Councils still facing £3billion funding gap

Following this week’s publication of the finalised Local Government Finance Settlement, Cllr Howard Sykes, LGA Liberal Democrat Group Leader, said:

“Councils still face a funding gap of more than £3 billion this year. The money councils have to provide local services is running out fast and there is huge uncertainty about how they will pay for them into the next decade and beyond.

“If we truly value our local services then we have to be prepared to pay for them. Fully funding councils rather than smaller “one off” bits of extra funding is the only way they will be able to keep providing the services which make a difference to people’s lives, such as caring for older and disabled people, protecting children, building homes, maintaining our parks, fixing roads and collecting bins.

“Investing in local government services will also help reduce pressure on other parts of the public sector, such as the NHS, and save money for the public purse.”

Bath MP and Liberal Democrat Local Government Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP added:

“This settlement does nothing to address the growing inequalities across our country. The highly regressive council tax system means that, as the Conservative Government continue to underfund local government, subsequent council tax rises hit poorer communities the hardest.

“There must be a reform of council tax to prevent the places with the highest demand for services for vulnerable people, struggling the most to fund it."

Nick Coates, parliamentary candidate for North East Somerset, commented:

“Liberal Democrats demand better than the sticking plaster that has been presented. As Government reduces the revenue subsidy for Councils it means 80% of the 2019/20 budget for B&NES will be spent on social care. Central Government appears to be containing its costs and cutting taxes to appeal to voters. But in reality the pain is passed to local authorities and leads to above inflation council tax rises.”


Holocaust Memorial Day Sunday 27 January

Last September I went with my family to visit Prague. One of the most memorable tourist sites we visited was the Jewish Museum - four synagogues, a cemetery and some exhibitions. One of the most moving parts of the tour was exhibited in the Pinkas synagogue in which the names of nearly 80,000 Jewish victims of the Shoah from the Bohemia are listed by village. Real people being stigmatised, separated, persecuted and then killed.

The holocaust (which we remember on Sunday) was the most devastating period for Jewish people but was by no means new in Europe. We went a couple of years earlier to visit the Ghetto in Venice where Jews were forced to live in a segregated area from 1516. And there are records in Prague of Jews having to wear distinctive clothing, such as a yellow ribbon, from as early as the 10th century.

And still the stigmatisation and prejudice continues shamefully into the 21 century. Let’s take some time on Sunday to talk about these events and others like the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur and to remember, and then undertake to work towards understanding, the eradication of prejudice, the bridging of divisions.

More information can be found about this year's theme 'Torn from home' at https://www.hmd.org.uk/what-is-holocaust-memorial-day/this-years-theme/


What's plan B?

Listening to Chris Grayling last Sunday morning stubbornly – or patiently, depending on your point of view – refusing to elucidate on what a ‘plan B’ might consist of if the vote is defeated on Tuesday, I was inescapably reminded of my mother’s answer to us children when, back in the fifties and early sixties, we asked what was for pudding before we’d even had our dinner. The inevitable response was – wait and see. This summed up for me an essential aspect of the dilemma modern politics finds itself in. People in power – all people exercising any kind of power – have the tendency to treat those within the purview of their power as if they’re children, but they also make the mistake of assuming that means not just not yet understanding what’s what but being in some way incapable of that understanding. Now whilst this is understandable in the case of a harassed parent who is simply moving through her day making the best decisions she can for her children, in a politician it’s lazy and inexcusable and we must always hold them to account.

We live in a time of mass communication, and one of the upshots of this is that the electorate is potentially vastly better informed than at any other time in history. As in the ‘time’s up’ aspect of the women’s movement there is a ‘time’s up’ aspect to politicians being able to hide behind paternalism and not keep the public fully informed as to their thinking and decision making. We are within reach of true democracy, if you like, but politicians have been taken by surprise and many of them have been caught on the back foot and are still there, and these look increasingly foolish to a questioning observer.

To simultaneously say that Brexit is the ‘Will of the People’ and that we would be letting them down if we don’t drive it through, and that those same people are not entitled to know what ‘plan B’ is until our Lords and Masters deign to unveil it, is to keep going along the manipulative path that characterised the whole leaving the EU movement from top to bottom. But more than that, it will misfire, because it’s the politics of patronising people who are just as bright and often more competent than they are themselves. It will backfire on them, on you, Mr Grayling. A massive historical tide is turning in this age.

Whatever anyone says it seems obvious that Brexit is as much about immigration as it is about anything. The shining light of the world this week for me has been the young Saudi woman Rahaf al-Qunun being welcomed into Canada as a citizen. That’s the kind of country we could be.

I know what my plan B would be. Stand up for openness, stand up to xenophobia, stand with our European allies who have not only brought peace to the continent after what’s still one of the most dreadful wars humanity ever fought, but actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for doing so.

Revoke article 50 would be my plan B. Stay in the EU and continue to have the necessary arguments until the end of time if necessary. Jaw jaw not war war.

What would yours be? In the vacuum of this incompetent government it’s up to all of us to think about what would move us forward in the best direction.

 


Does the Government’s long term plan for the NHS deliver what is promised?

There is a big claim at the head of the Government's long term plan for the NHS: 500,000 lives saved. I am always dubious about such large, round number claims, after we are all going to die.

I welcome the extra £20bn, over 5 years, the emphasis on preventative care and the additional funds for mental health - all of which the Liberal Democrats have been pressing the government for over recent years.

  • But with a shortage of 42,000 nurses and 11,000 doctors can the NHS deliver all of what is promised? The BBC reported recently that both Bath and Bristol's hospitals missed their A&E targets for patients to be seen within four hours and for planned operations within 18 weeks.
  • The emphasis on improvements in the use of digital solutions is sensible. But what about those who are excluded already because of low digital knowledge? This may put them further down the pile which is unacceptable. How will we reach such people in an affordable way?
  • There will be genetic testing to identify people at risk. This will also alarm some who are suspicious of government and their private contractors collecting sensitive data about them.
  • And still we wait for the government’s proposals for social care - given the council’s lack of money (80% of the budget goes on social care) this requires a solution now.

So, well done Simon Stevens, head of the NHS, but there remain some big question marks over whether the government can make the rest of this happen.

 


Unlike Brenda from Bristol

Unlike Brenda of Bristol – Not another one! and whilst sympathising with her, I love referenda and elections. For a long moment there is the illusion of a conclusion; numbers and charts and comparisons seem to say, look, we’re here now. The reality of human discourse is that it is endless turbulence and arguing; no two human beings think the same and we have this wonderful, slippery and imprecise tool called language by which we set about trying to explain ourselves to each other, and some of us even expend energy in listening and trying to understand a few other points of view. Then every so often the populace is posed with a question, usually the question of who would you like to see in charge right now but deliciously and rarely something bigger and harder, and the electorate – important to remember who’s excluded from this category - get to answer with their mark and everything’s counted up and we all show more or less of an interest and the results are announced until there’s one, big, overall and overwhelming RESULT!

Unlike my partner, John – and in all likelihood Brenda – who’s happy to sleep as normal and have the changed world revealed over breakfast, I stay up all night for elections, TV on, duvet on the sofa, quite possibly a late night whisky and ginger wine (winter) or gin and tonic (summer) and a three a.m. morale boosting snack. Dozing through some bits, surfing other channels during others, but always returning to the mounting hysteria that is the media’s reporting on the process and the RESULT!

I am in agreement with those who say that another referendum will not put the matter to rest. But my answer to that is; who would expect it to? Is anything ever put to rest? Was it ever at rest before the referendum, with UKIP and Nigel F and the Eurosceptics grumbling away? Of course not. So the fact that a referendum will not put the matter to rest is not an argument against having one. But I tell you this; IF we have another referendum (and I hope – unlike Brenda – that we do) and IF Remain wins it conclusively as I begin to tentatively think we might, I am now old enough and clever enough to think that post-ref, as we re-engage our membership of the EU, whenever I hear those grumbling sceptics I’ll have more understanding and capacity to muster the arguments than I had before June 2016.

If there is a second referendum the country will hold its collective breath; if a general election hoves into view in the next few weeks, hardly less so, although the latter will not settle Brexit, whatever the RESULT.

Right now, if Mr Corbyn could sufficiently gird his loins to table a motion of no confidence in the government, rather than in Mrs May, we might begin to hope for some shift in the log jam, and a referendum or an election soon, before March 29th or with Article 50 put on hold, not too long after.

Which would be preferable? Which would give the greatest chance of my precious EU citizenship not being taken from me? For me, that alone would be a RESULT. Sorry Brenda.


Letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg

Dear Jacob Rees-Mogg

Well you have really shot yourself in the foot now! And continuing the bodily metaphor, you also appear to me to be out on a limb.

You have endeavoured to put the knife in to Mrs May from even before the time, on 15th November, when you threatened her, your own party leader with "As what my right Hon. friend says, and what my right Hon. friend does, no longer match, should I not write to Sir Graham Brady?" Since then the Prime Minister has survived a no-confidence vote from her own MPs with a convincing majority - at least, it is more than 52% so I assume from your perspective it is convincing. Yet you continue to maneouvre to remove her and to increase the chances of the UK leaving the EU with no deal, an outcome which everyone (apart from a small clique of yours called the ERG) realises will be disastrous.

I understand that, at the end of the 1922 committee meeting, you asked if your colleagues had no confidence in you. What followed was a deathly silence.

Certainly the views being expressed at large, including within North East Somerset, suggest that your constituents have no confidence in you. It is time for your confidence to be put to the test - resign from the Conservative party with which you are no longer in tune and let's have a by-election.

yours ready to represent the people of North East Somerset properly,


Public must have option to reject botched Brexit

Today (Tuesday 11 December) Liberal Democrat MPs will continue to argue for people to be given a final say, including the option to remain in the EU. We have been consistent now for over two years arguing that now we know more about the arrangements which are planned post-Brexit that people should have the chance to have another vote. Mrs May despite her protestations that this is the best deal available she has denied Parliament a vote and time is running out.

In a press release issued at the end of last week North East Somerset Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, Nick Coates, has warned that the Tories’ ‘botched Brexit’ will leave people poorer and called for MPs to give the public the final say on the deal.

He said:

The Liberal Democrats have led the campaign for a people’s vote. We know there is no deal better than the deal we have as members of the EU.

Theresa May’s deal, on the other hand, is bad for the NHS, bad for British jobs and leaves the UK a rule taker not a rule maker. It is a deal nobody voted for and nobody wants.

"Can any MP genuinely look their constitutents in the eye and say this botched deal will make them better off."

Mr. Rees-Mogg has played a disruptive role throughout the negotiations and consistently undermined his party leader but neither he nor his ERG have presented any alternative plan. As Mr. Rees-Mogg said in October 2011 "Indeed, we could have two referendums. As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.”

Mr Rees-Mogg should back the Liberal Democrats and vote this deal down.

Nick Coates added:

“Liberal Democrats demand better. The only escape from this Tory mess is to give the people the final say on the deal, including the option to remain in the EU".

 


Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day takes place annually on the 10 December commemorating the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year marks the anniversary of the declaration’s establishment, a document that establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. The document is available in more than 500 languages making it the most translated document in the world, marking its global importance.

Human Rights Day recognises the success of the document whilst realising that the documents promise is yet to be fully realised. There are countries around the world where these rights are not observed, leaving people at great risk. It is important that we stand up for the rights of those in these countries as well as our own rights. Human Rights Day helps to raise awareness of human rights and their importance, whilst putting pressure on non-abiding countries to make a change.

Antonio Guiterres, Secretary General of the UN, said "human rights are under siege around the world. Universal values are being eroded. The rule of law is being undermined. Now more than ever, our shared duty is clear: Let us stand up for human rights -- for everyone, everywhere."

Nick Coates, parliamentary candidate for North East Somerset, said “I long for the day that the equal dignity and worth of every person is taken for granted, but until then I will play my part in fighting for that to happen.

The Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of the International Declaration of Human Rights and fully support the document, realising its relevance now as much as ever.

The events can be followed through the hashtag #StandUp4HumanRights.


Will Brexit lead to the break up of the UK?

When I was a child I used to collect stamps. It was the delight a child takes in the small; tiny colourful pictures of faraway places and their buildings and kings and queens and dignitaries and wildlife. What has stuck in my mind though, is some of the names, places like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. A child now coming across a stamp with the name of Ceskoslovensko on it would doubtless consult Wikipedia to find out that this was a Central European country from just after WW1 in October 1918 to its – happily relatively peaceful – dissolution in 1992.

There it is; nationalism, borders, politics. Avidly watching some of the tumultuous Brexit coverage yesterday I found myself nodding in agreement with the commentator that said that the current ‘deal’ threatens the integrity of the United Kindgdom, and that indeed Brexit always has had this threat inherently within it, something the Brexiteers choose to ignore and dismiss. Straight after the referendum result, in a flurry of trying to get my head round what was happening and could happen, I read an article on the break-up of Yugoslavia, a change of national identity and status far less happily achieved at around the same time as that of Czechoslovakia, and was reminded of how easily groups of people can peacefully co-exist at one moment and be at loggerheads in the next.

When we signed the Good Friday Agreement we (whoever ‘we’ are) on the British side agreed to the equal validity of both sides right to their national identity. It may have escaped the notice of many in the multiplicity of Brexit strands that just about a year ago Mrs May agreed that Northern Irish citizens would retain their right to an Irish passport after Brexit, which confers upon them EU citizenship. So to repeat that; the people of Northern Ireland retain their rights to EU citizenship after we leave the EU.

I have an elderly neighbour who voted leave; we’ve had some lively conversations about it. She’s not stupid but she didn’t have the kind of education or opportunities that would have made her horizons wider, in fact she’s never been abroad. One thing she’s asked me is why I would want to be ‘ruled’ by ‘them’?

To me of course Europeans are not ‘them’, they’re us. I don’t feel ruled by anything other than fellow Europeans. I will feel personally changed and diminished by leaving the EU and I still hope it won’t happen. But I would not be surprised if our leaving leads to continued fragmentation; the loss of Scotland, Northern Ireland, who knows where it could end? Because there’s no end, only continued shapeshifting.

Will my great-grandchildren have to look up United Kingdom on Wikipedia in order to discover what it used to consist of? And marvel that for a brief span of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, there was relative peace and a marvellous attempt to live within Europe with minimal borders and a sense of co-operation and common aims and values across national identities?

Who could possibly think this loss of community is progress?


COMMUNITY POLICIES FOR A LOW CARBON FUTURE

Can our Council still usefully get involved with and spend money on environmental matters? Of course!

Despite many years of centralisation and Government control of budgets:

  • Councils, working with their local communities, are well placed to help build a low carbon future.
  • Councils still have reasonable autonomy in the way they organise their own activities.
  • Councils have the capacity and powers to encourage and influence particular forms of behaviour by their residents and businesses.
  • Councils can help to reduce the adverse environmental impacts of climate change in their communities, usually in partnership with community groups.

But what does this mean in practice?

  • securing local renewable energy sources
  • securing local food supplies
  • using the planning mechanisms to encourage sustainable construction and development
  • building low carbon transport networks, and
  • introducing waste management by encouraging re-use, repair and increased and more consistent recycling schemes.

All of these actions can help build new local businesses and create jobs and hence secure economic, as well as environmental, benefits.

What would your priorities be?


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