As usual when I return to the UK from a period abroad, I am struck by a number of things.
Firstly, how unbelievably slow and cumbersome our immigration process is (usually because there are insufficient Immigration Officers to deal with the number of people) and what a poor impression it must give to visitors arriving in the UK for the first time.
Now, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to be vigilant, but I do question whether we have got the balance right.
Last year, we arrived at Leeds Bradford Airport on a flight from Tenerife just after midnight.
Unfortunately, two flights had landed at about the same time, so there were around 500 people waiting to go through Passport Control.
There was one Immigration Officer on duty with a trainee who had to keep asking for his advice.
All it took was one difficult case and the whole process ground to a halt.
I am sure you can imagine the degree of impatience on the part of weary travellers, many with small children, who just wanted to get home.
No wonder there are signs all around the Passport Control area threatening you with fines and even prison if you abuse the Immigration staff!
Docking at Portsmouth is not a lot better, but last week, they did at least have four Officers on duty, so things progressed more speedily than usual. Surely we can do better.
I have often wondered how many illegal immigrants they actually find during the Passport Control process or are they all hiding in the backs of lorries?
The second thing is how congested our roads are – driving out of Portsmouth at 7 in the morning is a nightmare.
It does, however, make me very glad that I don’t have to live down there.
As you have doubtless experienced, the roads get quieter once you have passed Birmingham and moved into “the frozen North”!
I have to say, it was a real pleasure to drive over the bridge into the Market Place last Thursday.
The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the town centre was buzzing with people.
It looked like a great place to live – which it is, apart, of course, from the litter.
Which brings me to the third thing I always notice on coming back to the UK – the amount of litter strewn everywhere.
Now, I have written at length on this subject before, but it doesn’t seem to get any better.
As you are probably aware, the Mayor has held a Litter Summit with the relevant interested parties and, in conjunction with the Welcome to Wetherby team, we are to have a Keep Wetherby Tidy campaign, due to be launched in the town today.
As I was wading through my back copies of the Wetherby News, I read a letter from a local resident complaining about the amount of litter in the town and suggesting that the only way to deal with litter louts is to fine them.
Now, you may or may not be aware that dropping litter in a public place is a crime and the perpetrator can be fined between £50 and £80 – if the fixed penalty fine is not paid, a magistrates’ court can impose an additional fine of up to £2,500. The problem is how do you catch people? Of course, in theory, I suppose we should all tackle someone we see dropping litter, but being realistic, I don’t think many of us would do so – confronting someone could well mean putting your personal safety at risk.
We need to make everyone aware of the cost of collecting litter – around £1 billion annually.
Think how many more council services could be offered if such a huge amount wasn’t being spent on street cleaning.
The Keep Britain Tidy charity estimates that this sum would fund 4,400 libraries or 33,200 nurses.
We must educate our children and young people to take pride in their surroundings and educate adults to set an example.
As a start, we have designed a charter which will be distributed to individuals, businesses and schools, setting out our duties and responsibilities.
It isn’t going to be easy, but we have to take action, otherwise the problem will just go on and the situation will get progressively worse.
If you have any other ideas about how the issue can be tackled, please let us know.
Wetherby is a beautiful town and we need to ensure that it isn’t spoilt by thoughtless people.
Having said all that, I am absolutely delighted to be back.
It’s very nice to have a change, but it’s always good to come home, especially when the sun is shining!