Timid? Or Just Complaining Quietly?

Liberal England reports here from Leicestershire:

Leicestershire’s Conservative MPs were busy retweeting this photograph last week.

It shows them and the Conservative leader of the county council Nick Rushton meeting the local government minister Marcus Jones to press the case for more generous funding for Leicestershire.

The Leicester Mercury quoted Sir Edward Garnier, MP for Harborough:

“The difficult financial situation for Leicestershire County Council means that unless we get an improved funding arrangement, the services that vulnerable people need the most will have to be cut. I know the Minister fully understands the case we made and took into account our concerns as Leicestershire MPs and those of Coun Rushton. We will wait to see what transpires over the next few weeks.”

I would love to see a more generous settlement for Leicestershire, particularly if Rushton is right to say that we are the lowest funded county council.

But we are not the only Tory-run county asking for more.

Over to the Shropshire Star and the new leader of the council there:

Shropshire Council leaders today called for Government help to stave off the impact of multi-million pound budget cuts.

Council leader Malcolm Pate and the authority’s chief executive Clive Wright warned that without assistance they face a considerable reduction in the county’s services.

They have urged either an increase in the amount they can raise in council tax or an alteration of the formula by which councils receive central Government funding.

The formula cannot be unfair to everybody, so It looks as though Conservatives are really complaining that central government funding is not generous enough. Even David Cameron has been at it.

And they are right. It is not just the slightly quaint things this blog has a weakness for that will suffer – rural bus services, branch libraries – but central services like adult social care.

If there is a country vs court rebellion in the Conservative party, with their council leaders rebelling against the cuts they are being compelled to implement, all Liberal Democrats should welcome it.

Government cuts are biting – biting hard. And residents in Rochford shouldn’t be surprised if the District Council cut back on services, increased charges, and maybe introduced new charges because we are getting less money from central government. We have some talented council officers (both new ones and long-serving ones) who are coming up up with some rational, innovative ways to gain more income and keep a stable long-term budget. But apparently there’s no appetite at all for the Conservative councillors to complain to their party colleagues in parliament that they have got things wrong. One of us said to a thoughtful Tory councillor yesterday “George Osbourne is throwing local Tories to the lions like the Generals did to the troops in World War One”and the councillor didn’t disagree.

Back when the Council was Lib Dem controlled, we faced a new government policy that would cost us £112,000 in extra housing costs. Our response was to send an all-party delegation, led by Lib Dem Sylvia Lemon to meet with the relevant minister. And we got the cost removed from us.

Meanwhile, in other news, , the Government seems more generous to Google than with councils.

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Did Your MP Vote For Houses That Are Fit For Human Habitation?

The Independent has the following report:

On Tuesday MPs voted down an amendment which would have seen landlords forced to ensure their properties were fit for humans to live in.

The amendment was defeated by 219 votes to 312 – a majority of 93.

… shadow housing minister Teresa Pearce called for the new rules to be added to the housing bill, rules which would require private landlords to ensure their properties were in a fit state…

So how did our local MPs vote on somethihg that would have required landlords to keep their houses and flats fit for human habitation? The Independent has this interactive map to tell us:

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend East) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Rebecca Harris (Castle Point ) voted AGAINST this proposal.
Mark Francois (Rayleigh and Wickford) DIDN’T vote.

housing map independent


“An Astonishing Clause”

The ” Decisions , Decisions., Decisions” blog has an item here about “an astonishing clause” that the government has laid before parliament in the Housing and Planning Bill three days before Christmas. The legal jargon is not easy to follow, but would allow in some circumstances for “designated persons” (private consultants)  to process planning applications instead of the local council. The council would still make the final decision, but the consultants would get the fee..


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Just What IS The Government Proposing?

From the Telegraph today:

Thousands of new homes are set to be built on the Green Belt in the biggest relaxation to planning protections for 30 years.

A new Government consultation proposes to change strict rules that only allow building on the ribbon of greenfield land around towns and cities which prevents urban sprawl in exceptional circumstances.

Instead councils will be allowed “to allocate appropriate small-scale sites in the Green Belt specifically for starter homes”, which are designed for young families, the Government said.

The changes, which were published quietly on Monday, are likely to be seized on by developers which have long coveted the protected Green Belt land.


It’s not clear what impact this would have on our district. It depends on what is meant by ‘small-scale’ and how many ‘small-scale’ sites there could be in a locality. One site of 10 or 15 starter games wouldn’t have much of an effect on an area, but a whole cluster would…


What Happened To Localism?

From the Telegraph yesterday:

Tens of thousands of new homes in greenfield areas in England will be given automatic planning permission amid fears that communities will have inappropriate developments forced on them.

Ministers have quietly given developers the right to be granted “planning in principle” in areas that are earmarked for new housing schemes.

Rural campaigners said the new powers will restrict the rights of council planning officers to ensure that the design, density, size and location of homes is in keeping with local areas.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to protect Rural England, said: ““The country needs more house building, but the way to achieve this is through well-planned developments that win public consent. Imposing development without local democratic oversight is a recipe for discord.

The full article is here.

We think this quote is particularly jarring:

Brandon Lewis, the Housing Minister, said: “Our planning reforms have put an end to the top-down system of the past that pitted neighbours against developers, and instead put power back in the hands of local people.

“The Housing Bill means permission would be granted in principle where land has been identified for housebuilding in local and neighbourhood plans and on brownfield land – but developers will still need to submit details of what they plan to build and how it will look for approval before they can put spades in the ground.

“And with over 80 per cent of councils having published a local plan, and over 100 communities having developed neighbourhood plans, it means millions of people will have a direct say over how their area is developed.”

Meanwhile this article on the BBC website shows how private developers may wish to slow down development on their sites:

Ebbsfleet, in Kent, would appear to be an ideal development opportunity, as estate agents put it.

In the Thames Estuary, it’s just 17 minutes from central London via high-speed rail, the giant Bluewater shopping centre is a short drive away and there’s planning permission for 15,000 new homes in a lovely landscaped setting.

And yet, eight years after construction started, there are only 350 housing units on this giant empty site, which was once four quarries.

That’s partly down to the recession and partly down to the way property developers work.

In a revealing article published last year, Francis Salway, former chief executive of the largest listed property company in the UK, Land Securities, explained that developers don’t relish huge empty sites like the former quarries at Ebbsfleet.

They like “established demand” and “existing communities”, he wrote, which prove people really do want to live there. The developers like to “limit the forthcoming supply” – that is, to ration how many homes come on to the market at one time so that the market is not flooded.

They don’t like long projects which risk being hit by a downturn and they don’t like high “up front” costs – cleaning up sites and building new roads and sewage plants.



If you want to keep an eye on how your MP – or any MP – votes – have a look at The Public Whip website.

It gives you information on when an MP has voted differently to his or her party’s official view on an issue. Plus a lot more information if you look for it…

For example , in Colchester Nick Barlow has just used it to check here on how his local MP voted recently about the issue of VAT on female sanitary protection products… Which is an issue we might come back to next week…


“Slouching Towards Post-Democracy”

Colchester Lib Dem Nick Barlow writes perceptively here about the erosion of democracy. The public face of democracy is till there (elections) – but real control is being taken away from those democratically elected:

…This, of course, is the usual modus operandi for the Tories. Big, bold claims about opening up services, providing choice, freedom and everything else, while actually instituting systems that take power further away from the people than it was before. There’s a huge illusionary trick being pulled off as Cameron and Osborne dazzle the crowd with language that sounds as though they’re giving away power when in reality they’re doing anything but. Under the guise of devolution, power is actually being pulled away from the people, insulated from any direct accountability and the possibility of any real local control.

Consider Osborne’s much-vaunted city regions. How will they be run? Through a board where almost all of the members are indirectly elected and the one that is (the regional mayor) won’t have any structures around them to provide checks and balances or to scrutinise them. Just as we’ve seen with PCCs, you’ll get to vote for someone once every four years and hope that they’re doing what you voted for during that time. Meanwhile, we’ve already been told that any decision to approve an increase in business rates will need to be approved by the unelected Local Enterprise Partnership. LEPs have already been given massive amounts of money to spend outside of any democratic control, and how long before the usual steady creep gives them even more unaccountable power over local decisions?

postdemocracyTo me, it feels like the institutions of post-democracy are being assembled around us, and the key part of post-democracy is that while democratic forms still exist for the public face of the system, they have little say over the operation of power within it. The rhetoric of democracy is being used to introduce systems that hollow out the practice of it, telling people that they are free while gradually removing any of the tools they may have used to exercise that freedom and make power accountable. That’s the prospect being laid out in front of us – no sudden change from one system to another, just a gradual whittling away of power – and if we’re going to confront it, then we need to get comfortable talking abour power.

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An Extra Meeting Of The Development Committee!

There’s an extra meeting of the Development Committee next Tuesday. It concerns the big housing application passed a couple of years back off Hall Road, Rochford. In particular it concerns the amount of affordable rented housing to be provided.

The original plan was for 97 affordable homes in the first phase – about 77 rented and 20 shared ownership. But the Chelmer Housing Partnership can no longer afford to do this, because of a change in central government policy:

hall road

So the developer wants to change the a planning condition to allow 67 rented and 30 shared ownership. You can download the full report here.

On the positive side, its good that the council is bringing this application for a change in conditions to the full committee. (Is that down to the chair, Cllr Seagers?) . On the negative side, the government don’t seem to be doing housing associations any favours at the moment.

As it happens Tim Farron has a very sensible article this week in the New Statesman about defending social housing from the Conservatives’ policies:

… selling off housing association homes does nothing to address the national emergency in housing. The huge shortage of affordable homes in the UK causes millions of people to suffer on a daily basis, with 1.6 million people on social housing waiting lists, unable to get on with their lives. The government’s plans still mean giving huge cash handouts to a tiny minority, while making things worse for many others.

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Monster Win For The Lib Dems At Loch Ness

Sorry, we couldn’t resist the headline…

From the BBC

Lib Dems win Highland’s Aird and Loch Ness by-election

The Liberal Democrats have won a by-election in Highland Council’s Aird and Loch Ness ward.

Jean Davis narrowly defeated her closest rival SNP candidate Emma Knox.

The by-election in the ward, which is represented by four councillors, was triggered by Drew Hendry’s election as an MP for the SNP in May.

He was elected as the new MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, the seat previously held by Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander.

The turnout was 32.35%.

Ms Davis said the victory marked the start of a Lib Dem “fight back” in the Highlands.

It’s a vast council ward, 35 miles from end to end. Last time we came 4th…

million-pounds cash

Important Stuff:Councils To Keep All Their Business Rates

At the moment councils collect council tax and business rates. Broadly speaking, councils keep the council tax but pass the business rates back to Central Government. Central government then gives some of that back to councils as government grants

George Osbourne has announced today that in the future councils will be allowed to keep all business rates from their area. This is going to be a massive change for councils and gives us lots to think about.

Here’s a few early thoughts:

  • This obviously gives councils great incentives to attract businesses to their areas
  • It’s not clear yet how the money will be shared out between County Councils and District Councils. Will Parish councils get anything?
  • It will encourage councils to work harder to promote their town centres – and might discourage councils from increasing car parking charges
  • It all fits in with the recent discussions about having a combined Essex Authority to attract business and infrastructure. If this goes ahead, it will encourage Essex Councils to pool business rates and to work together – so that if there is a new business park in Essex, all councils might benefit?
  • Business rates do hit some small businesses very hard but rents can hit them very high as well!
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    “The 5 reasons Addenbrookes really ‘failed’ – and what it means for the whole NHS “

    A informed resident highlighted for us this article on the OURNHS website – here’s an extract:

    So where did it all go wrong?

    Not just for Addenbrookes – damned by the CQC for understaffing – but for the three quarters of Trusts this week exposed as facing similar problems?

    The Tory led Coalition government inherited an NHS in 2010 that had the highest ever satisfaction ratings and the lowest ever waiting times.

    Under the guise of ‘deficit reduction’, David Cameron promptly set about shrinking public services and creating a ‘permanently…leaner state’, which he admitted in 2013 was an ideological project that would continue regardless of the global economic situation. It is all about selling off the public services we are proud of to his friends in the City.

    Firstly Cameron and Osborne imposed homeopathic increases to the NHS budget year on year.  These NHS budget increases were below inflation – so in essence, cuts. You can’t maintain a decent health care system with below inflation rises – something has to give.

    Second the Tories imposed the disastrous reorganisation on the NHS, the Health and Social Care Act 2012. This put earlier pro-market New Labour policies on steroids, and diverted vast amounts of both energy and cash away from frontline services, into running a the NHS as an expensively bureaucratic ‘marketplace’.

    Thirdly Chancellor George Osborne slashed social care spending by up to 40% and then blamed the local authorities who had no choice but to cut services. Patients were ‘stuck’ in hospital beds unable to be discharged because the social care provision had been cut to the bone in the community.

    Fourthly Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged Trusts to move to a ‘paperless NHS’, as part of the Tories’ ‘digital revolution’. Last year Addenbrookes – the first to adopt US firm Epic’s ‘e-hospital’ system – was being hailed as ‘highlighting how eHealth can have a transformative effect on patient experience and outcomes’. But the system was a disaster – a report in November revealed that A&E performance had dropped by 20% since it was implemented.

    And lastly the Tories imposed year on year pay cuts to every NHS staff member, even as workloads increased due to frontline staff shortages and time wasted on ‘market’ paperwork. To justify their attacks, Tory politicians vilified doctors as lazy and greedy, and nurses as cruel and uncaring. Unsurprisingly, morale plummeted. It was as if they were punishing nurses, porters, midwives for the misdeeds of the bankers, who carried on enjoying their multi-million pound bonuses.

    Right now, they are attempting to impose a pay cut of up to 40% on junior doctors – which looks like it’s about to prompt a massive brain drain of doctors at the start of their career. Morale has never been so low as it is amongst our NHS doctors….

    Full article here.

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    Report From The Lib Dem Conference

    Chris Bailey was one of several local Lib Dems who went to the 2015 Party Conference in Bournemouth held from 19th to 21st September. This is his report:

    Lib Dem members own their Party and the Conference is where members discuss and make policies. This exercise in simple democracy stands in sharp contrast to the Conservative and Labour Parties whose conferences nowadays are just talking shops with no role beyond publicity. We take our members seriously which is why it was great to see so many of them in Bournemouth. Despite the bad general Election result we had a record attendance and meetings were packed to overflowing. Or maybe it is because of the election result – 20,000 supporters have joined the Party since the election, showing their determination to re-build Liberalism in Britain. At this Conference the LibDem fight-back has clearly begun.

    500 of these new members were at the Conference and a number spoke in the debates. And how well they spoke, especially some of the students and young people who have been flocking to the Party. So after a difficult election, the Party has clearly got a great future.

    Policy debates this time covered some areas where Liberals are agreed that there is urgent need for Governments to take action. The need for example, to build more houses that ordinary people can afford, including more houses for rent by Councils, and to stop the Tories crippling Housing Associations by forcing them to sell off their properties at knock-down prices. Other topics included protecting our human rights from the Tories’ plans to tear up international conventions; our campaign for a “yes” vote in the European referendum; attacking the Tories’ broken promises on funding social care for the elderly, and the importance of preserving and improving services for young people, also under threat from savage funding cuts.

    But a topic on which there was disagreement and a closely argued debate was Trident. Although all Liberals would like to see a world without nuclear weapons, some favour scrapping Trident immediately whereas others favour retaining Trident, albeit scaled down, until further multilateral treaties on nuclear disarmament can be agreed. The multilateralists won though it is a subject that will probably come back to Conference in a couple of years.

    In addition to the formal debates, Conference includes a host of fringe meetings where, in smaller and less formal settings, you can hear and question Lib Dem celebrities such as Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Paddy Ashdown and Ming Campbell, or hear charities and think-tanks pressing their cases.

    There are training sessions on a wide variety of campaigning issues and on a lighter note, a quiz (our team came fourth out of about twenty) and the Glee Club – an exercise in community singing with an emphasis on political and satirical songs which goes on until 2 in the morning for those with sufficient stamina!

    There was a moving tribute to former leader Charles Kennedy. Although he had a lower profile in recent years he had been a regular attender and speaker at Party Conference. His thoughtful, principled and down-to-earth approach had always made him a Conference favourite.

    But the climax is always the Leader’s Speech at the close of conference. And Tim Farron delivered a cracker which certainly brought tears to my eyes in a way that no Leader’s Speech has done before. I can’t do justice to it in a few words and I recommend that you watch it in full on iPlayer But he reminded us why we are Liberals and why the values that the Party has always stood for matter so much today. I know I made the right choice when I voted for Tim Farron to lead the Liberal Democrats.

    To watch Tim’s speech on iPlayer, follow this link and go to coverage of the Conference on 23 09 15 (it begins about 3hours 15 minutes in).
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06dwt5p/liberal-democrats-conference-2015- Continue reading “Report From The Lib Dem Conference”