Author Archives: Chris White

Not all hanging together

Back in the late 1990s, the various local government associations for county councils, district councils and metropolitan authorities decided that it would be best to work together rather than in separate silos: so the Local Government Association was born.

The principle is obvious: local government, unprotected by a written constitution and loathed by much of the press, needs to make its case with central government, which can legislate away its powers and much of its money at the drop of a hat, regardless of the consequences on services or communities. MPs know best, after all, and Whitehall knows even better than MPs.

Conservative-controlled Surrey County Council seems keen on tearing up this approach. Like all shire counties it is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social care: government grants have been cut, as part of never-ending austerity, while the demand for services rises annually as we all live longer.

The proposal for a 15% increase in the council tax precept drew intakes of (sometimes admiring) breath from around the country but we all suspected that the referendum necessary to approve such a large increase would be lost. It must, we thought, be principally a political move to put pressure on Tory ministers with seats in Surrey.

Amazingly, this cynicism proved to be close to the mark. Accidentally leaked texts showed the Surrey Tory Leader negotiating some sort of deal on behalf of his council (good for his council but bad for other councils who don’t have this sort of access to government). Ministerial denials followed as news got out: and the Government pretended that the contacts were just routine – not specific deals for Surrey.

Sadly the accident-prone Tory Leader of Surrey has been caught out again (see Guardian) because someone secretly recorded the Tory group meeting on 7 February.

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Well – did they consult or not?

The issue of refugee children will not go away – both in reality and in terms of a decency-check on the current Government, including the Home Secretary in particular.

The Government is adamant that the decision to close the ‘Dubs’ scheme, which many believed would allow the country to accept a further 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees, was because local government did not have the capacity for more than around 400. The evidence for this is that the Home Office asked councils and this is what councils told it. Simples.

The problem with this is twofold.

First of all, why did the Home Office …

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Time to speak out against business rates

Margaret Thatcher nationalised the business rates because she felt local councils could not be trusted to work sensibly with local businesses. At around the same time she introduced the community charge in place of domestic rates, which morphed into the less regressive – but still considerably regressive – council tax.

Liberal Democrats have agonised over the latter and our policy is still to introduce a Local Income Tax, instantly handing the tabloids an easy stick with which to beat us – the Lib Dems want a chancellor in every town hall and plan to increase our taxes. The policy is right …

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District councils: worried about funds and housing

Chris White (centre) talking about Brexit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

District Council leaders met in Lichfield late last week for the District Council Network conference. The DCN is part of the Local Government Association – which comprises most English and Welsh councils – and is a group set up to concentrate specifically on issues affecting district councils. There are similar groups for counties, metropolitan authorities and London boroughs.

Representatives in Kenilworth were clearly bruised by the decision of ministers to plug some of the adult care services funding gap facing county councils by transferring funds directly from districts.

Phrases like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ were used more than once at the conference, with some justification: council tax increases and transfers between local authorities are no way to manage a national funding crisis which too few people, including the Liberal Democrats, took seriously even after the point at which the warning signs were unmistakable.

Apart from money it was largely, for Districts, housing and planning. There is clear nervousness about the impending new ministerial power to direct authorities to produce a joint local plan (hardly surprising given the careless abolition of structure planning by the Coalition) or by inviting county councils to take over the planning powers of laggardly districts: relations between districts and counties are always tense at best but red rags were clearly being spotted.

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Tim Farron: ‘Unless the government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, the party will vote against Article 50’

Tim farron photo by liberal democrats dave radcliffe

This morning, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has laid out a red line on Article 50 and said unless the government agrees to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, the party will vote against Article 50 in the House of Commons.

Tim Farron said:

Millions of people are deeply worried by the government’s handling of Brexit.

So my position is very clear: the Liberal Democrats believe that the people are sovereign.

They must decide whether or not they agree with the deal that the government reaches with Brussels, which means

Posted in Europe / International and News | Tagged , and | 64 Comments

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more complicated

Yesterday I posted a tongue in cheek tweet:

Leavers will obviously be happy with the outcome, because it restores sovereignty to Parliament, which is what they campaigned for.

It is never a good idea to use irony in social media, especially as it now appears that Stephen Phillips, a Leaver, is leaving Parliament to protest about the Government’s approach to the concept of Parliamentary sovereignty.

If this is correct then it shows that he is a principled Leaver and that he understands that the issue of Parliamentary sovereignty covers all issues – not just Brexit.

I would like to have been able to post …

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The new revolutionaries threaten our constitution

Yesterday evening I gave an interview to BBC local radio about the High Court judgement. It emerged that the station had been receiving emails from listeners saying it was time to take to the streets to protest.

It would have been easy to dismiss the emails as hysteria from a few right wing extremists but this morning’s tabloids clearly show that the British constitution is under attack from much of the traditional right.

The Daily Mail never ceases, of course, to push the boundaries of the unacceptable, as it has consistently since the 1930s. Today’s headline has the three judges (wigged, of course, but that it how they like to be photographed) over the headline ‘Enemies of the People’.

The Sun attacks the plaintiff as part of a ‘loaded foreign elite’. The Telegraph, which can know better, has ‘The Judges versus the people’.

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Nice start but what next for Calais?

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News that the trickle of children admitted from the Calais jungle has started to become more of a steady flow is, of course, welcome.

But there are still hundreds there and no real sign that there will be a convey of coaches to bring them to the UK, where they can be reunited with their families, as they are entitled.

I wrote before on LDV, and spoke at Conference, about these children being caught in a web of bureaucracy. The Home Office does now, it appears, take this more seriously but the danger that the demolition of the camp might take place before they make their way across the Channel remains all too real.

Demolition was supposed to happen on Monday 17 October. The fact that it has been deferred is good news but there is still a real chance that it might happen as early as next week. Experience tells us that should that happen many children will simply disappear – and thus be even more at the mercy of people traffickers.

Tim Farron speaks for all Liberals when he says:

It is outrageous to hear the Home Secretary now claiming to be acting urgently to ensure the safety of these children.

Where was this urgency for the last year that they have been stuck in Calais, and why does it only extend to a small number of the hundreds of these unaccompanied kids?

He also speaks for some Conservatives too.

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Councillors: Conference is for you too!

2015 policy pitch autumn conference by Paul WalterThe vast majority of Liberal Democrat councillors don’t go to conference. There are good reasons, of course: locations, cost, time (especially sudden by-elections!). But there are always overwhelmingly good reasons to attend.

In the first place it is always amazing just how many colleagues from neighbouring authorities you come across and with whom you can share ideas, problems and even gossip. You may even come across members of your own council with whom perhaps you need to spend more time on business not entirely dictated by council officers.

Naturally, the Conference agenda and the fringe programme provide the main focus. This year’s Autumn Conference includes motions on homelessness (F9), parent governors (F20), as well as a question and answer session on Education (F19), which are of obvious interest to councillors. Less obvious are the various constitutional amendments, which, among other things, will secure councillor influence on key party bodies such as the new Federal Board and the Campaigns Committee. Dull, maybe, but eminently worthy.

Posted in Conference and News | 1 Comment

What would you do if you were the Mayor of Calais?

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Inside the Jungle in Calais

I was part of a Local Government Association delegation last week to the ‘jungle’ in Calais.

The ‘camp’ is essentially a shanty town with tents and shacks (including ‘restaurants’) built from scrap materials. It is set in sand dunes next to an industrial estate and alongside one of the key roads heading towards the Channel Tunnel. Its occupants are mainly male and there are over 800 residents classed as children – including many teenagers. The bulk are Afghan, fleeing Taliban conscription and in places combat zones. There are some Syrians as well as Eritreans and Somalis.

The authorities are clearly hostile to the camp: residents feel that the inhabitants are responsible for nuisance and crime. The response to this in March was partial demolition –which meant that 127 children simply disappeared. Meanwhile the CRS (the riot police in other circumstances) harass the inhabitants – confiscating phones, destroying SIM cards – and using plastic bullets, which can cause life-changing injuries.

The camp does not officially exist. Nevertheless, provision has been made for some inhabitants to go into adjacent freight containers – adapted to provide a form of accommodation, aimed at women with younger children, because of the dangers posed by people traffickers in the main camp.

Posted in Europe / International and News | Tagged , and | 16 Comments

David Owen – remember him?

William Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins & David Owen with funds from SDP supporters, Feb 1981

Some of us were members of the SDP and recall still the various reasons why this new political party was created – not least to combat the anti-European mood which then gripped Labour (the Conservatives were largely fine on the issue. The irony…)

Six years later, Owen refused to accept the will of his own Party to merge with the Liberals. He pretended for a while that the majority who joined the merged party had somehow ‘left’ the SDP and he could therefore continue as Leader of the much reduced force. He finally killed it off when it was overtaken by the Monster Raving Loony Party in a by-election in Bootle.

Since then he has floated around the political scene, with sporadic not terribly perceptive interventions on Radio 4 as a ‘former Foreign Secretary’ and the occasional advice to his imagined followers to vote this or that way in General Elections.

So it comes as no surprise that he is reduced to appearing in the Sun urging people to trash their future by voting for Brexit.

His arguments are thin to say the least. For example this insight:

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Bring a friend – they might even enjoy it

2015 policy pitch autumn conference by Paul Walter

Conference has a buzz and many local parties have suggested that it could be a good way of encouraging someone who is supportive to drink in the magic conference potion and become a full member – or even better.

But it hasn’t been easy to do this under the existing conference registration rules. Until now.

There is a new scheme designed to make it much simpler. You can find details here.

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Just when you thought Police and Crime Commissioners couldn’t get worse

Police helmet

As a Party we have never been fans. Some even suggested (mistakenly in my view) that the concept was so bad that we should boycott the elections in 2012.

The idea that one person (usually a white man) should have such a significant say on such a sensitive area as policing – and often over an area covering several counties – was clearly absurd. It still is.

The Government is already thinking of giving PCCs the control of fire authorities on the time-honoured principle of ‘if it’s not broke, then fix …

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LGA finally agrees a common line on Housing Bill

Terraced housing

It’s never easy doing politics in the Local Government Association. Some commentators carelessly say that it is ‘Conservative-controlled’ because the Chairman, elected under carefully balanced internal horse-trading rules, is at the moment a Conservative.

But in reality it is a perpetual coalition, with each of the four political groups having a veto on the association’s public stance. This applies to any issue and to any press release.

So it is good to see that the LGA has now published a statement on the Housing and Planning Bill, even if the …

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Tim Farron comments on the de-registration of the BNP as a political party

Tim Farron Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul Walter

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has said ‘hope always wins out’ after news that the Electoral Commission has removed the British National Party (BNP) from its register of political parties.

The decent and fair minded British public have stood up against the BNP and all they stand for – intolerance, hatred and an organisation that worked to stoke fear wherever they could.  Britain is a little better off today because of this news, but we should always be mindful that the just because the BNP have fallen off the register, they could come back.  We also still have organisations like Britain First working to fan the flames of intolerance.

Today is a victory for the thousands of people and organisations like Hope Not Hate who worked to make the case for an inclusive, welcoming and outward looking nation.

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Lamb calls for inquiry into political interference with NHS Medical Director

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Norman Lamb, has called for a Cabinet Office inquiry into reports that the Department of Health toughened up the language in a letter from Professor Sir Bruce Keogh to the BMA.

According to the Independent:

We now know that there was, indeed, collusion between Sir Bruce and the Department of Health during the drafting of the letter, from a series of emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request. In one, addressed to Sir Bruce, an unidentified civil servant wrote: “I have woven the points from my email earlier this morning into your letter.”

Norman said that the revelation raises serious concerns about potential political interference with the independent Medical Director of NHS England:

In cases like this it is crucial to establish who had involvement in something that risks further damaging the Government’s relationship with junior doctors. This cannot be done by the Department and I am calling for Sir Jeremy Heywood to set up a suitable inquiry that will command respect to look into this.

The Government has to urgently resolve the dispute with junior doctors and must also set up an cross party commission to confront the looming crisis facing the NHS and social care services so we can secure their future.

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Norman Lamb calls for a commission into the health and social care crisis

Norman Lamb Liverpool Spring conference Spring 2015 Photo by Liberal Democrats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb has launched proposals for an unprecedented cross party commission into health and social care.

Norman has received the backing from Conservative and Labour former Health Secretaries Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn and believes that only a full non-partisan commission will properly deal with the crisis in health and social care.

They have been joined in this call by NHS survival – a group of 8,000 doctors, patients and and members of the public committed to ensuring the survival of the health service.

The former care minister believes the commission would be a ‘Beveridge Report’ for the 21st Century, and be the first of its kind since the creation of the NHS and welfare state. Its aim is to engage with the public, staff in the NHS and care services and civic society on the massive challenge the NHS and care services face.

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  • User AvatarJoeB 22nd Sep - 12:53am
    A Political commitment to restoring the ability of the NHS to meet its targets for health outcomes requires tackling the issue of domiciliary and residential...
  • User AvatarMichael 1 22nd Sep - 12:35am
    @John Marriott I am not exactly sure of the point you are making. The two parties that are members of ALDE in the Netherlands do...
  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 22nd Sep - 12:31am
    Surely, John, the zeitgeist is not actually in liberalism (sorry, Sean) but social democracy: powerful all these years till now in Sweden, powerful in Spain...
  • User AvatarFraser Coppin 21st Sep - 11:02pm
    I was at conference too and had a good time overall, but one of the less appealing aspects of it was that I heard the...
  • User AvatarGlenn 21st Sep - 10:08pm
    Frankie It is. The one party is the Communist Party of China.
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 21st Sep - 10:02pm
    @Michael 1 You are obviously someone who has done a lot of research on Liberalism. So can you tell me why most Liberal Parties or...