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’?

    The EPILEPSY Bill needs you to write NOW!

    late last year,the first reading of a Ten Minute Rule Bill for epilepsy took place in the House of Commons. We now need your support to make this law!

    The bill is called the Ten Minute Rule Bill on Epilepsy and Related Conditions (Education and Health Services) –  Bill 112, for short.  It  will mean that health and education departments will have to improve services for people with epilepsy and related conditions. This would lead to benefits for the manypeople with epilepsy whose lives are adversely affected by poor health or education provision.This in turn would benefit everyone.

    Nearly half a million people  the UK have epilepsy with three people dying from epilepsy-related causes each day:  more than the total of Aids-related deaths and cot deaths combined.

    There is an “alarming” rate of failure in diagnosing the condition and better specialist care and treatment is needed, says MP Valerie Vaz who proposed the bill.

    A Ten Minute Rule Bill is a potential new bill for consideration, proposed by an MP who is not a member of government. Although not many Ten Minute Rule Bills make it into law, it can happen if the government agrees with the cause or is happy to absorb it into other bills it is passing.

    Having passed the first reading, a second reading of the bill has been scheduled for 4 March 2011. The second reading is when these kinds of Bills normally fail. And so both Epilepsy Action  – and I  – are asking your help to make sure this bill is given the time to be heard in Parliament.

    Please write to the Prime Minister, David Cameron at 10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA.

    Remind him that a second reading of the Ten Minute Rule Bill on Epilepsy and Related Conditions (Education and Health Services) (Bill 112) has been scheduled for 4 March 2011;

    Ask him to find time for this important bill;

    Tell him of  any experiences you may have of epilepsy, either as someone who has it, someone who cares for someone who has it, and/or in the wider context of life in Suffolk . How does epilepsy affect you? How good or bad have you found the services for epilepsy ? What is your experience of the education system and epilepsy? What problems are faced by people who have epilepsy in your school? on public transport? in your workplace?

    Although nearly half a million people in this country have epilepsy, it remains a Cinderella condition – kept hidden, inadequately recognised and poorly funded. People are often anxious to keep this condition secret because they fear stigmatisation, ostracism and discrimination. Yet 70%  of people with epilepsy are seizure free and leading ‘normal ‘ lives.

    Statistically, there should be at least 4 MPs currently in the House of Commons who have it -and 30 more who will have/have had a seizure at some point in their lives. Yet it was only in this parliament that Paul Maynard became the first MP to be open about having epilepsy!

    Suffolk has no specialist epilepsy care within the county – meaning that patients need to travel outside to specialist units. As a result simple changes and ‘tweaks’ to medication (ones that could make the difference between a person functioning and non-functioning in society) may need a six or seven month wait for an appointment to discuss. If the tweak or change is unsuccessful there will then be another wait  to report back, another wait before a new medication is assessed etc. Gaining control of the condition may therefore take years without good cause, years in which the patient and those around them become prey to lower and lower expectations.

    As a result local hospital doctors may then have an unduly limited expectation of outcome (suggesting social care solutions rather than addressing the health problems of patients with epilepsy).

    And epilepsy impacts on more than just health.  50% of students with epilepsy fail to reach the academic level predicted by their IQ, with effects that can be life-long. This is because a good educational outcome for  students with epilepsy is not just about medical care and risk assessment, but also ensuring that schools and teachers manage the impact that the condition/ medication has on learning.

    While some good employers accommodate an employee’s epilepsy – and let’s remember three things here:

    1. 70% of people with epilepsy are wholly controlled by medication
    2. epilepsy is a disability and people who have it should not be discriminated against
    3. a diagnosis of epilepsy per se has no impact on intellectual attainment or ainnate capacity

    it is surprising how frequently epilepsy is linked with joblessness

    Indeed, when my own daughter was due to do work experience in Y11, no workplace could be persuaded to offer her a placement – with the noble and notable exception of the Hospital Education Service at Ipswich Hospital .

    Yet how can anyone learn to support themselves unless they are ‘allowed’ to work?

    It costs the health service, central government and local authorities an extraordinary amount of money to support young people with epilepsy to an often low level of attainment. Yet unless they are supported to improve on this they will cost the health service, central government and local authority a great deal more over subsequent years. This is a waste on many different levels and is no benefit to anybody in the equation. Yet what is needed is not more financing, but greater awareness and more appropriately targeted support as laid out in this bill.

    Please support this bill by contacting David Cameron NOW!

    Cuts in Suffolk – don’t ever forget who’s holding that knife!

    As your county councillor I am horribly anxious about so many different  things simultaneously.  

    This week  its been the almost certain loss of Suffolk’s libraries, school crossing patrols, care homes, bus services, the eXplore card, and services for families  that has  been most worrying me.  That, and the impact of these losses on the people of Suffolk.

    For clearly, Suffolk residents are  likely to be losing all of these, losing them irrevocably, sacrificed to the ideological insanity of an ‘enabling’ council, run by affluent, untroubled  people who say:  “Do as I say, not as I do!”   It is  a Topsy Turvey world where those who run it can demand  pay moderation, job cuts, and employment freezes for everyone else but themselves;  can parrot the mantra of “Greenest County” and drive everywhere in a 4×4; can declare themselves determined to protect ‘the most vulnerable’  but do not include in this category the elderly, the very young, the disabled , or the disadvantaged.  

    Pah!  

    However,  I would urge you not to confuse national policies with our current disgraceful  local vandalism. For a start, such confusion could – no, WILL –  let those responsible off the hook! The New Strategic Direction has been a long time in the planning. It is making cuts greater than required in services the administration doesn’t value. A cynic would suggest that it is using the national situation as a cover for doing so.

    Remember, in Suffolk the Liberal Democrats are not in any kind of coalition – they are very strongly the opposition party.  And as you know, both I and my colleagues have been fighting these cuts from the day they were first heralded, back in last September. Let us be clear here – although we are in opposition,  Suffolk Lib Dems are fighting this New Strategic Direction as a matter of common sense rather than party-political politicking.  We are fighting it because the effects will hit people of all ages, and backgrounds and political hue.

    We – like any sane, sensible people – think there IS such a thing as society, and that  actually in Suffolk we had – till recently – a society that ran quite well. One that looked after its old and its sick and disabled, that tempered the wind to the shorn lamb. We think a  County Council should respond to its residents and their needs:  that the council is there to represent  and protect them and serve them. We are not so arrogant that  we forget that SCC  is paid for by the people of Suffolk, out of their own money! We feel that those who pay the piper should be allowed to call the tune!

     The council’s current bizarre ‘New Strategic Direction’ (which seems to combine ‘selling off of the family silver’ with dumping some of it in a skip) does not seem to think  this way. Far from intending to deliver ‘the best’ for the people of Suffolk,  the NSD  does not intend to deliver anything at all!

     Care homes, libraries, bus services and school crossing patrols:  all of these are not just ‘optional extras’ to be dispensed with and disposed of  by those who do not use them (and seemingly fail to remember they do not own them).  Yet there is such a thing as society in Suffolk, and all these services are ones that make you proud that it still exists.

    Suffolk County Council is cynically using the cuts in central government grants to justify what it plans to do, but central actions (whatever we think of them) do not in any sense explain what is being done here in Suffolk.  The Coalition government is not going to win any popularity contests while trying to recoup the eye-watering deficit bequeathed by Gordon Brown and the last thirteen years.   However it should not be expected to carry the can for the ‘scorched earth’ decisions being made – without reference to the public or even a business plan – by those who have created the ‘New Strategic Direction’.

    But the CEO and the Tory administration at Suffolk County Council are not the only people to blame for this mess. There’s also the sheer apathy of all too many of the people of Suffolk to factor in!    

    In late October/November last year I  – together with many other colleagues – trudged around a large area of Suffolk Coastal delivering 23,000 copies of an emergency leaflet which tried to alert the people of Suffolk to what lay ahead. 

    The administration accused us of ‘scaremongering’ – yet our direst predictions were less terrible than the truth.

    We did our best and gained a huge amount of support from those prepared to listen – but it was not enough. Far too few people took notice. Some hoped it wouldn’t  really happen under a Tory watch, others hoped to regain popularity for the Labour party by standing on the sidelines and letting our society crumble, others  just hoped that the problem would go away if they shut their eyes and buried their heads in the sand.   

    So, once again I urge you to put aside party-political differences and take action!  After months of refusing to listen to the people it represents, Suffolk County Council has finally  put up an e-petition site. Register on it and add your name  to an existing petition or  start a new one. Or best – do both!

    http://petitions.web-labs.co.uk/suffolkcc/public/

    You can sign any petition – the only qualification is that you need to live, work or study in Suffolk (for example, I have signed all the Library petitions as I believe in an integrated service for the county) but current petitions that particularly affect you are :

    Save our School Crossing Patrols – the St Mary’s School Woodbridge lollipop man is going to be cut along with the other 97 lollipop posts across Suffolk, to save a sum of money that equates to to less that 80% of the Chief Executive’s annual salary!

    Save Woodbridge Library: it will not be closed –  but it is still in danger of ‘divestment’.

    Save Woodbridge Buses  Cuts – confirmed yesterday – to SCC subsidised services will leave Woodbridge without any evening, sunday or bank holiday bus services, plus cut easy links to other towns and villages. This will cause huge problems to those who can’t, don’t, or can’t afford to drive 

    Save the Explore Card  Up till now young people have had this card to help with travel costs to post-16 education, to work and to find work, and for socialising. Explore cards were available free to students 16-19, and have enabled them to pay only half adult fares on buses and on many off-peak rail journeys. Additionally, the SCC post-16 transport policy relies on the fact that all post-16 students can have an Explore card to help with fares – and a very good thing too!. The proposed abolition of the card would mean there will be more cars on the road because many more young people will be driven or drive to school, college, employment etc. It will put more, less confident cyclists on busier roads. It will lead to less take-up of FE education because of difficulties of access. It will harm young people’s chances of going for job interviews and training. The proposed abolition is a retrograde step that threatens the very education and employment opportunities that our young people need in order to help us out of our current economic crisis. It also makes a mockery of our ‘Greenest county’ aspirations 

    (NB: A word of warning sometimes the e-petition links work poorly. If so , go to the site and navigate from there! And if it doesn’t work, keep trying until it does.)