Tag Archives: politics

Why I’m saying YES to AV

Some months back the Labour party used AV  to to elect Labour’s new leader.   We Lib Dems have used the process to elect our leaders for a while.  In Suffolk last week,  the Conservative party used AV to elect Mark Bee  as their new leader. The Oscars have moved to AV to vote for Best Film.  Colin Firth, Steven Fry, Joanna Lumley, Helena Bonham Carter,  Honor Blackman, Kriss Akabusi, Amisha Ghadiali, Eddie Izzard, Greg Dyke, Rowan Davies and Martin Bell are all saying Yes to AV.  I am supporting AV, come to that. AV is clearly seen as a fair and intelligent way of  exercising democracy- so why do we in Britain still elect our MPs with the  discredited First Past the Post system?

The answer’s simple: it’s convenient for the MPs. The First Past the Post system keeps people in power without them having to work for it. No wonder so many people in Westminster are reluctant to change!

Every  time there is an election in Britain, people notice the tiny proportion of votes that the winners have gained and comment on how unfair this is.  In 2010 most MPs were elected with less than a third of the votes. The Electoral Reform Society has been campaigning to update Britain’s undemocratic electoral system for over a hundred years – and have long argued that AV is the best system when you’re out to elect a single winner.

In May, at long, long  last we finally have the chance to scrap our broken system and replace it with a better one that will see politicians having to work harder for our votes. See the Yes to fairer votes site to see a video which shows how easy and fair the AV system really is

And remember to vote YES on May 5th

For more information see my fuller briefing on AV:  No more wasted votes? then say YES to AV

SCC’s new Leader – where do we go from here?

Most of Suffolk must be as relieved as I was at Monday’s election of  Mark Bee as future Leader of Suffolk County Council.  Mark, who replaces Jeremy Pembroke, was elected in the first round of the Suffolk County Tories’  AV style election process, by a significant majority.

The first signs are  in many ways encouraging: Mark was not in the Cabinet , not  tainted with creating any of the lunacies of the New Strategic Direction,  not on the committee that appointed the Chief Executive. Indeed he has shown every sign of being Suffolk County Tories’ quiet voice of reason.

However, we cannot forget that all Conservatives , backbench as well as front bench,  voted  for every single New Strategic Direction proposal at full council.   It is hopeful that Mark Bee should say

” if we are to expect others to help, we have a duty to listen to them in return, to hear their concerns, and to build solutions together, at a speed that we can all follow… That is why I’d like the time between now and the council meeting on May 26, to be a time for reflection and review.”

That any member of the current administration – let alone the Leader elect  – should be officially sanctioning the listening and hearing of Suffolk  people’s concerns is refreshing!   Personally I do hope the portfolio-holder in charge of libraries will take heed.

But at the moment  Mark Bee continues to maintain  that “the direction in which we are heading is the right one“.  He hasn’t yet – despite the Evening Star’s headlines – actually gone so far as to ‘save ‘ the school crossing patrols.   All he has said is  that “in the areas where the patrols are most needed, we will look to continue to fund these, unless or until a suitable alternative arrangement has been found.”

This is far from being the same thing.

Mark says he wants to spend the next few weeks in reflection and review – hopefully about many of the most contentious of recent cuts forced on us by Suffolk County Council’s NSD  (all of which we Lib Dems provided alternative costings to retain back in February)

  • Will school crossing patrols be reprieved? Suffolk received more petition signatures about this than any other petition in the history of the council!
  • What hope is there for the libraries? The so-called ‘consultation has – so far – been a thinly veiled arm-twisting of local communities to take over these, or lose out.
  • And how about transport? The cutting of the Explore card, halfway through the school/college year has already caused extreme hardship amongst the young  and poor – particularly the young and rural poor who are seeing additional barriers in the path of  aspiration and education.  Not only to them, but to their parents. Similarly the ‘working hours only ‘ demand-responsive solution to cutting scheduled service, and the new conditions being placed on concessionary travel card holders are causing huge hardship for people without other choices in the countryside.
  • Will Mark Bee reflect on problems such as these, and having reflected, have a Damascene conversion?

Now, wouldn’t that be lovely!

WE can save Suffolk Services!

Libraries, crossing patrols, eXplore cards – many of Suffolk’s vital frontline services could be saved, if you just look at the budget figures with the right mindset.  Not that the Conservative administration admit this – they have told the people of Suffolk that there is ‘no alternative’ to cutting or divesting these – and many other  – valued services.  We Lib Dems say they are wrong!

Indeed, we have laid out in detail how the council’s upcoming budget could be reorganised to save these services at no extra cost, despite the cuts to central government grants!  Coverage in local news was incomplete so the full list is below. We propose to:

  • Keep all libraries open
  • Retain school crossing patrols
  • Retain funding for youth clubs
  • Maintain subsidised bus services to rural communities
  • Keep the eXplore student discount travel card
  • Reopen Ipswich Bury Road Park and Ride service
  • Keep open all Suffolk Household Waste Recycling Centres by reducing hours (on Mondays and Tuesdays)
  • Retain Fire Control within Suffolk
  • Keep Felixstowe Fire Station as full-time on weekdays and retained at weekends
  • Retain the Fire Service’s Ipswich Aerial Appliance
  • Retain checking overloaded lorries to protect roads and people

As my group leader Kathy Pollard puts it

“Unlike the Conservatives, we have been listening to Suffolk people. It has not been difficult to identify the savings we needed to retain these services. It is a question of priorities.  Clearly the Conservatives at Suffolk County Council are determined to close and privatise as many services as possible. This is ideologically driven and is not being imposed on them by central Government.

It is also very unfair to expect parish and town councils to pick up the extra cost  (for example) of running libraries. They would have to increase their parish rate considerably and people would effectively be paying twice for a service which under statute should be provided by the County Council.”

Lib Dems are suggesting  savings can be made by: Removing one Director and two Assistant Director posts; and  reducing business mileage by 10% (which would save more than £900,000 per year ); external room hire; the “Management of Change” budget; reserves; the Cabinet to 8 from its current 10 members; the road maintenance budget (this will not affect emergency repairs); and variousmanagement and other costs in the Fire Service

    Although we have confirmed these figures with council officers, Jane Storey, deputy leader disagrees with us.

    Of course she rather HAS to disagree. If she doesn’t, she has to address head-on the  peculiar priorities in funding that this council  proposes at this time of huge fiscal constraints. Why, for example, do the Tories stop at proposing libraries and school traffic patrols be run by volunteers?  A school crossing patrol person gets paid £35 a week.  Our Chief Executive ( the UK’s SEVENTH highest paid County/London borough Council CEO) gets £4192 a week – and that’s before the generous pension payments she gets added on top.  Indeed, why stop there? the county council has a number of high salaried posts that could be divested with huge ease (I suspect) to volunteers – people whose only interest is the good of the county, rather than their personal enrichment.

    We already know there are a lot of highly qualified and public-spirited people in Suffolk who are prepared to volunteer their services, Jane. You’re very  prepared to used them for less high-status, more practical,  replacements to modestly paid workers.  Why not think a bit more divergently and use them to replace senior executives if they have the background! THAT’s where you’d REALLY make the savings!

    But sadly,  if you suggest this to our Tory administration (and I have) you only get an incredulous laugh. Clearly, in some peoples’ minds, there are some SCC posts which are too highly-salaried to be divested.  Yet (I fain would ask) WHAT does a County Council Chief Executive actually DO?  I can tell you pretty simply what a lollipop person does, or a librarian or a bus driver. But a Chief Executive?

    Cynically I suspect that only administrators truly value administration. People like me, long-time housewives and carers, balancing a budget  with too many mouths and not enough cash, feel that any sensible housekeeper can learn to cut their coat to the cloth available, without losing the services they need for those they care for!

    Maybe the difference is in the words ‘care for’?