Author Archives: Keith Aspden

Cllr Keith Aspden writes…Tackling homelessness in York

Last week the York Liberal Democrats were delighted to welcome Sir Vince Cable for a flying visit to his home city.

Vince was born and brought up in York and many local members have fond memories of the two energetic general election campaigns we fought when Vince was Parliamentary Candidate for the old York constituency in 1983 and 1987.

York is an interesting city politically in that the three main parties each have roughly the same number of councillors. Since 2015 the Liberal Democrat Group has formed part of the joint administration running the Council.

One area in which we can take pride in the Council’s record is homelessness. York’s services for preventing and managing homelessness have been awarded the National Practitioner Support Service’s Gold Standard award. At the time of the award we were only the third local authority to have achieved this. Gold Standard requires the service to have a focus on early intervention and prevention of homelessness at its core.

On Sunday 30 July Vince joined our Executive Member for Adult Social Care, Councillor Carol Runciman, and myself for a tour of the Peasholme Centre on Fishergate. Many members will be familiar with this part of the city since it is very close to the Novotel and the Barbican Centre where the party has held three successful Spring Conferences.

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Welcome back to York and join us campaigning!

As the countdown to party conference continues, I would like to say how pleased I am to be welcoming Spring Conference back to York.

Visit York estimate that the weekend will boost the city’s economy by more than £600,000. And I know that pubs, hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, and restaurants will be reporting soaring demand. Added to the short-term economic boost is the long-term impact that the continued national exposure will bring. It is a showcase for York as a destination for conferences and events. York is a beautiful, well-connected city with the potential to hold many more big political and business conferences.

It is also a chance for our members in York to meet our MPs and peers as well as councillors and campaigners from across the country. And as we all know, a chance for local party members to actually debate and decide national party policy.

In York, our councillors and members have been working hard since we formed a joint administration in May 2015 to run City of York Council.

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York responds on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

 

Around this time last year, I posted on Lib Dem Voice about York’s role in responding to the refugee crisis. I am very pleased that over the last year, York has been active in the Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme and in welcoming refugees to the city. We have a proud history of offering a home to those fleeing persecution and will continue our work to meet our humanitarian commitments.

A closely associated issue, increasingly prominent over the last few months, has been that of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Tim Farron and Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords have campaigned strongly for the government to do a huge amount more on this front. Early this year, Tim slammed the government’s response as ‘cold-hearted’ and ‘callous’. He was absolutely right – we were failing people who are the least able to help themselves. After months of pressure, the government accepted a commitment to resettle ‘up to 3,000’ children from within Europe.

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York: Getting residents and communities involved

york-keith-aspden

Keith Aspden at Heslington Sportsfield which benefitted from Ward Committee funding

I’m back in York after a very enjoyable conference in Brighton. From a local government perspective, I was pleased to participate in important discussions around education, housing, the impact of Brexit, the environment, devolution and more! I was pleased to speak (together with Cllr Keith House, Leader of Eastleigh Borough Council) at an ALDC training session about how Liberal Democrats can make best use of Area and Ward Committees. I’ve written up my notes from the meeting about York’s Ward Committees below, which I hope might be useful food for thought for other Councillors and campaigners.

What are Ward Committees?

In York, each ward is given a budget to spend on local projects and offer grants to community groups. Meetings are chaired by local councillors who work with residents and ward teams to decide collectively where money is spent.

Our 2015 Manifesto

Key campaigning themes for us in the run-up to the 2015 local elections were the Labour Council being out-of-touch with residents, taking all decisions centrally, and ignoring communities in the suburbs and villages around York. Ward Committees had suffered significantly under Labour – as a result of their cuts, wards had a total budget of just £75,000 across the city.

Our manifesto promised to change this and ‘re-establish proper Ward Committees as a way to put power and budgets back in the hands of local residents’.

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Progress in York – our report back after 12 months in joint administration

A little over twelve months ago, the Lib Dems in York entered into a joint administration on City of York Council. It wasn’t an easy decision to take, but we knew that having increased our representation by a third despite the disappointing national picture, we had a real opportunity to deliver on our manifesto commitments to the people of York.

I am very grateful to many colleagues in the city, including fellow Executive Members, Councillors, local party activists (and our very new members this week!) for their ongoing work.  A year on, we thought we’d let you know how we’re getting on.

Greenest City in the North

We promised to take steps towards York becoming the Greenest City in the North, including working with residents to reverse the decline in recycling rates and developing a plan to cut the Council’s carbon emissions. Additionally, we committed to reintroduce additional winter Green Bin collections and rule out cuts to the frequency of Grey Bin collections.

This was confirmed just two months after the election, as our Emergency Budget in July last year financed the reintroduction of 2 Winter Green Bin collections and scrapped Labour’s proposal for extra Green Bin charges. Our increased investment has funded a new recycling campaign and we have re-established a Green Jobs Task Group.

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Bosnia’s Nasa Stranka visits York

Nasa Stranka in YorkOne of the highlights of this year’s Spring Conference for us as a Local Party, led by our deputy group leader Cllr Ann Reid, was hosting some representatives of our Bosnian sister party, Nasa Stranka.

Nationally links between our two parties are already well-established, with joint working around campaigns, training and promoting women in politics. But for anyone who doesn’t follow Bosnian politics as closely as we do….

Nasa Stranka (‘Our Party’ in Bosnian) was founded in 2008 to offer an alternative to the dominant nationalist parties, and over the past six years has established itself as the leading socially liberal and progressive voice in Bosnian politics. Nasa Stranka is also a shining example of achieving gender equality, with 46% female representation at the local level.

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Lord Jonny Oates at the Pudding Club at York

Lord Oates

I was delighted to welcome Lord Jonny Oates to York last month for a visit to our annual Pudding Club – one of the highlights of our local parties social calendar!

Lord Oates, who was recently made a life peer after serving as a councillor in Kingston Upon Thames and later as Chief of Staff to Nick Clegg, highlighted his concerns about proposed cuts to Universal Credit to local party members in York.

As readers will know, last year George Osborne was forced to re-think cuts to working tax credits after a local and national campaign by the Lib Dems. The changes were set to hit 8,000 families in York, but the Chancellor said households claiming the benefit would be helped by “transitional protection” as they moved to the new single Universal Credit.

Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed that “nobody will lose any money on arrival on universal credit from tax credits”. Many residents in York were reassured and pleased that a U-Turn had been made.

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