Author Archives: Chris White

Opinion: We can’t afford not to pay for social care

I had a visitor the other day – a resident who was her husband’s carer. Neither was elderly and she was coping remarkably well. I am honestly not sure I could perform her role. I suspect many of us couldn’t.

She had no complaint to make but instead wanted me to understand – for the purposes of local and national policy – what caring looked like in terms of costs. The simple point is that the care she provides comes cheap. She does most of the work so the local authority delivers only respite care at some thousands a year. But were she older, frailer or even simply smaller in stature this would not be possible. And then the cost of care would escalate as it fell to the state to provide it. Ultimately it would reach a six figure sum. Per annum.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 7 Comments

Opinion: Getting serious about localism

Local growth deals are a good thing. Of course they are. How could they not be? Now what are they again?

The mechanics of government finance never cease to amaze or bore. But we do need to care because when it comes to devolution, it’s a question of ‘follow the money’.

There are in fact, according to a Local Government Association report last week, 124 funding streams for local growth and regeneration. These are spread across 20 Government departments and agencies and account for a total of £22 billion, all to be spent in your local area on your local things.

So when the Government announces it is devolving £2 billion on LGFs, context becomes rather significant. As does the essentially pointless complexity, worthy of an abbey full of medieval theologians.

Those in the know are fully on top of the difference between the Custom Build fund, the Community Right to Build fund, the Beds in Sheds fund, the New Homes Bonus and the Decent Homes fund. And the difference between the Linking Places fund, the Local Pinch Point fund, the Local Sustainable Transport fund and the Better Bus Areas fund. I could go on. But I promise I won’t.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 17 Comments

Opinion: Gove’s A Level reforms risk pushing many universities out of reach

I am not from the educational establishment and, having seen two daughters through state schools, I have plenty of zeal for major reform.

But that reform does not encompass sending a copy of the King James Bible to every school nor yet banishing the Arts from the nation’s principal academic qualification.

In so many ways Michael Gove uses the same techniques as his colleague Eric Pickles: pander to the right wing press, eschew evidence based thinking, make a splash.

The AS level announcement this week is just one more example. I didn’t have the option of AS levels. I sat O-levels in a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 32 Comments

Opinion: Pickles pensions off councillors

The winning Kendal Town CouncillorsSome of you may have heard this brief anecdote before.

Some years ago a civil servant appeared in St Albans attempting to sell some ‘new’ ideas from the Government of the day about local government. He stood up before various district and county councillors in Hertfordshire and announced that ‘in future the Government wanted councillors to represent the people to the town hall rather than the other way round.’

He said it without malice or irony and as a result was not lynched – turning up some years later to dismantle the Audit Commission.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 25 Comments

Opinion: Bringing modernity to local government

‘What is the matter with these people?’ is probably the reaction of many in Great Britain when observing the escalating violence in Northern Ireland in relation to – well – just a flag.

Although it is true that it is currently unlikely that there would be mass demonstrations on English streets over what flag was flown over the town hall and when, it is remarkable how few councillors really pause to think about the symbols used in their own councils and the potential effects on the people they aim to represent.

I did a quick audit of the two councils which put …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 4 Comments

Opinion: we must campaign to win in every election

Those of us who have been around a while will remember fighting nationwide elections we knew we couldn’t win. European elections were always like this until the nineties, when we suddenly made a (minor) breakthrough even before PR voting was introduced.

So in the scheme of things Thursday’s PCC elections were nothing new.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 29 Comments

Opinion: Planning rules

Those of you who have worked your way through the conference agenda and Conference Extra will by now have reached the emergency motions (page 28, since you ask) and will notice that there are four in the ballot: banks are awful, Julian Assange is awful, teacher qualifications are under threat and ‘what have you done with our planning system?’

I paraphrase unfairly, of course. All tastes are clearly catered for and you can make your own mind up about which to vote for if you are at conference.

The planning one (which I have something to do with) is a mild rebuke to government and unusual because ALDC, its sponsor, rarely uses its rights to propose motions. Its mild tone perhaps masks the considerable anger at grass roots level: on 6 September the Government made various announcements about relaxing planning rules, claiming that these will help kickstart the economy. In summary these are

Posted in Conference, Local government, News and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

Opinion: Don’t complain – walk out!

The story of UK banks is the one that just keeps on giving.

While we may be shocked by the LIBOR scandal (even though – let’s face it – we don’t really understand whether we have lost out or benefitted by the bankers’ manipulations) and stand aghast at various episodes of mis-selling and worse, what really matters to you and me is the service provided, well, to you and me.

If I complain about a bank will anything actually happen? Is there actually anyone there to complain to? Or someone who actually gives a damn?

All of us grumble to each other but …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

Opinion: What is keeping councils awake at night?

The Local Government Conference met in conference in Birmingham last week.

I am slightly (only very slightly) embarrassed to confess that I have attended every conference since the LGA was created in 1997. In that first year the conference (in Manchester) ran from Tuesday until Friday. There was a gala night on the set of Coronation Street (this is apparently a television soap opera for those of you too busy each evening with your politics).

John Prescott and Gordon Brown turned up to praise the new body’s birth and the role of local government (delicious irony in hindsight), John Bird and John …

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 5 Comments

Opinion: Nick Clegg – the Great Communicator

There is a strand in the Party which says that it’s all Clegg’s fault: ‘I don’t agree with Nick’. If only he would move on, all would become well electorally.

This misses many points: first, the Party is not a one man band; nor is the Government.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 37 Comments

Opinion: time to talk about things that don’t matter

Now, before I start, let me be clear: I am not an atheist and in fact find atheism’s certainties as puzzling as those of fundamentalists – the latter are certain that God exists and the former that he does not. Quite how, after centuries of Enlightenment philosophy, there are adherents to either point of view is beyond me.

Anyway: I go to Church, have doubts, fall far short of my ideals. Sorry.

Last week there was a High Court judgment against Bideford Town Council. In a nutshell it said that prayers should not form part of a council meeting.

I belong to two …

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Chris White writes: The next local elections after May this year will be in November.

It is likely that a number of our cities will, by Government diktat, be holding referendums in May as to whether to move to a mayoral system. Some of these will give the go-ahead and Liverpool is anyway likely to jump straight to a mayoral system by use of a council resolution. The mayoral contests will be on the same day as those for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).

There are still some who, in relation to PCCs, are fondly imagining that Liberal Democrat candidates won’t be needed. This is despite the fact that it abundantly clear that the Conservative and …

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

Opinion: What happens if Salmond loses the independence referendum?

There are clear signs that support for independence in Scotland is volatile and that the current debate is weakening it. Issues, such as defence, uncertainties over any financial settlement – not least because RBS is as Scottish as a glass of Glenmorangie – plus the normal fear of voters faced with a big step into the unknown, will all conspire between now and 2014 to make victory less and less likely.

So the residents of Scotland (including many who would describe themselves as English) may well say no. What then? Does the issue fade away?

In Scotland there would have to be …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 18 Comments

Opinion: Ever greater centralisation is not the answer for failing schools

“Troubleshooters are needed to spot failing academy schools around the country and sack incompetent headteachers, the new chief education inspector has said.” So reported the Daily Telegraph on 28 December. The article continued:

Sir Michael Wilshaw said ministers must set up regional early warning systems because by the time his Ofsted inspectors discover an institution is in trouble, it is too late.

As more and more secondary schools gain independence from town halls and become academies, it will also be difficult for the Department of Education to focus on improving individual schools.

Sir Michael said that to maintain standards, dozens of local commissioners

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 13 Comments

Opinion: “The Pope…seceded with all his followers from the Church of England”

So says 1066 and All That (Sellar and Yateman – a prewar forerunner of ‘Horrible Histories’) when summarising the Reformation.

It’s a good line and we can smile at the vanities of sixteenth century isolationism, knowing that today’s politicians, and people, are much more sophisticated. Nor do we regard the continent as cut off if there is fog in the English Channel.

During the early hours of 9th December (mark that date) David Cameron, we are told, played a blinder and ensured that 26 out of 27 countries in the EU were rescued from their fiscal and financial folly by …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 22 Comments

Opinion: What next for elected Police Commissioners?

In 1951, the Liberal Party fielded just 109 parliamentary candidates. 1959 was better with 216. And in 1979, shortly before the foundation of the SDP, we were fielding 577 – virtually a candidate in every seat.

Most of us have grown up in a political landscape in which our party attempts to field a full slate, at all levels. In the darkest days after the merger, in first-past-the-post European elections cynically rigged against us, we fielded candidates throughout Great Britain even though we knew we would likely win no seats at all. Indeed, I still remember my excitement at the prospect …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Chris White writes: What would you do with £250 million?

This is the lottery dream, of course. Give quite a bit to charity. Pay off the mortgage. Buy a yacht and invest the rest sensibly for the future.

It’s not so clear what you do if you’re a government department.

Councillors across the country are waking up to the astonishing news that the Department for Communities and Local Government has been opening cupboards and jamjars and has managed to find £250 million it had not previously accounted for.

Not new money from the Treasury. Not money from other projects. But shiny, otherwise unused, cash.

So: what does the Department do? Allocate it …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 18 Comments

Opinion: Why I’m supporting creators but opposing the Digital Economy Act

Kevin (not his real name) drives his son Danny to the shops. Danny pops in and emerges with various items in a bag, for which he has paid. In his pocket there is a packet of biscuits which he trousered while collecting the other items. CCTV spots the fact that he has done it and he is prosecuted for shoplifting.

A few weeks later, Kevin’s garage makes contact and says that the Government has issued an order that he take his car into the garage to be adjusted so that it can do no more than 30 miles per hour. He …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Chris White writes: Spare a thought for the Federal Conference Committee

I really never thought I would say that.

They can appear somewhat cliquey – the only Federal Committee to publish its mugshots in the conference agenda (apparently conference representatives aren’t interested in who looks after their interests on the Federal Executive or the Federal Policy Committee).

They can be a bit insensitive: not the cleverest idea to select a business motion which would increase their powers over emergency motions at a time when representatives are feeling restless. And a tad cynical to have it at 0900 on Tuesday morning when many will still be at breakfast. (Yes: I know you will have …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 26 Comments

Opinion: Give Gove the shove

I was asked yesterday what I thought would be the key issues for the Coalition over the next 12 months. Political predictions are always dangerous (what did you predict would be the main stories in August?) but I plunged in and said that education was emerging as a clear division between the Coalition partners.

There has been a great deal over the past few days over the creation of the first free schools. The BBC tells us hourly that they are free from local government control: quite where they (and some politicians in our own Party who should know better) get …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 18 Comments

Chris White writes: It’s nice to be hated again

I don’t suppose many readers spend much time on the Daily Express. Most people don’t. But a quick glance at yesterday’s editorial rant finds that they have it in for the Lib Dems.
 

At a time when the tax burden and cost of living are rising and families are being squeezed ever more with each passing day the Lib Dems are fighting the Conservatives not for a tax cut but a tax rise.

This is a reference to the re-emergence of the mansion tax.
 
Not many Express readers live in £1 million homes. But they aspire to. And just to raise their fears …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 24 Comments

Chris White writes: We are not ‘customers’ on the railways

On 26 May this year a First Capital Connect train on the Thameslink route caught a branch in its pantograph. When the pantograph was raised at Farringdon it shorted the power supply. The train managed to get to St Pancras but the passengers were not told to alight.

As it proceeded towards Kentish Town it shorted again and the passengers were stuck in a tunnel. No information was provided and no serious rescue was mounted for a period of hours. The air-conditioning also failed.

This is not unique. Indeed, on more than one occasion on the network, passengers have decided to abandon …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 22 Comments

Chris White writes: Police Commissioners – the descent into low farce

News today that the Tories may not even field candidates for their cherished police commissioner posts, but instead are ‘considering instead whether to put … support behind other contenders, such as prominent and distinguished local individuals’ shows that this awesomely bad policy is starting to founder.

Meanwhile Labour are having similar doubts and, as discussed elsewhere on Lib Dem Voice, our own Party is hardly racing towards a sensible selection process.

The problem, of course, is not just that the legislation is not finalised but that the elections will be hideously expensive, covering in some cases several county areas: …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

Chris White writes: Is it possible to change Coalition policy?

Is it possible to change Coalition policy? Council leaders certainly hope so if the letter to today’s Times is to be believed. Over a hundred have supported – and no doubt many more councillors, deputies, backbenchers and the like might have done so had there been more time to hone the message and gather support.

The issue should be core to the localist agenda – although we need to be rather clearer about what we really want.

Not so long ago the police were governed (at least in non-operational terms) by the police committees of county councils. There was not much …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 2 Comments

Chris White writes: Approving Police Commissioner candidates

Readers of LDV will have noticed that there is an announcement about Police Commissioner candidates – presumably placed by the English Party.

Of course, none of us want these elections (and most councillors in other parties don’t either) but it’s in the Coalition agreement and so we are to an extent stuck with a particularly silly bit of the Tory manifesto. Such, I guess, is the nature of Coalitions.

What is troubling, however, is the fact that the English Party has decided to play the centralist card: candidates need in essence to be approved like parliamentary candidates.

One of the main …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , , and | 14 Comments

Chris White writes: Policies or personalities?

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, described Pope Gregory IX as ‘a Pharisee seated on the chair of pestilence, anointed with the oil of wickedness’. The Pope replied that the Emperor was the forerunner of the Antichrist and the monster of the Apocalypse. (‘The Popes’, by John Julius Norwich, 2011).

Such was political debate in the 13th century, topped up by episodes of unspeakable violence.

At this distance it seems rather laughable that an Emperor and a Prelate (especially one considering himself the Vicar of Christ) should behave like that.

But while burning at the stake is now thankfully behind us, vitriol is not. …

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Chris White writes: Powerful stuff from Clegg at the LGA conference

One of the highlights of the political calendar is the annual Local Government Association (or more correctly ‘Group’) conference. It’s a bit like a party conference but people go to bed earlier. And there are other political parties here. And officers.

Its formal function is to be the sovereign body of the LGG. It also allows exhibitors to exhibit, group leaders to network and national politicians to showcase.

So we heard from David Cameron, the first serving prime minister to speak at an LGA/LGG conference. He told us sternly that pensions had to be reformed and that strikes would only hurt the …

Posted in News | Tagged , , , and | 7 Comments

Chris White writes: What do you want for your birthday?

I am fifty tomorrow. Relatives sometimes ask me what I would like for my birthday and I reply with things like ‘ties, jacket, Ipad, North American art…’. The usual.

This year, though, a real treat: a meeting with Eric Pickles. I have already given the standard response to the organisers: ‘You shouldn’t have….It’s what I’ve always wanted…’

They have even arranged for a large posse of other Lib Dem group leaders to join me to make the hour go swimmingly.
Apparently there is no agenda as such. Just an opportunity to put across some messages.

But what, in a single hour?

Clearly we …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Chris White writes: I have just received an email from Simon Hughes

I have just received an email from Simon Hughes. It said:

It’s been a great month for Liberal Democrats who are setting the pace on the green agenda!

It doesn’t quite say it’s been a great month for ‘the’ Liberal Democrats but most people will read it that way and think vaguely of my one and only Kipling joke:

If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs…then you haven’t understood the true seriousness of the situation.

To be fair on Simon and his team, we do need reminding that there is more to this coalition than AV, Lords reform …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 9 Comments

Chris White writes: Will the Coalition end with a commercial?

It is always slightly too easy to exaggerate the importance of Prime Minister’s Question Time. To the uninitiated (and there are some, mainly in more genteel democracies) it is a form of reality TV in which a normally dignified man or woman, with much on their mind and better things to do with their time, is forced to stand up for half an hour on live TV and be accurate, well-informed, witty and, well, abusive.

One slip and he/she reads about it in all the papers for the rest of the week.

The latest contestant (let us call him Mr Bullingdon) discovered …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 16 Comments
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