europe, which is really saying something about its success. Well done Eastbourne events team - you organised another great show for us all. Thank you.
It was also good to be out first thing Monday morning after the event with my wonderful office team to do a beach clean. The positive news is the Airbourne litter-awareness message is clearly getting through. Only a few years ago the beach would have been absolutely covered in detritus. We still had a fair bit to pick up but it was nothing like as bad as it used to be. Progress, my friends, comes one small step at a time.
You may have heard recently that the school teachers’ review body (STRB), which advises the government on pay, recommended an across-the-board 3.5 per cent pay rise for teaching staff in order to boost recruitment and retention. However, you may not have read that in fact many of them will receive less because the government refused to accept the recommendations in full. These were that school leaders, as well as teachers, should also receive the 3.5 per cent rise. Furthermore, and this is the rub, schools will have to fund the first one per cent of any pay rise out of their own over-stretched budgets leading to, inevitably, more cuts to teaching staff. So, fewer teachers, bigger classes and more pressure on teachers as well as disappearing teaching assistants. I work closely with our local schools and they do an absolutely fantastic job but their budgets are under strain - they really are - so this smoke and mirrors announcement is just plain wrong. Meanwhile, the government announces there is to be even more money to fund additional grammar schools, a further £200 million, whilst our schools have their budgets cut in real-terms. Not a good look in my opinion.
A mix of denial, incompetence and cover-up by the powers-that-be: a strong statement certainly but true, and all eventually exposed by one remarkable Eastbourne woman, Mrs Gillian MacKenzie. I had a catch-up with her the other day to discuss the news that the government had finally announced there is to be a criminal investigation into the shocking events which happened at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital all those years ago. Where at least 456 elderly patients died in suspicious circumstances. Gillian has doggedly been trying to get to the truth for 20 years, often in the teeth of a recalcitrant establishment. It’s been a privilege for me to campaign alongside her for the last decade, after she first came to me for help in exposing what was, effectively, an appalling cover-up. Since Bishop James Jones’s explosive report proved her right, I’ve been lobbying for the government to instigate the criminal inquiry and as this has now been agreed, it was a timely opportunity for me to brief Gillian on likely next steps. My first priority I told her was to arrange a meeting with the Deputy Chief Constable from the Kent Force who has been charged with leading the criminal investigation, so that I could get an understanding of the investigations remit and timeline. I promised her that once this has been done, she’ll be the first to know.
That’s it folks. Have a great Bank Holiday weekend and I hope to see you around town.