Council chiefs’ pay has “got out of hand” – Denham

Source: Local Government Chronicle

John Denham has taken another swipe at council chief executives’ pay, telling the Labour party conference it has “got

John Denham

John Denham

out of hand”.

During his keynote speech in Brighton the communities secretary also re-iterated his pledge to reign in “boomerang bosses”, chief executives who pocket a pay-off from one job before popping up in another shortly after, and said he wanted to limit the “pension entitlements of the very highest earners” in local goverment.

Mr Denham said: “The average pay of local government workers has gone up by £6,000 in seven years. The average pay of the chief execs has gone up by £40,000.

“Don’t get me wrong. These are not bad people. Most have given their own lifetime of public service. But we all know. It’s just all got out of hand. And it’s just got to stop.”

He also attacked what he branded “Cameron’s Councils”- reforming Conservative councils which he claimed: “privatise for dogma. Block new homes, block new jobs and block green power”.

“I’m getting sick and tired of Cameron’s Councils who take Labour investment, claim the credit, for the new home, the new schools and the new play areas and have the cheek to say it isn’t enough – and all the time they are working for a Tory Government that will take it all away,” he said.

He also accused the Conservatives of hatching “secret plans that would double or triple rents for 8m people in council or housing association homes, and put their homes on the line with two months notice”.

Red top goes blue! An end to Labour in Whitehall as well as Stoke?

By Matt Taylor

Now you might think that The Sun is a shameless excuse for a newspaper with nothing but gossip about celebrities who’ve got no reason to be celebrated…but…being the best selling rag in the country it holds some serious sway over the population despite its far from serious outlook on what masquerades as news these days.

Today the most notorious of red-tops revealed that it had swung from favouring Labour, the party it has backed since just before Blair’s election victory in ’97, in a blow which will surely knock Gordon Brown’s confidence in spite of his defiant speech to the Labour conference yesterday.

But don’t dismiss this as the irrelevant ramblings of a tabloid unworthy of serious attention. The Sun, the UK’s top selling newspaper, clocks up a circulation of getting on for three million with estimated readers trebling that. And it has a history of appearing to be able to sway its readers towards one party or the other. In 1997 it burnt its two decade-standing Tory bridges to support New Labour and Tony Blair six weeks before a landslide victory the title
itself among others attributed partly to its ability to affect public political opinion. And previously the tabloid had announced that it was “the Sun Wot Won it” after it declared “If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave
Britain please turn out the lights” over a hard-fought election that saw the Welshman defeated. Even Kinnock himself blamed the Sun for causing him to lose the election to the hapless John Major.

Okay, today it doesn’t command the kind of circulation it once did. But now the Sun supplements its sales figures by topping the online charts too, having recently overtaken the reputable Guardian Online for web-based readers. So this is in no uncertain terms a big thing. And although many commentators along with the indications of polls suggested that a Tory goverment led by Cameron could be winging its way to Number 10, the move by news magnate Rupert Murdoch’s title could spell no way back for Brown or anyone else at the head of the Labour party.

And it’s been a long time coming. The Sun’s own columnist Trevor Kavanagh said that “Nobody can accuse The Sun of a rush to judgement. This newspaper has supported Labour through for 12 roller coaster years”.

The same kind of sentiment can be said for the people of Stoke-on-Trent – except their allegiance to a party which once stood for values they held close to their hearts lasted much longer than the Sun’s twelve years. A Labour stronghold now without any Labour councillors in its decision-making team goes to show just how public opinion has gone against a Labour Party which never delivered its promise the working class who stuck by them so steadfastly.

We already have a Tory in charge here in Stoke-on-Trent, and we’re unsure yet whether anything is (or will get any) better. But would a change back to the blues locally and nationally bring back the fortunes of the country and dispel the fears of many who think the current government has lost its way? Or would things simply go from bad to worse?

New Chief Exec Chosen!

By Tony Walley

UPDATED 21.00 30/10/09:  Chris Harman has left the building!

According to our sources, Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman has tonight cleared his desk, said his goodbye’s and vacated his office. His departure follows the appointment of John van de Laarschott as the new Chief Executive and comes fast on the heels of Interim Assistant Chief Executive Mike Maunders who’s contract was not renewed, as a result he left at the end of last week.

Harman was said to be very disappointed at not being selected for the £195,000 top position. It has been suggested that his appointment would not have been universally welcomed.

The man chosen as the new chief exec for Stoke-on-Trent City Council is John van de Laarschott.

He succeeds Interim Chief Executive Chris Harman who is now expected to leave the Civic Centre in the next few days.

Van de Laarschott has experience in the private sector and is currently the Chief Executive for Torridge District Council in North Devon. He has been chosen from a shortlist of three [including Harman] from 25 applicants. The role carries a salary of £195,000 per year.

The council’s Human Resources Committee spent the last two days conducting the interview process and after lengthy debates the chose Van de Laarschot as the new head officer at the city council.

Mr van der Laarschot was featured in an episode of TV’s Wife Swap back in 2004 and after switching lives with a single mum from East London was branded along with his wife the “Van der Shits” by the mother of two who said they are “plastic people” who live in their “own little bubble”.

So what can this out-of-town troubleshooter do to transform the hopes and aspirations of everyone in Stoke? Or will he be another who comes, takes the three figure salary, celebrates ‘improving’ the council, and moves on to pastures new?

Their recommendation will go before full council on Thursday for ratification.

East West Centre developers reported to be in difficulties – but is it really bad news for Hanley?

By Matt Taylor.

Campaigners are celebrating mutedly after rumours began to emerge that the developers behind the plans to transform part of the city centre into a multi-million pound retail complex are in difficulties.

The project to create the East West Centre in the area which now consists of run-down and boarded-up shops around the bus station was to be redeveloped by Realis Estates, but there is now concern that the ambitious proposals will never materialise, much to the relief of those protesting in order to save the award-winning Coachmaker’s Arms pub in Lichfield Street.

Preserving this most old-fashioned of ale-houses has to be something to celebrate; it’s now one of the most thriving community pubs in the city and to rid the place of a relic which has returned to its former glory under its current tenants would be a nonsensical move.

But is this good news for Hanley, the town which ‘they’ want to call the city-centre? Probably not you would think. But then if the centre was built, would it be a success anyway?

Many are turning their backs on the high street in favour of out-of-town complexes like Festival Park and Trentham Gardens where parking is free, the choice of shops and number of products available is immense and people don’t even have to get off their backsides for too long since they can park just outside the shops.

And in the meantime the council is still putting up parking charges to increase revenue whilst considering attempts to create a ‘free parking space’ tax for retail parks and supermarkets, something they’ll find immensely difficult to push through given the power of some of the chains involved.

On top of that, consumers are getting ever more comfortable with shopping online, from reputable high-street names to invisible companies which no doubt have accounts in some tax-haven island somewhere to avoid the dreaded Revenue and Customs sniffer dogs. By the end of 2011, a Paypal survey revealed that shoppers will be spending one in every 14 pounds online, making the industry worth a massive 21 Billion in Britain alone. And 8.6 million UK adults are already shopping till they drop on the laptop once a week.

Generally, consumers are able to secure the best price by e-shopping, and can research online via reviews and forums before scanning the web for the best deal from the indomitable Ebay, or the once online bookstore Amazon which now provides much, much more and has customer reviews of products as well. Or if you want to stick to a big name you can trust, most household-name stores have online presences which allow discounts for online purchases.

Can you get the same service in town? Definitely not. When was the last time you found a store assistant that actually helped you out and, god forbid, knew anything about the products? That kind of customer service went out of the window years ago, so you might as well trust your digital friends instead.

So would another retail village to add to the existing Potteries Centre have thrived? I very much doubt it. The current complex already has empty stores which could be filled by further fashion stores and shoe shops (two things which it is difficult to imagine will ever be replaced online!). So why would more high-brow companies be attracted by a new building at the other end of the town in a city which is at the bottom-end when it comes to salaries and therefore consumer spending?

Whether one new fangled retail monster could have turned the fortunes of the city centre is decidedly dubious, especially when we consider some of the faltering giants already there: can we really see a distant future for the likes of Marks n Sparks or BHS? Sadly, the fact is that people no longer want to spend more than they have to on a products they can buy elsewhere for less, especially for a brand that doesn’t hold the same prestige it once did.

What hope there is for towns such as Hanley then it is difficult to predict. But suffice to say, shiny great monsters of retail parks full of expensive shops are probably not the answer. I would hasten to argue that in smaller cities like ours, the opposite is the case: smaller, independent shops, selling individual or niche products that are unattainable elsewhere. Replicating the high street in every city with the same old brands just won’t cut the mustard in times to come. There needs to be a reason to come to the town, a Unique Selling Point, something that we’re currently a long way away from.

The problem is, to create a hive of activity in a town centre with shops run by entrepeneurial owners with novel ideas, means somewhere we need to find enough entrepeneurial people with novel ideas. Do we have them in Stoke? I certainly hope so.

New versus traditional media – and plain old spin!

Comment By Tony Walley updated by Mike Rawlins

Comment by - Tony Walley

Comment by - Tony Walley

As you know this site has come in for a fair bit of praise recently at national levels.

This coming weekend we have been invited to a conference to discuss how to advance new media technology.

A week later we have been invited to take part in another high profile conference with some serious hitters and we will give you the details as soon as we can.

I know certain people may accuse us of ‘banging our drum’, and to a point that is fair. You see we know that there is a real prejudice against this site and the type of media we present and to be honest it’s all something of a pain and is most certainly frustrating!

Don’t get me wrong here, this site has a healthy relationship with our local paper the Sentinel and it’s editor Mike Sassi [in my humble opinion he has saved it from closing]. We have a lot of respect for their reporters, who do a great job in what is at the moment, a difficult industry. Newspaper sales are falling and titles are dropping out of existence. I don’t think this will happen to the Sentinel though as many people [me included] still buy and support our local paper and long may that continue.

I get asked the question ‘are you trying to replace the printed press?’ often and the answer is straightforward and honest, – no we are not. We see ourselves as an alternative, a kind of citizen news source. People these days access the news on their terms and want to take part in online discussions and voice their opinions and I feel that sites like these are ideal for that.

We would welcome a better relationship with the communications department at Stoke-on-Trent City Council but fear it will not happen. We get regular feedback that this site is not popular with the head of communications and that he rolls out the old chestnut about us being un-regulated press.

We always strive to write our articles within the guidelines of the Press Complaints Commissions  ‘Editors’ Code of Practice’ and the funny thing is the PCC and the code, bangs on about being self regulatory. I think we regulate ourselves extremely well, that is to say that Matt Taylor does as he has the remit of keeping us on the good side of being naughty. Matt has a journalism degree and a press card and yet it is likely that if he went to a press conference organised by the communications department at SOTCC he would be refused entrance because he would be representing us – pathetic!

The editors code of practice does not cover user content [i.e your comments] yet this is what we get criticised for the most.

Today we have printed an article about Staffordshire County Council streaming their council debate live on the Internet this coming Thursday. Their press department is a lot more inclusive too, as is Newcastle-under-Lyme’s.

Here in Stoke we are lucky if we turn up to a full council meeting where all the microphones in the chamber are in working order!

Why is our local council and in particular the communications department so out of touch and behind the times? Why, in a time when the government wants more community engagement, must we rely on a comprehensive report on this site and an article in our local paper to see whats going on in our city and within our council chamber?

As Pits’n’Pots moves forward and the new site is ready for release [coming soon guys!] we will have the technology to stream live audio over the Internet and possibly video too. We would love to see the council embracing this initiative and to work with us as a partner to get the council debates out to a wider audience. We would also provide a listen/watch again option for people who can not watch or listen live.

Yes it would cost the council some money but nowhere near what it would cost to bring in a film company to do the job for them.

Could I see the council going for this idea? The councillors yes, they would welcome it. The communications department? No definitely not – no way! They have set their stall out on this issue that is for sure.

The sad point in all of these issues is that we as a site could quite easily make the small step to being the online media outlet for the city of Stoke-on-Trent. An alternative news source [which is what we do now], a community radio station with massive local content managed by local people and a video news/feature option too.

We involved in this site have a clear vision of where we want to be, we could use some help, advice and support from our local authority but I can’t see it appearing on our horizon can you?

Our local authority are not allowed to discriminate against anyone, yet the management of our communications department may discriminate against who the hell they like and for no good reason.

While this is allowed to continue this city will witness all those around us to flourish and embrace new media with it’s technology, while we all stand still and watch all that is new, pass us by.

Update 29 September

I thought it prudent to update this post rather than detract from the good news the the City Council has chosen a new Chief Executive.  Once again the Press & Communications department have shown their true colours and not published a press release about John van de Laarschot. Granted the full council need to ratify the decision but non the less the news is out there that Stoke-on-Trent City Council have found a new Chief Executive.  How did the news get out there?  Our sources inside the Civic Centre have told us that the Sentinel were given a private briefing on this story this afternoon.

So once again an officer of the council is allowed to discriminate against us as a news outlet.

Has it stopped us? No, will these childish outdated views about ‘new media’ and in particular our site stop us from providing and alternative source for council news? No, we will continue to do this in spite of the Press & Communications department.

Brown’s last stand


Gordon Brown tried to turn the Conservative agenda of ‘Broken Britain’ to his advantage today with a socially authoritarian conference speech.

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown.

Parents between the age of 16 and 17 being given taxpayer support will be placed in a network of supervised homes, he announced.

“These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly,” Mr Brown said.

Depending on the details, the policy could well trigger protests from civil liberties campaigners.

That suggestion was part of a specific agenda to tackle anti-social behaviour. Mr Brown confirmed newspaper reports that he would instigate ‘family intervention projects’ for “every one of the 50,000 most chaotic families”.

Every young person who breaches an Asbo will receive an order ““ together with their parents – “and if it is broken they will pay the price”.

Put there were measures to reassure civil liberties advocates. Mr Brown promised the conference “in the next parliament there will be no compulsory ID cards for British citizens” ““ although he confirmed ID cards for foreign nationals were here to stay.

He also promised that Brits would not have to put any more information on the new biometric passports than on their previous passports.

There were other promised reforms. Mr Brown pledged to hold a referendum on introducing an Alternative Vote system “early in the next parliament”.

This will appeal to those seeking large-scale parliamentary reform, by ensuring MPs are only elected if they have the support of at least half their voters.

But many will be upset at the implementation of a fairly moderate change, with calls for Alternative Vote Plus, a slightly more far-reaching system, likely to be aired.

The government will also give constituents the right to recall their MP if he or she is caught in illegitimate behaviour – previously a Lib Dem policy.

On economic matters, Mr Brown struck a decidedly left-wing tone, saying he opposed the Conservative idea that markets were self-correcting.

He also launched a direct attack on Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP who went on US TV to criticise the NHS as a “60 year mistake”.

“For us the NHS has not been a 60 year mistake but a 60 year liberation.”

Mr Brown addressed the cuts issue head on.

“I can say today that every change we make, every single pledge we make, comes with a price tag attached, and a clear plan for how that cost will be met,” he said.

“We will raise tax at the very top, cut costs, have realistic public sector pay settlements, make savings we know we can and in 2011 raise National Insurance by half a per cent and that will ensure that each and every year we protect and improve Britain’s frontline services.”

The prime minister did announce some new spending plans during the speech.

Parents of a quarter of a million two-year-olds will be given free child care, paid for by reforming tax relief, Mr Brown announced.

The speech confirmed Labour’s attempt to define the Tories as the ‘do nothing’ party.

He fiercely criticised the party for being obsessed with image, after a passionate ““ and unscripted ““ roll-call of Labour achievements.

“The opposition might think that the test of a party is the quality of its marketing but I say the test of a government is the quality of its judgement,” he said.

Mr Brown was introduced by his wife Sarah, in the same manner as last year.

“He isn’t perfect,” she said.

“He’s messy, he’s noisy, he gets up at a terrible hour. But I know he loves our country, and he will always, always put you for you.”

Pollsters and Westminster observers had all but written off the prime minister, but Labour strategists are hoping the speech could inspire Labour MPs and activists enough to at least minimise the extent of a Conservative victory at the next general election.

But all did not go to plan in the run-up to the conference. Downing Street had hoped a week of international media opportunities would be enough to inject some bounce into Mr Brown’s poll ratings. And yet the media agenda was sabotaged by mishaps and disasters on several fronts.

His trip to New York to address the UN was overshadowed by media claims he had been snubbed by US President Barack Obama.

He saw Shriti Vadera, business minister, resign to take up a role advising on the G20 transition from Downing Street ““ a move which confused many observers and led to rumours she could be laying the ground for Mr Brown to work for an international organisation before the election.

There was continued controversy over the position of Baroness Scotland, who Mr Brown defended against calls for her resignation. Many are now questioning that decision, after her former cleaner, an illegal immigrant, told reporters she had not checked her passport details before employing her.

And questions about Mr Brown’s health have dogged his interviews, with Andrew Marr asking directly whether he took painkillers regularly on his Sunday AM programme. That line of questioning drew angry criticism from business secretary Peter Mandelson yesterday morning.

Despite his well-received speech on Monday, the Labour conference has been a tepid affair so far, with no outpourings of loyalty or significant rumblings about the leadership.

That confirmed the main thrust of an article written for the Observer by chancellor Alistair Darling in which he suggested Labour had lost the will to live.

Mr Brown will be hoping his speech today can change that sentiment before the general election campaign begins.

Children star in “parents” DVD

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Pupils and teachers from schools in the south east of Stoke-on-Trent – known as “Cluster 3″ – are starring in a new DVD which shows parents how they can help with their children’s education.

The short film,” It’s a parent thing”, has been written, produced and directed by schools staff while the fifteen child actors were chosen from a group of fifty who auditioned during a two day drama “master class” run by specialist teachers from Longton High and Belgrave Primary CE Schools.

The DVD is aimed at parents of primary aged children and is packed with ideas to help them support their child’s learning. The film tackles a range of problems parents can face, like encouraging a reluctant child to take more of an interest in learning.

David Eaglestone, a former head teacher who helped produce the DVD, said: “We’ve produced this film because we are very aware that parenting is tough and everybody needs help at some time. Parents often say they don’t know how to help their children so we hope that the DVD will build their confidence to get involved. Research shows that parents make a massive difference to their child’s development if they just show an interest in their child’s learning.”

Cllr Ian Mitchell

Cllr Ian Mitchell

Cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Councillor Ian Mitchell, said: “This is an excellent idea. Children learn best when there is a strong partnership between home and school and teachers really need parents and carers support. It also promotes the idea of getting the whole family “learning together” which can be fun, too.”

The film also points parents in the direction of additional help from “Family Learning” sessions which are available to parents in schools and early years settings around the city.

The DVD will be launched on October 5th and will be distributed FREE to  families through schools in the Meir and Longton areas of the city. Anyone wanting a copy can contact their child’s school or their local Children’s Centre.

View top debate live on Thursday!

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

Staffordshire residents are being urged to tune in to a live debate this week where decisions will be taken on the

Philip Atkins

Philip Atkins

top issues affecting the county.

Thursday’s full council meeting will be webcast ““ giving people the chance to find out the inside story of the county council’s involvement in the Staffordshire Hoard Anglo-Saxon archaeological find.

In addition, discussion will centre on how the county council is tackling the recession, supporting the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux and its stance on proposals to quarry minerals in Staffordshire.

Viewers will not only be able to gain an insight into how the county council is dealing with key issues but also to send in their views on topics discussed, the decisions taken and the webcasting service itself.

County Council Leader Philip Atkins said: “We hope that as many people tune in to Thursday’s webcast as possible so that they can see for themselves the live debate and decision making on important issues in Staffordshire today.

“We want to ensure that our decision making process is accessible to everyone. Putting meaningful information online means we are encouraging public involvement in this process.”
People can watch the full council meeting live at 10am or view a recording later at a time to suit them. They should go to , and click on the “online video” icon on the homepage.

Michael Mansfield QC to speak at Keele University

By Pits’n’Pots Reporter.

One of Keele University’s most famous alumni is to lift the lid on his high profile legal career at a free public lecture.

Michael Mansfield QC, who studied History and Philosophy at Keele in the early 1960s, has represented clients in some of the most controversial legal cases the country has seen, including: Barry George, accused of killing television presenter Jill Dando; the family of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence; the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot by the Metropolitan Police in 2005; and Mohammed Al Fayed, in his pursuit of the truth surrounding the crash in which his son Dodi and Princess Diana died.

Michael was called to the Bar in 1967, established Tooks Chambers in 1984 and became Queen’s Counsel in 1989. He will speak at Keele
University on Wednesday, November 25, at 6.30pm. The lecture will take place in the Ballroom at Keele Hall.

Michael has recently published his autobiography, Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer, which reveals his motivations, meticulous approach to forensic science, cross examination techniques, the political dimensions and his emotional reactions, interspersed with anarchic humour, personal anecdotes and recollections.

Michael’s early days at Keele play a significant role in the book and he praises the philosophy of Keele’s founders.

He said: “In the early 1960s Keele University was unique – the brainchild of AD Lindsay, who had an exciting vision of education. First
and foremost was the kaleidoscope of academic subjects presented to all students during their Foundation Year – prior to any choice of major degree subjects. Alongside this was a dynamic Students’ Union and close knit social life on campus. This cauldron of challenge was a
life-changing experience for me. Thanks, Keele!”

Admission is free but please reserve a seat by calling 01782 734169 or e-mail

Fields of Coal: The Pits’n’Pots Sports Blog

Michael Young - Sports Blogger

Michael Young - Sports Blogger

By Michael Young.

Wigan’s unlikely hero

The town of Wigan has a new hero. It’s not their coach, ex-Swansea boss Roberto Martinez. It’s not even Titus Bramble, Hugh Rodallega or Paul Scharner who scored the goals in their decisive 3-1 win over Chelsea on Saturday. Nor is it the somewhat unfortunate figure of Petr Cech, whose red card-earning professional foul enabled Wigan to take the lead against a team that hadn’t lost since March.

No, Wigan’s new hero is a Belgian-Brit, multi-Olympic gold medallist who almost shares his name with the Latics. He plies his trade not with balls, skis or javelins, but with two pneumatic tyres and a slipstreamed bodysuit that represents an oversized multi-coloured novelty condom.

Yes, he’s a cyclist. He’s Bradley Wiggins who, while discussing on the BBC his probable move to the all-British Team Sky and skilfully managing to avoid all references to the Murdochite satellite company, made the following remark:

“”It’s like trying to win the Champions League – you need to be at Manchester United but I’m playing at Wigan at the moment so I have to make that step up.”

Well step up they did, and as such Man Utd are now top of the Premier League, a fact I suspect will not have gone unnoticed here in the Potteries, coming as it does at the expense of Stoke. Sitting 12th in the league, Potters fans will have the consolation of knowing that it could be worse. They could be Hull fans. Their fellow class-of-2008 promotees may be four points clear of Portsmouth, a team whose only success of late has come at Carlisle in the Carling Cup, but a 6-1 drubbing by Liverpool will have done nothing to break the perennial dourness of Phil Brown. Even as he was doing his Kinnock-esque triumphalist exhibition when they survived relegation by a hair’s breadth, at the back of his mind he must have known just how lucky he was. I wonder however, looking at Newcastle United’s leisurely demolition job of Ipswich, whether Hull would be having a better season down in the Coke Leagues.

Elsewhere this weekend another team representing a capital city playing in blue also lost their 100% record. There were smiles rather than grimaces this time however, as Cardiff Blues, the Anglo/Welsh cup champions, finally won a league match. Losers to such illustrious teams as Connacht (Ireland’s official reserve academy side), the Blues finally got their act together to just about beat the Scarlets, but the West Walians ran them close. So close that I was almost forced to stop playing poker to pay attention.

Switching briefly to the 13-man game, as is the wont of readers of this ditty, I was distinctly amused to find out that Leeds were able to choose who to play in the semi-finals of the Super League playoffs. A novel idea for sure, but not really in keeping with the tradition of sport that opponents are drawn out of a hat, or some other form of headgear. The whole thing stinks of doing it for doing it’s sake, and I’m not a big fan of that.

Things to look forward to this coming week include the Grand Prix Snooker, on which I will be blogging heavily ““ a big Wales v Stoke clash coming with Ryan Day taking on Jamie Cope. There’s Champions League football ““ Man Utd are on ITV this week (ITV having lost one of their matches to Sky, so instead of the balance being 2-14, it’s now 1-15 in favour of Jeff Stelling and co). There’s yet more rugby next weekend, blood-stained Harlequins hosting Bath just one of the fixtures to look forward to. The ICC Champions Trophy cricket tournament carries on in South Africa as well, England already through to the semi-finals after beating Sri Lanka and the Proteas.

Not forgetting of course that this time next week Jenson Button could be world champion. Who’d have predicted that last year eh? Although his dominating early season exploits have been slowly replaced with a more level playing field, it does seem a little like Red Bull are almost letting him win it now. Not to begrudge Jenson’s performances (6th, 5th, 7th, 7th, 5th ““ all solidly just about in the points) but I think the Austrian purveyors of taurine-laced filth that give you wiiiiings have missed the boat a bit. Sebastien Vettel in particular should be ashamed to be 26 down with 30 available. Ah well, that’s Formula One I guess. Promising, yet anticlimactic. Bring back Hakkinen I say.

Ah well dear readers, that brings to an end this edition of Fields of Coal. As always I welcome your comments, and you can e-mail me too ““ if there’s anything you want covered in this sports blog. I look forward to anything you have to offer.